Notes with Althusser; Interpellation, Interpretation (artobjects, ideology & guilt)

0.

Before I begin I would like to clarify that this is a brief commentary not engaged with notable critiques of Althusser by the likes of Butler, Dean, Zizek, Balibar, etc. nor taking into consideration similar works that deal in connecting ideology with culture, such as Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. 

This brief commentary on Althusser’s essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses comes from a notable lack or downplay “culture” plays in it and its role in the reproduction of the condition of production. So this is simply to interpret his ideas of ideology and, more specifically, interpellation, into the field of culture and, specifically, within the context of the Museum.

I.

Artobjects (museum works, films, literature, media platforms, etc.) interpellates its audience. It hails out to its subjects by demanding the recognition it so deserves in its complexity by condemning its subject-as-audience to think, interpret, and engage it. The artobject understands that its existence requires the thinking subject, and so the correlationist circle becomes, in this instance, the correlationist trap. Whats more, this subject-as-audenice can only exist through the condemnation of engagement, from this relationship.

A subject-as-audience (hereon, Audience) can indeed ignore, dismiss, or even avoid the artobject, the trap of relating. But it in no way destroys the artobject in question nor even damages its status and in fact strengthens the artobject. How? Because the subject has merely consigned themself as a subject that does not know and can not know. A subject barred from ever knowing the elusive latent content it holds, thereby saving the autonomy of the object by conforming to the appeal of its Authority — the struggle to know. 

This inability of escaping this relation with artobjects is part of the reason why subjects who, instead of feeling shamed for their ignorance, are more than willing to accept the outcome, cease resisting, and actively embrace this Stockholm relationship — Love thy Master. Confronted with the sheer complexity or difficulty of the artobject, the subject must profess their fidelity and serve til a time immemorial until finally its secrets can be revealed. While in the process becoming priests (critics) of the holy object who, upon their journey, can meet likewise innocent subjects in their quest for understanding and greet them with chosen texts they’ve supplied–written–as keys to understanding its abstraction.

II.

Artobjects present themselves as objects to be understood and not merely to be engaged with, and as such, the subject-as-audience forever exists as a passive mediator to the dominating medium of its time.

The ideological function of this process is to ensure the survival of the relations of production and its reproduction. By creating an audience, it proffers the choice between being ignored or further contribute to its reproduction. In other words, to become ascetics or hedonists.

For any cultural platform of capitalist orientation to survive and reproduce, it must both alienate the subject by forcing them to choose this relationship and make guilty the subjects-as-audience for thus accepting the development and existence of this relationship. The redeeming feature of this relationship, so the subject is told, is that this relationship can also be a ‘cure’, if not a provisional palliative, to these feelings of alienation and guilt.

Could this be what having a ‘guilty pleasure’ really amounts to? The guilt of feeling content with one’s alienation as produced by the exploitation of a relationship.

III.

Unlike Althusserian Interpellation, the audience does not recognize itself as such merely by being confronted with the presence of objects but objects as they are situated under a given ideological apparatus such as the Museum.

Here it will be useful to use Foucault’s idea of enunciative modalities as a method for analyzing discursive practices, “such as who has the right to make statements, from what site these statements emanate, and what position the subject of discourse occupies”. For our purposes, who has the right to make statements are critics, the site of statements (broadly) comes from the authority of the Museum, and the subject of discourse is taken up by the audience.

The naivete of the subject is believing they can enter a museum without being ensnared by this vicious relationship.

IV.

Ideology/Interpellation as Guilt

Althusser says, despite any existence of guilty conscience a subject may feel upon being hailed or interpellated, “guilty feelings” alone cannot be the reason why the subject responds and recognizes themselves as Subjects in the first place. This we can agree with, except, what if the subject is a subject of guilt precisely in the sense that guilt is the medium of transaction between individuals and their objects used by an ideological apparatus to ensnare and make normal this relationship. To make someone feel guilty of an act they did not cause is to put them in your possession. The authority is the owner of the relationship which makes guilty its subjects who have no choice but to accept this contract and who has to pay back this debt in obedience to its authortity-master. The subject is thus placed in the equally unfair and absurd position of trying to free themselves from an ‘original’ guilt which is not their own but which only exists as subjects subjected to the relationship.

We can conclude that the subject exists as guilty as such. Guilt is exactly the ideological relation that does not belong to anybody but nevertheless has to be assigned and made responsible by someone, and that someone is always someone subjected to domination, i.e. those who do not have the power to say no. In other words, it is the ruling class of any relation which contributes both to the creation of guilt (ideology) and holding people accountable of this fact — for this very existence which they have to pay back either by upholding this relationship (ensuring the survival of the reproduction of the relations of production) including additional exploitation.

Althusser carefully notes that interpellation does not work by temporal succession. Not: Hail then Subject. Not: Ideology then Subject. And not subject-as-audience then guilt. “The existence of ideology and the hailing of the interpellated subject are one and the same thing”. Ideology exists before its Subjects and Guilt exists before Subjects are held responsible.

V.

Of course, to be guilty is also to hide this very fact. Perhaps to the point of tricking oneself free of the original feeling and consign themselves innocent. The paradox here is that the subject-as-guilty can trick themselves into believing they are an innocent subject, or even, a pre-ideological individual when, in fact, they really are! The caveat is this: they believe themselves to be subjects pre-transformation and not post-transformation, thereby caught in an abstracted delusion regarding their own subjectivity all maintained by the ideological apparatus. The consequence is that this is how the guilty subject is thus able to be re-interpellated as guilty because of their refusal to acknowledge the very mechanism of this guilt-innocent procedure of which they are perpetually caught. Ideology is then able to reproduce itself in the repressive states of its subjects.

Althusser: “What seems to take place outside ideology, in reality takes place in ideology. What really takes place in ideology seems therefore to take place outside it.” Further noting, “That is why those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology”.

This is the aspect of the Repressive Apparatus that allows a defunct moralism to be born — to accuse the repressed innocent as guilty!

 

 

 

 

Incels, Chads, Eco-Primitivists, Self-Betterment Guru’s and the Desire for the Real: A ‘heroes’ quest for the reproductive-system

What connects Incels, Chads, Eco-primitivists, Self-betterment Guru’s, and Terrorists? They are each failed ‘heroes’ in capturing and over-coming what they most desire: the reproductive system — whether that be Mother-Nature, God, The Strong-Self, or simply, a Woman. Each Object for each subject represents a value that both must be attained and reproduced for the survival and flourishing of themselves or society. They are ‘heroes’ because it is they who will go and retrieve from the rest of “us” what is lost to, or has been taken from, their kind: The Reproductive System (Woman, God, Mother-Nature, etc.). 

As any hero of value must contend with, they have to live through, fight, and become survivors to a system they deem decadent. Each subject are survivors, but not ones who adapt to their environment and stand-alone. Instead, they are dependant upon the idea, and eventual attainment, of the idealised Mother-Reproductive-Object. They are survivors who are left without (or has been taken from them) the object they deem they or the rest of humanity deserves. They are people for whom their lives and existence is dependant upon possessing this lost object, and as such, it is not only by acquiring the object in order to fulfill their experience, but give essence to their existence.

Survival in this sense turns out to be characteristically Oedipal, in which a child in fear of losing his mother to his father/society/Other-Chads, must fight — destroy — them in order to gain access to what is “rightfully” theirs — the reclamation of the reproductive mother-system. Except in a twist, this ‘maternal’ figure, whether Nature or Woman, turns out not to exist outside the fantasy that produces it. In other words, Incels condemn themselves as Orphans to a Mother that never existed, never abandoned, and thus, ought never to be repressed from. 

We can make a distinction between the insatiable attainment of the objet a and the impossibility of fulfilling desire for an object that never existed. There is no Mother-Nature for the eco-primitivist to return to, no God to turn to after his Nietzchean Death, no mother for the ‘orphaned’ child, and no Woman for the Incel or Chad because it is ultimately themselves that is the barrier to what they long to possess. 

And what does the failed-hero do once he realises his impotence? He terrorizes the system, society, or simulated object he thought impeded him from gaining access to his rightful desires. And so kills, kills — murders — with fashionable wrath. A spectacle indeed. Yet it is a war on Spectacles. As Crump shows in his essay The Aeneid for Incels, Roger Elliot’s manifesto “is a horrific and extensive explication of the development of, as he calls it, a “fascist” sexualization of the world — a sexualization that both terrorizes him and drives him to terrorism.” Further noting: “All objects becomes a means to a literal sexual gratification — a gratification that Roger never experiences.” We can see parallels with Baudrillard’s analysis of the “grotesque hyperreality” of Late Capitalism and Rogers’ “fascist sexualization” of society, wherein they both point to the pornographic structure of society itself — an ever-present and obscene display of sexually charged consumerism. Money is sex. Which only adds weight to the feelings of loss, missing-out, resentment, and inadequacy that incels necessarily experience. Because what they encounter is a society formally structured around the very thing they know to not have in their possession, which suggests not only a partial detachment of a particularity of living in a society, which is having sexual relations, but of being wholly detached from a society that is formed on the basis of libidinal relations. To not be apart of such a ‘natural’ stream of consumption is then to be deemed ‘unnatural’ — a sure sign of having failed or to have let oneself fail to a misaligned society. 

As Baudrillard notes, Hyperreality is there to signal or suggest, through its “grotesque hyperrealism”, that there does remain some real out there. Yet such a “reality” (in this case, the reproductive-mother) is a simulacrum of hyperreality itself — a copy without an original. Reality is an artificial production by the machine of hyperreality as to secure its own survival. 

One can also see this theologically, like access to the forbidden fruit, the mother/woman is a prohibited object to which the prohibition itself is the cause of desire. There is nothing being prohibited except the desire of prohibition itself. And as such, the subject seeks to both overcome and reinscribe this desire-producing prohibition as a way of perpetually maintaining a sense of desire whilst not killing and satiating it. Or, how a child only wants a toy the moment you say: No!

Thus the grotesque, malicious, evil and wrathful violence inflicted by the incel-terrorist is perhaps the one and only true object provided by themselves for themselves using women as a scapegoat in achieving what they wanted to achieve all along: Damaging the society that has so ‘wrongly’ made them insignificant. Yet there is a nuanced difference with the Incel-terrorists relation to weakness, it is not in simply being oppressed and dominated by all-powerful society, but of letting oneself be reduced to weakness, a lack of strength, by a socio-entity that is itself already deformed. This is what particularly connects the self-betterment guru’s often found in alt-right spheres — one has to be strong in a weak society. Self-betterment is as much, if not more, an attempt to repress those ‘natural’ tendencies to hurt and compete than it is to be genuinely good. It is the negative-theology of Ethical Living. ‘Goodness’ is only the Will and strength to not be Evil, following the Hobbesian idea of the natural, brutish man. An Ethical Leviathinism. 

Violence then becomes as much directed towards the outside as much as it is a reflected attack on their selves, which suicide after terror attacks seems to suggest. 

Violent attacks take shape when one is no longer able to withhold their repressions. Yet to be repressed about something signifies a real object which is lost — and as I have shown, the lost object never existed. They have been sold a product which does not exist and lacerate themselves, and others, for their poverty whilst angered and frustrated with the rest of us who supposedly possess the riches of sexuality. Thus the unrequited search for Sex/Love is as much an illusion as the wealth of images that distribute and exchange its representation. Repression is no longer of sex, but “through sex”, as Baudrillard notes. And this is the place of the Chad. He understands the ‘illusion’ of authentic sexual-intercourse yet is still unable to satiate his desire despite through his activity of copious and meaningless sex — often at the exploitation and manipulation of women. Sexual Promiscuity for the Chad defers the ever possibility of allowing himself to participate in genuine sexual relations. Sex keeps him from sex. The Chad, like other addicts, seeks to subvert the confrontation with their true condition by excessively indulging in the activity for which they seek to detach from. 

The “last cigarette” of any smoker, as Zupancic shows, is never their last. It only enables them to carry on indefinitely smoking with the reassurance of acknowledging their problem. In a footnote, Baudrillard says, “Sexual discourse is invented through repression, for repression speaks about sex better than any other form of discourse. Through repressions (and only through repression), sex takes on reality and intensity because only confinement gives it the stature of myth. Its liberation is the beginning of its end.” (my italics). 

Baudrillard: “Sex being an anamorphosis of the categorical social imperative”. Sex is always an End. This means, for the Incel, it’s not only a matter of finding a partner but a partner for who will consolidate with the gift of sex. But this is where prohibition comes in. The Incel wants sex but not as themselves, but as the Other-Chad. “I want to be like him” signals not only jealousy for the object in the Chad’s possession, but of the subject of Chad himself. The Incel unconsciously refuses sex, or the potential to grow a relationship that might end with it, on the grounds that it would eventually be he who has to perform it. It is their own body that is in the way of their desire. This emphasises that sex as the end is nothing but an idealised fantasy that can only ever cease once they commit to the idea that women (and others) are not objects of reproduction of the values of survival. Sex is not the end. But the social categorical imperative which the perverse ubiquity of the exchange of sex makes this irredeemably difficult for the typical American phenomena any typically male has to live through. 

 

“The problem with the Incel”, Crumps rightfully says, “is problematic to the very essence of how it desires”. And I would specify, such desire is as much directed outwards as much as it is a self-reflection, of how the incel sees himself through the eyes of the other-woman. 

The common query people raise with regards to this inexhaustible desire for sex is: “Why don’t incels just hire sex workers?”. And as Crumps suggests, “there is absolutely no reason to believe that acquiring the elusive utopian sex that Rodger [Incels] demands of the world would “cure” anything.” Because “sex workers cannot address the issue”, which is fundamentally, in Crumps’ view, about “Eros” and Sexuality proper. Someone like Roger Eliot isn’t an “alien” or an animal from outer space, he harbors exactly the same desire any of us are susceptible to which are “produced by the society around him”. 

No doubt society produces, governs, manipulates desire, but is it really the case Incels are referring to that aspect of Sexuality that is just too deep for them to reach? That they are heroes of sexuality, setting themselves the quest of finding what is most precious and rare? Instead, I think it is the opposite, Incels do care only about the explicitness of sexual intercourse, yet the reason they may refuse sex workers is that they refuse the ideological dressage, civil procedures, and the very commodification of sex which they abhor in society. It is rather that participating with sex workers holds with it an element of artificially constructed performance they’d rather not have. Reduced to spectators to their own enjoyment — is it really you performing sex or merely being performed on? Which means it would be remiss to suggest Incels desire something more than intercourse because whose to say sex with sex workers is real or even about intercourse as such? One would be too preoccupied with the Event that intercourse would become insignificant. Rather, it is once the ‘illusion’ or performance of sexual involvement is stripped and becomes only a primal and visceral engagement between you and your partner that intercourse becomes all the more desirable and the only thing to exist and matter. Incels are too wary of the abstract procedure that is involved with finding a partner and into finally having sex. And perhaps this is the very reason for their inability to accessing sex, because they wish to get to the end product without first traversing the social because such social bonding supposedly diminishes and makes inauthentic the sex they so desire. The Incel has refused to acknowledge the necessary movement of first being ‘inauthentic’ into then becoming your ‘true self’. And we can see this reflected in their attitude of good looks. They want women to accept them as who they already are because who they are is biologically determined — they are “blackpilled”. There is no becoming-chad. But isn’t such an attitude of condemning oneself to the biologically determinant features of their body already a socially-embedded construct they’ve pigeon held themselves in? You are what you do, you look as you do too. 

What any incel-terrorist seeks to destroy is the very fabric of sociality itself. 

 

 

 

Altruistic Suicide and YouTube

 Esse est percipi (To be is to be perceived) — George Berkeley

 

Only through the incessant play with market-driven capitalism and the selling of one’s own body can it produce a game of mass altruistic suicide, more specifically, actively undergoing the rapid deterioration of one’s body/mind to the point of death for an audience yet to be subsumed under this ritual.

The truly sad consequence to this is that we have a group of YouTubers — subjects/producers/products of YT — that are intimately entangled within the paradox of re-affirming or re-perpetuating their mental illness as a way to aid, palliate, or even cure it. In other words, they are each split-subjects between auto-exploitation and auto-salvation.

There is a noticeable and growing correlation between mental health issues and the mental health-oriented videos made for the public distribution of talking about, coming out with, bringing light to, the issues of mental health. At first moment it is courageous and admirable that we have people whose good hearts are into the un-tabooing of mental health, but at a second glance are unknowingly perpetuating unhelpful insights into the role and function to how social media itself plays into the activation and consuming of mental health itself. This is why they are split-subjects. Because at one and the same time, they are both enlightening the world to the troubles of mental health, even also perhaps as a self-remedy, and further degrading themselves to the bondage of being an object of/for social media.

It is as if the only recourse for safety a child has when abused by his mother is his mother. Youtube, and social media, is an authority that both abuse us and tend to our harms.

The ‘creation’ or ’cause’ of mental health by tech is complicated and twofold: social media stands as mediators or arbiters of mental health confession — each video its own booth and each viewer its own priest. And there can be no doubt prior to any engagement with social media there exists — for alternatively negative and similarly related politico-economic reasons — mental illness. Except, through the active engagement of being subject/object of YT, such prior mental health issues take a symptomatic and morphological change in such a way as what was once fretted about is now taken up to be the primary concern or object of social media itself. Any such illness has defectively transferred to fit the molding of technology itself such that mental health is now intimately tied with the consumption and engagement of YT — which allows us to then say such tech are the re-offenders (rather than the original cause) to the illness. It could be said there no longer exists mental health as such prior to social media because of tech’s full subsumption into its way of functioning and maintaining its existence.

Which points us into the direction of saying the issue of mental health is not an effect of a tool gone bad, but a programmatic feature to the tech itself that depends and capitalizes on it as such to maintain its existence — with the only thing it can respond to is by providing palliatives with which we all too readily gobble up.

By this point,it seems far too obvious but is nonetheless a fundamental issue to how not only we go about the rest of our lives but to the nature of tech-as-abuser itself. To repeat, there is an acute and important distinction to be made: It is not that technology is a neutral tool at our dispersal which can be used whether for doing good or harm, but that the infliction of harm is inherent to, and a function of, tech itself. And as such, we should be thinking less in terms of how we can better use it but more how tech ought to be modeled and distributed.

We see in recently made videos by Shane Dawson taking up the form of documentaries documenting the lives of YouTubers who have by this point taken a tumble in their popularity — they are no longer being perceived and as such no longer existing. Through discussion, Shanes’ objective is to rejuvenate and give life to both channel and person. A recent example shows us coming back into contact with Eugenia Cooney, A YT’er who by this point was on hiatus for, and a star made (in)famous by, anorexia nervosa. Again, at one and the same time, Shane comes to the rescue for both channel and body. And yet, as I’ve previously explained, this can only be seen as cruelly ironic. It’s not known whether YouTube/Social Media played a significant part in Cooney’s slow deterioration but can nonetheless be seen as the inhibitors or neutralizer to seeking help. By this point, Shane is saving her and leading her to a new death.

Can anything be more lonely than being watched by millions of faceless, anonymous people not knowing whether they exist or not?

Shane performs a similar exorcism on YT’ers. Allowing us to see their ‘true’ lives untouched by the screen of the internet, their torment, and their concern for their channel which all are in need of recovering. But is it logically possible to maintain the healthy equilibrium between the two?

One must perform in order to be, but more importantly, one must be noticed, watched, viewed, perceived. Their reality is their own self-created images. Yet it is unfair to lay blame when freedom is defined by two barbaric choices, both based on survival: to work or not to work, to be perceived or not to be perceived, to be or not to be. That is the enduring question for all humanity. 

Question: How should we think about, or legislate against, technology playing an active role in the deterioration of people’s lives?

 

 

The Truman Show & The Death of God

Is it easier to live a Truth no other person holds, or to live a Lie every other has access to? This is the question The Truman Show hopes to answer.

A second question might be: why is Truman willing to give up a life of happiness at the cost of finding the ‘truth’ of Reality and Self?

The Truman Show is a film for/of the future. Twenty years later we ask: How has it held up? Either it is a work of unique prophecy or a sign of our times that we’ve been too involved with invoking, re-showing, re-living the past, we ended with ignoring, and no longer hoping for, the prospect of futurity itself. In other words, it is not so much Truman has been so able to accurately portray the future in which we live today, instead, it had conjured a deep enough desire such that its future, our present, wants nothing more than to live its future, our past. This is a nostalgia for (re)living the hope, expectation, and desire for futurity itself which now so dominantly and ubiquitously pervades contemporary culture today. As a result, what we’ve come to long for is not the progression of future itself, but of the feeling and excitement of futurity whilst remaining in the now. We don’t want to leave this wonderful timeline and as such, time only exists in a self-appointed loop. We are seemingly at the end of History whereby we can only play with its past. it wouldn’t be remiss to say we are living backward

What Truman also prophecizes is the obsession with blurring Reality and Truth with Fiction and Lies. This theme, in varying degrees, haunts most, if not every, production of TV, Film, Music, Contemporary Art, Literary production. This is a symptom, for palpably obvious reasons (as Fredric Jameson, Mark Fisher, and others show), of the conflatory entanglement of Capitalism and Culture — when cultural products prove successful is the prime reason for its imminent re-appropriation with the sole intent of acquiring capital. Money talks, Art shows.

Every cultural artefact thereby becomes enmeshed into a single and unified genre of dystopian science fiction even more so when artefacts become nothing but a deep reflection of our own economy without irony. Its as if Capital produce films just to let us know: ‘This is what we are going to do’. 


If the Authentic Life can be said to exist, it exists only as an idea of privacy — what I am free to do with my own body, my own space, is just an expression of who I really am. Yet in a society so pervaded with filming equipment — phones, computers, CCTV, cameras — with Truman’s life live-streamed 24/7, it’s questionable whether privacy really exists. Every moment of our lives is moderated through mediums of connectivity. But in some twist, can it not be said that Truman lives the only authentic life possible? Because if Authenticity is a mode of being situated outside or away from the flow of artificiality — and if Truman is this flow of artificiality embodied — there no longer exists for him such a boundary between authenticity and artificiality, reality and fraudery. Of course one might suggest he is only living a life of illusion — but to who? Certainly not himself. This means Authenticity is no longer defined by standards set for oneself, it is instead set and bound for you. We decide — the people, the society — the remit of what is or isn’t inauthentic and whether you do or do not live up to the expectations.

This is ultimately the illusion Truman himself falls into. For he had led himself to believe (or had been led to believe as the only alternative) that life outside the fake-city and through the black door lies an opportunity to be a body for which is your own and nobody else’s controlled at the expense of entertainment. And in some sense this is true, the only authentic life he is able to lead is one of suffering. How he chooses to react, deal with, respond to suffering can only be determined by him — he is free to suffer.

It might be facile to suggest authenticity itself is an illusion, but along with free will, it is a necessary illusion one can not live without. The true horror of Truman, it could be said, is every moment after the film ended. Because not only does Truman now have to completely overturn his beliefs and ideas, re-attune himself to the environment, sense things not sensed before, he also has to inevitably confront the consequence of the second wave of illusion – namely reality and the world of appearances itself (Not only this, but wouldn’t he merely exist as a celebrity? The life of a ‘normal guy’ is never an option).

God may be all seeing, all powerful, all knowing… but he ain’t perfect. The clumsiness of God (The Creator) in his set design, actor placement, eventually sparked wariness, insight, curiosity into Truman and seeded the fruits of Knowledge; and by doing so, abolished Truman’s innocence. In the fake-city, he was the only person to live a life that was not under threat of constant pressure to perform for the camera, for God. Presumably, the actors also had to live a total lie without the luxury of illusion.

Its as if the true believer is really only but a complete fabrication by God himself, even if he (the believer) is unaware of his existence. God makes it so that you don’t have to believe.

Believing is fictitious. 


Postscript: 

In 2017, Jim Carrey, after a hiatus from the media, came back to the spotlight only to be ridiculed, gaped at, and reduced to some weird residuum (if Hollywood isn’t weird enough) because he had been openly sharing and displaying his thoughts on his disorientation with Identity. A quick look through some of the more notable films of Jim Carrey and it becomes apparent that an unambiguous play with Identity is something they share — The Mask, Batman Forever, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Grinch, Bruce Almighty, Jim and Andy. 

Jim Carrey is just another tragic symptom of the yet to be explored relation between comedy, depression, and identity.

 

toy story 4 — Love, Loss, Freedom, and Duty

Since it’s early uprising, Disney/Pixar has provided no shortage of producing propaganda, displaying dominant trends of ideology, and contributed to cultivating an immense aesthetic that can be seen through every doorway of consumer society — the signature style of the smooth and curvy, ergonomic, sparse, accommodable, timeless kitsch (and nor has it provided shortage of opportunity for critique, such as this). Yet since Disney is slowly consuming the rest of Hollywood like a parasitic Host feeding off of inadequate debris, it becomes apparent that such inevitable battles of Ideologies revolve around, and are spawned from, distinct organisms.

Toy Story 4 is Disney/Pixar’s latest installment and for me, it is a film I couldn’t not watch. I am forever indebted to watching whatever Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles film Hollywood throws at me and they know it too. There are more than plenty of other films I can all too happily ignore. But, like putting stakes in the big entertainment business, I have invested too much time, energy, memory, experience, emotion watching them; and to suddenly not feels like one of personal failure. I am trapped in my own homespun personal guilt for which if I do not act upon, my past, my memories, my childhood, my history will be destroyed. This is the machinic entanglement of guilt, emotional dependence, well-being managerialism Hollywood is so perfect at capturing. It provides itself as a sick Oedipal situation to which it can only be myself, Father to my own Childhood Fantasy, that stands in the way between me and my ultimate desire for satisfaction and nourishment, the nostalgic Hollywood engine. I am committed in these instances to a temporal continuity.

TS4 shows us what its predecessors couldn’t: that death – literally and metaphorically –  is not the final solution. When confronted with abandonment, witness to being outgrown for the need or want of interaction and play, stricken with feelings of Loss, and for which no other carer is adequate, what else is there to do for the Toys if not to either let oneself be killed, fight for one’s own right as worthwhile and necessary, or commit suicide. It is obviously the attempt to infiltrate ones way back into the home and heart of Andy that preoccupies the third and fourth film. And it is Woody in particular — that hysterical, short-sighted, obsessive, naive optimist — who continuously prompts and pushes the direction of the collective forward into the clean grip of Andy’s hand; because it is Woody, ultimately, who is Andys Toy, and he will do anything he can, even if to drag and string along his comrades, to get himself back to providing the fulfillment of Andy. There’s no doubt Woody is the leader for which all actions subsequently revolve around his own wellbeing, even if Woody puts himself out of way for the greater good of keeping the O’ Mighty One happy. Andy is God.

TS4 is unambiguously a film about the fear of loss and freedom and the consequences thereof of taking it. The Toys were never free to begin with, we know that, except that they embody the neoliberal subjectivity whereby freedom comes not from being set loose from the constraints of some organized Body, but of being able to work itself. To be Free, ultimately, is to be free to Work — they are puppets, after all, and life as a puppet without being played is no life at all. Because it is Work which both defines who we are whilst allowing us to express who we think we are (only if done through the confines of working life). Yet TS4 flips this on its head. As the final conclusion of the film shows, to be Free is to be a Lost Toy, cut loose from the manipulating fingertips of children pulling their strings and playing them like puppets. Yet it is only a particular freedom that becomes available only after the Toys have adequately fulfilled their duty. The Duty of sustaining unconditional happiness to their Master, even if not through the interaction of their own. And it is for Woody, sided with Bo, who is no longer looked for, no longer needed, not only by his Master-Child but his fellow comrades as well.

In tandem with Woody’s self-effacing libidinal waning over Bo Peep and his failure to leave work, his duty, and run off with her, is Buzz who re-finds himself as the agent he’s always destined to be: a leader. There comes a point of belated self-reflectivity Buzz who begins to ponder the ‘inner voice’ of his engineered body. Curious about his voicebox, his inner voice, Buzz follows blindingly the pre-determined catchphrase-directions in hopes of discovering how or what it is he has to do. In some sense, this is true freedom no other Toy has yet been granted. After disastrous attempts in following his own word, the self-imposed word of the Master-Other for which he must obey and dutifully provide for, he thinks for himself. More importantly, he thinks alongside his pre-determined voice. This is a self-consciousness no other minor toy has yet to possess, for they are still condemned to follow blindly either their voicebox or the doxa of dutiful obedience.  And this is the true quality of a leader for which cannot be reduced either to being Lost or held hostage under the authoritative commands of the Other, but Free to act, to think, to revolutionize within the system.

The final scene and dialogue of TS4 show Woody and Bo Peep left alone, lost, in a carnival as the rest of the toys are in the back-window driving away. ‘Now Woody is a lost toy’. Replied with faux-profundity, ‘oh, he’s not lost’. This, we are meant to believe, is that in place of the loss of Andy and Bonnie, physically and emotionally, he has re-found love in Bo Peep. But what does this say about freedom? Woody is no longer obligated to make Andy, Bonnie, or Whoever happy but Bo. Yet Freedom for Lost Toys comes at the cost of enduring a life of escape, fight and flight survivalism against the dirty mitts of children who will come to eventually tear them apart.

Love is the only thing that can set you free. Perhaps Freedom is only the struggle itself to be free — an antagonism between your desire and theirs.

 

 

Radical Unto Death – Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ #1

A dinner party question: What is the most radical work of Art – Literature, Film, Music, Architecture, et al?

Firstly, what is meant by Radical? In short, it is when a thing is most unlike itself whilst still recognizably remaining so. In other words, it is the farthest point into its own non-existence leaving whatever trace or quality we know it by to recognize it as such. I also take radical to be the most stomach-churning, mind-numbing, thought-provoking, viscerally-unbearable thing. And to anyone’s ears, this might sound like a description of something deeply disturbing, horrifying and gory; an analogy to the spectacle of what has come to be known as horror, but that would be a mistake. Because whereas the attempt of Horror is to provide you with an Image that is irrevocably Outside, so unlike anything we’ve come to know as to be the epitome of conjuring a deep nausea. On the contrary, I say, the Radical is the thing that is most known to us, most familiar, most gone unseen, most me. And in this respect, it sits closer to feelings of uncanniness. A zombie is an artificial re-creation of what we think is the Human, yet the Un-Human is something deeply connected to what it means to be Human yet still not quite. The line between Non-Human and Un-Human is a concavity where the uncanny lives. It is to recognize oneself in the image of the other as something deeply not-me, yet-me. As we will come to see, the radical reveals a horrifically curious Truth only known to ourselves.

And so, what is it to Art? Well, Radical Art is not to radicalize and make uncanny those objects with which we consider to be Art, but Art itself. The question here is: What is an Artwork most farthest away from being Art yet still considered as such? 

There are certainly some worthwhile contenders (the irony here being that its even a thing to contend with..). But whats important about an era for which we have yet to escape its grasp – beginning with Duchamp’s infamous transgression of 1917, taken seriously into 60’s conceptualism and finally flourishing and stiffening with the 90’s YBA – is in what can be salvaged from a wreckage that is PoMo-Injected Contemporary Art if and, more importantly, for when we are to dispose of it? Nothing, really. But it would be unfair to suggest the wreckage itself, with all its mangled corpses of nostalgically re-engineered movements, isn’t worth something in and of itself as a study of Radicalism – in very much the same way we might study any kind of radicalism, be it surgically/cosmetic, commodities/design, and even violence/beliefs, without endorsing them.

Artworks under the siege of the Museum (which will be my focus) produced between the 60’s and now are examples of Art at its most radical, remaining for us today an apocalyptic vision, a glimpse towards the End of Art. And therein lies objects at their most radical, provocative, and severe always with a slyly smile as it voyeurs upon itself a steady decline towards its own non-existence.

Among others, John Cage’s 4’33, Piero Manzoni’s Artists’ Shit, Jeff Koons’ Made in Heaven, Damien Hirsts’ A Thousand Years are all notable works that come close to what I mean by Radical Art, yet the topic of this discussion focuses on Tracey Emin’s My Bed. 

What Emin has managed to achieve – not necessarily through creation but of the acceptance of an audience – is to provide something so unutterably common to the masses, so commonplace as to be invisible, so familiar as to be un-worthwhile, so close to our own lives and reeking with banality that it provokes within its spectators, its witness to tragedy and its voyeurism to somatic and fantastic traces of the erotic left over in the sheets, a ferocious jittery sensation of rage and anguish as to acknowledge that something so close to our hearts, our laurels, had even the slightest of capacity of making for itself wealth, fame, status. The content of the Bed is not important, any object would have worked; but the point is, to speculate, art for the non-artist is a thing out of their potential, out of their grips, reserved only for those who dine on themselves as artist; beyond themselves. Yet Emin has broken this social contract to what it means to be both Artist and Art. She presents, first of all, that art-making is not exclusive only to the ‘Artist’, and nor is Art reducible to its capacity for conceptual/technical brilliance. Emins’ bed shows that to be is to be Art – by presenting to an audience an object that lay in their back pockets, under their bottoms, under their noses. It also reveals another fact to art-making which is exclusive to the Artist; to be an Artist is to be a manager and provider of the spectacle and the Event. And it is the Event which gives rise to the status of the artobject. The creative potential thus revealed to the audience first and foremost resolves in a self-reflexive disgust – a guilty imagination. Its transgressive in the pure sense because it turns its problem back unto yourself – you become the thing that is most disgustful as the reflection of the image that provides it for you. You’ve let yourself down. One is felt to be a unfettered disappointment once realizing one has gotten up from their own bed, bright and early, traveled wide and far, paying for food/drink/transport/tickets, to climb all the way upstairs into a little room to just be presented with yet another bed except more valuable. We are presented here with the ontological inequality of beings.

Emin’s Bed is Art most unlike Art. Yet what difference is there from Duchamp’s Fountain?Because his piss-pot has nestled its way into history as to never be able to crawl its way out. It has been stylised by historicity and sentimentality. 

And it is because of Style that the Artists I mentioned above do not travel into the radical concavity that Emin does. I will now briefly explain why:

What could be more radical than John Cage providing Nothing itself? It does seem to be the very brink of self-destruction, except it doesn’t conform to the kind of radicality i’m referring to. Instead, in place of silence, it presents a background of transcendent mystical appearance’s which does exactly the opposite to the kind of radicalism I hoped to explore. Instead, like Emin’s Bed, of providing you not only with the image of your own discomfort, your own mortality, revealing an uncanny truth both eerie and enticing, Cage’s 4’33 takes you away from yourself into a kind of secular prayer. Ironically, one would think the moment of self-redemption would be in the form of empty silence disguised as prayer but the artifice of the Artistic Event capitalizes and stylises the process. It becomes then an in-genuine search for an experience of an experience.

Stylisation also looms over Koons with his large scale hyper-realist glam photographs with him and his then former pornstar ex-wife participating in display’s of overt sexual acts. Pure, unadulterated performances/spectacles of vivid organs coupled together. No eroticism, just bodies. Pornography. His images are alluring, fetishistic fantasies with which we wish to be drawn too without the repercussions of guiltily toying with taboo.

And if Koons’ Made in Heaven plays with the moralism of its audience, Hirst makes immoralism his work. It may be the first time any critic would decide its not a work of Art based on Ethics. And of course, Hirst is all style, all glam, pop, punk, rock & roll, death, mortality, religion/atheism/belief, ambiguity, vulgarity, excessiveness, factory production. Hes Capital C Capitalism. Now, A Thousand Years in my opinion is a good work. The only good work by Hirst, maybe. Yet the merit, in this context, to his other sculptures is in their re-imagination of the readymade. They’re are what I would call Post-Industrial readymades. Highly polished, factory made constructions that only have quality or artistic value solely in their looking good – in their ability to be made using lots of money. Hirst presents to us just what money can do!

To conclude, the uncanniness of art is not in its content (what artists provide us), but in its form (of where we are comfortable in saying this does not conform to art). Yet the content of Emin’s Bed is its Form. Its a direct disruption of what it means to be art that shakes our very understanding of it and our inability to make and organise meaning from. Unlike the stylisation of other works, it doesn’t take you anywhere, to some Other experience, other reality. It presents you with itself as your reality. Not only does it exist in the same symbolic universe as you, but that it has ontological priority over you – for why else would your bed be at home and this one here? The uncanniness to this radicalism of art reveals a Truth within ourselves, a truth for which we yet do not know. Maybe a temporary symbolic emptiness or angst. Much like the feeling of Anxiety as presented by Heidegger resulting from not feeling at home in the world. The anxiety we will as response to radical things is in the not feeling at home with oneself. Again, its presents the uneasiness as belonging to you! The object of the uncanny is thus only a mirror to the unfamiliarity of ourselves, the un-recognisability of our bodies, the mystery of the riddles to our deep unconscious.

If Art is escapism then Emin doesn’t set you free.

 

The Fun House of Contemporary Art – Appendix

Appendix to: Aesthetics, or, The Capitalist Production of Cultural Logic  __

I.    The World with its many Rooms and its many Smells:

The World is divided into rooms and each room carries its own aroma. Yet it is not the case we follow the scent that we like into the room of our pleasing. It is not a smell we believe is good, but a simulated appearance for which we merely accept and embrace. Having ideas is adopting them. The Carnival is one such instance of a room with its smells of excessive enjoyment to the point of dis-pleasure and pain (Jouissance?). Its twists and turns turn strange and unfamiliar, provoking nausea and inducing us to coming away feeling uncanny to the point we become frightened of the very thing that’s meant to to do the opposite. Clowns are just another example. They’re exaggeration only highlights the fact their smiles are a cover up for a deeply disturbing world for which they run. The world is a Fun House.

‘Aesthetic pleasure’ is thus a smell with which we accept and assume and take it as emblematic of our identity. We quite literally wear our smells. We are what we stink of! It is an acceptance of an experience we believe what has always already been the case. We are converted and seduced. No! We are proud of our discoveries! The discovery of something ‘new’ is really a finding of something that was always meant to be, of something lost, of needing to be re-found. The saying “I need to find true Love” is not a matter of being without Love, but of accepting the Love of the other that should have always already been present in our lives. Prior to the relationship the other is missing. What I was missing before I met you was not Love itself, but you. ‘Aesthetic Experience’ then, as being gifted or given to us as motive for us to find it is not to fill in the gap of aesthetic displeasure but of persuading us to accept the object of such pleasure as the necessary part that was specifically lost to us prior to our engaging with the art object. Meaning, the art object presented under the Funhouse of Late Capitalist Contemporary Art is providing us with the Love we think we always needed – and yet it turns out to be nothing other than a provisional stimulating simulation. Love in this instance is a lie sold to us so we can buy something else or subscribe some other romantic relationship – maybe adopting, and thus condoning, additional marketing ploys.

The Funhouse of Art sees itself as Destiny providing us with our Fate – the Fate of pleasurable experiences. Something specific has to turn out according to plan… except what? We can never have the capacity to know what Fate has provided for us; we are then left to our own intuition as to whether we accept a particular event as an act of fate or not. We are in charge of our own Fate. Under these false pretenses, it is here, then, that we choose our destiny.