Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Composting: the drones of memory

Thus, we base all the events in our lives on the continuum of our sorrows; we translate into the emotional language of continuity what would be more accurately expressed in the clear and trenchant narrative of objective events. Continuity is but our emotion, our unease, our melancholy, and the role of emotion is perhaps only to blunt ever-hostile newness (Gaston Bachelard, 2000, p. 60).
What qualified a piece for inclusion on the record was that it took me somewhere, but this might be somewhere that I'd never been before, or somewhere I'd only imagined going to….We feel affinities not only with the past, but also with the futures that didn’t materialize, and with the other variations of the present that we suspect run parallel to the one we have agreed to live in - Brian Eno

Dylan Trigg (author of The Aesthetics of Decay) has an excellent post at his blog Side Effects: Drones of Memory - "Drones" is a wonderful meditation on the interplay of time, memory, and music through the nuiances of nostalgia and artistic endeavor.

Trigg begins his post noting that the strange history of nostalgia has its origin as a medical condition experienced by Swiss soldiers in the 17th century. Native music was considered antithetical to recovery. The ensuing 300 hundred years have been no different in that the relationship between music, time, and memory is a constant aspect of our interior selves and our larger cultural/collective experiences within the frameworks of generation, sub-culture, and geography. It’s obvious that this relationship has actually intensified as the commoditization of the past is at a new zenith in the digital age - as if every I-pod is a time capsule of some sort and method.

Dylan Trigg:
The artificial containment of the past, as evidenced by its commoditisation, leads us to think more precisely about the relationship between memory and music. If music is able to invoke a different place and time, then what does this say about the musicality of memory itself? Two options present themselves. Firstly, we might want to think of music as merely an aid to remembering. In doing so, we would be positioning music in the classical tradition of ars memoria: a memory palace which places objects in a systematic and linear fashion. In discovering a previously stored piece of music, we would, therefore, be (re)discovering the thing (ourselves included) associated with that music….

Yet in contrast to this comparatively reductive view on music and memory, we might also consider another option: that music gives form to memory. By this, I refer to the idea that the temporal structure of music consists of the same formal experience as that of memory. So that, in listening to music, we catch a sight of memory at work. Here too, the view has a distinguished history, not least because Henri Bergson persuasively aligned lived, intuitive time (durĂ©e) with musical melody, arguing that our experience of time mirrors the movement of notes “melting into one another” (Bergson, 2001, p. 100). Given Bergson’s conviction that both time and melody are interpenetrative states, the experience of duration becomes seamless. With this seamlessness, it follows that the shape of memory adopts a continuous and unbroken whole. Applied directly to musical melody, is it the case then, that the uninterrupted coherence of a melodic passage forms a structural symmetry with the formation of memory?
Trigg turns his attention to the past with these observations.
When we speak of a landscape of the past, it is accessed by recollection and therefore presupposes the containment of memory. Nostalgia has its own melodic structure whereby it can divide the past into unequivocal units of time. When we return to a time through music, we return to otherness – distant and distinct from the present. But to what extent does the melodic structure come to form an analogy with the nature of time?
Against the divisible tendency of nostalgia to split the past up into unity, so conferring a distinctly narratological aspect upon it, let us consider, if only as a working hypothesis, that such a mode of time is a nothing less than temporal superimposition. Bachelard’s correlation between emotion and continuity is fitting. Insofar as emotion imposes a qualitative dimension on the past, then it has the effect of binding time. With that gesture of binding, a distance is gained between ourselves and the past. At the same time, the suppression of “newness” can be understood in terms of a desire to retain the bordering properties of melody, and to exclude a future which dissents from those borders. Distance and containment, therefore, come to form the image of memory as continuous.

Taking Bachelard at his word, how would we approach the “ever-hostile newness” of time and memory in musical terms?

I want to think about how drones, in particular those we hear in ambient soundscapes, manage to contest a narratological structure, so returning us to an impression of time which correlates with Bachelard’s idea of duration as being a superimposition. If temporal continuity, so far a counterpart to the structure of melody, is said to conceal “the hatched lines of discontinuity,” (Ibid., p. 122) then what does the experiencing of listening to drones tell us about the relation between memory and its form?

Enter the ambient works of Brian Eno as representative of the drone as a counterpower to melody. If melody is understood to establish points of attachment for memory, the drone distinguishes itself as morphological rather than narratological. Trigg observes that a melodic phrase insulates with consolidated gestures demarcating the beginning and the end. The drone lacks these demarcations, creating surges and withdrawals -modulated textures of broken terrains. Here, time and movement are fundamentally suspended and memory blurred. What is left is a porous structure, a timescape where past and future converge simultaneously on the present. It is a gathering of time.

Trigg concludes:
the self-digestion of Eno’s own compositions is an exterior expression of an internal movement within time itself. The reconstituted repetition of Eno’s ambient music is at once an appearance of time as haunting the present, but also of memory as assimilating the past in an uneven and discontinuous manner. Because of this digestion, the distinction between the past and the present becomes ambiguous. As formed from particles of the past, the drone erodes the narratological structure of time precisely through allowing the morphological overlapping of time to develop. The result is that time proceeds to move only through disjoining with memory. Finally then, the peculiarity of the drone is thus that it invites us to consider memory as movement turning on itself. In radical distinction to the ordering of melody, the drone does away with points of (place)-attachment, disclosing in the process a landscape which remains indebted to a past that can no longer be accessed in an original form.

...more on these thoughts soon

* on similiar topic of music built upon its previous forms see this post from Non-Prophet Art

image: Tomato

Thursday, February 22, 2007

ideological victory is also ideological defeat

Picture by gusset. Some rights reserved

in a radical revolution, people not only have to 'realize thgeir old (emancipatory, etc.) dreams'; rather, they have to reinvent their very modes of dreaming. - Zizek

We might even say that religious fundamentalism (along the lines of Paul Weyrich, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell) is the victory of 'postmodernism' and/or cultural studies. These guys take social construction and the importance of packaging, marketing, representation absolutely seriously. They put it to work. To add one more example (and I'm thinking here of Thomas Frank's One Market Under God), we can also say that corporate capitalism is the triumph of a version of 'postmodernism'/cultural studies--think about wink marketing, bricolage, irony, etc.

All these examples suggest the implications of ideological victory--it is also ideological defeat. When one's enemy accepts one's terms, one's very point of critique and resistance is lost, subsumed. The dimension of antagonism vanishes. At this point, other antagonisms emerge, many that are small and non-fundamental, non-crucial. A new kind of confusion occurs as this multiplicity of small antagonisms, each seemingly central, make finding the key division difficult. - Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean has a remarkable post today: Zizek- the true victory. So what happens when your message is accepted as a universal? even by your traditional enemy? That's a hard question and arguably the centerpiece of where we are. The right accepts and practices the by-lines of the pomo-critique yet the left doesn't so readily see this as it still trods along the same lines it did 30 years ago. I think this is largely true in academia and frankly the visual arts. People are still thinking irony is a critique as if they have never watched an advert in their lives. (see Long Sunday's link to an article in the Economist about how POMO has "inspired" retail and shopping strategies)

So what are the repercussions when a hard fought position is accepted by the very people you sought to challenge, even defeat? In the political arena, as Jodi observes, people act as if
the right is still concerned with essentialism and origins. The veneer of rhetoric may be there - via O'Reilly - but the strategies, mechanics have long moved on. The center-left needs to understand this if human rights are to be upheld and direct democracy implemented.

For the artworld, this ideological victory/defeat dynamic seems very prescient. I believe (and I think Speaking of Ashes feels the same) that much art today seems to be battling some old notions of meta-narratives and "conservative" art. I've mentioned irony, but we could easily cite a litany of other tried and true methods of revolt - ugly painting, pornography, appropriation, "low" art, etc. etc. Even supposedly political art - as The Differance Engine so aptly nailed in this post - is often times stagnant and self indulgent. In an international market worth billions, these protests largely become niche styles that in fact resemble the establishment more than they confront the establishment and the practitioners are allowed to continue on with their illusions of dissent.

To be fair, I don't have a real answer to confront this or a 'program', but I am glad that Jodi has brought this topic to her blog because it is a critical observation that we can ill afford to not engage.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Changeling: Donald Rumsfeld

"The past was not predictable when it started." -- Donald Rumsfeld
Perhaps no one loves a man in uniform more than former Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Providing of course that man is a despotic ruler with an itch for massacre and natural resources to sell. No single figure in the history of the United States govt. or military has been as intimate as often with the world's totalitarian fiends. It is not a stretch to suggest that he also is perhaps the most Machiavellian, the most skillful strategist within the halls of Washington over the last 40 years. His instinct for manipulation and self promotion even muted and immasculated Henry Kissinger at his peak. If you want to understand the murky waters of the national unraveling - not only in Iraq - but within the White House as a branch of government, you need look no further than the career of Mr. Rumsfeld. It really plays out like something written by James Elroy, infused with the doublespeak psychosis of 1984's Oceania.

Tom Dispatch has some required reading on the career of Donald Rumsfeld. It's lengthy but worth every word. It is a fascinating look into the horror show of the neo-con movement. Frankly, it is a monstrous tale full of cynical brilliance, shrewd positioning and immoral acts against the national interests and U.S. citizenry.

Donald Rumsfeld: The Undertaker's Tally (part I)

Donald Rumsfeld: The Undertaker's Tally (part II)

(by Roger Morris)

photo: Richard Avedon

28 artists and 2 saints

“The relation between morality and imagination may be a complicated one, but it does exist...Hope, forgiveness — these are not just moral actions. They are enlargements of the mind. Without them, you remain in the tunnel of the self.”

The Times today has a review of a new book - Twenty Eight Artists and Two Saints by Joan Acocella. It focuses on the lives of artists (primarily dancers and writers) - rather, the lifetime investment into the creative process itself. That mysterious and often anguished realm that only a practioner can fully understand. For many it is a prolonged exercise in disappointment and loneliness matched with private joys and ephiphanies of all scales. Some of the people covered are Louise Bourgeois, Mikhail Baryshnikov,Hilary Mantel, and Primo Levi. This looks to possibly be required reading in age of hyper-careerism in the arts. It's good to be reminded of the long view.

I particularly like the following observation:
How many artists subscribe to the notion that creative success depends on input from the fickle muse or her modern avatar, mental illness? Probably very few. Like all romantic conceits, it fails to acknowledge the grubby reality of mortal life, in this case the dedicated, often torturous labor a writer or dancer or sculptor invests in what he or she makes. Among the lucid and often delightful observations Joan Acocella makes in her new collection of critical essays, “Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints,” none is more important than this: “What allows genius to flower is not neurosis but its opposite ... ordinary Sunday-school virtues such as tenacity and above all the ability to survive disappointment.”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Arendt and the careerist ethos

The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.

A great reading on Hannah Arendt at LRB – Dragon Slayers by Corey Robin

* tip by ICite

another world is possible

So much of the rhetoric about identity effectively ignores: trying to work out what forms of organization, what forms of process and deliberation, would be required to create a world in which people and communities are actually free to determine for themselves what sort of people and communities they wish to be - David Graeber (Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology)

the 7th World Social Forum

Many delegates focused on an "issue." Some activists think that access to clean water is most important. Some concentrate on debt relief. HIV/AIDS in Africa is critical to others. Some see tax policy as the cutting edge struggle. The one clearly unifying theme is opposition to the grinding poverty found throughout the global South.

Americans might find that hard to understand. Our awareness of poverty in the global South is low. Likewise, the breadth and depth of opposition to poverty is also little appreciated. Some of that is attributable to the media. As Wahu Kaara, a Kenyan activist who played a key role in bringing the WSF to Africa, put it matter-of-factly "the architectural design of media is to misinform." A fine example of that misinformation is the invisibility of poverty, even domestic poverty in the US, let alone the deeper and wider poverty below the equator. The "shock and awe" that came with Katrina is the exception that proves the rule.

Seeing that many of us in the sphere have been concerned with the "system" - this review of the last WSF may make you feel something hopeful. It is right in line with Graeber's ongoing study into the nature of Value and the need to imagine other worlds at this critical time in history - "liberation in the imaginery".

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Fall: Pulp Modernism 3 (k-punk)

Part 3 from K-Punk has arrived for serious Fall fans - see below. (be sure and watch the video if you haven't)

Part1: Memorex for the Krakens: The Fall's Pulp Modernism

Part2: Memorex for the Krakens: The Fall's Pulp Modernism

Part3: Memorex for the Krakens: The Fall's Pulp Modernism

Thursday, February 15, 2007

in and out of line

that any color be anywhere for anything
that anywhere be anything for any color
that anything be any color for anywhere

-jasper johns

image inspired by tomato
text - museum of modern art, 1996

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love and War

Seeing that it's Valentine's Day and superficial tokens of love are swirling, Alternet has a reminder of what love during war looks like for thousands of survivors and those that love them. I'm reminded that the sacrifices of a few are not shared by the whole. The rest of the photos at Nina Berman are worth viewing.

Marine Sgt. Ty Zeigal and his wife Renee Kline
photo Nina Berman

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

the new school of assessment

I personally, have been out of school for what is beginning to be a decade so I'm no authority on the state of being a student or teacher - now. I have been noticing though a lot of posts around the 'sphere' about the state of higher education and the frustrations of those faculty aiming for a higher standard - not simply with students but with the institutions themselves. Many universities unfortunately have taken the corporate model - rather Enron model- of promoting and rewarding the singular academic star while creating a large and discontent army of grunts - the adjuncts. These adjuncts are increasingly carrying the burden of an entire university at slave wages and without the customary benefits of an institutional hiring. The results seem obvious for anyone able to look but seeing that universities are largely bottom down institutions that care more about shareholders than education, the growing threat is invisible to them.

Here's a small sampling of what I've read recently:

1. Long Sunday speaking of the "degree mill"
2. Daily Kos and the growing
"assessment culture" of higher ed.
3. Christopher Jagers on "tired faculty" and
the culture of compensation.

it takes 80 times more energy to feed four times more people

Alternet has a fascinating (and yes disturbing) interview with Thomas Homer Dixon regarding our unsustainable use of energy and various tectonic movements developing underneath our societies. The discussion looks at energy production beyond the barrel of oil template with some practical advice on how we need to be honest with ourselves about the coming disruptions.

THD: In fact there's a whole way of approaching economics that uses thermodynamics. Herman Daly in particular has pioneered this. Energy is a currency that is fundamental and physical, and it gets you away from prices, which are often distractions. The price of something -- a barrel of oil, a bushel of grain -- includes so many other factors that may not have anything to do with underlying abundance or scarcity of these things.

THD: There will be times of frustration and fear and anger on the part of many people when fundamental verities and patterns of life are suddenly challenged. They'll be scared. And in those moments, extremists can take advantage of the situation and push our societies in directions that are very bad. Those of us who are nonextremists need to be prepared to push in other directions and create something that's good.

* Thomas Homer-Dixon is director of the Trudeau Centre for the Study of Peace and Conflict at the University of Toronto. He is the author of "The Ingenuity Gap" and his newest book "The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization."

Monday, February 12, 2007

vote FEAR for '08

I guess I was inspired by John Howard's idiocy and hypocrisy down under - oh wait he's not even American!

image: Germany WWI via Jesus' General

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Does the US Budget Reflect the Best Investments for Our Future?

When Congress debates how much to spend on programs such as "education" and the "environment," lawmakers are really deciding how to carve up America's discretionary budget pie, depicted above, as proposed by President Bush on Monday. The Pentagon would receive $481 billion, and that's not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As you can see, more than half of the money Congress votes to spend this year would go to the Pentagon, leaving budget scraps for everything else.
....more at,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

essay on network culture: Kazys Varnelis

Fredric Jameson's classic description of Postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism is now well over twenty years old. Jameson's analysis is crucial for understanding late twentieth century thinking. But where are we now? Kazys Varnelis has recently posted his text for the Networked Publics book. It is well worth the read and I'll perhaps go into detail with a follow up post. For now I'm kinda lovin' this "handy" chart at left (click for full size).

Funny, I don't see apocalypse anywhere :) but Hegel shows up...

Peter Doig sells for $10million

Bloomberg reports the $10 million sale of a Peter Doig owned by Saatchi. I'm too speechless to be snide. Here are some 'factoids' on the rising auction atmosphere (nice commissions):
London's contemporary-art sales, which auctioneers said may be aided by bonus-rich bankers and wealthy young Russians, were valued at as much as 132 million pounds.

Phillips de Pury & Co. yesterday sold 5.3 million pounds of Western and Chinese art in a Bloomsbury ballroom, just beating its top estimate after adding commissions.

Contemporary-art prices have quadrupled since 1996, according to Art Market Research's index of the top 25 percent of works by Richard Prince, Hirst, Doig, Michelangelo Pistoletto and other artists.

Sotheby's said its contemporary-art evening sale may fetch between 28.5 million pounds and 39.4 million pounds, 64 percent more than its top presale estimate for last winter's sale. Christie's auction tomorrow is estimated at 39.7 million pounds to 54.4 million pounds.

Sotheby's and Christie's just raised their commissions and now charge buyers 20 percent on the first 250,000 pounds of the hammer price and 12 percent on the rest. Estimates are before commission and records are calculated after adding buyers' fees.

painting: Peter Doig

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

the haggard county cure

couldn't resist this brilliant illustration over at Evangelical Right on the Ted Haggard 'recovery'.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Alain Badiou lecture at Art Center -Feb.6

"Our century, aroused by the passion for the real, has in all sorts of ways-and not just in politics-been the century of destruction. Yet we must immediately distinguish two orientations. There exists a passion for the real that is obsessed with identity: To grasp the real identity, to unmask its copies, to discredit its fakes. This passion can only be fulfilled as destruction. Herein lies its strength-after all, many things deserve to be destroyed. But there is another passion for the real, a differential and differentiating passion devoted to the construction of a minimal difference. Malevich's White on White is a proposition in thought that opposes minimal difference to maximal destruction. Destruction or subtraction? This is one of the century's central debates. And art provides the first guiding thread for our attempt to think this couple."
The Principles of Contemporary Art: Between Destruction and Subtraction, lecture by Alain Badiou Tuesday, February 6 @ 7:30pm @ "Los Angeles Times Theater" on Art Center's Hillside Campus :: 1700 Lida Street (Pasadena) Free and open to the public but seating is limited. More information, email Jason Smith

With the cold weather L.A. is certainly on my mind! This looks great and makes me sorry to be in NYC and missing it.

-Alain Badiou, The Century
Image: poster created by MFA student Christopher Michlig - tip artblogging LA

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dangerous Curve(s)- Deborah Fisher

Here's my friendly plug for fellow Greenpoint artist and blogger Deborah Fisher. If you are in LA be sure and make the opening tomorrow at Dangerous Curve.[Feb.3]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

apocalyptic sublimity V

  1. apocalyptic sublimity I
  2. apocalyptic sublimity II
  3. apocalyptic sublimity III
  4. apocalyptic sublimity IV

This conversation largely began for me with the film Children of Men and the book, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. These pop cultural sources seemed to be resonating with many others as evidenced in previous installments linked above or as Rough Theory has dubbed them - the cliff notes for the apocalypse! See also the Blogocalypse at Mostly Harmless (now that has to be a candidate for new word of the year!)

This conversation is starting to come full circle with K-Punk's excellent analysis of Children of Men. What is of special merit from that post for me are the following points regarding why the film feels so contemporary.

Firstly, the film is dominated by the sense that the damage has been done. The catastrophe is neither waiting down the road, nor has it already happened. Rather, it is being lived through. There is no punctual moment of disaster; the world doesn't end with a bang, it winks out, unravels, gradually falls apart. What caused the catastrophe to occur, who knows; its cause lies long in the past.

Secondly, Children of Men is a dystopia that is specific to late capitalism. If, as Wendy Brown has so persuasively argued, neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism can be made compatible only at the level of dreamwork, then Children of Men renders this oneiric suturing as a nightmare. In Children of Men, public space is abandoned, given over to uncollected garbage and to stalking animals. But, contrary to neo-liberal fantasy, there is no withering away of the State, only a stripping back of the State to its core military and police functions. In this world, as in ours, ultra-authoritarianism and Capital are by no means incompatible: internment camps and franchise coffee bars co-exist.

The third reason that Children of Men works is because of its take on cultural crisis. It's evident that the theme of sterility must be read metaphorically, as the displacement of another kind of anxiety. (If the sterility were to be taken literally, the film would be no more than a requiem for what Lee Edelman calls 'reproductive futurism', entirely in line with mainstream culture's pathos of fertility.) For me, this anxiety cries out to be read in cultural terms, and the question the film poses is: how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?

Children of Men connects with the suspicion that the end has already come, the thought that it could well be the case that the future harbours only reiteration and repermutation. Could it be, that is to say, that there are no breaks, no 'shocks of the new' to come? Such anxieties tend to result in a bi-polar oscillation: the 'weak messianic' hope that there must be something new on the way lapses into the morose conviction that nothing new can ever happen. The focus shifts from the Next Big Thing to the last big thing - how long ago did it happen and just how big was it?

Rough Theory also has linked to Joseph Kugelmass which has two posts adding to the subject:
The Poem and the Apocalypse, Part One: Destructive Fantasies
which revisits the cross-blog discussion, offers its own analysis of types of apocalyptic fantasy, and draws particular attention to the phenomenon Joe calls “thin slicing” - the instrumental and selective mobilisation of symbolically charged evidence directed to ideological ends, and predicated on the assumption that social connection necessarily requires agreement and sameness; and
The Poem and the Apocalypse, Part Two: Children of Men and Frank O'Hara's Personism.
which moves from an analysis of Cuaron’s Children of Men to an analysis of O’Hara’s Personism, in order to unfold a series of reflections on the potential for a vision of social connection that transcends instrumentalist “thin slicing”.
(*I want to read more on "thin-slicing")

Larval Subjects has returned from the Vegas lecture and posted Apocalypse Now Redux - Back from Las Vegas. Sinthome suggests that the emphasis on religious apocalyptic narratives (though timely) suffers from these tendencies:
1. In focusing on religious apocalyptic narratives, other pervasive forms of apocalyptic narrative are ignored, leaving unasked the question of just why these fantasies are so pervasive. It is remarkable that there are a wide variety of secular apocalyptic narratives, which suggests, from a psychoanalytic perspective, that apocalyptic narratives are something of a social symptom.

2. In focusing on religious apocalyptic narratives as a threat against which liberal democracy must defend, we foreclose questions of how apocalyptic narratives might function as a fantasy and a symptom responding to some fundamental conflict or antagonism characterizing contemporary social existence.

3. The focus on the political impact of apocalyptic narratives tends to cover over questions of why these narratives have become so pervasive at this particular juncture of history.
Sinthome admits that some of "these narratives could possibly be true in the non-analytic sense, but we must nonetheless account for how they have come to so pervasively occupy the contemporary mind."

Recalling the Lacanian theory of fantasy in mind, Sinthome hypothesizes that apocalyptic fantasies are a symptomatic response to the fact that “society does not exist.” Echoing Zizek, the point here is that the social field is constant with antagonisms and internal conflict and therefore can never be represented as harmonious in function - Lacan's "impossible-real".

In this regard, apocalyptic fantasies can be seen as theories of both why society is failed and fantasies as to how this failure, this antagonism, might be surmounted once and for all. They represent clothed or disguised utopian longings for a different order of social relations, such that this alternative order would only become possible were all of society to collapse. These visions simultaneously allow us to satisfy our aggressive animosity towards existing social relations, while imagining an alternative, while also not directly acknowledging our discontent with the conditions of capital (Jameson - it is almost always some outside that destroys the system, not direct militant engagement).

What is perhaps most interesting here is that these fantasies are organized precisely so as to preclude any engagement with directly transforming dissatisfying social conditions. Apocalypse always comes about through some sort of foreign, divine-like agency and instigates the collapse of the social field calling for people to rise up and heroically respond to these new social conditions and transform their social relations so as to produce a new people. The transformation of the social field is not to be undertaken by social subjects themselves.
Apocalypse could then be seen as the fantasy of revolution without revolution, of a foreign element that disrupts social life and creates ripe conditions for a reconfiguration of the social world, while allowing us to keep our hands clean of a violent revolutionary upheaval of society.
I will argue here - though I agree completely with Sinthome - that there is a new wrinkle to the political nature of apocalyptic desire. Traditionally apocalyptic desire/dread was situated with marginal groups whether they be religious or political in nature. Small bands - generally ostracized by the larger social apparatus and often fighting for physical/spiritual survival. What I think is a unique contemporary mutation is that the apocalyptic is now an orchestrated political pursuit/strategy. The transformation of the social field will still happen via the "deity" but it is the political, militaristic and commercial obligation of the "faithful" to act as agent for the divine reconfiguration. This being said the following technique is true too:
... by perpetually holding open the possibility that apocalypse might occur, that it is right around the corner, while also rendering social transformation the result of an aleatory event sans intentional human engagement, that might never occur. It thus renders social life bearable by holding out the ever present possibility of another social organization, while perpetually deferring the disappointment that might come from fulfilling that desire.
Two primary variants are cited: (paraphrased)
Rightwing - protecting the harmony of tradition. That there was a tradition which was noble but has been eroded by the foreign and the traitorous enemy within.
The Leftwing apocalyptic fantasies inevitably represent the antagonism that disrupts society as being self-reflexive, which is to say, as a result of the actions of that society itself. A drive to exceed limits, absolute profit/materiality, egoism.
I would add here that currently, the rightwing positions itself as victim and protector simultaneously. It is a paradox not easily understood but seems to work well in galvanizing populist support.

What if this antagonism is constitutive of the social itself? If society does not exist then this is because it is subject to the logic of the boundary or limit, thereby perpetually encountering its own undoing and inner antagonism. Rightwing and leftwing apocalyptic fantasies are two ways of trying to heal this constitutive wound, or antagonism at the heart of the identical: The first by striving to destroy the other that would destroy itself (as the boundary would thus be erased), the second by seeing a fundamental disequilibrium inside the heart of the social itself and trying to surmount this antagonism which would, again, lead to its demise by leaving it without an identity to distinguish itself. Yet, as Hegel shows in demonstrating how this dialectic culminates in “bad infinity” or the endless repetition of an operation without reaching completion, this antagonism never resolves itself.
Apocalyptic fantasies in both their secular and religious, leftwing and rightwing forms, indicate, in a profound way, that the space of the present has withdrawn where social action is concerned, such that the space of the living present is no longer seen as a space where action and change are possible.

The question suggested by apocalyptic fantasies is that of how we might shift from being subjects of desire to subjects of drive, giving up on fantasies of total social transformation where antagonism might be eradicated once and for all, such that an actionable space of the present (to use a word drawn from the Administration) might be redeemed.
This is an excellent conclusion/question.The apocalyptic fantasy - though it makes its participants feel chosen at the expense of others - invariably acts to demobilize the "chosen" and dehumanize the "unchosen". It justifies the disasters surrounding one as prophesy/fate and therefore outside of the human ability to act in response to the unfolding disasters. In essence, the chosen are expected to wait for the "signal" and then be exited from the real horrors about to be enacted on their behalf. That is their reward for waiting and staying passively vigilant. The "signal" is the spectacle of revelation , that may never come but requires one to be at the ready - in essence, always at unease and awaiting the worst. The toll on the collective psyche is enormous.

The unique problem we face now with regard to the apocalyptic is that technology, religion as capitalism, and climate change have all converged at a time when daily life is truly unpredictable and volatile for the average citizen. Administrative law is a shamble and fails to protect the following features of a society: Civic, Economic, Safety, and Health. Basically every household below the $100,000 threshold is one accident away from personal catastrophe as are most urban and rural communities. There are no protectors at a government or private level. The gulf-coast illustrates this in dramatic fashion but it is also observable through the lens of tort law since 1980. This awareness of a lack of traditional safety nets leaves many of the weakest very open to narratives of apocalypse which readily provide victim status and revenge to an individual besieged by many micro-apocalypses of daily life. To simply look around is "proof" of a coming doom.

Assuming that the actionable space of the present has largely been voided by such accumulating forces as deregulation, global capital, - rather the practice of starving a govt. to purposefully fail - there also seems that we have a new politics of apocalypse. This is a politics of denial, an activism of obstinacy through ignorance and neglect. It denies the interiority and value of the "unchosen". This is a maximal politic - reserved for winners at the expense of losers, including the natural world.

Perhaps we need to reconsider the way we understand revolution as a key to why we increasingly rely on apocalyptic narratives to give us value through imaginary "other worlds".


image: The "Doomsday Clock" which is currently set to 5 min. to midnight

Molly Ivins

One of the voices for common sense has passed.