Further Notes on the Vanishing Mainstream, vol. 1

Edmund Berger wrote an absolutely stellar post on the Doomer question. I was sure that my post-Soviet takes would have been interesting to the weird Marxist blogosphere, but the level of the posts is so stellar that I feel a little out of my depth and I’m sure that I’ll, eventually, post some bad take on Capital, ripped straight out of the Toni Negri playbook, or some pseud shit like that and I will be burned at the stake. Also, my idea for the blog was to be far less theory-heavy and I’m clearly failing (and maybe it’s for the better, but the next time you see me will be about my love for Dan Deacon or Pop Smoke, not Karl Marx, rest assured).

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The only real point of contention I have with Ed about his post is the tacit acceptance of a certain Jamesonian doxa, especially concerning the problem of postmodernity. In fact, Ed seems to be oscillating between two theses about fragmentation – not necessarily contradictory, but one of which I find massively more appealing. Ed seems to claim that 1) fragmentation is the ideological representation of the base structure of capitalism, as many Jamesonians do 2) fragmentation is the base structure of capitalism itself, without any sort of representation, which currently functions through anomic relations (relations which, in other words, cannot lead to social fulfillment and recognition).

Ed claims, simultaneously, that

If fragmentation is there in the beginning, how can it simultaneously be said that fragmentation is a defining leitmotif of postmodernity? A simple answer is that the implosion of the modern into the postmodern is an outcome of capital’s acid bath, having at this point seeped down to the point where all roots have melted way. This illustrates the firm continuity between the modern and postmodern as socio-cultural forms of appearance of capitalist dynamics (and, following Postone and Buck-Morss, it seems clear to me that the relationships between time and space that are exhibited in modernity and postmodernity cannot be neatly tied into the frame of successive history; they are each immanent to capitalism as an incomplete, unfolding totality). The discontinuity, however, must be emphasized alongside the continuous. David Harvey’s work in The Condition of Postmodernity is exemplary here: for Harvey, the unique impulse towards fragmentation, ephemerality, collage, vaporous worldscapes, difference and micro-narratives is a reflection of the shift from the Fordist regime of accumulation and regulation—the ‘peak’ of modernist tendencies—to one of ‘flexible’ labor and accumulation. The ordered, hierarchical world of Fordism and its massified, regimented labor force is partially dissolved by the introduction of horizontal networks, labor sub-contracting, financialized accumulation, and entrepreneurialism. Appearing above these mutations in the relations of production, accumulation and regulation is an accelerative multiplication of aesthetic modes, forms of life, identities and subcultures. For Iain Chambers, the explosion of metropolitan subcultures as far back as the early 60s were indicators of the postmodern turn, as “sounds, images, and diverse histories [were] daily mixed, recycled and ‘scratched’ together on that giant screen which is the contemporary city”. In this sense, the retro-futurist longing for ‘popular modernism’ that Mark Fisher has written so much about is, in fact, a direct parallel to the ‘nostalgia for the postmodern’ exhibited by digital subcultures: the snaking line of pop-modernisms that Fisher invokes, from the postwar British working class mods to the artists of glam, punk and post-punk, were postmodern subcultures par excellance, “actively [using] fashion to construct of sense of their own public identites… in the face of a fashion industry that sought to impose taste through advertising and media pressures”. This “democratization of taste across a variety of subcultures” begins from the fractured ground, operating both against and within the rapidly ballooning meta-structures of the culture industry.

But also, without contradicting himself, but creating a somewhat alternative route to the Marxist analysis (a route followed, for example, by Lyotard when he talks about decadence), which displaces the dialectical process altogether and puts something completely different in its place a.k.a. the irreconcilability of anomic relations.

This is the aesthetic of anomie, that concept of Durkheim which denotes a form of alienation rising from a society being made normless and a subsequent retreat from this hollowing-out of social solidarity. In later take-ups, such as those offered by Alvin Gouldner, anomie becomes more structurally grounded, linked to the dissolution-effects of capitalist society: it is “the unanticipated outcome of social institutions that have thwarted men in their efforts to acquire the very goods and values these same institutions have encouraged them to pursue”. One is compelled to an end—wealth, self-sufficiency, a particular form of moral character, a family, a career, so on and so forth—and yet the path that allows these to be realized remains by and larged blocked by real constraints. What’s interesting is that this paradox conforms precisely to the model of the double-bind that Gregory Bateson suggests as being the communicative root of schizophrenia—but as Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus, this model is none other than that of the capitalist symbolic order as a whole. Here, the mismatch between norms and the inability to rise oneself to them isn’t a dynamic that unfolds within the familial terrain; it’s immanent to the capitalist mode of production itself (I wrote a bit about the instability of the capitalist symbolic order in a previous post). […] The Doomer here is used as an ironic (yet serious) riposte to the Boomer, who is nothing other than the avatar of the late capitalist symbolic order itself: the father who enjoys and commands one to do the same, though the destruction wrought by his own enjoyment has torn away the very possibility for this enjoyment. In this context, the Doomer’s transposition into an imaginary collapse-space makes perfect sense. The promises of Soviet utopianism here stands in for utopian promise of the father-Boomer who now denies, and the collapse corresponds to both the institution of new material limits and seeming inevitabilities (income inequality, the blotting-out of future flourishing, sweeping ecological damage) and the psychic mismatch between the norms governing a social understanding of ‘the good life’ and the capacity to act within the parameters of those norms.

If the conceptualization of the dialectical process can promise a macro-resolution of the conflict and ultimate social recognition, the anomic relation, such as the Doomer symbolic relation with the Boomer, seems to point towards the idea that the mismatch between social recognition and social reality can be the beginning of the end of the politics of dialectical redemption. The anomic, asymmetric relation proposes a politics of immediate joy and enthusiasm, a joy which forces us to disavow consensual reality and explore the far-lands beyond. It proposes, staying with the themes of my previous posts, the prospect of radical heterogeny.

Also, I believe that this insight (which, at heart, is just a form of crass, undialectical Marcusianism, the banal and naive politics of immediate psychedelia beyond the strictures of social structures) is somewhat the same idea, albeit in a far less articulate and complex way, that Mark was shooting for with his acid communism and, even more importantly, with his pop modernisms, those sought after movements-to-come who would both feel at ease in the public sphere, without retreating in their subcultural niches, and, as Ed reminds us, “actively [use] fashion to construct of sense of their own public identites… in the face of a fashion industry that sought to impose taste through advertising and media pressures”. 

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(I must note that Fisher productively stayed within the detested bounds of the anti-pomo Jamesonian doxa, which is, at the end of the day, the reason why I cannot call myself a full “Fisherian”. Nevertheless, here’s a representation of how I feel while talking about acid communism and doomer stuff)

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This aesthetics and politics of immediate, public joy are what I’m most interested about now, even though I’m sure that this won’t please my Market Stalinist friends.

Un pensiero riguardo “Further Notes on the Vanishing Mainstream, vol. 1

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