Sunday, 25 November 2007

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ‘Disaster Capitalism’, PART 3

The God-Suicide, or Unmasking the Fetish: How to Disappear Completely as Subject and Instigate a Revolution That ‘Will Not Be Televised’

‘Folk songs are evasive – the truth about life, and life is more or less a lie, but then again that’s exactly the way we want it to be…A folk song has over a thousand faces and you must meet them all if you want to play this stuff. A folk song might vary in meaning and it might not appear the same from one moment to the next. It depends on who’s playing and who’s listening…’
-Bob Dylan,
Chronicles, (71)

That there
That's not me
I go
Where I please
I walk through walls
I float down the Liffey
I'm not here
This isn't happening

When Bob Dylan ‘went electric' at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, the overwhelming reaction of his horrified folk fans was that he had shamelessly ‘sold out' to the establishment and ‘gone commercial'; and in a purely superficial sense this may well be true. But turning over the content of his work from the crucial period of the mid 1960s now in retrospect, one cannot help but wonder whether Dylan's fans missed the point entirely: the transition from folk-Dylan to electric-Dylan may well be a transition from the conventional or modern form of resistance to power to an even ‘higher' one; from the modern ‘protest' song or ‘fingerpoint' song form grounded in a politics of contra-diction and opposition, to a post-modern but also more profoundly Marxian politics of ‘subtraction' or as Deleuze puts it, ‘vice-diction' – a searching out of the true antagonisms, of real movement, a formulation of resistance informed by a Foucauldian notion of power as a ‘multiplicity of force relations…a complex strategical situation in a particular society' – a notion of power in which the negative and opposition are only secondary, and in relation to which resistance must move away from representation... (Asked why he stopped writing ‘protest songs', Dylan replies “All my songs are protest songs. You name something, I'll protest about it.”)

Is this not one of the most pervasive themes of Highway 61 Revisited , in particular the title song itself and ‘Desolation Row' – while the ‘folk' Dylan made a career out of ‘sticking it' to the folks in power, the Dylan of the ‘electric' era undertook to perform a gesture of ‘sticking it' to the whole of Western civilization. In both of these songs (and others to a lesser extent), Dylan goes through a kind of inventory of cultural motifs, clichés, icons, and figures, and in ‘Highway 61' in particular, what takes place is a flattening of the horizon, a reduction of these disparate themes and characters - from the biblical dilemma of Abraham to ‘Louie the King' to ‘the next world war' – to a plane of equivalences, expelling any whiff of taxonomy: it's all out on Highway 61.

At the close of the album, in ‘Desolation Row', a basic taxonomy is re-instituted: ‘Desolation Row' is a metaphorical space of true freedom or subtraction, a space of exemption from the binary politics of opposition, negativity, and false choices. Cinderella, Romeo, Ophelia, The Good Samaritan, ‘Einstein disguised as Robin Hood', ‘Dr Filth' (one can only suspect Freud), The Phantom of the Opera, secret agents, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, are all figured in. But as we learn at the end, these are not models but real people, and they are not 'representations' either; the narrative rather constitutes an exercise of a transcendental memory – that is, neither a contingent past, nor a reminiscence, but the pure being of the past as such, in which forgetting is “no longer a contingent incapacity separating us from a memory which is itself contingent: it exists within essential memory as though it were the ‘nth' power of memory…that which can only be recalled” ( D&R , 177):

…I received your letter yesterday…[]
All these people that you mention

Yes, I know them, they're quite lame

I had to rearrange their faces

And give them all another name

Right now I can't read too good

Don't send me no more letters no

Not unless you mail them

From Desolation Row

Faces ‘rearranged' and given other names – is this not Dylan's ultimate folk rebuke of recognition, a ‘superior and transcendent exercise the faculties', sentiendum, memorandum, cogitandum ? “Each faculty must be borne to the extreme point of its dissolution, at which it falls prey to triple violence: the violence of that which forces it to be exercised [ I had to rearrange their faces ], of that which it is forced to grasp and which it alone is able to grasp, [ don't send me no more letters…unless you mail them from… ] yet also that of the ungraspable.” ( D&R , 180) The ‘ungraspable' is then that which is outside the sphere of ‘Desolation Row' and which one therefore ‘can't read too good'… Here is a definitive refusal of recognition, and models are invoked only to be lambasted. In a courteous and understated nod to Dylan's folk fan base, the first verse of the song contains a fairly detailed but concealed reference to a lynching of three black circus performers in Dylan's hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, at the time when his father was a child… But the subtraction from the ‘spectacle', or the spectacular aspect of such moments, comes in the form of a re-contextualization:

All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame

Everybody is making love

Or else expecting rain

The effect of this gesture is an unhinging of the imagination from the paradigm, a prototypically Deleuzian overthrow of the original or model : the primordial fratricide of the first martyr (derived from the ancient Greek ‘ witness' ) by the first murderer, which in classical Western Judeo-Christian consciousness lies at the root of all human wars and conflicts and guarantees our cursed conflicted human fate, is here removed from centre-stage and reduced simply to a function of itself: two fellas called Cain and Abel are caught in the grip of opposition (hunchback of Notre Dame thrown in for good measure), but everybody else on the social-imaginative plane of Desolation Row, Dylan tells us, is just making love or…'expecting rain.' (different non-opposing activities) “Critiques of the negative are never decisive so long as they invoke the rights of a first concept…” ( D & R , p 253) We are not the slaves of the past, imprisoned in the paradigm; we are not children of Adam and Eve, or in any sense descendants of Cain and Abel, or of Isaac and Ishmael (from whom Jews and Arabs are mythically said to be descended) – we “shall not gaze backward, but outward… fugitives from all fatherlands and forefatherlands,” as Nietzsche puts it. ( Zarathustra , ‘Of Old and New Law-Tables') The false choices we are given, the false movement of dialectics in representation and negativity, are all crystallized toward the end:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn

And everybody's shouting

"Which Side Are You On?"

And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot

Fighting in the captain's tower

While calypso singers laugh at them

And fishermen hold flowers

Is this not this Dylan's ultimate mocking gesture of resistance and refusal, a swell of Nietzschean laughter in the face of Western civilization's follies? Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, the two great modern poets, roughing each other up (opposition, false movement) in the captain's tower (Titanic, the ship of Progress) while calypso singers just ‘laugh at them…and fishermen hold flowers.' The power of Dylan's metaphors – disfigurations and rearrangements, transformative gestures of a ‘verbal cubism' – is in actualising an Idea without representing, in discovering (with Deleuze) the only true opposition: between the Idea and representation; between Desolation Row as Idea or virtual multiplicity and Cain/Abel as model, paradigm, representation; between the virtual/actual positive-positive and the represented positive-negative…

This shift in fact emerged in Dylan's oeuvre long before he ever went ‘electric' – it was present from the start in a subtler form, and in a sense even the opposition of ‘folk' and ‘electric' must be questioned. Among the series of harbingers on Dylan's last ‘folk' album, Another Side of Bob Dylan , we already clearly hear a burning evanscence of the positive in what may be one of the greatest love ballads ever written, in the last verse where Dylan's writing truly sets itself apart from just the ordinary love song:

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me
“How good, how good does it feel to be free?”

And I answer them most mysteriously

“Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

There is no illusory negativity here, no opposition, no freedom/unfreedom, only ‘actualisation or differenciation', only ‘difference and the problematic', only freedoms or intensities of freedom – only the sky, and beyond it another sky, and beyond it yet another, and so on, nothing represented, only repetition, the Idea, the problem or Idea in its fully positive manifestation; no negative, not even limitation as such , only the question (‘are birds free…?')…This is the “infinite power to add an arbitrary quantity…a question of a throw of the dice, of the whole sky as open space and of throwing as the only rule.” ( Difference and Repetition , 248) Even the title of the song, addressing its musical-thematic structure – ‘Ballad in Plain D' – rejects the opposition of major/minor, happy/sad: the nominal key is D major, but the strong insistence of a B minor chord in the structure relays a melancholy concatenation that Dylan appropriately names ‘plain D'. This is the non-(being) of difference – pure, internal difference - “the non-being which is by no means the being of the negative, but rather the being of the problematic”. Already here the post-modern fractured (non-)subject emerges, the ‘electric' Dylan whose continually shifting, acid-flashback, stream of (un)consciousness evolving identity with his post-Symbolist word plays and permutations (recalling perhaps the Kabbalistic practice of recombining letters of the Torah “…he just smoked my eyelids/An' punched my cigarette” in Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again ) is perhaps a real-life exemplar of what it is in Marx that Deleuze holds over Hegel:

“…in Capital the category of differenciation (the differenciation at the heart of a social multiplicity: the division of labour) is substituted for the Hegelian concepts of opposition, contradiction and alienation, the latter forming only an apparent movement…to Marx, fetishism is indeed an absurdity, an illusion of social consciousness…While it is in the nature of consciousness to be false, problems by their nature escape consciousness…Social problems can be grasped only by means of a “rectification” which occurs when the faculty of sociability is raised to its transcendent exercise and breaks the unity of fetishistic common sense …revolution is the social power of difference, the paradox of society, the particular wrath of the social Idea… Practical struggle never proceeds by way of the negative but by way of difference and its power of affirmation , and the war of the righteous is for the conquest of the highest power, that of deciding problems by restoring them to their truth, by evaluating that truth beyond the representations of consciousness and the forms of the negative …” ( Difference and Repetition , 258-260)

Beyond the representations of consciousness, the forms of the negative, and fetishistic common sense : is this not precisely what the ‘electric' Dylan is after in rejecting identity, meaning, and representation, as at the series of well-publicised and controversial press conferences following his falling-out with the folk crowd – is it not precisely about harnessing and unleashing this revolutionary power of the unconscious to reveal the true antagonisms in rejecting the ‘fetishistic common sense' imposed by critics, journalists, and other determinants of popular culture? (When asked how many ‘protest singers' like him there are in the country, he mockingly replies ‘Oh, I reckon there are about…136.') Is not the post-modern decentring of ‘meaning' and the de-throning of the ‘author' – taken as a political project – precisely the way to go about de-fetishizing culture and revealing the social relations and interactions implicit in its creation? Meaning is a social relation or set of fluctuating social relations whose true internal structure is obscured by the illusion of a unitary ‘author' or ‘consciousness'.

And even further, isn't the modern fixed self or subject itself a form of fetishism that we should rid ourselves of? The claim has never been that the fixed subject is non-existent in any sense, only that it is (like the fetish) an illusion of consciousness. There is no ‘fixed subject'; but there is an illusion of the same which exists . By instilling a ‘soul' in the body, in the process of producing the ‘disciplined body' of the modern subject (Foucault's terminology in Discipline and Punish ), by concealing behind the individual a whole set of ‘pre-individual singularities' (Deleuze), isn't modern society essentially concealing the set of social relations that constitute the individual, which far from being merely those of the mother and father (Oedipus) extend to a whole range of social influences that constitute the individual whose by-product is the ‘subject' which in this sense is neither original nor fixed? The fixed individual is a fetish, a product of capitalist society and its law: the post-structuralist project taken this way may in fact be the ultimate culmination of Marx at its purest. The commodity-fetish and the subject-fetish are both effects of capitalist power-relations, not in the sense of law and obedience, but precisely as the exercise of ‘free' choices, of “new methods of power whose operation is not ensured by right but by technique, not by law but by normalization, not by punishment but by control, methods that are employed on all levels and in forms that go beyond the state and its apparatus.” (Foucault, 89)

The ‘electric' Dylan is only the de-fetishized, de-reified ‘folk' Dylan, – and in that sense, one could say, even more ‘folk', or ‘folk' in a more fundamental sense, beyond the superficial representations of musical forms and structures – ‘Dylan' becomes simply the skeleton, the ‘empty vessel', medium, or relay, a stream of continuous perceptions (in Buddhist terms), the focal site of undisguised social relations that constitute his ‘work'…The work of an author and its meaning, the author itself, the modern subject, are finally revealed as fundamentally determined at every step by a flux of social relations :

Q: Do you think that a lot of the young people who buy your records understand a single word of what you're singing?
Dylan: Sure…[mockingly]

Q: You reckon they do?

Dylan: Sure…[laughs]

Q2: Why do you say they do? How can you be so sure?

Q: I mean there are complicated songs, aren't there?

Dylan: Yeah, but they do, they understand them...
Q: How do you know they understand them? Have they told you that they do?
Dylan: They told me! Haven't you heard that song, um… ‘She said so'…What was the singer…[laughter]

Q: Would you say that you cared about people particularly?

Dylan: Well yeah but, but, you know, I mean, we all have our own definitions of all those words… ‘care' and ‘people'…

Q: Well, we surely, I mean we know what ‘people' are…

Dylan: Well, hm, do we?

Q: How would you describe yourself?
A: I don't describe myself. How do you describe yourself?
Q: I have no idea but I don't have to sell your talent.
A: Neither do I. Write whatever you like. I'm a tree-surgeon if you like.
Q: Why have you started playing rock'n'roll?

A: Is that what they call it?

Q: Are there times when you can't stand yourself?
A: How could that be possible? I don't know myself. I don't know who I am. There's a mirror on the inside of my dark glasses - otherwise I don't interfere with my own private life.

Is this revelatory blindness, this pushing of the conscious limit in order to develop the productive potential of the unconscious, the ‘unconscious of pure thought' – is this not precisely what is needed, what is lacking in the anti-capitalist struggle today, which ultimately takes itself a bit too seriously? (and this already in the anti -) Revolution as the actualisation of the virtual originates in (as the kabbalists put it) the ayin or nothingness that spawns being ‘from nothingness and being together'…In order for revolution (the concrete universal, Idea, God, Buddha) to ‘clothe itself' in us, we must think of ourselves less as subjects and more as ‘empty vessels' or ‘streams of continuous perceptions' – Deleuzian ‘flows'. At this juncture where the subject disintegrates, Dylan's gesture of defiance is not the killing but the symbolic suicide of the god , the fetishized ‘folk prophet' – and one by which we are all the more truly given the ‘folk prophet' as a profound gift, through his own self-revelation of this mythical figure as a fetish disguising social relations of meaning, a mask that can be worn by anyone – “everything I'm a' sayin'/you can say it just as good” as he puts it in ‘One Too Many Mornings'… Dylan thus appears at this juncture as simultaneously both Christ and Judas (an irony in light of the notorious accusation by an angry fan, we could here say ‘JewDas', after the name of one radical Jewish organization) – both ‘true prophet' and the ‘traitor' who exposes the true prophet as false; both fetishized mask and the empty redeemer who, by severing the mask from the face (only to reveal more masks), lays bare the profoundly unstable nature of identity, including our own. (And one should note here a marked distinction between Dylan's gesture and that of Nietzsche proclaiming himself to be Christ and Dionysos; for Dylan in actuality performs this gesture, or completes it in action, real time and real movement– he was idolized and ‘fetishized'; and he authentically rejected the idol-mask thrust upon him...)

When Deleuze and Guattari argue that capitalism continually strives toward its limit whilst simultaneously deploying complex strategies to avoid reaching this limit, are they not simply repeating Marx? The ‘limit' is the point when a fully developed capitalism transmutes organically into socialism; and the approach of this limit is perpetually delayed by, among other strategies, ‘ not abiding [fully] in the notion' of practising capitalism (in Marx's terminology, forgetting the social relations that enter into the production of the fetishized product), sublimating capitalist processes into the productive factory of the unconscious, and relating to the Absolute as an object of desire. By tying us up as fixed subjects – by producing our truth and thereby ‘constituting us as subjects' (Foucault) in a false dialectical game of opposition, ensuring our subjection - capitalist fetishism ‘freezes' its own virtual development and actualization. Is this not why American capitalism, being in ways more ‘primitive' than say, European or Japanese capitalism, is also in a substantive way farther away from socialism? Not to mention Russian capitalism, whose primitive state is a matter of course. (One could even argue that today's Russia is the site of not only a more primitive capitalism, but that its overall virtual-historical development has substantially regressed; and this perhaps because its progress under communism was too ‘weak', too forced and artificial…) With this in mind we can view the drive to ‘privatization' of the state a as form of ‘primitive accumulation', a ‘primitivization' of capitalism, and at the same time a form of historic regression to an earlier and more secure state of capitalism; within the neoliberal corpus, the drive to ‘privatization' emerges from its libertarian (in the American sense) component – and what is libertarianism but right-wing anarchism, both being based on a rejection of the state, and this not in the progressive, communist sense (the ‘withering away' of the state through the historical development of capitalism into socialism, communism, etc), but rather in a fundamentally regressive historical sense? (Bakunin was, after all, inspired by the idyll of Russian village life)

The Bolshevik revolution which undoubtedly would have disappointed Marx, was perhaps the highest or farthest that a politics founded on opposition and negativity could reach – it was a ‘fake' revolution…The true Marxian revolution would have to be Deleuzian, in the sense of becoming, the organic and positive traversal of the limit, and the searching out of new antagonisms not traced from negativity – and here Deleuze, Dylan, perhaps Debord (at least in his early phase), Buddha, and Marx are all on the same page, together with Gill Scott-Heron: The revolution will not be televised' . It will not be televised because the true revolution cannot be ‘represented' or consciously forced into being, it can only materialize to the extent that we forget our selves and release the productive power of the unconscious by ‘ not abiding in the notion'; and even ‘materialize' is already a form of representation which suggests a false negativity . It is only by ‘abiding in the notion' of practising capitalism in going about our daily lives, by being ‘conscious' of our participation in the capitalist system, by fully developing consciousness as such (which by definition is ‘false') and taking it to its own limit, thus eventually reversing the processes of fetishism, that we unleash the productive, transformative, revolutionary forces of the unconscious to inaugurate a new historical phase. ‘Abiding in the notion' of practising socialism, opposing socialism to capitalism, posing realistic goals, only ‘freezes' historical development. The point is to ‘not interfere with our own private life' as Dylan puts it – to ‘go electric', ‘kill the Buddha' (the revolution as constituted in representation and the negative ) and become an ‘empty vessel', become ayin ; to resist the fetish of the subject and resist our own subjection to capitalism by fully recognizing that it is here, at the very level of the individual subject, in its very constitution as such, as anything, that we are subjected – ‘power comes from below' as Foucault puts it. In order to grasp this, to take hold of a force that comes from below and is composed of ‘mobile power relations' we must ourselves become internally ‘mobile'…We must focus and re-centre on this below, on the very point where power is exercised and where our subjection is ensured, at the level of its “innumerable points, in the interplay of nonegalitarian and mobile relations…economic processes, knowledge relationships, sexual relations.” Instead of opposing capitalism with socialism, the aim should be to develop and transform the one into the other through the revolutionary power and wrath of the social Idea emanating from the chaosmos of the entropic unconscious. (It is always the unconscious which acts, as Deleuze puts it) The point is to ‘practice socialism without abiding in the notion of practising socialism' or 'socialism that no longer calls itself socialism' in order to drive capitalism through its own internal development to the entropic point of transition, its own annihilation in the Absolute – the serpent must eat its own tail. This is the lesson learned by Luke Skywalker in the finale of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – rather than succumbing to the temptation to confront the ‘evil' directly in a struggle of opposites, we must realize that the Force is fully positive and that ‘evil' is only an excess of the ‘good'; therefore by confronting it directly (except for the odd skirmish here and there) with our anger, we only make it stronger. Positivity and affirmation – just as Dylan said of his own success, when confronted by aggressive reporters demanding to know the secret of his rise to fame (“I have no idea…”) – the revolution will happen, if it happens, "like anything else happens."

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