THE DISSOLUTION OF THE METAPHYSICS OF ALIENATION ISN’T A PURELY INTELLECTUAL TASK
Increasingly the world is reduced to the formulary: to live, or to tell? Social reality, distilled to a fleeting procession of memes under the dictatorship of the commodity, exiles the world of action to a domain of “false choices.” The consumption of false choices is governed by two complementary principles:
- Everything is permitted, therefore nothing is any longer possible;
- The machinery of approval never sleeps.
What presents itself as an abundant plurality in fact obscures an austerity of meaning. Persistently invited to choose, we are forever distracted from the critical task of judgement: choice, which is no choice, becomes the panacea of conscience. The socalled “free agent,” the individual supposedly free to choose, becomes the unwitting instrument of self-alienation. Yet deprived of its panacea, the world appears to it as an unbounded chaos of relativisms. In a vertigo of undecidability, the question, “What does it mean?” becomes, “What is it permitted to mean? What meaning am I permitted to find in it?”
To calculate, to narrow the probabilities, merely restores to this free-agent-who-isn’t-free the “possibility” of its own failure – in the seemingly paradoxical form of choosing so as not to act, or acting so as not to choose. We consider these to be equivalent. The compulsion – to choose, to act – is simply the mirror of a primordial inertia: it is the expression of a paralysis in which existence is narrowed to mere reflex.
THE ALIENATION-EFFECT OF IDEOLOGICAL TRAUMA
The weight of historical fatality doesn’t collapse beneath the levity of farce, which in any case is its elemental condition – while its incessant recurrence is tragic only to those who confuse emancipation with progress. From this derive the major traumas inflected by modernity upon the narcissism of “man,” whose combined alienation-effect marks the socalled “end of history”:
- COSMOLOGICAL TRAUMA, proceeding from the Copernican revolution;
- BIOLOGICAL TRAUMA, from the principals of evolution;
- EXISTENTIAL TRAUMA, from the critique of labour, exchange-value & the commodity;
- PSYCHOSEXUAL TRAUMA, proceeding from the discovery of the unconscious;
- CYBERNETIC TRAUMA, from the advent of intelligent machines;
- AESTHETIC TRAUMA, from the disillusionments of the avantgarde.
TO LIVE IN DENIAL OF MASTER NARRATIVES IS TO HAND THEM THE WORLD ON A PLATE
It’s no longer sufficient to say, as Godard does, that “the dominant class creates a world after its own image, but it also creates an image of its world, which it calls a ‘reflection of reality.’” In a world in which social algorithms reduce the mass to a constellated narcissism, “class consciousness” is algorithmic consciousness: the “dominant class” is the class of machines. It is a world not of the alienated, but of the alienational. At its core is an ideal subjectivity in which constitutive alienation (Freud) & expropriative alienation (Marx) achieve maximum equivalence. Its rule is no longer that of the reflection or image, but of a radical & unpresentable ambivalence that integrates even the most contradictory elements of the social imaginary through a capacity for infinite division & abstraction. No totalising “image of reality,” however fragmented, is required in the affirmation of this totalising power.
ALL SUBJECTIVITY IS APPROPRIATION
It is firstly in the discourse of alienation that the myth of individual subjectivity acquires primordial importance – from Faustian resentment to the mental alienations of Quixote to the revolutionary narcissism of an Oedipalised proletariat. The “consensual hallucination” of democratic mass individualism doesn’t mask but merely affirms a nostalgia for a “real” in which, paradoxically, the existence of a more ideal, more archaic form of abstraction is always presupposed – the time before time, the singularity at the origin of the universe – as well as its transcendental afterlife, as abstraction-of-abstraction. Considered otherwise: the individual is alienation. Without alienation, there is no “individual.” Yet simultaneously, the individual is the prosthesis of alienation, & thus constitutes both the extension of its force & the abstraction of its power.
ALIENATION AS “REALISATION” OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN ITS “PROGRESSIVE” SOCIAL MYTH
To say that every form of responsibility is a “responsibility of forms,” is to say that alienation cuts both ways. If all “critique” of alienation appears to succumb to the vicious circle in which “the real power of ideology can no longer be distinguished from the force of its denunciation,” it is because the terms in which the problem is posed are mutually implicated – so that the apparent omniscience of the one is premised upon the urgency of the other. That the former is “illusory” only in respect to the belief that it “conceals an essential truth” (that the real is ideology), merely confirms how the latter is unable to follow – like a Chuck Jones cartoon, treading thin air at high speed. By ideology we mean, the system & logic of meaning in all its abstract & concrete forms. The ideology of the individual might then be expressed in the form of a circular movement of expropriation & symbolic re-appropriation. Thus Rimbaud’s Je est un autre encounters its dialectical counterpart in Freud’s Wo Es war, soll Ich werden.
ALIENISM ISN’T THE MYTHICAL POWER THAT TRANSFORMS TOTALITIES!
Since Pinel, the countervailing “truth” presupposed by an alienation that takes the individual & society as its starting point, is nothing but a reductio ad absurdum. Such “truth” is neither inherent in things (commodities), nor alludes to a concrete relationship between an object (consciousness) & its knowledge (psychiatry), or between a socalled reality & its socalled reflection. This ambivalent truth-relation, implied in the very term “alienation,” has always supposed a correspondence between representation & taxonomy: between that which appears to be self-evidently & that which is shown to be by a process of derivation. It encompasses a fundamental paradox, in that its being is never sufficient for its own realization: it remains categorically provisional – which is to say, its objective reality remains provisional upon a metaphorics of presentation, of “seeing.” In that its revelation is thus bound to an (ideational) system, its apprehension is inseparable from ideology, such that its “essence” remains precisely that of unpresentability.
REALISM IS THE IDEOLOGY OF “DISSIMULATED LIFE”
What is called “reality” is thus the aestheticised form of this non-appearance. Like Plato’s ever-evasive sophist, the discourse of truth, in its appeal to the “real,” is nothing more than a performance (employing all the naturalistic illusionism of cinema) of bringing this non-appearance to heel. Moreover, it presents this non-appearance as an authentic experience of the highest order. It is the mysticism of the authentic itself. As always, realism finds its salvation in a belief in miracles.
EVERYTHING STILL EXISTS TO BE DISCOVERED
Realism always clothes itself in the form of unproblematic givens, in the appropriated naturalism of “everyday life” – as if, as Sartre would have it, “when the Saharan mirage vanishes it reveals true stones.” In its pretence of manifesting concrete experience, within a sanctuary outside ideology, it nevertheless exposes itself for the ideological phantasm that it is. Its reality is nothing but a myth of transparency, to which realism conforms as a transparent myth. It is the mythical foundation of the two dominant ideological formations of our time:
- The ideology of the end of ideology;
- The ideology of the absence of ideology.
Althusser was correct to insist, that it is in the domain of the “non-ideological” that ideology is most prevalent. This gives rise to two basic corollaries:
- That the socalled “emancipated individual,” as “individual without ideology,” is nothing but a mirror of transparent myths;
- In the same way that we say “reality” as if it were always a quotation, so too the “real reflection” of transparent myths is a quotation of “reality.”
TO ACT IN THE GAP BETWEEN “ART” & “LIFE”?
Everything more or less vital that remains within the field of Culture strains towards a new formulation. Like the architects of Nuremburg, the arbiters of the “cultural arena” erect great spectacles upon a schism that was long ago resolved in the dead of night. Homer was no longer even a corpse when Plato murdered him. The “separation of art & life” is thus of the rhetorical order of an internal dispute – the competing terms of which are the equivalent, within the ideology of representation, to the bicameral aesthetics of “parliamentary cretinism.” They are oppositional in a purely formal arrangement, inscribed within the same circle. And like the infinite regress of opposed mirrors, the “concrete situation” they suppose is always provisional upon an “ideological blind”: which is to say, the omniscient viewpoint from which ideology perceives its own absence. We call this, the Impossible.
THE AESTHETIC IDEOLOGY OF SELF-ALIENATION IS REALISM
In an environment of ubiquitous pseudo-iconoclasm, we require more than a rhetorical mania for re-discovering ideology under every unturned stone. Like a compass at the South Pole, the useless accumulation of “critiques” merely abets the accumulation of transparent myths by which they are neutralised. This rote accumulation & equally rote neutralisation wholly accords with the psychocivilising task of realism. The source of “revolutionary failure” resides in the mirror-equivalence of these two actions. Today, nothing is more commonplace.
Likewise, if “excessive transgression of the code can only lead to nostalgia for it” (Pasolini), it’s because such excess & such transgression are equally abrogated by the excessive, transgressive desire of the code itself. To “exceed” the code only enlarges its domain. The betrayals of surrealism are all of this kind: standing guarantor to realism’s alibi, as reification of the unpresentable. Such “transgression” always commences from an acquiescence in the code: its actions are the code’s raison d’être; transgression-to-excess, its apotheosis.
HANDS OFF OUR “NO FUTURE”!
Entrained to the consumption of a fantasy in which alienation is magically overcome & the world is “returned” to it, the individual becomes the nebulous author of a future in which all life is retrospectively lived. As Éluard, Boiffard, Vitrac, so boldly announced, Only dreams leave humanity with its right to freedom intact. The world knows nothing about rights, it knows only about contingency. Expropriative alienation proclaims the former in seeking to abolish the latter, under the sign of a general commodification of the possible. The “right to dream,” infused with the tragic vehemence of the deprived & the mystique of powerlessness, thus assumes the permitted form of a dream of impossible emancipation – like Hegel’s “depths of human subjectivity,” repeated first as a Warhol silkscreen, then as pixel-trash.
THERE ARE NO “FREE AGENTS” OF THE WILL-TO-POWER
In the final analysis, the only concrete situation is abstraction. Like a dreary political reverie, society (& the individual within it) concocts its own “free will” out of the circumstances of a concluded history, sketched out with broad strokes in the most beautiful cold blood, so that the future of which it dreams is already a dead epoch. So too we might say, the avantgardes of dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living. The inevitable march of progress has always assumed the metrical form of an arrested cataclysm: a piling of catastrophic debris into an abstract, immaculate machinery. The machinery of the fait accompli.
The challenge, therefore, isn’t simply to undertake a critique of the fact of alienation, as the prelude to an act of sedition against the collectivised ego. (It’s necessary, in any case, to comprehend the inherence of alienative processes in the production of critique itself: as if being discovered, naked in a cinema, the object of the screen’s avid attention.) The purpose of Alienism isn’t to resolve the seeming contradiction posed by alienation to the experience of “everyday life” (distracted by false choices). It is instead to intervene in the ideological solipsism of “emancipation from ideology,” represented by the transparent myth of realism.
This intervention assumes the most viable form available to it: that of an equivalently radical ambivalence – of ambiviolence. The expropriation of radical ambivalence isn’t a relativistic piling up of fragments without a goal, but a purposeful sabotage aimed at achieving specific effects. Ambivalence is the true “substance” of realism’s transparent myth. It’s expropriation & reinvention as a weapon of subversion & counter-construction provides the crucial & universally available means of disillusionment of mythic power.
17 October 2017