Out of the blogosphere comes an involuntary response to my last post on doomer music, the end of the capitalist dreamwork and our collective fascination with the post-Soviet sunken continent. Post-Soviet-in-chief cockydoody has posted an extremely interesting piece on Limonov, aesthetics and the Buttigiegian Gesture. My post is, of course, far more meme-y, techno-euphoric and, ultimately, French (you will not take my alienation and Gilles Deleuze away from me), but cockydoody’s is really a far cooler and more informative read.
This post allows me to make one of my implicit references in the previous post explicit. Namely, while I was writing, I had in the back of my mind a recent piece, by Vincent Garton, on the Chinese neo-Schmittian political theorist Jiong Shigong, the thinker who formalized Xi Jinping Thought and who is shaping – simplifying the question to an unspeakable degree – the theoretical backbone of the Chinese Empire (you can find his work at Reading the China Dream, truly a small treasure trove).
One of the things which kept gnawing at my brain while writing was this quote, about the dialectical tension at play in a thought which tries, on one hand, to formalize the idea of a universal empire and, on the other, which comes efficiently to terms with the question of the particular and heterogeneous, which encapsulates, in my opinion, most of the problems we will have to face in the near future, both as political activists and cultural critics. The quote goes like this:
For Jiang, this relationship is embodied first and foremost in the doctrine of “initiatives from two sources,” an “unwritten” norm derived from Mao and developed successively by Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. According to this concept, policymaking in China is to proceed not simply according to bureaucratic dictates imposed from above, but through the interplay of both the top-down initiative of the central government and the bottom-up ambitions of the various different strata of local government. As Mao says in “On the Ten Major Relationships,” “the provinces and municipalities, prefectures, counties, districts and townships should all enjoy their own proper independence and rights and should fight for them.”
The purpose of this doctrine is the preservation of heterogeneity. It is, of course, one of the more poorly kept secrets of political theory that Western liberalism is inimical to systemic political heterogeneity. In the West it is largely the critics of liberalism who have attempted to conceptualize possible ways to preserve and promote the existence of political heterogeneity, but even then, they have rarely dealt in any satisfactory way with the distribution of this heterogeneity in space. Contemporary Western discussions of this problem, like seasteading, Singapore-style city states, charter cities, secessionism, and so on, have tended to focus on the right of competing social programs to be embodied in particular spatial units, while avoiding the problem of determining the setting that can enable these units’ existence in the first place. It is the purpose of Jiang Shigong’s emphasis on the comprehensive leadership of the Party, in part, to provide that setting by establishing a mechanism that can support, coordinate, and integrate these different models.
I think that, right in this passage, lie the direst and the most interesting perspective opened by the idea that the mainstream is receding or collapsing, in some way or another – this idea haunted me so much that I found myself forced to write about it in some capacity.
We are, historically and culturally, utterly under-equipped and unprepared to face, on a systematic and global scale, actual diversity and heterogeneity (a point which, just to keep my Frenchness intact and to give some food for thoughts to my fellow pomo heresiarchs, was tragically vital for the existential analysis and politics of Éduard Glissant) and we might find ourselves unable to productively confront what’s coming our way. The splintering-dynamics, that are blatantly under our very eyes, don’t have to be all doom and gloom or the object of liberal paranoia (even if I don’t want to promote too much optimism or voluntarism on this blog), and the discourse and action-planning surrounding these phenomena don’t have to be the cultural prerogative of ethnonationalist projects or liberals’ faux-diversity management.
I think that cockydooky’s post gets really fascinating and enthralling when he analyses Pete Buttigieg’s conceptual maneuvers thus far. In my post, I wrote, in passing, that the 2020 American election could be the stage for the birth of a new Socialist Americana, a faction of the American population leaving behind the allure of the mainstream monoculture and venturing towards unknown values and horizons. Agent Cockydooky gives some dialectical background to my suggestion by pointing out the fact that precisely the contradiction we find in Garton’s most recent work seems to be the unresolved unconscious of Buttigieg political propaganda. Even on an aesthetic level, there’s a chronic lack of coherence and unity, and this has forced mainstream into a neurotic spiral.
This deadly, irreconcilable conflict between particularity and universality oozes from the heart of Liberal America, who instinctively believes that all conflict between the local and the global, and the variable speeds involved in their processes, has been solved once and for all.
Walter Benjamin ascribed predictive power to fashion, noting that in its relation to the market and novelty as well as to aesthetics it had predictive power. Fashion was political, tying the body to matter, exemplifying the transforming relationship between human beings, matter, and time. Speed is required for fashion, and Benjamin wondered:
“Does fashion die (as in Russia, for example) because it can no longer keep up the tempo–at least in certain fields?”
In Soviet Russia perhaps this was true for a time. I believe it is true in America too. The stagnation we feel is the come down from what felt like a headlong rush into the future. The aesthetic vitality of Post-Soviet Russia and China is the result of contradictions and panics that America claims to have resolved, in a premature announcement of victory (The Buttigiegian Gesture).
We feel weak. Drained. The actions of the government and the people are misaligned on the level of aesthetics. Their actions make no sense to our sense of order or reason or storytelling. The marketing is not working. Even as the surveillance state expands, as the American government increases its dictatorial power there is a sense of growing feebleness. Gaps are showing in the cultural hegemony and every aesthetic tactic has to be assessed and tried. Perhaps in this era no idea is too bold.
Another interesting but completely and absolutely unrelated signal from the receding mainstream is the first episode of a shiny, new series by Nyx Fears. It is really phenomenal and if you are on this blog you should probably give it a try.
Finally, we might have a series dedicated to the paranormal and the conspiratorial (two spheres which have played an enormous role in eroding popular culture’s unity) that breaks away from the Shane Dawson/beauty-guru glossy totalitarianism and reconciles itself with the elements which are most interesting about conspiracies and abduction stories: the regression to an infantile dreamwork and the use of illogical but nonetheless somewhat consistent synchronicities to weave patterns across and underneath consensual reality.
This first episode has an estranging, gothic and poetic quality to it, transforming American national parks into labyrinthine Bermuda triangles and making their quotidian mask fall off of them; I truly hope that more of them will be coming soon.
Now, go get lost at your local dog-men infested park and enjoy your Saturday night.