Dispatch from CTHEORY San Francisco
Tuesday, February 10, 1998
Void times on the surface. But beneath the 3D animation waves crashing on the shores of California’s Pacific, history turns and you can just feel another moment about to break for air. Or then again, maybe not.
The latest El Nino storm vectors away towards Wyoming, a beautiful rainbow arcs across San Francisco Bay with the fabled pot of fool’s gold touching down Sausalito way, a letter comes by snail mail announcing the formation of a new coalition of S.F. artists – C.A.L.F. – for defending human and other life-form’s rights in genetics and cloning, Tony Blair’s on TV beaming like a public schoolboy in Clinton’s afterglow, Ronald Reagan gets an airport and Bob Hope an honorary British knighthood, the budget’s balanced on the backs of Welfare Bill(ed) poor people, and everyone’s settling down for a prime time TV schedule of two Olympics, the first the virtual sports machine in Nagano and, immediately thereafter, the virtual war machine Olympics in the skies over Iraq.
My open window into the Y2K future is provided by Georg Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness, particularly his essay on “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” The historical debris of the slaughter-house that is the 20th century floats across the page, and I can’t read a sentence without downloading all the spectres and the ghosts and blood-failures of the dream that was Communism into the words of the text. Lukacs speaks of the historically necessary “class consciousness” of the proletariat, and I think of the defeat of the proletariat by two great orders of cynicism: the cynical power of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the socialist East and the “dictatorship of the Swoosh” in the capitalist West. Lukacs breaks with the organic revolutionary sentiment of Rosa Luxemburg in favor of centralized party control, and I think of the great rebellions of consumer revolutionary sentiment that swept away the CP in Russia, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Lukacs speaks of historical materialism and I think of Albert Camus’ more prophetic words in The Rebel where Camus said that the will to absolute justice equals absolute murder in the name of reason. Hegel to Marx to the Gulag. Lukacs has the chisel of ideology in his hands, writing a beautiful tombstone in the granite of history and class consciousness. A Marxist dialectics of sacrificial idealism and cynical power.
The pages of the book turn to dust, history dissolves into a slow fade, and the storm winds of really existent politics reduces itself to life as digital fingers, spastic desires and datacide speech. But then I flip open the text again to that final passage where Lukacs breathes the spirit of capitalism in the age of the millennials. Speaking of the future contradictions of capitalism, Lukacs states:
(T)he contradiction has two aspects: on the one hand, there is an increasing undermining of the forms of reification – one might describe it as the cracking of the crust because of the inner emptiness – their growing inability to do justice to the phenomena, even as isolated phenomena, even as the objects of reification and calculation. On the other hand, we find the quantitative increase of the forms of reification, their empty extension to cover the whole surface of manifest phenomena. And the fact that these two aspects are in conflict provides the key signature to the decline of bourgeois society. 1
“Inner emptiness” and “empty extension”. Dead duration and dead motion. Void time and void space. Where reification exits politics and enters the skin of culture like a disease. Or maybe something else. Capitalist life as a history of dead intensities. From alienation (Marx) to reification (Lukacs) to simulation (Baudrillard) to vectors (Deleuze) to a “substitute reality” (Virilio) to the virtual class and, finally, to 3D animation waves (California) networking the global mind, a massive digital impulse redesigning the inanimate future, all the while energizing the dying spirits of the “natural form” of capitalism – the empire of the necropolis.
Post-digital life, then, riding the vector of 3D animation waves. Dead resurrection-effects for that moment when the only really existent life-forms will be spawned in the cloner pools of bio-tech.
1.Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1968, p. 208.