Theorizing 21c

 

CONSEQUENCE 4

Tar Sands, Alberta, Canada. Credit: Kris Krüg, Creative Commons.

 

CONSEQUENCE 3

The Man in the High Castle, © Amazon Studios, 2016.

 

CONSEQUENCE 2

Unassisted Living: Dismantling Healthcare
Photo: Clare Dunsford

“Negative Being” as Contemporary Politics

Caught up in a darkly surreal spinning of fact and fiction, the world of politics is increasingly as delirious as it is sinister. Here, Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” finds a home in the White House, the instantly reversible world predicted by Orwell’s dystopian vision of 1984 links up in real-time with the atavistic mood of Game of Thrones, the minute-by-minute speed of (media) events outruns time for reflection, and everywhere the sheer communicative intensity of social media overpowers the static interpretative framework of mass media. In this culture of nihilism, Hanna Arendt’s concept of “negative being” finally makes its appearance in the form of a political leader who might wear the mask of the thin-skinned demagogue but whose very real craftsmanship lies in staking the game of political power—the war of perception—on the psycho-ontology of ‘hatred of existence,’ that always percolating stream of vengeful and humiliated consciousness that is the very soul of the right-wing in global politics today.

It is in this context that we publish Consequence 2: a series of critical reflections on the radically new political situation demonstrated by the election of Donald Trump and the intensification of right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere.

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker and Stephen Pfohl,
Series Editors, Consequence
CTheory

 

CONSEQUENCE

Straight into your life: collage by Stephen Pfohl.

 

Consequence is a continuing series of reflections on the radically new political situation demonstrated by the election of Donald Trump and the emergence and intensification of right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere. We are inviting writers and artists to come together to tell their stories, write essays, critically theorize the contemporary political juncture, and to make art about the future implications of state sanctioned xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism. While attentive to the many consequential implications of this major shift in contemporary politics, we are equally engaged with this change as one of singular consequence, namely something symptomatic of a larger disruption in the mood of the times in which we all live. Our hope is that Consequence will have a real impact as well as provide a forum for rethinking the future and strategies of contemporary resistance.

Arthur Kroker, Marilouise Kroker and Stephen Pfohl

Series Editors, Consequence

pfohl_image2
Violet Valley Plaza: collage by Stephen Pfohl

THEORY RISING 4

 

Cold Sunrise

 

Consider the writings of Kathy Acker, Stephen Pfohl and Jean Baudrillard: three definitive expressions of Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text with its focus on the “rustle of language,” the movement of writing from the outside of contemporary experience to that more elusive point where the urgency of writing, its continuously broken boundaries between public life and private autobiography, its experimental, highly original and always enigmatic openness conveys something very immediate, very tangible about the street of dystopian dreams that is the world today. When writing seizes the historical moment, when the language of theory commits to the greater heresy of actually telling the story of what it means to live in a body that is haunted by its own approaching requiem or what is implied by the cybernetic loop seemingly everywhere now between technocratic consciousness and the masochistic male imaginary, at that moment, we actually are in the presence of a form of thought that is fully anticipatory of what is to come in the 21st century. Writing at the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche correctly warned that the modern century would begin to live out the full consequences of the death of god. Acker, Pfohl and Baudrillard remind us that our fate may just be to live through the desolate, but still unknown, still unthought consequences, of the death of the human. That would make of these three prophetic theoretical statements powerful expressions of creative thought but also beautifully crafted eulogies years in advance concerning the quick, delirious slide of human complexity into the singularity of its technological replacements. If the future that is now is foreshadowed by the writings of “Requiem” and “Venus in Microsoft: Male Mas(s)ochism and Cybernetics,” that also implies that key trajectories of the times in which we live may already be in the grip of what Baudrillard describes as a “recurrent pattern of evil:” Not evil, “as suffering, as pain” but “rather, as negativity, as the diabolical nature of things when they are reversed into their opposite, so that they never reach their finality, nor even go beyond it and thus become, at that specific time, monstrous.”

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors
CTheory

Original essays/original theory from the CJPST and CTheory

theoryrising-kroker-web-resized
IMAGE: Ted Hiebert. Aurora Textualis: Arthur Kroker, The Possessed Individual. Kirlian photograph. 2009

 

 

With increasing velocity and unpredictable instability, the pattern of twenty-first century politics traces a strange trajectory that mixes technological shards from a future that probably will never be realized with emotional appeals to a past that has still not lost its hold on the contemporary scene. Politically, the mood of the times seems to veer between tangible signs of exhaustion in the ruling centers of power and virulent forms of predatory behavior that translate resentment and despair into aggression against the weak, the vulnerable and the powerless. Could it be that we are living in an emerging epoch of dead power in which all the ruling signs implode in an endless drift, sometimes taking the immanent form of spasms of nativism and, at other points, finding expression in the transcendent projects of globalizing neo-liberalism. Almost three decades after the eclipse of Communism as a hegemonic ideology and fifteen years after the still unexamined events of 9/11, nowhere is the presence of dead power as the governing motivation clearer than in the present US presidential election with its binary choice between fully exhausted neo-liberalism on the one hand and right-wing populism with a fascist streak on the other. As a way of opening up discussion of the deeper patterns present in politics today, we are republishing two related theories concerning the death of politics and with it the death of the social: Michael Weinstein’s “The Dark Night of the Liberal Spirit and the Dawn of the Savage,” and Arthur Kroker’s “The Disembodied Eye: Ideology and Power in the Age of Dead Power.” Here, Weinstein’s analysis of politics in the closing days of the twentieth-century resonates powerfully as a chilling diagnosis of contemporary events. For Weinstein, when liberalism was finally free to express itself economically in the ideology of neo-liberalism, it quickly reduced itself to “liberalism with a fascist streak,” alternating between the street politics of anger, anxiety and insecurity and the moral aridity of power elites, from the political leadership of the deep state to predatory expressions of virtual capitalism. For Kroker, what’s at stake in the present moment is a society trapped in the end-games of nihilism—the singularity of the death-drive the codes of which were written long ago in the theological texts of Augustine, painted in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, M.C. Escher and Max Ernst, and theorized anew in the visionary thought of Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes.

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors
CTheory

Original essays/original theory from the CJPST and CTheory

IMAGE: Ted Hiebert, Excerpts from the Library of Babel (book 19). Kirlian photograph, 2013

Contemporary political history is increasingly a scene of intense ideological struggles, whether the command ideologies of ruling empires, counter-ideologies associated with popular resistance movements or the phantasmatic resuscitation of past ideologies, from the ‘work or starve’ ideology of predatory capitalism and the revival of ‘Eurasian’ ideology in Putin’s Russia to Islamic struggles for the restoration of the Caliphate as an alternative to western colonialism.

With this contemporary scene of immense ideological upheaval in mind, we draw attention to four important theoretical perspectives on the question of ideology, all focused on interpreting the meaning of ideology today, all moving between critically engaged political analysis and discursively based explorations of the concept itself of the ‘ideological,’ and all reaching very different conclusions concerning the direction of future ideological struggles. Consequently, which of these perspectives best approaches the acid test of political theory, namely to provide a compelling description of the public situation? Is Habermas correct in his assertion that ours is an era of glassy background ideology, an epoch, that is, in which the blast of technology is the real ideology of late capitalism? Or, speaking from the complex political materiality that is Balkan politics, is Žižek’s argument that the question of ideology has now devolved into the fanaticism of phantasmatic projections—the world as a cinematic screen jarred by random jump cuts—the more compelling description of current political history? But then again, if we actually follow a language of descent into the historical sources of ideology, its relationship to questions of power, class, and knowledge, wouldn’t it be possible to theorize as does Zygmunt Bauman that the meaning of ideology today can never really escape its relationship to the division of the world into the controllers and the controlled or, for that matter, the increasingly contested, but still, for all that,  founding assumption of the episteme of the western intellectuality—the struggle between reason and superstition, knowledge and supposed ignorance?  Honoring, once again, in writing as she did so well in her practice of the life of the mind, Susan Sontag confronts the question of ideology with an essentially artistic insight, suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, we might think of the times in which we live in a more indirect, but yet decisive, way by reengaging the intellectual imagination. Here, rising to the defense of aesthetics and social criticism, Sontag’s thought raises the possibility of seeing the contemporary field of ideological struggle for what it has become—a cold and deadly contest over the funeral rights to the sign of dead history, dead society, and dead ideology. In this case, it is to the intellectual imagination of Barthes, Baudrillard, Canetti and Borges, to these lucid observers of the game of the cynical sign, that Sontag appeals as improved pathways to understanding the enigmas of history.

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors
CTheory

 

Original essays/original theory from the CJPST and CTheory

TheoryRising
IMAGE: Ted Hiebert, Excerpts from the Library of Babel (book 28). Kirlian photograph, 2013

We begin our special series, THEORY RISING, with four important expressions of the theoretical imagination: Jean Baudrillard, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Friedrich Kittler and Paul Virilio. Aesthetically, the stubborn and increasingly aggressive inertia of a reality principle that runs on empty is challenged by Baudrillard’s “The Rise of the Void Towards the Periphery.” Politically, against the epistemic violence of imperialism, Spivak’s reflections in “Practical Politics of the Open End” accelerate in their significance for understanding imperialism and the production of the gendered subaltern subject in the 21st century. Technologically, Kittler’s insurgent perspective, “There is No Software,” with its thesis that all software is, in the end, only an entropic tendency in a computer-generated reality dominated at its essence by hardware rises to challenge contemporary fascination with the question of software. Historically, Virilio’s “Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm?” with its chilling premonitions concerning the “fundamental disorientation” introduced by absolute speed, immediacy and instantaneity continue to provoke critical reflections on what’s gained and lost in the blast of the “information bomb.”

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors
CTheory


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