Paranoia

Event Scenes

Paranoia

Paranoia is the overstrain of the mind in its synthetic capacity. Synthesis has been convicted of untrustworthiness in the court of the dominant natural science; it’s shaky when pressed into what is accused of being speculation. What paranoia as the most common symptom of contemporary everyday life expresses is the tendency of the nervous and quivering apperceptive apparatus to leap too quickly into “intelligible worlds”; the numinous indeterminacy wherein nothing even can be what it seems because the object is always hiding in itself. Synthesis is out of practice. It doesn’t get enough exercise, and, in its autonomy as a part of the independent transcendental structure of human consciousness – our within itself, now called the unconscious – is always searching for the chance to work out its atrophic kinks: Some stray bit of unprocessed material; any nonhomogenized datum will do. In The Arrival, an ordinary movie wherein the main character is alleged to have been paranoid before he discovered the government’s coverup of alien activity, i.e., before the government itself was taken over by aliens, the main character gives in to paranoia a bit too easily, has too-refined a skill at determining the real when on his own in the world of appearance, especially considering that he is a natural scientist, a person required to have an overdeveloped analytic capacity. (Synthesis is required of us today by ideology alone, which processes the raw data of experience before we line-assemble the Taylorized parts, some of which data escape unmutilated into the intellectual combines of individual theorists and paranoiacs, the infrequency of this through-the-crack-slipping being what has left both types of mind starvin’ like marvin for the slightest bit of independent production: The monopoly power of the ideological manufacture is what produces this fly-by-night entrepreneurship of the mind and is the overlooked object of the false consciousness resulting.) But this character’s uncanny independence could just be an accident. Given that he tends toward paranoia already, the suspicion that there is more going on than is apparent, which lurks to a greater or lesser degree in all of us, both consciously and un-, does not take much to excite; the confirmation of this suspicion is quite uncomfortable. Human beings are social animals. We live in families, we intend to make ourselves happy with other members of our species. One ancient name for the other, homo, the most faithful descendant being l’homme, is far from serendipitous. The film’s too-easy metaphor allows it to gloss over the real source of the paranoia of the protagonist (the movie puts lost jobs and greenhouse-gas emissions off on aliens) and does itself injustice by allowing him to “see for himself” too quickly: We are not comfortable with members of our own species. They may as well be aliens. Homo is hetero. The protocynical thought that we hurt one another in looking for love is painful enough. The amplification of this into the hyperesthetic notion that people hurt us even when we choose to remain alone is almost too much to bear. The repeated confirmation that some are out to destroy us for no good reason is always too much to bear. This alone suffices to explain the pathetic death of Huey Newton, and the death wishes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, who was also pathologically stoic. The suspicious intuition strengthens us for the opposition, but it also destroys us. It crushes us spiritually, emotionally, and most often, in the largest numbers, physically, in the form of drug addiction and bodily neglect, to know that we will be targeted, attacked, and killed. It is almost as if the individual human organism, when faced with a genuine paranoiac condition, a real conspiracy, is wired to malfunction. Whether the malfunction comes in the form of psychosis, outward-lashing violence, inability to believe it, or simple stock-still standing of a deer-in-the-headlights quality, it will come. It is one thing to resist homogenization. It is another to be accosted by the full weight of heterogeneity. But the tidal wave is molecular; the motion of atomic individuals is Brownian, the zenith of difference, the apex of identity, the microscale at which they are the same; unique flotsam bubbles equally indifferently cast about.

Amiri Kudura Barksdale lives in New York City and works at The Nation.