Adorno and Heidegger on Being, language, and the question of philosophy

Why can man ask about the why, and why must he ask? — Heidegger

The annihilation of the question compels praxis — Adorno

This essay aims to centre a debate between Adorno and Heidegger highlighting their respective concerns for language and ontology. These concerns, more specifically, are framed around two problems Adorno puts to Heidegger: 1) the question of being, and 2) the ontological need. These problems are further grounded in how they function in the ‘actualisation’ or completion of philosophy itself.

Adorno’s remarkable critique of Heidegger lies, first of all, in the way Adorno grants special importance to Heidegger’s work prompted not only by the centrality of Heidegger’s thought, as foremost ontologist in Germany at the time, but in part by the awareness of the deep convergences between their thought, most prominent in their ideas about language, to which Heidegger provided the basis for allowing Adorno to situate his own project developed from an immanent critique. Perhaps against the standard picture of their irreconcilable differences, Adorno even goes to make the characteristically Hegelian concession, in that within every falsity lies a truth, that Heidegger did take us up to a point at which we can understand the dialectical insight into the non-identity within identity but fails to carry this over into the concept of Being itself (ND 120). This, however, is just one instance of many where we see Adorno finding a kernel of truth (or the truth of the “untruth”) within Heidegger’s ideas. Adorno’s practice of immanent criticism means, above all, that he does not seek to propose oppositions between any two philosophical positions whereby we take one side over the other, in this case between ontology and dialectics. This is a resistance against a “philosophy of standpoints” (OD 1) where the transition to dialectics consists in the immanent self-reflection of ontology (4).

Adorno had spent the better part of his career engaging with and critiquing the ideas of Heidegger and he does so, it could be said, for two reasons: of subjecting the foremost ontologist to criticism’s Adorno thinks necessary if philosophy is to have any hope of ‘actualising’; and using Heidegger as the unresponsive antagonist utilised to present Adorno’s own project as substitute. Despite the many criticisms and interrogations, sometimes playful and oftentimes brutal, we witness a different tune in his lecture series Ontology and Dialectics, one that is highly charitable in its exposition and surprisingly affirmative of Heidegger’s ideas with respect to their shared criticism of the sciences and positivistic thinking. It is not important that we characterise Adorno as particularly kind, for we could say that his ‘generosity’ is a reflection of the dialectical method at work. However, we must also take Adorno at his word when he says truth is an extraordinarily fragile thing, that things stand on a knife’s edge and where all the differences matter: “lose your faith that truth clings to massive differences” (43-4).

By focusing primarily on Adorno’s lecture series Ontology and Dialectics – considered here as the most sustained and comprehensive critique of Heidegger’s project – and the opening introduction of Heidegger’s Being and Time, the difference this essay aims to place at the forefront is the problematic role the question plays in their approach to answering for philosophy’s historical actuality. The difference that makes all the difference, shadowing the debate on Being, language, ontology, is the question of praxis. These are important for they put into question Heidegger’s reliance, from Adorno’s perspective, on the question-and-answer function characteristic of idealist philosophy in general presented via the question of Being. On an initial basis, this is consequential, for Adorno, for it ends up identifying thought fully with its objects which follows the idealist pretence that the goal of a philosophical system is one that can think the totality of the actual, the whole. Against such pretension is Adorno’s own project of a negative dialectics – an unwhole system born from the privileging of the non-identical, the materialist remainder of thought. Although this essay will not be an exposition of negative dialectics itself, it remains useful insofar as Adorno asks whether the actuality of philosophy is still possible after the failure of idealist philosophy. The problem of actuality relates to the topic of this essay, namely the debate around the “question of being” and Adorno’s critique of the symptomatic existence of the “ontological need” exemplified by Heidegger.

As Adorno makes clear in his essay “The Actuality of Philosophy” (written 30 years prior to Ontology and Dialectics and much of a precursor to the ideas we see in it), actuality does not refer to a maturation of a general intellectual situation[1], but to whether an adequate relation can exist between philosophical questions and the possibility of their being answered at all. This is the place from which Adorno’s critique of Heidegger can begin since the question of Being attests to Heidegger’s aim of providing an answer for Being. More so, Adorno is questioning the very possibility of questions at all, namely those that can be totally answered for. Can philosophy provide answers adequate to represent and understand the whole? The history of philosophy is a history of questions and answer, and “only out of the historical entanglement of questions and answers does the question of philosophy’s actuality emerge precisely.” (my italics; AP 124)[2].

One motivation behind Adorno’s thinking on the actuality of philosophy is a rejection of the ideological nature of idealist philosophy’s complicity with its present situation, in that it contributes to a political milieu of a static and unchanging present philosophically justified by the appeal to timeless and eternal truth. This has the consequence of essentialising and eternalising the reality of the present condition, of affirming what already is. Adorno’s concern refers to the way it promotes the bourgeois idea that not only nothing new should or can come into existence but that such an attempt should be seen as a threat to their existence, maintained by the present condition (K 26). Such an ideological function is also present, prior to every answer, in the emphasis on the priority of the question of Being as proposed by Heidegger (AP 120).

Adorno’s wit shines through when he provides an outline to the historical significance of the problem of Being, portrayed as the “ontological need”, commenting how it is necessary to understand the “pathos” that belongs to the question of Being, that is, why people are so enormously excited by it and how it had served so influential even all the way down to radio announcements and toothpaste advertisements (OD 6). If there is truth to this exaggeration it shows Adorno’s point of attack towards the ahistoricism of the question. By doing so, Adorno first genealogically traces the appearance of the question throughout history and, subsequently, uses this emphasis on history by providing a project that aims to make history constitutive of the kind of ‘ontology’ (though he would dismiss the term) appropriate to the actuality of philosophy.

Adorno provides three causes to the ontological need. First, it is a problem internal to the history of philosophy which is best expressed by Kant; secondly, it is a reaction against the modern development of the sciences, or, the question of Being is a philosophical remainder from what can be answered as a genuine philosophical question; lastly, it is a response to the failure of the prospects of Hegelianism, seen to be the pinnacle of what a philosophical system can achieve.

Throughout Ontology and Dialectics Adorno discusses how the question of Being is philosophically and historically symptomatic of a problem that goes back to Kant, if not to the dialectical method of Socrates. Identifying Kant as the source is important because he was the first to systematically explain why reason is necessarily and inevitably motivated by the fundamental problem of ‘being’, of what is, broadly understood. As we learn from Kant, reason is incapable of answering the kinds of questions it gives itself as problems, namely the question of freedom, the soul, God, immortality, and the unconditionality of reason itself, yet Kant remains reluctant, by the criteria set by his own system, to provide an answer to the question he poses elsewhere: how is metaphysics as a natural predisposition possible? (B22). The problem of God, freedom, soul, and so on, relates to this question insofar as Kant sought to explain the “peculiar fate” of reason which burdens itself with questions it cannot dismiss, but which it cannot answer, since they are beyond the capacity of reason itself (Avii). Kant’s answer is found in a section on the “Dialectic” in his Critique of Pure Reason where he investigates these questions presented as transcendental Ideas. Without detouring through the complexities of Kant’s Dialectic, what remains important is how distinctively Heideggerian a question it is. As Adorno puts it, “why the devil should be interested in metaphysics as natural disposition?” (K 37). By invoking the transcendental Ideas Kant provided a palliative attempt to ask the more fundamental question as to the genesis of the fate of reason itself. As a result, Kant takes it as a given that human reason is disposed to ask questions it cannot answer, and we can speculatively show a homology to Heidegger by repeating his own question: why can man ask about the why, and why must he ask? (KPM 199). Heidegger does not comment on Kant’s Dialectic for the most part, yet by pointing to this homology of questions it may show how Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein aims to answer the fate (“destining” in Heidegger’s terminology) or disposition of reason by emphasising the problematic role of the question posed by the interrogation of Being.

If ontology is concerned with understanding what is, or being, then, for Adorno, the “need” for it is reflected in the motivation to answer the fundamental problem reason gives itself but, if epistemologically prohibited, can only remain content in explaining the “preliminary question” of how knowledge is possible at all (OD 7).

For Adorno, “Kant’s philosophy already represents a kind of concentrated disappointment in philosophy that has been inflated and transformed into a mighty system.” The failing of Heidegger’s project is implicit in Kantian philosophy itself to the extent that the impossibility of answering the fundamental question (of being) is transformed into a positive project.

In a wonderfully concise and dense way, Adorno says “the fundamental structure of Heidegger’s philosophy dictates that the impossibility of answering metaphysical questions – and Kant indeed had already recognised this impossibility – is itself substituted for the answer that it fails to provide” (144). For Adorno, as I understand it, Heidegger effectively substitutes the impossibility of answering the kinds of metaphysical questions that Kant prohibited as constitutive of Being itself. That is, of presenting Dasein as existentially confronting the very impossibility of its own existence, as a kind of being for whom Being is a problem for it. This is why Dasein is ultimately a problem for itself in that, to parallel with Kant, the transcendental Idea which reason could neither totally validate nor access is embodied within reason itself. Thus reason is placed in the paradoxical situation of needing to account for itself using the capacities of reason that it consequently lacks. Adorno even ventriloquizes a retort by Heidegger stating the fact “that I cannot give this answer is actually the answer itself.”

In a preliminary note to the third edition of his Kantbook, Heidegger says: “The problem for Metaphysics, namely, the question concerning beings as such in their totality, is what allows Metaphysics as Metaphysics to become a problem. The expression “The problem of Metaphysics” has two senses” (KPM xxi). This reveals, in a rather concise way, what is at issue for Heidegger, which turns out to be a confrontation or “interrogation” with a problem which compels Dasein to provide an answer. However, to be more specific, it is not Being that presents itself as a problem but the problem of the problem itself, that is, the problem of being compelled to give an answer, to ask “why?”, and where Dasein relates to Being respondent to the problem. This can explain why Heidegger introduces his fundamental ontology in his Kantbook defined as the metaphysics of Dasein that is required for metaphysics to be possible. The task is to inquire about Dasein’s own possibility for inquiring (1). For Heidegger, the ‘why’ already has a reference to Being. The reason Dasein asks ‘why’ is because of its relation to the problem of Being, of Being presenting itself as a problem for the kinds of beings who cannot help consider Being as a problem. Because it is Dasein who asks the question, Heidegger thereby links language and speech to Being. And although we may consider ‘Dasein’ as inseparable from the ‘why’, although we can accept that the problem of the why is a problem of Dasein, contra Heidegger is it not about. Adorno’s ideas on the historical development of language offers a new way for thinking about the enigma of the ‘why’ against Heidegger’s insistence that metaphysics occurs necessarily as Dasein (K 162). Here Heidegger’s implicit attempt to answer Kant’s problem of metaphysical disposition becomes evident, for what compels human reason towards metaphysics is to be explained as constituting human reason itself.

Heidegger does not cease to remind us that Man is in essential relationship with metaphysics as concerning the essence of Being. In Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger expands on the role questioning takes regarding the status of Being by reminding us of the first, most originary and deepest, question of Being: why are there beings at all instead of nothing? Two reasons can be provided as to why Heidegger privileges this mode of questioning: 1) the question (of Being) is the question of all true questions (IM 7) insofar as it is the ground upon which we may understand anything else, and 2) the question distinctively (uniquely) relates Dasein with being as a whole. Because it is Dasein who asks the question, it is Dasein who has this unique relation kept open (or mediated?) by the question. Language and speech links Dasein and Being. And Heidegger goes further, asking what grounds the why-question itself, or, why ask why? (5).

This opens up a fallacy Adorno accuses Heidegger of glorifying in that Heidegger hypostasizes this very impossibility of the question of Being, prioritising the question over the answer, and turns this impossibility into a positive interpretation of human existence (OD 145). Where there is no answer to provide, the question assumes a “dignity of truth” (147). But Adorno himself is not averse to the role of question(ing) in philosophy, and even gives it special status in opposition to the sciences, going so far as to hint at the possible project of investigating the distinctive structure of questioning in the history of philosophy and one not plagued by the spell of Heideggerianism, in which every question is a question of Being. A theory of the question sensitive to a historical and dialectical approach. In line with the rest of his project, Adorno, like Kant, forbids the fundamental questions from being (philosophically) answered at all. Because for Adorno dialectics and language is non-identical, no concept is adequate to the task of sufficiently representing its object, just like how no answer is sufficient to the question. For reasons that are grounded in the philosophy of history (his natural-historical ‘ontology’), Adorno’s own solution to both the problem of Being and the identity between questions and answers is extrapolated to a resolving of philosophy itself through actualisation as provided by praxis. In keeping with the spirit of his answer 30 years prior to Ontology and Dialectics, the answer to the philosophical question takes shape not in the form of the concept (solely) but through praxis. Praxis eliminated the need for answering the question. In this way, Adorno provides a political answer to an otherwise philosophical need for ontology (itself symptomatically political). Or rather, in a Wittgensteinian manner, praxis therapeutically eliminates the question itself.

The problem of the question is that it assumes the “possibility of its answer that being itself is appropriate to thought and available to it” (AP 120). Not only does the question presume that it can be answered, but that the answer, presented in the guise of an object, can be made identical with a pre-established question available to it through a concept. That is, there becomes an object waiting to be moulded with the empty form of the concept. The question supposes that the answer it seeks can be examined, that what it looks for does not exceed the grasp of the questioning. In Being and Time, Heidegger describes the question as a unique kind of ‘seeking’ where the possibility of getting an answer is expected because of the form of the question itself. Because the question is a seeking, it needs prior guidance from what it seeks. This is how, for Heidegger, the meaning of Being must already be available to us in some way (BT 4). In his later works, Heidegger can be seen to reformulate the seeking of the question by positioning thinking closer to that of the poet, who takes the role of the seer: “A seer has always seen already. Having seen already he sees in advance” (OBT 260). Adorno views the idea of Being as “nothing more than an empty form-principle whose archaic dignity helps to cover any content whatsoever” (AP 120). This is the charge that the concept of Being is a general one, where any concept can support it without exhaustion and where Being is merely the totality of beings. But Adorno is quick to mention that Heidegger was aware of this problem, and indeed he was, considering that the “forgetting of Being”, for Heidegger of Being and Time, was precisely an issue of this sort, of failing to think Being as distinct from the totality of beings. This is why the question is, to begin with, important. Because the question has been lost, and the destruction of history is one way for Heidegger to “retrieve it”. However, Adorno’s main point of attack reflects the tautological nature of the question itself. And again, Adorno reflects on how Heidegger understood this problem, but neglects to investigate the presupposition characteristic of the circular argument within his idea of the priority of Being. The contention involves the way the priority of the question of Being is presupposed by the ontological originality of Being. Heidegger emphasises that the question of Being precedes that of the being of beings, with which the sciences limit their investigations to, yet the centrality of the fundamental question of Being already implies a decision as to its priority made and presupposed in the very form of the question itself. Although this is a problem acknowledged by Heidegger but subsequently avoided, Adorno goes to agree with him that “the task for philosophy is not to escape this circle but to enter it at the right point” (OD 16). Any philosophy with a “mania for foundations” is, for Adorno ultimately tautological in its presupposing of what is in need of explaining, and explaining what is already simultaneously posited.

Heidegger defines Dasein as the creature whose being is essentially determined by its ability to speak, and whose discoursing acts as the “guideline” for arriving at structures of beings we encounter in discussion (BT 24). Speech is characteristic of the Dialectic as a mode of enquiry famously performed by Socrates. Yet Heidegger goes so far as to say the Dialectic, exhibited by Plato and Socrates, is an embarrassment and superfluous, and it wasn’t until Aristotle, for Heidegger, that speech (Logos) can be placed on a more fundamental level. Logos, variously translated as speech, discourse, or reason, doesn’t only refer to discourse but, further, “what is being talked about” (30). Logos reveals something through speech, for the speaker. “What is said should be derived from what is being talked about” (31). Speech relates Dasein existentially to Being through the question. Questioning, for Heidegger, has an ‘aboutness’ to it – “what is interrogated [Befragtes] also belongs to questioning.” We are always already involved in an understanding of Being because Being is already available to Dasein in a certain way as formulated by the question. As Dasein, we do not know what Being is, only that we understand the isness of the ‘is’ in “what is being?” (4). For Heidegger, speech accounts for the pre-ontological status of Dasein that apprehends the objective presence (present-at-hand) of beings. Accordingly, and initially, being is interpreted as presence, thus initiating Heidegger’s project in Being and Time to investigate Dasein through the function of time.

Adorno provides a historical critique of Heidegger’s reliance on speech as uniquely relating to Being by, like Heidegger, trace back to Aristotle the relation between ontology and language by showing how Aristotle’s use of “categories” in his Metaphysics is tied up with speech itself, for category signifies “nothing more than ‘in accordance with speech’.” Adorno then goes to show how Kant later adopts Aristotle’s categories with few modifications, which had the result of relating language to being itself: “the pure forms of speech themselves are supposed to be the forms that say something about being itself” (OD 35-7). Thus, it is no stretch to say how Heidegger comes to adopt this relation between language and being when he goes to posit Dasein as the being for whom Being presents itself as problem, and this problem presents itself in the form of the question, of language. This is the moment when speech and Being have a direct compatibility with each other.

An ambiguity is then formed between a concept of Being (as one of identifying an object under a concept) and Being itself (immediate relation, via speech or language, between speaking-being (Dasein) and Being itself). We can agree here with Adorno that we cannot speak about Being without substituting Being for a concept of Being. Even the word Being signifies something that is not Being itself, for, as Adorno notes, this would be a kind of immediate relation we do not have. But the kind of ‘immediacy’ Heidegger seems to aim for is not between concept and object but between an ‘existential’ (as pertaining to the very nature of the speaker themself) question and the problem of what *is*, Being itself. Although this does not tell us what, exactly, Being is, it nevertheless gets us closer to a relation that is essentially problematic, and it is the nature of the problem (the disposition of reason) which relates, at least minimally, Dasein to Being. And so, the answer Heidegger has to provide is the question of the problematic of Being, of the problematic of the question itself.

In Heidegger’s later post-war writings, the problem of Being and the consequences of its forgetting underwent some significant changes from the time he wrote Being and Time. One of those changes puts into place the necessary relation between the essence of Being and of its being forgotten, for it puts into new perspective the “destiny” to which a new ‘man’ can arrive and understand the enigma of Being. Or further, that the essence of man rests in thinking the truth of Being (BT 281). This is important for the way Heidegger re-emphasises the importance of language as it relates to the essence of Being as to be found in the true meaning of ancient Greek thought or “saying”. In Heidegger’s text “Anaximander’s saying”, we see most clearly his presentation of the problem of Being as it relates to language, translation, and the latent political actualisation or “destining” of the world-historical truth of Greek thought. The text is an explication of a short fragment by Anaximander which aims to reveal what it is “saying” understood in terms of the truth of the language of the Greeks and their expression of Being, as opposed to a ‘historiographically’ mediated “opinion”. This is the first instance where language (of Being) binds any two historically remote periods. Such an attempt to understand what Anaximander is saying is complicated, for Heidegger, via the process of translation. This is how Heidegger’s reliance on original terminology in all its etymological significance can be seen as an attempt to preserve the truth of Being.

The reason for the need for ontology in Heidegger’s case can be explained in his analysis of the forgetting of Being.

Being forgets itself. This is what Heidegger effectively says. Being is concealed, both historically and constitutively, from those who try to pursue it. Because Heidegger tries to locate the primordiality of Being within Greek thought, he ascribes to this time a destiny to which, like Nietzsche’s “Overman”, a unique kind of people will come to understand the truth of Being as an epoch that relates together the past of Greek thought to a future epoch which embodies this Greek destiny of Being. The essence of Being is at once concealing and illuminating, and any attempt to unconceal it darkens the light of Being: “by revealing itself in being, being withdraws” (BT 253-4). The forgetting of Being is re-thought in terms of historically necessary misinterpretation. Throughout this history, the “destiny of the Greeks awaits for what will become of its seeds.” In connection to Adorno, we see Heidegger position the problem of Being in terms of the completion of metaphysics and the actualisation of its world-historical truth, similar in vain to the Hegelian Geist. A new world-history that effectively doubles as the pre-history of the ancient Greek world. Everything considered, Heidegger wants nothing more than to return to what already was or is. The question of Being finds its answer already given in the ancient world. The epochality of Being reveals Heidegger’s answer to the ontological need. For the need really is to get back to a kind of thinking that is violated by the historical developments of the sciences and technology. In this sense, Heidegger might agree with Adorno’s criticism that the focus on Being is a reaction against positivist science and remains as a philosophical remainder. Yet Heidegger’s is a reaction tout court. The problem of Being is essentially that remainder which has been omitted from the history of thinking itself. The stakes at which Heidegger is dealing with are explicitly shown when he says, “in an exaggerated way which nevertheless touches on the truth”, the “destiny of the West rests on the translation of the word ἐόν (being [seiend]), given that the translation [Ubersetzung] is a crossing over [Ubersetzung] to the truth of what comes to language in the ἐόν” (260).

Adorno’s rejection of Heidegger’s ontological need for retrieving the forgotten question of Being is by showing how its formulation was a uniquely modern reaction against the development of scientific research and positivist thinking. Both Adorno and Heidegger agree on this point, that a critique of positivist thinking rests on a resistance against the reification and objectivising of the world into facts. For Adorno, Heidegger’s need to regress to the Greeks is an effect of formulating questions that are authentically philosophical away and against any attempt to answer it scientifically. And it is here that the problem of Being emerges as a “remainder” of philosophical enquiry against the dominance of positivism. Moreover, the ontological need is positioned against the backdrop of the failure of Hegelianism, and where the stagnation of philosophy after Hegel was fulfilled once again as an exciting new attempt to move philosophy beyond the confines of the study of particular branches, itself an effect of the institutionalisation of philosophy. “The ontological need is an index of lack”, says Adorno (OD 104), left there not only from the failure of Hegel to fulfil his promise of thinking totality, but also of correlating with the consciousness of society, instead of “lagging behind”. If philosophy is to promise anything, and we see this in Adorno’s comments on praxis, it is to actualise along with the development of society.

What is preventing philosophy’s actualisation is, among other things, the problem of the status of ‘man’ or the individual. Because the problem of Being concerns, fundamentally, the question of the human being, a subsidiary question is (archaically) posed: what or who is man? Adorno, directs another point of attack towards the regurgitation of the idea of ‘man’ as found in Heidegger but also, says Adorno, the day-to-day life of marketing ads which “proves” that man himself does not exist. The lack involved in the ontological need refers, in part, to filling with meaning what already lacks meaning – life itself. Although Adorno is not making the claim life is meaningless, he is pointing to the phenomena that philosophising continues insofar as people substitute the emptiness of life for concepts (OD 150). Fatalistically perhaps, Adorno says philosophy itself ultimately becomes a kind of market to which people are more easily deceived about their own loss of humanity within the concepts they use. The failure of philosophy to actualise effectuates its own perpetuation as compensation. Such a position presses stronger in Adorno’s claim that humanity is not identical to the concept of freedom, for the concept merely puts in place what we have essentially lost. From this we see an essential difference between Adorno and Heidegger concerning the actuality of philosophy based on this question of man. It is only through an elucidation of Dasein and Being that philosophy, for Heidegger, can be realised and metaphysics ‘ends’. Yet for Adorno, philosophy is there to conceal the fundamental loss of man itself, in which case the attempt to end metaphysics through it is mere deception, a philosophical and ideological veil.

Adorno’s comments on the loss of man nicely relate back to the Heideggerian need to provide an answer for Kant’s question: how is metaphysics as a natural predisposition possible? In their own ways, it can be shown that Adorno and Heidegger are both implicitly responding to this question as it concerns not only investigating the nature of the human being but also the actualisation of philosophy. For it seems that what Adorno and Heidegger have in common, above all, is their shared reliance on the question of the individual as it relates to the development of an idealised social life. This essay accepts as convincing Adorno’s critique of Heidegger’s project in pointing to both its philosophical and, importantly, ideological failures, but the question remains open as to what a historically and dialectically informed investigation can do to answer the fundamental problem of the “fate of reason”. To ask such a question is to provide an answer for what is, which Adorno’s negative ontology rejects for an ‘ontology of false things’, namely of what is not. But it remains to be said whether a picture of humanity and philosophy’s historical actuality can only be considered via negativa, and whether the fate of reason is to be shown as an effect of historical determinations (not unique to capitalism, for its genealogy can be traced to the beginning of philosophy itself) or if it is ‘internal’, that is to say ontologically and psychically, to thinking beings themselves. To repeat Adorno we continue to ask, because we must ask, what is the need of philosophy itself if not to compensate for its perpetual failure? This is the point Adorno’s own work pivots on, in that we cannot drop philosophical enquiry for the blind sake of political practice, instead we must think praxis alongside philosophy, but we also have to resist the need for philosophising as compensation for the failure of praxis. Is need constituted or constitutive of man? How do we get out of this deadlock?


  1. CPR = Kant, Immanuel. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Critique of Pure Reason. 15th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  2. ND = Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. Dennis Redmond, (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970; online, 2001)
  3. OD = Theodor Adorno, Ontology and Dialectics, trans. Nicholas Walker, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019)
  4. AP = Theodor Adorno, “The Actuality of Philosophy”, Telos Press Publishing, (1997, vol. 31): 120-133, doi: 10.3817/0377031120
  5. K = Theodor Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Rodney Livingstone, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001)
  6. KPM = Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. 5th ed., trans. Richard Taft, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1997)
  7. IM = Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 2nd ed. trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt, (London: Yale University Press, 2014)
  8. BT = Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010)
  9. OBT = Martin Heidegger, Off The Beaten Track, trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

[1] Echoing Kant’s maturation of reason in “What is Enlightenment”?

[2] Does this also mean that the question of philosophy’s own actuality cannot be answered for?


The “no” of psychoanalysis

Within the opening sentences of Sigmund Freud’s short text ‘Negation’, it is important to learn that the resistance displayed by the patients “no” is not a reply to a question posed by the analyst, but a reply to a pre-supposed question provided, or projected, by the patient speaking on behalf of the supposed motives or beliefs of the analyst. It is in this way that we can say the presence of negation is an example of the patient themselves, paradoxically, instigating analysis. Paradoxical because at once the negation refers to a refusal of analysis ‘proper’ taking place, that is, by denying the significance of some content and not others in allowing the analyst to help them in all their symptoms (or perhaps the patient preemptively decides for themselves exactly what symptoms are in need of treating) while also initiating the beginning of analysis by being the first to propose an interpretation – we might ask: where, and with whom, does analysis begin?[1]

This double movement is expressed by the patient’s own very first words “you may think that I. . .”. The patient is not in analysis for no reason, so it must attest to their presence within the clinical setting that expectations and assumptions be met. It could be said that the mere entering of the clinic allows for the possibility for patients to encounter their own identity and away from the general psychological solipsism of everyday life by allowing them to recognise themselves self-consciously with, through, against the analyst. This is where the truth in the fortune-cracker wisdom, “happiness begins with yourself”, can emerge, yet only, or especially, aided within the clinic with the help of the analyst. Interpretation is not provided by the analyst, it already exists with the patient. The task is, however, to couch it.

What this brief comment aims to show is that the existence of the No is intimately tied to the question and/or problem of the role of interpretation in the analytic experience, or to make note of the many interpretations of the No as itself a symptom of the multifacetedness of the concept itself that is confronted by Freud throughout his career.

Within this essay, I will comment upon the various interpretations of the No and comparatively analyse the way these interpretations affect the very status of the No itself, and finally, but primarily, explore the differing ways the expression of No subsequently reveals the multiple dimensions of a latent “yes” that lies behind the negation in ways that contradict one another depending on the object of association linked with the negation. This will include Freud on fetishism, Alenka Zupančič on the crack or gap within the unconscious, Martin Heidegger on the self-recognition of Dasein, and Andre Green on displaced desire.

The No begins, Freud notes, as a “rejection by way of projection, of an idea that has just come up (my italics)”. The rejection has its significance via the strength of the idea the patient enforces upon himself that he must expel as quickly as possible, there is nowhere for it to go but out. The by-now classic example Freud gives is of a patient recounting a dream, saying “you ask who this person in the dream can be. It is not my mother!” with Freud replying “then it is your mother”. The reason for this conclusion is that by associating negation with unconscious repressed material, any negation can be said to be the contrary, i.e. it exhibits the workings of the unconscious process. But this is not a simple formula – no means yes –  for it says nothing about the form of the repressed material, which is its condition for emerging, which would otherwise lead us to naively adopting the content of the negation, namely, the object “mother”.

If the content of the repression is not the object “mother” per se, it is because the “mother” reveals the mechanism of unconscious censorship, and brings us to ask for what reason is the patient censoring a content for which presents itself as “mother”. The truthfulness of the negation, then, lies not with the content but with the reality of the “intrusion of the unconscious”, a distortion. This distortion brings to light what Zupančič refers to as the crack or gap within the unconscious where the No is to be thought not as an instrument of the unconscious, patching up the gaps of repression, but as the ground both of itself and the condition of repression as such.[2] This is why Freud must not end but begin with the negation, for the truth in the symptom of the no is not only in its content but also, and importantly, in the form of its expression, the condition of repression.

The method of extracting information, or the truth of their symptom, from a patient has its significance in getting the patient to think the unthinkable, or, to “imagine what is most unlikely”, to reach the farthest depths of the psyche. If the patient falls into this “trap”, Freud believes he will almost always get his answer, namely, the truth as the symptom, albeit only the beginning of thoroughly grounding this truth.

Instead of affirming the opposite of the negation getting the answer we want and see this as a sign of the end of analysis, following Zupančič we say that this is only the very beginning, that is, the point when analysis proper can take place. Like the fetishist, the patient can come to recognise their symptom, but only “intellectually”, yet the (cause of the) symptom still persists, the “negation itself is negated”, and so it is the negating process which must be understood. Jean Hyppolite reminds us that there is no “no” in the unconscious, but its recognition on the part of the ego “demonstrates that the ego is always misrecognition.”[3] This is where the source of denial can be seen to come from. The patient rejects what is otherwise alien from them, reject, and eject, that source of negativity they unconsciously do not want to consume within their ego. As a consequence, an ego is an imaginary ideal by way of what it has negated, the ego is what is left after the rejection of negativity. But such negativity never really goes, instead it remains, but unrecognised by the ego.

What the slip or utterance of the mother reveals with regard to the unconscious mechanism of negation is that it reveals something hidden but only in a way that what we miss is the literality of its existence when we try to apprehend its “latent content”. Paradoxically, what the patient wanted to say is precisely what he did say, because what he said was the direct consequence of the negation itself.[4]

The peculiar uniqueness of the patient’s negation is that the truth of the symptom immediately reveals itself via negativa. As Zupančič nicely summarizes: “every explicit negation, every strongly emphasised distancing from a certain content, strongly indicates the truth of precisely this content”.[5] What Freud understood, and what Lacan emphasises, is that within the analytic setting no utterance is free of significance. Lacan makes the case that there is no reason to exclude the knowledge given by the patient of their own psychical phenomena, even if what they present contradicts what the cause of the symptom is, because it is in analysing this contradiction (the patients’ disavowal) that we can begin to understand the symptom. This means that the analyst no longer chooses among the various psychical reactions which are significant or not, but begins by “no longer choosing”. Lacan calls this the “law of non-omission”.[6] The significance of the discovery of negation is that it reveals a double function of meaning. Although what a patient says may “have no meaning”, it is in their saying to the analyst that it conceals one anyway.

The apparent and literal status of negativity is nicely demonstrated in Todd McGowan’s review of Alenka Zupančič’s book What Is Sex?, highlighting the relationship between Martin Heidegger or existentialism and psychoanalysis. Such a connection rests upon the notion of nothing and its relationship to subjectivity. Like Freud’s negation, the way we relate to or name the nothing, for Heidegger, is through the confrontation and recognition of the anxiety we feel when in contact with the nothing itself. Heidegger says we are accustomed to dismiss, or deny, a possible fright as being really nothing, yet the paradoxical moment is that such a denial correctly identifies, without knowing it, the way we ontically reach the nothing “by way of talking”. It is through this anxious negation that we approach the nothing. When we dismiss something, the object cause of our anxiety, “as nothing”, we “ironically identify the cause correctly”. When we say nothing, we really mean nothing. Compared with Freud’s comments on negation, the patient first arrives at a truth from the last place they look, “the most unlikely imaginable thing” and the “furthest from the mind”, whereas with Heidegger, the nothing is the last thing we arrive at from the first place we look. What they both share is the primary misrecognition of the no-thing. The question is whether we recognise the nothing as nothing upon its dismissal or, as with Freud’s patient, negate this negation. And whether, clinically, we can reconcile this anxiety of the nothing as being the constitutive feature of our subjectivity. The difference between Heidegger and Freud on the role of no-thing is whether what is negated is produced by way of projection (Freud) or what is denied is what already exists (Heidegger). For Freud, negation is constitutive within subjectivity, for Heidegger, the nothing exists alongside or with Dasein. In other words, the difference comes down to the gap (or lack thereof) within the subject. McGowan concludes that if there is anything to be made between psychoanalysis and Heidegger, we have to avoid talk of “authentic being courageously enduring the anxiety of the nothing”, but instead, of “recognising the impossibility of any authenticity”, that “none of us can attain a privileged relation to nothing”.[7] The question remains: how do we recognise this nothing as our nothing? The similarities between Freud and Heidegger does not only concern the denial of the no-thing, but also how the subject responds to this encounter through the affect of fright or anxiety. In his text on fetishsism, Freud draws in a lot of the ideas mentioned above, of negation, denial, anxiety, etc, when confronting the problem of castration and how the subject, or young child (typically male) is provided with the opportunity of developing a fetish as the symptomatic effect of denying the non-existence of his mother’s phallus.

If a patient comes to recognise and accept the contents of what is repressed, they do so through negative judgement. Such a process helps thinking free itself from the restrictions of repression and becomes the indispensable material which allows for the proper function of thinking. The importance of judgement, for Freud, has to do with the way an ego comes to organise its reality, in a yes or no logic, by, first, consuming or internalising everything which it finds pleasurable and spitting out or keeping outside the ego – avoided – that which it finds unpleasurable. This is the function of the pleasure-ego. The second stage of judgement, this time by the reality-ego, is to find these pleasurable objects it has internalised back out into reality. What was once consumed with the ego is now re-presented in reality. The ego repeats reality for itself in a way that complicates two-fold the distinction between inner-subjective and outer-objective. What Freud emphasized about the second stage of the reality-ego is that it refinds these pleasurable objects in reality  so as to convince itself of their continual existence. Reality is re-produced, or mediated, by the ego. From this, we can better understand the role disavowal plays in the castration complex. In the case of fetishism, the child is confronted with a reality, or the non-reality of an object, which it does not like and so denies it by no longer recognising it. But the problem the child now faces is in refinding this object, the mothers phallus, that never existed back out in reality. The child cannot do so by pretending the object continues to exist as he thought he knew it before, but to refind it through substitution of another object. The fetishised object has its significance because, so long as it exists or remains, the trauma of the encounter with the missing phallus can be avoided. A fetish is one way of disavowing trauma of castration. But it is also an affirmation of the trauma itself in a way that the fetish simultaneously conceals and points towards its lack.

Slavoj Žižek further extends the fetishist disavowal by pointing to the way that the confrontation with castration is itself a disavowal of a prior expectation that, in contrast to man, the woman did not simply lose her phallus but never had it to begin with. The question Žižek draws our attention to is why women’s lack of phallus results in castration? Because it is against the background of expectation that the child should see a phallus.[8] It is here that we can re-mention the reality principle of the ego. The child takes cognizance of his own phallus, deems it a source of pleasure and therefore grants it a place in his reality, and then expects to refind it everywhere else. Castration presents itself as a destroyer of reality. Its disavowal is reality protection. Protection is an important concept with regard to disavowal for the reason that, in the case of a child, the way to protect itself from loss is by dominating and mastering it that may take the form either of fetishsim, play, fantasy, etc. Mastery is to take control of one’s own trauma, or death. To play with absence, as Paul Ricoeur says, is to dominate it.[9] This is most fully elaborated in the well-known example provided by Freud of the game fort-da. The reality principle, for Ricoeur, involves mastery insofar as the ego tries to recompense for the absence or loss of the object previously consumed by the pleasure-ego refinding it in reality.[10] When upon the child faced with the mother’s non-phallus the defence against this crucial fright is not to withdraw but to master it in ways that manifest either as substitution, as is the case with fetishsism, or through the repetition of this trauma, as is the case with fort-da.

A fetish may develop when, in the course of the development of the child’s psyche, it is normal that when confronted with his mother’s lack of a phallus he should accept and give this fact up. From the child’s invested belief in the existence of his mother’s phallus, he comes to reject this by refusing to take cognizance of this loss, for “no human being is spared the fright of castration at the sight of a female genital”.[11] Such refusal relates to how the child’s ego does not want his reality disrupted. The child is then under obligation, as a matter of psychic survival, to be able to do so by substituting this non-phallus for another object, and the fetish exists because it is designed to preserve this loss from extinction. It is important to note that this negation is not a repression, for as Freud says repression relates to affects, but a disavowal of an idea. As such, the child’s belief in his mother’s phallus remains intact, though altered. Under the guise of unconscious thought, the child strikes up a compromise, his mother has got a phallus, in spite of everything, but it is no longer the same as it was before.[12] The negation of one thing has been transferred to the acceptance of another. The fetish remains a “token of triumph” over the threat of castration. What goes into the making of this seeming ‘decision’ of substitution? Perhaps it results from a symbolic swap of the image of the phallus, or perhaps, as Freud preferred, the choice is not altogether arbitrary and is instead a residue of a traumatic memory at the scene of castration. This would explain, for Freud, why so many fetishsits have as their object-choice shoes or feet because the child is at ground level. The ability of the feitishsit to comfortably accept his fetish is because it is not known by others and so cannot either be used against him nor withheld from him, which means no sense of prohibition is felt and thus no reason to deny or reject its existence. And perhaps it would no longer be a fetish if  indeed it did have to be rejected.

The ego of the humorist likewise refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality through the  trivializing of suffering by way of regressing back to a child-like state. The humorist simultaneously adopts the role of both child and adult reflecting what is the internalisation of the superego, which allows for the ego to transpose negativity out onto the superego. In his text Humour, Freud further develops the notion of the superego’s function of prohibition by introducing the temporary lifting of restrictions which gives the ego a small, liberatory, sense of pleasure expressed through humour. Although Freud leaves open the complexity of this new insight of the role of the superego, we can say that its function is now, on the face of it, not an all-consuming No, even if what little comfort it may give to the ego takes place as a narcissistic illusion, but a strategic permissiveness.[13] For the fetishist, the superego remains absent which forces the ego to convert this trauma into a new object, whereas for the humorist, the presence of the superego means that the trauma can be reduced to a trivial illusion.

Andre Green provides a unique case study of the notion of negation in the clinical setting when he shows that every no hides a surreptitious yes, and he calls this a negative affirmation.[14] Although Freud says plainly that every negation reveals an affirmative judgement, he does not go into explaining why negation exists as an effect of prior familial relations between patient and, in most cases, their parents. Instead, he emphasises the fantasmatic dimension of the no in relation to the content of a trauma, without regard for a displaced desire directed towards an object outside the child-parent relation. This is where Green gives further insight provided into negative affirmation by an example of one his case studies of a young woman called ‘Ninon’. As a young girl, Ninon had a troubled relationship with her authoritative mother that resulted in Ninon developing distress, anorexia, selective-mutism towards strangers, and a phobia of going to school for fear of leaving her mothers side. After many failed interventions made by Green in analysis and after many responses by Ninon in the form of “I don’t know” and emphatic “No”’s, Green could not work out the reason for the correlation between these symptoms and Ninon’s resistance, until he picks upon a story remembered by Ninon of the traumatic “tomato-rice dish” episode. After young Ninon refused to eat the dish her mother made, her mother trapped her into a corner and tried to force Ninon to eat a mouthful. When Ninon spat it out, her mother threatened Ninon by sending her to school, dragging her there despite Ninon’s screams and tears. From this scenario we can say that the desire hidden in the ‘no’ of the refusal to eat the food was that Ninon did in fact want to go to school, but her mother’s ambivalence prevented her from doing so, for which the mother was even upset at the prospect that Ninon had done well in school.

Compared with Freud’s example, it is not that upon refusing to eat the food Ninon really did, in fact, want to eat the food because the food itself was not the site of trauma as such but its trigger. The same goes for the patient denying his mothers presence in his dream, in that the real cause of the symptom is not necessarily the object ‘mother’. In the case of Ninon, perhaps we can say that the food was an arbitrary vantage point from which Ninon can reject her mothers wishes in order to fulfill her own (hidden) desires. But the paradox that emerges from this is the fact that Ninon, in later years, suffered with anorexia, in which upon its analysis, we would incorrectly trace this symptom as having been a direct consequence of the tomato-rice dish episode, rather than as an associated illness for which the real cause still remains hidden. Complementing Zupančič’s comment on the truthfulness of negation, Andre Green says that far from being the obstacle of truth, the function of resistance is its lever.[15]

In ‘Negation’, Freud did not go into the details of what exactly the ‘affirmation’ behind the negation amounted to. But through our studies of the various ways the No can conceal an alternative Yes, the status of this ‘yes’ can vastly differ depending on the alternative object associated with or away from the ‘mother’ (as presented in the patients dream).

To conclude, I will briefly recount and provide different possible answers with respect to the thinkers we have discussed. By doing so, the question must be asked: What is the ‘yes’?

For Zupančič, there is no yes’, strictly speaking, instead, what the negation reveals is the very gap that constitutes and conditions the unconscious itself. There is an irreducible and irreparable crack that surfaces as a symptom and works as the structuring of repression itself. The paradoxical conclusion that can emerge from this is that the object ‘mother’ could signify not only ‘not-mother’ but also, and more significantly, a ‘not-not-mother’. This is a crucial and fatalistic insight that views the sources of trauma residing solely within the gaps of the unconscious. For Freud, in the case of fetishism, the ‘yes’ as revealed in the fetish-object is not a prior hidden desire but one that forces its way into existence as a defense mechanism against the trauma of the No. In this way, the ‘yes’ is completely arbitrary yet necessary. What is desired is the preservation of reality made up of objects. For Heidegger, the No encounters itself in the self-recognition of the ‘yes’, that is, the presentation of nothing necessarily allows the subject to regress back to what it always already was, Dasein. For Green, the ‘yes’ is a displaced desire of the No. It is expressed as a kind of fate: “If I can’t do this, then that leaves me no choice but to do this other thing”. Forced choice turns out to be achieving what one already wanted. Such a choice simultaneously lessens the responsibility of saying ‘yes’ while heightening the capacity to enjoy this ‘yes’ as transgressed desire.

[1] We could also extend this idea by speculating on how the patient’s call to begin analysis functions within analysis.

[2] Alenka Zupančič, “Not-Mother: On Freud’s Verneinung”, e-flux #33 (2012)

[3] Jacques Lacan, “Appendix I: A Spoken Commentary on Freud’s “Verneinung” by Jean Hyppolite” in Écrits, ed. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 753

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jacques Lacan, “Beyond the “Reality Principle”” in Écrits, ed. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 66

[7] Todd McGowan, “What Is Nothing?: Alenka Zupančič with Martin Heidegger”, Continental Thought & Theory #2

[8] Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a political factor, 2nd ed. (London: Verso Books), 174-5 

[9] Paul Ricoeur, Freud & Philosophy: An Essay On Interpretation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), 314

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sigmund Freud, “Fetishism” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume XXI, ed. Anna Freud, James Strachey (London: Vintage Books 2001), 154

[12] Ibid.

[13] Sigmund Freud, “Humour” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume XXI, ed. Anna Freud, James Strachey (London: Vintage Books 2001), 162-6

[14] Andre Green, “Negation and Contradiction” in On Private Madness (London: The Hogarth Press, 1986; repr., London: Karnac Books, 2005), 257

[15] Ibid., 262

Art Criticism, essai, Philosophy of Art

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!





essai, Uncategorized

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. 




essai, Social Media

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. 


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.


essai, Review

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.



Art Criticism, essai, Philosophy of Art

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.


Art Criticism, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized

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.


Art Criticism, essai, Philosophy of Art

Aesthetics, or, The Capitalist Production of Cultural Logic  __

The Transfiguration of Objects

Capitalism is the corporal management of attitudes set and made standard practise under its own manufactured conditions.

I.    The Dead Flesh of Ouroboros:

Artists and their Art are deeply concerned with themselves. Not only do we take their megalomania as a symptomatic corruption by the ideal goal set by the self-initiating exploration searching for the sublime, but, conversely, their Art too has and now does only ever exist in spite of itself. All Art is born to be itself. Yet how at this point, tethering on the end of the history of Art, do such objects come to be conceived? The answer lies in what Art, as it has come to be know distinct from ‘mere’ craft, has preoccupied itself with, namely, the hysterical self-conscious questioning of its own existence and what it really means to be Art and in what way. The very moment Art began to question itself with the infamous hysterical insight “What is Art?” is the moment it began to dig its own grave. In short, Art has adopted the appearance of the pathological Artist-as-Human who seeks nothing more than to try and define itself. And if we take answers provided by the likes of Stirner, Hegel, or Lacan etc. that the subject is nothing but a void – and if Art is only just a hysterical projection or transference from the Artist – then the artobject too is nothing but a void. And quite rightly. Contemporary Art has still yet to shake off the dominant and persistent artistic movement of the 60’s; Conceptual Art. The artobject here is really only the many layered appearances apprehensively masquerading its own void by way of shrouding itself with ideas or spooks. In fact, so eager to disallow anyone from believing that Art is nothing, Artists frantically inject too many concepts into the work that it reveals to us the ever more potent fact that what they are hiding is literally just nothing itself. The eagerness to repress the secret is a sign of the Artist’s own acknowledgment – and cynical denial – of the void of the work itself. In psychoanalytic terms, it could be seen as a self defense mechanism of Reaction Formation which seeks to overemphasize what one or some thing is not in order to distract oneself and others from what it is. E.g. Homophobia could be a sign of one not coming to terms with their own homosexual desire which they seek to repress in the form of attack against oneself and (similar) others.

To reiterate, The History of Art has concerned itself with defining itself (subsequently pushing forward what it is to define art in the name of ‘progress’), and Contemporary Artists have taken what was once thought to be the end of Art – originating with Duchamp followed by Warhol – and make it their biggest strength. The perpetual pushing forwards of what defines art by creating non-art. Once thought to be a deficit and boundary of what Art can be, thus putting some limit on what can be produced, Artists have now taken this limit, and the perpetual breaching and extending of it, as their primary goal. The Artist of the 21st Century is the Transgressive Artist. Yet this transgression itself has been capitalised into a moot, flaccid and ultimately boring, myopic, bourgeois commodified fantasy. Artists of this sort eternally create for themselves an infinitely regressing attempt at creating what shouldn’t be thought of as art (as thought of in their own terms). In fact they long for such a chance to be captured and pinned to the ground, limited and confined so as to even have the motive for acts of transgression. They need reasons for breaking a cage they wish they had. As David Foster Wallace said about postmodernism: “irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage”, or better, “irony is the song of a bird whose come to love its cage”. Any chance at being the champion who ruptures and break from the status quo. It seems now that everybody wants to be the Architect and no one the builder.

II.    The Anti-reification of Contemporary Art:

If reification is the process by which conceptual processes concretise into material objects (e.g. The wedding ring is the concretised object of an abstract process – the wedding itself), then the way Art is produced now is the reverse. It takes itself as an a priori artobject waiting to be confirmed and validated and bestowed the title as such upon its very questioning of itself. Just in the way an Exhibition might host “avant garde” or “Experimental” art – placing non-art in a space ready to be reified into the status of an art object by way of its merely being presented as itself (an answer exemplified by the Institutional Theory). The Art questions itself into existence. What defines the artobject here is not in any of the qualities the artobject might possess, but in the process which enables an object to be transfigured into an artobject – It is this process we must explore.

In our attempt to think about what art is, we can no longer ignore the moments and ways in which it is produced – the production of art (commodities?). With Art and Late Capitalism increasingly intimate relationship, it’s no wonder the production of art-making itself have become at the forefront for what it means to be art. Art has become self-conscious of itself. It is a reified product created only to be created, produced only be be apart of a cycle of production. The artobject now, under the influence of Late Capitalism and the Market, exists and is defined and valued solely on its very own capacity for existing and being. In the only way the Market knows how, how we seperate, distinguish, and categorise artobjects from each other is in terms of their revenue, status, monetary value, and/or fame (The Indistinguishables alluded to by Danto). ‘Value’ can even be hereditary. In once sense, ‘great’ art is produced only by ‘great’ artists. This means that not only are there moments where the aesthetic joy given off by artobjects always has to be traced back to some creator or author, but, that ‘great’ artists are themselves produced from the status and monetary value which their artwork has acquired. In fact, it is no longer possible – if it ever has been – for a once heralded and championed artist of his time to no longer produce work that is not art, or non-art. He/She may produce bad art, but this never seems like a disqualification of what it ought to be for it be art. And yet, under Late Capitalism, is this a surprise? If bad publicity is good publicity, then any bad art produced is ultimately the successful route on towards being an artist if art is to be defined by its ability to have fame, status and subsequently, monetary value. Is it any surprise then that a place like Tate reveals once every year a series of bad artworks? Bad in the sense of knowingly causing public upset under its own rubric of middlebrow transgression – eager and in anticipation of the very publicity stunt that’s used in order to up the ante and status of the work in question. “Quick, come look at all the Bad Art we are showing”, “Just look how terrible it all is!”. Media Commentators storming in through the entrance lapping up all the delicious content to booster their own ego wherein they are merely playing into the fantasy role of the puritan. Capitalism interpellates us as brutish and puritanical in order to paradoxically keep us in control from our selves whilst exposing us to its own transgression. At one and the same time, the image of the people in the eyes of Capitalism is one of either the transgressive and barbaric violent individuals, or, when it comes to culture, of that of the prudish lower class philistine who doesn’t know any better. And all this remains so, however, for as long as we judge the quality of the artwork, its artness, in terms solely of fame and monetary value.

The status any artwork achieves is through an anti-reification process of a very neatly constructed Event. It is the Event which allows us to see anything in this circumstance as becoming art. The Event is, in some respects, an ideological tool for propaganda used for profit.   

III.    The Artistic Fallacy:

Under this logic of Contemporary Art, an Artistic Fallacy is born out of the consequence of judging art only by its globility, recognition, status, fame, money and value is that we are no longer able to discern the difference between what is art and what isn’t. Now, although it is my project that any object – whether created with intent or not – can have the capacity for being art, this does not mean everything is art at one and the same time. And yet, under the Capitalist criteria, what stops something such as the iPhone from being Art? The point is not really to say iPhones ought to be considered Art but that this reveals yet another contradiction and hypocrisy to the function of Capital by subverting what it appears to be providing on the surface whilst secretly providing for itself new rules and regulations with which enables the art world to secretly manage for themselves a set of criteria for what can be considered art (or presented in a nice museum) by exploiting the system and the people who lose out (other artists and its audience). It reveals and concludes and already known yet often ignored reality; that an organisation as big as the artworld is running an exclusive club handing out vip tickets. What this means is that in fact they don’t really care about transgression, they care only for the objects which draws themselves profit, usually by providing provocative art, and refer to this as that which can be only transgressive. It is a particular bourgeoisie transgression that turns out to be a conservatism, by distancing themselves away from the more trashy, punk/pop, filthy, ‘low’ transgression in favour of a middlebrow anarchy that is all too concerned with the state of their own house after they trash it. It seems that from institution to institution – Tate to Moma to Guggenheim and back again -, they hold for themselves a private-language accessible to those who don’t speak it and barred from ever having the opportunity to learn it. The additional point is despite their agenda, they really dont have for themselves a coherent system of curating artobjects. There is no criteria with which they go by because it purposely is constricted, limited, and confined only to those who they want to be apart of it. There is nothing anyone can ever do to allow themselves to join the party because it is about controlling the heads within and without of that party. Art Institutions are scouters, picking out and thus creating and forming (or manipulating) and curating their own version of Art History. Yet the problem is not what a Institution has to do in order to contribute to a history of Art, it’s in the very way they conduct their methods to how they contribute to history. And so there are two reasons why the iPhone isnt art under their framework: 1. It wouldn’t provide them with the type of Transgression and subsequent audience provocation to produce the desired Event needed to validate it as art, and 2. That they in fact hold to some degree a standard (orthodox) quality of Art using a list of mediums and techniques we can count on our fingers; painting, sculpture, installation, performance etc. – An iphone is neither one of these things. Not even a readymade. Which means, crucially and maliciously, the production of the so called transgressive artobject is used only for the purpose of capitalist exchange for those at the top. With no real care, trading art objects like their trading cards in an attempt to satisfy themselves.

IV.    The Incentives for Creating:

Why does one (begin to) create? Certainly not with the hope of ever getting enough money to make a living from. And yet Young Artists are still nonetheless perfectly emulating the role of the Successful Artist they most admire by producing mintaure simulacrums of their works in hope they too may be discovered in a similar fashion. No single Artist – including all icons of our contemporary age – started off with the belief or motivation to create as a means to get rich and famous. It’s not that Capitalism produces the incentive for creating art but that it provides us with a map, a guide, a cookie-cutter shaped empty form, which expects us to nicely and tightly fill ourselves in – follow the path to success – in order to be rewarded with what it can offer. And as a result, all artistic production that aspires to traverse the same road laid out by the Market/Capital slowly synchronises into a single, unified, frankensteinian coagulation of dead matter made up of monotonous, boring, uncreating, bland, uninspiring, insincere parts. Yet by saying this, what alternatives am I really proposing? To not follow the path of the capitalist layed out with the assurance that this is the way towards their hopes, dreams and aspirations? By condemning them to a life of poverty? No. Although this does reveal the malign options Capitalism presents us with. Follow me and you can achieve Glory, and if not, you’re on your own kid and there’s nothing you can do that will guarantee your success because we simply won’t allow it under your terms! What is the incentive for choosing your own path in a step towards creative sincerity if what artists get rewarded for are works that are less and less uncreatively imaginative? Art is competitive, no doubt. But what are the rules for competing? These are the criteria set by the artworld. As generally conceived, it is not to create a technically brilliant drawing/painting/sculpture to be considered as a necessary criteria to be art but instead for a work to transgress and redefine itself as an art object. The more outrageous you can think to un-create art, the more likely you are to create an object to which you wish to destroy straight away, to transgress once more. Because the very moment you create art is the very moment it becomes canonized and no longer transgressive. All contemporary art is historical. In a competition like this, why should one bother to create a sincere and true to themselves artwork if one can be rewarded for doing much less and much worse? What incentive other than pride keeps me going which sinks like a ship in this economy? There’s nothing to be proud over, says the face of Capitalism. In its eyes we are the Hobbesian ideal of the brutish and nasty subject ready to terrorise and willing to fight to the top. Yet this is nothing other than a fantasy projected onto us. Another empty form is provided for us for us to fill so it can have the motivation and reason for keeping us at bay – from invoking violence. It wants to protect us from ourselves by constraining us. This empty form shows what we are and what we have to do to get out of this mess, to get out of ourselves – the only way out is through capitalism, holding its hand.

V.    The propaganda of The Museum: (And Whither Doest This Experience Cometh From?)

The means provided by the Transfiguration of the Event (The Museum) is a production and provider/host of a set of faux-aesthetic experiences received by its audience as genuine, authentic, internalised and thus ‘authentically’ attributing any feeling to the objects under the condition of the Event (Museum) itself. In other words, the ‘positive’ experience we may feel from any given artobject is then not necessarily from the object itself but, in harsh terms, manipulated and prescribed for us by the means or process of the hosting of the Event itself. Because if we agree that the kinds of Art that make its way into the golden towers of Institutions, it’s not because of what the artobject is per se – its quality and artistic value – but the very process into getting that once-upon-a-time non-art object into a process that leads to its transfiguration by way of placing it in the very conditions of the Event itself – thus allowing it to achieve its value. Which means, whatever feeling you may feel is not necessarily from a projection of the artobject itself but from the apprehension of witnessing and spectating the Event in which you are in and in which you play a key role. What this entails or reveals is the possibility of being duped into associating quality to the work itself rather than the Event which gave rise to it. For if the art object is in a Museum then it must be genuine!

An example for this kind of trickery is in the way we react to Celebrities. Much like the alchemical transformation of an object into an artobject, so too does the object of celebrity have its own transfiguration formed from an Event. Just think of how one can go about fooling a mass of people, along with their followers online, into believing one is a celebrity by way of adopting the appropriate symbolic imagery – the stereotypes, the commodities, and the attitude. The Event of ‘celebritizing’ yourself is what induces people into acquiring and adopting the false belief and experience that you are a celebrity. Where celebrity was once defined in terms of consensus and social recognition – lots of people knowing you. We now only have to adopt the image of being already-known, already a valid celebrity, by wearing its trademarks. For instance, walk into any shopping centre with some sunglasses, quality high art street wear, a couple of bodyguards and even some friends to take your picture as ‘paparazzi’ or have them sign autographs – from this you will have made for yourself an Event in which people can fall into and hook and invest their fantasies into. What’s more, the reason this works more than ever, much like the famous Contemporary artobjects, is because of the growing self-aware ego of the individual who knows full well about the nature of the Event. Just evident by the fact that they are constantly creating an Event of their own identity, presenting themselves as something they long to be. And so, it’s not that the fake-celebrity itself, as object, who affects the hearts of those who wish to interact with a celebrity (maybe some), but that people wants to be seen with the image of a celebrity for their own gain, for their own solidification of their Event. And isn’t this what Trend really is? A network of Events being created with no discernible reality to them? The Instagram stars of the world want only to appear to be in the presence of someone appearing to be a celebrity. A matryoshka production of simulations. Debord is still more pertinent than ever when all that matters is not to be, or to act, but to appear! At least he looks famous! Why else would this artwork be in a museum? The point to this is that those pleasurable aesthetic experiences we have – although real – are really only the appearance or deferral of some other entirely different experience. And it is the job of the Market to capitalise on this appearance by substituting the artificial Event for the art object. Because they cant sell processes…

The question to all this is not in asking what is an art object or celebrity, but in how those object came to be. It is not What is Art, but, What is the thing we call Art.

VI.    Low Art, Pulp, Outsider Art, Transgression and the Clean Arsehole of the Bourgeoise:

If High Art under capitalism is created in order to transgress itself – born out of its own transgression, and if low art, pulp, outsider art etc are genres of art that seek to transgress the status quo, – to be a reaction against High Art – do they then not contribute to the growing tendencies of the fetishisation of the transgressive that capitalism capitalises on? Does it not add to the continuing production of newness in hopes of only attating innovation for the sake of innovation? No, I say. Because here there are two types of transgression. Or more specifically, one real transgression and the other an subtle appearance used as a mask for some underground standards or criteria.

What does a prude, a puritan, a fake middle class citizen, or the bourgeoisie member really do when they transgress? In fact, being in the upper social sphere, what is there for them to transgress? Because they are the status quo they have to transgress themselves. Yet in such a way as to not dismantle the socius with which they rest on. And for reasons unknown why there really is a split between Low/High Art, so too do they subscribe to a distinction of Low/High Transgression. Thus, for instance, what ‘norm’ does the prude transgress? Having Sex only after Marriage? Only with one woman? Only for conceiving? Only once a week? No. Instead they use the mentality of transgression to give them the excuse of delighting themselves in the appetites of lowly forms such as polygamy, cheating, roudyness etc with the point of not being reduced to a low person who just pleases himself on these delights anyhow. What distinguished them here, in the eyes of the upper class, is in the acknowledgement of the very indulgence in the transgressive act itself. They don’t just feed off their “inner selfish” instincts. No, they have proper taste… or so they say. This reminds me of a Joke by Zizek: about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: “O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!” After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: “O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!” After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: “O God, I am nothing.” The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: “What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!”. The point here being that only the upper class can get away with being dirt! To join in on the delights dined by the working class without associating themselves with them. Spilling some tea, not having coasters, eating whenever they like, wear anything they like, never sleep, never rest, party all the time; these are there lowly indulgences. It becomes of no surprise when we read stories that confirm the secret perversity of the prudish and the abusive power of the Holy.

Real Transgression has no limits and conforms to no image, no identity. It is not a limit set by a puritanical capitalism that giggles when it farts yet covers its senses when anything else goes further. High Transgression is destroying your house with the worry of having to clean up afterwards. True Transgression is the dirty arsehole in all its full back glory! Not the squeaky clean arsehole of the Upper class.

Transgression under capitalism becomes traditionalism and made standard practice.