On the necessity of destruction

an ode to 2017

Joy and hatred are not necessarily elements on the opposite end of some spectrum—subjectivity’s scream lies helplessly at the very centre of social transformation itself.

“We must be harsh, cruel, and deceptive to what we love.” —Proust

Early 2017 has been a jarring re-introduction to this scream. From the hyper-nationalism of Brexit and Trump’s increasingly explicit, fascistic, and vehemently Islamophobic turn, to Tartus (Syria), No Lives Matter, and No Hope of Mitigating the Impending Disaster of Global Warming, in 2017, spectral negativities have conjured a surrealist no-ology that has furiously penetrated every facet of our carefree little neo-liberalised imaginaries. [1]

Can we have unmitigated growth and environmental sustainability? No. Can we have tangible equality of socio-economic opportunity and the unprecedented concentration of wealth? No. Can we have less fatalistic international, regional, and communal relations and the relentless proliferation of deadly corporeal or psychosomatic armaments? No.

In a mere three decades, (neo)liberalism’s cultural dominance following from Soviet communism’s collapse has decayed into a smug complacency buttressed by a violent project of imperialism-masquerading-as-globalisation. Amid growing inequality, society’s ‘winners’ continue to tell themselves they live in an extraterrestrial Elysium—and that their meritocratic successes are therefore deserved. All the while, the experts they have created to concentrate the world’s collective economic output in the plump, manicured hands of a few impotent meta-oligarchs continue to marvel at their own brilliance.

Many will recoil in horror at this notion, but thanks to last year’s spectacular conjugation of the pessimistic face of postmodernity, the tapestry of the enlightenment’s illicit rape of subjectivity (which reduces all socio-political life to a set of discourses that can be managed) has begun to come undone. The rise of a populist right—Brexit in Britain, Modi in India, Trump in America, Duarte in the Philippines—gestures to the unexpected fragmentation of a once impenetrable alliance between the hawkish, entho-nationalist forces of the neoconservative right and the global financial flows of neoliberal centrism.

Thanks to the utter devastation automation and outsourcing have wrought on the poor, white, god-fearing communities of the ‘developed world’ (processes which they initiated by installing Regan and Thatcherism some 30 years ago), the alliance between the nationalists and the capitalists—an alliance which made possible the social and political flattening of difference by way of globalization—can no longer agree on the best way to subjugate the other. Hate crimes are on the rise as the naked callousness of power devours its young, and as is custom, the marginalized are bearing the brunt of it all.

We can glimpse the negative lurking in plain sight by merely shifting perspective. And when all seems lost, from the bright glow of no-ology’s despair we can draw strength.

In a world no longer illuminated by the light of God, there are many possible borders between divergent underground worlds. What is the becoming of creativity but the un-becoming of something else, a small evasion of power through destruction-in-itself?

The Destruction of Worlds

Worlds are destroyed everyday by the market, the police, the military, and even by the do-gooders of philanthro-capitalism—the world itself may very well be eradicated under the ecological forces we arrogantly signify with the term ‘Anthropocene.’ But all of these things are of the world as it is, because of the world as it is, and it is for this reason that we must not wince at the thought that it is the world as it is which must be destroyed.

To talk of the ‘destruction of worlds’ is to talk of learning how to say no to this world, to refuse that which it offers and that which it stands posed to say. The spectre of no-ology is an impulse of (non-dialectic) negation which insists that in a world characterized by compulsory happiness, generalized precarity, class stratification, summary executions of people of colour, decentralized control, and overexposure, revolutionary negativity is the only course of action which does not heave us back towards the flaccidity of liberalism.

This liberal flaccidity, where ‘belief in the world’ signifies the need for a re-connection to the world as it is, the no-ology’s necessity of destruction reminds us one should only believe in the world inasmuch as one desires grounds to destroy it—the ‘world’ must be understood not only as a mass, social hallucination, but as a transcendental illusion.

No-ology is a conspiracy—a conspiracy to keep alive the idea of revolution in counter-revolutionary times by making thought a war machine that breaks the collusion between institutionalized morality, capitalism, and the state. The preliminary materials to do this were prepared by Nietzsche, who wanted to use ceaseless laughter as an experimental instrument to dissolve all identities into phantasms: “since man has never been anything but the unfold of man, man must fold and refold God.” [2]

In a time when the death of God and man seem so banal, only the death of the world can be a truly heretical proposition.

Thus in the face of our biopolitical obsession with over-production and over-creation, we must again find an appetite for destruction. This requires the progressive, anxiety-ridden revelation that destroying worlds is not a return to nihilism-in-itself, but the mapping of another way of smashing capitalism, of redefining communalism, and of constituting a war machine that is capable of countering the world war machine by other means.

Writing the disaster of 2017 is how we break free from the stifling perpetual present, for the present carries with itself a suffocating urgency. The present imposes material limits.

In post-modern, post-fact, post-truth capitalism, the past and the future are an empty form of time that exist only through representation—the former in history as the present memorialization of things passed, and the latter in the yet-to-come as the projection of an image of the present. The (liberal) optimist sees revolution as an eminently practical reorientation toward the present achieved while generating a new image of the future. In contrast, the no-ologists learning to hate the world must short-circuit the ‘here and now’ to play out the scene differently. While still being in this world, they turn away from it.

This is the life of revolutionary characters so shameful they force the world to stand still—Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu, Fodor Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, William Shakespeare’s Lear.

A Post-Shame Terrain

2017 has forced upon us the realisation subjectivity under late capitalism has become a subjectivity of shame. It has grown from the seeds of a composite feeling made from the compromises with our time—the shame of being alive, the shame of indignity, the shame that it happens to others, the shame others can do it, the shame of not being able to prevent it. “Subjects are born quite as much from misery as from triumph.” [3]

The events of this year may have brought the concepts of post-truth and post-fact to the fore, but what about the rise of post-shame? How do we challenge a politician who cannot be embarrassed? Or to protest a political system that thrives on the absurd?

To cope with the reality of this post-shame we must probe the origins of shame. For his part, in Totem and Taboo, Freud locates shame in ‘the primal horde,’ a great band of brothers ruled over by an all-powerful patriarch. [4] This awful father enjoys all the women in the horde (that is the only role women have in this expectedly misogynistic tale), and leaves the brothers out sexually, to the point where they rise up, kill, and devour the tyrant. Yet this act plunges them into deep guilt (it is the first time it is felt), and so they elevate the dead father again, now as a god, or at least a totem around which taboos are established (the taboos against murder and incest above all). As art critic Hal Foster reminds us in Bad New Days, this shame, for Freud, is where modern society begins. [5]

But why recall Freud’s primal father in relation to the post-shame of new populism? It is, after all, hazardous to psychologize anyone, let alone millions of voters, to totalize them in this way. But there is a schizoanalytic dimension we have to probe. No doubt many who are supporting this turn towards totalitarianism are sexist and racist—whether implicitly or not—but most are angry at elites too. Moreover, they are also excited by Trump and Modi, by Duarte and Brexit—excited to vote for them. They thrive not only on negative resentment but positive passion. A potent double-identification in which new populism means submission to the father as authority and envy of the father as outlaw.

To consolidate power on a post-shame terrain, leaders must be willing to go low. As they go low, progressive politics must be willing to go even lower. We must aim to outrage the outrageous, to out-dada the dadaists. ‘Too much!’ is a potential rallying cry—too many products, too many choices, too many complacencies, too much of this world!

While postmodernity has been screaming this since May 1968, 2017 has forced us to acknowledge that power has fully co-opted the critique. By way of the commodification of perversification, global capital now rules over an empire of difference that eagerly coordinates a wide arrangement of deviations while also producing many of its own.

Power is now fully diffuse, and the antagonism of Marx’s class war has been drowned in an overwhelming sea of difference. This development calls for a reorientation that entails learning how to become contrary—and contrary to contrary. In the case of the no-ology presented here, this contrarian position is the forced choice of ‘this not that,’ a tearing apart of a system that has become entirely limited, restrictive, and constrained.

Some take their cue from those in the Global South who ‘homogenize real differences’ to name ‘the potential unity of an international opposition, the confluence of anticapitalist countries and forces.’ [6] This is a good start. But initiating a progressive politics on a post-truth, post-fact, and more importantly, post-shame terrain also requires the unsightly, and astounding screams of ‘no’ that occasionally rip apart the grand accords of power.

Though it no-longer demands the total suppression of difference, the immediacy of post-shame capitalism reignites the necessity of the conspiracy of no-ology, the power of the affects of anger and hatred, and the task of destroying worlds if we are to break free from a failed politics of social change dominant since the beginning of the 20th century.

Above all else, this terrain of post-shame has paved a way for a future of necessary destruction—the we-who-scream, in the streets, in the countryside, in the factories, in the offices, in our houses. We, the insubordinate and non-subordinate who say No!, we who say Enough!, enough of your meme games, enough of your banal contradictions, enough of your idiotic playing at soldiers and bosses. We the no-ologists do not want to exploit, who do not have power and do not want to have power, we who want to have lives that we consider humane, we who are without face and without voice—we are the crisis of capitalism. And it is 2017 we have to thank for the confrontation of this crisis.

[1] A more in-depth look at the concept of destruction-in-itself (as opposed to the creative destruction of Joseph Schumpeter (1942) et al.) can be found in Andrew Culp’s original and fantastically desolate book Dark Deleuze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), page: 130.

[3] Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations: 1972-1990, (NY: Columbia University Press, 1995), page: 151.

[4] While his Oedipal commitments mean we must situate Freud’s work in a larger context, in Totem and Taboo (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1913), Freud controversially derives the illustrative figure of the ‘Primal Father’ from the ‘Primal Horde” in Charles Darwin (1859), which Darwin defines as a great patriarchal band of brothers ruled over by an all-powerful patriarch.

[5] Hal Foster, Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency, (London: Verso Books, 2015).

[6] For more of this vitally important discussion, see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), pages: 44-45; 138-156; 190-201; 339-343.

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May 17 2019 22:17



  • We are the insubordinate and non-subordinate who say No!, we who say Enough!, enough of your meme games, enough of your banal contradictions, enough of your idiotic playing at soldiers and bosses.

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