Mann's Stupid Undergrounds

Stupid Undergrounds
by Paul Mann

Department of English
Pomona College

Postmodern Culture v.5 n.3 (May, 1995)

Copyright (c) 1995 by Paul Mann, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author and the notification of the publisher, Oxford University Press.

Click on header to jump to section...

i. Zone - Apocalyptic cults and youth gangs, garage bands and wolfpacks, "colleges" and phalansteries, espionage networks trading in vaporous facts and networks of home shoppers for illicit goods...

ii. Trajectory - In what one could call, not without historical cause if perhaps too casually, the standard modernist map, the relation between hegemonic center and oppositional margin is more or less constant. Marginal groups are suppressed almost to the point of invisibility; or at least to a theoretical "position" of "silence"...

iii. Vertical - The horizontal extension of the trajectory tilts along another axis, much older, much more deeply embedded, much more stupidly anthropomorphic, and precisely the logic that gives rise to the term "underground."The space of tunnels and hence also of communication—subways, fiberoptics, sewers—and of escape...

iv. On "stupid" - Intelligence is no longer enough. We have witnessed so many spectacles of critical intelligence's dumb complicity in everything it claims to oppose that we no longer have the slightest confidence in it. One knows with the utmost certainty that the most intense criticism goes hand in hand with the most venal careerism...

v. Nihil - One might find it amusing to assume the pose of someone who states problems with brutal simplicity. As in this little nugget: Every historical form of cultural and political revolt, transgression, opposition, and escape has turned out to be nothing more than a systemic function. The notion of recuperation...

vi. Croatan - Nothing could be more quintessentially American than the stupid underground. It is more basic, more historical, than all the structures and pseudo-guarantees of liberal democracy. If America as such can be mythologized as a nation of dropouts and a shadow underground of Europe, it also immediately begins to generate its own dropouts...

vii. Subliminal - The stupid underground can be mapped onto a familiar and perhaps quite objectionable psychotopography: it is a zone of the repressed of culture and thus, according to this model, both a pathological site giving rise to all sorts of pathogenic surface effects, and a therapeutic matrix, a place where impacted energies...

viii. Net - Over and over again we are offered new models that turn out to be the resurgence of everything they presume to leave behind, that exhaust their force even as they grind on in the stupidest, deadliest, and hence perhaps most critical repetition (all that is left of the critical), and yet still hold out the lure...

ix. Virtual - The invention of VR goggles and gloves lags far behind the vast array of prosthetic subjectivities that already exist, and helps to conceal the insistent possibility that whatever is offered to or claimed by us as reality has never been anything but virtual, a matter of surrogation. As always, the fact that everyone already knows this...

x. Quack - What should one think of a Nobel Laureate who proposes, quite scientifically, the theory of "directed panspermia": that the nucleic proteins from which "life itself" arises were sent here from another star system? Or the notion that, since the biochemical structure of psilocybin spores resembles nothing else on earth, they too were exported, as the very seeds of consciousness, from somewhere out there?

xi. Stupid Gurus - The fashionable mathematics of fractals, precisely in the reduced form pilfered by what once were humanists and who know virtually nothing about it, provides us with the figure of a sort of zeno-graphically receding infinitesimal repetition - the sub-cell reproducing the topography of the whole organism...

xii. Conspiracy - The stupid underground is the home of the mutant hybrid. What would have seemed to be—what, we are told, a prior cultural order labored to preserve as—distinct, conflicting, contradictory ideas and values are tossed together; categorical boundaries are blurred by rapid movements across them. Sin, pleasure, political subversion, "nostalgie de la boue," heroism...

xiii. Loud - There is a certain justice to giving the task for discovering the silent forms of control to those whose primary mode of operation is enormous volume. The trajectory from loud rock music to even louder industrial music (Boyd Rice/Non plays too loud even for much of the stupid club scene) to experiments in subliminal sound is continuous. There is, in a certain sense, no difference, no line between sound so loud it is all one can hear...

xiv. Day Job - Best of all, furthest along its trajectory, is "zerowork," the refusal to work, the refusal to bid for equal alienation, disappearing from the tax rolls, from the very category of the unemployed. But how then to survive? By hook and crook, and the stupid underground is rife with pipedreams and proven scams. Loompanics Press offers the libertarian illusion...

xv. Nomad, Rhizome - Intellectual economics guarantees that even the most powerful and challenging work cannot protect itself from the order of fashion. Becoming-fashion, becoming-commodity, becoming-ruin. Such instant, indeed retroactive ruins, are the virtual landscape of the stupid underground. The exits and lines of flight pursued by Deleuze and Guattari are being shut down and rerouted by the very people who would take them most seriously...

xvi. SI Revenant - Today you can purchase a copy of The Society of the Spectacle, now precisely a "mythic" text, newly translated by a professional scholar to purge it of those pesky inaccuracies that made earlier versions so difficult for all those pseudo-pro-situs to understand, and published in hardcover by a university press, for about $20. A souvenir edition...

xvii. Skin - How much can be made of a brightly colored scar? Only yesterday the tattoo was presented—and who was there who would have bothered to argue against it?—as a radical form of self-expression, an intense and immediate means of repossessing the body, taking it back from all the social systems that, one believes, have stolen it...

xviii. Fuzzy Fun - It is notable how often the interviews in Modern Primitives—stupid interviews in general—resort, even while describing the most extreme practices, to the category of fun. The subjective analogue, the affective dimension of fuzzy capital might be fuzzy fun. Stupid fun. Piercing is fun, drunkenness and drugs are fun, sexual excess is fun...

xix. Sur la Plage - Plagiarism has etymological roots in kidnapping, specifically the stealing of slaves or the enslavement of freemen. The plaga too is a Net. In 1987, an "International Festival of Plagiarism" (actually just a few venues in London and San Francisco) announced the coming-out of sign-theft. What had always been characterized as the most obscene, insidious, pathetic attempt to pass off someone else's text or authorship as one's own now wrapped itself in the heroic banner...

xx. Kulture Krit - Is this what "Adorno" had in mind? All this armchair "ressentiment," other-envy, hyperactive "nostalgie de la boue" lapped up by university presses and colloquia? All these literary critics and social scientists demonstrating their irrelevance in the very process of asserting their political engagement, extending their great critical powers to prove, at enormous length, what everyone already pretends to know about ideology, about power, about resistance...

xxi. Secret - We have mapped the stupid underground as the capital of the culture of resentment, of a strict, self-indulgent, and self-evacuating reactivity, lamely proposing "new" models and modes of existence that nonetheless can never be entirely reduced to the dialectics of recuperation, and that, even as they sacrifice themselves to such a facile criticism...

xxiii. Desert - Why so much stupid-critical fascination with the desert? Foucault dropping acid in Death Valley is the perfect journalistic figure of the final cause, if you will, of theory itself. You go out into the desert to escape the social world, have visions, go native, clear a space to begin again, look into whatever abyss, encounter gods, escape in order to be...

xxiv. Notes

i. ZONE [ Top of page ]

[1] Apocalyptic cults and youth gangs, garage bands and wolfpacks, "colleges" and phalansteries, espionage networks trading in vaporous facts and networks of home shoppers for illicit goods; monastic, penological, mutant-biomorphic, and anarcho-terrorist cells; renegade churches, dwarf communities, no-risk survivalist enclaves, unfunded quasi-scientific research units, paranoid think tanks, unregistered political parties, sub-employed workers councils, endo-exile colonies, glossolaliac fanclubs, acned anorexic primal hordes; zombie revenants, neo-fakirs, defrocked priests and detoxing prophets, psychedelic snake-oil shills, masseurs of undiagnosed symptoms, bitter excommunicants, faceless narcissists, ideological drag queens, mystical technophiles, sub-entrepreneurial dealers, derivative "derivistes", tireless archivists of phantom conspiracies, alien abductees, dupe attendants, tardy primitives, vermin of abandoned factories, hermits, cranks, opportunists, users, connections, outriders, outpatients, wannabes, hackers, thieves, squatters, parasites, saboteurs; wings, wards, warehouses, arcades, hells, hives, dens, burrows, lofts, flocks, swarms, viruses, tribes, movements, groupuscules, cenacles, isms, and the endlessly multiplied hybridization of variant combinations of all these, and more.... Why this stupid fascination with stupid undergrounds? What is it about these throwaway fanzines and unreadable rants, these neo-tattoos and recycled apocalypses, this mountainous accumulation of declassified factoids, these bloody smears, this incredible noise? Why wade through these piles of nano-shit? Why submit oneself to these hysterical purveyors, these hypertheories and walls of sound? Why insist on picking this particular species of nit? Why abject criticism, whose putative task was once to preserve the best that has been known and thought, by guilty association with so fatuous, banal, idiotic, untenable a class of cultural objects? Why not decline, not so politely, to participate in the tiny spectacle of aging intellectuals dressing in black to prowl festering galleries and clubs where, sometime before dawn, they will encounter the contemptuous gaze of their own children, and almost manage to elide that event when they finally produce their bilious reports, their chunks of cultural criticism? No excuse, no justification: all one can put forward is an unendurable habit of attention, a meager fascination, no more or less commanding than that hypnosis one enters in the face of television; a rut that has always led downward and in the end always found itself stuck on the surface; a kind of drivenness, if not a drive; a "critique", if you can forgive such a word, that has never located any cultural object whose poverty failed to reflect its own; a rage to find some point at which criticism would come to an end, and that only intensified as that end-point receded and shrunk to the size of an ideal.

[2] Then if one must persist in investigating these epi-epiphenomena, perhaps compelled by some critical fashion (no doubt already out of vogue), perhaps merely out of an interminable immaturity, why not refer the stupid underground back to all the old undergrounds, back to the most familiar histories? Why not cast it as nothing more than another and another and another stillborn incarnation of an avant-garde that wallows in but doesn't quite believe its own obituaries, and that one has already wasted years considering? Why not just settle for mapping it according to the old topography of center and margin, or some other arthritic dichotomy that, for all their alleged postness, the discourses we are about to breach always manage to drag along behind them? Why not simply accede to the mock-heroic rhetoric of cultural opposition (subversion, resistance, etc.) that, after a generation of deconstructions, we still don't have the strength to shake; or to the nouveau rhetoric of multiplicity (plurality, diversity, etc.), as if all one needed was to add a few more disparate topic headings to break the hold of a One that, in truth, one still manages to project in the very act of superceding it? Nothing will prevent us—indeed nothing can save us—from ransoming ourselves again and again to the exhausted mastery of these arrangements; nothing will keep us from orienting ourselves toward every difference by means of the most tattered maps. But at the same time we must entertain—doubtless the right word—the sheer possibility that what we encounter here is not just one more margin or one more avant-garde, however impossible it will be to avoid all the orders and terms attendant upon those venerable and ruined cultural edifices. We must remain open to the possibility that this stupid underground poses all the old questions but a few more as well, that it might suggest another set of cultural arrangements, other topographies and other mappings, however unlikely that might be. In any case, whatever vicarious attractions the stupid underground offers the bored intellectual groping for a way to heat up his rhetoric, if not his thought, whatever else we might encounter here, it is important to insist that you will not find these maps laid out for your inspection, as if on an intellectual sale table, and rated for accuracy and charm. No claim is being staked here; no one is being championed, no one offered up on the critical auction block as the other of the month. There is nothing here to choose; all the choices have already been made. One can only hope, in what will surely prove an idle gesture, to complicate cultural space for a moment or two, for a reader or two, to thicken it and slow one's passage through it, and, as always, to render criticism itself as painful and difficult as possible. Indeed, let us suggest that this tour of the stupid underground is above all else designed—according to a certain imaginary, a certain parody, the curve of a perfectly distorted mirror—not to give us an opportunity to rub elbows with the natives and feel some little thrill of identification with them, but to expose to criticism its own stupidity, its impossibility, its abject necessity. Why go there at all? To pursue a renunciation of culture past the limit, where it precisely leaves us behind, where criticism can no longer observe it, no longer recuperate it; and at the same time to witness the turning-back and collapse of the critical into the very form and function of everything it would seek to distance and negate: a double negation that will end up—what else?—reinvesting in the stupidity of culture. No venture could be more idiotic. Shades have been distributed, the bus is leaving, our stupid-critical theme-park tour is about to begin.

ii. Trajectory [ Top of page ]

[3] In what one could call, not without historical cause if perhaps too casually, the standard modernist map, the relation between hegemonic center and oppositional margin is more or less constant. Marginal groups are suppressed almost to the point of invisibility, or at least to a theoretical "position" of "silence"; centers might seem to disintegrate, and parties consigned to the margin in one generation might rise to power in the next; one even speaks of multiple "sites" (all women are marginalized, although caucasian women are more likely to occupy a hegemonic position in relation to women of color; one can be white-male but gay, straight-female and Asian, etc.); but the general structure of center and margin remains in a sort of hypertense steady state.(1) The limited exclusion of the margin constitutes the center's defining boundary. Margins exist insofar as they are held in an orbit, placed at the constitutive limit of whatever power the center consigns itself. We are hardly breaking any new ground in stating that this dialectical topography underlies almost all of our cultural criticism, often in the most tacit manner; it has been exceedingly difficult for anyone to propose more sophisticated models. It is here that we find the first relevance of the stupid underground. While it readily lends itself to this topographical reduction, it cannot be simply constrained to an orbit. It is deployed—but by what force? by some hegemonic "Power" or by another, undetermined order of cultural physics?—as a means of carrying every mode of cultural activity past its limits, to its termination. At times this termination seems merely symbolic, as they say: an end-point that might indeed be fatal but is nonetheless reflected back into the cultural economy as a series of still quite spectacular and profitable images. The death of painting as a mode of painting, etc. And yet the trajectory of the stupid underground also begins to make the notion of the margin rather uncertain. One is reminded of the blank spaces at the edges of archaic, flat-earth maps, the monsters that lurk past the edges of the world. Cartoonish monsters, hardly worthy of a child's nightmare, and yet marking the place of an unimaginable destruction, of the invisible itself. Not marginal spaces, strictly speaking, since they cannot be mapped, since they are precisely beyond the limit: but at the same time an extra-cartographic reach that is preserved as a kind of threat, if you will, or seduction, if you would rather, to the very adventure of marginality. The stupid underground is not only the newest post-avant-garde, it is also, beyond that, the very image—quite critical, in its way—of the imminent and perhaps immanent suicide of every marginal project, a suicide that is not a demonstration, a gesture accompanied by notes to the Other, but the most rigorous renunciation of the symbolic order.(2) We move from the masterpiece to avant-garde art-against-art to non-art (folk, "brut", etc.) to the end of art (autodestructive art, art strikes) to the most vigilant refusal, a refusal that never puts itself on display at all; from mainstream rock to punk to industrial music to experiments in subsonic effects generators (Survival Research Laboratory, Psychic TV, Non) to utter silence; from rock-tour T-shirts to skinhead fascist costuming to criminal disguise and disappearance from every spectacle and every surveillance; from sexually explicit art to pornography and soft or "theoretical" S/M (masocriticism itself) to hardcore consensual sadism and masochism to pedophilic aggression to the consequent "knowledge" of the most violent sexuality carried out in the strictest secrecy.(3) The stupid underground is the immanence and extension "to fatality and beyond" of becoming-sound, becoming-animal, becoming-libidinal, becoming-machine, becoming-alien, becoming-terror; it is the exhilarating velocity through cultural space of this fatal and yet never simply terminal movement. We should also note that even as one pursues these trajectories, the underground lends this Deleuzian rhetoric of becoming-X its most abiding cultural form: becoming-%cliche%, becoming-stupid. In the stupid underground any innovation can be, at one and the same time, utterly radical and worthless in advance. The trajectory past "cliche" is at stake here as well, a trajectory that takes us not into further innovation but into repetition itself: the repetition of a cultural adventure long after its domestication, but as if it were still an adventure. The trajectory is thus seldom a straight line into the beyond, a singular line of flight through becoming-imperceptible, into the invisible. The complexity of these movements suggests four trajectories, or four dimensions of the trajectory as such:

to the apotheosis of stupidity, as sublime becomes ridiculous as if without transition;

to the violent limit of the tolerable, the very limit of recuperability;

to disappearance past the boundary of cultural representation, a disappearance so critical that it gives the lie to every other form of criticism;

and to what turns out, in the very midst of an innovative frenzy, to be stupid repetition, an autonomous, automatic repetition that drains cultural forms of every meaning, even that of parody: the stupefying force of repetition, which, we are told, is the very trace of the death drive.

iii. Vertical [ Top of page ]

[4] The horizontal extension of the trajectory tilts along another axis, much older, much more deeply embedded, much more stupidly anthropomorphic, and precisely the logic that gives rise to the term "underground." The space of tunnels and hence also of communication—subways, fiberoptics, sewers—and of escape under the walls; of burrowing animals and carriophagic worms; of roots and imminent growth, and at the same time of death, indeed death as eternal punishment. Underground lies fecundity and decay; the foundation and everything that would erode it; the deepest truth or exclusion from the light; eternal torment or libidinal indulgence and its threat to repressive order. All of these habitual and mutually cancelling tropes attach themselves dumbly to the stupid underground, even in its most brilliant elaborations. Bataille, for instance, cannot avoid what one might cautiously call a metaphysics of verticality in his very attempt to construe the basest materialism: the piston of fucking turning the earth; the burst of orgasmic laughter from the upturned pineal eye of the "Jesuve"; the descent from the head—or from the blank, acephalic space left by the decapitation of reason and the king—down through the obscene, grotesque comedy of the big toe digging in the mud; the descent from the rotting flowerhead of the heliotrope into the obscenity of roots and Marx's "old mole." In Bataille's formulation, one might say, the proletariat becomes revolutionary by being stupid, by being blind: the marxian mole at the opposite pole from Enlightenment reason becomes, for Bataille, the figure of revolutionary criticism itself. For Bataille, in other words, despite every attempt to go beyond good and evil, to ruin the very order of morality itself, everything depends on an inversion that retains the structure of the moral axis, and, indeed, repeats its "historical" reversal: the repressive ethical order of the straight world versus the perversion and hence pleasures of hell, or at least of bohemia. Evil be thou my good; perversion be thou my knowledge. But the inversion is never constant. It is never a matter of simple reversal: the poles are not stable, value is determined by opposition alone. Either pole can be good, either pole can be evil: up and down are indiscriminately positive or negative, so long as they remain counterposed. The fixed form of the vertical axis provides for a certain abitrary migration of value up and down the line. It is a question of what one Blake critic calls "perspective ontology."(4) In Blake's terms, "the eye altering alters all"; an angel consigns us to the inferno of his own imagination, which becomes a pastoral paradise if we believe it so; heaven is thus recast as an oppressive zone of paternal law. "They became what they beheld," but what they beheld is what they projected, either through an active or a reactive imagination. What one must emphasize here is not romantic faith in the power of the imagination, which one might well find rather dubious, but the pure phenomenality of this binary mapping and the ease with which, it appears, the poles can be reversed, flipped back and forth endlessly from hell to heaven to hell, from suffering to pleasure to suffering (a masocritical vacillation in its own right), from "ressentiment" (and hence complicity) to revolution and back to the order of the Same. The stupid underground is available to any ontological or ideological reformulation, and hence a place to test the following paradox: all cultural zones are both overdetermined and blank.

iv. On "stupid" [ Top of page ]

[4] Intelligence is no longer enough.(5) We have witnessed so many spectacles of critical intelligence's dumb complicity in everything it claims to oppose that we no longer have the slightest confidence in it. One knows with the utmost certainty that the most intense criticism goes hand in hand with the most venal careerism, that institutional critiques bolster the institution by the mere fact of taking part in their discourse, that every position is ignorant of its deepest stakes. Each school of critical thought sustains itself by its stupidity, often expressed in the most scurrilous asides, about its competitors, and a sort of willed blindness about its own investments, hypocrisies, illusory truths. And one can count on each critical generation exposing the founding truths of its predecessors as so much smoke and lies. Thought, reading, analysis, theory, criticism has transported us to so many Laputas that we should hardly be surprised to encounter a general—or perhaps not general enough—mistrust of intelligence as such. What is most "subversive" now is neither critical intelligence nor romantic madness (the commonplace is that they are two sides of the same Enlightenment coin) but the dull weight of stupidity, spectacularly elaborated, and subversive only by means of evacuating the significance of everything it touches—including the romance of subversion itself. To abandon intelligence because it has been duplicitous or built such grandly inane intellectual systems might seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but if rejecting intelligence is rejecting too much, never underestimate the stupid exhilaration of "too much"; and flying babies are a nicely stupid image, quite suitable for a record cover. Let us insist that we are not arguing for poetic madness breaking out of the prison of reason, nor for the philosophical acephalism of Bataille and his university epigones, still helplessly playing out the dialectic of the enlightenment. The rationalization of unreason is not much of a remedy; that is why we took the trouble to diagnose the recuperation and critical evacuation of Bataille. What confronts us in the stupid underground is also the rationalization of unreason, but it is accompanied by a much more naked idiocy, sheer stupidity posing as value, as the last truth of culture, value without value, and an irresistible lure for suicidal reason. That is, for us, the value—precisely worthless—of the expansive, aggressively sophomoric network of the Church of the SubGenius, of these exaggerated revolutionary claims for a few noisy CDs and nipple piercings, or of the posturing of the so-called Hakim Bey: "I am all too well aware of the 'intelligence' which prevents action. Every once in a while however I have managed to behave as if I were stupid enough to try to change my own life. Sometimes I've used dangerous stupifiants like religion, marijuana, chaos, the love of boys. On a few occasions I have attained some degree of success."(6) The only undergrounds that surface any more are moronic: cross-eyed obfuscators, cranks, latahs,(7) deadly-serious self-parodists, adolescent fraternities of deep thinkers riding the coattails of castoff suits.

[6] What animates the stupid underground is not merely heroic madness or libidinal ideology or a drooping IQ "against" reason, although we still have to listen to all of that repeated, precisely, past the point of endurance; it is something like stupid intelligence, the manic codification of the inane, the willingness to pursue, absolutely at the risk of abject humiliation, absolutely at the risk of making oneself a perfect fool, lines of inquiry that official intelligence would rather have shut down. The dismissal of some dubious scientific fact or method by official intelligence is taken as a clear sign that the powers that be are hiding something important, and that by this very means assumes the status of truth. Enormous labors will be devoted to unlocking its secrets and locating it in a worldview that is as logical as it is laughable, and that sustains the force of truth in large part by giving the lie to official truth. Reactive research, parody of science. Or of the mission of art and cultural commentary. Once it was crucial to separate high and low, art and kitsch, for the very good of the human spirit; then one tried to "transgress" these distinctions, without quite managing to get rid of them. But to copy comic books on vast canvases or laminate a few thriftshop tchotchkis and exhibit them in a major museum is not what used to be called a critical gesture, no matter what the catalogues say. It is not a critical reflection on the commodification of art, but a means of rendering the very distance required for such reflection null and void; not a "deconstruction" (sic) of the institution of art but the evacuation of criticism itself. In this zone, criticism is stupid, hence only stupidity can be critical. The illogic of this proposition cannot entirely eliminate its force. We are caught up in culture's inability to purge itself of the inanity utterly native to it. The patent stupidity of certain postmodern works of art, and of the commentary that tags along behind them, is a symptom of a virulent truth that infects everything and everyone, the holy blood of Van Gogh, Cezanne at his sublime labors, the Sistine Chapel englobing a void, empty frame after empty frame, vast libraries of special pleading, the whole dumb hollow of culture.

[7] Criticism as stupidity; the inanity of intelligence and the intelligence of inanity; the absurd hybrid of critical theory and blatant foolishness that today constitutes all that is left of the critical. One must assess the force of this stupidity without simply reasserting for oneself, however tacitly, the superiority of critical intelligence. "Stupid" is no more a term of derision here than it is a term of praise; it is crucial not to mistake this epithet for a gesture of rejection, an attempt to mark out and claim for oneself any critical distance. It indicates a cultural condition that can hardly be embraced but that the pathetic enterprise of criticism is powerless to overcome by the application of more rigorous intellectual tools. We are pursuing a logic for which we have no taste; it binds and tangles one's writing in the most maddening ways; but ultimately the stupid underground constitutes a critique of criticism that must be taken up, however aggravating it is, precisely because it is aggravating. The spectacle of the masocritic trying to give stupidity its due while thinking it through with all the proper rigor, using it to judge himself judging, to judge judgment itself, humiliating himself, elaborating his own discourse as the vehicle of a death that is anything but heroic or sublime: let us take this as the true spectacle of criticism. Stupid vigilance, resistance to what one has already made certain would occur, and would have occurred in any case. Such a project will appear to you merely frivolous, self-indulgently self-defeating, like the course of the fabulous bird that flies in tighter and tighter circles until it disappears up its own asshole. Masocriticism must not defend itself against this perfect and proper charge. What it seeks is precisely guilt by association, stupid abasement. If it is therefore impossible for me to be either on the side of this essay or at any remove from it, that is, for me, its "value." Its ethical value: its stupid value.

v. Nihil [ Top of page ]

[8] One might find it amusing to assume the pose of someone who states problems with brutal simplicity. As in this little nugget: Every historical form of cultural and political revolt, transgression, opposition, and escape has turned out to be nothing more than a systemic function. The notion of recuperation has encountered a thousand alibis and counter-tropes but still constitutes the closest thing cultural study has to a natural law. Collage, antimelodic high-decibel music, antimasterpieces, romantic primitivism, drunkenness and drugs, renegade sexuality, criticism itself: it is amazing that a single radical claim can still be made for any of this, and entirely characteristic that it is. Every conceivable form of negation has been dialectically coordinated into the mechanism of progress. The future of the anti has not yet been reconceived. That is why it is ridiculous to accuse some poor kid with a bad attitude or some putative grownup with a critique but no "positive program for change" of being nihilistic: strictly speaking, nihilism doesn't exist. What was once called nihilism has long since revealed itself as a general, integral function of a culture that, in all its glorious positivism, is far more destructive than the most vehement no. Nothing could be more destructive, more cancerous, than the positive proliferation of civilization (now there's a critical cliche), and all the forms of opposition have long since revealed themselves as means of advancing it. As for the ethos of "resistance": just because something feels like resistance and still manages to offend a few people (usually not even the right people) hardly makes it effective. It is merely "ressentiment" in one or another ideological drag. And how can anyone still be deluded by youth, by its tedious shrugs of revolt? Even the young no longer believe their myth, although they are quite willing to promote it when convenient. Punk nihilism was never more than the nihilism of the commodity itself. You should not credit Malcolm McLaren with having realized this just because he was once pro-situ. All he wanted was to sell more trousers without boring himself to death; indeed he is proof that the guy with the flashiest "ressentiment" sells the most rags. And if he wasn't bored, can he be said to have advanced the same favor to us?

[9] It would seem ridiculous to sentence oneself to yet another term of "ressentiment"; bad enough to risk promoting it by the very act of considering it. Perhaps only a masocritic would subject himself to the humiliation of doing so. And yet in the stupid underground the logics of recuperation and "ressentiment" are turned, so to speak, on their heads. Everyone there knows all about recuperation and it makes no difference. One can display the most stringent self-criticism about the impossibility of revolt and the next day proclaim the subversive effects of noise, as if one were Russolo himself, Russolo in the first place. The stupid underground is marked by the simultaneous critical understanding of the fatality of recuperation and a general indifference to the fact; it ignores what it knows, and knows it. It acts as though it forgets, until it virtually forgets, what it always recalls. It responds to every critical reminder, even those it throws at itself, with a "So what, fuck you." But this very feigned stupidity, this posture of indifference to its own persistent critical knowledge, is the trace of another trajectory. For if the euphoria of punk nihilism is entirely the nihilism of the commodity, by this same means, at certain unpredictable moments, it represents the possibility of nihilism turned loose, driven suicidally mad, "ressentiment" pushed to the brink of the reactive and becoming force. Inane energy, brute energy, energy without reason, without support, even when it is caught up in what otherwise poses as a critical project. This is not to say that the euphoric frenzy of the punk or skinhead is the sign of something new and vital: the energy released by the stupid underground is never anything more than an effect of its very morbidity. It is marketed as novelty, but that is not its truth. Nor will it ever constitute a base for opposition: it cannot be yoked to any program of reform, nor serve any longer the heroic myth of transgression. It is merely a symptom of order itself. Everything has been recuperated, but what is recuperated and put to death returns, returns ferociously, and it is the return of its most immanent dead that most threatens every form of order. The repressed does not come back as a living being but as the ghost it always was, and not to free us but to haunt us. It returns as repetition; when we see it in the mirror, as our mirror, we pretend not to recognize it. The fury of the punk or skinhead is the fury of this stupid repetition, and it is far more destructive than the most brilliant modernist invention. It ruins everything and leaves it all still in place, still functioning as if it mattered, never relieving us of its apparition, never pretending to go beyond it, draining it of value without clearing it away. That is why one cannot dismiss it according to the logic of the new, whereby the only admissible revolutionary force must conform to the movement of progress and innovation. The rhetoric of innovation is parroted by the stupid underground, because it still obeys the superficial form of the avant-garde. But it obeys it long after it is dead, and as if that death didn't matter, as if history had never occurred in the first place, as if everything retro just suddenly appeared, in all its original vacuity. As if it were even better, more powerful, once it is dead, so long as one insists that it is and pretends that it isn't. It is the blind repetition of every exhausted logic far past the point of termination that generates the most virulent negation. The stupid persistence of the dead has taken the place of the critical.

vi. Croatan [ Top of page ]

[10] Nothing could be more quintessentially American than the stupid underground. It is more basic, more historical, than all the structures and pseudo-guarantees of liberal democracy. If America as such can be mythologized as a nation of dropouts and a shadow underground of Europe, it also immediately begins to generate its own dropouts—a subunderground that is the "first" of the stupid undergrounds, of those who went "native," which is to say: disappeared. The stupid underground is the latest bordertown, the liminal scene of this disappearance, and of the becoming-imperceptible of American history itself. This history has always moved simultaneously toward the spectacle and toward the invisible; that is why there is a familiarly native intensity to the figure of the solitary, hermetic hacker jacked into the so-called Net. It is also why two stories could be told by those who found this legend carved into a tree at Roanoke: "Gone to Croatan." The standard history text tells us that no one knows what "Croatan" means, that the settlers disappeared. But other accounts claim that everyone knew Croatan was the name of a local tribe, and the message quite clearly stipulated that the settlers had gone to join it; the official suppression of this fact is only a sign of the sort of racism that was as likely to execute people who had lived with Indians as it was to "rehabilitate" them.(8) It is as if someone stood before that tree and deliberately misunderstood its message, didn't want to know or admit where the colony had gone. We have, in other words, two thin myths: the racist one and the romantic-racialist one, wherein going native and mixing races is by itself a kind of Rousseauian good. Now it will be argued that the revisonary account is not only truer but better, since it liberates a suppressed fact and casts the native "other" in a more positive light. But perhaps we should not abandon the old textbook version too quickly. If it functions, at one level, merely as further proof, as if we needed one, of the racist suppression of the facts of American history, it remains, in another way, quite seductive: it might once have been possible to disappear from the screens of history, to leave only an indecipherable trace, only the mark of a secret that points toward an invisibility that we should not be too quick to correct. But once again critical intelligence has stupidly closed off an exit.

vii. Subliminal [ Top of page ]

[11] The stupid underground can be mapped onto a familiar and perhaps quite objectionable psychotopography: it is a zone of the repressed of culture and thus, according to this model, both a pathological site giving rise to all sorts of pathogenic surface effects, and a therapeutic matrix, a place where impacted energies may be guided toward a proper sublimation. The stupid underground presents itself as both a symptom of the disease of capital and an indication of the direction of its cure. But in the stupid underground, as in so many other sites, the direction of the cure often leads back into the disease; or the cure itself turns out to be nothing more than a symptom. For instance, in the terms of one standard hypothesis, the stupid underground reproduces the pathology of Other, of the Symbolic order, in the very attempt to avoid it, like the alcoholic's prodigal son who is so repelled by his father's disease that he can only end by becoming an alcoholic himself; at the same time, it is a kind of paranoid rechanneling of obsessions and defenses, a way to reconceive the social world by means of, indeed as a psychosis. Perhaps merely the critical equivalent of lining your hat with aluminum foil to protect yourself from alien radiation or government microwave transmissions (often: the same thing); perhaps a more radical form of schizoanalytic political action.

[12] As both symptom and therapy, and by these very contradictory means, the stupid underground also indicates the trauma of order itself, of everything it finds above ground, marking a place for the circuitous return of the Real, the nonsymbolic, the nothing around which the Symbolic is formed and in whose black light it is revealed as nothing but symbolic.(9) Again: one employs this psychoanalytic vocabulary with considerable uneasiness, at least as much as one feels with any critical vocabulary: since psychoanalysis is the very disease for which it proposes to serve as a cure (Kraus), since it is the most pathological (and therefore irreducible) manifestation of the hermeneutic circle, this vocabulary is a set of symptoms to the very degree that it is a therapeutic lexicon. One must further insist that what is at stake for us in this psychoanalytic tropology is not the postulation of a monadic, centripetal individuality preliminary to culture, any more than one should say that neuroses are simply an effect of social inequities that, once resolved, will immediately dissolve them. Neither individual nor society can be privileged because the distinction between them is faulty in the first place. Hence, in part, the real interest of the stupid underground: it is liminal even as it is subliminal, mandated by a pathology that blurs the boundaries of this gross organization. It is neither molar nor molecular but a symptomatic space, marking the trauma out of which this very division has been projected. If it were possible to think of the symptom as a passage between what Deleuze and Guattari call "planes of consistency" or intensity, between what is called the social and what is called the subject, it would be entirely proper to this occasion. The stupid underground, the subliminal itself, originate not beneath the established order but between the Social, the Symbolic, the Law, the Subject and the subject, blurring the division between them in its own psychotic and quite veridical manner, distorting and still providing terms for their constitutive inter-interpellation, marking by its inane repetitions the trauma that is their mutual point of departure.

[13] The stupid underground as symptom thus also conforms to what Derrida calls the "trace", and which he explicitly links with the Freudian "Nachtraglichkeit." Let us pursue it here along lines elaborated by Alphonso Lingis, as "an element that is . . . found only within the human economy, without being a sign." Perhaps: a stupid sign. The analogy he draws conforms nicely to our purposes:

The criminal, whose telos is the perfect crime, and not simply the release of unsocialized or barbaric force, acts to break an established order, and depart from the scene of the crime. But the disturbance itself remains, and can function as so many signs indicating a malefactor and expressing, to the detective, the identity of the act and of its agent. The criminal then acts to cover up his traces, so as to depart completely. But the deed passed into the real, and the precaution taken to wipe away the traces of the deed itself leaves traces. The traces a criminal leaves in covering up his traces are traces neither in the pure or purified sense we can now reserve for this term. They are neither signs nor indices, and they are not inscribed by an intentionality; the criminal meant neither to express nor to indicate anything by them. They are not made in order to be recognized and repaired. For him who comes upon them, they will mark the loci at which an order has been disturbed. They refer to a passing, that acted to pass completely from the present, to depart from the scene completely. The one who detects them recognizes something strange, not about to present and identify itself and not representable, but that concerns him by virtue of this disturbance and violation of the layout he inhabits.

If we were able to conceive of these criminal traces not only as an aftereffect of the disruption of the scene but as proper to its very construction, in something like the Derridean sense of non-originary origins, we would be close to the traumatic relation to and originary return of the Real that the stupid underground poses to the culture of repression. One must, in other words, imagine that the criminal stupidly repeats the scene of origination (which is not to say origin as such) in the very act of seeming to transgress its order, and the traces he leaves reveal not only his own crime but its absolute identity with the arche-crime, the primordial disruption, that is the Real itself.

viii. Net [ Top of page ]
[14] Over and over again we are offered new models that turn out to be the resurgence of everything they presume to leave behind, that exhaust their force even as they grind on in the stupidest, deadliest, and hence perhaps most critical repetition (all that is left of the critical), and yet still hold out the lure of new ways of thought and new modes of existence. The Net is a perfect instance of this perfectly functional contradiction. The intensity of current interest in the Net as a new form of social organization both demonstrates its importance and serves notice that the future is unfolding along quite different lines. Net-talk is everywhere: all one's social and professional associations instantly conform, with a numbing thrill of recognition, to cybernetic patterns. It is now impossible to fly over any metropolitan area at night without thinking of video representations of integrated circuits and imagining oneself living inside them, and the feeling of futurity this experience lends is already a thing of the past. Mail-art networks (themselves increasingly on-line), listeners to those feasts of disinformation called talk shows, late-night radio call-in programs for solitary consumers of new-age homeopathy and conspiracy theories, compulsive dialers of 900 numbers, tourists and denizens of virtual communities (MUDs and MOOs) springing up along the so-called information superhighway (the phrase has already passed into the afterlife of cliche), pirates of "temporary autonomous zones" (Bey) strung like pearls on the filaments of cyberspace (still another byte that has lost its bite). Catalogue services like Amok or Loompanics that serve as distribution points for masses of stupid information—fringe science, pop cultural theory, terrorist, sadomasochistic, and libertarian handbooks: a stupid, how-to pragmatism abounds here: how to build bombs, collect paedophiliac pornography, live without money, perform autopsies on car-crash victims, go insane, leave the planet, dilate anal sphincters from a distance of two hundred yards (as it turns out: tough to do without dilating one's own), commit murder, decode disinformation (i.e., "their" information), become invisible—model, chaotically, the social space of those who use them.(10) The Net is a rhizome, the structure of the general text, the disseminative "space" of all information and of those who attach themselves as functions to it, an atopic utopia, a skein of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies; the Net is also a device for catching gullible fish, and profit after overhead in the counter-culture industry. At one and the same time, the Net is cast over us as a liberated zone in which the proper fantasy of virtual existence can be played out as real, and a technology already appropriated by apparatus of control.(11) The computer terminal is both an embarkation point for the new human and the end-point (NB: stupid-critical pun) at which we ourselves finally, fully become apparatus, the very medium in which the state pursues its own becoming-rhizome. The Net is a liminality that further inhibits the distinction between individual and society and belies the autonomy of both on the vastest scale; it is the projection of a "new" hybrid of individual and social in a space and mode of existence neither has inhabited before, and yet reproduces all the old relations of dominance and subordination in the very act of superceding them, and yet disrupts them in the very act of preserving them in a disguised form. The exhilaration of these disintegrating boundaries has already been preceded and prepared for by a remapped capital.

ix. Virtual
[ Top of page ]

[15] The invention of VR goggles and gloves lags far behind the vast array of prosthetic subjectivities that already exist, and helps to conceal the insistent possibility that whatever is offered to or claimed by us as reality has never been anything but virtual, a matter of surrogation. As always, the fact that everyone already knows this has not in the least prevented everyone from pretending to forget it. The invention of specific appliances should not blind us to the fact that virtual reality is already epidemic, that it is the bacillus of the real itself. The place for VR was secured in advance by the very medium of culture. What we encounter here is the tendency of everything in culture, every one of its structuring principles, to rise, eventually, to the level of the device, either theoretical or technological, or, in this case, both; and then to be marketed, with great success, as radical, the moment after it ceases to be critically relevant. But if the technology itself is a bit tardy, the notion of the virtual will serve, quite accurately, for at least a few more moments, to blur yet another useless distinction: that between fantasy and reality, between the ideal and the material. Once upon a time the academy gave itself over to "thinking" the simulacrum, the general text, language as truth (hedged with all the necessary skepticism). Now, after this bad bout of theorizing, a kind of stupid empiricism is all the rage. This history should by itself be adequate proof that both fact and theory are on shaky ground. The passing fashion for a theory of the simulacrum—one could say, for a simulacrum of theory itself—is hardly improved on by the new materialism, the new historicism, the new cognitive psychologism, etc., none of which ever quite answer the charge that they too are entirely virtual. Cultural criticism, for all its showy documentation, is the latest unwanted and generally unnoticed proof that the critical itself is fantasmatic; at the same time, the now nearly universal claim that what once seemed material (sex as biology, for instance) is entirely a cultural construct, virtually guarantees that, in a few years' time, the material (biological, etc.) claim will return, with a vengeance, as the newest salience of the critical. Empiricism is just another fantasy and our fantasies are utterly material. Each is the necessary model for, proxy, and antithesis of the other. We cannot protect a single one of our views from either charge; the empirical and the hypothetical are reduced to economic forces that collide and cancel each other in a general and quite material economy of surrogation.

[16] The stupid underground further complicates this sickening bind. It is a double surrogate, a mirror- and hence reverse- image of the cultural maps it proposes to leave behind, and a sort of pre-simulation, a virtual model of the revolutionary new world it hopes to achieve, but which it thereby eclipses, displaces, at times actively debases, and always renders surrogate in advance. We might call it a theatrical space—a second world, if you will, but one that already begins to disorient any exit to the world offstage, making it rather theatrical as well, curiously fulfilling the avant-garde ambition of bridging the gap between art and life in an unexpected register. Contra Benjamin: to aestheticize politics and to politicize aesthetics have turned out to be, if not exactly the same thing, then at least coordinated functions of the same mechanism. The stupid underground is thus both a regressive trap and a delusive utopia for those who mistake their play for a revolution that has already occurred. One could say the same for every program of social change. This bind is irreducible; there is no going beyond the delusion to reality and real political agency, any more than garden variety neurotics like yourselves can escape reality and live entirely in delusion. The empirical fact is invisible without the model, but at the same time the model eclipses it without releasing us from its demand. The map and the territory, the model and the real, the fantasy and the fact constitute each other as each other's excluded precondition. Revolutionary virtuality constitutes the very condition of the revolutionary project and guarantees its utter impossibility. The surrogate both constitutes and belies its truth, grounds it and undermines it, and the stupid underground offers a particularly stark instance of this vertiginous spiral of surrogations.

x. Quack [ Top of page ]

[17] What should one think of a Nobel Laureate who proposes, quite scientifically, the theory of "directed panspermia": that the nucleic proteins from which "life itself" arises were sent here from another star system? Or the notion that, since the biochemical structure of psilocybin spores resembles nothing else on earth, they too were exported, as the very seeds of consciousness, from somewhere out there? Or the proposition that language itself is a virus from outer space, or that time can be controlled by cutting up audio-tape and projecting images on top of one another? How to comprehend experiments in brain expansion through stimulation by electronic implants, or drugs; or what proposes itself as research into nanotechnology, in which tiny robots will someday patrol our bloodstreams scrubbing out cholesterol deposits and gunning down incipient cancers; or cyberprosthetics; or life extension through the ingestion of massive doses of vitamin compounds and amino acids?(12) Or, to address our specific instance, what shall we make of reports of red and black rains, of frogs, fish, and highly-worked stones that fall from the sky? Charles Fort: "I have collected 294 records of showers of living things. Have I? Well, there's no accounting for the freaks of industry."(13) It would not, after all, be so hard to accumulate masses of such "data": one would simply have to collect newspapers and magazines from around the world and devote all one's time to poring over them, filing, collating, cross-referencing, in a certain sense indiscriminately. In time one could produce a whole new world-view, or at least the apparent eclipse of an old one, without ever having to look up. Several years, while riding a bus, I found myself across the aisle from a famous humorist-conspiracy theorist (as we have here before us a "humorist-scientist"), who spent the entire time tearing strips from the newspapers piled beside him and inserting them in various file folders. Did he miss his stop? It couldn't have mattered; and he would doubtless claim that I had missed several stops far more important. How then should one comprehend these precipitous frogs, these crocodiles that turn up in England, this cow that gave birth to two lambs and a calf, these boys dropped suddenly into a boat in the middle of a lake, miles from the place they last remembered? Perhaps the fish fell from a "super-Sargasso Sea"; and to postulate such a sea may have one main motive: "to oppose Exclusionism" (47), the elimination of aberrant possibilities by rationalist methods that seem, from this perspective, nothing more than paranoid symptoms. What about these inscribed stones? Maybe they are just freaks of industry, of fantasy, a strange game against certainty itself. Or perhaps they really—"really"—do signal the existence of New Lands, hyper-Laputas floating in an atmospheric warp somewhere above the earth's surface. The truth is up there, out there, way down there, concealed from us by government intelligence agencies, by conspiratorial elites, by the powers hidden behind the powers that be, by extraterrestrials, none of them efficient enough to prevent the freaks of industry from prying loose a glimpse of their traces. And what about the strange cloud-form trailing a sort of hook, sighted by one Capt. Banner of the bark "Lady of the Lake" (by implication: a trained observer): "I think we're fished for," "I think we're property" (50-51). What about this woman burned to death on an unscorched bed? An instance of the "possible-impossible" (107), of "certainty-uncertainty" (119). The hyphenation is crucial: it marks what Fort calls "alleged pseudo-relations" (98). Everything "might be" connected; to speak here of coincidences—as Bataille might, in a copula-tion that dreams of polluting the entire universe—is already to cede too much to a scientism that would exclude what is not demonstrable by the given logical means, to relegate it to the exo-real, the margin, the underground of non-fact, of chance, of the unexplained and still-to-be-dismissed. Everything is connected: "the attempt to stop is saying 'enough' to the insatiable. In cosmic punctuation there are no periods: illusion of periods is incomplete view of colons and semi-colons" (52). But in exactly the same manner, it is futile to search for singular and fundamental laws: if one refuses to exclude or suppress unclassifiable data—unexplainable phenomena presented to our senses, which in some sense know better—one always comes to "bifurcations; never to a base; only to a quandary," what one might otherwise dismiss as mere contradiction. "In our own field, let there be any acceptable finding. It indicates that the earth moves around the sun. Just as truly it indicates that the sun moves around the earth" (61). Just as truly? How can one say something so ludicrous? It is one thing to churn out reports of unexplained events, a few of which might actually have occurred, even if one will probably end up explaining them in rather more mundane terms; or to pick out foolish errors in the most rigorous scientific reasoning, which is perfectly capable of dismissing what will someday be widely accepted; but it is another thing to propose seriously—that is to say, with the most rigorous laughter—that the sun revolves around the earth, or that there is no velocity of light ("one sees a thing, or doesn't"), or that "nothing that has been calculated, or said, is sounder than Mr. Shaw's determination" that the moon is—"is?" what is the status of the copula here?—thirty-seven miles away from the earth"(58-59). Shall we even bother to ask about the point of all this? Not quite frivolous, nor yet quite serious; a critique of scientific certainty not without its own games of certainty; not even, necessarily, quackery, if the quack is one who takes himself utterly seriously about things no one in his right mind would believe, and who can produce a mountain of evidence to support what are clearly insupportable claims; who builds this mountain obsessively, one pebble-fact at a time, as if everything depended on it; who is convinced beyond doubt that he has in his hands some sort of key—to secret laws of physics invisible to terrestrial math, to cures for cancer or AIDS driven south of the border by the drug industry, to alien technologies kept not-quite-secret by the CIA—and remains devoted to this research for decades; who believes he has survived despite the most terrible danger, that extraordinary precautions must be taken, vast forces are being marshalled against him, he is being followed, they are reading his mail, he will pursue his heroic quest until they finally eliminate him. Or not so spectacularly paranoid, only theoretically so: what is in danger is not one's personal well-being, but in some sense the truth itself.

[18] As humorist-scientist, Fort both aligns himself with all scientists, making them guilty by association with him—they're quacks too, anyone driven to belief by a system is a quack—and always leaves himself a few curious exits:

I go on with my yarns. I no more believe them than I believe that twice two are four . . . . I believe nothing. I have shut myself away from the rocks and wisdoms of the ages, and from the so-called great teachers of all time, and perhaps because of that isolation I am given to bizarre hospitalities. I shut the front door upon Christ and Einstein, and at the back door hold out a welcoming hand to little frogs and periwinkles. I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I can not accept the products of minds that are subject-matter for beliefs . . . . It is my attempt to smash false demarcations: to take data away from narrow and exclusive treatments by spiritualists, astronomers, meteorologists, entomologists: also denying the validity of usurpations of words and ideas by metaphysicians and theologians. But my interest is not only that of a unifier: it is in bringing together seeming incongruities, and finding that they have affinity. I am very much aware of the invigoration of products of ideas that are foreign to each other, if they mate. This is exogamy, practiced with thoughts—to fertilize a volcanic eruption with a storm of frogs—or to mingle the fall of an edible substance from the sky with the unexplained appearance of Cagliostro. But I am a pioneer and no purist, and some of these stud-stunts of introducing vagabond ideas to each other may have the eugenic value of some of the romances in houses of ill fame. I cannot expect to be both promiscuous and respectable. Later, most likely, some of these unions will be properly licensed. If anybody thinks that this book [Lo!] is an attack upon scientists, as a distinct order of beings, he has a more special idea of it than I have. As I'm seeing it, everybody's a scientist. (94-5)

Note the passage from skepticism to perverse hospitality. Doubt becomes belief, without even a bump of transition. It is not really skepticism, since uncertainty itself is "intermediated" by the hyphen that connects it to certainty: "My own expressions are upon the principled-unprincipled rule-misrule of our pseudo-existence by certainty-uncertainty" (119). And not belief, since it is belief itself that Fort wishes finally to undermine. It is a matter of infinite possibility strictly beyond the limits of knowledge, a certainty (not a belief) that human certainty, all the maps and models by which we organize the real, precludes what must still be true beyond it. These days, one might object, the two lambs and a calf are more likely to be the progeny of staff writers for the National Enquirer, who also see, at least until they meet their production deadline, Satan's face in the whirling clouds of a hurricane: stupid science is a business, the market for snake oil has never been better. But one should not be too quick to assume that those who produce such facts do so out of utter cynicism, not even the cynicism of capital itself; nor should one be too quick to dismiss the consumers of such facts as simply gullible. One might find a few rather Fortean researchers among the writers and readers of these tabloids. "In any case," what is valuable is the outlandish, the secret affinity between incongruities, and it is valuable because it so stupidly gives the lie to what is so blatantly and banally true, because "everyone knows" that the real truth is suppressed, held back, that knowledge itself is a conspiracy and every little perversion of it points toward a greater truth, a truer truth. We are indeed in a zone where one must, but cannot quite, discriminate true from false truths; nor can one prevent these stupid truths from seeping up from their underground domain and saturating thought itself. Maso-science.

[19] Let us also, finally, mark out a place for a whole range of more or less stupid appropriations of new science, stupid deployments of scientific metaphors—fractals, chaos, strange attractors, fuzzy logic, black holes, cyberthis and cyberthat—as even more abstractly metaphorical terms in cultural criticism. They are nothing but the ornamental fringes of critical fashion, and yet they indicate the possibility that one might begin to conceive of culture as a space regulated by strange "natural" (and still quite technical) laws concealed beyond the reigning social and political terms, and at the same time cloud over this possibility with the toxic vapor of myth.(14)

xi. Stupid Gurus [ Top of page ]

[20] The fashionable mathematics of fractals, precisely in the reduced form pilfered by what once were humanists and who know virtually nothing about it, provides us with the figure of a sort of zeno-graphically receding infinitesimal repetition—the sub-cell reproducing the topography of the whole organism, which can therefore no longer be defined simply as whole.A fractal and still quite vulgar marxism is there to translate this process into the most familiar critical terms: the market reproducing itself morphologically in the stupid underground, as the base always reproduces itself, but in its movement into that alien space also mutating, deformed, transformed.(15) So also a fractal etc. psychoanalysis could translate the same movement into terms grounded in the structures of identification. We find this fractal descent, for instance, in the cult or fandom, which reproduces the ideological body of the leader or hero through specific sorts of identification, in the beliefs, clothing, and ritualized gestures of the disciple, the wannabe, the wannabelong. There would be no underground if someone did not lead us down there, if we were not conducted by a desire to be and belong to the one we recognize there, behind whom even more shadowy and indeterminable figures and forces are concealed. We would not be driven there if the underground did not offer us a stupid imaginary, the delirious hope of parasitical symbioses, vampiric feasts (of course the arrangement is reciprocal: leader and follower feed off each other), spectacular plagiarisms, personality implants, image clonings, synthetic transference, absolute interpellation, stupid communion with the one.

[21] But this communion is not a matter of recognizing oneself in a fixed image, identifying with an ontologically consistent other: the body of the stupid guru, the cult leader, the rock star, the media fantasm, is itself a fractal deformation. That is to say, one must be careful not to reduce identification to any simple dialectic between stable and determinate entities, between isolable masters who are either true or false and slaves who are or are not about to become free. Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi argue that the body of the leader (in their case the despot) is a "body without an image," and its "infinitization" is also its disintegration, its evacuation.(16) Their claim is that one's relation to that image is not a matter of strict identification, since one attaches oneself to increasingly fragmented gestures, features, images, that never add up, never amount to a whole body, an identity, that are always partial arrangements of a social apparatus that is absolute without being singular. The stupid guru too is this one who is not one, and who stands for the one that is nothing, the constitutive nothing around which, according to a model we have already employed, the Symbolic is organized; who dissolves into a thousand points or pixels of light distributed across the screenscape of certain economies (subcultural economies that are themselves fractal homomorphs of larger symbolic economies), and serves as a loose network of junctions or terminals to which stupid disciples may attach themselves. In psychoanalytic terms, a Thing. As Zizek writes, "while it is true that any object can occupy the empty place of the Thing, it can do so only by means of the illusion that it was always already there, i.e., that it was not placed there by us but found there as an 'answer of the real'" (LA 33). Not a body, then, but a sort of vapor catching the light of an oblique projection that conceives of itself as a mechanism of discovery. And it is no different for you: any cultural (political, philosophical, critical, artistic) activity orbits elliptically around such null points: one is a Freudian, a Marxian, a Derridean; a Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen scholar; one becomes a New Historicist not only for considered methdological reasons but because one has "already" recognized something of what one might call oneself, were it so conscious a recognition, in reading Greenblatt or McGann; one becomes a performance artist because, sitting in the audience during a performance, one saw without seeing (through a fundamental "meconnaissance," through stupid recognition) oneself on stage, as the other of one's desire. Stupid saints, "das Ding" in incarnations from William Burroughs to Charles Manson, loom up everywhere in the stupid underground. There is no culture without these relays, catapults, necessary points ("de capiton") of stupid transference. One might suppose that any spiritual leader worth his salt would devote himself to blowing this vapor away, revealing the empty spot where he stands, for the disciple, in place of an object that doesn't exist, awakening us to the emptiness of the real. For the guru, however, this is often the very order of the impossible; and it is also why I would argue, if you want to call it an argument, that the stupidest guru is better than the most enlightened master. I once attended a talk given by quite a prominent spiritual teacher who exhorted his audience not to see him as a guru, but to be their own gurus, and they all assented: yes master, I won't take you as a guru, I will be my own guru. One would have to be an enlightened being not to go mad from frustration and humiliation over a career spent in such futile gestures. Nor could it be otherwise: the thing will not be divested by asking us to divest it. Then will it be divested through critical means? Dean and Massumi propose such a critique of the body-without-images of Reagan or Bush, but in their work too criticism reverts to the illusion that reason itself might someday establish a secure distance from the Thing. The stupid underground, however, in one of its most characteristic gestures, abandons criticism and embraces the same body, plays the same game, relates to the stupid guru through an aggressively stupid affirmation. One might call it a parody of identification, but parody suggests its own sort of critical-ironic distance and thus is not a term precise enough for this procedure. The Church of the SubGenius, for instance, explicitly rejects the suggestion that what it does is a parody (of religion, commerce, art movements, the American family, etc.). It insists on its truth. It demands that we take it literally even as it elaborates the most exorbitant absurdity. Psychoanalysis might recognize in this insistent absurdity the functional truth of fantasy, the empty truth of the Thing; it is presented to us here as empty, but without offering any pretense of distance from it. Hence I wish to insert here two figures, two hollow-core gurus, two Things as Thing: Monty Cantsin and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, the stupid gurus of "Neoism" and of the Church of the SubGenius.(17)

[22] The Thing called Monty Cantsin is an explicitly empty figure, a name open to occupation by anyone who wishes to stand in the stupid guru's place in order to see that it doesn't exist. There is, in fact, no such individual as Monty Cantsin; he is a pure alias. In principle, anyone who wishes to adopt this false identity, this identity as falsehood, and for whatever motives, whether it be to preserve the strictest anonymity or from the most venal band-wagon opportunism, can claim to be Cantsin.

Canadian 'total media artist' Monty Cantsin is something between an enigma and an institution. He is a being around whom a vast contemporary mythology has accumulated. Nemesis seems to dog his footsteps; retribution is incapable of tracking him down. He is voracious of appetite, prolific of explanation, eternally on the brink of affluence yet forever in the slough of debt. He is, moreover, a prince among parasites, a model of optimism, and a master of obtuseness. He can achieve more, and at less cost to himself, than a gypsy. He is as ancient as the hills, as genial as the sunshine, as cheerful as an expectant relative at the death bedside of wealth. He is unthinkable, unforgettable, unejectable, living on [in] all men for all time. Nations die and rise again; Kings come and go; Emperors soar and fall ... but Monty Cantsin lives on and on.(18)

The stupid guru is always a locus of exaggeration: a "vast mythology" surrounds the leader of even the tiniest sect. Here, the purposely vacuous description could apply to any guru, and that is its point: it is offered as a null set, and hence as the proper set of the guru himself. He lives on and on because he never existed, just as no guru, no king, no pop star has ever existed. But that is not to say that one can ever go beyond him. In the very act of evacuating this figure, his sovereignty is reconfirmed. The history of Neoism demonstrates that once one stands in his place one can easily forget one is standing nowhere: Cantsin becomes a disputed figure, as certain Neoists claim to be the real Cantsin in the very act of inviting others to partake of Cantsin's persona (a rather messianic offer: this is my body), as if mere contact with this name was enough to erase the memory that there is nothing at stake in the name, that emptiness is all that was ever at stake in it.(19) One is reminded of the wars for possession of the term "dada," equally vacuous and equally invaluable. Thus Cantsin is not only an anarchistic be-your-own guru, a figure of a "poesie fait par tous," but both the attempted subversion of this structure and the immediate failure of that subversion in a proprietary struggle.

[23] Dobbs, the all-American salesman messiah, the avatar of modernist simony, is constructed in that same empty place, but by a sophomoric priesthood who pretend-believe that he is real and never either abandon the illusion nor mistake themselves for him. He is always other and never a joke, no matter how ludicrous the limits to which he is pushed, because those who promote his absurdity insist on its literal truth even at those moments when they are most outrageously at play. SubGenius claims that Dobbs is the only truth, and indeed he is. Stupid force, stupid necessity. What I wish to mark here, in part, and as usual, is a perversion of criticism itself. Although everything one needs for a critique of the stupid guru is noted in the Dean-Massumi critique of the despot and leader, here we find none of the distance, separation, and rejection traditionally necessary for even so radical a criticism as theirs. The stupid guru of SubGenius is the image, the juncture, of criticism as dumb embrace, a delirious, mocking, hysterical, literal, fantastic embrace that in effect squeezes the life out of the Other (Dobbs has been assassinated at least twice) without ever admitting that it does so (he never quite dies); the cult of Dobbs crystallizes a rabid overparticipation in the stupid spectacle of the real that goes far beyond any "blank parody" or "postmodern pastiche."(20)

[24] We cannot leave this icon without noting another of its elements: the serial character of the stupid guru, the rock star, the "role model": never an absolute master, because he can be exchanged at any moment for another figure, another other; he is a place holder for a rapidly shifting field of empty, ephemeral, and tenuous attachments. No viable cult will ever grow around him, only an ever-shattering hall of mirrors, a high-velocity phase-space of weak and yet perpetual narcissistic identifications. One surfs through stupid gurus, as one surfs through cable channels or the channels in the video-porno booth, in a process that is the very model of the entropy of such attachments, always in search for the next one, the true and proper identification, which never arrives, which the process itself realizes as unrealizable, until desire is distributed and dissipated across the entire field. I have on my desk a volume entitled Threat By Example, a series of brief interviews with "inspiring" figures from the "punk underground."(21) The format of the book—pictures and interviews lasting no more than a page or two, followed immediately by another, and another, and another—formalizes the linear movement of this narcissistic guru-surfing: continuous deferral to the promise of a greater imminent satisfaction that never occurs, until the velocity of selection itself becomes the empty signifier of the Other. The accelerated substitution of figures of power, authority, and identification reveals, by a kind of cinematic effect, the hollow at their center, but without thereby releasing us from their hold. The fabled abyss is flattened out, but it is no less fantastic or fatal.

xii. Conspiracy [ Top of page ]

[25] The stupid underground is the home of the mutant hybrid. What would have seemed to be—what, we are told, a prior cultural order labored to preserve as—distinct, conflicting, contradictory ideas and values are tossed together; categorical boundaries are blurred by rapid movements across them. Sin, pleasure, political subversion, "nostalgie de la boue," heroism, adolescent self-indulgence, the most rigorous critique of reason: anything might converge with anything else in a network of intersections, or rather points of stupid conflation, for errant bits of commerce, science, sexuality, politics, religion. No separation of church and state (not even in order to make a religion of the state and a state of religion); no marxists taking the pledge to abstain, one day at a time, from the opiate of the people. The habitual dichotomy between the spiritual and the political is inadequate in this zone. Even more important: the convergence of apparently incommensurable truths or systems is taken as an unerring sign of another, greater, even more orderly order hidden behind the given one. For instance, the stupid underground does not entirely disagree with a certain stupid President's apocalyptic vision of world affairs, his hysterical application of the Book of Revelations as a foreign policy white paper. The quasi-dispensationalist policies pursued by his administration are signs not just of dangerous eccentricity but of something essential in American history, in the organization of power as such.

[26] The general fascination with conspiracy theories too represents the "knowledge" that the surface separation of spirit and matter in American culture belies a deeper connection. Close attention to what another perspective would take to be the most random names and numbers that constellate around the Kennedy assassination reveals that it was not only an anti-communist plot—already a wild stretch of the imagination for those in the possession of official knowledge—but a masonic ritual scapegoating, a mystical sacrifice, a symbolically overdetermined "King-kill":

President Kennedy and his wife left the Temple Houston and were met at midnight by tireless crowds present to cheer the virile "Sun God" and his dazzling exotic wife, the "Queen of Love and Beauty," in Fort Worth. On the morning of November 22, they flew to Gate 28 at Love Field, Dallas, Texas. The number 28 is one of the correspondences of Solomon in kabbalistic numerology; the Solomonic name assigned to 28 is "Beale." On the 28th degree of latitude in the state of Texas is the site of what was once the giant "Kennedy Ranch." On the 28th degree is also Cape Canaveral from which the moon flight was launched—made possible not only by the President's various feats but by his death as well, for the placing of the Freemasons on the moon could only occur after the Killing of the King.(22) The 28th degree of Templarism is the "King of the Sun" degree. The President and First Lady arrived in Air Force One, code-named "Angel." The motorcade proceeded from Love Field to Dealey Plaza. Dealey Plaza is the site of the Masonic temple in Dallas (now razed) and there is a marker attesting to this fact in the plaza. Important "protective" strategy for Dealey Plaza was planned by the New Orleans CIA station whose headquarters were a Masonic temple building. Dallas originate ten miles south of the 33rd degree of latitude. The 33rd degree is the highest in Freemasonry and the founding lodge of the Scottish Rite in America was created in Charleston, South Carolina, exactly on the 33rd degree line. Dealey Plaza is close to the Trinity River . . . .(23)

All this can readily be collated with massive amounts of evidence attesting to masonic influence in the Trilateral Commission, in the "neo-nazi" Bilderberg meetings of European political and financial leaders, in the Rockefeller family, in the founding of the United States, in whatever institution one has in view; it can also be collated with evidence of alien intervention, the shadow of the UFO, either behind the masons or in their place; or collated again by those who would put alongside these masons and UFOs a few satanists and Jews. No accounting for the freaks of industry. If one wished to bother, counter-freaks could disprove most of this evidence and conclude in the knowledge that there are no such connections. But we will not be too quick to dismiss them here: there is always a truth to the stupid underground, even if it is a stupid truth.

[27] Or to be more precise, a methodology: stupid hermeneutics. All these facts can be collected, indexed, cross-referenced, glossed and reglossed, woven into the dense fabric of the final truth, the big one, the gnostic Big Evil behind all the little viral evils that flicker across the archivist's screen. Everything is evidence for a truth that lies elsewhere; the slightest friction between a number and a name can indicate the deep encryption of a truth that holds the key to a truth that must be organized with other truths that indicate this missing totality. Without the slightest doubt the trajectory of evidence leads to the certain proof of clandestine connections between people in power and, what is more, between seemingly distinct orders of reality: common, household tools conceal super-advanced extraterrestrial technologies linked with the real systems of power behind the apparent political structures, and all these are linked with the dark magic, the secret laws of nature behind those that science pretends to offer us. Everything and everyone is controlled from the outside. Everything is a matter of coding and decoding: a semiocratic delirium. What Bataille calls, in deadly earnest, "parody" as copula as the illicit copulation of facts: this his his.... The chain of evidence is endless and at every point it adds up to the missing One.

[28] Conspiracy reflects, or shadows, the hybrid character of the stupid underground itself. It is the place where things that don't belong together do, and it projects-discovers these relations, these transformative maps, under the centers of power as well. It finds the other of its own marginality out there, secretly in charge of the visible forms of authority. If you want them, we already have at our disposal psychoanalytic tools for diagnosing this fatuous hermeneutics. Zizek:

The common feature of this kind of ingenious "paranoid" story is the implication of the existence of an "Other of the Other": a hidden subject who pulls the strings of the great Other (the symbolic order) precisely at the points at which this Other starts to speak its "autonomy," i.e., where it produces an effect of meaning by means of a senseless contingency, beyond the conscious intention of the speaking subject, as in jokes or dreams. This "Other of the Other" is exactly the other of paranoia: this one who speaks through us without our knowing it, who controls our thoughts, who manipulates us through the apparent "spontaneity" of jokes. . . . The paranoid construction enables us to ignore the fact that "the other does not exist" (Lacan)—that it does not exist as a consistent, closed order—to escape the blind, contingent automatism, the constitutive stupidity of the symbolic order. (24)

The stupid underground comes closest of all to the constitutive stupidity of the symbolic order. We should always be careful, however, not to conclude that therefore one can live without this error, by a kind of decision, for the subject who would make the decision is constituted in the first place by its relation to this empty order, this hollow other. And who's to say what's really out there? Who's to say that something utterly Other really doesn't exist? Why not demonic saucer masons encoding the destruction of political power into the very symbology of American democracy? Why not the fucking hand of God? Zizek himself repeats the old joke about the man who complained to his analyst that there are crocodiles under his bed; when he doesn't turn up for an appointment the doctor assumes it is because he has achieved a cure, only to discover the man was indeed eaten by crocodiles in his sleep. Perhaps the notion that the other does not exist is the other of psychoanalysis. Isn't the whole point that there are only "points de capiton," never a total truth on which to anchor something more real than the Real—that one cannot, in any sense, claim to have possessed the real, not even by means of a symbolic-rationalist dispossession? The stupid underground, once again, proceeds along this line not by analytical distance but by frenzied overdetermination: the only reality is the apocalyptic plot, and the plot is always at one and the same time hidden and omnipresent, vaporous and thick, future and present ("the end of the world is over"), ridiculous and serious, unacceptable and unavoidable, the most grotesque, most immediate, and most conspicuously absent truth. Stupid Undersound

[29] Everything significant takes place below. Nothing has changed: in the most primordial epistemological topography, truth has always been subsurface. One must dig down for it, one must not be distracted by superficial effects. Power itself works subversively, under cover, indeed under the cover of one's own consciousness. It burrows under one's skin, insinuates itself parasitically within the human organism, eating away at its autonomy and transforming it into a parasite as well, affixing it symbiotically to the host apparatus. One must be vigilant without rest: in the slightest lapse of attention, the slightest weakening of one's defenses, at the very moment when one thought oneself alienated to the point of immunity, some viral bit of advertising, some invisible hook, some cultural lure one had never even noticed before expropriates ones's desire and turns one forever into one of them, lusters after supermodels, foreign cars, stock portfolios, leather jackets, sculpted delts and pecs. It is always the case that one swallows the lure before one notices that it is a lure; and that is why the mechanisms of the lure, reaching into us under our defenses, tunneling under every critical Maginot Line, must be decoded and catalogued relentlessly. It is here that we encounter the other sense of the subliminal: not only the zone of the id, the unconscious, the underground itself, but the subliminal means that what we call capital uses to colonize us, its technologies of suggestion. If stupid research is especially alert to mechanisms of subliminal manipulation, it lags behind the Christian fundamentalist who knew years ago that satanic lures were coded into the lyrics of the pop albums spinning endlessly in their teenagers' rooms, driving them to drugs and suicide, which of course their parents could never do. Whole court proceedings have hinged on the possibility of turning these fleeting backwards messages into hard evidence; and no doubt the paranoid projection of such messages onto what may in some instances have merely been noise—though it is axiomatic in the stupid underground that there is no such thing as simple noise, that signal to noise ratios are absolutely overbalanced, that noise, indeed the unheard, the interval between noises, is dense with information that has simply not been decoded yet—no doubt the imagination of such forms of subliminal suggestion only inspired bands and recording engineers subsequently to put them there, in the technique referred to as "back masking." And long before Judas Priest went from marketing Satan to paying his dues, Muzak Christmas carols droning in mall elevators indicated to certain hypersensitive ears that the most banal is also the most insidiously powerful—more terrible because of its prevalence than the vague threat of criminal violence, always there, eroding our self-control, indeed our very being. "We managed to get hold of some Muzak records..., and they had the whole chart of frequencies and tempos and things like that you should use at particular times of the day."(25) Key words can be distributed fractally through a cover text in such a way that you are manipulated by messages you don't even know you are reading. Sexual organs and the mere word "sex" are not-quite-hidden in billboard gestalts all along the freeway, in commercials, in magazine ads, perhaps in the textbooks you once brought home from school. The certainty that these messages are out there trying to get in puts the stupid underground on a particularly aggressive defensive, caught up in a perpetual double reading and double interpretation of an already overloaded screen, subjecting itself to the ceaseless vigil in which absolutely nothing can be taken for granted lest, in a weak and passive moment, the crucial message gets in and reduces one to an automaton of the commodity (which in any case has long since occurred), or of even more nefarious and perhaps extraterrestrial forms of mind control and body snatching. There is an extraordinary recurrence of this theme in fanzine interviews with a certain cohort of musicians (Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV/Chris and Cosey, SPK, Non, Cabaret Voltaire, Monte Cazazza), who therefore take it as their mission to alert listeners to the menace of subliminal overcoding, and to provide strategies for countering it. Actually, only a few specific strategies are ever proposed: adaptations of the William Burroughs-Brion Gysin method of cutups ("cut word lines . . . trailing to the better half," rearrange control texts at random in order to disrupt them; here we are not very far from the avant-garde belief in the subversive agency of collage, which is difficult any longer to support); a kind of "%detournement%" in which one reseeds the semioscape with one's own anarchic messages (a project now entirely without effect); or experiments in sub- or hyper-sonic transmission. One might find Mark Pauline or Genesis P-Orridge or members of Cabaret Voltaire poring over obscure technical journals (where, they report, Burroughs believes the only creative writing is to be found) for information on the construction of subliminal-effects generators. There is in this something like the acephalic materialism of Bataille, a sense that control and its disruption happen not only ideologically, by semiotic dissemination, but also in the form of the drone, the too-high or too-low frequency, that communicates viscerally before one even knows one is hearing it, purely, one might say, at the level of the signifier, indeed of sound that cannot strictly speaking be called a signifier because it has no direct relationship to a signified, to a concept other than the mechanics of control itself, since it encodes its relation to power in another form altogether. "Subliminals" are thus both overcoded and empty. Self-control is obtained by breaking control, by wresting oneself from it, by a rigorous discipline of subversion. The conspiracy is vast, the signs penetrate one faster than one can resist them; even so, that never inhibits one from stupidly exaggerating one's outlaw autonomy.

[30] Let us recall that we have already encountered the subliminal in the form of the "trace," which is not the source of control but there in its place, obscuring access to it, covering over a ground that cannot even be said to exist, "there," according to a certain now-standard logic, only as the supplement of an originary differance, neither absent nor present but the constitutive space (and time) between them. Disruption of control is a reaction to a control grounded on its own disruption. Behind the record company, the government. Behind the government, Satan, or the extraterrestrial. There is always some crime, some transgression, something deeper and more primordial than the forms of control one manages to discover. The absolute is out there, down there, indicated by the very fact that one can disrupt "this" level of control, or "this" one. No matter how deeply one penetrates, absolute control lies deeper. Subliminal transmission demands it.

xiii. Loud [ Top of page ]

[31] There is a certain justice to giving the task for discovering the silent forms of control to those whose primary mode of operation is enormous volume. The trajectory from loud rock music to even louder industrial music (Boyd Rice/Non plays too loud even for much of the stupid club scene) to experiments in subliminal sound is continuous. There is, in a certain sense, no difference, no line between sound so loud it is all one can hear and sound so deep and pervasive it cannot be heard at all. Loud is critical. Or perhaps we should put the same matter differently: if we have taken "critical" to imply a certain distance, a certain non-identity with the object, loud proceeds, as the stupid underground always proceeds, in the opposite direction. Rock music, after all nothing more than the prattle of a banal hybridization of capital and adolescent (male) fantasy, becomes, in "intensity," at the most extreme volume, the stupid reduction of that constructed reality, the limit of its tolerability. Critical then not through distance but, as we have seen, through proximity, through what would appear to be the most uncritical embrace. Here again Zizek is helpful: "Although functioning as a support for the totalitarian order, fantasy is then at the same time the leftover of the real that enables us to 'pull ourselves out,' to preserve a kind of distance from the socio-symbolic network. When we become crazed in our obsession with idiotic enjoyment, even totalitarian manipulation cannot reach us" (128). Zizek's example here is precisely popular music, the inane ditty that anchors the fantasy, that runs endlessly in one's head; what one wishes to add here is the criterion of force, of intensity, of sound so loud that, even though it is a cultural product from top to bottom, it nonetheless enfolds the audience and isolates it within the symbolic order. The intensity of loud drowns out the Other. It is the limit of the symbolic, its null point, experienced in the very onslaught of its signs. Perhaps we could appropriate a Lacanian term for this fantastic volume that goes beyond fantasy: the "sinthome." Zizek calls it "subversive," but that, unfortunately, is to offer it to those who wannabe subversive, to see themselves seen as subversives, to be (to fantasize being) political agents in an older and ever more current sense.(26) Let us nonetheless pursue the concept for a moment. Zizek:

[T]he signifier permeated with idiotic enjoyment is what Lacan, in the last stage of his teaching, called "le sinthome." "Le sinthome" is not the symptom, the coded message to be deciphered by interpretation, but the meaningless letter that immediately procures "jouis-sense,""enjoyment-in-meaning," "enjoy-meant.". . . [W]hen we take into account the dimension of the "sinthome," it is no longer sufficient to denounce the "artificial" character of the ideological experience, to demonstrate the way the object experienced by ideology as "natural" and "given" is effectively a discursive construction. . . . What we must do . . . on the contrary, is to "isolate" the "sinthome" from the context by virtue of which it exerts its power of fascination in order to expose the "sinthome's" utter stupidity. . . . [It] produces a distance not by locating the phenomenon in its historical totality, but by making us experience the utter nullity of its immediate reality, of its stupid, material presence that escapes "historical mediation" . . . . [I]t is a little piece of the real attesting to the ultimate nonsense of the universe, but insofar as this object allows us to condense, to locate, to materialize the nonsense of the universe in it, insofar as the object serves to represent this nonsense, it enables us to sustain ourselves in the midst of inconsistency . . . . (LA 128-29, 134-35)

One might be used to the leaping and screaming frenzy of rock concerts, but unless one has experienced, at the same time that one experiences its destructive frenzy, the utterly euphoric, calming, peaceful effect that electric music at extreme volume can produce, one cannot grasp the possibility that it might fall into this category. What is merely social, the stupidest string of pop signifiers, becomes intensely material, becomes an exaggerated idiocy, a sub-ideological cocoon, a tear in the fabric of the social world within which it might still be possible to endure it, if one can endure the volume itself. What we must ask, then, is whether, at its most intense, loud is a thought.(27)

xiv. Day Job [ Top of page ]

[32] Best of all, furthest along its trajectory, is "zerowork," the refusal to work, the refusal to bid for equal alienation, disappearing from the tax rolls, from the very category of the unemployed.(28) But how then to survive? By hook and crook, and the stupid underground is rife with pipedreams and proven scams. Loompanics Press offers the libertarian illusion, at least, that one can get by in the American economy without ever having to hold a job, and they'll send you info on how-to (theft, phony credit, welfare scams, scrounging freebies, various black market economies). Or maybe you'll try dealing drugs (too many down sides). Or being in a band, the archetypal boy-dream of play as work (as it turns out, too many down sides as well: venal managers, if you can even get one, larcenous promoters, an overpopulated market, weird compromises with industry and stupid audiences, and, after all, too much work). Not working isn't easy, no matter how hard you work at it. Hence, as has always been the case for the underground, the phenomenon of the day job. A perfect epitome of stupid.

[33] In a slightly older bohemia, the artist's dream: uninterrupted time for the real work. Or rather, what came to be seen as the real work, that painting or writing which was by force an avocation in a world where one was slave to the day job. Each day demanded the most intense struggle to steal or conserve time from the world of the job for yourself, your spirit, your art. You came home from the shop or office exhausted, gulped down some dinner, fought off fatigue and drove yourself to canvas or clay or rehearsal or page for a few hours of real work; you labored so far into the night that the next morning you could barely drag yourself back to the office or kitchen or ditch. The cycle was constant and increasingly enervating, a losing battle. Laundry piled up, appointments were missed, one skimped on meals and exercise and risked one's sanity and health. What are called, in an exemplary generic coinage, "relationships" also suffered: lovers felt they had to compete against art for your attention, however much you tried to reassure them, and you tacitly resented their demands for your time; intimacy itself had to enter the strictest economy. You learned not to take trips or wish for a better apartment or attend films or buy new clothes because every dollar could be invested for a few free months later on, before you had to submit to the next day job. A thousand petty tasks and distractions staged endless raids on your energy and attention, until it seemed that art itself was at war with everything else. The pitiable heroism of each momentary victory—each painting or poem finished—was belied by the triviality of its manifestation in a world in which, after all, a poem is merely a poem, and therefore a sign that a much more pervasive defeat had already occurred. You came to hate those born wealthy enough to avoid this struggle, although you also tried to persuade yourself that their work must be impoverished because they did not have to come into daily contact with the hard common truths of a world that, in this instance, you decide to call "real," as if these grotesque burdens could still be seen as sources of enlightenment; you also hated those romantic demons like Van Gogh who (you told yourself) were more committed than you, willing to sacrifice more, to suffer more, to give up their last few francs for tubes of paint even though they were starving. In either case, accusations you continually brought to bear against yourself for having to live an ordinary life in the midst—in "spite"—of grander aspirations.

[34] The horror of the day job was thus the violence of life divided in half, a violence that cut through art itself and lent it a shadowy existence, made it the ghost, the phantom limb of what you might have accomplished, had you only been able to devote yourself to it entirely. The awful dissymmetry of this arrangement summons up a variety of analyses, most of them passing through historical marxism. The deadly drudgery of alienated labor is there grasped dialectically: although one suffers at the master's hands, although one's very humanity is denied, history is on the side of the worker no less than on that of the Hegelian slave; if wage slavery is oppressive, degrading, destructive of everything that it means to be human, it is also ennobling insofar as the truth seized from this alienation informs a struggle against the power it represents. The immersion of the artist in the world of common labor was thus both an indictment of a society that steals time from the true mission and real work, and a means by which day job and real work came into another sort of relation that the wealthy and the dropout could not possibly express. But the compromises of this division could not be so neatly resolved. One continued to hope for future resolution, for a life of art; or one abandoned art and lived its imaginary and no less painful loss; or one tried to accept one's divided condition through some kind of self-hypnosis, through the image of a resignation one was persuaded to identify as maturity;(29) or one turned the struggle itself into the subject matter of a series of neocritical art commodities; or one "succeeded" in the artworld enough to establish some sort of sinecure (steady royalties, corporate patronage in the form of commissions, a university appoinment), under whose aegis one had to force oneself to remember that even though the labor wasn't as bad as it once was, the day was no less divided. If the working class romantic bored you with creaking cliches about the dignity of labor, if the idea of total sacrifice for one's art grew embarrassing even for those who pretended to believe it, sinecured artists, however "critical" they remained, through an ability to set aside the material conditions of their lives even in the act of seeming to account for them, bored you even more. Furthermore, the division of day job and real work, of alienated and integrated labor, frequently gave rise to another sort of collusion. The day job provided an alibi for the poverty of the so-called real work one actually managed to accomplish ("if only, if only..."), and the real work provided an alibi for slacking on the job. Failure in each was the champion of the other. The division between them also produced the fantasy, in its own way quite functional within the reigning economy, that integration is really possible, that if only we could abandon the day job fulfillment would be ours; what is concealed here is the alienation attendant upon artistic production itself, both in respect to its social position and, even more fundamentally, insofar as it is a form of sublimation, a practice of culture as surrogation, through and through. All jobs are day jobs.

[35] That is why, in the stupid underground, work embraces its stupidity. Bike messenger, cappucino puller, cabbie, purveyor of used books and rags, health food bagger, record store peon, hip waiter or fast food shoveler, proofreader, phone-sex hustler, sub-programmer, security guard, venal rock-band manager, nouveau-entrepreneur: the day job still means a life carved in half, but now without the old cachet of noble struggle, without the slightest belief in fulfillment somewhere down the line, without the slightest romance of labor, however dialectical the sweat of thy brow, and with the certainty that the other half is permanently missing; one rarely bothers to yearn for it any more, and when one does, it's usually as a joke. Even the consolations with which one tries to beguile oneself for having to work are aggressively inane. The only bonus offered by fringe subsistence is stupid proof that one really is fringe (i.e., happy confirmation of one's "ressentiment"), an alibi drained from the outset by the certainty that fringe employment is central to the economy. Shit work is never anything but: the sheerest experience of personal waste, slow torture, indeed slow murder of limited time and energy that might be given over to music or art, but that is now precisely to say: to nothing at all. For art has become shit work too, and anyone who still falls for its false gratifications is merely and perhaps willfully blind to the fact that the apparent division between day job and real work only concealed a deeper unity, between art and society, on the very ground of alienation. That is why the avant-garde's committed refusal to work as a means toward self-realization—in the language of Berlin Dada, "Poetry Demands Unemployment"—gives way to the dully heroic limbo of slacking. The revolutionary fades into the slacker, itself now the figure of a widespread and, for the moment, profitable cliche; a figure who haunts even the most energetic promoters of the old paradigms of critical resistance and new world vision, and whose own most prominent lunge toward that new world amounts to not much more than erasing a few files on the boss's computer. For every Genesis P-Orridge still clamoring sub-revolutionary enthusiasms about the power of pop there is a Bob Black or Hakim Bey insisting, in terms quite as archaic, that one must also renounce art; and for every one of them there are a million kids staring off into space while some industrial band drones in the background. The avant-garde's notorious attempt to bridge the gap between art and life on art's side of the line, or the committed artist's desire to bridge the gap on the side of the real world of politics, are displaced by blank exercises in reactive art and workplace "sabotage," usually nothing more than the pettiest acts of vandalism. There is now, in fact, a considerable literature devoted to chronicling these acts of worker micro-aggression.30Office supplies are pilfered, hard-drives purposely crashed, man-hours lounged into oblivion, fast food rendered even more inedible than usual. The pointlessness of such revenge on the boss and whatever forces he is presumed to represent is mitigated by the fact that it feels good, for a moment, to indulge it. Any surviving luddism about grinding the machine to a halt or the revolutionary implications of hackers' viruses is merely window dressing for the immediate and miniscule satisfaction of ripping off the owners, slowing down the assembly line, or actually (horror of horrors) giving the customers what they want. Nearly invisible gestures of "detournement," pilfering, waste, explorations of the limits of employer surveillance, petty cruelties intended to alienate the boss's clientele, tiny experiments in polluting work with play, all of these acts are promoted with a sort of lukewarm, half-hearted rhetoric of resistance, as if the practitioner not only didn't really believe the rhetoric but secretly wanted to show how inappropriate it was to the occasion. The notion that the American work force at large is given over to acts of sabotage, slacking, and stealing to get by focuses the stupid underground's resentment and serves as an apology, which no one believes for an instant, for working at all. The violence that labor inflicts on the individual justifies microscopic destructions that pass the time until one punches out and goes home to squander one's time on one's own. Cultural negation, where it still exists, seizes on the opportunity to turn stupid labor into a political opportunity, but the stakes turn out to be so low that the stupid saboteur cannot sustain the effort. It's all just a spasm of resentment; in the end, one would rather be in a band. And not even that, really.

xv. Nomad, Rhizome [ Top of page ]

[36] Intellectual economics guarantees that even the most powerful and challenging work cannot protect itself from the order of fashion. Becoming-fashion, becoming-commodity, becoming-ruin. Such instant, indeed retroactive ruins, are the virtual landscape of the stupid underground. The exits and lines of flight pursued by Deleuze and Guattari are being shut down and rerouted by the very people who would take them most seriously. By now, any given work from the stupid underground's critical apparatus is liable to be tricked out with smooth spaces, war-machines, n-1s, planes of consistency, plateaus and deterritorializations, strewn about like tattoos on the stupid body without organs. The nomad is already succumbing to the rousseauism and orientalism that were always invested in his figure; whatever Deleuze and Guattari intended for him, he is reduced to being a romantic outlaw, to a position opposite the State, in the sort of dialectical operation Deleuze most despised. And the rhizome is becoming just another stupid subterranean figure. It is perhaps true that Deleuze and Guattari did not adequately protect their thought from this dialectical reconfiguration (one is reminded of Breton's indictment against Rimbaud for not having prevented, in advance, Claudel's recuperation of him as a proper Catholic), but no vigilance would have sufficed in any case. The work of Deleuze and Guattari is evidence that, in real time, virtual models and maps close off the very exits they indicate. The problem is in part that rhizomes, lines of flight, smooth spaces, BwOs, etc., are at one and the same time theoretical-political devices of the highest critical order and merely fantasmatic, delirious, narcissistic models for writing, and thus perhaps an instance of the all-too-proper blurring of the distinction between criticism and fantasy. In Deleuze-speak, the stupid underground would be mapped not as a margin surrounding a fixed point, not as a fixed site determined strictly by its relation or opposition to some more or less hegemonic formation, but as an intensive, n-dimensional intersection of rhizomatic plateaus. Nomadology and rhizomatics conceive such a "space" (if one only had the proverbial nickel for every time that word is used as a critical metaphor, without the slightest reflection on what might be involved in rendering the conceptual in spatial terms) as a liquid, colloidal suspension, often retrievable by one or another techno-metaphorical zoning (e.g., "cyberspace"). What is at stake, however, is not only the topological verisimilitude of the model but the "fantastic" possibility of nonlinear passage, of multiple simultaneous accesses and exits, of infinite fractal lines occupying finite social space. In the strictest sense, stupid philosophy. Nomad thought is prosthetic, the experience of virtual exhilaration in modalities already mapped and dominated by nomad, rhizomatic capital (the political philosophy of the stupid underground: capital is more radical than any of its critiques, but one can always pretend otherwise). It is this very fantasy, this very narcissistic wish to see oneself projected past the frontier into new spaces, that abandons one to this economy, that seals these spaces within an order of critical fantasy that has long since been overdeveloped, entirely reterritorialized in advance. To pursue nomadology or rhizomatics as such is already to have lost the game. Nothing is more crucial to philosophy than escaping the dialectic and no project is more hopeless; the stupid-critical underground is the curved space in which this opposition turns back on itself. It is not yet time to abandon work that so deeply challenges our intellectual habits as does that of Deleuze and Guattari, and yet, before it has even been comprehended, in the very process of its comprehension, its fate seems secure. One pursues it and knows that the pursuit will prove futile; that every application of these new topologies will only serve to render them more pointless. The stupid optimism of every work that takes up these figures is, by itself, the means of that futility and that immanent obsolescence. One must pursue it still.

xvi. SI Revenant[ Top of page ]

[37] Today you can purchase a copy of "The Society of the Spectacle," now precisely a "mythic" text, newly translated by a professional scholar to purge it of those pesky inaccuracies that made earlier versions so difficult for all those pseudo-pro-situs to understand, and published in hardcover by a university press, for about $20. A souvenir edition. There is hardly a sign left in what has become, unhappily, we must suppose, a classic, that it was once translated by people who circulated it in a thousand illicit ways, without copyright and often for free, and stupidly presumed to put it to use. The new edition arrives at a moment when the notion of the spectacle has never been more dominant, when the most exorbitant utopian and dystopian claims have been made about the screen, when the commodity has long since assumed the dimensions of the entire society, to such a degree that one no longer seems to be saying anything when one resurrects this critique. Hence also its utter irrelevance: the SI's critique of the spectacle reveals its utter poverty and offers what even now proposes to be a new wave of critical energy to the spectacle itself. Just as nothing came of the critique of the spectacle but a spectacle of critique (the marxian chiasmus was, after all, the SI's favorite rhetorical form), so also nothing will come of the current neo-revolutionary era but another set of imaginary gratifications. And in fact not much more is proposed. As for the renewed interest in the Situationist International itself: now tenured former pro-situs can engage in the pettiest and, in terms of their bio-bibs, most profitable and narcissistically stimulating squabbles with pop critics who would gladly reduce Debord and Vaneigem to a footnote in the history of a few rock bands, the most important of which was a front for a clothing store. If not articles of clothing, then critical articles. This, in a way, is the fate of every criticism: to be replayed and replayed until its only force is the force of stupidity in the face of criticism itself. And all of this was already there in seed form in the neo-stalinist antics of the SI itself, with its central committees, its purges, its campaigns of ideological reeducation, its failed imitations of political diplomacy with other groupscules. In its own way, the SI paved the way for its own spectacle through its stupid devotion to purifying its position, to defending its ideological identity through factionalism, alliances, corrections, and expulsions. The "position" constituted the SI as a spectacle of criticism. And now its true destiny is bearing fruit in countless formal analyses, colloquia, and career opportunities. One should have predicted that the %derive% would end up leading us only through a few footnotes; nothing is left of the withering negation that gave the SI all its energy.

xvii. Skin [ Top of page ]

[38] How much can be made of a brightly colored scar? Only yesterday the tattoo was presented—and who was there who would have bothered to argue against it?—as a radical form of self-expression, an intense and immediate means of repossessing the body, taking it back from all the social systems that, one believes, have stolen it. In various claims, developed more through repetition than through thorough investigation, the tattoo is a risk, an adventure, a gamble with permanence (although these days, laser treatments may make even that decision reversible, if you can afford them); it resexualizes and resacralizes the body and is hence an attack on a desacralized culture, a culture that separates spirit and body, purity and sexuality; it is transcendentally abject (so much going down to go up!); it is a provocation aimed at the straight world (we could begin to speak of something like "critical atavism"); it is a way to link those who have undergone the ritual of tattooing in a sub-community, and therefore a mode of communication as well; it is also, as we shall see, a peculiar and stupidly characteristic instance of fun. Or so it is claimed. But for all its "modern primitivism," for all its stupid rousseauism and wannabe identifications with fringe subcultures (biker, carny, sailor, con), it is quite likely that the resurgence in the late '80s of the tattoo and the piercing—within a few years adorning insurance brokers and high-schoolers in the most fashion-remote suburbs—owed its genesis most of all to the T-shirt. The proliferation of tattoos followed upon the proliferation of insignia and logo clothing, the T-shirt emblazoned with band or team trademarks (functionally, the rock band and the sports team are quite close: fantasy identification with groups of ersatz heroes to which one does not in fact belong), art reproductions (the dissolution of Benjamin's aura taken to its limit), kitsch signs, slogans, and cliches, tourist-sites, commodities, etc. One attaches oneself by means of this insignia to the apparatus of fandom; every T-shirt is the sign of an advocacy, even if one is not particularly invested in the product. One is identified with a product or image, one feels oneself so identified in the eyes of passersby and it is not, after all, so horrible a feeling. One is "recognized", even if it is by proxy. It might even be amusing to associate oneself with a product one loathes, or to lend one's image to the debasement of a product (imagine skinheads wearing polo shirts). The T-shirt is thus a dream object for culture critics, what they would call a space or surface of mediation between the individual and mass culture (have we discovered interactive advertising?), and hence, according to the logic of cultural criticism, a site for its "detournement". We could refer here to Dick Hebdige's notion of "confrontation dressing" (actually, Vivienne Westwood's phrase), epitomized by the punk swastika, riot grrl grunge, and middle-class girls decked out in the "sluttiest" gear (hooker chic, or underwear worn as outerwear, made famous and hence evacuated by the stupid icon named Madonna).(31) One submits to the objectification of the human body by the fashion industry but, in Hebdige's view, exaggerates it and thereby "detourns" it. That nothing comes of this confrontation and reversal goes, for the moment, without saying. Such projects are still caught up in a completely unconsidered modernist mythology of media manipulation and image subversion, and of the dialectical exposure of truth. However uncomfortable a few London punk girls managed to make a few pillars of the City during rush hour on the tube, business went on as usual; the confrontation was ephemeral and proved nothing but the inanity of both parties, who a few hours later were happy to forget that the episode ever occurred. In the great ocean of T-shirts, a few with swastikas cause an uproar only if it is convenient for all parties that they do so; and in the end, what difference does another uproar make in the spectacle? Surrogate revolt meets surrogate shock in a "space" that has already shrunk to nothing.

[39] In the movement toward the "sub" of all signs, T-shirt and skin converge. Despite all the claims are made for the neo-tattoo—again: that it is a way to repossess one's alienated body, that it connects one symbolically with more integrated societies, that it is a sacralizing sacrifice, that it is a spiritual record, that it is a protective charm against spiritual and political demons, that the subjective intensity of the experience subverts cultural anaesthesis—the very proliferation of the tattoo indicates that, like just about everything else proposed as an exercise of difference, it too links the individual with the "economy of signs" in his or her most intimate dimensions. If we have not yet been subjected to the tattooed corporate logo, its time is doubtless imminent. Nor should we underestimate the way stupid inflations of the sacred serve finally to trivialize it, and guarantee it for this economy. That is perhaps the real importance of the influential handbook that gave us the phrase, Modern Primitives: it signaled the end of the radical tattoo simply by announcing its appearance. Skin is "marked" as yet another staging area for recuperation. At the same time, however, one should not dismiss the tattoo as merely recuperated. The tattoo, like the T-shirt, transforms the body into another agora, a corporeal mini-mall, but for what we might call "fuzzy capital," part of the same "black market," the underground economy shuttling at a dizzying velocity between dreams of high finance and vows of poverty, that we witness in small scale drug dealing, in marginal rock bands, in various parasitical recycling enterprises (used clothes, used CDs), in the distribution of stupid "knowledge" (Amok, Loompanics, et al.), in stolen technologies, in freelance sex-industry workers. Fuzzy capital is an economy that is neither simply capital nor effectively subversive, neither recuperated nor liberated, but the collapse of any dialectical tension between them. The tattoo retains none of the critical distance someone like Hebdige or Orridge would like to claim for it, but nonetheless this peculiar embrace of the apparatus of recuperation, forcing oneself down the maw of commerce as if one were really indigestible, is not the production and circulation of a commodity like any other. The tattoo makes the skin a zone in which capital thrives under the aegis of its subversion and mutates even as it survives. Lingis proposes a distinction between western or Japanese tattoos that turn the body into a sign and those "savage," scarrified, African bodies on which tattoos are not signifiers, not semiotic, but forms of intensification that extend or distend the body's surface.(32) The rhetoric of the stupid tattoo, however, as played out in Modern Primitives and a burgeoning fanzine and e-mail network, may render such distinctions unstable. It is no longer simply that, under capital, everything becomes a commodity and hence a sign (as in Baudrillard), nor that the underground is a space in the interstices of a power that is no longer hegemonically absolute but fractured and therefore open to the oldest sorts of oppositional agency and resistance; it is a question precisely of stupid space, fuzzy space. The tattoo is recuperated as a commodity, a sign, and yet it indicates that there is something primitive and non-signifying about the sign, something utterly atavistic about the commodity; stupid signification and stupid intensification converge and, by this means, inhibit an outmoded political critique. Is the girl on the tube subversive or recuperated? Hebdige would have us believe the former, in part because in his critical imaginary he wants to identify his own "radical" discourse with her lipstick; someone else would see her as a mere pawn of the culture industry. But what if she is both at the same time, and neither? A strange sort of disruption occurs. It is not revolutionary; it is trivial, utterly inane; and yet the moment the banker's eyes attach themselves to the tattoo of the rose (it is never much more than a rose) on this girl's breast, a stupid liminality dissolves, just for a moment, the clarity of a certain historical opposition, a certain recuperation and a certain critique. If the critical has always relied on the clarity of distinctions, on "exposing contradictions," it gives way at this moment to a sign that is not a sign, a disruption that is already smoothed over by capital, a fuzziness with which no criticism has yet been able to contend.

xviii. Fuzzy Fun [ Top of page ]

[40] It is notable how often the interviews in Modern Primitives—stupid interviews in general—resort, even while describing the most extreme practices, to the category of fun. The subjective analogue, the affective dimension of fuzzy capital might be fuzzy fun. Stupid fun. Piercing is fun, drunkenness and drugs are fun, sexual excess is fun, hyper-loud sound is fun, theft is fun, staying up for days is fun, "je m'enfoutisme" is French for fun. All of them together, what could be more fun. Stupid fun is not simply pleasure, even in a complex economy in which pleasure and pain are inextricably linked; it is rather the intensity that binds them indifferently together. Stupid fun is intensity itself: anything intense is fun. Stupid fun is quite serious; it is also "political," we are told, by being the subversion of the serious, the practical, the useful, the profitable. At the same time it participates in (if only by stealing from) the general industrialization of amusement. One can buy it, ingest it, for a while have it; it is even imminently obsolete, just like the commodity; but it also floats free of the objects to which capital would like to fix it, which are just as likely to lapse into boredom in an instant, to eclipse the dull aura and useless utility of the commodity even as they seem to announce it, to turn against the user and denounce the use. Fun is difficult, after all, to exchange. It obeys peculiar laws that are refracted by capital but are not precisely economic. If earlier avant-gardes sought to break down the apparent boundary between art and life, so the stupid underground seeks the dissemination of fun past the demarcation of entertainment centers, the permeation of fun into all aspects of life, or else. Fun is the register of the total aestheticization of experience. The rock band is a fantasy conjunction of work and fun; the day job is sabotaged because it is not fun; drugs are fun until one ends up in a recovery program, which will insist to you that you can have fun now without drugs. It might be a force of revolt in a world where the work-ethic dominates, but such a world no longer exists. Fuzzy fun socializes pleasure, removes it from a strictly libidinal economy, pressures capital to satisfy us when it is clear that it cannot, and dissipates the gravity of its potential critique in the most critically trivial acts.

xix. Sur la Plage [ Top of page ]

[41] 1. Plagiarism has etymological roots in kidnapping, specifically the stealing of slaves or the enslavement of freemen. The %plaga% too is a Net.

  1. In 1987, an "International Festival of Plagiarism" (actually just a few venues in London and San Francisco) announced the coming-out of sign-theft.(33) What had always been characterized as the most obscene, insidious, pathetic attempt to pass off someone else's text or authorship as one's own now wrapped itself in the heroic banner of anarchism and marched forth as a fierce political and moral attack on the aesthetic economy. Perhaps the very depth of the cultural revulsion against plagiarism guaranteed its eventual adoption, its stupid privilege, as a weapon of choice. This neo-plagiarism claimed its noble lineage from Ducasse's "Plagiarism is necessary; progress demands it"; from the Bakunist line that "property is theft"; from the Situationist economics of theft and gift and its strategies of %detournement%; from a highly conventional critique of the rather convenient specter of authorship as "bourgeois individualism" (Stewart Home: plagiarism is "collective creation"); and from the rise of various technologies for that greatly facilitate image recycling, such as electronic sampling (the bard of the '60s gives way to the recording engineer, the dubber and mixer, the DJ of the '90s).(34) Plagiarism announces itself as the most modern of all compositional modes, since it recognizes (i.e., it sees itself uncritically in the theory) that everything new is old and that, at bottom, reality itself is just a flimsy patchwork of recycled images. Plagiarism is an attack on art, but less on either its form or content than on its political economy, on the medium in which it circulates. Plagiarism challenges the reduction of art to exchange: since only differences can be exchanged—since, as Marx indicated, one cannot maintain an economy by exchanges of linen for linen ("A is not an expression of value") —plagiarism proposes to undermine economic and "hence" cultural value as such. And in any case, only wimps use quotation marks (Richard Hell).
  2. On the cover of one of her books, Kathy Acker's picture is accompanied by the following advertisement: "This writing is all fake (copied from other writing) so you should go away and not read any of it": a transparent dare, a patent lure, one designed precisely to entice the stupid reader; and yet she also insists, inside the book, that nothing is simply copied, simply stolen, everything is changed, reprocessed, creatively "detourned" (Lecter). The plagiarist as Robin Hood: one cannot just steal and redistribute cultural wealth anonymously, in some sense one's own cultural and political "agency" must be reasserted as Thief, or at least as critic, even as one tries by this theft to expose the very notion of the creative subject, even as one incriminates the originals as thefts. So Sherrie Levine's reproductions of Edward Weston nudes famously undermine Weston's own purported originality: his photographs are seen to have quoted, without quotation marks—no wimp, he—a range of classical sculptural forms; and at the same time Levine establishes her own reputation as what functions in the contemporary art market as an original, commanding, critical presence. Perhaps then we must be careful in attributing too subversive a role to the plagiarist: perhaps authorship now begins to extend its privileges through the very critique of its operations; perhaps the familiar nimbus of individual agency now enshrouds the various bricoleurs who claim prominence in the name of subverting all forms of individual creative identity. But even so, even if plagiarism cannot free itself from the economic apparatus it claims to attack, even if it is only an alibi for the stupid resurgence of an even shallower notion of authorship, neither can it be altogether reduced to a position and an identity. Rather, one might wish to measure in it forces that disrupt the very integrity of the textual "body." Even the neo-plagiarist's hypocrisy contributes to the evacuation of this nearly extinct organism.

  3. Is this not one of the reasons why traditional denunciations of plagiarism so often deploy the rhetoric of rape, treat it as a perverse and vile crime against the text's quite physical integrity? Thomas Mallon and other pathologists of plagiarism register an almost visceral loathing for the sacrilege that the plagiarist inflicts upon his victim. One would like a pathology of this rhetoric as well, some investigation of the way body and cultural property are collapsed into a single sign, an assessment of the notion of plagiarism as a primal transgression of the body of the work, of language and culture. Perhaps, when you tear a bit of text from the body of authorship, it is the Law itself that screams; and perhaps it is in this scream that the plagiarist hears the interpellation of his own subjectivity.

  4. If plagiarism is driven by more than critical will, if it is driven also by some order of desire, it is a desire to exploit (ruin, destroy) the other for the sake of one's own identity. To be someone over someone else's dead body. Plagiarism is demonic posession, echolalia, speaking in tongues and hearing oneself in what they say. In this sense, plagiarism resembles what some would hold to be the essential poetic experience, in which the "poetical character" is vacated in order to be invaded by and to speak in the other's voice (Keats's "negative capability"), and then scandalously claims that the creation is its own. When the crime of plagiarism is exposed, when we discover the other in the plagiarist's place, we see that the plagiarist has abandoned himself, sacrificed himself, fatally emptied himself to make room for his predecessor. The sympathy that the plagiarist is able to attract, noted with surprise by so many critics, might stem from this realization of how little the plagiarist turns out to be, how much he has enslaved himself to his master even in the act of stealing the life from him. Plagiarism is a perverse transubstantiation: it presumes that to incorporate the word of another is to become, in effect, like another; the perversion lies in the fact that one suppresses this identification even as one asserts it; but subsequent diagnosis reveals that all one has suppressed is oneself. We should also note that, according to a popular line of analysis, plagiarists are always eventually exposed, and the reason given is a familiar one: the plagiarist "wants to be caught." "Who I am" becomes me, in a sense, not only in the peculiar act of possession by which I am possessed, but in its cancellation at the vertiginous moment when it is revealed as false. We might also recognize here the father's murder by the primal horde that is one of Freud's myths for the founding of culture, in which the destruction and consumption of the precursor reconstitutes it as an ineradicable and insatiable law, a myth that, for us, is a general figure for the secret, ferocious return of everything one imagines one has destroyed and surpassed. Plagiarism is the return of the repressed of literary authority. At one and the same time: the constitution of cultural identity and its exposure—its reconstitution—as a lie.

  5. Neo-plagiarism takes up the situationist economics of theft and gift. It exposes property itself as theft and returns the text to a more "primordial" economy. We are familiar with claims that art is, or ought to be, a gift, both in the sense that genius is gifted and that the great work is donated, freely, for the good of all mankind. But to denounce someone as a plagiarist, to say "you stole from me," is, curiously, to contradict the notion that the work of art is a gift from the author to posterity. It reclaims the gift from the reader: it says, you can have this gift only so long as I still get to keep it, only so long as the conditions and privileges of ownership are sustained.[35] The charge of theft exposes the lie of the gift. What is more: it suppresses the essential link between theft and gift (according to the plagiarist's claim: all art, like all property, is theft), and refuses the gift that neo-plagiarists, who are entirely candid about the stolen goods they are circulating over their signatures, would present to all readers by ignoring the restrictions of property. But beyond these gifts and counter-gifts, beyond the bickering about whether authors or thieves are more generous, plagiarism is that violent expropriation whereby both insemination and dissemination, property and gift, authorship and its theory-death are revealed as interdependent, twin gears in the same machinery, and summarily negated. Plagiarism negates authorship by grotesquely parodying it; it negates the limits of the text by exaggerating them in the very act of transgressing them; it negates the romance of dissemination by proving that nobody finally buys it, that eventually everyone wants to be recognized as some kind of author, even if only the author of a crime; it negates the romance of the death of the author by provoking our possessiveness about the corpse. Only in the double transgression that reveals property as theft and belies the gift is the deepest economy of the work of art revealed. Plagiarism is nothing more than the appearance of this economy. That is why it must be suppressed.

  6. "All culture is plagiarized." To constitute it thus risks normalizing the crime and challenging culture as value, culture itself. That is why a certain order of plagiarism must be isolated, scapegoated, ostracized, treated with the utmost revulsion, reconstituted as a taboo. Here again we encounter at least some of the reasons why victims of plagiarism feel polluted, why those involved in a case sympathize and identify with the transgressor even as the crime repels them, why plagiarists are often the most vehement defenders of literary property rights. Plagiarism is the necessary exclusion of the founding crime of cultural capital. Hence the real threat of plagiarism would lie not in the act itself, but precisely in its normalization, by means of which the crime would no longer be isolated and cast out, the pollution would remain general. By participating in the romance of the merry plagiarist, however much it indicts the crime of literary property, the stupid underground only reinforces, in reverse image, the singularity of plagiarism. One therefore dreams of a far more anonymous and widespread plagiarism, an epidemic of nameless plagiarists (is such a contradictory figure even conceivable?), of a magnitude and virulence prefigured but already immunized by the stupid underground.

  7. Implicit everywhere in this account is the masocritical dimension of plagiarism. If plagiarism as repetition can be recruited into a critique of originality—a critique that is already rather dated, already in the process of being forgotten, a critique that may be said only to have paved the way for the amnesiac resurgence of the expressive subject, the historical agent, the creative genius, for a new plague of critical autobiographies—the methodical repetition that characterizes the plagiarist is also a trace of the death-drive. Plagiarism implies progress, which is also progress toward a death already immanent in every repetition. Everything doubled is dead. As we have noted, if plagiarism destroys the integrity of the authorial and textual body, it also destroys itself in the process. Moralists like Thomas Mallon frequently refer to the plagiarist's secret desire to be caught, and diagnose it as a "death wish" (34-37). Behind the Robin Hood mask is a suicide in the making. Plagiarism is the perverse cancellation of oneself as author, a pathological emptying of authorship in the very act of trying to mimic it. One gains an identity by having none, by taking up a persona that is soon exposed as false, as already dead. One must therefore imagine a plagiarism that pursues this double evacuation as it were purposely, assiduously, that steals not in order to gain but precisely in order to lose, and to make any further repossession impossible. The fiercest plagiarism would laugh off the whole critical melodrama of the Death of the Author and pursue a death without heroism, with nothing authentic to take the place of the one who died. I desire the body of another in order to live as a corpse. I desire the corpse of my writing to be exposed. I desire to expose the carrion feeding frenzy of all writing. I desire to embody and illuminate, in a kind of fire or language, the death of all discourse.

xx. Kulture Krit [ Top of page ]

[42] Is this what "Adorno" had in mind? All this armchair "ressentiment," other-envy, hyperactive "nostalgie de la boue" lapped up by university presses and colloquia? All these literary critics and social scientists demonstrating their irrelevance in the very process of asserting their political engagement, extending their great critical powers to prove, at enormous length, what everyone already pretends to know about ideology, about power, about resistance; projecting their imaginary agency into a cultural field already rendered a pure space of surrogation by the agency, the economy, of cultural discourse itself? And does this essay offer anything different? Does one presume here to reinvent cultural criticism, to find a worthier object for its attention, to invent a truer truth about culture or a more subversive critical agency? The pitiable spectacle of the cultural critic, the entire hoax of engagement in fact already diagnosed by Adorno, here gives way to a masocriticism that pursues this course only in order to run it into the ground, that wants nothing more than to expose the hoax by identifying with it completely and suffering its perfect abjection. Masocriticism is stupid criticism, guilty by association with its worthless objects of attention, collapsing its distance from everything it purports to analyze, throwing itself into the arms of anyone who promises to unmask it.

xxi. Secret [ Top of page ]

[43] We have mapped the stupid underground as the capital of the culture of resentment, of a strict, self-indulgent, and self-evacuating reactivity, lamely proposing "new" models and modes of existence that nonetheless can never be entirely reduced to the dialectics of recuperation, and that, even as they sacrifice themselves to such a facile criticism, gather their critics into a suffocating embrace and cancel critical distance itself. But there is more at stake than this peculiar and essential contradiction. Here we will follow the line of what Deleuze and Guattari call "becoming-imperceptible" toward an underground beneath the underground, one that does not make itself available to the critic's screens, a strange disappearance from discourse, from both recuperation and its stupid collapse, an "ars moratorii," a withdrawal or disengagement from the discursive economies than render null and void a thousand pretensions to resistance and subversion, an embryonic turning away, an internal exile (in all the complex associations of that interiority), a secret that the critic must finally postulate precisely in the absence of all evidence. If, in one sort of analysis, as we have noted, everything now is coming up signs, everything is rendered instantly spectacular, simulacral, obscene, we must assume that there are at least a few who have learned their lesson, a few for whom the lacerating parodies of the stupid underground no longer suffice, a few who have cancelled all bets and turned themselves out, declined any further reactivity and gone off the map. We should note here that, for Nietzsche, the "man of ressentiment" is a man of secrets, one who is "neither upright nor naive nor honest and straightforward with himself. His soul "squints;" his spirit loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything covert entices him as "his" world, "his" security, "his" refreshment; he understands how to keep silent, how to forget, how to wait, how to be provisionally self-deprecating and humble."(36) For Zizek, too, this overt obedience and covert refusal is the mark of a cynical reason that is the proper product of enlightenment reason itself. Kant's opening of free liberal argument conceals a deeper obedience to the law, one that is not so much reversed as extended by the cynic: "we know there is no truth in authority, yet we continue to play its game and to obey it in order not to disturb the usual run of things."(37) This, for us as for Zizek, is in fact the normative model of criticism, and it is found most of all in the very place where Kant situated it: faculties of liberal arts, philosophy departments, and so on. Critical distance is belied by the deep obedience epitomized in the discursive economy itself, in the consistent material forms by which intellectual commodities are produced and exchanged whatever their ideological claims to difference; at the level of the intellectual product, there is clearly no difference between the strictest radical and the wooliest conservative. The stupid underground is attractive to criticism because it is a mirror in which criticism can see itself as it is, as a secret order of cynics, even if it does not always recognize itself there, even if the convenience of its denials drowns out its truth, shining through like the truth of the analysand.

[44] It is noteworthy that even as Nietzsche challenges the secrecy of "ressentiment," he also sees the philosopher as a "subterranean tunneler, a mole, one who has returned almost from the dead."(38) And it is this other secrecy that finally concerns us here: not the one that scarcely hides and serves merely as a weak alibi for perfect collusion, but one past "ressentiment," a forgetting of culture. The stupid fascination with cults, networks, and conspiracies is a horizonal phenomenon, a coded desire that gestures toward another disappearance in which—"it is our duty to propose"—one is always about to become, and may finally achieve the empty lucidity of, a transparent fish.(39) If the stupid underground is the indeterminate boundary, the blurred and therefore uncritical liminality of the cultural subject and the social world—of critique, resistance, recuperation, and perpetual complicity—it is also, along another frontier, a limit of cultural visibility itself, and serves as a launching stage for the ballistic invention of the subject, one cast beneath the reach of critical illumination. The familiar logic of encoding and decoding out of which so much of the semiotics of the stupid underground is generated itself encodes the primacy of the secret. Indeed, one becomes an "agent"—these days, a virtual synonym for the cultural subject—by one of these two transformations of the factum. One is either employed in the manufacture of cultural signs or presumes to decode their ideological truth; one either encodes the ideolect of the counter-culture or interprets it for the knowledge industries. We have never deviated from the argument that these two modes are interimplicated: the stupid underground, like every presented mode of resistance, functions as secret, encoded cell partly through the decoding and circulation of "information" encoded by the conspiracies it projects; and it is by this very means—and with the help of critical agency itself—that its secret marginality is economically recoded. But we must imagine, in reading the Loompanics catalogue, for instance, that there are former artists and writers who have sent away for and taken seriously these how-to books on disappearance, on false identity, on survival without participation in the main chance; who are fasting to burn off cultural toxins and, even though they will never be entirely "free" of all discourse, have disappeared from "our" screens and hence pose a peculiar threat to critical industry as such. We might even take the stupid underground as a sort of decoy, a particularly blank marker for other sorts of communication and secrecy that are not visible in the least: the stupid underground is a sacrificial goat, offered up to us, pretending to be the real secrecy, while another, deeper refusal explores the smooth space of an exteriority entirely hidden and still entirely within the boundaries of daily life; deep-cover agents who, even as earlier avant-gardes pursued experiments in the form and content of art, engage in what one might call an "experimental economy" in which the very status of discourse and its modes of circulation are reconstructed. The conspiracy is the secret withheld from the observer; so too we conceive the stupid underground not as the site but as the threshold of another secret; we conceive it here in order to project a depth, a sub-stance, a becoming-imperceptible that will ruin us, masocritically, as critical observer, that will make a mockery of a critical distance that still claims to possess its object, its other. As this distance collapsed in contact with the stupid underground, so here we are left entirely behind; and it is this constitutive loss that we desire most of all. Worse and more seductive than the angry contempt of the punk is his no-show at a later date, once performance no longer interests him, once he conceives recuperation and its stupid parodies more severely, once he cedes his critical intelligence and offers us absolutely nothing. In not appearing he thereby restages his appearance as the Thing, if you will, the strange attractor of a now luminously empty Real, the ruinous telos of our critical game, a perfect lure for the exposure of our symptomatology, a frustrating goad that draws out the humanist's humiliating aggression, a truth that is true so long as it fails to appear, and even if it did appear, even if it were possible to track it down and drag it out into the light, could only fail us and give way to another. What we ourselves stage here is a certain paranoic autoaggression, the disaster of discourse, a speech act on one hand calling into being the exteriority of discourse and on the other sealing it off from our own intrusion. A ghostly other who remains other and eternally returns by never appearing. The inaudible and commanding echo of discourse's repellant law. Let us claim this secret other as our founding secret, a passage to which none of us holds the key because we ourselves destroyed it long before we ever conceived the door.

xxii. Desert [ Top of page ]

[45] Why so much stupid-critical fascination with the desert? Foucault dropping acid in Death Valley is the perfect journalistic figure of the final cause, if you will, of theory itself. You go out into the desert to escape the social world, have visions, go native, clear a space to begin again, look into whatever abyss, encounter gods, escape in order to be able to return, die in order to be reborn, fast, find yourself, find the secret government installations that indicate the truth of power, wait for UFOs, make art that is immune, for a few seconds, to galleries, write a book about America to sell back in France. The desert is at one and the same time the national park or disneyworld of the stupid underground, and the sublime landscape of critical theory. The only plants that grow there are fear and the ideal, twined gracelessly around one another. Everything is preceded by its negation, even negation itself. The desert is the atopic capitol of nomadology, the smooth space of the erasure of cultural space, the very ground of the zone. It is the parenthetical frame of every topology. It is unconquerable, the purest outside, and identified with a range of heroic colonial subjects (native-Americans, Africans, Arabs) with whom critical theory currently wishes to associate itself; it is also, by this very means, the incorporation and hence cancellation of every one of these figures. Its flatness, however mountainous, makes it the perfect modernist surface; its emptiness and marginality, the perfect postmodern one. As the deadest of lands, its sublimity is far more productive than the most picturesque Alpine declivity. It is sacred and empty, the illimitable locus where waste is inflated into a spiritual value; even God goes there to die. It is the expression, the sentence, of silence. A figural silence, first of all, but also the possibility of an actual cessation. All one's dreams of rigor run aground there. Everything dead goes there to die again. A place to write hysterical essays on the end of criticism. And a place for dead vows: nothing further obliges you to return to criticism. An end to it.

xxiii. NOTES [ Top of page ]

  1. Derrida's crucial effort, from his earliest work, to deconstruct the facile relation between inside and outside reproduced in this cultural model has had no final effect: for the most part it has merely reinforced the model with a certain rhetoric: one can now make exactly the same assumptions in the very act of pretending one is criticizing them.
    By the way, wanna write stupid-critical theory? Lesson One: Attach the prefix "hyper" to every third adjective or noun.

  2. See Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out (New York: Routledge, 1992), 38-60, for an elaboration of the distinction between these two suicides.

  3. We should also note trajectories that stop short of disappearance but are so destructive that one cannot speak simply either of their recuperation or their escape: from representations of the body to "body play" (organ-piercing, ritual suspension, etc.) to out-of-body experience to self-mutilation, autocastration, and suicide; from rock macho to punk aggression to a fascination with murderers (a certain journal called "Murder Can Be Fun," sold through Amok and REsearch; John Wayne Gacy's clown paintings for sale on Melrose Avenue) to brutal attacks on fans (GG Allen, serving time in prison). For instances and glosses see, for instance, Adam Parfrey, ed., Apocalypse Culture , (rev. ed., Portland: Feral House, 1990).

  4. Donald Ault, Narrative Unbound: Re-Visioning William Blake's The Four Zoas (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1987).

  5. In the critical rhetoric of "no longer" there is always an implicit "nor was it ever": everything closed off by such an analysis tracks itself back to its very origins. In The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), I pursued an analysis, along similar lines, of the history of the avant-garde: obituaries of the avant-garde tend not only to declare it dead now but in effect to claim it never really existed; its death is taken to prove that it never had any truth or force in the first place.

  6. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (New York: Autonomedia, 1991), 77.

  7. The Latah, one might say, is the pure Imp of the Imaginary. Burroughs: "This citizen have a Latah he import from Indo-China. He figure to hang the Latah and send a Xmas TV short to his friends. So he fix up two ropes—one gimmicked to stretch, the other the real McCoy. But that Latah get up in a feud state and put on his Santa Claus suit and make with the switcheroo. Come the dawning. The citizen put one rope on and the Latah, going along the way Latahs will, put on the other. When the traps are down the citizen hang for real and the Latah stand with the carny-rubber stretch rope. Well, the Latah imitate every twitch and spasm. Come three times." Naked Lunch (New York: Grove Press, 1987), 79-80.

  8. Ron Sakolsky and James Koehnline, eds., Gone to Croatan: Origins of North American Dropout Culture (Brooklyn/Edinburgh: Autonomedia/AK Press, 1993).

  9. On this "stain of the real" and its return, see Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 39-44.

  10. Amok, Fourth Dispatch , PO Box 861867, Terminal Annex, Los Angeles, CA 90086-1867; Loompanics Unlimited, PO Box 1197, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

  11. For a consideration of means to disturb this control, see Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Disturbance (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1994).

  12. Francis Crick, Terence McKenna, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, interview in Re/Search 3, any given issue of Mondo 2000 , Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw.

  13. Louis Kaplan, ed., The Damned Universe of Charles Fort (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1993), 79. Further citations from this book appear in the text.

  14. The distinction between nature and culture is so dominant in cultural criticism that one can bank on the fact that it is about to be overturned. It is probably only a matter of minutes before that absolute staple of gender criticism—that gender is strictly a matter of culture, not nature—gives way to a naturalism entirely unlike anything gender criticism ever predicted, and still the return of the same.

  15. As it used to be said, the real "counter" in counter-culture is the counter in the record store, on which you place the same money, to buy virtually the same commodities.

  16. Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi, First and Last Emperors: The Absolute State and the Body of the Despot (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1993), 137-41.

  17. On Dobbs, see The SubGenius Foundation, The Book of the SubGenius , (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983); or join up yourself, by writing to the Foundation, if it still exists, at P.O. Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214.

  18. Pete Scott, "What's There to Smile About? The Neoist Cultural Conspiracy," Vague 18/19, 119. See also Stewart Home, Neoist Manifestoes / The Art Strike Papers (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1991).

  19. Stewart Home, The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrism to Class War (London: Aporia Press and Unpopular Books, 1988), 88.

  20. Standard terms of postmodernism from Fredric Jameson's standard account, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New Left Review 146 (July-August 1984).

  21. Martin Sprouse, ed., Threat By Example (San Francisco: Pressure Drop Press, 1990).

  22. At this point you too are beginning to participate: Cape Canaveral was for awhile, Cape Kennedy, and houses the Kennedy Space Center.

  23. James Shelby Downard, "King-Kill / 33º," Adam Parfrey, ed., Apocalypse Culture (first edition; Los Angeles: Amok Books, 1987), 242. For analogous documents see, for instance, REsearch 1; pieces by Tim O'Neill, Gregory Krupey, and James Shelby Downard in Apocalypse Culture (revised edition, Feral House, 1990); The Book of the SubGenius , e.g., 91-105; "The Mark of the Beast" in Semiotext(e) USA (1987), 304-5; Vague 18/19; Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus Trilogy , (New York: Dell, 1975); Jim Keith, ed., Secret and Suppressed: Banned Ideas and Hidden History (Portland: Feral House, 1993); or any of thousands of documents about Communist-Satanic-Jewish conspiracies from other wings of the stupid underground.

  24. Power beyond power is necessitated in part by the fact that visible power is so finite and inefficient. As Zizek elsewhere notes: "The fundamental pact uniting the actors of the social game is that the "Other does not know all." This nonknowledge of the Other opens up a certain distance, so to speak, i.e., that allows us to confer upon our actions a supplementary meaning beyond the one that is socially acknowledged" (LA 72). "Supplementary" is, of course, quite a loaded term, and might indicate that whatever is allowed us is also there in the place of an originary prohibition that restricts it, "so to speak" absolutely, from before the very start. What links many of the actors of the stupid underground is the certain knowledge that behind this failed other there is a more powerful one, the totality as the strictest if most invisible fact. The distance of this ultimate Other collapses the distances of the social game.

  25. Interview with Chris Carter, Vague 19/20, 143. See also Genesis P-Orridge, "Muzak," Vague 16/17 (1984), 176-78, and Sordide Sentimentale interview, Industrial Culture Handbook, REsearch 6/7 (1983), 82-91. For techniques of counter-subliminal subversion, see for instance Cabaret Voltaire interview, ReSearch 1, or Cazazza, Rice, and Pauline interviews, Pranks: REsearch 11.

  26. See especially Le seminaire, livre XX: Encore (Paris: Seuil, 1975).

  27. See, for instance, various interviews in Industrial Culture Handbook and Charles Neale, Tape Delay (Harrow, UK: SAF, 1987).

  28. Bob Black, The Abolition of Work (Port Townsend: Loompanics, 1986); Black, Friendly Fire (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1992); Black and Tad Tepley, eds., Zerowork: The Anti-Work Anthology (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1993); John Zerzan, various books, including Future Primitive (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1994).

  29. Claims have been made by artists of a slightly earlier generation that the necessity for work was neither resented nor romanticized. Philip Glass, discussing his need to continue driving a cab even after he had attained his first international fame, said that he had no resentment—that he found most artists simply accepted the necessity of being a waitress or cabbie, without any ill-feeling. "No one asked me to be a musician," he remarked. Indeed; nor did anyone ask him to drive a cab. As if either were a matter of choice. And does he drive it still? No doubt, as soon as it could be abandoned, it was. It would be interesting, for a moment or two, to consider what he thinks of cabs now that he only rides in the back seat. If, in one sense, his adjustment to the facts of his life was the mark of a good attitude, what one calls a "mature" attitude, in another sense it was merely self-deception. In any case, what is at issue here is not simply a matter of attitude: day job and real work constitute a phenomenon, a constant experience, of dividedness that affects both, whatever anguish one manages to repress or sublimate; a "significant" violence in the organization of daily life.

  30. Chris Carlsson, ed., Bad Attitude: The Processed World Anthology (London: Verso, 1990); Martin Sprouse, ed., Sabotage in the American Workplace (San Francisco: Pressure Drop Press, 1992); Ben Is Dead 15, Revenge issue (October-November 1991); REsearch 11, Pranks (1987); P.M., bolo'bolo (New York: Semiotext(e), 1985), 41 ff. See also Gone to Croatan for accounts of workers' riots in the early history of the United States.

  31. Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Routledge, 1979); also cited in REsearch 12: Modern Primitives (1989), 192-93: "Girls have begun playing with themselves in public: parodying the conventional iconography of fallen womanhood—the vamp, the tart, the slut, the waif, the sadistic maitresse, the victim-in-bondage. These girls interrupt the image flow. They play back images of women as icons, women as the Furies of classical mythology. They make the SM matrix strange. They skirt around the voyeurism issue, flirt with masculine curiosity but refuse to submit to the masterful gaze. These girls turn being looked at into an aggressive act."

  32. Alphonso Lingis, Excesses: Eros and Culture (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), 19-46.

  33. Stewart Home, ed., Plagiarism: Art as Commodity and Startegies for Its Negation (London: Aporia Press, 1987; repr. Sabotage, 1989). See also Home, Neoist Manifestoes / The Art Strike Papers (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1991); Lautreamont, "Poems," in Maldoror , trans. Paul Knight (London: Penguin, 1978), 274; Kathy Acker, Hannibal Lecter, My Father (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), 11-18; John Oswald, "Plunderphonics, or, Audio as a Compositional Prerogative" in Robin James, ed. Cassette Mythos (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1992), 116-25; Karen Eliot, "No More Masterpieces Manifesto," in James, 154-55; John Yates in Martin Sprouse, ed., Threat By Example , 57-61; Mike Bidlo in REsearch 11: Pranks, 54ff. For general remarks on plagiarism, see, for instance, Thomas Mallon, Stolen Words: Forays into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989), and Peter Shaw, "Plagiary," American Scholar 51 (Summer 1982), 325-337.

  34. While Kathy Acker and others link neo-plagiarism to the "appropriationist" art of the 1980s, epitomized in the work of John Baldessari, Sherrie Levine, and Haim Steinbach, who appropriated photographic work and sculpture or commodities into their own work as a kind of "subversive" quotation, others—Stewart Home, for instance—are anxious to distinguish plagiarism from appropriation: whereas "post-modern [appropriation] falsely asserts that there is no longer any basic reality, the plagiarist recognizes that Power is always a reality in historical society," and incites it directly through acts of theft and "%detournement%" (Home 5, 10), thereby speeding up the "decay of capitalism" (8).

  35. On art as gift, see Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Random House, 1979) and various attempts to appropriate Bataille's notion of expenditure for normative aesthetic exchange.

  36. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Geneaology of Morals , trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 38.

  37. Zizek, Enjoy, ix-xi.

  38. Nietzsche, Dawn , cited in John Sallis, Crossings: Nietzsche and the Space of Tragedy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 10.

  39. Roland Barthes, Michelet , trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill & Wang, 1987), 33.

Be the first to comment on "Mann's Stupid Undergrounds"

Leave a Reply