Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't Do As I Say!

Zizek said knock you OUT!

Though the Great I Cite Flame-War of '07 has burned itself down to glowing embers, I'm going to colonise the conversation by continuing here an exchange started with the mysterious-yet-engaging Six Foot Subwoofer (a.k.a. Hectoring Bore, a.k.a. Sincere Heckler - you know his steez!).

When we last spoke, SFSW was inquiring as to why I "take such stock in nonviolent disobedience and have such little faith in doing 'good works.'" Indeed, on the surface it would seem strange to praise & strive for one and not the other, but there are two distinct reasons why I value the former but not necessarily the latter.

The first is with regard to motive. My antitheism leads me to immediately distrust anyone claiming to do "good" in the name of "faith." Too often when a helping hand is extended, the other is clutching some evangelical tract, some recruitment scheme - a classic Bait-'n'-Switch. But even when the sales pitch isn't made, it's not an act of altruism but a matter of scoring points on some celestial tally. As Dominic put it so well recently, "this is simply a form of deferred gratification, a storing up of riches elsewhere that one will later enjoy at one’s (infinite) leisure... all one is really doing is making a metaphysically shrewd investment."

Also, in this global media-saturated environment, the corrupt motive of "good P.R." is a constant factor to consider. After all, one man's media blitz is another's opportunism.

The second, and more crucial reason I put civil disobedience above "good works" is the purity of negative definition. Now, as a Canadian, defining something by a negative is something I'm inherently adept at & comfortable with:

Q: What is a Canadian?
A: Well, it bloody well isn't an American!

But consider this: good works can be tainted by ulterior motives, unintended consequences, compromise, "the lesser of two evils," or the elevation of intention above result. (Remember with what the road to hell is paved.) Civil disobedience, on the other hand, is muddled by none of the factors because it is defined by what it does not do. Rather than leave a wake swirling with "Why?"s, civil disobedience succinctly answers the question "Why not?" by opening a vacuum in which we can clearly see one action that is missing. There is no room for rationalisation, appeasement, evasion, obfuscation, or half-assing in a void. As a wrinkled green Muppet once said, as simply as possible: "Do or do not. There is no 'try.'"


Also at the last juncture in our conversation, there was a question as to whether romanticism has a place in the revolution. I personally feel that it doesn't, even though I understand why SFSW would think romanticism is unfairly maligned by smug postmodernists. However, by definition, romanticism has little to do with the truth - and, in fact, even runs counter to it. This is not to cast myself as a staunch materialist, 'cuz I ain't. But romanticism is the same false path to the Real that religion is to a sense of purpose or morality.

Let's not limit ourselves to florid, purple fantasy as the only frame for our dreams. Even as rabid a materialist as Bakunin said, "By reaching for the impossible, man discovers the possible."

Next: Make an art noise here!

8 comments:

Jodi said...

My favorite Yoda quote ever. I used to repeat it over and over in class when students insisted that they had 'tried.' Some started to call me Joda.

Seb said...

I'm always dead-serious when I tell people the most useful nuggets of wisdom I've gleaned in life come not from respected tomes, but from comedians, movies, novels, and the like. I think a steady diet of Bill Hicks is emminently more useful than, say, Schopenhauer.

E.g. "Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." - Tyler Durden

PS - The noise-art post is now up!

sixfootsubwoofer said...

Great argument, Seb. I like your reductive method of describing civil disobedience with a negative definition. Negative definitions seem to be finally getting their due, reduction is finally the order of the day. After so many years of the piling on of theoretical constructs (identity politics, queer/gender theory, Critical and Cultural Studies, the endless Theoretical ouroboroses of the last forty or so years of postmodernism and whatever-came-after), it seems Occam's Razor has finally been whipped out and the cuts have begun. I can't back that up that sentiment quite yet, but it's something I feel from Zizek and others that I'm trying hard to be able to prove in a more scholarly fashion. In fact, all of this will seem like the worst drunken dorm room conversation ever about revolution. But I don't care, I will make it clearer and more scholarly at another time. As of now, I prefer not to worry about scholarly decorum.

I agree with what you said for the most part. You were definitely "right" in your answers to my questions. Ha, I only asked you because I knew you would give a more sophisticated voice to what I already knew we agreed on, and make it sound better than I could.

As far as "good works", you denounce them based on PAST good workers, missionaries and Mom Terry, who of course was a sham, but ONLY was a sham because she was unaware of being one, in fact pathologically terrified of being perceived a hypocrite to the point that she sorta convinced herself she wasn't. That was her true failure. However, if one wants to do good works for purely selfish reasons, to admittedly follow their own superegoic injunction to enjoy, but with full self-awareness of following such an injunction, such good works can take on a subversive new meaning.

That said, Seb, I wish to advocate a sort of "good works" AS "nonviolent, civil disobedience", but not in the way you might think.

NOT as in, "I'm doing what I think is 'good' for people and humanity in order to attain credits in the afterlife (or in order to simply, atheistically\ satisfy my superegoic injunction to enjoy the subsequent moral higher ground) AND my actions for good will help change the world, kill capitalism, etc".

But rather "I do "good works" because it simply makes me feel good, and society is telling me that in order to feel good I must explore my sexuality, enjoy a successful career, "find myself", get rich, etc.... but INSTEAD I rather enjoy the TRANGRESSION of doing the opposite of what I'm told to do.". There would be no "good intentions" in such actions, the intentions are completely selfish. "I do it because I know I will be thought a fool, and as much as I may enjoy the smile on those bums' faces, I'm really laughing in their faces, I'm using them for my own enjoyment." (This is still Mom Terry's steez, but the difference is she repressed this particular drive towards superego enjoyment with her "faith", she wasn't doing it for herself, she was "doing it for God".) Such revolutionary good works would be performed for no other reason than for the sheer thrill of doing them in a violent refusal to do anything else BUT the good works. Not in the sense of charity or willful impoverishment, but in the sense of pure selfishness, a reversal of capitalism's injunction to enjoy-but-only-through-accumulation. Of course this sort of revolution would not be sustainable, but an initial revolutionary gesture does not need to be sustained. It is an act or event that suddenly changes everything, turns the status quo on its head, and everything is completely new afterwards.

This has to do with my proposal (which I yelled out over at ICite) that a simple "stop shopping" is parallel with Zizek/Bartleby's "I prefer not to" To quote Jodi quoting Zizek, "stop shopping" to me can be construed to be effective "not as a starting point of abstract negation but as an "underlying principle that sustains the entire movement; far from "overcoming" it, the subsequent work of construction, rather, gives body to it."

I view "stop shopping" as the first step toward moving "from something to nothing, from the void to its own place", and the subsequent work of construction following from that simple "i prefer not to". "I prefer not to buy your crap, I prefer not to care if you think I'm being self-righteous or indecisive, I prefer not to eat for a while if it means playing your game, etc" is not the actual bringing about of the "revolution" but rather "gives body" to construction AFTER revolution. The revolution will be much like the Singularity in that we won't know it's happening until it is ALREADY happening. The construction gives body to "I prefer not to" in that, WE CAN'T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTERWARDS. We prefer not to know or prefer not to care about the reconstruction yet, because all that matters is that things the way they are simply STOP being the way they are. And violence? We can't know about what kinds of violence will occur because we "prefer not to" think about it, we "prefer not to" engage in defensive violence. BUT those who do engage in violence will determine the types of structures that spring up after any kind of revolution, and that is the point where politics comes in. Subjects who begin to look for opportunities for power-grabs during revolution will have to deal with a radically new set of rules, one where the new aesthetics is not based on selfish greed for objects but rather selfish greed for the pleasure of giving, out of love. Any power-grabbers will have to answer to the new paradigm, and the strength and radicality of the new paradigm based on "transgressive greed as-and-for love" will determine what happens next. But what's most important is that we "prefer not to" even care so much what happens next, because we are so sure of the fact that it doesn't even matter. (This might seem like walking off a cliff, and it is, but keep reading.)

This is where I think Jodi doesn't get Zizek's seeming paradox of following a discussion of Pauline love with Bartleby's possibly violence-inducing "I prefer not to". She thinks it makes the matter more "opaque", and on the surface it does seem as such. It might seem very difficult to reconcile love with violence, but we've all heard Zizek state that love is the most violent of actions. Jodi says "What is difficult, for me at least, is to think what a kind of work of building a new community rooted in "I prefer not" would look like."...and this is exactly why she feels the matter is opaque, because it IS! It is and will be impossible to imagine reconstruction, because it will be given body by the ultimate negative definition of "i prefer not to". And here's the crux-love is not a choice. You either love or you don't, there's no "prefer to" or "prefer not to". Love is the only thing that will reconcile these two opposites. It is the violence and horror of seeing the Real within the Other that will bring about the new paradigm of love, a love so strong it renders preferences obsolete.

(I know, I know, you're already humming the Beatles' "All You Need Is...." but hang on.)

This possibility of violence doesn't mean we should just give up on "stop shopping" and doing good for the sheer pleasure of it, because when you prefer not to care, you become much like Bartleby, a "very immobile, inert, insistent, passive being," who "couldn't even hurt a fly". So violence is unlikely. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a possible leader in construction after or during a revolution would be killing someone "who couldn't hurt a fly". This might seem a recipe for disaster in the Third World, just look at Sierra Leone and the Congo. But here in the First World, if the media apparatus are still functioning, which they wil be , the revolution will most assuredly be televised (it'll be "hotter than 9/11"), potential reconstructionists will not only have the cameras trained on them, but will have this pesky new paradigm of greedy, selfish love to contend with.

It is the fear of violence, not the inadequacy of nonviolent tactics, that is keeping revolution from happening.

"Stop Shopping" may seem to be lacking because it's already an empty slogan worn like Birkenstocks by teenagers for a few years before they go off to a comfortable middle class life with a Prius and a nanny, and that is precisely WHY it is a perfect starting point. It's romantic beyond the point of parody. And it is also what I think to be the core of Zizek's work. He just can't come out and say it because he knows he would sound as naive, dumb, and crazy as I do now. But I prefer not to care, I prefer not to worry about keeping a position based on my credibility.

And here I bring in romanticism. I view romanticism as "the lie that enables one to find the truth". It can be a collective, self-consciously performed and/or experienced delusion that enables the violence of the Real as seen in the Other to bring about a love that renders preferences useless. You say, Seb, that "romanticism has little to do with the truth - and, in fact, even runs counter to it", and you're right. But love is not what we call "truth", love is that unspeakable "something" only glimpsed behind the horror and violence of the confrontation of the Real, which is glimpsed within the abyss of the Other.

If you "prefer not to" even care about notions of "truth", but only find a transgressive pleasure in the practice of love in its many forms, you are left with a romanticism that you already know is an illusion. And it just might be that the "illusory proper measure" is the only thing worth, um, not fighting for.

This might all seem to the most piddling, obvious kidstuff ever, and I propose it not as a belief, or a principle, or even a feeling. It just seems to me to be the "ghost in the machine" of Zizek's work, as well as in the machinery of the current cultural milieu.

I hold, of course, no pretensions of knowing when this could all occur, but rather I think it is already happeninng, and we will all just become aware when it intensifies and "spreads", if we're still around.

Oh, and Seb, I wasn't exactly sure what you meant by the link to the story about Colin leaving Deerhunter. Did you mean he was taking advantage of Deerhunter's popularity to start his own music career? Your reference to them shocked me especially because I know those guys, they're from my hometown.

I was in attendance at their first 15 or so shows, for better or for worse. I didn't even know Colin had left yet. From what I know of Colin, not only is he ridiculously hot but he is very serious about his studies. I think he studies literature, maybe, or it could be Theory (hard to remember those conversations at loud parties). He's the one in the band with what I guess you could call integrity. He wanted to make art and experiment. It's the Bradford guy that is the opportunist. He was like a caricatured uberhipster Lester Bangs wannabe, one of the biggest pricks I've ever known. BUT he can wear a mean dress and fake a mean onstage blowjob, and he looks like a freak so we all knew Pitchfork would be blowing him for real within a couple years. I liked them more back before they only wanted to be famous. I think their "artistic credibility" is dead, wrapped in plastic. Now they're straight to MTV.com. They've been playing those same songs since before I left home, only now they dress hipper and have the stage antics down.

Maybe Colin will go and do those tape projects he wanted to do, which will undoubtedly be more interesting than the publicity machine that is Deerhunter. Good for him, he preferred not to get involved with all that crap.

sixfootsubwoofer said...

Jesus, what an awful comment I just left. I hope you can forgive me...

Seb said...

No forgiveness necessary! If anything, it's a welcome sign that there's life beyond the curmudgeonly solipsism of blogging to give oneself sumthin' to do.

It is the fear of violence, not the inadequacy of nonviolent tactics, that is keeping revolution from happening.

I agree with you 100% there. I even touched on this with my Fight Club tangent over at Jodi's. The one thing that everyone understands and fears in equal measure is pain. I certainly know it's why I'm not working harder to collapse the status quo, and it comes back to an issue of trust. I'm not stocked with sufficient faith that revolution wouldn't bring out some of the worst of people. Certainly history doesn't provide many heartening precedents.

And here's where I think your advocacy of "Stop Shopping", etc. comes into play. If we all grabbed Molotovs and ran out into the streets now, no one would possibly be prepared for whatever lay beyond the immediate upheaval. But by encouraging small behavioural shifts away from the status quo, we can at least re-train our priorities so that we won't miss all this shit. Otherwise, we doomed ourselves before any revolution's even ignited to being like the character in the Talking Heads' "Nothing But Flowers": "I miss the parking lots, drive-ins, and 7-Elevens... I can't get used to this lifestyle!"

So never mind romanticism: if we truly believe that we can (and will) wrench our fates out of the hands of capitalism, then things like "Stop Shopping" are simple pragmatism.

Going on to your explanation of using romanticism to trigger a kind of revolutionary love-in (for lack of a better term)... I totally see your logic, and it seems like a sound idea. Shit, at least it couldn't hurt anything, right? But being someone who prefers to care about notions of truth/Truth, I'm ineligible for such an application of romanticism. But the merit of any tool depends on how you wield it, so if it proves useful, do it.

As for Deerhunter... I just posted that because it was the first thing that came to my mind when I wrote that sentence. It's become such a cliche: Band forms; Band gets big; Immediately thereafter, Bandmember says, "Yo, fuck this, I'm keepin' it real!" and quits.

Though Bradford Cox does strike me as an attention hound, I don't really care, because his music is dull, so I pay no mind.

But you're from ATL? Not to get all "yo, dawg!" but that's where my cousins are from. Good times!

sixfootsubwoofer said...

Speaking of cousins, "Cousins" is the best soul food joint in atlanta, and as soon as I read your response, I immediately got a craving for cornbread. They just don't know how to do it right up here...

I was recently back home for a few days, and in my rental car picked up a bunch of teenage hitchhikers on the way into atlanta, most of them from NYC. I was shocked that a place from which I was dying to get away now attracts kids much like NYC once did. It has to do with bands like Black Lips and Deerhunter being from there, and here I find a particular brand of romanticism at play, sort of the kind I think could be useful to a "revolutionary" consciousness.

Kids have a romantic attachment to places where creativity seems to trump logic and formula, as evidenced by the kidrush to ATL and your own current hometown. Of course they're somewhat midguided. ATL is already starting to feel like Seattle in '92 or '93, a bunch of people standing around waiting for something cool to happen, trying desperately to experience something "Real" in this cardboard world of styles and trends they grew up in. They're misguided (about both ATL as well as they were about Seattle)because they failed to see that what they thought to be a bohemian site of pure creative angst has actually been marketed to them as such.

It WAS fun to be a part of the ATL "scene", and there was plenty of unfettered creativity going on. But the bands that "put atlanta on the map" did not get famous because they made great music, but rather made music because they wanted to be famous. I'm not at all "guessing" here, but am rather repeating what those guys told me in so many words. They carefully crafted their references and styles to cater to a certain niche, one that they knew could be expanded into suburban bedrooms everywhere. There's as much PR going on in a band like Black Lips as there is in pop stars like Britney, etc.

Here's where I think romanticism fails utterly because it can be marketed and created, its potential energy turned into dollars instead of sense. I think romanticism can be used to reverse this process, and not used by some in order to influence others, but rather by individual subjects using it as a defence against cynical marketing structures and the cultural banality which follows.

I'm still trying to get a handle of on exactly what "romaticism" means in the current situation. I myself have always been staunchly "anti-romantic", but in the past couple of years have started to be suspicious if it's being booted out of our culture so, as you put it, smugly. I think there was a time when, in order to find some sort of progress, pomos had to remove it in order to see clearly. But I think its complete removal, then, has made it possible for romanticism to be ironized by the mechanisms of commodification in a way that has made it more dangerous than its historical uses.

How about a post on your thoughts on romanticism? Both past and present, and maybe future?

And oh, yeah, the Fall are mighty, indeed. Terrible production values on their last record, but live they are incomparable.

Seb said...

Well, the Fall have always been notoriously inconsistent in terms of production value (and live, I might add; looks like I got lucky!). For every record as sonically brilliant as Hex Enduction Hour, This Nation's Saving Grace, or even Middle Class Revolt, there are clunkers like Grotesque, Extricate, or The Marshall Suite.

Of course, that's to say nothing of the quality of the songs. E.G. Grotesque may sound like it was recorded on a dictaphone, but "C-'n'-C Stop Mithering", "New Face In Hell", and "Pay Your Rates" are some of my all-time favourite tunes.

As for romanticism, that merits a slightly longer response, so I'll try to bang out a post on that ASAP...

Seb said...

Okay, the response to romanticism is up!