One day the child's mother had been away for several hours and on her return was met with the words 'Baby o-o~o!' which was at first incomprehensible. It soon turned out, however, that during this long period of solitude the child had found a method of making himself appear. He had discovered his reflection in a full- length mirror which did not quite reach to the ground, so that by crouching down he could make his mirror-image 'gone'.
Beyond the Pleasure Principle
This is a report of singing-detection. It is directed into the question of why groups die. Perhaps, more accurately, it is about how groups cross from the time of their presence in the world to the time of their absence. In particular, the investigation contemplates the demise of the group in the Autumn of 2012 of Principia Dialectica.
Generally speaking, the small group is the context in which radical ideas appear in their most developed form, and as a rule, the small group must pass the smallness of its presence through a ‘long period of solitude’ before it allows itself to abandon the work it has undertaken on its ideas. At this point it disperses into other people’s archives.
For long periods, deny this as it might, the small group functions in its own world (it is umwelt bound where the concept of umwelt rubs up against common or garden self-deception). The small group’s existence is arbitrary, it has no reference points by which it might orient and regulate its activity – nobody interferes with it and so it passes immediately into a state of feedback runaway: its ideas and judgements are caught in a loop of mutual reinforcement.
The umwelt belonging to most other subject formations (trees, jellyfish, pine martens, caddis flies) gives form to a world of which it is the result, and by which it is confirmed from outside of its own field of reference (reproduction, food, joy in life). By contrast, the umwelt of the small group has no such external confirmation, and is very likely both the result of its own activities and of its own imagination. By its peripheral nature, because it is not only building itself but building an exterior world to house it, it has no roadmap. It is out there, on its own.
The small group subject formation speaks, like a solitary child from its cot, into the vastness of the small room which contains it. It speaks out into the darkness which baffles it, and it receives no response. Boxes of its pamphlets are stored under the bed. The small group constructs its umwelt from its own appearance in the bedroom mirror.
I of whom I know nothing, I know my eyes are open because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly. In know I am seated, my hands on my knees, because of the pressure against my rump, against the soles of my feet? I don't know. My spine is not supported. I mention these details to make sure I am not lying on my back, my legs raised and bent, my eyes closed.
Ideally, that is, if it has become sufficiently aware, the small group should not just wind-down (that is to say, it ought not simply reach a point of not updating itself). It should not slip into a state of suspended animation and then disappear forever. That is the definition of a failed group. That is to say, it is not that groups die which is at issue, but the manner of their death. Ideally, the group composes itself before its own limits as it seeks the most appropriate aperture by which it will leave its world. It must leave the room tidy. The bedclothes neatly folded. The crockery washed, dried and put away. The appliances turned safely off. The good-bye note left in a prominent position. The front door key under the flowerpot. The small group exists for no other reason than to ensure that it is leaving of the world is noticed.
1. The small group as a means for anticipating the future
Remembering is an active wish not to be free of the matter again, an ongoing and continuing desire for what one willed at a particular time, a real memory of one’s will, so that between the original “I will,” “I will do,” and the actual discharge of the will, its action, a world of strange new things, circumstances, even acts of the will can be interposed without a second thought and not break this long chain of the will.
The Genealogy of Morals
On the brink of realising its next project, as it seeks to ensure its coup over a designated share of the near future, the radical group makes its closest approach to the sublime. Even the smallest claim on the territory of a future that contains the group’s will as a component of existing reality, we have done what we said we would, is a sufficient rationale for the project to continue.
However, such rationalisations are often delusory. It is true that the group has transported its cargo of will across the present’s border to the future... but the future rarely reciprocates this by objectifying the group’s purpose. An authentic movement from the present into the future is marked by an objective transformational event... the alteration of the future in such a way that it has become dependent upon the presence of that which the group has carried forward.
But how much all that presupposes! In order to organise the future in this manner, human beings must have first learned to separate necessary events from chance events, to think in terms of cause and effect, to see distant events as if they were present, to anticipate them, to set goals and the means to reach them with certainty, to develop a capability for figures and calculations in general—and for that to occur, a human being must necessarily have first himself become something one could predict, something bound by regular rules, even in the way he imagined himself to himself, so that finally he is able to act like someone who makes promises—he can make himself into a pledge for the future! [...]
The Genealogy of Morals
A moment’s dependence upon the character forced upon it by act of subjective will is necessarily a rare occurrence – ultimately, the world is not the result of intent, and change does not simply follow a previously imagined pattern. It is more common for the radical group to cross time and sustain its project as an act of hubris. If the group is tolerated in history, it is not encouraged – if it is to survive then it must do so on its own meagre resources, and in a world where nothing externally affirms it (the classic settler colony).
Of course, like every sect, the group finds proofs in the world for its ‘analysis’, and there are always signs that things are about to turn its way. The radical group retains the capacity for the publication of its journal for a few issues; for holding its meetings and conferences; for waving its flag, and manifesting its presence. Therefore, such autonomous activity is one level of abjection above that of mere compliance with historical force, of being frog-marched across no-man’s land into annihilating enemy fire.
This man of the future, who will release us from that earlier ideal just as much as from what had to grow from it, from the great loathing, from the will to nothingness, from nihilism—that stroke of noon and of the great decision which makes the will free once again, who gives back to the earth its purpose and to the human being his hope, this anti-Christ and anti-nihilist, this conqueror of God and of nothingness—at some point he must come . . .
The Genealogy of Morals
Even so, this ‘autonomous’ will and its struggle to realise the nietzschean ‘pledging’ of itself to that moment which is situated in advance of the moment in which the pledge has been made, is not itself adequate to the task of its own realisation. That which realises intent in the world, is not in itself intentional. The uptake of a radical proposal is always decided by other factors, including the degree to which the proposal is already present and awaiting its formulation. Therefore, the question of success, the degree of realisation of the group’s intent in the world, ought not to lie at the heart of the group’s activities.
It is necessary to monitor the rate of response in the world to the group’s project, but second guessing latent prejudices and adapting the message for widest possible consumption is self-distracting. If the radical group is to ‘organise the future’, that is, if it is to cause the external world to include its presence as an objectively present component, then above all else, it must achieve in its present incarnation, the condition of impeccability.
2. Rough principles of small group pathology
The interpretation of the game then became obvious. It was related to the child's great cultural achievement the instinctual renunciation (that is, the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction) which he had made in allowing his mother to go away without protesting. He compensated himself for this, as it were, by himself staging the disappearance and return of the objects within his reach. It is of course a matter of indifference from the point of view of judging the effective nature of the game whether the child invented it himself or took it over on some outside suggestion. Our interest is directed to another point. The child cannot possibly have felt his mother's departure as something agreeable or even indifferent. How then does his repetition of this distressing experience as a game fit in with the pleasure principle?
Beyond the Pleasure Principle
The group’s compulsion to repeat its basic gestures, to force itself to make its paraphernalia here, to force its rigmarole to appear there, is the basic manoeuvre of group-being. It is this moving of its pieces across the board that constitutes the compensation for disconnection from historical brownian motion. Perhaps group activity is only ever a relaying of the contrast between the realisation of its current undertakings and the possibility of its non-presence. Upon arrival at the point where it no longer has the capacity to force its attentions upon the world, or rather, where it has become so enfeebled that its membership forgets its currency, and non-being overwhelms it, consigning it to the past, the question of the nature of its leaving the world then arises.
And for reason of ongoing group die-offs, the general form of self-disappearing is situated at the heart of this investigation. How do projects die? Thus far, our researches have established certain fort-da arrangements between subjectively constituted projects and objectively constituted relations of force. These arrangements demonstrate a certain patternlessness, or asynchrony, between the world and the project that is supposed to act decisively upon it.
That is to say, there is a staggering between the state of being influenced by events and the capacity to cause an influential event. This staggering occurs thus: firstly, the world is ready to be changed but the subject formations seem strangely unprepared; moments later, the subject is fit but conditions have since moved on. It seems the fire has doused itself just at the point where the subject formation is moving to fan the flames.
We also know from our research, that this disco-ordination is not a simple matter of the presence or not of a standing army. Whether the accumulated resources of a ‘permanent organisation’ is in place for the momentous event makes no difference... as the event itself always emerges in a manner that is difficult to register, much less respond to, by such bodies. As far as the permanent organisation of the subject formation is concerned, the event it is ostensibly waiting for always appears on another horizon to that which the subject formation has been scanning.
No doubt, it would be illuminating to study the causes of this permanent state of wrongfootedness in permanent organisations. Such a study might take into account lack of resilience and responsiveness as well as unconscious defences against that which is superficially wished for. However, for the moment it will suffice to list some of the latent patterning that is to be uncovered in project failure and then proceed to examine a case history. These are the basic findings we have established, now presented in short theoretical form:
i. The self-organised formation appears at the end of decisive events as their result, and is not the cause of them. This is best demonstrated by the German workers’ movement after 1918. Even as its organisations massively increased their membership in the 1920’s, they became progressively enfeebled... even to the extent of identifying themselves passively with objective forces which catalysed them. As Benjamin recorded:
There is nothing which has corrupted the German working-class so much as the opinion that they were swimming with the tide. Technical developments counted to them as the course of the stream, which they thought they were swimming in. From this, it was only a step to the illusion that the factory-labor set forth by the path of technological progress represented a political achievement.
ii. The organisation embodies ‘other’ relations than those which it perceives and attempts to act on.
iii. The organisation is orientated towards what has occurred to make it appear not what it is about to make happen. Organ of dissipation.
Findings: every organisation intervenes falsely due to a layering of incorrect inferences drawn from its own nature and purpose, and from its own context. Organisations only ever act wrongly, and yet sometimes, or so it seems, and becoming the convenient vehicles for immense forces, some organisations may act momentously.
3. Implications and assumptions in decisions (a case history)
HENCEFORTH, the situationists are everywhere, and their task is everywhere. All those who think they are situationists have simply to prove the "truth, in other words, reality and power, that which is material" of their thought before the ensemble of the revolutionary proletarian movement, wherever it begins to create its International, and no longer before the SI alone. As for us, we no longer have to guarantee in any way that such individuals are situationists or not, because we no longer need to, and we have never found that sort of thing to our taste.
Certainly, this can be understood in terms of perceived proportions of group and world... where the group calculates its intent outweighs the indifference of the world, it remains watertight, and floats on. Where the world has flooded into the group and inundates it, it is immediately consigned to the past.
There is no purpose in forming a group but for for organising some unique means of its own dissolution. A small group’s demise is prepared for from its inception; properly, if it has come to know itself, it prepares a great act of relinquishment. And bequeathment. The self-dissolution of Principia Dialectica is worthy of note because of the reason given for the decision:
The popular radical magazine and online website, Principia Dialectica, is no more. A source close to those at the helm of PD told me that ‘the decision to close the operation was made when it dawned on the collective behind the project that they needed to sit down and systematically revisit the three volumes of Capital again. This, they consider, is the absolutely essential groundwork in order to prepare for the looming storms heading our way.’
It is not clear whether this statement is intended as a joke, a smokescreen for a regroupment, or is entirely serious. However, it is worthwhile to investigate the logical assumptions behind the decision as if it were sincere.
i. The first of the assumptions necessary to this decision can be stated as: social change may result from a subjective understanding of objective process; that is to say, if the social subject grasps the nature of its conditions, it is enabled to alter them.
In contradiction: the categorical level of this proposed understanding is so raised up here that it necessarily precludes the presence of a subject capable of possessing it. There is no understanding of the world, there may only be understandings with the world. By implication, subjective understanding excludes, or rather, falls short of the capacity for world-transformation.
ii. A second assumption can be stated thus: the critique of political economy as undertaken by Marx and recorded in the three volume text Capital is ‘essential’ to the understanding of ‘looming storms’; that is to say, the substance of the text Capital and a correct interpretation of that text, is essential to changing the subject’s conditions.
In contradiction: the social subject produces the world and is produced by it. It cannot change the fact of itself, which is no more than its constrained relation to its conditions. The destruction of capitalism supposes the destruction of its subject.
iii. The third assumption may be stated thus: the text of Capital accurately describes the conditions in which the social subject finds itself.
In contradiction: there is no path through knowledge to communism. Communism is a condition of knowledge, not the other way round. Communism has no designated, ‘most appropriate discourse’ – on the contrary, it must be productive of multiple discursive fields which cover all aspects of potential life. There is no decisive text or interpretation of a text.
iv. The fourth assumption may be stated in this manner: the social subject, or a significant proportion of it, is constituted as a conscious agent for which understanding is a decisive category.
In contradiction: there is no evidence that a world changing social subject, if such a formation is really possible, and which is produced by present conditions, may also truly think and act against them. That is to say, if there is a subject, then it is bound by greater forces which constitute the nature of its capacities in its formation. Where it can understand, it cannot act. Where it can act, it cannot understand. Furthermore, if some world transforming social subject was more than the fantasy of real world powerlessness, it would have to be constituted by other means, by forces external to those of history. Then, by definition, it would be uncomprehending in its nature.
v. The fifth assumption may be stated in these terms: there is a relation between the membership of Principia Dialectica and the social subject; this relation is constituted in terms of understanding and events. That is to say, it is necessary for the completion of the project of the social subject that the membership of Principia Dialectica must read Capital in order that the social subject may become enabled by understanding to change its conditions.
In contradiction: The relation of fragmentary subject formations (small groups) and the social subject is entirely unknown. No subject formation may predict either the external worth, or the required content of its undertakings. By its definition the fragment of subject formation has ‘flown off’, it is on its own. It has been assigned no special tasks by history. It is not on a mission, it is not doing a good job, it is not laying down the ground work or leading the way. It may only work out and categorise its own perceptions. At most, its findings and arguments may be recognised and taken up by other fragments of consciousness at some later stage.
vi. The sixth assumption, and perhaps the most value-laden (if we accept Principia Dialectica’s definition of the value-form as a patterning of society which cannot be directly apprehended), that is to say, the assumption most difficult to describe, may be stated thus: the social subject is historically constituted by the conditions which it is also able to transform, on condition that it gains sufficient understanding of those conditions, a sufficiency which the conditions themselves must supply.
In contradiction: It is possible that the critique of political economy is necessary to communism but there is no proof of this. The Marxist tradition asserts that the understanding of capitalist process is a vital component of social revolution, but there is no evidence that Marxism is either productive of communism, or in any relation with it whatsoever. On the contrary, all available historical evidence would suggest that Marxist critique of political economy is (as it has sought to seize hold of capitalist productive forces) and in Camatte’s words, a ‘revolutionary reformism’ which is historically ‘affirmed in its opposition to the bourgeoisie, but not to capital.’ Why should it be any other way? Why should political economy supply the categories for its own critique? Much more likely that, as the historical evidence indicates, that the Marxist project conforms to the conditions of its possibility, and that it functions affirmatively as the ‘authentic consciousness of the capitalist mode of production.’
vii. The seventh assumption occurs at the point where the sixth assumption fails to achieve concision, it may be stated thus: the subject is given by objective conditions, which are structurally hostile to the formation of the subject, it is given in order that it may thereby change its conditions to the point where they become sympathetic to its project. That is to say, there is a big problem in the presentation of the relation of the subject and its conditions which Principia Dialectica attempt to resolve via the category of subjective understanding which they consider must be realised through an act of overcoming but as another category, objective change.
In contradiction: This assumption almost collapses into its own contradiction. It is the problem of designed transformation of a wider environment (defined by an inherent hierarchical recursive structuring) by one of the life-forms which is a product and expression of that structuring.
4. On the character and function of the small group as subject fragment
If those involved in Principia Dialectica’s decision to abandon their project as a self-defining fragmentary subject formation, in favour of pursuing a precisely delineated objective knowledge of Capital through Capital and in the process breach the fundamental protocol of subjective consciousness (i.e. the protocol which states that conditions are a separate category from instances of conscious representations of conditions) and which induced them to make the category type error where Capital (map) is interpreted as a revealed knowledge of Capital (territory), if this act of abandonment in bad faith is to be lamented, but not yet deplored, then what other alternative was open to them?
The answer seems to involve an active engagement with the constraints of fragmented subjectivity, by which instances of the subject formation, as these work themselves out, come to know themselves through their various relations to their conditions. As an example, the Situationist International, from which Principia Dialectica derived most of its political theses, was a wholly subjective structure... and set the problem of social revolution at the level of its subjective appearance.
How are we going to bankrupt the prevailing culture? In two ways, at first gradually and then abruptly. We propose to use some concepts artistic in origin in a nonartistic way. We have begun with an artistic exigency, which did not resemble any former aestheticism since it was indeed the exigency of revolutionary modern art at its highest moments. We have thus brought this exigency into life, toward revolutionary politics, meaning its absence and the search for explanations of its absence. The total revolutionary politics that flows from it, and that is confirmed by the highest moments of the true revolutionary struggle of the last hundred years, then comes back to the beginning of this project (a wish for direct life), but now without there being any art or politics as independent forms, nor the recognition of any other separate domain.
At the time, this wilfully subjectivist approach diverged profoundly from those orthodox subject-formations generated from within the tradition established since the Second International, and which were ideologically committed to the possibility of a unity between subject and conditions of which they were always the objective expression. The SI understood a continued, and necessary, distance between itself and its conditions and if it conceived a unity of ‘theory and practice’ and ‘subject and object’ (and it did so conceive) then it did not assert itself as that subject. It did not assume that it could realise the world according to its categories. For it, the social subject was other than itself.
But what does this ‘subjectivist approach’ refer to? In short, it seems to suppose an authentic involvement with the limits of the umwelt and a recognition of categorical hierarchies in relations of force. The subject formation may only gain knowledge of the world on terms set by the world and then reflect upon these as the constraint of its appearance in the world. It may come to know on its own terms and to a greater extent what it is and what it can achieve but that is something very difficult. Its may also, but this too is a very great thing, come to recognise through its own activity, that the fundamental condition for the appearance of the subject in the world is that it may never function as the condition for the appearance of the world.
Instances of the fragmentary subject form never exceed their status as deposits of external forces which they cannot directly articulate, or master. They may only ever describe, that is ‘understand’, the totality as it appears within their fragment of the totality, which is their specific subjective formation. The ‘role’ of the subject formation (which it must seize for itself from within its own resources, as it traces its finger over its own edges) is to work itself out in relation to the world.
The faustian pact which Principia Dialectica entered into (with itself as Mephistopheles) assumed a necessary sacrifice of its soul, of its specific character, in order to gain a true knowledge of the world which it hopes must vanquish the subject’s limits. But it will never gain the vantage point that it desires, it will never look down on capitalism and know it.
The proposed ‘reading’ of Capital can lead to no definitive transformational politics, no great theoretical insights, no moments of sublime intuition, as these are all given up as superfluous at the beginning of such an undertaking. This is not say that the constraints of the subject formation are also relinquished with its possibilities, they aren’t – subjective constraints are reasserted by the world but function invisibly, as they function in the natural sciences amongst that set of alienated knowers for whom knowledge of the object must be separated irrevocably from knowledge of the self.
As it has been proposed by Principia Dialectica’s (and the proposal is insubstantial), the reading of Capital as a means for ‘understanding’ the world can only conclude with that subject fragment falling from knowledge of itself. This is not to say that reading Capital should not be undertaken, only that it should not be undertaken on Principia Dialectica’s proposed terms. Capitalism, if it is truly the condition of our existence, cannot be known. We may hope at best, if we are successful in hoping, that it may become wholly unknown.
However, if it is to know itself to a greater extent, the fragmentary subject formation must give an account of its appearance and the tensions which sustain and distort it. It must become proficient in those discourses which it can utilise to articulate its own limits. It must give an account of what prevents it from overrunning its given boundaries.
The work of the subject formation is directed towards producing its account of its own edge to the world. The fragment, in its optimum condition, is nothing but the description of its constraints. It must gain an adequacy in the discourses of origins, institutions, aesthetics, physicality, psychology, relations, politics and economics. Its exercise of these discourses necessarily places itself as a problem at their centre – i.e. it knows psychology by grasping and articulating the limits of its knowledge of the psychology of itself.
Thus, knowledge of the categories of political economy need only stretch to the description of economic determinations of the subject’s appearance in the world. That is not say, that knowledge ought not take a scientific or objective turn, only that this serves no transformational purpose. Social revolution does not depend upon ‘knowledge’ of systems or of history but on the situation of human subject fragments in systems and in history... the latter cannot be known except through the former.
This description of what is subjectively necessary to know of capitalism is adequately achieved in Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Such a description is sufficient for the exploration undertaken by the subject fragment of the question of economic determination and the constraints on the possibility of social change... there is no gain to be achieved at the level of pro-revolutionary consciousness for the subject through a more specialised knowledge of the categories and processes of political economy.
The subject formation cannot achieve a greater ‘understanding’, that is pro-revolutionary intent, than that achieved by Debord. Once Debord, which is a signifier not a person, arrived on the scene, the possibilities were set, there will be no more appropriate incarnation of what it is to be a 'revolutionary'. The revolutionary relation between totality and fragment has been sealed.
Whatever gains are to be had from engaging in ‘value-form critique’, they will not be achieved in either heightened critique of present conditions or in positive revolutionary practice (no practitioner of value-form critique has exceeded the boundaries set on possible activity by the SI). On the contrary, where the subject is driven further into specialist knowledge, where its subjectivity is eclipsed from the question it has set, where it seeks to know more, it is encountering only other constraints upon itself which it cannot express in terms of ‘revolution’ ‘life’ ‘communism’.
The loss of subjective authenticity is demonstrated in Principia Dialectica’s involvement with the phenomenon of the Neue Marx-Lektüre as this has become subsequently associated from 1990 with what appear to be post-DDR stay-behinds and remnants such as The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the leftist party, Die Linke. Neue Marx-Lektüre is now unable to adequately describe its constraints subjectively beyond the slogan (parroted by Principia Dialectica) that the categories of the capitalist social relation must be ‘understood’ by communists. That is to say, it is not easy to establish how ‘value form theory’ translates politically, and perhaps it never exceeds standard ‘post-leninist’ Marxism.
However, political inferences can be drawn from the latent tendencies within value form theory. For example, if the category of understanding is so crucial to its project (which it conflates with opposition to capitalism), then this also presumes a very specific social body within which this understanding may be incarnated (it also supposes a specific stage where this body may present the nuances of such an understanding).
Given that it is inconceivable that entire populations could participate in this body, we must assume, according to the latent political logic of value form theory, that not everybody may possess the understanding that is necessary to oppose capitalism. Therefore, as this body is defined by its possession of consciousness and the proletariat is interpellated economically, there is a clear (and classic) separation of roles. Any claim that the correct understanding of the categories of capital is undertaken by the proletariat cannot be plausibly sustained – at best it may only be argued that such knowledge is taken up for the proletariat, in its interest. We must conclude therefore, that the politicised form of consciousness (of which value form theory is an aspect and corollary) may only appear within a specific social group defined by ‘understanding’ (and even then we cannot say that this understanding is decisive in the formation of that group).
In other words, value form theory is a conceptual apparatus set within the theoretical constraints established by The Second International’s socialist democratic conventions (i.e. it falls into a category which we now call ‘repressive consciousness, by which we mean, an awareness of the separation between the workers’ movement and the goals of the revolutionary reformists that is resolved on the latter’s terms politically).
The value form conceptual apparatus assumes a pre-existing hierarchically structured political form grounded representationally in a relation between the conscious leadership (which seeks to preserve the understanding of the value form) on one side, and the masses who are to be directed by this understanding on the other side. Furthermore, it also assumes the centrality of a space of power within which the leadership’s consciousness may appear to best effect – if not a citadel, then an assembly of representatives; if not a central executive committee then at least in the academy.
If the politics behind the project of value form theory are problematic to communist forms (it is difficult to see how the critique of political economy might fit together with communism), then it is also more generally true that the self-privileging of any specific communist activity beyond the sphere in which it directly appears is entirely detrimental.
Where communist subjectivity is constrained to the project of working itself out, the technique of ‘repressive consciousness’ involves the realisation of one aspect of social transformation by means of suppressing others. The goal of the carriers of repressive consciousness is essentially expropriative, they seek always to place themselves, their priorities and practices, at the centre of communism. And in order to realise their own non-self aware subject fragment in they are driven to suppress the claims of the subjectivity of others as if they were really arguing for more generalised priorities, the bigger picture. It is by this means that the repressive subject fragment appears to create an identity of itself with the totality.
For value form theorists the goal of understanding plays the transcendent and abstractly unifying role the party plays elsewhere in Marxism. And yet, the party and other Marxist categories of regulation and repression remain present, like a column of tanks, hidden just out of sight. Repressive consciousness is a frame and a filter, it seeks to channel multiple potential discourses of change beneath its regulatory gaze. It is comparable in its operation, as a psycho-political apparatus, to Marcuse’s concept of repressive or institutionalised desublimation:
Institutionalized desublimation thus appears to be an aspect of the “conquest of transcendence” achieved by the one-dimensional society. Just as this society tends to reduce, and even absorb opposition (the qualitative difference!) in the realm of politics and higher culture, so it does in the instinctual sphere. The result is the atrophy of the mental organs for grasping the contradictions and the alternatives and, in the one remaining dimension of technological rationality, the Happy Consciousness comes to prevail.
Understanding the categories of the capitalist social relation are prescribed as a necessary means of social liberation, and yet this released, liberatory activity also disguises other values directed towards submission and discipline, which evidently are not openly revealed. The goal of repressive consciousness is to establish conditions in which only useful speech is valued; and the criteria for usefulness are set by repressive consciousness itself.
The repressive aspect of value form theory is thus utilised by its practitioners in a number of ways: the first involves a rigid deployment of both jargonised or over-valued terms like ‘fetishism’ and obsessive mantras such as ‘capital is not a thing but a social relationship’; the second attempts to regulate the right to speak of capitalism or Marx or communism (it is permitted only if they have read ‘all three volumes of Capital’); the third is a fixed demarcation of what may be legitimately talked about, e.g. it is proper to speak about wages or ‘the extraction of surplus value’ as this allegedly refers to the real interest of the working class whilst any attempt to engage with the idea of species being or what it is exactly of human relations that is preserved in productive forces, then this is unacceptably ‘philosophising’ (i.e. it is divergent from the politics that underlie value form theory); fourthly, that is to say, for those caught up in producing their own abstract conception of an abstracting reality, they are curiously fixed upon propagating their representation of a crudely reductive realism; fifthly, in other words, there is a constant repressive tendency towards that specific form of one-upmanship and self-privileging practice that is characteristic of marxist-leninist infused realpolitik.
It is strange that a group with its origins in the subjectivism of the Situationists such as Principia Dialectica should, in its faustian pursuit of the goal of higher consciousness, inadvertently adopt a practice of a politics of which it would otherwise undoubtedly oppose. If nothing else, and whatever other fine messes they got themselves into, Principia Dialectica, to their credit, were anti-leninist. Therefore, all other anti-leninists must hope that Principia Dialectica’s new project will break value form theory from its political baggage and re-present it in libertarian terms. In the meantime, it is necessary to present a minimum of concepts by which the subjectivist group might orientate itself and gain life-rewards in its headlong or roundabout pursuit of self-destruction.
5. On the process and limits by which the small group may know its own world and leave it on good terms
Debord has supplied to history the awareness of two categorical economic constraints imposed upon the subject formation necessary for it to process its hostile/dependent relation to/upon society. Debord combined these with the default conceptual inheritance of class struggle (however problematic and insupportable that might appear). These two essential theoretical components of The Society of the Spectacle, are the commodity form and real abstraction.
The spectacle is the flip side of money. It, too, is an abstract general equivalent of all commodities. But whereas money has dominated society as the representation of universal equivalence — the exchangeability of different goods whose uses remain incomparable — the spectacle is the modern complement of money: a representation of the commodity world as a whole which serves as a general equivalent for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is money one can only look at, because in it all use has already been exchanged for the totality of abstract representation. The spectacle is not just a servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself a pseudo-use of life.
SOTS thesis 49
At the risk of this turning into a self-interrupting but spiralling list like that in the Spanish Inquisition sketch, subjective awareness is constituted by and against the imposition of the constraints of class struggle, the commodity form and real abstraction.
From these it might proceed, for example, towards Bataille’s Accursed Share in order to further investigate the categorical constraints of general energy scarcity. From this it might also prove worthwhile to read Marx but then Marx has long since proved a poisoned well. However, at the preliminary level, for the purposes of early self-definition in the subject formation's development, Debord is sufficient. He presents real abstraction and the commodity form relatively simply. We can re-represent Debord’s categories in a few paragraphs below to illustrate the purpose of this investigation.
The subject formation is constituted by an awareness of uniformity in the phenomena that surrounds it. All phenomena are relatable to one another in the abstract; that is to say, all phenomena possess an attribute which may be measured and expressed abstractly. The subject formation conjectures that the conformity of such phenomena is drawn out from a structural patterning, in things, in knowledge, in relations, in the world. It hypothesises an abstract patterning which does not appear directly before it. The subject formation further conjectures a designed element to this patterning. The subject formation deduces an intent expressed in the commensurability of phenomena with the designed environment. It assumes, from its experience of its own non-commensurability (its separation as consciousness) that this intent is ambivalent or hostile to the interest of itself as a fragmentary subject formation as it seeks to realise itself independently of its environmental constraints.
Upon further reflection, the subject formation discovers that although it has appeared in the world as an awareness which is in contradiction to its circumstances, it is also in the world. It becomes aware that its awareness equally conforms to the ubiquitous patterning of the world. It reconsiders its position and concludes that whilst every thing, including itself, is part-templated upon the process of real abstraction, no thing entirely yields to the commodity form. Every thing, even the crudest old tat, even the contemptible, self-hating subject formation which struggles to escape the tiresome formulations of its struggle to escape, conceals something other, something social, something human which does not fly off into the abstract, which is not contained by the commodity form.
In extremis, the subject formation comes to understand that there is an agency in objects as there is also passivity in beings. That is another way of saying that the constant traffic which passes across the border between things and their form is dynamic rather than static, processive rather than strictly causal.
There is a feeding-in of the qualities of commodities, as these express other, social human co-ordinates, into abstraction and correspondingly, there is, paradoxically perhaps, a perpetual adjustment in the abstract patterning of the world as it causes new things. In short, the subject formation becomes aware that the world is in production. And even shorter, the subject formation perceives that it also contributes to the constraints of its appearance. In other words, it produces a world to which it is ambivalent, and which is equally ambivalent towards it.
The subject formation now considers that it cannot be redeemed by its own efforts but by its own efforts may only record the world’s process as it is produced by the world. At most it seeks to recycle itself as honestly as possible... gazing levelly at its reflection in the bedroom mirror. It comes to understand that it cannot really communicate its findings. Being locked-in was always the fundamental condition of its appearance. It has to recognise that it is not the social subject but only a subject formation.
However, the fragment is dependent on its idea of the social subject, which belongs to another order and which produces the world and is produced by the world at a higher level of recursion. The social formation conjectures something of the social subject through knowledge of itself. It can be conjectured that the social subject makes the world upon which it is dependent, and to which it is ambivalent. And it can be conjectured that the world makes the social subject upon which it is dependent, and to which it is ambivalent. The social subject is the proletariat. There is space in that relation of proletariat to production of the world Space in that process, space for other constraints and other conditions.
The subject formation is structurally constrained from participating in the social subject. The subject formation, that is the small group, does not speak for the proletariat, it does not know it, it does not belong to it, it does not organise it, it does not represent it, it has no message which may be conveyed to it. The subject formation, at the height of its powers, that is as it becomes aware at the edge of its constraints, realises that it undertakes its tasks, which are its own, before the proletariat, as if beneath the gaze of the proletariat – which has no sight and no awareness.
The social subject is structurally incapable of awareness and of sight. The proletariat, as social subject, is other to the subject formation which is constituted in awareness of its separation, by its understandings, by its sensitivities, and above all in its awareness of separation from the social subject. The proletariat belongs to another order of magnitude, or rather to an incommensurable category. The fragmented subject formation is aware of separations. It is aware of nothing else, it is consumed by such awareness, but it can do nothing about it.
The subject formation seeks the optimum moment in its development to disburden itself of the energies which it has stored in its archives. In order to undertake an escape from its predicament, it must seek out gaps where the constraints which bind it, seem weakest. It must conduct many simultaneous diagnostic checks in different registers. Its gamble is always that by running differently prepared investigations in multiple discursive fields over the same territory, its central awareness will be able to pick up any discrepancies in the findings between the fields.
The subject fragment's multivalent investigations are layered over its world... if there is a way out, its forensic attention to detail should find it. Its investigations proceed on the assumption that the rules which constrain it to its world do not hold as tight at all points and so the subject formation conducts a fingertip search for the unguarded edges of its territory. It hypothesises temporary connective passages from its world to other worlds (worlds defined by entirely other sets of rules). The paths to other worlds are thought to exist in the cracks between different orders of layered discourse.
The subject formation understands that such passages are temporary, that the discrepancy between discourses is rapidly recuperated, obscured by mists, absorbed into swamps, buried by sand, fractured by geothermal forces, subtle layers compacted and distorted... but if the group is sufficiently prepared, if it is focused, if it is well practised then it will be able to direct in the beam of its intent a few lines from the song of its knowledge into these passages before they seal over. The margins are tight and the opportunity narrow, but it is worth taking a chance. Perhaps, one day the words of this group (long dried out and mummified by its efforts) will fall out of the universe into some unimaginable other world where they will make a difference. The tissue thin possibility of a message surviving, of being taken up, of making a positive difference is reason enough. For the subject formation, such a gamble has to be worth it.
This is a further addition to a number of investigations into small group ontology and the mechanism of their production. Some of the other pieces are here: