Simon’s response to the Surfascism piece is so interesting and if I may say so, so uh symptomatic that I think needs to be addressed point for point.
— Isn’t fascism precisely the alliance of atavism/abjection and cold rationality? Atavism on its own might produce a pogrom, or an isolated Travis Bickle type paranoid schizo, or a Bataille-style perv. But it takes a dose of cold technocratic reason to create Treblinka (or for that matter the gulag).
I think right here we are at the heart of the problem.
My issue with what Simon says is that it seems to be generated entirely out of a Romantic abstract machine, which equates rationality with a brutal instrumentalism. This is something like the view of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, who famously opposes what he calls reason – but which is in reality utilitarian logos – to some irrational Factor X. It is not that EITHER utilitarian logos OR factor X are fascist; it is that the dichotomy itself is constitutive of fascist thought.
The well-known idea that Nazis administrated death camps in the day but listened to classical music and read Goethe in the evening is indicative of this, and only if we understand rationality to mean instrumental utilitarianism could Treblinka be described as ‘rational’. But rationality in the Spinozist sense – and no one could have been more systematically anti-Romantic than Spinoza – is precisely about consistency, ethos: i.e. it involves total immanence, meaning that, far from being ‘emotionless’, Spinoza’s cold rationalism is also at one and the same time about emotional engineering, and must be.
What has to be resisted at every level – and all the great thinkers of CR, from Schopenhauer to Freud to Lacan – is the idea that emotions are some ineffable and inexplicable slurry. The great breakthrough of Freud was to return to the Spinozist insight that all emotions have rationales. The devastating radical enlightenment thought is also astonishingly simple. Everything that happens – and crucially that has to include emotional reactions – has a cause. But a prior – or mechanical – cause, not a final cause or teleology. Via Descartes and Spinoza, Newton’s insight invades philosophy and theology, enabling the total destruction and discrediting of the Aristotlean-Catholic conviction that everything in the universe has been designed to fulfil a final purpose. The human animal is freed from authoritarian mystagoguery (the Judgements of God), it is able to think of itself as a machine, but a machine capable of reflecting on its own performance and constitution. Evolution, genetic engineering, AI-symbiosis: everything is possible once you no longer think of yourself as made in the image of Yahweh.
Romanticism is a kind of secular resistance to the radical implications of this Cartesian-Spinozist mechanism, the return of Jahweh in the form of the ‘inner self’. What is important, Romantics convince themselves, is what we feel (with feeling explicitly opposed to thought and action). The true reality of ourselves lies ‘inside’, in the interior, the phenomenological. Somehow, this alleged interior is to be thought of as absolutely independent of its material substrate. Feelings and consciousness aren’t epiphenomenal side-effects of socio-neurochemical interactions, they are irreducible traces of some ‘deep’ and ‘eternal’ human soul. This faith is alive today in what passes for Philosophy in university depts in the deeply anti-rational ‘qualia cult’ that deifies human consciousness as some ineffable mystery which, it is said, neurology will never be able to explain. This is mysticism, not philosophy.
So I think I would want to position Fascism not as a successor to Romanticism, but as one of its variants.
It is important to hold onto the Virilio/ D/G critique of fascism as essentially suicidal – a line of abolition. There are many more lines of abolition than fascism, but fascism, because it is allied with a modernization-industrialization program that is precisely not rational – in what sense are bigger buildings, more alienated factory labour and population explosion ‘rational’? – is the most dangerous. (Gray is right, in Al Qaeda and what it means to be Modern to insist on the essential relation between modernization – NOT modernism, this is important – and fascism, so that Islamism can be properly conceived of as fascist precisely because it is not about atavism per se but atavism in the context of modernization).
—there’s an awful of potent, provocative culture that exists in that dodgy zone between Romantic/primordialist and fascist/totalitarian. In rock alone, there’s elements of glam, Killing Joke, metal, rave, gabba, industrial, crunk, maybe even Roots reggae, that work off those ambiguous energies. Then there’s the whole modernist/fascist mini-tradition of writers like Wyndham Lewis, Celine, etc — a personal obsession of mine.
Surely we have to distinguish between fascism and totalitarianism here. Totalitarian states (e.g. Stalinist Soviet Bloc states) seek out sustainable control. The libidinal attraction of destruction and death has no doubt been contingently implicated in the totalitarian machine, but it is not necessary to it. (Stalin could have killed far less people than he did, and indeed might have been even more successful if he had not indulged in mass bloodletting). It is possible to imagine a totalitarian state founded on a virtual threat of violence that is never actualized. But death, destruction and ultimately self-destruction are intrinsic to fascism. They are what it is about – that well-worn Dionysian – which is to say Romantic – theme of the glorious annihilation of the self, now given a techno-industrial modernizing machine to mass produce itself.
–Just because fascism uses the appeal to the atavistic/pagan/primordialist, doesn’t mean it owns those categories (c.f. the anti-natalist argument — fascist regimes encourage childbirth means breeding is proto-fascist = not very good logic)
But that wasn’t the argument. The argument was that the political exhortation to breed by the state is fascist. Hitler did it, Mussolini did it, and now Blair does it. Why the need for children? So that we can fill our fatherland with ‘our people’, who will both remove the need for immigrants to take ‘our jobs’ and contaminate ‘our culture’ and also act as more cannon fodder for our armies of defence against the foreign invaders.
And as I said, it isn’t the invocation of the primitive per se that is constitutive of fascism – it is the seemingly paradoxical mass industrialization of the drive backwards towards a time of organic unity with the soil.
— Isn’t it as facile to say that Romanticism leads to Fascism as the converse argument (advanced by disillusioned French post-marxists in the 70s) that the Englightenment led to Auschwitz/the gulag?
Straightforwardly, it was the Counter-Enlightenment and modernization that led to Auschwitz and the gulags. The counter-Enlightenment doesn’t operate by denial of the Enlightenment (i.e. it is canny enough to realise that Aristotlean-Thomist teleo-superstitions cannot be re-animated — at least not without cyborg implants) it tries to contain and redirect it. Yes, the ovens and the trains could not have been built without the science that the break out of irrationalist Papist authoritarianism made possible, but the use of those ovens and trains for atavistic-primitivist blood sacrifice rites is precisely a turn away from Enlightenment rationality.
There are presumably many mixtures and inbetween states and coexistences that intermingle reason and non-reason. and those are places where most of us live, practically.
Yes, but as anyone whose analysis has any political bite has demonstrated (Spinoza for sure but also Schopenhauer, Marx, Sartre, Burroughs, Foucault, Irigaray, Debord, even Nietzsche) most people are ‘control addicts’, enslaved puppets of their own passions. ‘Where most of us live’ is not a good place. Human Security or Human OS is constituted as the defence of the emiserating Oed-I-Pod, animal narcissist subjectifying machine = hell of the self. The planet is an irrationalist gulag overseen by tortured monkeys in hell.
— this is the question I’m most interested in actually, which is appropriate given what this blog is 97 percent about: Music. Where does it fit in the cold rationalist scheme? (Nick Land: “Every theorist who hasn’t a real place for music ends up with one-dimensional melancholia.”)
Seems to me that the way Mark’s thought is developing he ought to end up in a Plato-like stance of being suspicious of music itself as irrational, counter-revolutionary, and so forth. After all, what is Music if not emotion, intoxication, sensuality, violence, the orgiastic? Or more precisely (and intriguingly) perhaps one could say that Music operates at the cusp of the the abstract/conceptual and the sensory/sensual (you have to have a body to be able to hear it; even classical music appeals to the body, works through rhythm and the psychomotor apparatus).
Whoa! Way too many equivocations here.
I obviously won’t invest anything in the overcoded and reterritorializing concept of ‘music’ – but sonic manipulation, far from being antithetical to CR, is one motor of it. It is not accidental that the major advocates of CR – Ray, Nina, Alberto, myself – are totally immersed in sonic culture.
There is no essential opposition between sensuality and rationality if you are a Cold Rationalist. Of course, CR will never fall for the naïve realist view that the senses give us direct, unmediated access to the world – but that doesn’t matter. The senses are not ‘windows upon the world’ but ‘feelers’ (Freud/ McLuhan) which, in the default state of affairs, sample the world according to preprogrammed protocols. Since CR thinks in terms of affects and bodies (rather than in terms of organisms) it is capable of conceiving of a sensuality reprogrammed either by input (this is where sonic manipulation comes in) or by changing the receiving body itself (by thought/ drugs/ neurological enhancement) OR both at once, in an intense destraficatory feeback circuit. Neuropunk. That is why
Music is always simultaneously a contemplative and physical experience.
But of course thought itself is always a physical experience too.
Moreover all attempts to reformulate music according to allegedly rationalist procedures ended up with things like Schoenberg and the twelve-tone scale ie. music which only Ben Watson (a sort of hot rationalist? he’s into shagging!) enjoys? There is an absolute mystery and an arbitrary senselessness to music which invites words like “magic”.
This couldn’t be more wrong, and as Mclary argues in Feminine Endings this anti-musicological cult of the mystery and magic of music is indistinguishable from a culture in which the male body (and its priapic-climax circuits of excitation and tristesse) are privileged and transcendentalized. Power, mystery and authority always require one another. How particular sonic stimuli incites the CNS of populations is a technical question for a socioneurobiotics to answer. Despite what Qualia Cult thinks, any ‘mystery’ here is merely contingent. It’s a technical matter that is likely to be resolved eventually, and even if human beings can’t do it, that would be a comment on our limitations, not upon the impossibility of providing a description.
(Music is certainly my window to the Sacred, the one thing I feel mystical about). The loveliness of melody, the violence of “annihilating rhythm” — there are rules that govern how these things work, but the rules themselves in their very existence have no reason to be, they are arbitrary, pointless, non-purposive.
Exactly! That’s precisely the Cold Rationalist anti-Aristotlean view!
(Same applies incidentally to the poetics and musication of language: Rhyme without reason). There is a superfluousness, a futile gloriousness, an excess to requirements, an utterly non-necessary aspect to music— which relates very well to the Bataillean worldview.
There’s too many equivocations here again. Nothing is necessary beyond the judgements of God and beyond the pleasure principle. This insight is precisely what CR makes available.
— via the fact that one “plays” music (as listener or performer), I’d ask where “play” as a concept fits into the CR worldview–“play” and its related concept of “mischief” a/k/a the imp of the perverse. (this is something where having kids, or hanging out with them, is a very useful reminder. Kids being simultaneously Pantheism’s angels walking among us, and little devils).
Spinoza says children are abject because they do not know what causes their actions or desires. Like many adults, they confuse being free with ‘doing what they want’, when freedom entails attuning your desires and emotions to your reason.
You’re right that CR is contemptuous of the aleatory, the improvisatory, or anything which hymns the praise of the alleged creative efflorsescence of the cosmos. Jahweh is a drunken child abuser bungler and the Spinozist god doesn’t play dice.
— finally I do kinda share commentator Axiomatik’s amused puzzlement at how swiftly Mark (and presumably others in the post-CCRU milieu) have junked one entire canon of thought (nietzche, bataille–whom nick land wrote a great book, The Thirst for Annihilation, about–Deleuze & Guattari, presumably Ballard too now as he’s a big fan of surrealism, mythology, etc) for its complete inverse. But I guess it’s all part of the adventure that is the life of the mind.
I think this misapprehension is becoming so consensual that it needs to be killed dead right now.
This requires a diversion into biographism, but since everything is impersonal, including the so-called personal.. no matter.
You’ll look in vain to find anything of any substance that I’ve said that’s positive about Bataille. I read, or rather tried to read Story of the Eye as an undergraduate but found it so tedious that I couldn’t complete it.
From the age of eighteen, my canon has been Jewish/ Protestant – Spinoza, who even as an undergraduate was my favourite philosopher, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Kant, Beckett, Freud, Kubrick. I’ve never had any time for Catholic transgressivism, which is why Nick’s book on Bataille was never much to my taste. But I see very little connection between the machinic Land of ‘Machinic Desire’, ‘No Future’ and ‘Cybergothic’ and that. Nick mobilised the crucial CR circuit of Kant, Freud and Schopenhauer. The tactical investment in Deleuze and Guattari was really a codename for that. I don’t think I’m alone in CCRU in having limited interest in Deleuze’s own work – and certainly the D and G of Nick and Iain Grant were much more interesting than actual D and G. (You always had to subtract too much yucky Lawrentian creationist vitalist pro-creationism to keep it libidinal). And the Deleuzian equivocation of Spinoza with Nietzschean embodied subjectivism and Bergsonian élan vitale has always been a disaster from which we are only now recovering.
Ironically, there is a figure who much better fits the requirements to be the death-drive successor of Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer and Freud than D/G – and that’s Lacan. So, in short, far from being some new absolute reversal, it’s a development, and more about inclusion (we’re allowed to read Lacan now:-) ) than some exclusionist repudiation.