Herewith a brilliant, provocative, obstreperous essay outlining ten reasons why we should burn books. Yes, yes, this seems vaguely counter-intuitive, Numéro Cinq being a literary magazine and all. But two things need to be said at the outset. First, book burning and books, together, have always been the signal marks of an emerging modernity. They co-exist as sign and substance of the new. This is why, of course, there is a book burning in Don Quixote; Cervantes had his finger on the pulse. In my book The Enamoured Knight, I make a side argument that, in fact, book burning is one of a “basket” of themes that supply the discourse of the novel as a form. And, second, inversion is perhaps the most elegant of rhetorical devices; instead of arguing (tediously and correctly) for the right, you take the opposite view and find occasions for wit, comedy, and trenchant critical thought. In this case, our author, Noah Gataveckas, uses inversion, his own wide reading, and a radical logic born of Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek to mine the contemporary chaos of our late literate age and say very smart and inflammatory things (which is the point, right?).
Noah was born in Oakville, Ontario, in 1985, and educated at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. After moving to Toronto to work as a DJ in the entertainment district, he rediscovered his love of reading and writing. He is the author of poetry (“Silence”, “The King of the River”), journalism (“Hijacked: The Posthumous Reinscription of a Socialist in Canadian Consciousness”, “Digital Theft in a Digital World”), polemic (“Why Occupy? An Approach to Finance Capital”), theatre (Five Star), and a book-in-progress entitled Symposium: A Philosophical Mash-up. He lives and works in Toronto.
Why do we burn books? or,
The burning question of our movement
By Noah R. Gataveckas
The “we” in question refers specifically to the Angry Young Readers Anonymous (AYRA) book club. You know who you are; you know what’s at stake. In order to commemorate our one-year anniversary of successful self-pedagogy, we have dared to consider the inconsiderate: a quaint little book burning, with drinks and snacks being served around 8. This has – understandably – unnerved some of us. After all, Hitler. Enough said. So, to help us understand why we are doing this, I have prepared a list of ten possible reasons why one might justifiably “commit it then to the flames”, as David Hume once put it. Be aware that they are inconsistent: that is, at least one reason presumes some form of spirituality (3), while others are specifically atheistic (4 and 7), and so on. We don’t need to have the same reasons; de gustibus non est disputandum. This is just a compendium of some of the answers that have been given over the years to explain why some books got fired.
(1) Kill what you love.
We bookclubers—we love books. Do we not? Why oh why are we setting (some of) them on fire when they’re what we’re about?
After all, we more than most people should see their value: think of the many excellent texts that we’ve had a chance to read and discuss this past year, and how these readings and conversations have enriched our lives. Starting with Findley’s The Wars, including Horkheimer and Adorno, Žižek, “Junkspace”, Reality Hunger, Chinua Achebe, To the Lighthouse, Baudrillard, Ondaatje, “The World as Phantom and as Matrix”, Serge Guilbaut, “Politics and the English Language”, The Wretched of the Earth, Melville, The Master and Margarita, Chekhov, Dylan Thomas, Octavio Paz, McLuhan, and so many other texts that I can’t even remember, we’ve learned a hell of a lot this year from books.
Furthermore, they have provided us with the grounds for having excellent conversations. We have applied Marxist, Freudian, Lacanian, Žižekian, etc., theories to them in our efforts to maximize our minds. Note that theories apply to their texts like bees to blossoms: once pollinated, they bloom with mucho meanings, full of information and insight. This literary entomophily has rewarded us, nudging us ever closer to Enlightenment.
So how can we turn our backs on them now? They’ve been so generous to us in the past. Why oh why burn books?
Kiki Gounaridou writes: “‘To kill what you love’ is the attitude that Alcibiades describes in the Symposium: eros and the wish for annihilation of the object of desire go hand-in-hand”.  Indeed, Alcibiades’ dream of the twin dragons can be read in this way. So can Plato’s Symposium: in describing his adoration of Socrates, he claims, “Sometimes, believe me, I think I would be happier if he were dead. And yet I know that if he dies I’ll be even more miserable. I can’t live with him, and I can’t live without him! What can I do about him?”
What indeed? But perhaps we should ask ourselves: why is Alcibiades attracted to Socrates in the first place? Socrates is not an attractive guy. Still, Alcibiades tells us that “if you go behind [his] surface, you’ll realize that no other arguments make any sense. They’re truly worthy of a god, bursting with figures of virtue inside. They’re of great—no, of the greatest—importance for anyone who wants to become a truly good man”.
In other words, Socrates represents education pure and simple. Like a book, he is not to be judged by his cover. Moreover, it is through education (read: books) that we learn how to be virtuous: that is, good and useful and knowledgeable. But what Socrates has to tell Alcibiades is nonetheless frustrating: “the moment he starts to speak… my very own soul started protesting that my life—my life!—was no better than the most miserable slave’s… He always traps me, you see, and he makes me admit that my political career is a waste of time, while all that matters is just what I most neglect: my personal shortcomings, which cry out for the closest attention. So I refuse to listen to him; I stop my ears and tear myself away from him, for, like the Sirens, he could make me stay by his side till I die”.
Recall that Alcibiades is a child of fortune and would have stood above the large slave population of Athens. For Socrates to suggest that the great Alcibiades was equal to a slave was unthinkable. Furthermore, suggesting that being a good person is more important than the unabashed pursuit of political power was unacceptable. Back then, the political class would have agreed with Thrasymachus’ dictum: “I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger”. But Alcibiades could not tear himself away from Socrates. Why?
As education personified, Socrates occupied the paradoxical position of a truth-teller: on the one hand, he’s “the greatest orator… the moment he starts to speak, I am beside myself: my heart starts leaping in my chest, the tears come streaming down my face”—and this is what seduces us along with Alcibiades. On the other hand, he reminds Alcibiades of his imperfections, blemishes, and essential ignorance. Socrates gives him the truth, and the truth is not flattering. In doing so, he returns us to the site of that which we repress: that we do not really know what we are doing. Our cosmic hubris is thorned by the finitude of human knowledge.
“Socrates is the only man in the world who has made me feel shame… Yes, he makes me feel ashamed: I know perfectly well that I can’t prove he’s wrong when he tells me what I should do; yet, the moment I leave his side, I go back to his old ways: I cave in to my desire to please the crowd”. Are we not like Alcibiades at the end of the day? Do we not find ourselves lapsing into the indulgences of permissive late Capitalism against our will? We know that what Socrates teaches is true, that virtue ought to be sought, even at the highest cost… that we should be good citizens, environmentalists, revolutionaries, etc., and take steps to make a difference in the world around us… but still…
We’re only human, after all. Aside from pursuing the path of virtue all of the time – which means reading and having serious discussion at least some of the time – we still have to find the time to eat, drink, and screw, too. Not to mention labour, suffer, sleep, and so on. We are creatures of procrastination: we desire most to have and not have, to do and not do. In response to the Dane’s eternal query, our cheeky reply is ‘both’. Like Alcibiades, we dare not get too close to the object of our adoration, lest the seductive siren’s song sung silent in bound typeface pull us in definitely to its wordy whirlpool…
Alcibiades loves Socrates but hates him because he jeopardizes his time, his lifespan. Socrates threatens to suck Alcibiades in and transform him. We love books but we hate them because they jeopardize our autonomy. Just as the ultimate horizon for language is that “signifiers signify signifiers”, books lead to better, harder books, in greater numbers, on and on, endlessly. They threaten to interrupt us from our life-projects, leading ever down the rabbit hole into the nth circle of hell: the dismal abyss of critical theory, where everything is described as “false” and a threefaced Adorno chews for eternity on the bones of belated Marxists like ourselves. Our books force us to confront the sad truth of reality, and how it’s quite rightly ‘fucked’. And, as Sara Beardsworth observes, if “destabilization is not to lead to the collapse of the subject, a boundary moment must be restored to it”.
So we must take a stand. No more being spat upon by books! No more getting bullied by roughneck essays! We add page to flame in order to establish our independence from the horrible (depressing) truth that threatens to sweep us “away… like a sea wall by ocean breakers”. This way we can maintain our independence from what we read, keep our distance from the instance of the letter, even in its unconscious insistence…
In other words, we kill (burn) what we love (books) because of love, not in spite of it. We mean this in two ways. The first is that in order to keep loving books, we must not allow ourselves to get too close to them, like a junkie chasing the perfect high, who risks overdose with every escalatory hit. To keep our sanity, our subjectivity, and our sense of hygiene, we must keep some books just out of arm’s length. Thus it only makes sense then to put them in a place where we’ll dare not reach, like the hearth of a fire.
The second meaning is that, in burning books, we are committing ourselves to them all the more as objects of desire. We admit that they can exert the kind of control over us that Socrates has over Alcibiades. We also admit that violating the hallowed prohibition ‘Thou shalt not burn books’ is a decadence from which we cannot abstain: such is our libidinal investment in the book as it has been built up over time as a sacred bearer of value. But besides providing the gateway to wisdom, enlightenment, virtue, truth, and knowledge, the book has also subjected us to the trials and tribulations of advanced literacy. We have spent hours upon hours racking our brains, imagining meanings to so much postmodern, poststructural, postnarrative, postsignifying prose, without fit or form, rereading and rerereading, lalalanguage, etc., all the while wondering what-the-hell-is-going-on? To cut a long story short: we have experienced ambivalence about books, insofar as they have brought us both knowledge and nonsense, elation and frustration, joy and pain. Our object-cathexis is inconsistent: castration and jouissance, in alternating rhythms and meters, dancing down the page…
So one can understand why – one night a year, to celebrate – we might want to get together with a few choice texts to toast and roast. To enact a revenge best served barbeque, against that malignant medium that has claimed our innocence and stolen most of our youth. But in an age where ‘innocence’ is alienation and ‘youth’ is a product of the culture industry, we know we shall return to the page tomorrow with sober remorse: ‘Oh, I can’t stay mad at you!’ To be sure, we’ll make amends, but until then, don’t let’s give in to this duty just yet. Tonight let’s transgress, to settle a score for every time we’ve tried to read and were instead fed a mess of blahbhaesque incoherence. Dare ya, da!?
Let our libraries enlighten us tonight only insofar as they ignite!
(2) Psychological self-significance.
But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. After all, we have not yet even discussed the dynamic of our proposed book burning. Who burns what? Which burns why? To answer these questions is already to set ours apart from those of the past, which have given such a bad name to the sport/hobby/lifestyle-activity that, in our postmodern late Capitalist society, book burning presents itself to be.
For example, when Heinrich Heine claimed that “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings”, he was addressing the Spanish Inquisition when they carried out a mass extermination of the Qu’ran in parts of Europe through systematic acts of incineration. Suffice it to say that we are not the Spanish Inquisition. This is a simple fact: our worldview does not resemble the primitive (pre-Galileo, pre-Darwin, pre-Marx, pre-Freud) dupedness of the Spanish Inquisition. Neither have we the resources to become the Spanish Inquisition, even if we wanted to. We are not a network of tribunals under the election of the monarchy; not an agency dedicated to the suppression of heresy, witchcraft, blasphemy, sodomy, and – most importantly – censorship. We are but a handful of friends, who are not even lucky enough to get funded by the government: unlike some priests, we have to work for a living. Judging by our relative class positions, to suggest that we are ‘censorial’ is absurd. Is censorship even possible today? If governments have trouble enforcing it (China, for example), how are we – ragtag scruffians who have difficulty in booking time off work – to even pretend that we have the power to censor books in general? Try as we might, we shall never approximate the chaos and violence of the Spanish Inquisition. At least not without securing federal funding first.
But I suppose it could be said: although no one expects (themselves to end up like) the Spanish Inquisition, in following their lead we are slowly sliding down the slippery slope to become them. Today books, tomorrow bodies! As if we had no say in the matter! As if it were a mere matter of mechanical causation! Even if we accept Heine’s (dubious) claim, we should note the three fundamental factors that separate the dynamic of our proposed book burning from those carried out in the past by the Spanish Inquisition (or, for that matter, the Nazis, or the Pentagon’s recent foray into the field of cēnsūra qua ignis: design, scope, and motive. Our book burning is neither systematic nor selective (it consists in burning no book in particular, and falls well short of calling for the burning of all books), not mass (ten of us will likely burn less than fifty books, at best once a year, kind of as an afterthought, like All Saints’ Day), and not motivated (by concerns for ‘lewdness’, ‘blasphemy’, ‘protecting children’, etc.). This last point is unusual: what is our motivation? If not censorship? Could we – is it possible – burn books to signify something besides censorship? That would be fresh. What could we possibly be saying?
This is where we break off into individuals, with our own (idiosyncratic, contingent) reasons for why we are burning our books; let us tell our little anecdotes, our histories with our respective texts, assuming we even have these, and are not just burning books, as it were, for the heat…
I was thinking of burning Ayn Rand, to signify my emancipation from her yolk of lies (imagine: living in Galt’s Gulch, passing pieces of gold back and forth, building engines, under the projection of a mountain, with the rest of the supermen! While the rest of the world falls apart in your absence! What total fantasy!), but I decided the saucy bitch provided too perfect an architectonic of (American) ideology to let her go to flame. She reads as a reminder of Einstein’s true fact: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former”.
Waitaminute. According to Einstein, there is really only one thing that is truly infinite, and it is—human stupidity!? Stupidity is an element of our experience that is, in a way, more infinite than the universe itself! According to – of all people – Einstein! We should dare to take his judgment seriously, as if it were a physical law, like some of his prior smash hits. This would mean never underestimating the possibility that people – ourselves, even – are, in acting, acting out of stupidity. They (we) don’t even realize it. Never doubt the efficiency of the defense mechanisms to keep the ego from recognizing the extent to which one’s actions endanger oneself and others, and tend to foil one’s interests, despite their often assuming this very guise (of protecting one’s self or others, pursuing one’s interests, etc.). We should get into the habit of reminding ourselves that, in all cases, at any point in time, it is indeed possible that, in being, we are being – very – stoopid…
I know this sounds, well, stupid—and it is. In this case, stupidity is elevated to a kind of ontological principle, such that it is the one thing that you can count on to definitely be the case. (As I write, I can know with absolute certainty that someone somewhere is doing something stupid.) This view is also implied by Socrates when he reasons thusly: “I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know”. In other words, wisdom consists in identifying its opposite: since stupidity abounds, one can only approach wisdom through the inverse process of recognizing one’s own capacity to err. The best we can do is to beware, keep it in mind, in an attempt to limit the impact that stupidity will exact upon our lives. The fact that we have to remind ourselves ‘not to be stupid’ should say a lot. It’s almost as if our natural tendency is to bellyflop, and we have to try to not. We need to remind ourselves of what is obvious, which is what we tend to forget. So in the same way that the medieval scholar places a skull upon his bookshelf to act as a memento mori (i.e. a reminder of the ultimate futility of one’s struggles in relations to one’s mortality), I keep a copy of For the New Intellectual on mine, to remind me of Einstein’s punchline and why I – in spite of my pride – will not see myself survive some of the worst of the worst literature of all-time…
But what does one burn, if not Ayn Rand?
In lieu of nourishing the flames with her dense pulp, I shall nominate two texts of my own: a unique, a science fiction short story called ‘Sinah’s Assignment’; and a copy, one of the original self-published editions of Book I of my Symposium: A Philosophical Mash-up. In doing this, I will lose one document forever, in order to see what, if anything, this might feel like; and experience what it’s like to see something upon which I’ve laboured (excessively) go up in flames. Surely it is PC to burn one’s own writing, right? Anyways, either way, those are two of the texts that I will burn for the purposes of self-significance: to see what it would mean, how it would feel.
What book(s) do you wish to burn? What are you reasons? Would you be able to go through with it? How would you react upon burning? What, in the end, could it mean? How might it feel? Would it even?
Consider the possibility that there is only one way to find out.
(3) Your God demands a sacrifice.
The prior section brought up the logic of sacrifice: in stead of Ayn Rand, I burn X (in this case, two of my own books). Why not just abstain altogether? Who are we trying to appease?
God, of course. He spoke to me in a dream, and said: Take your Ayn Rand, your only copy of Atlas Shrugged, which you have made little notes in, and go offer it as a burnt offering, so I can stop you from burning it at the last second by giving you something else in its place.
And I said: okay. You got it, God. But then I figured I would make it easier on everyone by just bringing some other books to begin with. That way I could spare God the trouble of having to provide a sacrifice, keep my books from getting dirty, and so on. Besides, it shows initiative! If God did not provide for himself some other book for the burnt offering, then he wouldn’t exactly be breaking character. The guy is notorious for leaving you hanging!
Oh, I forgot to add that God asked me to burn a copy of the Bible as well. I know, I was surprised, too. But according to Him, it was okay for a multitude of those who had practiced magic thinking to bring their books together and burn them for all to see. He said it was cool. I must admit it was a strange moment.
To break the awkward silence, I asked: why oh why would you want to burn your own book? He remained mute. Only after asking did I realize how dumb I must have sounded. What right do I have to question God about why he wants to burn his own book? I could understand, say, if you had never burnt any books, were opposed to book burning in general, and would thus get pissed off if God decided to torch his own text. In this case, you would have the moral high ground, what with not being a book burner and all. But I was not in such a position. Like God, I had also planned to burn my own book—what right, then, had I to question or criticize the Lord? He was entitled to have His own beliefs, as we all are.
But does this mean that we should follow in His footsteps? What would this entail? In all likelihood, what God wanted to make was a sacrifice of Himself to Himself. (It wouldn’t be the first time.) He wants to see something that is uniquely of His own making, like the Bible – sacrificed – to the testament of His greater glory, and so on. It is because He wrote the Bible (not to mention edited, translated, etc.), He inevitably desires to see it crucifried. It’s a little perverted, I know, but that’s just good ol’ God for you. What a card!
Nonetheless, let’s not deny the old man his fix. Whatever gets Him off should be good enough for us. Only let’s not waste the opportunity: although I hear He can be sort of a ‘hater’ at times, I’m sure He wouldn’t mind a little company if we decided to throw a mixer with some of His super best friends. That is: while we’re at it, we might as well ‘worship’ some other deities alongside Him…
Does your God demand a sacrifice? Why not appease Him/Her/It with a thick, juicy book? (Consider sacrificial logic: you give up something that is of value, because of its value, to appease your God. And are not books of the highest value?) Why oh why not burn books? Especially when your God expects it of you?
(4) Better yet—for the purposes of Evil!
Because that would be giving in. According to Slavoj Žižek, “In its most fundamental dimension sacrifice is a ‘gift of reconciliation’ to the Other, destined to appease its desire. Sacrifice conceals the abyss of the Other’s desire, more precisely: it conceals the Other’s lack, inconsistency… Sacrifice is a guarantee that ‘the Other exists’: that there is an Other who can be appeased by means of sacrifice”.
In other words, sacrifice presumes the existence of the big Other, when the truth of the matter is that “there is no big Other”. In reality, God did not command me to burn the Bible, because, strictly speaking, God isn’t. Worshipping him would require me to act according to the logic of fetishistic disavowal: “I know there is no big Other, but none the less… [I secretly believe in Him]”. And, in following this Lacanian-Žižekian discourse, we are led to condemn the sacrifice on these grounds: that it sustains the illusion of the big Other, when the truth of the matter is that God is less than dead.
Lacan suggests something interesting, though, when he tells us that “the sacrifice signifies that, in the object of our desires, we try to find evidence for the presence of the desire of this Other that I call here the dark God. It is the eternal meaning of sacrifice, to which no one can resist…”. I like that: the dark God. Here we are digging back to those gnostic notions reminiscent of Zoroaster and Mani, when God – as an omnipotent omniscient – was outright omniambivalent, sometimes even evil. (Like that wily tetragrammaton which wagers with Job’s life and induces Lot to commit incest with his daughters.) There is something infinitely more interesting about this obscene underside of the divine Law than its official incarnation, insofar as the former exposes the inner contradictions of the latter for all to see…
Consider, for example, the problem of Evil. We are told it has “been discussed throughout the ages by philosophers, religious thinkers of both the East and the West”. Isn’t it solved once and for all when we drop the notion of an ‘omnibenevolent’ god, and in its place adopt a disposition to dystheism? This is what Carl Jung does when, in his Septum Sermones ad Mortuos, he eschews the traditional term ‘God’ for the much more badass Abraxas in describing the Ultimate: “That which is spoken by God-the-Sun is life; that which is spoken by the Devil is death; Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word, which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible”. Herman Hesse provides a similar description of Abraxas: “We may conceive of the name as that of a godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements”. Is this what Lacan meant when he spoke of the dark God?
The other possibility is that he had the figure of Satan in mind, or some other ‘evil’ deity whose occupation it is to correspond diametrically to the will of the ‘good’ god: whenever God says ‘Nay’, Satan’s responsibility is to respond with a ‘Yay!’ His job depends on maintaining this minimal opposition. In considering Satan, then, we recognize a figure that is somewhat at the same height as God (albeit appearing on the opposite shoulder), even if it has been predicted that, post-Armageddon, Satan and his minions will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where… they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. (A vanishing mediator if there ever was one.) Still, without Satan to stand counterpoint to God, we would be unable to make sense of how we get seduced into sin, even on its original occasion. The figure of Satan “thus bears witness to the fact that God Himself needs ‘deviations’ in order to arrive at His full actuality via their vanquishing”.
We can imagine two reasons, then, why one might want to give shout outs to Satan. The first is that he performs the necessary-but-thankless task of reigning as the Prince of Darkness, which is structurally necessary for God to appear as a King of Light. So, in the same way that we might celebrate Administrative Professionals’ Day, once a year we should acknowledge the important contribution that Satan makes to God’s operations, both at home and in markets overseas. And what better way to promote the devil than by offering him a raze?
The second reason runs a little different from the first: one should appear as a Satanist in order to emphasize the absurdity of the doctrine that depends on such a vanishing mediator to smooth over its internal contradictions. The idea here is that ironic Satanism is more effective than self-serious atheism at exposing the ridiculosity of religiosity. Instead of falling into the same old impasses, ironic Satanism “moves the underground” of (Christian) religious belief through engaging “its own disavowed underside, its own obscene supplement” (that is, fantasies of diabolical evil, occultism, magic, exorcisms, etc.). From this point of view, we are atheists in Satanist’s clothing—but what better way to ‘short circuit’ the commonly held prejudice that, whatever the identity of (Christian) religion (however many wars fought, children abused, lives ruined, etc.), it cannot be as evil as d’evil?
In burning the Bible, I will be tempted to say, “Hail Satan!” But then I would only be giving the devil his due, when so many other organizations deserve credit for most of the evil within the world. “To evil (in general)!” would thus be more inclusive. But why not, then, pick out one of the best offenders to honour for high achievements in the field of evil? Such that, in burning the Bible and saying “Hail God!”, the address adequates its addressee?
We burn books to indicate evil where credit is due!
(5) The firelight of the idols.
Yet we should heed the warning that, in acting as if we are Satanists, we risk losing ourselves in our own charade. As Kurt Vonnegut puts it, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”. Next thing you know we are listening to Deicide and reading Anton LaVey—quelle cauchemar! So, to avoid such stale hell, we must keep in mind “that traumatic ‘bone in the throat’ that contaminates every ideality of the symbolic, rendering it contingent and inconsistent”. In other words, whether we make our offerings to God or the devil (or any other Other for that matter), we must remember that, in the end, it is all, how you say, a fiction.
Thus it might be better to reach back to Abraxas, whose awefull immanence already undermines the idea of its own agency. This means that since Abraxas is “God and Satan and he contains both the luminous and the dark world”, the concept is already outside of the domain in which terms like ‘personality’, ‘character’, ‘disposition’, etc., can be applied and still expected to mean anything. Sure, Pistorius may refer to “Him” in Hesse’s bildungsroman, but part of reaching maturity is having the “courage to use your own understanding”. This means coming to grips with this principle of awing immanence in a way that, instead of appealing to Abraxas as its agency and instigator, opts for Spinoza’s approach when he translates “that eternal and infinite being we call God, or in other words, Nature”.
This equation is suggested by Jung when he writes that “Abraxas is the world, its becoming and its passing”; and “Abraxas is effect. Nothing standeth opposed to it…”; and “had the pleroma a being, Abraxas would be its manifestation”. So it turns out that Abraxas is apparently everything: it, me, them, you, the rest of the world, and so on. But at this point we can’t help but wonder why Abraxas should receive any special recognition over and above the world itself. Especially if we are to take ‘the world’ in Nietzsche’s sense of the term, which neither skimps on the dread nor lapses into anthropocentrism: “a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a… sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back, with tremendous years of recurrence… still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my ‘beyond good and evil,’ without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal; without will, unless a ring feels good will towards itself…”.
Is this not a profile sketch of Abraxas? Albeit robbed of its will, unless that ‘will’ can be described as “will to power—and nothing besides!” Which is to say: Abraxas is not divine law and absolute mind, but dumb power and anonymous force (and nothing besides). Nietzsche’s conception of ‘the world’ thus helps us transition from mysticism to materialism: in reminding us that the world is “beyond good and evil”, “Dionysian”, and a “circle in itself”, Nietzsche returns us to our animal essence. Underneath our speech and shame there survives an eating/shitting/fucking-machine that is neither immortal nor implaceable on Darwin’s tree of life, one degree left of pan troglodytes and the rest of the regnum Animalia. Nietzsche reminds us of this, along with the fundamental ambivalence that Nature has towards tending to its menagerie of creations. Remember the dinosaurs: all it takes is one deep impact to wipe out “the beautiful and harmonious diversity of nature” in its entirety. So much for the prospect of ‘stabilizing’ our society through ‘reconciling’ our ‘relationship’ with ‘Mother Nature’.So where does that leave us? After we have rejected those worldviews “which descend from heaven to earth”, as Marx would put it, for one that sets “out from real, active men… on the basis of their life-process”? Here we find ourselves confronted with ourselves in our environment, which is to say back where we started. But with one important difference: we no longer harbor any illusions about the (historico-material) truth of our existence. We can now begin to see things for what they really are: namely, material (economic) relations that are mediated by (mostly false) ideologies. And though this truth might seem, well, miserable, it has the possibility – if you let it – to set you free – at the very least – from the mystifying effects (i.e. ‘false consciousness’) induced by ideological state apparatuses operative today in late Capitalist society.
This is no small relief, to be sure, but we want more than private Enlightenment—we want to change the world. Nietzsche tells us that the “strongest and most evil spirits have so far done the most to advance humanity; time and time… again they reawakened the sense of comparison, of contradiction, of delight in what is new, daring, unattempted… by toppling boundary stones, by violating pieties – but also by means of new religions and moralities!” In other words, we want to make a fire around which to clap our hands and stomp our feet, in order to shake the temple walls down, tear out the decorating, smash the stained-glass windows, etc., in order to make way for the New…
Who is standing in your way? Which giant, by standing on his shoulders, now kneels into your back? Moreover, which ideological interpellation do you absorb against your will? For the time tonight is right for toppling—into the fiery void texts we’re tossing—so why not send those awful idologies packing, and cast them straight to hell!
We burn books for the benefit of future culture!
(6) “There is no theory.”
Or, perhaps, we burn books just because!
Søren Kierkegaard writes: “The fact of the matter is that we must acknowledge that in the last resort there is no theory”. This is similar to Lacan’s “there is no big Other”, but slightly different—Kierkegaard’s quip critiques Lacan, insofar as it reminds us that, once again, “there is no big Other”, not even Lacan’s…
We are brought to see that there is no theory—there is only writing. About as much is suggested by Derrida in his essay about Poe, Freud, and Lacan: while the psychoanalysts would like to think that their texts have “a scientific value” that sets them apart from works of mere “literary fiction”, Derrida dares to wonder “what happens in the psychoanalytic deciphering of a text when the latter, the deciphered itself, already explicates itself?” This takes the form of Freud and Lacan finding their teachings “already… placed onstage and represented in itself in the explicated text [i.e. the primary, ‘merely illustrative’ examples of psychoanalytic theory (e.g. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Hoffman, Andersen, Poe, etc.)]”. That is to say: “Psychoanalysis finds itself/is found… in the text that it deciphers. More than itself”. Which means: we do not read Freud and Lacan to better understand, say, the Oedipus complex; instead, we read Oedipus the King to better grapple with that complex (of dramatic action) that would come to be so-called by Freud and, following him, Lacan.
This reversal of analytic approach opens up the entire domain of literature (and textuality in general) to the possibility of possessing a sort of significance that is correctly called ‘psychoanalytic’, even if this exercise in branding only took place thousands of years after people had already begun to be guided by its (accumulated) body of teachings, which had hitherto hibernated deep within the (margins of the) histoire, of the signifying chain, insisting in secretive silence upon man’s conscious activity from a position of near-perfect anonymity…
Which means the following: though it is true that it was “Freud’s discovery and that, owing to this discovery, the veritable center of human beings is no longer at the place ascribed to it by an entire humanist tradition”, it is true only insofar as Columbus can be said to have ‘discovered’ America (that is, somewhere which had already been discovered (Vikings, etc.), was already inhabited by people, and misidentified as India). Columbus didn’t so much ‘discover’ America as he crashed into it, like a moose on the highway. It was literally an impediment in his way to the East Indies. More than anything, he represents that moment when America from a Western (European) perspective was born; in turn, Freud didn’t so much ‘discover’ the Unconscious as he represents that moment of self-reflexivity that studied and classified it from a (modern, scientific) Western (European) perspective. It had been there all along, in the shadows of our Enlightenment, but it took Freud to make It the focus of his remarkably modern discourse to turn Its study into the subject of a science (along with Lacan, to his credit). But don’t be mistaken: “Planet X” was there for millions of years before astronomer Clyde Tombaugh tracked it down in 1930, allowing for the subsequent pageant which would adopt a child’s morbid suggestion to name it after Pluto, Lord of the Underworld. We can see that our (self-reflexive) knowledge of its whereabouts neither alters nor impedes the fact that it will continue to go on doing the same thing that it has already done now for millions of years, even notwithstanding its recent demotion in celestial station to the planet-rank of dwarf. All the same, the Unconscious is always out there, circling around us in obscure orbit, exacting unknown forces upon our world, altering its tides and measures just enough to make a significant difference in everything, from our speech to our conduct, and thus ultimately our fates as mortals living in this world…
So, once again, we are brought back to the fact that ultimately, there is no theory—there is only writing. To be sure, there is writing about theory, and theory insofar as there is writing, but the world’s wisdom could get flushed down the toilet and we could still develop an “unerring instinct” into the nature of the Unconscious from exposure alone. Let us render unto Caesar those truths which are Caesar’s: “experience is the best master in every thing on which the wit of man is employed”. Insofar as our goal is both to “interpret” as well as “to change” “the world”, we should not confine ourselves to booklearning, as if most of its contents could not also be extrapolated from the complex of social relations that constitutes our “material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises”. Instead we insist on experientialism, the study of and intervention into experience as such, with no less ruthless an insistence than the snakebit student who is driven by the “greed for knowledge” to pour over great terrains of literature, in pursuit of Absolute Knowing, as an end in itself…
This is nothing more than the revolutionary notion of Total Theory—which, having seen theories (in the form of literature) sacrificed at the stake, is their rebirth as the wholly encompassing Spirit of (self-)critical analysis that pervades all experience as such. It is the redoubled recommitment to the world we live in, as subjects that are capable of (serious, complex, analytic, (self-)critical) thought, to keep thought alive, against the onslaughts of the culture industry and the ideological state apparatuses operative today in (‘postmodern’, ‘permissive’, over-advertised) late Capitalist society. It is a form of total resistance to ideology as such, in all its shapes and forms, in full recognition that we are “always-already interpellated… as subjects” and thus irrevocably “within ideology”. Thus it is defined by a constant process of beating back stupidity, of not allowing oneself to get caught up in the common ignorance, the festival of idiots, on behalf of promoting le cause cérébral, in the belief that this is the (only) way to the truth and its life, or in any case the only real Truth to enlighten the way of our lives going forward into the future…
This is the task of Total Theory—this is the mission. To make thought live in the minds of men, despite their neglect of this basic duty, due de facto to the disinclination in popular use of its pedagogic supplement: the good book. Recognizing that it is your duty to deliver the contents of good books unto the great unthunk whether they like it or not, whether you like it or not, and that this activity is (out of all things!) done out of love—this is the calling of the Total Theorist. A theory which envelops every situation, and has even overcome the obstacles imposed by its origins (in books) to find its ultimate expression and realization in the common discourse (i.e. the “language of real life”) of late Capitalist society. A theory which, grown robust and confident in-itself against the palliatives and smokescreens of official ideologies, acts for-itself by taking up unflinching opposition against them, wherever they might begin to mystify us “to the relations of production and to class relations”. Here we find Total Theory as the realization of Kant’s motto for the Enlightenment – “sapere aude!” – once it has been radicalized and recast to resemble Kant’s other imperative, which, more than mere goading, insists categorically on our fidelity to its law. Total Theory thus becomes the new universal maxim: act always on that knowledge which you could at the same time dare to learn/dare to know.
But what has this got to do with libricide? Here we must recall (and rephrase) Aristotle’s famous reproach to his mentor Plato: “it presumably seems better, indeed only right, to destroy even what is close to us if that is the way to preserve truth. And we must especially do this when we are philosophers, <lovers of wisdom>; for though we love both the truth and our friends, piety requires us to honor the truth first”.Here we follow his lead and say: it presumably seems better, indeed only right, to burn books if that is the way to preserve truth. And we must especially do this when we are Total Theorists; for though we love both the truth and our books, honesty requires us to honor the truth (i.e. the fact that “there is no theory”) first and foremost.
And so, in order to make this pledge, we “destroy even what is close to us” as a way of demonstrating our fidelity to Total Theory. It is on behalf of this eternal calling that, for one day a year, we burn books as a reminder that there is no theory—there is only writing—and, consequently, sometimes not even this. Sometimes we’ve naught but a flame around which to gather, an oasis of light in a desert of darkness, to watch hundreds of pages crumple in fits of combustion, illuminating albeit in a way unintended, but nevertheless nothing in the way of what’s spoken, which, as thought turned to praxis, is “worth more than all the German theories of true socialism put together”. Not to mention all the utopian theories of liberal capitalism, all the articles of bourgeois culture, of false consciousness, etc., that constitute our current milieu of so-called ‘culture’, implemented as it is by the ideological state apparatuses and its eponymous industry. Against this we aim to boldly think new thoughts where few have thought before, out loud and in the open, in opposition to all idologies always, wherever they may come from, for now and for ever, and ever, amen.
Now hark! and hear the good word! of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Poe, Freud, Lacan, Althusser, Žižek, Marx, etc…
Such is the power of living thought—such is the mission of Total Theory—and such is (one of) the reason(s) why – when asked to reply – we’d rather burn books than live a false life (a lie).
(7) Damn Nazis!
But then someone said, “What about the Nazis?”
Well, what about the Nazis?
Their book burnings, like those of the Spanish Inquisition, were cruel and unimaginable. So much hatred and racism! How could they be so barbaric? You can take my word for it: ours will be much more polite, much more friendly. You don’t even have to have a uniform—you can just show up, like, whenever.
Maybe you could think of us like a multicultural, tolerant NPO that is pro-equality and, as it so happens, pro-book burning. Our motto could be: Your partner in biblioclasm since 2011. Or: Burning books together since 2011. Or: We’ll burn your books so you don’t have to. (I will come in to your house and take the books off your shelves and burn them in the road, for a small service fee.) Something more or less innocuous, like an advertisement for a landscaping company or a junk removal service. In any case, nothing as outlandish as the Führer’s infantile fantasy of National Socialism, with its propagandas of the ‘fatherland’, ‘people (volk)’, ‘racial purity’, etc.
As with the Spanish Inquisition, it should suffice it to say that we are not the Nazis. We detest the comparison: yes, the Nazis burned books, but it doesn’t make the gesture of book burning theirs for the, um, record books. Aside from the Spanish Inquisition, there are many other evil agencies spread out over the course of history that would dispute the claim that Hitler owned the book burn. In fact, we may very well burn books to reclaim its meaning from its Aryan usurpers, which must have been the idea when “Allies [in 1946] adopted a typical Nazi device” to “re-educate Germany” by reducing “to pulp all ‘undemocratic, militaristic, and Nazi’ literature, museum and library material, newspapers, films and war memorials”. The Allies could not allow themselves to be upstaged by the Nazis – nor could they allow for a ‘book burning gap’ to mount between them and the Soviets – so they arranged to ‘liberate’ more that 30,000 titles (including, among others, von Clausewitz) in their bid to regain worldwide book burning supremacy. But, as fate would have it, although the Allies won the battle, they did not win the war (against books). They could not displace the Nazis’ reputation as the preeminent book burners of recent history, which, to this day, stands throughout the West in near unanimous consent.
Which is why we burn books: to contest fascism. We aim to reclaim what’s rightfully ours—as communists. Žižek writes that “parades, mass performances in the stadia, and so on… are… not inherently fascist; they are not even ‘neutral,’ waiting to be appropriated by Left or Right—it was Nazism that stole them and appropriated them from the workers’ movement, their original creator”. He goes on to comment that “None of the ‘proto-fascist’ elements is per se fascist, what makes them ‘fascist’ is only their specific articulation… In other words, there is no ‘fascism avant la lettre,’ because it is the letter itself (the nomination) which makes out of the bundle of elements fascism proper”. This is why “ideological liberalism… misses the point” by postulating “a ‘deeper solidarity’ between the two ‘totalitarianisms’”, and also why “the very predicate ‘proto-fascist’ should be abandoned: it is the exemplary case of a pseudo-concept whose function is to block conceptual analysis. When we say that the organized spectacle… is ‘proto-fascist’, we say strictly nothing, we just express a vague association which masks our ignorance”.
Which is why we are unfazed when, inevitably, someone sooner or later asks, “What about the Nazis?” We reply: Yes, how about them! as we go about our burning. But this does not satisfy: “Aren’t you just like them? Aren’t you, in a way, fascists also?” To which we can only reply: Are we? Let us count the ways, aside from book burning, that we resemble the Nazis…
Everyone should be good enough to ask honestly of themselves this basic question, at least once a year: (in what ways) am I a fascist? Dare to take this question seriously, instead of dismissing it out of hand like a good little Eichmann.After all, this only shows that we take the problem of (racist) fascism seriously, as a real threat that may be operating as we speak, underneath our radar, as it were, interweaved into the very background of our ‘multicultural’, ‘tolerant’, ‘postmodern’ Western lifestyles…
What is the machine doing in other lands, while we drowse cynically in front of our televisions? While we sleep sound and snug in suburban subdivisions? What actions do we authorize overseas, under what conditions, using what means, to what end? Have we fallen into that greatest ‘difficulty’, the very same that makes it “difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it”? These are questions that we all must ask at some time or another, to ourselves and each other, and be prepared to learn the answer, whatever it may be.
With that being said, though, we must admit that there is no real resemblance between us and the Nazis, at least not in the way of their most notable features (such as racism, homophobia, murder, causing a World War, the Holocaust, etc.). So long as we hang to our principles of social justice, solidarity, and – most crucial – Total Theory, we won’t risk resembling the worst and most ruthless mass murderers of the 20th century (whether we consider them to be red, white, blue, or green). However, the same cannot be said for everyone living today, such as the bosses of Capital, whose regime of global poverty is doing its best to grind the proletariat down to nothing, extract what it needs, and use the leftovers to produce – everyone’s favourite! – Soylent Green…
Which is not cool to talk about, I know. I should just shut up. End of discussion.
After all, the Propriety Command may be out in full force, patrolling the present text for remarks of potential offense. (The threat: someone somewhere may take offense.) Words whose mere mention maddens the stewards of the state (of standards, of language, grammar, etc.), who have taken it upon themselves to cleanse public discourse of all elements (that is, signifiers) which, under the decree of bourgeois décor, have been deemed, it would seem, unseemly.
P.C. is so positively chic that we can only refer to it by its initials. As if the very notion of politics (that is, “the political as such, of social antagonism”) is too political to be mentioned in any po-lite conversation (in the home, at work, with friends, etc.). It is a form of anti-discourse that conducts itself through its own disavowal and avoidance, along with an ever-growing grocery list of pseudo-swears, which are themselves taken off the table as a priori insensitive. As if it was the words themselves that were the cause of the controversy, and not the attitudes of people thereto. It is on this basis (that is, the displacement of the assignation of blame from (sections of) society onto an assortment of sacrilegious signifiers) that an effect of censorship is enacted, that often sabotages its own desire to address the problem that it aims to resolve. At some times, P.C. is nothing more than the active misrecognition of political conflict as such, in the form of replacing historically ‘charged’ terms (which, despite their supposedly ‘offensive’ nature, can be used to identify and redress power relations, of exploitation, racism, sexism, etc.) with ‘neutral’ terms which, stripped of their historical register, offer little more in the way of speaking to the situation than Ignatieffesque obfuscation.
Aside from this, the P.C. position also does not acknowledge the other “problem with replacing aggressive with ‘politically correct’ expressions: when one replaces ‘short-sighted’ with ‘visually challenged’, one can never be sure that this replacement itself will not generate new effects of patronizing and/or ironic offensiveness, all the more humiliating inasmuch as it is masked benevolence. The mistake of this ‘politically correct’ strategy is that it underestimates the resistance of the language we actually speak to the conscious regulation of its effects, especially effects that involve power relations.”
Two things can be gleaned from this. The first is that benevolence often amounts to ambivalence, or even inconvenience, when it isn’t thought through (and sometimes even when it is). You might be tempted to say to your political representatives and employer: with good deeds like these, who needs evil! In a way, the same holds for language, in that the act precedes its effects, or the intentions that go into the expression of a signifier do not live up to the repercussions of its enunciation. Once given body, a word takes on a life of its own, due to the ultimately “arbitrary nature of the sign [which] is really what protects language from any attempt to modify it”. This leads us to the second point: what is really missing from the P.C. position is any awareness that the “particular language-state is always the product of historical forces, and these forces explain why the sign is unchangeable, i.e. why it resists any arbitrary substitution”. Which means that words survive themselves – in spite of what fashionable (i.e. bourgeois) “good taste” tends to think in its ongoing, guilt-fuelled frenzy of self-bowdlerization – if only to articulate that wholly viable position that stands antithesis to the prohibition commission, comprised as it is of “both the politically correct left and the morally correct right”.
Which leads us to locate in the gutters of “the official discourse” that language which speaks for “the ‘part of no part’, those who, while formally included within the social edifice, have no determinate place within it”. It is an articulate obscenity that can vouch for the vulgus, those who, without much of their own, are consigned to self-refer through the vulgar vulgate imposed upon them by “mass culture under monopoly”. The commonest vernacular is (de)composed of this wasteland that nonetheless abounds with a sort of vegetation, and to gather flowers (i.e. memes, insults, jokes, commercial catchphrases, etc.) from such a grot calls for more than a chance gardener. Aside from extensive weeding, the site requires significant ideolandscaping (i.e. demystifying practice), before it can be tilled and made ready for its eventual growth and harvest. Suffice it to say that this is where we come in, as a team to work the fields, and get them ready to reap a surplus the likes of which has never been sown…
And so we burn books to show our solidarity with the lumpensprachen against the encroachments and reproaches of P.C. In this way, we burn books for – not against – the freedom of speech. Furthermore, we take offence to that uncommon denominator that demands to stamp our discourse with its seal, to make sure that we conform to an innocuous and apolitical ideal. But our message is unmistakable: why else would we burn books but to break the rules? To stand against the intolerable regime of “tolerance”, i.e. of po-lite company, which is bourgeois ideology that competes for cultural hegemony under the guise of so-called ‘common decency’ and, in the subsequent implementation of its decree, lacks any and all degree of proportionality? Not to mention sanity?
The question stands reversed: why not burn books? Especially when archenemy ideologies are published in abundance, postered all over the place, and writ so dreadful easy to read? When they are issued as state propagandas, pushed onto the bookmarkets, to deluge bestsellers lists with mystifying materials in support of Queen and colony? As the very epitome of false consciousness, as exemplified in exemplum under the emblematic notion of national heredity, i.e. the common fantasy of a shared identity and, owing to it, Destiny? And used to reinforce a cultur-ethico-legal fiction about a regular everyday character that, although imaginary, is to blame for much of the world’s unnecessary anxiety, going as it does by the well-known name of ‘normalcy’?
Now you should be able to see why we burn books—most definitely! To ask the burning question of our movement – that is, our reason to be – so as to suggest that – right now, for you and me – we could give no better answer than Anti-P.C.
Don’t you agree?
Now repeat after me:
(9) Art Matters
Our militant stance on this matter does not exclude us from book burning also on behalf of any of the aforementioned reasons. Just because this last one (Anti-P.C.) “overdetermines” our deed does not mean that we do not also burn books to worship gods and devils, to topple idols, to show that there is no theory, only Total Theory, etc.; or, for that matter, that we don’t just burn books for the art of it, of which we are told it (supposedly) matters.
We take this to mean that art is biodegradable: paintings, books, statues, musicians and their instruments, etc.—any thing (object) to which an aura can become attached. It disintegrates into its mere materials with enough exposure to heat, pressure, and time, leaving the aura to hover aimless over the site of its undoing, in nostalgia for itself, so long as there are doters who still believe and can keep the ghost alive.
But what really survives underneath this plurality of fashionalities is the universal spirit of art, once it has been stripped of its (historical, contingent) clothing. It is one voice that cries out in expression, in every tongue, against the procession of a lifeless order that ordains the ordinary as the essential essence of everything and everyone. It is neverending revolution, in other words, against the implementation of official style, which is considered to trickle down from elites, bureaucracies, ISAs, and other sources of authority, in the form of one mass culture (and a few mass media) instituted under the economic conditions of monopoly.
Which means that art is anti-‘normalcy’ in its very essence. Its innovation (that is, its novelty, its ability to channel the New) is strictly correlative to its rejection of the former (socio-politico-cultural) scheme, whose meaning – if it ever had one, aside from encapsulating a certain historical tradition’s measurements of efficiency and efficacy – has since been normalized and put out to pasture in Capital’s green fields, working in the employ of the very Beast from whose legacy it once desperately sought to differentiate (through recourse to artistic self-expression), but ultimately – as it so often happens in the afterlife of our youthful intentions – came to embrace with what could be called the indifference of the grave, or at least its diggers, who today too often lend their services only to be first in line to collect the effects of an inheritable estate.
But art – for it to matter – cannot afford to be indifferent: there has to be friction, to rub up against it, and so art must resist something bigger than itself: the status quo. In opposition to its static regime and in alliance with the creative capabilities of dynamic subjectivity, art ever seeks to give new expression to our identities, the possibilities thereof, in reality and fantasy (e.g. dreams), and to those “unknown knowns” that are buried just below the surface but all the same uncovered in the accidental apertures of our thought and speech.
According to Marshall McLuhan, it is artistic productions that help us “to grope towards a consciousness of the unconscious” , because “the artist… has had the power—and courage—of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world”. He adds that “inherent in the artist’s creative inspiration is the process of subliminally sniffing out environmental change”. This is why the “power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation or more, has long been recognized”, and why “Ezra Pound called the artist ‘the antennae of the race.’ Art as radar acts as ‘an early alarm system,’ as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them”. It is for this reason that art “takes on the function [in modern society] of indispensible perceptual training rather than the role of a privileged diet for the elite”; in other words, grappling with art becomes a necessary condition for understanding both who we are and the world in which we live, as well as the nature of that subconscious entity that “ex-sists” somewhere in between.
As artists we thus must learn to trust ourselves to create with a sort of abandon—which means not only to follow Freud’s imperative that wherever It was, so I shall be with my practice in hand to document the scene, but also to be willing to provoke audiences with alarming artworks indicative of those dangers that await us in the future, supposing our society continues to go on living in a way that represses the true scope of its transhumanity. From this perspective, then, we burn books both to reclaim the unconscious as inhabitable terrain, and to send up a smoke signal of distressing content: the future is a funeral pyre upon which all literature might as well be lit, unless we can overhaul an intellectually torpid culture that condones (damns) its children to grow up to be malfunctioning illiterates, for one that recognizes why we all should aim to read and write at a level surpassing that of grade six.
Our performance art asks: why not burn books, when otherwise they’ll only turn to dust in dilapidated basements, forgotten storage stacks, anonymous warehouses, dumps, attics, etc.? When they’ll be left out on the curb, only to get kicked down the road and ruined in the rain? To prop up endless tables and armchairs? That is, who really cares, when we can ‘realize our potential’, ‘be happy’, and ‘achieve’ ‘success’ without ever having opened up a book on our own time, and without ever having operated a dictionary to learn what (or whether) these terms mean? Why is it a heresy, in other words, to burn books but not to destroy TVs? I mean, really: whom do we think we are fooling as to where our allegiances lay as a society?
(10) The Pact
For we are the ones we have been waiting for to interrupt what’s wrong with the old (way of doing things, based on inherited traditions, institutions, ideologies, biases, castes, codes, etc.) and to replace these with the New.
And yet Žižek writes that “This is what a proper political act would be today: not so much to unleash a new movement, as to interrupt the present predominant movement”. But isn’t this the same thing as calling for “a new movement” organized around the ideal of instigating interruptions? The New follows after our actions, even when they are employed in the disposal of those old doctrines that weigh “like a nightmare on the brains of the living”. We instigate the future simply by making a space for it to take place, like a location that must first be cleared of debris before it can be cultivated. Thus to initiate the process we must initially accept the situation of the site as it sits this second: “We have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, that the catastrophe will take place, that it is our destiny—and then, against the background of this acceptance, mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change destiny itself and thereby insert a new possibility into the past”.
In other words, “the task is ‘merely’ to stop the train of history which, left to its own course, leads to a precipice”; which would “mean pulling the emergency cord on the train of Historical Progress”. Pynchon gives us a similar description of “the System, which sooner or later must crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life. Living inside the System is like riding across the country in a bus driven by a maniac bent on suicide…”. This – combined with Žižek’s warning that “Communism is thus not the light at the end of the tunnel, that is, the happy final outcome of a long and arduous struggle—if anything, the light at the end of the tunnel is rather that of another train approaching us at full speed” – is what leads us to advocate on behalf of the interruptive and the obstructionist. We intervene into the operations of late Capitalism, the state of its institutions and ideological apparatuses, in an attempt to prevent the ‘progress’ of its kamikaze nosedive: if it were left to itself, Western civilization would go on “removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity—most of the World, animal, vegetable and mineral, is laid to waste in the process”. To stay us from arriving at such an apocalyptic endpoint, we are forced to imagine an alternative to the end of the world (as we know it), and, at the very least, to insert this into our own lives in the place of any ideologies, first of all, whose (external) existence has the effectivity of excusing/exempting/extolling/exacting the exercise of exploitative and abusive practices in the economic extraction (extortion) of extras, at home and abroad; and also any which interpellates (incites/invites) us to ignore the evidence of who we are and what we are doing in favour of following after those imaginary incentives with which we are inculcated constantly in late Capitalist society, which induce us to uncritically conform to those hegemonic habits and norms that “reproduce the conditions of production” with the utmost ease for the bourgeoisie. Or to put it less loquacious: “If we are to break free from the limitations of our current thinking that supports social injustice and hierarchy and move beyond the status quo, we must begin to talk, think, and act differently”.
On this matter we cannot afford to be mistaken: it must (and will only ever) be us who takes the initiative to make way for the New. This is why there “is only one correct answer to those… who desperately await the arrival of a new revolutionary agent capable of instigating the long-expected radical social transformation. It takes the form of the old Hopi saying, with a wonderful Hegelian twist from substance to subject: ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for.’ (This is a version of Gandhi’s motto: ‘Be yourself the change you want to see in the world.’) Waiting for someone else to do the job for us is a way of rationalizing our inactivity”.
This means nothing other than setting out to accomplish the impossible—but when the “true utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely, the only way to be truly ‘realistic’ is to think what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible”. And so we may come to be called utopians, idealists, dreamers, etc., but, aside from the fact that we’re not the only ones, we can rest assured in the knowledge that we are nonetheless different from those delusional cases whose tendency is to endanger themselves and others due to having disavowed the disconnect (that is experienced as daily discord) between their everyday existences and the ‘official’ explanations thereof. What they lack the lucidity to see is that our dreams of the Real have infinitely more truth to them than so-called ‘reality’, ‘the real world’, ‘normalcy’, etc.; that is, that commonest delusion, that make-believe mockup of what it means to be human in late Capitalist society, that amounts to little more than the freedom to choose (consume) sixteen different flavours of ‘personality’.
But this does not leave us free to proceed under the assumption of our own inherent infallibility: “the trap to be avoided here is that of perverse self-instrumentalization: ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for’ does not mean we have to discover how it is we are the agent predestined by fate (historical necessity) to perform the task—it means quite the opposite, namely that there is no big Other to rely on. In contrast to classical Marxism where ‘history is on our side’ (the proletariat fulfils the predestined task of universal emancipation), in the contemporary constellation, the big Other is against us: left to itself, the inner thrust of our historical development leads to catastrophe, to apocalypse; what alone can prevent such calamity is, then, pure voluntarism, in other words, our free decision to act against historical necessity.”
This is what it must mean to accept the pact—we said earlier that our task was to plough the soil, to interrupt its consistency, into a series of furrows, in order to allow for the openings through which new formations of life might break through to the surface. We volunteer our efforts to this collective endeavour, even though it is still yet unclear what kinds of crops shall spring forth when the time comes after the hard rains fall. Still though, we believe in the fundamental justice of our calling as farmers of the future; and we see the necessity of our actions, insofar as growth is today what is needed most, and the only way that this is going to happen is through making a commitment to (the) actual (practice/praxis of) ideoculture (i.e. the agriculture of ideologies, which includes weeding, pruning, mowing, manuring, swailing, etc.). In other words, to accept the pact means to commit yourself to the Cause, in both thought and action, even when it is taxing, onerous, or in other ways unpleasant. It is founded on the collective recognition that it is only through performing the actual act of ideoculture that our society shall not go on to starve in the future for lack of attention to the grounds that support our world, that sustain our (children’s children’s) lives. This is what the pact entails: nothing more than the awareness of what is going on, why it is happening, and the will to do something about it—nothing more than being the change that it is necessary to see in the world so that human life can (and will) survive into the future indefinitely, and not without its due degree of “human status and dignity”.
And, like any good pact, ours is signified extraneously—not with a handshake, but with the gift of light, of a blaze that exudes its own ominous portent: a reminder of what’s at stake. Namely, that our world will end up a bonfire unless we hit the breaks. And when alongside this important insight we acknowledge that a taboo is transgressed in using such pulpwood ingredients to fuel the combustion at the center of our ceremony, we are made to feel ill at ease, as we should be. Our pact, like that which was presided over by the band of brothers after having murdered and devoured the primordial father, is not without a shared shame at its core. This is to remind us that we owe it to people besides ourselves – each other, and others whom we have yet to meet but are still to be counted amongst those for whom we have been waiting, as comrades in an army of we – to follow through on our commitment to the common creed, and uphold the pact in both word and deed. For without this there is nothing but fictions of the future to tantalize the fantasies of today with what tomorrow could be – that is, even if it won’t – since the only way we’ll succeed the present is through standing together in solidarity, unified against the forces of finance and industry that seek to accelerate us to the final chapter of an autobiography that, as it has yet to be written, need not end up an eschatology.
Which is why we burn books in the last resort: to warn of what’s to come, so long as our society abdicates authorship of its own story, under the pretense that we aren’t free to choose the course of our own destiny. But if the future is a blank page, then its open to any number of possibilities, most of which we should welcome when compared with those that follow from letting capitalism run its course like a terminal disease. What’s important to keep in mind is that in order to decide in what kind of world we want to live (that is, if we want to live), we must inscribe it ourselves into our own words and actions, into the very slipstream and fabric of our still-living lives. Even when it clots the flow, goes against the grain, or otherwise interrupts the procession that would have us believe that the empire is good and in control of the machine, it is only through mounting such interventions (into ideologies, politics, operations, etc.) that we might stand a chance to save the world—assuming, that is, that is isn’t already too late…
In which case, we might as well make the most of the fire in our midst
and cherish the last days…
For it may very well be the case that
(aside from our one-year anniversary)
we burn books to celebrate
the end of the world!
1An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Commons), ch. XII.
- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Commons), ch. XII.↵
- Euripides and Alcestis: Speculations, Simulations, and Stories of Love in Athenian Culture (Lanham, MD: University Press of America Inc., 1998), p. 49.↵
- Gataveckas, Noah, Symposium: A Philosophical Mash-up (Toronto: 2011), pp. 27 – 28.↵
- Symposium, trans. Alexander Nehemas & Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989), 216c.↵
- See Xenophon, Symposium, trans. H. G. Dakyns (Commons), bk. V.↵
- Symposium, trans. Alexander Nehemas & Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989), 222a.↵
- Ibid., 215d – 216b.↵
- Plato, Republic, trans. G. M. A. Grube, revis. C. D. C. Reeve (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1992), 338c.↵
- Symposium, trans. Alexander Nehemas & Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989), 215d – 215e.↵
- Slavoj Žižek writes that “the horizon of historical-symbolic practice is ‘not-all’, that it is inherently ‘decentered’, founded upon the abyss of a radical fissure – in short, that the Real as its Cause is forever absent” (The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality (London: Verso, 2005), p. 136). In other words, there can be no complete account of knowledge, no unifying ‘meta-narrative’ that provides us with all the answers. It follows from this that we can never arrive at a ‘complete’ view of the world, and that our knowledge is always (necessarily) incomplete.↵
- Symposium, trans. Alexander Nehemas & Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989), 216b.↵
- See Shakespeare, Hamlet (Commons), III.i.↵
- Dillon, Martin C., Semiological Reductionism: a Critique of the Deconstructionist Movement in Postmodern Thought (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995), p. 79.↵
- Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004), p. 48.↵
- Kristeva, Julia, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p. 64.↵
- This is based on Lacan’s theory of plus-de-jouir (‘bonus of pleasure’ or ‘surplus-pleasure’), which entails that “the Law does not prohibit or repress, but rather, incites its own transgression: ‘Indeed, the Law appears to be giving the order, ‘Jouis!’” (Newman, Saul, From Bakunin to Lacan (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001), p. 145). Bruce Fink adds that this is “constructed on the model of plus-value, the traditional French translation of Marx’s Mehrwert (surplus value)” (The Lacanian Subject (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 191).↵
- “‘Cathexis’ is a translation, invented by [James] Strachey (the overseeing editor of the Standard Edition of Freud’s works), of the original German Besetzung, meaning ‘filling’ or ‘occupation’ (as by troops) or ‘charge’ (as in electrical charge). Strachey’s translation is derived from the Greek catechein, meaning ‘to occupy’… Freud ultimately identifies cathexis with his concept of libido, the energy of the sexual instincts present, he maintains, from the beginning in every individual’s life. This is on the basis that sexual instinct itself is a form of object-directedness, the highest form of which is ‘the state of being in love, when the subject seems to give up his own personality in favour of an object-cathexis’” (Cazeaux, Clive, The Continental Aesthetics Reader, ed. Clive Cazeaux (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 494).↵
- Almansor: Eine Tragödie (Commons), II.↵
- Žižek helps us understand the true definition of irony through recourse to “the old Hegelian motto les non-dupes errent. Let us take the affirmation ‘I believe.’ Its negation is: ‘I do not really believe, I just fake to believe.’ However, its properly Hegelian negation of negation is not the return to direct belief, but the self-relating fake: ‘I fake to fake to believe,’ which means: ‘I really believe without being aware of it.’ Is, then, irony not the ultimate form of the critique of ideology today – irony in the precise Mozartian sense of taking the statements more seriously than the subjects who utter them themselves?” (“With or Without Passion – What’s Wrong With Fundamentalism? I”, lacan dot com (online)). Even if there were some non-dupes within the Spanish Inquisition (‘I don’t really believe in God, but I fake it to get to persecute Muslims, torture, etc.’), our aim is the negation of the negation, true irony. In this way (and only in this way) we are like the Spanish Inquisition: we appear as dupes of our own dupery. This is in order to take the statement ‘thou shalt not burn books’ (which assumes the statement ‘books are of (some) value’, to which we heartily agree in the positive) more seriously than those who would condemn us (e.g. reactionary liberals, dogmatic Christians, people who watch network news, etc.). We have a book burning to celebrate the value and importance of books—yet those who would stand in judgment of us seem to have neither the time nor interest to take seriously the act of reading books, let alone burning them…↵
- On September 20th, 2010, “Pentagon officials bought and destroyed [by fire] all 9,500 copies of a soldier’s book about Afghanistan… The entire first print run of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s book ‘Operation Dark Heart’ was snapped up by officials at a cost of $250,000… on the orders of [anonymous] Pentagon chiefs” (Thompson, Paul, “Pentagon buys and destroys 9,500 copies of soldier’s Afghanistan book ‘to protect military secrets’”, The Daily Mail 27 Sept 2010).↵
- Despite its other connotations, the term ‘bitch’ is used to describe: the act of making derogatory comments (about something); to criticize (something) spitefully, often for the sake of complaining rather than in order to have the problem corrected. This applies across gender lines: everyone is capable of ‘bitching’ about something. (For example: Rush Limbaugh is a professional ‘bitch’ in the strictest sense of the term.) When taken in this strict sense, considering her propensity to ‘bitch’ about almost everything, it must be granted that Ayn Rand can quite correctly be referred to as a ‘bitch’. See Walker, Jeff, The Ayn Rand Cult (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1999), p. 250.↵
- Miller, Arthur I., Empire of the Stars: Obsession, Friendship, and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005), p. 11.↵
- Including ‘E=mc2’ and “He does not play dice [with the universe]” (Kline, Morris, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 249).↵
- Neil Postman writes that “everyone practices stupidity, including those who write about it; none of us is ever free of it, and we are most seriously endangered when we think we are safe. That there is an almost infinite supply of stupidity, including our own, should provide [us] with a sense of humility…” (Conscientious Objections (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988), p. 88).↵
- Plato, “Apology”, Five Dialogues, trans. G. M. A. Grube, revis. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2002), 21d.↵
- Ludwig Wittgenstein writes that “You can’t hear God speak to someone else, you can hear him only if you are being addressed” (Zettel, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007), p. 124).↵
- Genesis 22:2-14.↵
- Acts 19:19.↵
- 1 Peter 2:21.↵
- Exodus 20:5.↵
- Enjoy your Symptom!: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 56.↵
- Richard Boothby writes: “In Lacanian terms, the Other—the so-called ‘big Other’—is the locus of the code, the treasury of signifiers that constitutes the symbolic system. Understood from the point of view we have adopted, the example of sacrifice allows us to see with special clarity what this big Other is doing there. The big Other of sacrifice is, first of all, the deity in whose name the ritual is performed and to whom sacrificial offerings are extended” (Freud as Philosopher (New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 186).↵
- Žižek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (London: Verso, 2002), p. 89.↵
- Žižek states that “it is the same with the big Other as it is with God according to Lacan (it is not that God is dead today; God was dead from the very beginning, only He didn’t know it…): it never existed in the first place, that is, the nonexistence of the big Other is ultimately equivalent to the fact that the big Other is the symbolic order, the order of symbolic fictions which operate on a level different from that of direct material causality… In short, the ‘nonexistence of the big Other’ is strictly correlative to the notion of belief, of symbolic trust, of credence, of taking what others say ‘at face value’” (The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso, 2000), pp. 322 – 323).↵
- And that’s not all that perishes with the fall of the big Other. Marcus Pound corroborates Žižek’s story when he claims that “sacrifice accords to the logic of metaphysics, whereby a part sacrificed sustains a sense of imaginary wholeness. Lacan’s resistance to the logic of sacrifice is therefore the attempt to move beyond metaphysics, to challenge the very idea that a big Other exists” (Žižek: a (very) critical introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), p. 44).↵
- The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton & Co., 1978), p. 275.↵
- Mazdaism held that there are “two original Spirits who, as Twins… are what is good and evil… in the beginning (each) create(d) for himself life and nonlife…” (Yasna 30:3-4). Furthermore, Yasna 31:4 suggests that God did not create everything, but only that which is good. Presumably, then, Ahriman/Satan created the rest.↵
- Manichaeism held that this dualism between good and evil took place within our bodies: “We have comprehended (the teaching about) the lightless earth; we have come to know and understand our bodies and our souls, that they are from above and form below, from Light and from Darkness…” (Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim, ed., Gnosis on the Silk Road (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 331).↵
- Job 1:10-12.↵
- Genesis 19:32-38.↵
- Hume puts it as follows: God’s “power we allow is infinite: whatever he wills is executed: but neither man nor any other animal is happy: therefore he does not will their happiness. His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of Nature tends not to human or animal felicity: therefore it is not established for this purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these… Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then evil?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Commons), part 10). Frank J. Tipler adds that “the Problem of Evil has always been the central difficulty faced by monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam”, thereby suggesting that there are other religions that can provide valid (theological) explanations for the problem of evil in a way that is consistent with their (religious) cosmogony (The Physics of Immortality (Toronto: Anchor Books, 1994), p. 251).↵
- Singh, N.K., Religious Concept of Sin (Dehli: Global Vision Publishing House, 2003), p. 13.↵
- Robert C. Koons writes that “Dystheism is the thesis that God exists but is not wholly good… Consequently, the upshot of the problem of evil should be to lead us towards dystheism and not atheism” (“Lecture #19: The Problem of Evil: Preliminaries” (1998) (online)).↵
- The Seven Sermons to the Dead, trans. H. G. Baynes (Commons), sermo III.↵
- Demian, trans. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck (New York: Bantam Books, 1965), p. 78.↵
- Yasna 45:2 provides a precise explication of this principle: “Now I shall proclaim the original two Spirits of existence. About the two, the very beneficent would have spoken thus to the evil one: Neither our minds nor pronouncements nor intellects nor yet choices nor words nor yet deeds, nor visions… nor souls… are in agreement” (Malandra, William W., trans., An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 40).↵
- Revelations 20:10.↵
- Žižek tells us that in “Schelling’s late philosophy, this figure of the ‘vanishing mediator’ is conceptualized as Satan; his role is to mediate between the initial state of balanced unarticulated potentiality in which God is not yet positioned as such, in a determinate content, and the actualization of the true One God who asserts Himself through the exclusion and annihilation of false gods. Satan thus stands for the paradoxical unity of actuality and potentiality…” (The Invisible Remainder (London: Verso, 1996), p. 34).↵
- Genesis 3:1-24. One can easily read the ‘original sin’ depicted in this passage against the grain: through eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve are able to overcome their animalistic, incestuous past and take the first steps towards civilization (clothing, collectivized agriculture, etc.). From this view, Satan becomes the hero who goes out of his way to expose God’s repressive lies (e.g. God says “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you of it you shall surely die”, but this does not happen (Genesis 2:17)).↵
- Žižek, The Invisible Remainder (London: Verso, 1996), p. 34.↵
- Formerly known as ‘Secretary’s Day’, Administrative Professionals’ Day is celebrated in offices worldwide on the Wednesday of the last full week of April.↵
- Žižek writes that “This is what ‘acheronta movebo’ (moving the underground) as a practice of the critique of ideology means: not directly changing the explicit text of the Law but, rather, intervening in its obscene virtual supplement… The real choice is not between sticking to the universality of the symbolic Law, trying to purify it of its obscene supplements… and dismissing this very universal dimension as a theatre of shadows dominated by the Real of obscene fantasies. The true act is to intervene in this obscene underground domain, transforming it” (The Parallax View (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009), p. 366).↵
- Ibid., p. 365.↵
- Mother Night (New York: Dell Publishing, 1961), p. v.↵
- Žižek, Interrogating the Real (New York: Continuum, 2005), p. 323.↵
- Žižek writes that we should conceive “the big Other as the ‘virtual’ order of symbolic fictions. When [one] passes from the ‘realism’ of the big Other to the notion of its fictional nature, this shift it thus strictly correlative to the assertion that there is no Other of the Other, no meta-guarantee of the validity of the symbolic order within which the subject dwells” (The Invisible Remainder (London: Verso, 1996), p. 136).↵
- Hesse, Herman, Demian, trans. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck (New York: Bantam Books, 1965), p. 93.↵
- Ibid., p. 85.↵
- Kant, Immanuel, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, What is Enlightenment?, ed. and trans. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 58.↵
- Ethics, trans. Andrew Boyle, revis. G. H. R. Parkinson (London: J. M. Dent, 1993), p. 140.↵
- The Seven Sermons to the Dead, trans. H. G. Baynes (Commons), sermo III.↵
- Ibid., sermo II.↵
- Jung tells us that the pleroma is “nothing and everything. It is quite fruitless to think about the pleroma, for this would mean self-dissolution” (Ibid., sermo I).↵
- Ibid., sermo II.↵
- This is based on the principle of “Ockham’s razor (also called the principle of economy, or parsimony)”, which is then “used to cut or shave off unnecessary causes or entities. Stated succinctly, the principle is that entities should not be multiplied without necessity”. Leroy Lamar laments that “Ockham’s razor is often used by atheists and naturalists in efforts to debunk arguments for God’s existence… The addition of a deity unnecessarily complicates the explanation [of the world, the universe, etc.]” (“William of Ockham”, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, eds. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), pp. 496 – 497).↵
- The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p. 550.↵
- Nietzsche writes that “whoever has really… looked into, down into the most world-denying of all possible ways of thinking—beyond good and evil and no longer… under the spell and delusion of morality—may just thereby, without really meaning to do so, have opened his eyes to the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only comes to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what was and is repeated into all eternity…” (“Beyond Good and Evil”, Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 2000), p. 258).↵
- Nietzsche writes that “we get a glimpse into the essence of the Dionysian” when “the tremendous awe which seizes a man when he suddenly doubts his ways of comprehending illusion” is combined with “the ecstatic rapture, which rises up out of the same collapse”. Under this condition, “not only does the bond between man and man lock itself in place once more, but also nature itself, no matter how alienated, hostile, or subjugated, rejoices again in her festival of reconciliation with her prodigal son, man” (The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Ian C. Johnson (Commons), ch. 1).↵
- Nietzsche writes that “the law of the conservation of energy demands eternal recurrence”, which means that “every possible combination would at some time or another be realized; more: it would be realized an infinite number of times. And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place, and each of these combinations conditions the entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum” (The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p. 547, 549).↵
- According to Nietzsche, it was because homo sapiens were “the most endangered animal, he needed help and protection, he needed his equals; he had to express his neediness and be able to make himself understood – and to do so, he first need ‘consciousness’, i.e., even to ‘know’ what distressed him, to ‘know’ what he felt, to ‘know’ what he thought… conscious thinking takes place in words, that is, in communication symbols… In short, the development of language and the development of consciousness… go hand in hand” (The Gay Science, ed. Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001) p. 213). This development is what makes homo sapiens into “the insane animal, the laughing animal, the weeping animal, the miserable animal” that it is (Ibid., p. 145).↵
- Darwin writes that “It is a truly wonderful fact—the wonder of which we are apt to overlook from familiarity—that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other in group subordinate to group… The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth… As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life” (On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition, ed. Ernst Mayer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 128 – 130).↵
- Ibid., p. 169.↵
- Žižek writes that “our ecological troubles cannot be reduced to hubris, to our disturbance of the balanced order of Mother Earth. Nature is chaotic in itself, prone to causing the wildest disasters, meaningless and unpredictable catastrophes. We are mercilessly exposed to Nature’s cruel whims, there is no Mother Earth watching over us. We are not disturbing Nature’s balance, we are just prolonging it” (Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2011), p. 427).↵
- The German Ideology (Commons), sect. I.A.4.↵
- To put it in Heideggerian, our ‘being-in-the-world’ is made ‘open’ to the historical-material ‘mood’ of the ‘facticity’ into which we have been ‘thrown’.↵
- Wittgenstein remarks that “It is so difficult to find the beginning. Or, better: it is difficult to begin at the beginning. And not try to go further back” (On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 62). Think about this in terms of ideology: ‘it is difficult to find/begin at the material foundations of social relations. And not try to go further back by regressing into (false) ideologies’.↵
- Louis Althusser calls “Ideological State Apparatuses a certain number of realities which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions. I propose an empirical list of these”, starting with “the religious ISA (the system of the different churches), the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’), the family ISA, the legal ISA, the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties), the trade-union ISA, the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.), the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.)” (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 143).↵
- The Gay Science, ed. Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 32.↵
- Althusser writes 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 common everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’… Naturally for the convenience and clarity of my little theoretical theatre I have had to present things in the form of a sequence, with a before and after, and thus in the form of a temporal succession… But in reality these things happen without any succession. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing” (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 174 – 175)↵
- This portmanteau is taken to encompass both those cults of personality that congeal around charismatic idol-figures (i.e. celebrities, politicians, preachers, etc.) as well as ideologies proper, which often make use of abstract universal values (‘God’, ‘freedom’, ‘History’, etc.) to secure their functioning. In both cases, mystification proceeds on the basis of transference onto the “subject supposed to believe” (that a celebrity’s opinion matters, that God exists, etc.) or onto the “subject supposed to know” (how the economy works, where ‘History’ is leading us, etc.). See Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997), p. 107.↵
- Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers: Volume III (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1979), p. 78.↵
- See note 31.↵
- “Le facteur de la vérité”, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 418.↵
- Ibid., p. 414.↵
- Ibid., p. 418.↵
- Ibid., p. 419.↵
- Derrida defines “the text as ‘language,’ ‘writing,’ ‘culture,’ ‘mythology,’ ‘the history of religions, of philosophy of literature, of science, of medicine,’ etc., in the text as a ‘historical,’ ‘economic,’ ‘political,’ ‘instinctual,’ etc., field, in the heterogeneous and conflictual weave of différance, which is elsewhere defined as general text and without border” (Ibid., p. 413).↵
- The signifying chain goes back to the “dawn of historical time”, insofar as “it is in the name of the father that we must recognize the basis of the symbolic function which… has identified his person with the figure of the law” (Lacan, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 66), on account of the guilt incurred in “a mythological event—the killing of the father”, which “shows us… the need for a form of participation, which neutralizes the conflict inscribed after killing him in the situation of rivalry among brothers” (“Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis”, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 24), leading to the “pact of the Symbolic order [that] founds the fraternal tie” under the “Law of the Father” (Campbell, Kristen, Jacques Lacan and Feminist Epistemology (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 158).↵
- Lacan, Jacques, “The Freudian Thing”, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 107.↵
- Can the Titanic be said to have ‘discovered’ the iceberg?↵
- Althusser writes that “neither Marx nor Freud invented anything: the object whose theory each produced existed before their discoveries. What each man did contribute was the definition of his object, its limits and extensions, the characterization of its conditions and its forms of existence and effects, the formulation of the requirements that need be fulfilled to apprehend it and act on it: in brief, its theory, or the initial forms of its theory” (“On Freud and Marx”, Writings on Psychoanalysis, ed. Olivier Corpet and François Matheron, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 106).↵
- Schilling, Govert, The Hunt for Planet X: New Worlds and the Fate of Pluto (New York: Springer, 2009), p. 34.↵
- Behold the Orphic Hymn to Pluto: “Pluto, magnanimous, whose realms profound are fix’d beneath the firm and solid ground,/ in the Tartarian plains remote from fight, and wrapt forever in the depths of night… Earth’s keys to thee, illustrious king belong, its secret gates unlocking, deep and strong… Thy throne is fix’d in Hade’s dismal plains, distant, unknown to rest, where darkness reigns;/ Where, destitute of breath, pale spectres dwell, in endless, dire, inexorable hell” (trans. Thomas Taylor (Commons), numb. 17).↵
- In 2006, Timothy B. Spahr declared on behalf of the “IAU General Assembly in Prague” that “the solar system contains just eight ‘planets’ (Mercury-Neptune)” and that Pluto should be “added to the list of objects with reliable orbit determinations under the numbers (134340)” (“Editorial Notice” (Cambridge, MA: Minor Planet Centre, 7 Sept. 2006)).↵
- Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings on Pluto set off a tornado in America? More likely it’s an instance of late Capitalism strikes again, in the form of fuelling global warming through the unceasing overproduction of senseless commodities (pointless plastic things, poisonous gases, etc.). But, still, you can’t get rid of the (possibility of the) butterfly that easily, especially when we are dealing with that entity that is commonly referred to as ‘Nature’ (or ‘God’ or ‘chaos’).↵
- Žižek, The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso, 2000), p. 11.↵
- Commentaries on the Civil War, trans. W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn (Commons), bk. II, sect. 8.↵
- Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”, trans. W. Lough (Commons), sect. XI.↵
- Marx, The German Ideology (Commons), sect. I.A.4.↵
- In Plato’s Symposium, Alcibiades likens philosophy to “snakebite”: “And, furthermore, you know what people say about snakebite—that you’ll only talk about it with your fellow victims: only they will understand the pain and forgive you for all the things it made you do. Well, something much more painful than a snake has bitten me in my most sensitive part—I mean my heart, or my soul, or whatever you want to call it, which has been struck and bitten by philosophy, whose grip on young and eager souls is much more vicious than a viper’s and makes them do the most amazing things” (trans. Alexander Nehemas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989), 217e – 218a).↵
- Freud, Sigmund, An Autobiographical Study, trans. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1952), p. x.↵
- G. W. F. Hegel describes “Absolute Knowing” as “Spirit that knows itself as Spirit, [which] has for its path the reconciliation of the Spirits as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their realm. Their preservation, regarded from one side of their free existence appearing in the form of contingency, is History; but regarded from the side of their [philosophically] comprehended organization, it is the Science of Knowing in the sphere of appearance: the two together, comprehended History, form alike the inwardizing and the Calvary of absolute Spirit” (Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 493).↵
- Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 175, 173.↵
- Here let us recall Che Guevara’s observation that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality” (Anderson, Jon Lee, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Grove, 1997), pp. 636 – 637.↵
- Marx, The German Ideology (Commons), sect. I.A.4.↵
- Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 166 – 167.↵
- Commonly translated as “dare to know” or “dare to be wise” (“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, What is Enlightenment?, ed. and trans. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 58).↵
- Kant writes that “The categorical imperative would be that which represented an action as objectively necessary of itself, without reference to another end”, meaning that it “is limited by no condition and, as absolutely although practically necessary, can be called quite strictly a command” (“Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals”, Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996) p. 67, 69).↵
- This would also take the form of will-to-power as will-to-(Total-)Enlightenment. And since the “immaturity” that hinders “the public” from bringing “about enlightenment among men” is “self-incurred” (“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, What is Enlightenment?, ed. and trans. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996) pp. 58 – 59), this will-to-(Total-)Enlightenment must manifest (at least sometimes) in the form of critical (i.e. antagonistic) interventionism: “it is violence as such (the violent gesture of discarding, of establishing a difference, of drawing a line of separation) which liberates. Freedom [that is, the one precondition that, according to Kant, makes enlightenment “nearly inevitable” (Ibid., p. 59)] is not a blissfully neutral state of harmony and balance, but the very violent act which disturbs this balance” (Žižek, The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), p. 282).↵
- “Nicomachean Ethics” (1096a), Introductory Readings, trans. Terence Irwin and Gail Fine (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1996), p. 201.↵
- Engels, Friedrich, “The Festival of Nations in London”, Marx-Engels Collected Works: Volume VI (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976), p. 3.↵
- See note 73.↵
- See Rash, Felicity J., The Language of Violence: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), p. 66.↵
- “GERMANY: Read No Evil”, Time Magazine 27 May 1946 (online).↵
- And, for the record, we are not unaware of the ironic ignominy of disputing over such a dubious title.↵
- In Defense of Lost Causes (London: Verso, 2009), p. 138.↵
- All quotes ibid.↵
- Adolf Otto Eichmann was a Nazi who made headlines when he was tried for crimes against humanity (his defense was that he was only “following orders”) and subsequently hanged on May 31, 1962 in Israel. He stands for posterity as an example of what Hannah Arendt refers to as “the banality of evil”: “Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, [Eichmann] had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal; he certainly would never have murdered his superior in order to inherit his post. He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing. It was precisely this lack of imagination which enabled him… He was not stupid. It was sheer thoughtlessness – something by no means identical with stupidity – that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period… The expression ‘administrative massacres’ seems… to fit the bill” (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1968), p. 288 – 289).↵
- Shakespeare describes this ‘difficulty’ as that which “solder’st close impossibilities, / And make’st them kiss! that speak’st with / every tongue / To every purpose! O thou touch of hearts! / Think, thy slave man rebels, and by thy virtue / Set them into confounding odds, / that Beasts may have the world in empire!” (Timon of Athens (Commons), IV.iii).↵
- Krugman, Paul, “The Truth, Still Inconvenient”, The New York Times 3 Apr 2011, sect. A21.↵
- Pynchon describes this process from the perspective of Capital: “we harness and sodomize them, photograph their degredation, send them up onto the high iron and down into mines and sewers and killing floors, we set them beneath inhuman loads, we harvest from them their muscle and eyesight and health, leaving them in our kindness a few miserable years of broken gleanings. Of course we do. Why not? They are good for little else… We take what we can while we may… When the scars of these battles have long faded, and the tailings are covered in bunchgrass and wildflowers, and the coming of the snows is no longer the year’s curse but its promise, awaited eagerly for its influx of moneyed seekers after wintertime recreation, when the shining strands of telpherage have subdued every mountainside, and all is festival and wholesome sport and eugenically chosen stock, who will be left anymore to remember the jabbering Union scum, the frozen corpses whose names, false in any case, have gone forever unrecorded? who will care that once men fought as if an eight-hour day, a few coins more at the end of the week, were everything, were worth the merciless wind beneath the shabby roof, the tears freezing on a woman’s face worn to dark Indian stupor before its time, the whining of children whose maws were never satisfied, whose future, those who survived, was always to toil for us, to fetch and feed and nurse, to ride the far fences of our properties, to stand watch between us and those who would intrude or question?” (Against the Day (London: Vintage, 2007), p. 1124 – 1125).↵
- Žižek, The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso, 2000), p. 122.↵
- To invoke a distinction that goes back to Mill and is recalled by Ryle, P.C. warriors act as if it the name ‘Fido’ itself was the cause of Fido’s bad behaviour (e.g. the problems of racism, sexism, etc.); as if the (contingent, arbitrary) signifier causes the (real) problem and not the other way around, as it is suggested in the way that “Marx conceived the structure of every society as constituted by ‘levels’ or ‘instances’ articulated by a specific determination: the infrastructure, or economic base (the ‘unity’ of the productive forces and the relations of production) and the superstructure, which itself contains two ‘levels’ or ‘instances’: the politico-legal (law and the State) and ideology (the different ideologies, religious, ethical, legal, political, etc.)… It is easy to see that this representation of the structure of every society as an edifice containing a base (infrastructure) on which are erected the two ‘floors’ of the superstructure, is a metaphor… Like every metaphor, this metaphor suggests something, makes some thing visible. What? Precisely this: that the upper floors could not ‘stay up’ (in the air) alone, if they did not rest precisely on their base” (Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 134 – 135). It is ignorance of this principle that can lead to the false conclusion that to get rid of the signifier (from (symbolic) superstructural discourse) is to get rid of the problem (at its (real) infrastructural level).↵
- Wendy Brown writes that the liberal tradition is defined by “the liberal insistence on the universality and hence supervenience of human rights, an insistence that runs from Jimmy Carter to Michael Ignatieff to George W. Bush. Not only does this formulation free human rights from the stigma of cultural imperialism, it also allows them to be coherently invoked as a means of protecting culture” (Regulating Aversion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 22). This means that the “positing of the individual as a priori not only renders collective identity as ideological, deformative, and dangerous, it also tacitly assigns culture and all other forms of collective identification unconquered by liberalism to a premodern past and nonhuman elsewhere… On a closer reading of Ignatieff, however, [the liberal value of] tolerance appears… less a moral or political achievement of liberal autonomy than a bourgeois capitalist virtue, the fruit of power and success… even domination” (Ibid., 199 – 200). Žižek then follows this line of thought to remark that “the moment Human Rights are depoliticized in this way, the discourse about them has to resort to ethics: reference to the prepolitical opposition of Good and Evil has to be mobilized. Today’s ‘new reign of Ethics,’ clearly discernable in, for example, Michael Ignatieff’s work, thus relies on a violent gesture of depoliticization, of denying the victimized other any political subjectivization” (The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), p. 341).↵
- Žižek, The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso, 2000), pp. 332 – 333.↵
- How often we are forced to admit: “I didn’t mean what I said!”↵
- Ferdinand Saussure writes that the “word arbitrary calls for comment. The term should not imply that the choice of the signifier is left entirely to the speaker… I mean that it is unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in that it actually has no natural connection with the signified” (Course in General Linguistics, eds. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, trans. Wade Baskin (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1959), pp. 68 – 69). This, combined with “the systematic necessity that includes semiology in a psychology”, is what “allows us better to comprehend the meaning of arbitrariness: the production of arbitrary signs manifests the freedom of the spirit [i.e. the freedom/différance of (intersubjective) interpretation/meaning]” (Derrida, “The Pit and the Pyramid: Introduction to Hegel’s Semiology”, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 86), which is also “why language, the most complex and universal of all systems of expression, is also the most characteristic; in this sense linguistics can become the master-pattern for all branches of semiology…” (Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1959), p. 68).↵
- Ibid., p. 73.↵
- Ibid., p. 72. On this point Saussure adds that, aside from the arbitrary nature of the sign, language “resists any arbitrary substitution” because “Language… is at every moment everybody’s concern; spread through society and manipulated by it, language is something used daily by all… This capital fact suffices to show the impossibility of revolution. Of all social institutions, language is least amenable to initiative. It blends with the life of society, and the latter, inert by nature, is a prime conservative force” (Ibid., pp. 73 – 74).↵
- Althusser notes that “Marxist political practice is constantly coming up against the reality known as ‘survivals’. There can be no doubt that these survivals exist—they cling tenaciously to life.” They result from the fact that “a revolution in the structure does not ipso facto modify the existing superstructures and particularly the ideologies at one blow (as it would if the economic was the sole determinant factor), for they have sufficient of their own consistency to survive beyond their immediate life context, even to recreate, to ‘secrete’ substitute conditions of existence temporarily” (“Contradiction and Overdetermination”, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Penguin Press, 1969), pp. 114, 115 – 116).↵
- The very same ‘good taste’ that led Picasso to lament, “Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness”, and John Updike to add that “our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves” (Andrews, Robert, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 893).↵
- A recent instance of this would be the recent effort to “improve” Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn with a new edition that “replaces the word ‘nigger’ with ‘slave’” (Kakutani, Michiko, “Lights Out, Huck, They Still Want to Sivilize You”, The New York Times 7 Jan 2011, sect. C1).↵
- Ravitch, Diane, The Language Police (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), p. 118. This also alerts us to Žižek’s observation that in “today’s opposition between the dominant forms of the political Right and Left, what we actually have is… ‘the Two Rights’: that the opposition is one between the ‘populist’ Right (which calls itself ‘Right’) and the ‘technocratic’ Right (which calls itself the ‘New Left’)” (“Class Struggles or Postmodernism? Yes, please!”, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (London: Verso, 2000), p. 129).↵
- The “object of the official discourse” is “to generate a common polity, based upon… a common language, a common culture, and a homogenizing notion of citizenship” that consists of “both conservative and liberal components” (Bruno-Jofré, Rosa, “Citizenship and Schooling in Manitoba between the End of the First World War and the End of the Second World War”, Citizenship in Transformation in Canada, ed. Hébert, Yvonne (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), p. 129). In other words, the ‘official discourse’ consists of that common ground that is shared by ‘the Two Rights’, such as the “standard liberal-conservative argument against Communism [which] is that, since it wants to impose on reality an impossible utopian dream, it necessarily ends in deadly terror. What, however, if one should nonetheless insist on taking the risk of enforcing the Impossible onto reality? Even if, in this way, we do not get what we wanted and/or expected, we nonetheless change the coordinates of what appears as ‘possible’ and give birth to something genuinely new” (Žižek, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), p. 38).↵
- Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London: Verso, 2008), p. 265.↵
- Roland Barthes writes that “The proletariat (the producers) have no culture of their own; in so-called developed countries, its language is that of the petite bourgeoisie, because this is the language offered it by mass communications (popular press, radio, television): mass culture is petit-bourgeois” (“Pax Culturalis”, The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), p. 103).↵
- Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 95. Adorno adds that “Censorship and the inculcation of conformist behaviour, which are conveyed by even the most anodyne gestures of any television program, not only have to reckon with people who have had drilled into them the schema of mass culture… On the contrary, these types of behaviour had established themselves throughout the early modern period long before they were deployed in ideological manipulations, and so are now internalized as second nature. The culture industry grins: become what you are, and its deceit consists precisely in confirming and consolidating by dint of repetition mere existence as such, what human beings have been made into by the way of the world. The culture industry can insist all the more convincingly that it is not the murderer but the victim who is guilty: that it simply helps bring to light what lies within human beings anyways” (“Prologue to Television”, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, trans. Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 55).↵
- Günther Anders states that “Because the receiving sets speak in our place, they gradually deprive us of the power of speech, thus transforming us into passive dependents… The initial effects of this development are manifest even today: the languages of all advanced countries have become cruder, poorer; and there is a growing disinclination to use language” (“The World as Phantom and as Matrix”, trans. Norbert Guterman, Dissent 3.1 (Jan 1956), pp. 17 – 19). Ernest Mandel considers this “the ultimate and most tragic form of alienation, which is alienation of the capacity to communicate” and notes that it is typical of “Capitalist society, class society, commodity-producing society… to thwart, divert and partially destroy this basic human capacity” (“The Causes of Alienation”, International Socialist Review 31.3 (1970) (online)).↵
- “I invite you to sit down in front of your television set… and keep your eyes glued to that set… I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it” (Minow, Newton, “Television and the Public Interest”, Mass Communication and American Social Thought, eds. John Durham Peters and Peter Simonson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), p. 467).↵
- Pynchon describes “television… along with its creature and symbiont, the notorious Couch Potato. Tales spun in idleness find us Tubeside, supine, chiropractic fodder, sucking it all in, re-enacting in reverse the transaction between dream and revenue that brought these colored shadows here to begin with so that we might feed, uncritically…” (“Nearer, my Couch, to Thee”, The New York Times Book Review 6 June 1993 (online)).↵
- Meaning both ‘grotto’ (i.e. cave, crypt, etc.) and the back-formation of ‘grotty’ (i.e. grotesque, of a grotesquerie, etc.).↵
- Žižek tells us “When we are dealing with a problem which is undoubtedly real, the ideological designation-perception introduces its invisible mystification. For example, tolerance designates a real problem—when I criticize it, I am, as a rule, asked: ‘But how can you be in favor of intolerance towards foreigners, of misogyny, of homophobia?’ Therein lies the catch: of course I am not against tolerance per se; what I oppose is the (contemporary and automatic) perception of racism as a problem of intolerance. Why are so many problems today perceived as problems of intolerance, rather than as problems of inequality, exploitation, or injustice? Why is the proposed remedy tolerance, rather than emancipation, political struggle, or even armed struggle? The source of this culturalization is defeat, the failure of directly political solutions such as the social-democratic welfare state or various socialist projects: ‘tolerance’ has become their post-political ersatz” (Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), pp. 4 – 5).↵
- Antonio Gramsci writes that we “must distinguish civil society as Hegel understands it… that is, in the sense of the political and cultural hegemony of a social group over the whole of society; as the ethical content of the state” (Prison Notebooks: Volume III, ed. and trans. Joseph A. Buttigieg (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. 20). It is “his ideas concerning the role of civil society as lynchpin between the economic base and the ideological superstructure of societies… [and] his theorization of the importance of cultural hegemony as a non-coercive means of maintaining bourgeois dominance in capitalist societies” that make him “notable as a highly original thinker within the Marxist tradition” (Francese, Joseph, “Gramsci Now”, Perspectives on Gramsci, ed. Joseph Francese (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 1).↵
- Žižek writes that “As every close observer of the deadlocks arising from political correctness knows, the separation of legal justice from moral Goodness—which should be relativized and historicized—ends up in an oppressive moralism brimming with resentment. Without any ‘organic’ social substance grounding the standards of what Orwell approvingly referred to as ‘common decency’ (all such standards having been dismissed as subordinating individual freedoms to proto-Fascist social forms), the minimalist program of laws intended simply to prevent individuals from encroaching upon one another (annoying or ‘harassing’ each other) turns into an explosion of legal and moral rules, an endless process (a ‘spurious infinity’ in Hegel’s sense) of legalization and moralization, known as ‘the fight against all forms of discriminations’” (Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), p. 38 – 39).↵
- Žižek writes that “when we are told today that the problems we face, at least in the developed world, are no longer socio-economic, but predominantly cultural-ethical (the right to abortion, gay marriage, etc.), one should bear in mind that this is itself a result of ideological struggle, of the post-political repression of the socio-economic dimension. The price that some on the Left pay for ignoring this ‘complication’ of class struggle is, among other things, an all-too-easy and uncritical acceptance of anti-American and anti-Western Muslim groups as representing ‘progressive’ forms of struggle, as automatic allies… Against this temptation, we should insist on the unconditional right to conduct a public critical analysis of all religions, Islam included—and the saddest thing is that one should even have to mention this” (Ibid., p. 137).↵
- The idea to use the Queen’s English as “the standard of propriety and correctness of speech”, according to Jonathan Swift, goes back to “the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign” when “the English tongue received most improvement” (“A Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue: A Letter to the Lord High Treasurer”, The Works of Jonathan Swift: Volume IV (London: C. Bathurst, 1751), pp. 239 – 240). This tendency today takes the form of “The Queen’s English Society” which, according to David Mitchell, “completely misses the point of linguistic pedantry. It’s no fun prissily adhering to grammatical rules if it’s mandatory. This academy wishes to turn something I have chosen to do – an attitude which I define myself – into something I’m forced to do, along with everyone else” (“Snakes are evil, but save your venom for the self-appointed language police”, The Observer 13 June 2010, p. 7).↵
- V. I. Lenin writes that although “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism”, the “principle feature of this latest stage of capitalism is… that finance capital and its foreign policy, which is the struggle of the great powers for the economic and political division of the world, give rise to a number of transitional forms of state dependence. Not only are… colonies… but also the diverse form of dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence, typical of this epoch” (“Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, Lenin Selected Works: Volume I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), ch. vi).↵
- Jeffrey Kaufmann writes that since “Normal is a term of differentiation by which abnormal is also constructed… What is excluded in this way, however, persists in the trajectory of return, reappearing as anxiety” (“On the Primacy of Shame”, The Shame of Death, Grief, and Trauma, ed. Jeffrey Kaufmann (New York: Routledge, 2010), p. 18).↵
- Ellie Ragland-Sullivan writes that “Normalcy means accepting messages already in the [big] Other… and repressing well (as in being a ‘good citizen’). Such normalcy does not confer happiness or freedom from conflict but demands blind submission to the social order and eschewal of unconscious truth” (Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1986), p. 285).↵
- Žižek writes that “the wager of Marxism is that there is one antagonism (‘class struggle’) which overdetermines all others and is, as such, the ‘concrete universal’ of the entire field [of struggles]. The term ‘overdetermines’ is used here in its precise Althusserian sense: it does not mean that class struggle is the ultimate referent and horizon of meaning of all other struggles; it means that class struggle is the structuring principle which allows us to account for the very ‘inconsistent’ plurality of ways in which other antagonisms can be articulated into ‘chains of equivalences.’ The feminist struggle, for example, can be articulated into a chain with the progressive struggle for emancipation, or it can (and certainly does) function as an ideological tool used by the upper middle classes to assert their superiority over the ‘patriarchal and intolerant’ lower classes. And the point here is not only that class antagonism is, as it were, doubly inscribed here: it is the specific constellation of the class struggle itself which explains why the feminist struggle was appropriated by the upper classes” (The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), pp. 361 – 362).↵
- Walter Benjamin writes that “The uniqueness [that is, aura] of a work of art is inseparable from its being embedded in the fabric of tradition… Originally the contextual integration of art in tradition found its expression in the cult. We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual – first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. The ritualistic basis, however remote, is still recognizable as secularized ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Commons), sect. iv).↵
- Compare Hegel, who writes that “the final aim of progression” for Spirit is to see nations move aside to allow “the development of the one universal Spirit, which through them elevates and completes itself to a self-comprehending totality” (Hegel’s Philosophy of History, trans. Robert S. Hartmann (Commons), sect. III, ch. 3).↵
- See note 71.↵
- Lenin writes that although “Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally… we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions”. This is why “the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this ‘finance capital’, of a financial oligarchy” is one of the “basic features” of the late stages of capitalism (“Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, Lenin Selected Works: Volume I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), ch. vii). Horkheimer and Adorno add that “All mass culture under monopoly is identical, and the contours of its skeleton, the conceptual armature fabricated by monopoly, are beginning to stand out. Those in charge no longer take much trouble to conceal the structure, the power of which increases the more bluntly its existence is admitted… The truth that they are nothing but business is used as an ideology to legitimize the trash they intentionally produce” (Dialectic of Enlightenment, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 95).↵
- Frederic Jameson describes this process with reference to “The older or classical modernism [which] was an oppositional art; it emerged… as scandalous and offensive to the middle-class public: ugly, dissonant, bohemian, sexually shocking… Modernism in general did not go well with… Victorian moral taboos, or with the conventions of polite society… [But] if then we suddenly return to the present day… not only are Joyce and Picasso no longer weird and repulsive, they have become classics and now look rather realistic to us… [In fact,] the classics of high modernism are now part of the so-called canon and are taught in schools and universities – which at once empties them of their older subversive power” (“Postmodernism and Consumer Society”, in Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (London: Pluto Press, 1985), p. 124).↵
- Allen Ginsburg describes the monster of “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!” and who is responsible for “Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations!” It is this “sphinx of cement and aluminum” that destroyed “the best minds of [both his and our] generation”, by having “bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imaginations” (Howl, ed. Barry Miles (New York: HarperPerennial, 1986), pp. 3, 6 – 7).↵
- An excellent example of how one’s image is ‘up for grabs’ (and thus ‘indifferent’) to the ‘official discourse’ in death would be how the “radical” politics of Martin Luther King, Jr. (which had come to advocate “major economic reforms—starting with guaranteed annual labour incomes for all”) were recast within the ‘official discourse’ as a “warm and civic memory, an example of the triumph of good over evil”. This is why his “widow, Coretta, and his heirs” are justified in arguing that the ‘official’ account of “history has forgotten the real Martin Luther King” (Chambers, Veronica; Meacham, Jon; and Smith, Vern E., “The War over King’s Legacy”, Newsweek 6 Apr 1998 (online)).↵
- An excellent example of the ‘indifference’ of a ‘digger’ in the execution of an estate would be how Frau Förster-Nietzsche, “who was married to and was herself a proto-Nazi anti-Semite, took upon herself the responsibility for distributing (and withholding) and interpreting her brother’s works. It was only when Nietzsche was near death and near fame that Elizabeth seems to have discovered her ‘life-long’ closeness to him. Her control over some of his most important writings and her extensive ‘memories’ of her brother’s conversations established her as his ‘authoritative’ interpreter and biographer, and established Nietzsche in an unwilling and popular instrument of the brutal forces which had already begun their terrible rise to power in the German state” (Solomon, Robert C., From Rationalism to Existentialism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1972), p. 106).↵
- Žižek writes that “unknown knowns” are “things we do not know that we know—which is precisely the Freudian unconscious, the ‘knowledge which does not know itself’, as Lacan used to say” (In Defense of Lost Causes (London: Verso, 2010), p. 457). The unconscious is further described by Lacan as “knowledge that is based on the signifier such” (On Feminine Sexuality, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 96), which means that the “unconscious is constituted by the effects of speech on the subject, it is the dimension in which the subject is determined in the development of the effects of speech, consequently the unconscious is structured like a language” (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 149). This is perhaps best shown through reference to the phenomenon of “the parapraxis – the slip of the tongue, for instance” (Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, ed. Angela Richards, and trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1973), p. 62), of which Lacan adds that “Freud is attracted by these phenomena, and it is there that he seeks the unconscious… What occurs, what is produced, in this gap, is presented as the discovery… Discontinuity, then, is the essential form in which the unconscious first appears to us as a phenomenon” (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 25).↵
- Not to mention “towards a realization that technology is an extension of our own bodies”, from which, according to McLuhan, “the central nervous system appears to institute a self-protective numbing of the affected area, insulating and anesthetizing it from conscious awareness of what’s happening to it. It’s a process rather like… the mind in line with the Freudian concept of repression” (“The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan”, Playboy Mar 1969 (online)).↵
- Understanding Media, 2nd ed., (New York: The New American Library, 1964), p. xi.↵
- Lacan writes that “the unconscious… ex-sists only through a discourse” (Television, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Hollier; Rosalind Kraus; Annette Michelson (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), p. 14). This does not mean, though, that the unconscious is just a ‘fiction’: “the unconscious, I would say, is real” (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), p. vii).↵
- Freud writes: “Where id was, there ego shall be” (New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, ed. Angela Richards, and trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 112). Lacan interprets this “‘I’ which is supposed to come to be where ‘it’ was” as “the moral experience involved in psychoanalysis”, insofar as it provides an alternative to submitting “itself to the half-unconscious, paradoxical, and morbid command of the superego… If I may put it thus, isn’t its true duty to oppose that command?” (The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), p. 7).↵
- Although Ralph Emerson was correct to observe in the 19th century that “All the tools and engines on earth are only extensions of [humanity’s] limbs and senses” (“Works and Days”, Society and Solitude (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886), p. 151), Martin Heidegger had noted by the 1950s that “the global movement of modern technology is a force whose scope in determining history can scarcely be overestimated… Technology is in its essence something which man cannot master by himself” (“Only a God Can Save Us: Der Spiegel’s Interview”, Philosophical and Political Writings, ed. Manfred Stassen, trans. Maria Alter and John D. Caputo (New York: Continuum, 2006), pp. 35 – 36). Thus to “be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend of culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple” (Postman, Neil, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), p. 157).↵
- In 1984, Daniel J. Boorstin used the term “aliterate” to describe “a person who can read but does not, or who reads only under compulsion. In the United States today aliteracy is widespread… The percentage of adult Americans who could read a book but do not has remained constant at about 44 percent… In summary, only about half of all Americans read some books each year” (Books in Our Future (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984), p. 11). Then in 1991 Neil Postman wrote that “The spread of illiteracy and aliteracy (the ability without the inclination to read) has, at long last, become visible as a national crisis”, and that there “will almost certainly be an increase in both illiteracy and aliteracy” (Conscientious Objections (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988), pp. 64, 111). Furthermore, “Although 46.7 percent of the adult population [in America] read literature in 2002, a… 1995 report from the National Centre for Educational Statistics (NCES) shows that 45 percent of adults read at ‘prose literacy levels’ one and two. Rather than reporting a single illiteracy rate, NCES classifies adults into five levels of literacy. People scoring at levels one and two probably do not have the skills necessary to read many types of literature” (National Endowment for the Arts, Reading at Risk (Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, 2004), p. 15).↵
- James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar write that “Unlike earlier generations that had to put out the effort to read to acquire information, the current generation is one that with little effort can ‘click on’ for information. Practice and experience in reading and writing, and the analytic skills they impart, are today eclipsed by the seductive technology of personal computers, video games, iPod and MP3 players, text messaging on cell phones, movies on DVDs, and similar pursuits that do not expand one’s vocabulary, do not teach punctuation or grammar, do not stimulate the imagination, and do not cultivate an appreciation for intellectual culture among young people today” (Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), p. 105).↵
- Barbro Thomas writes that “The concept of functional illiteracy… depends on the level of society. A person can be considered functionally literate in one society but not in another depending on what skills are needed for ‘effective functioning’. What is quite clear is that the rapid technical developments of modern society will create an increasing number of functional illiterates” (“Role of the Public Library in Combatting Illiteracy”, Global Trends in Library and Information Sciences, ed. Subhas C. Biswas (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 1995), p. 231). In fact, Stratford P. Sherman reports that “Many large companies know they’ve got a problem [in terms of lost productivity, etc., due to functional illiteracy] and are trying to address it… Simon & Schuster forsees a $500-million-a-year market selling remedial reading and other basic skills programs to corporations” (“American won’t win till it reads more”, Fortune Magazine 18 Nov 1991 (online)).↵
- John Oxenham writes that “It is true that many mass-circulation newspapers do try to write for a grade 6 or 7 level or even more simply than that, while the photo-novella is scarcely a tax on literacy at all. It is also true that by reading matter slightly above the level he has attained, a person can in fact advance his skills… The majority, even though their skills be ‘permanent’, may apply them only a little, advance them not at all and in sum draw almost no use from them… [But] the level of literacy which is adequate for the needs of an average citizen… may be well above the level needed for ‘permanent’ literacy” (Literacy: Writing, Reading, and Social Organisation (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), pp. 92 – 93).↵
- McLuhan writes that “television is quite a potent drug. It is addictive. It is an inner trip, and it is a tranquilizer” (“Violence as a Quest for Identity”, Understanding Me, ed. Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005), p. 270). Žižek adds that “What drugs promise is a purely autistic jouissance, a jouissance accessible without a detour through the Other (of the symbolic order)” (The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), p. 190).↵
- Günther Anders writes that “Television viewers… converse with each other only by accident—in so far as they still retain the will or the ability to speak… No matter in what cultural or political milieu this development toward an existence without speech takes place, its end result must be everywhere the same—a type of man who, because he no longer speaks himself, has nothing more to say; and who, because he only listens, will do no more than listen… But that is not all: human experience, and hence man himself, also becomes progressively cruder and poorer. For man’s inward life, its richness and subtlety, cannot endure without the richness and subtlety of language; man not only expresses himself through his speech, he is also the product of his language” (“The World as Phantom and Matrix”, trans. Norbert Guterman, Dissent 3.1 (Jan 1956), pp. 18 – 19).↵
- First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 149.↵
- In the words of Pynchon, this means calling for the development of “at least as thorough a We-system as a They-system” whose collective aim is to “piss on Their rational arrangements” (Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 650 – 651).↵
- Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, trans. Saul K. Padover (Commons), ch. I. In relation to this quotation, we are like Stephen Dedalus when he said that “History… is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” (Joyce, James, Ulysses (London: Flamingo, 1994), p. 42).↵
- First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 151.↵
- Ibid., p. 149.↵
- And yet “he’s amiable enough, keeps cracking jokes back through the loudspeaker… [But then] you catch a glimpse of his face, his insane, committed eyes, and you remember then, for a terrible few heartbeats, that of course it will end for you all in blood, in shock, without dignity” (Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), pp. 419 – 420).↵
- First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 149.↵
- Mathieu Kassovitz’s film La Haine tells us a joke: “Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: ‘So far so good… So far so good…’ [But] How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!” (France: Canal+, 1995).↵
- Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), p. 419.↵
- Žižek writes that “nobody seriously considers possible alternatives to capitalism any longer, whereas popular imagination is persecuted by the visions of the forthcoming ‘breakdown of nature’, of the stoppage of all life on earth – it seems easier to imagine the ‘end of the world’ than a far more modest change in the mode of production, as if liberal capitalism… will somehow survive even under conditions of a global ecological catastrophe” (“The Spectre of Ideology”, Mapping Ideology, ed. Slavoj Žižek (London: Verso, 1994), p. 1).↵
- Immanuel Wallerstein writes that “the modern world-system, as a historical system, has entered into a terminal crisis and is unlikely to exist in fifty years. However, since its outcome is uncertain, we do not know whether the resulting system (or systems) will be better or worse than the one in which we are living, but we do know that the period of transition will be a terrible time of troubles, since the stakes of the transition are so high, the outcome so uncertain, and the ability of small inputs to affect the outcome so great” (The End of the World as We Know It, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 1). But Žižek asks: “today, can we afford the comfortable position of an observer who predicts that a new world order will emerge over the next fifty years and last for around five hundred? Along the same lines, when… Wallerstein claims that the October Revolution and the ensuing Soviet state were just a subordinate event which, far from undermining the global capitalist system, fully fitted within its frame, does he not underestimate the extent to which the October Revolution and its aftermath were nonetheless conceived of as an attack on the global capitalist system?” (Revolution at the Gates (London: Verso, 2002), pp. 333 – 334).↵
- Althusser writes that “an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is material… And I shall point out that these practices are governed by the rituals in which these practices are inscribed, within the material existence of an ideological apparatus, be it only a small part of that apparatus: a small mass in a small church, a funeral, a minor match at a sports’ club, a school day, a political party meeting, etc.” (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 166 – 168).↵
- Althusser writes that “the superstructures, far from being pure phenomena of the economy, have their own effectivity… but this effectivity is in some way dispersed into an infinity, into the infinity of effects, of accidents, whose inner connexion may, once this extremity in the infinitesimal has been reached, be regarded as non-existent. So the effect of this infinitesimal dispersion is to dissipate the effectivity granted the superstructures in their macroscopic existence into a microscopic non-existence… But whatever the case, within this infinitesimal microscopic diversity the macroscopic necessity ‘finally asserts itself’, that is, finally prevails” (“Appendix to Contradiction and Overdetermination”, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Penguin Press, 1969), pp. 117 – 118).↵
- Marx writes that “the direct interest taken by the capitalist, or the capital, of any individual sphere of production in the exploitation of the labourers who are directly employed is confined to making an extra gain, a profit exceeding the average, either through exceptional overwork, or reduction of the wage below the average, or through the exceptional productivity of the labour employed… The individual capitalist, as distinct from his sphere as a whole, has the same special interest in exploiting the labourers he personally employs as the capital of a particular sphere… has in exploiting the labourers directly employed in that sphere… Here, then, we have a mathematically precise proof why capitalists form a veritable freemason society vis-à-vis the whole working-class” (Capital: Volume III, ed. Friedrick Engels (Commons), pt. II, ch. 10). Engels adds that another way capitalists make “extra profits out of the farthings thus extorted from the impoverished proletarians” is through the form of “fines [which have been] imposed upon the operatives [of capitalist industries] with the most heartless severity” (“Single Branches of Industry”, The Condition of the Working Class in England (Commons)).↵
- “Science has made enormous progress toward understanding climate change. As a result, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that Earth is warming. Strong evidence also indicates that recent warming is largely caused by human activities, especially the release of greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels” (The National Academy of Sciences, “Advancing the Science of Climate Change” (Washington, D.C.: the National Academies Press, 2010), p. 1).↵
- Althusser writes that “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. The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production”. Part of this reproduction is the “reproduction of labour power [which] 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…” (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 127, 132)↵
- “By virtue of its ownership and control of the means of production, the bourgeoisie is… a politically dominant class whereby it monopolizes power in the state as a tool of class dominance. Furthermore the position of the bourgeoisie is consolidated by its power over the cultural sphere via the ideological control which both legitimates and obscures its dominance” (Kirby, Mark, et. al., Sociology in Perspective (Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2000), p. 651).↵
- Pestana, Christina, and Swarz, Omar, “Communication, Social Justice, and Creative Democracy”, Transformative Communications Studies, ed. Omar Swarz (Leicester: Troubador Publishing, 2008), p. 110.↵
- First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 154.↵
- Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), p. 363.↵
- Lacan writes that “we all have a little something in common with delusionals. I have within myself, as you have within yourself, what is there that is delusional in the normal man” (The Psychoses, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Russell Grigg (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), p. 48). However, this does not mean that we share in “the wish, the imagination, the delusion, to pull the culture toward disintegration and violence” through supporting what “is sometimes experienced as the ‘normal’ or the ‘norm’” of “a politics or policies that an entire culture may accept as ‘normal’” (Glass, James, Psychosis and Power (Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1995), pp. 17 – 19).↵
- Žižek writes that “We can rephrase here the old ‘hippy’ motto of the 1960s: reality is for those who cannot support the dream. ‘Reality’ is a fantasy-construction which enables us to mask the Real of our desire… It is exactly the same with ideology. Ideology is not a dreamlike illusion that we build to escape insupportable reality; in its basic dimension it is a fantasy-construction which serves as a support for our ‘reality’ itself: an ‘illusion’ which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernel (conceptualized… as ‘antagonism’: a traumatic social division which cannot be symbolized). The function of ideology is not to offer us a point of escape from our reality but to offer us the social reality itself, as an escape from some traumatic, real kernel [like class antagonism]” (The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), p. 45).↵
- Horkheimer and Adorno write that “freedom to choose an ideology, which always reflects economic coercion, everywhere proves to be freedom to… turn oneself into an apparatus meeting the requirements of success, an apparatus which, even in its unconscious impulses, conforms to the model presented by the culture industry. The most intimate reactions of human beings have become so entirely reified, even to themselves, that the idea of anything peculiar to them survives only in extreme abstraction: personality means hardly more than dazzling white teeth and freedom from body odor and emotions” (Dialectic of Englightenment, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 136).↵
- First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 154.↵
- Žižek writes that “if we postpone our action until we have full knowledge of the catastrophe, we will have acquired that knowledge only when it is too late. That is to say, the certainty on which an act relies is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of belief: a true act is never a strategic intervention into a transparent situation of which we have full knowledge: on the contrary, the true act fills in the gap in our knowledge” (First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), pp. 151 – 152).↵
- Richard Sennett discusses the view that “the moral virtue of farming is that it teaches permanent resolution regardless of outcome… The ‘farmer’ in all of us wrestles with the capacity to ruin himself. The… anarchy of nature [in this view is transposed] into a vision of inner, psychic anarchy; against these inner storms the individual’s only defense is to organize well his or her time… [under] the notion of self-discipline” (The Corrosion of Character (New York; W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), p. 10↵
- John Dewey writes that “The primary condition of growth is immaturity… But the prefix ‘im’ of the word immaturity means something positive, not a mere void or lack… Now when we say that immaturity means the possibility of growth, we are not referring to absence of powers which may exist at a later time; we express a force positively present – the ability to develop” (Democracy and Education (New York: Macmillan, 1930), p. 49). This is why Kant notes that, although “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a great part of mankind… gladly remain immature for life and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so easy to be immature… It is thus difficult for any individual man to work himself out of an immaturity that has become almost natural to him”, it remains the case “that a public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, it is nearly inevitable, if only it is granted… the freedom to make a public use of one’s reason in all matters” (“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, What is Enlightenment?, ed. and trans. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 58 – 59).↵
- “Controlled or prescribed burning (back burning or Swailing) is a technique sometimes used in… farming…” (Global Encyclopaedia of Environmental Science, Technology and Management: Volume I, eds. Sangeeta Madan and Pankaj Madan (New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing, 2009), p. 284).↵
- Compare section 8 on “ideolandscaping”.↵
- Žižek writes that “The standard political trope ‘the cause of freedom’ should be taken more literally than is usually intended… the Cause that mobilizes us (the ‘cause of freedom’) acts as an absent Cause which disturbs the network of causality. It is a cause which makes me free, extracting me from the network of cause-and-effects” (In Defense of Lost Causes (London: Verso, 2009), p. 289). Thus “Marx’s notion of communism not as an ideal, but as a movement which reacts to… antagonisms, is still fully relevant” (First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), pp. 87 – 88), insofar as it ‘disturbs’ the ‘network of cause-and-effect’ that is bourgeois freedom (i.e. “free trade, free selling and buying” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, trans. Samuel Moore (Commons), ch. II)) on behalf of the “development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with [the socialization of the economic] realm of necessity [i.e. material production] as its basis”, of which the “shortening of the working-day” is the “basic prerequisite” (Marx, Capital: Volume III, ed. Friedrick Engels, (Commons), pt. VII, ch. 48).↵
- Richard Terdiman states that “For Marx, in the extended sense he and his interpreters gave to the term, this pertinent ground is the ‘economy’. For Freud, in a similarly expanded definition which he struggled to establish against the prurient reductionism of psychoanalysis’s early opponents, it is ‘sexuality’” (Present Past (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 330). So while “there is nothing in Marx that anticipates Freud’s discovery” of the realm of unconscious desire, it nonetheless remains true that Freud’s discovery “bore in no way on ‘society’ or ‘social relations’ but on very particular phenomena affecting individuals”, who nonetheless (and this is Marx’s discovery) are “supports of functions, those functions being themselves determined and fixed by (economic, political, ideological) relations of class struggle… That difference suffices to distinguish Freud from Marx”, albeit “with a strange advantage accruing to Freud for having explored figures of dialectic very close to those of Marx but also at times richer than them and as though awaited by Marxist theory” (Althusser, “On Freud and Marx”, Writings on Psychoanalysis, ed. Olivier Corpet and François Matheron, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 118, 106).↵
- Žižek writes that “the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its ‘four riders of the apocalypse’ are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions” (Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), p. x).↵
- Mandel writes that the “multiple crises” that occur within “capitalist relations of production… are only different facets of a single reality, of one socio-economic totality: the capitalist mode of production” (Late Capitalism, trans. Joris de Bris (London: Verso, 1975), p. 571).↵
- Kurt Vonnegut writes that “The biggest truth to face right now… is that I don’t think people give a damn whether the planet goes or not. It seems to me as if everyone is living… day to day. And a few more days will be enough. I know of very few people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren” (A Man Without a Country (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), pp. 70 – 71).↵
- Marx writes that “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice” (Theses on Feuerbach, trans. W. Lough (Commons), sect. III). This should be combined with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that the West is on “the wrong side of a world revolution”, and that “if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values… A true revolution will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just’… All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression… We in the West must support these revolution” (“Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break the Silence”, American Rhetoric (online)).↵
- Marx, “Estranged Labour”, Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Mulligan (Commons).↵
- Lacan writes about the connection between pacts and symbolic gestures: “gifts are already symbols, in the sense that symbol means pact, and they are first and foremost signifiers of the pact they constitute as the signified; this is plainly seen in the fact that the objects of symbolic exchange… are all destined to be useless, if not superfluous by their very abundance” (“The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 61).↵
- See chapter IV in Totem and Taboo: “the social fraternal feelings… found expression in the sanctification of the blood tie, in the emphasis upon the solidarity of all life within the same clan. In thus guaranteeing one another’s lives, the brothers were declaring that no one of them must be treated by another as their father was treated by them all jointly… Society was now based on complicity in the common crime; religion was based on the sense of guilt and the remorse attaching to it; while morality was based partly on the exigencies of this society and partly on the penance demanded by the sense of guilt” (Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 146).↵
- Žižek writes that “the state political elites serve capital, they are unable and/or unwilling to control and regulate capital even when the very survival of the human race is ultimately at stake… All one has to do here is compare the reaction to the financial meltdown of September 2008 with the Copenhagen conference of 2009: save the planet from global warming (alternatively: save the AIDS patients, save those dying for lack of funds for expensive treatments and operations, save the starving children, and so on)—all this can wait a little bit, but the call ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and receives immediate action… We may worry as much as we want about global realities, but it is Capital which is the Real of our lives” (Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), p. 334).↵
- Jacques-Alain Miller writes that “The main production of the modern and postmodern capitalist industry is precisely waste. We are postmodern beings because we realize that all our aesthetically appealing consumption artifacts will eventually end as leftover, to the point that it will transform the earth into a vast waste land” (“The Desire of Lacan”, Lacanian ink (Spring: 1999), p. 19).↵
- Žižek writes that “although we are determined by destiny, we are nonetheless free to choose our destiny… Destiny and free action… thus go hand in hand: at its most radical, freedom is the freedom to change one’s Destiny” (First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), p. 151).↵
- John McMurtry writes that “At this stage of the global market system’s reproduction of transnational money sequences to unheard-of volumes and velocities of transaction and growth, a systematic and irreversible destruction of planetary life-organization emerges for the first time in history. If we consider the defining principles of carcinogenic invasion and eventual destruction of a life-host, and do not avoid or deny the symptom profile in evidence, we discern a carcinogenic pattern increasingly penetrating and spreading across civil and environmental life-organization” (The Cancer Stage of Capitalism (London: Pluto Press, 1999), p. 113).↵
- Jonathan Wolff writes that “we have created something we cannot restrain—capitalism”: it is a “mad machine, out of control” that “contains mechanisms which depress wages to a minimum, and ensure that there will always be a large body of unemployed. Capitalism will be afflicted by a continual drop in the rate of profit, and will be hit by recurring and ever-deepening crises, in an ever-shortening boom-bust cycle. All this is a consequence of the normal functioning of this anarchic system of production” (“Playthings of Alien Forces: Karl Marx and the Rejection of the Market Economy”, Reading Political Philosophy, eds. Nigel Warburton; Jon Pike; and Derek Matravers (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 276).↵
- Žižek writes that “What unites us is that… we are in danger of losing everything: the threat is that we will be reduced to abstract subjects devoid of all substantial content, dispossessed of our symbolic substance, our genetic base heavily manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment… If this sounds apocalyptic, one can only retort that we live in apocalyptic times… The task is thus to… [conceive] the threat of annihilation as the chance for a radical emancipatory renewal” (First and Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), pp. 92 – 94).↵
- “The day the world ends, no one will be there, just as no one was there when it began. This is a scandal. Such a scandal for the human race that it is indeed capable collectively, out of spite, of hastening the end of the world by all possible means just so it can enjoy the show” (Baudrillard, Jean, Cool Memories: Volume I, trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 1990), p. 229).↵