THE POETICS OF THE “IMPOSSIBLE”
A nightmare is haunting Europe. In the wake of a century of competing totalitarianisms, the neo-liberal End of History has produced a totalitarianism-without-end: total commodification & the cyberneticisation of life. And it has accomplished this under the false flag of “global emancipation.”
In contrast, the poetic sophistry of this pseudo end-to-ideological-struggle has been nothing but whimpering – yet it isn’t the task of humanity to console the poet.
Refusing further withdrawal from the situation confronting us, it is time that an experimental poetics be converted into a maxim for life. Just as the form of an “idea” is the idea, so the form of “the world” is the world. To acquiesce in the abduction of its forms, is to conspire in its abolition: there is no concrete future that doesn’t stem from the poetics of present actions.
That radicalism today has been usurped by the enemies of poetry, does nothing to predetermine the terrain – as long we on our side do not submit to the empty bureaucratisation of language. To expressions of condolences. To renunciations of “violence.” To appeals for “reasonableness” & “certainty.” To infantile enthusiasms for new distractions. To the defence of endless convenience. To lyrical ME-ism. To plug&play social remedialisation. To #fakenews mania. To the sentimentalisms of the security apparatus. To algorithmic mind-suicide.
One must be prepared to be accused of delinquency, criminality & much worse. It goes without saying that the path of poetic action begins with a decisive break from all those who would obstruct it & those agents provocateurs who would dissipate its force by appeals to opportunism or the inevitability of the present state-of-affairs.
The greatest enemies of poetry are not those who simply kill (with guns or dollars), but those ideological mercenaries who – while supplanting poetic action by its mere simulation – pretend to speak in its name.
For THE WORLD IS A COSMIC ARENA in which the contest of universalisms has become the holograph of an impossible future. It is the task of poetic action to dispossess this totality.
THE EYE OF THE TIGER
Poetic action is a matter of vital importance in the subversion of totalising power; a matter of “life & death”; the road either to “survival or ruin.” Just as permanent war has become the driving mechanism of a global political economy, with its “breathtaking dynamic of self-enhancing productivity,” so it is imperative that the poetics of the operations of global power be thoroughly analysed & appropriated to the task of subversion.
The importance of poetic action in upsetting the strategic plans of a resurgent totalitarianism cannot be underestimated – not merely despite but because of the conspicuous asymmetry in the relation of power that stands between them. An illuminating anecdote is related by General Tao Hanzhang of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to this effect:
In southern China there is a small animal, a kind of leopard cat, which is the same size as a domesticated cat. It is much weaker in strength than a tiger, yet it often attacks a tiger if it sees one. It is as nimble as a squirrel & usually lays an ambush in a tree: suddenly jumping onto the tiger’s back it gets hold of the larger animal’s tail & uses its extremely sharp claws to lacerate the tiger’s exposed anus. The tiger flays about & roars in pain, but is unable to dislodge the leopard cat. The only solution is for the tiger to roll on the ground, at which point the small animal beats a rapid retreat out of the tiger’s reach.
IT WAS ONLY IN THE PAST THAT THEY EVER HAD A FUTURE
Any idiot can say, “il est impossible d’armer la révolution de la nostalgie du vieux monde.” Yet the resilience of such puerile nostalgias – above all the nostalgia for la révolution as the unique property of superannuated “leftists” – comes with an unsavoury prospect: that the only true politics remaining in Europe today is that of populism (all the rest being fiscal advocacy by competing increments). Unsavoury, because exposing the fundamental alienation of revolutionary politics itself in its contemporary guise, & of its “right to distress.”
Yet only by means of the straw man of revolutionary nostalgia, which it ceaselessly castigates, does the instantly commodified critique of these École Normaliens justify its aversion to the “gutter.” Lacking even the most rudimentary instincts for self-satire, these philosophical technocrats propose to likewise castigate populism, on both sides, thereby distinguishing themselves as the “party of reason,” because unable to meet the adversaries of their cherished idea in effectual combat. Their entire “strategy” extends only as far as this, just as their philosophical imagination is only as deep as the hole they’ve dug for it.
Where political life once represented the possibility of emancipation from mere existence, consumption of pseudo-emancipative critique is represented as the horizon of possibility of political life. In this way the alienation of politics multiplies the impulses of revolutionary populism because it can satisfy none of them.
TO BE UNAWARE OF THE POETRY OF EVERYDAY LIFE, IS TO BE UNAWARE OF LIFE
Revolution, by definition, is always & by necessity parasitic upon the decadence of power.
Postmodernism transforms the decadence of power into a parasitic expropriation of the history of revolutionary thought – whose dissolution it thus represents. It becomes the political culmination of aesthetics & the aesthetic culmination of politics: in short, the apotheosis of avantgardism.
While on the one hand proclaiming the End of History, this movement perpetuates itself on the other by posing as the progression of inevitability – since, as dictated by the laws of entropy, its inertia (the economic “status quo”) can only continue to increase. For it is here that resides the false belief that, in the continuous present, parity has been achieved between the existing state of things & the exercise of hegemony over them (the harmonious commodification of the political domain).
In the “post-ideological” form of its neutrality, this movement of corporate transubstantiation presents itself as a perpetuum mobile: a magical apparatus capable of acting under its own inertia without the intercession of external forces. It has become that ideal thing of power: self-evidence.
It isn’t fantastic to suggest that the decisive transformation of the political into this relativistic domain of the “fiscal contract,” is produced by the interpolation of irony into discourses historically inimical to it & rendered bizarrely ineffectual by it. This was the historical task of postmodernism.
TO EACH ACCORDING TO THE ENEMY THEY BELIEVE IN
The “cultural sphere” isn’t separate from the political, the economic, the ideological, yet its frequent appeals to neutrality (in the residual form of “art-for-art’s-sake”) is greatly to the advantage of any programme of subversive action – since it is in the “cultural sphere” that the corporate-state avows the greatest disinterest, & yet to which it is most compelled to rally in defence against “hostile forces.”
It is thus on the cultural front that the system of commodities, by which everyday life is both impoverished & regulated, most exposes its ideological bias. Under any attack that isn’t purely fictive, the “cultural sphere” becomes the arena in which the hidden operations of corporate-state power are most vulnerable to self-contradiction & confusion – & openly display themselves as such, in the beguiling rationale that here lies nothing of real political consequence.
Yet the sociopathic character of the corporate-state mustn’t be underestimated: what is innocuously called the “assault on culture” is never less than the anticipatory form of an assault on power. The industrialisation of modern culture proceeds with this in view & the institutionalisation of the avantgarde is merely its most conspicuous symptom.
In this multiple-scenarios universe of its “persecution complex” (endlessly aestheticised), the corporate-state at every point negates by simulation-effect, thus “commodifying” that which it otherwise forbids to be represented. Yet the commodity is no longer sufficient to do the work of the secret police, whose activities have only multiplied since the end of the Cold War – what we now realise was simply a prelude.
IDIOCY DOES NOT “WITHER AWAY”
Nothing today is more readily taught than the cultural habit of irrelevance: whole swathes of humanity are entrained to submissively disenfranchise themselves at the behest of power.
Those who fail to conform are “criminalised”: disenfranchised by force of the law – whose prestige alone is an insurmountable barrier wherever, in the eyes of the world, it retains the “benefit of the doubt” or has yet to be corrupted to the point of unfettered ridicule.
More often than not, the representatives of non-conformism themselves derive from the ruling faction: “revolutionaries” by pure expedient.
Likewise the mainstream “opposition,” from socialist to libertarian, represents a common thread of pseudo-revolutionary opportunism – to remake the world, no less, in the image of backroom “consensus-building” & Prozac.
Among the institutional “left,” revolutionary discourse is the ne plus ultra of cynical reason – as if they, too, without ever having gotten their hands dirty, will be saved by some kind of revolutionary predestination.
But all the scholastic Marxists with their absurd “analyses” are still less absurd than the self-congratulating acolytes of Ayn Rand, who believe they alone have shouldered the world. And that they alone will shoulder the next one.
Yet beyond such ideological inanities, the only real distinction is who possesses power & who doesn’t.
THE AMBIVALENCE OF DISILLUSIONED ACTION
The state takes itself for granted only in the eyes of its enemies, whose dreams it constantly inhabits, who has foreseen & fore-experienced its own destruction in countless scenarios.
It is for this reason that the first strategic consideration must be the extent to which one’s positions have been anticipated. You must always expect the enemy who does not yet know you are seeking him (Sun Tzu). It is necessary, in other words, to confront the terrain of anticipation, rather than the illusory terrain of the “State” – since the corporate-state itself stands upon the paradoxical foundations of supersession (the authority of god, of the people, of the law, of the marketplace) & sustains itself only so far as it hypothesises its own (impossible) end.
Even if right at this moment something is watching, listening, tracking, logging, analyzing, predicting – yet paranoia is a luxury commodity.
Vigilance is the contrary of paranoia.
Paranoia, by definition, is inimical to action: in its form, it mirrors the instinct of the corporate-state towards escalation, above all in the diffusion of misinformation, for which it enlists the individual as its unwitting agent. Its manipulations are geared towards a generalized paralysis, feeding denunciation, drama & hysteria into a psychology of inertia & apathy.
Yet this alone provides abundant opportunities for appropriation & subversion – since the terrain of anticipation is also a terrain of ambivalence. The more the corporate-state engages in psychological warfare of this kind, engaged in an increasingly paranoid micromanagement of disinformation, the more susceptible it becomes to its own schizophrenia.
THE PLANNING & REGULATING OF POVERTY IN ALL ITS ASPECTS
It is necessary not to lose sight of the fact that the organisation of the corporate-state is modelled on that of the prison, the factory, & the psychiatric institution – & on this basis remains “experimental” in nature.
Every operation of the corporate-state is an exercise in control: one cannot afford to be seduced by the sentimental idea of a cybernetic welfare state separate from this totalising impulse (like some “charitable institution” for conspicuous destitution in the midst of abundant commodities – conditions for which it assiduously maintains, even while pretending to relinquish “power” in the name of a “duty of care”).
The very nature of the corporate-state is antithetical to such sentimentalisms – other than on occasions of the most reactionary & cynical kind. Yet sentimentality is a robust opiate.
In this, the corporate-state’s “experimental” character is brought most clearly into view, as a constant testing of the boundaries of dissimulation, expropriation & substitution – of everything that can be brought within its grasp: from the meaning of the social contract, to the social contract of meaning.
It is for this reason that the corporate-state manifests its greatest hostility towards all contrary forms of experimentation (those that cannot be expropriated to its service).
Consequently, the experimentalism of poetic action is not only subversive of institutionalising process, but remains incomprehensible to them. In this the strategic & tactical ends of poetic action coincide.
THE “PRICE OF SURVIVAL” ISN’T THE BURDEN OF SELF-SACRIFICE
Power-relations, irrespective of their array, are always phantasmatic, though they present themselves as iron-clad laws of necessity, while power itself appears as the very foundation of “reality” – since “reality” is nothing if not the affirmation of power in its “true” manifestation. Which is to say, in its self-evidence.
The world construed according to this image is lartpourlartisme of the highest mystical order, being nothing but abstraction masquerading as real conditions of concrete existence.
Monetised, the degree of separation between the abstract surreality of power & the concrete existence of the powerless, between executive reward & the minimum wage, is of such an order to inspire only disbelief. This disparity evokes more than the rhetorical divide between “democratic tyranny” and “democratic liberty” – it exposes the fundamental lie behind the categorical equivalence of commodities (that anything can be exchanged for anything else: the American Dream).
Such a convenient relativism – what de Tocqueville called the progress of equality – is pure veneer, to disguise the truly radical nature of the commodity-system’s ambivalence.
For it is by the seemingly counter-intuitive means of such ambivalence that this system has derived – out of progressive forms of alienation refined into the myth of self-determination – the prestige of inevitability, universality & permanence.
This system of abstract universals founded upon the universalised abstraction of concrete (“social”) relations is totalitarianism.
BY THE LESSON OF PAST DEFEATS WILL THEY KNOW US
It is the prestige of the commodity (as abstract universal) that alone feeds the illusion that power is beyond reach – yet it is for this reason also that only the force of mystification can suffice in its defence.
It is in the nature of the insight commodification affords, that power has learnt to automate such defences – not against any opponent as such, but against its own decadence.
To accomplish any kind of subversive action, it is thus necessary to grasp the logic of the world as a reflection of capital’s omniscience (its total, immersive “virtuality”; its “transcendence of the real”) & to approach the terrain of anticipation as one would enter a mirror.
Knowing that “demystification can always be turned into a myth,” such action must retain a poetic economy – an economy of detour, deviation, dissimulation, parody, indeterminacy, unverifiability.
In making tactical dispositions, the acme is to leave no discernible shape… Appear at places that the enemy must hasten to defend; move swiftly to places where you are least expected… Where you are strongest, allow your actions to appear to originate from a point of weakness… The tactical retreat is thus also a weapon & may prove more decisive than the “primary action.” Indeed, the primary action should serve as a lure, to draw the enemy into a void (Sun Tzu).
The measure of success will be the extent to which an action confounds the enemy while surprising even itself.
January 2018, Kafkaville