Sunday, January 28, 2007

apocalyptic sublimity [IV]

1. apocalyptic sublimity [I]
2. apocalyptic sublimity [II]
3. apocalyptic sublimity [III]

[C]ould not the omnipresence of apocalyptic fantasies in American culture be read as an indication that somehow we have "given way on our desire" or betrayed our desire at a fundamental social level? That is, these visions simultaneously allow us to satisfy our aggressive animosity towards existing social relations, while imagining an alternative (inevitably we always triumph in these scenerios, even if reduced to fundamentally primative living conditions... a fantasy in itself), while also not directly acknowledging our discontent with the conditions of capital (it is almost always some outside that destroys the system, not direct militant engagement). - Frederic Jameson

Yes, I am bringing you another installment! I think this quote by Fred Jameson really gets at something that is current. It's something that Chris Hedges has tapped into - the "Weimarization of the working class"

There has been, along with the creation of an American oligarchy, a steady Weimarization of the American working class. The top one percent of American households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. This figure alone should terrify all who care about our democracy. As Plutarch reminded us "an imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
Hedges also has yet another interview - at Salon.
In the beginning of the book, you write briefly about covering wars in Latin America, the Middle East and the Balkans. How did that shape the way you understand these social forces in America? What similarities do you see?

When I covered the war in the Balkans, there was always the canard that this was a war about ancient ethnic hatreds that was taken from Robert Kaplan's "Balkan Ghosts." That was not a war about ancient ethnic hatreds. It was a war that was fueled primarily by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. Milosevic and Tudman, and to a lesser extent Izetbegovic, would not have been possible in a stable Yugoslavia.

When I first covered Hamas in 1988, it was a very marginal organization with very little power or reach. I watched Hamas grow. Although I came later to the Balkans, I had a good understanding of how Milosevic built his Serbian nationalist movement. These radical movements share a lot of ideological traits with the Christian right, including that cult of masculinity, that cult of power, rampant nationalism fused with religious chauvinism. I find a lot of parallels.

People have a very hard time believing the status quo of their existence, or the world around them, can ever change. There's a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are. When I was in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, at the start of the war, I would meet with incredibly well-educated, multilingual Kosovar Albanian friends in the cafes. I would tell them that in the countryside there were armed groups of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who I'd met, and they would insist that the Kosovo Liberation Army didn't exist, that it was just a creation of the Serb police to justify repression.

You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don't understand how radically changed our country is, don't understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.
It adds to the discourse follwoing these main points that I think are prescient from the previous posts and bloggers.

1. Can we even imagine a world post - global capitalism?
2. Is our pre-occupation with the 'end' truly rooted in our "understood" failure as a society?
3. Have we passed a threshold without even realizing it on political and social levels?
4. Is there a conscious drive to destroy ourselves fueled in part by our obsession plot?
5. Is the way forward fighting for the trace hopes of aspirations past? (Zizek)

I think we have to really consider Zizek's parallax on the impossibility of the social itself. Rather "that the social is not one or the other (communitarian organic bonds versus collections of autonomous and self-determining individuals), but rather the very tension between these two conceptions of the social." I think Jameson's point from the qoute above also supports this notion of inbetween tensions - of a deep sense of failure and rage:
"[C]ould not the omnipresence of apocalyptic fantasies in American culture be read as an indication that somehow we have "given way on our desire" or betrayed our desire at a fundamental social level"

We all know that Apocalyptic mythology has always been around in virtually all cultures and all human traditions. In modern times, it plays a distinct role within politics (fascist) and taints most propaganda and discourse in various ways depending on the era. It was faithfully employed by the Nazis as an obvious example but even crops up in left-leaning concerns like climate change - although I think we can all concede that in the case of gloabl warming we are likely to be treated to some maximal consequences quite soon. Increasingly (it seems) apocalyptic thinking is an important part of much modern conflict, as a mechanism for galvanizing populist support. The examples are endless, ranging from Hamas, Christian Zionists or the messianic settler movement in Israel.

A recent commentor at I Cite brought a forward a great example of the political ramifications of apocalypticism. He notes the infamous Italian zealot Savonarola (not to mention English and American revolutionary periods) via PGA Pocock. "Pocock makes some interesting comments on how the apocalyptic changes one's relationship to time and how one sees time. For Pocock, what happened in Savonarolan Florence, for example, was that the apocalyptic message brought time down to earth--so to speak--giving the believers the idea that they had a direct role in the outcome of history. This opposed the Augustinian conception of time and the two kingdoms, since in that framework the two worlds did not intersect except at the end of time, which God was in control of and which humans had no role to play."

This active role is what played so well to the masses surviving the Weimar years and what I suspect is fueling the rise in Pentecostalism among the American Middle and Working classes (as one example). The Penetcostal church was begun at the turn of the 20th century in Topeka and/or Los Angeles. One unique feature was its integration of white and black followers - unheard of in 1906 - which defintely helped keep the faith on the margins until the 1950's.
Today it is growing rapidly and influencing other evangelical groups as more and more people are receiving the special gift of the holy spirit. The most recent being the Toronto Blessing. My point in going into detail here is that this particular brand of fundamentalism has growing appeal partly because of its focus on passion, special spritual gifts, and the ecstasy not only of God but community -erasing pain, class and race. In short average people have given up on modernism, science, and capital/caste. There is a parallel with the rise of the broader (social/political) evangelical movement and the shift of the American economy from manufacturing to a service based economy which has decimated the middle class through outsourcing and wage depression while simultaneously undermining the American Labor Union. The union provided a voice and communitty function that is largely missing from suburban life. As the power and influence of evangelicalism has risen, largely because its success at framing much of the social and political discourse through logocide, the quality of life for the average worker has plummeted. Only 8% of the working population has acces to a union. The lowest since the inception of labor. This imbalance is critical to quality of life issues and opens the door for alternative narratives for success. Consider that there are 70-100 million evangelicals in America alone- 200,000 churches. 84% of Americans except Jesus as God's Son, the same number believe they will face God at Judgement Day and 1/3 are expecting the Rapture any day now.

Larval Subjects has this to add recenty:
The central feature of apocalyptic narratives seems to be that they present the time of action as deferred, as if we are powerless in the present, unable to do anything now to transform our social conditions as the forces of capital are too strong to be resisted and fought against. The time of the now, of the present, has disappeared. Or, put otherwise, the present no longer appears as an actable space. Fundamentalist apocalyptic narratives become powerfully attractive under such conditions, as they promise the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world where these antagonisms are resolved and the disruption at the heart of the social is finally pacified. The problem, of course, is that in being seduced by these narratives, the followers are led to endorse a number of other downright frightening things at the level of policy... Policies that are often directly against their own self-interests...
missing from these discussions is the role played by the contemporary hegemony of the "discourse of the victim". One of the uncanny points of identity between both left and right is the primacy of victim discourses as the only authentic position from which to formulate an ethics and politics. Thus we have victimhood as minority status on the left, and the perceived persecution of Christians and white heterosexual males as the dominant trope on the right. One question worth asking is why politics must today take the form of a discourse of the victim. I haven't come up with any answers to this question, yet it does seem that "being-a-victim" confers one a minimal ontologically substantiality or identity in a world where identity has progressively been virtualized and rendered precarious by the collapse of the big Other.
Sinthome really hits it on target - the why, or rather central theme here is a victim narrative, which is used steadfastly in maintaining or renegotiating our apocalyptic dread/ectstasy fantasies. Consider this from scholar Robert O. Paxton (via Chris Hedges):

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

i'll close with that for tonight

painting: Frederic Church

1 comment:

Jacques de Beaufort said...

this is good stuff..I'm coming back to re-read when my mind is less fuzzy