Archive for June, 2020

Drunks on Death Metal, Vol. 2

Posted in Dispatches on June 27, 2020 by Magadh

Here are Keith, Will, and Magadh talking about Voivod. Probably more than you want to hear, but who cares…

The Necropolitics of Boredom

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2020 by Magadh

I think we’ve all known for a long time that the president was bored. His attention span is (to put it charitably) notoriously brief at the best of times. He does best when he can bounce from strength to strength, like a stone skipping across the surface of a placid sea of nothingness. But now he is so starved for positive feedback that he has been reduced to half-filled arenas in areas slowly being transformed into viral petri dishes.

What are the necropolitics of boredom? In the case of Mr. Trump, they seem to veer wildly between attempts to blame the super-(duper)-boring virus currently devastating the country on the Chinese, and the project of replicating the worst elements of their approach.

In the ecology of Trump administration, the president’s underlings work feverishly to convert his utterances into things which aren’t illegal, immoral, inappropriate, or incomprehensible (or some combination of all of them). These efforts generally last only as long as it takes for the president to utter some other combination of ridiculousness and atrocity, at which point a new metabolic cycle begins, the previous one being consigned to a media-generated memory hole.

The most recent iterations of this have focused on the president’s stated intention to draw down coronavirus testing programs. This has been coming for a while. A couple of weeks ago, the president issued the following pronouncement: “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, actually…”

The logic underlying this statement will be familiar to any five year old or the parents thereof, but just in case it was unclear, the president’s can be made clear by reference to a remark he made in a meeting with the governor of Iowa last month: “So the media likes to say we have the most cases, but we do, by far, the most testing. If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases. So in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”

According to the Trumpist way of thinking, the testing is itself driving the spread of the disease. Let us pause for a moment to consider the fact that public discourse in a modern, nuclear-armed state now permits that sort of flat denial of object permanence that would seem out of place in the average kindergarten.

What is really being asserted here is not that COVID-19 would go away, but that people would stop talking about it to the detriment of the president’s prospects for re-election. The fact that meat sacks might still be coughing out their lives on ventilators or in back alleys is simply not something that enters Mr. Trump’s appreciation of the considerable virtues of his own personal brand.

The current project of digestion being undertaken by the redoubtable Kayleigh McEneny and company is Mr. Trump’s determination to make his word flesh, so to speak, by curtailing government funding for virus testing. Mr. Trump hopes thereby to turn a trick of which he was quite fond in his days as white male real-estate speculator and creator of synergy: the creation of alternate realities by simple assertion. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…

Let us here take a moment to ruminate on the character of the stalwart Ms. McEneny. Armed with a BA from Georgetown and a JD from Harvard Law, author of two books, she is the apotheosis of the role of presidential spokesmodel formerly held by (among others) the joie de vivre-laden Sean Spicer and the glum and grumpy Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She is certainly on-model for the sort of profile that Mr. Trump seems to prefer: young, blonde, female, and evincing an apparent willingness to take a position whose job description is alarmingly similar to that of Josef Goebbels.

She is now the mouthpiece for Mr. Trump’s singular obsession: the presidential election in November. The obsession with re-election is common to the vast majority of politicians and their entourages. But it takes on a particular cast in the case of Mr. Trump. Intimately aware of his status as a parvenu among what he once considered to be the “right sort of people” (mostly inhabiting the Upper West Side), he is hypersensitive to the prospect of failure. Having convinced himself that he wanted to be president (maybe that would show the haters) and having, against all odds, actually managed to do so, the most proximate threat to his ever so fragile ego is that he will fail at the next hurdle.

Now, of course, one might find oneself wondering whether bungling the response to a viral outbreak in such a way as to condemn tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Americans to grim demise might be considered a failure. Perhaps. But if real estate speculation has taught him nothing else, it has taught Mr. Trump that you’re only as culpable as your next big deal. If he can only close on this second election thing, then the nattering nabobs of negativism in the press and the liberal elites can curse in vain. He’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

For now, though, life is kind of boring. Mr. Trump’s new spate schedule of rallies/pandemic vector events notwithstanding, he is still condemned to a seemingly endless expanse of days burdened by abstract, boring, non-Trump-related problems. The coronavirus isn’t sexy and doesn’t have a vagina that can be forcibly appropriated. It doesn’t respond to taunts. The Chinese do, but only in ways that probably seem prejudicial to the rolling over of the extensive debts that Mr. Trump owes to their banks.

Worst of all (for Mr. Trump), he can’t seem to get the news cycles reliably rolling the right direction. People seem to have gotten very tired of winning. Except the losers, the ones in the streets or those crying about lost jobs or dead relatives. They’ve been winning too, they’re just too dumb to understand it, and explaining it to them is just another boring feature of this boring, boring world.

The Language of the Fourth Imperium

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2020 by Magadh

Lingua quartii imperii#2: Antifa

Mr. Trump’s announcement the other day (conveyed as usual via the medium of Twitter) that “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization” illustrates a number of important features of his administration. Antifa occupies a prominent place in the pantheon of enemies against which the American far-right defines itself. Its role is particularly sinister. While people of color are easy to identify, Antifa shares with COVID-19 the qualities of invisibility and omnipresence.

The place held by Antifa in the far-right imaginary illustrates its fundamentally inflationary quality. Antifa is not an organization, even in the polycephalus sense that ISIS or Al Qaida is. There is no leadership, which presents a serious problem for law enforcement’s go-to idea of detaining the leaders, or would if the anti-Antifa rhetoric were anything more than a thinly disguised excuse to surveil and harass people and groups perceived by the right as “enemies.” The fact that there is no there there (or perhaps it might be better to say “no that there”) functions therefore as both problem and solution.

Antifa has long been used in leftist circles as verbal shorthand for anti-fascist. Under normal circumstances, this would be the sort of thing that would be reasonably easy to affirm, even if one were not exactly in soul with all of one’s fellow adherents. “One can’t help people being right for the wrong reasons,” Arthur Koestler once noted, as a way of justifying collaborating with anticommunists without thereby signing on with those at the far end of the spectrum. While it is important to resist the temptation to draw, in uncritical fashion, unequivocal lessons from history, fascism would seem to be one of those phenomena about which negative conclusions might reasonably be drawn.

Yes, in another era that might be so. The fact that, in the first year of his administration, the president was unable to distance himself unequivocally from the Ku Klux Klan made clear the degree to which the dogmas of the quiet past were not simply inadequate to the present, they were in the process of being shredded. Having embraced the ideology of the far-right, a process made easier by having very little in terms of ideas needing to be reordered or displaced, Mr. Trump added Antifa to the list of bogies waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to smash the windows of the nearest J. Crew store.

As anyone who has spent much time among leftists will know, with very few exceptions Antifa is one of those things that is more aspirational than practical. While there are scattered groups that fashion themselves as actual cells (of a non-existent organization), most of their activities could probably be checked by lowering the price of ganja and raising the price of Pabst in equal degree until one reached the threshold at which direct action was abjured in favor of watching endless reruns of Metalocolypse.

Antifa has taken on a special significance and threat profile as the protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd have spread. As usual at such times rumors abound, especially as the police tactics in the face of the demonstrations have in a number of cases resulted in riots. The associated property damage has been blamed on people of color, but also variously on anarchists or far-right agents provocateurs or both. The fascination with the possibility that the property damage might be the result of some organized operation on the party of Antifa is a perfect example of the degree to which the conspiratorial imaginings of the far-right have colonized the president’s brain.

Not that they had to work very hard to do so. The president was already prone to seeing threats, from the Arabs celebrating America’s demise in Jersey on 9/11 to the strange case of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The president’s obsession with secret truths to which only he has access has synergized well with the mindset of his fellows on the lunatic fringe of the right, for whom conspiratorial imaginings are meat and drink.

The failure of Antifa to actually exist in the sense that its right-wing critics think it does has, paradoxically, imbued it with terrifying powers. There have been reports that people have found pallets of bricks and other rioting necessaries placed strategically around protest zones. This is put down to Antifa’s underground operational capacities. Never mind the fact that most groups of soi-disant Antifas could barely cobble together the change needed for a couple of 40s, much less the requisite capital for a pallet of bricks, however much that might be.

Yesterday, the head of the Los Angeles Police Department momentarily claimed that the rioters were themselves, at least in part, responsible for George Floyd’s murder. This represented a new level of Antifa-based schizoid thought. Because it would have required a time machine.

Ultimately, the threat purportedly posed by Antifa is linked closely with the petit-bourgeois obsession with the sanctity of property. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton suggested that looters be given “no quarter,” and this was only one of the more pointed statements expressing the idea that the penalty for interfering with property rights might legitimately be death. But then again, how else might one fight a threat like Antifa, invisible to the point of insubstantiality.

“[T]oday we have entered into a new form of schizophrenia – with the emergency of an imminent promiscuity and the perpetual interconnection of all information and communication networks.” So wrote Jean Baudrillard in The Ecstasy of Communication. The terror of the modern is the vulnerability to threats too close to be perceived or repelled. “No more hysteria or projective paranoia as such, but a state of terror which is characteristic of the schizophrenic, an over proximity of all things, a foul promiscuity all things which beleaguer and penetrate him, meeting with no resistance, and no halo, no aura, not even the aura of his own body protects him.”

Antifa has become the codeword for a secret terror, threatening not (or not just) the body but property, the lifeblood of order. The power generated by the invocation of this threat, the power to activate defensive responses from all levels of the bourgeois order, is an illustration of the schizophrenia that shapes it.


The Language of the Fourth Imperium

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2020 by Magadh

Lingua Quartii Imperii #1: Domination

Mr. Trump described the police response to the demonstrations in Washington D.C. last night as “domination,” alongside praising the “many arrests.” This represents a translation of domination from the lexicon of sport into that of American politics. Of course, there is already an active conceptual commerce between the two. News coverage of the politics in the United States was long ago colonized by the argot of the sports report. Competition for political office is commonly described in terms befitting a horse race rather than the substantive consideration of political programs and norms. It is difficult to say what role this mode of commentary had in bringing that situation into being, but it is clear that any element of rational consideration of policy has been completely evacuated from the decision-making process.

Mr. Trump seems grossly unaware of the inappropriateness of importing the concept of domination from sport, where its consequences are trivial, to that of politics, where its consequences are death and the diminution of life chances. If my team is dominated on the playing field we can simply dust ourselves off and prepare for the next match, be it tomorrow or next season or whatever. If I am politically dominated it means that I am fundamentally unfree, and a basic element of my humanity has been taken.

All this means little to Mr. Trump, for whom the concept of humanity is abstract in the extreme and, in most cases, only applicable after the fact. Living in a world of shadows and meatsacks, my Trump’s id searches incessantly for grist for the mill, and those beings that inhabit his shadow world can only be seen through the lens of their advantages or disadvantages for satisfaction of his appetitive soul. As such, domination is a concept with fundamental appeal. The vicarious appetitive satisfaction of a successful sporting conquest can be translated into direct satisfaction by the domination of those with the temerity to oppose the dear leader’s fulfullment in any respect. Mr. Trump’s particular version of postfascism is, therefore and fundamentally, a politics radiating is the sign of the unconstrained id.