There is no exit from the entanglement. The only responsible option is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and as for the rest, to behave in private as modestly, inconspicuously and unpretentiously as required, not for reasons of good upbringing, but because of the shame that when one is in hell, there is still air to breathe.
This is intended to introduce certain themes and motifs that constitute a sort of ‘syllabus’ which will be developed over the coming weeks. The common thread running through the various diverse and madcap noodlings (quietism; experiments in the life-world; indoor anarchism; our fetish of 1914; the seasonality of struggles; the spectres of the rooms and so on) concerns those processes that are resultant in subjective vulnerability and incapacitation. Several, no doubt ineffectual, approaches shall be made towards a description of that which, in its different registers of existence, is manifested as the assailed life-form. Central to this theme is the argument that ‘locked-in’ past traumas are retrospectively caused by present existence.
But then, satire has long been legitimised and comedy no longer indicates the passing of the ancien regime. The production of laughter (‘a shattered articulation’) has become variously, a reaction formation, another bind, another valve, another circuit of reproduction. We also know from Marx that capitalism is nothing but the revolutionising of social relations, the release of forces and its comedy of wounds, its gaiety in damage - comedy is in the business of return and not of release. Under present conditions, gaiety must incorporate the costs that are incurred by the permanency of transformation, and is in turn both cultivated and incorporated into the churning tumult of the self-transforming totality.
Comedy no longer gives vital expression to what appears suddenly as the incongruity of injustice, nor does it bury ‘worn-out forms’. On the contrary, if consciousness is only ever the consciousness of what is wrong between then and now, the gaiety of the present stays resolutely unaware and inarticulate - the error of the present stubbornly resists its own disinterment. As a result, the incomprehensibility of systemic resilience - the environmental capacity to learn and develop immunity, the incorporation into its mechanisms of those facets which once threatened it - the perpetual running away of the wrong type of change is the maddening derail that feeds those who previously imagined that they wanted anything to happen back into the loop of its all going off at once, and badly.
Where perturbations to a system are locked-into the structure, the system becomes dependent on conserving the integrated array of its transforms as itself in its normal state. The locked in distortions are reproduced recursively and appear, or are carried out, at the level of the smallest detail. Where everything is addicted to everything, the praxis implied by an elliptical relation of present existence to its earlier traumatic perturbations can best be understood in terms of the modern nation state’s dependency on successfully managing its debt service coverage ratio - the preoccupations of deferral and refinancing has colonised the entirety of its operational regimen.
Cost, debt, price, such are the terms by which we might understand the settling of the present into the grip of the past, which only now unfolds within and before it. For example, the freudian concept Nachträglichkeit (translated as ‘afterwardness’ or deferred action) refers to the process wherein a traumatic affect is delayed in its activation subsequent to the event of which it is a result by a subjective incapacity to carry it. It is as if a warning bell was struck a mighty blow in the deep past but the bell’s ringing is immediately suspended, and only much later resounds across the land that has already been laid to waste by the force which the bell’s tolling was to announce. The subject matures only to give expression to the shock which has caused it to awaken from eternal dreams. It speaks, it ventriloquises the subject:
The assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution.
The delayed affect described by the mechanism of nachträglichkeit is a result of the subject’s varying capacity to register what exactly constituted the event - those shocks which were apparently successfully processed and survived in the heat of the moment, continue to operate upon, and even constitute a latent reformulation of, the subject’s sense of self. The traumatic effect only becomes floridly manifest in the subject’s behaviour after it has crossed the threshold for registering it, and in recognition of its own having been locked in, laid waste - this uncovering of the mechanism might take an entire lifetime.
The collective trauma of 1914 in which a frenzy of capital destruction precipitated the locking-in of a new world-wide cycle of controlled accumulation, subsequently manifested itself as a generalised and inescapable co-dependency between ‘relations’ and ‘environment’ that is implied by the term, ‘community of capital’. At the same time it locked out the possibility of ‘civilisation’ overcoming its internal contradictions and realising itself as the ‘human community.’ This cataclysmic event (as a nachträglichkeit) is only now revealing its compulsive hold over the present - the project of proposing a sociality that might exit the eternal life-world of 1914 is directly confronted with the complex of dependencies that have resulted from ‘locked-in’ changes that seemingly cannot now be relinquished. ‘As a result’, the past is let loose in the present, ‘every tradition, even the most recent becomes the legacy of something that has already run its course in the immemorial night of the ages... primal history enters the scene in ultramodern get-up.’
The predicament of over-adaptation to an exploitative environment can only really be grasped in relation to what we might understand as the ‘healthy’ processing of trauma (which is termed in psychoanalysis abreaction). Psychoanalysis imagines the perceptual-consciousness system as a protective shield (reizschutz) which regulates the integrity of the self against overwhelming cosmic stimulation, and facilitates the cathecting and decathecting of ‘traumatic’ material. The Freudian subject is constructed as a system of gravity driven canals, locks, ditches and reservoirs that is regulated by an ancillary system of plumbing and is supplied, at one remove, by cosmic forces that swirl about it, unrecognised. The process of abreaction supposes an overflow pump of the emotions with which the subject opens the valves of itself and releases, in a great gushing, the ancient waters of past disturbance.
However, the possibility of abreaction assumes that the act of discharging pent-up affective energy is less deleterious to the integrity of the subject than the original deranging event - which, after all, has become retrospectively constitutive of that integrity. The presence of the mechanism of nachträglichkeit suggests that the capacity for abreaction may be overwhelmed by the subject’s conservation of locked-in sensitivities to earlier traumatic occurrences. In such cases, the potential emotional discharge is greater than the capacity of the subject to express it.
On a civilisation-wide basis, the part-abreaction of the affects of 1914 began with the famous outbreak of bleating which heralded the proletarian mutinies, desertions and revolts of the period until 1921 (ending in Kronstadt). These unsuccessful affective discharges resulted only in a further cycle of traumatization rather than in the looked-for utopia of release. Thwarted abreactional events were historically indicative, in their lack of transformative capacity, of an already locked-in dependency upon conserved perturbations and the production of a second nature, or reizschutz, fixed into a wasted landscape.
Those who have inherited the wasteland, hear, but do not respond to, the alarm which warns of a disaster that they are product of. Such is the predicament of historical existence. Reflections upon the matter of what is ‘carried forward’, the self-production of an inhibitive past, has become the essential component of marxist-influenced thought. It is a tenet of autonomist marxism, for example, that the history of class struggle is objectively woven into the fabric of social infrastructure - every institutional process is contorted by the claims recorded within it by the different interest groups struggling around its ownership.
However, this supposed objective record of resistances is merely the content of an unreliable narrative which presents the historical limits to the rate of exploitation in the form of worker’s gains. In reality, the limit on exploitation is set (and thus resolved) technologically - and workers’ demands are only ever manifested objectively in accordance with instrumentalising rationality. The incremental conversion of old constraints into new thresholds for the rate of exploitation thereby accelerates the expulsion of the ‘human’ from the productive apparatus and thus increases the system’s proportion of ‘locked-in’ changes which an irreconcilable populace is progressively more incapable of leaving behind.
By way of contrast with the autonomist presentation, kompromissbildung (compromise-formation as conceived within psychoanalysis) is a more pessimistic modelling of the inherited material carried forward within productive relations. The compromise formation is recognisable in all false contradictions wherein the phenomena of the present appear pathologically (or as Freud says in ‘distorted form’) as an armed peace staged between what is repressed and what is repressing. The ominous forms pushed out into the world’s self-productive terrain do not record the presence of an active ‘positive’ or healthy force (neither abreacting nor ‘revolutionary’) but are the result of a conflict between two or more ‘negative’ pressures: for example, addictive coping mechanisms mixed into unprocessable past trauma.
At another level, in another register, we live. In the domain of that coping, the idea of collapse seems either very small, or very remote - we do not heed the internecion that has brought us to this point, we screen ourselves from the gathering momentum upon which we are drawn towards totalisation. And the urn which contains our own ashes might only be 11 cm high, or perhaps it is located in the very far distance - we are indifferent. We have no cathectic investment in how the last stage of a world-historical form becomes an incongruity. But even in a life-world where our past and other selves are recorded into every institutional surface as a deepening in the processive sheen, and we are transformed via an acquired mordancy of wit into the shocked unshockables, there are perhaps, no there certainly are, crumpets still for tea.