Thursday, January 30, 2014

No Accidents of a Down

This is a follow up to this, which was a response to this. That second link is an essay about art tumblr The Jogging's switch from, basically, well-photographed visual puns with titles to conspiracist images relying on certain constants (an MS Paint aesthetic and far right rhetoric being the most relevant).

Here's another thing that The Jogging, and any theory of the conspiracy theory that sees it exclusively as the terrain of systemic thought with capitalism as its ultimate horizon (which I have been as guilty of as anyone), rather than (as I'm now attempting to formulate it) a discourse of totalization that runs parallel to capitalism as its own totality: System of a Down.

I think it's fairly uncontroversial to position SoaD as operating within the broader conspiracist framework, even if looking at the lyrics to any individual song doesn't capture that element of their broader performance or place within the cultural landscape at the turn of the millennium. Which is kind of the point; recent emphasis on conspiracies like Truthers and Birthers positions the conspiracist as a member of the radical right, and The Jogging organizes itself within this moment. But the aesthetics they adopt are inflected by the strategies they employ; so while there are still a large amount of the sort of narrative image macros that they are creating being made in earnest (although this is more a legacy of Birthers, a group who they haven't yet explicitly engaged to my knowledge, than the Truthers at whom much of their content is aimed, at least based on my peripheral engagement with 9/11 Truth sites and discourse around 2004-2006) the epiphanic juxtaposition of the familiar (discussed last time), inherited from photography and providing the explicit link between previous and current practice, necessarily temporalizes the images. The amateur graphic design is a thing of forums and Web 1.0; it's very 90s.

If you've ever gone back and listened to some of the (broadly categorized) nu-metal (and its orbit) from the (very) late 90s through the first half of the 00s, and if you're me, you'll have been struck by the ease with which the vocalists switch between what seem to be legitimate leftist critique with stunningly obtuse conspiracism. SoaD is an obvious example, as is Rage Against the Machine, but even groups like Incubus or Papa Roach were getting in on it. There were a lot of things going into this, from the near-universal adoption of disaffection that apparently undercut their critiques to the conspiracist framing to the fact that at the end of the day it was all an industrial investment in the production of goods which captured a market who repaid the investors handsomely, of course, but there was also the experience of knowing shit was fucked up, figuring it probably had a cause, and then hearing, say "Prison Song." It's a pop song about prisons that suggests an analysis, and the shadowy "they" was there too. It was, for me at least, a supplement to Tupac, whose embodiment of his dramatic persona was at least as important as his actual music, and Outkast, whose Bombs Over Baghdad I didn't then understand but fucked if I wasn't desparate to be able to, and, well, we'll get to the real embarrassing shit in a minute. The point though was that at the same time as the slow death of Web 1.0 began (I'd peg it as ramping up from 2002-2005, beginning to truly transition around 2006), including those latter-day Napsters (the most famous, I believe, being Kazaa), was a moment when the aesthetic of conspiracy theory was firmly embracing a rhetorical mixed-leftism, especially in music. P.L.U.C.K. is still a bit of a weird song to listen to.

There's a longer relationship between conspiracist thought and aesthetics and various (generally relatively weak, admittedly) anticapitalist political positionings. Obviously the history of right wing conspiracy theory is much stronger and more prominent, given, well, Hitler. And most species of the JFK Assassination conspiracy, which is the general template for American conspiracies that don't involve lizards. But there are also things like Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea's The Illuminatus! Trilogy which, while on some level satirizing them, produce a convincing argument for the fecundity of the conspiracy as site of mobilization against the mode of production - even if that mobilization takes the shape of Hella Hippy Sex and Dope Submarines (in every sense).

The point, though. Or, actually, first, let's talk about Truthers.

Here's a thing you don't see acknowledged often; at the seed of the 9/11 Truth movement was a pretty simple sentiment: Fuck Bush. Or, more fancifully, Bush is Hitler. The contemporary prevalence of the "false flag" narrative is, as far as I can tell, a direct consequence of the legion of forum posters around 2004 who looked to the Reichstag Fire to explain what to them seemed to be clearly the actions of a government, as synecdochized by its leader, who had manipulated the spectacularization of democracy to become the illegitimate most powerful man in the world, and whose actions were primarily seen as curtailing civil liberties and cozying up to various Big Money interests. Obviously I'm being selectively attentive here, and there were other competing narratives and even these claims were less revolutionary and (way) more racist in their content than I'm framing them, but this narrative also tends to get subsumed into later developments within the group (primarily its post-07 complete subsumption into libertarianism, which had always been large, and even dominant, within the discourse, but never explicitly hegemonic until that point).

One way to think of it would be as nearly identical to Eminem's video for "Mosh," in which the rhetoric (both spoken and visualized) of insurrection, albeit one mediated through celebrity and animation and a whole host of other shit, is ultimately captured by the institutional mechanism of electoral politics. Whether you treat the Truther subsumption into the Tea Party as authored internally (like "Mosh") or externally (Koch Brothers), it remains the same; impassioned conspiracists, whose mode of being is fundamentally against the existing structure of power in a way that draws on opposition to historical right wing states, end up coopted or pushed out.

To which one might reasonably respond: well, then, it seems the idea of conspiracy theory as "an inability to think, in the current instance, outside the horizon of capitalism" is perfectly apt. And depending on your understanding of how capitalism works, maybe my conceptualization of conspiracy theory doesn't change that at all. That's cool, I'm still working on it. Maybe I'll change my mind. But back to The Jogging. But first we'll have to take another brief detour through System of a Down.

The conspiracist rhetoric isn't just in the shadowy other that haunts things like "Prison Song." It's actually largely a consequence of their environmnentalism, more than anything else. I don't think SoaD actually explicitly reference chemtrails at any point, but they were constantly going on about Recognizing Natural Beauty, the destructiveness of industrial production (which was hella weird to me even as like a 14 year old or whatever), and all that. It, like basically every environmentalist movement, ranges from the militant to the thinly-veiled fascist, but the real effects were its tendency to organize. Under the naturalist rubric came the New Ageist peaens to freeing your mind, which roped the calls for revolution to general guru bullshit. They were the key to the conspiracization of the whole because they were what transformed it into a totality. The whole damn world was pretty, and you can still see that if you look; and I know I said earlier that drugs were a systematic function of the prison industrial complex, but they also free your mind so! And addiction's bad?

Am I begging the question by suggesting that The Jogging's artistic endeavours ought to confirm more closely to my personal experience with conspiracy theory? Sure, probably, yeah. But I guess we can finally actually talk about that.

As I said before: this is all relevant context because of the aesthetic production going on on the tumblr. I'm willfully ignoring the bulk of Horning's argument, that this is interesting because it is an attempt to articulate a certain methodology of artistic practice native to the internet (resting on the "accidental audience" of Brad Troemel) and the conceptual juxtaposition of the internet as system with conspiracy theory as systematized thought/production. I'm ignoring it not just because I largely think The Jogging (and Troemel's essay) sucks, or because I want to suggest to them a way to better their practice. I'm ignoring it because I think its a bafflingly dehistoricized claim, operating exclusively at the level of squashing together two metaphors haphazardly and considering that an argument.

Here's the thing: this shit's flaccid. It's operating according to the principles of the laziest photographic fine arts, its aesthetically rooted in a historical moment it refuses to grapple with, and its apparent goal is the extrapolation of art to subjects outside of the (to use the term inappropriately promiscuously) gallery while also de-gallerizing the gallery subject? On top of that, it's premised on an idealization of the internet that's not so much TINA subjecthood as pure corporate fantasy in press release form gone ontology. To quote Horning again: "How does one productively think about the inability to think? How do you imaginatively confront the apparent waning of imagination that the conditions of artistic production online tends to instigate, where the circulation of an image begins to trump its content, and serial production militates against patiently crafted masterworks?"

I'm just not sure that the answer to any of those is to double down on the weakest aspects of an already dull project, I guess.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On There Are No Accidents

I feel like there are three important aspects missing from Rob Horning's recent assessment of The Jogging's recent appropriation of conspiracy theorist aesthetics, so I'm going to briefly write about them because why not.

The first is the lexical overlap of the Astounding Juxtaposition of (at least one) Familiar Element(s) that occupies a privileged space in the grammars of both visual art and conspiracy theory. In the former this is largely seen in those interminable fucking photography exhibitions in Fine Art museums, where framing stands in for technique as a whole and is brought to bear with the exclusive apparent goal of directing the viewer's attention to a representation of objective conditions in which subjectivity (or interiority) can be identified by way of an ecstatic moment of recognition. The parallels to the rhetorical or aesthetic construction of the conspiracy theorist are, I think, obvious. Some degree of that commonality is a condition of the shared instrument, but, in the case of conspiracy, I think it has more to do with the second point. As a slight aside, the only moments when I personally found any of The Jogging's art particularly compelling were when it referenced Neon Genesis Evangelion (and only then the Kaworu reference was the only one that I continue to find myself thinking about at all); thus the specification of at least one familiar element above. Because of a mixture of my own deep (at least chronologically) relationship with that show, the shows relatively limited cultural footprint, a loose collection of specific readings of the show that I have either developed or encountered, the specificity of Kaworu's character within those readings, my own momentary inability to identify the genesis of the character of Kaworu upon seeing The Jogging's image macro, and probably a couple other things (the point being the density of the specific cultural object in question as related to my viewership, and the methods of interpellation that that density enabled), it succeeded (at least partially) where other, more technically adept or culturally weighted or aesthetically significant variations on the theme failed.

The second is the very specific relationship that conspiracy theory has with, to put it as broadly as possible, power. I became fond, at one point, of schematizing conspiracy theory as "a capitalist analysis of power," by which I specifically meant that it was an analytical mode which took as its object relations of domination and subjectification using the dominant mode of production as its condition of possibility. More generally, though, it was meant to suggest that, despite both capitalism and conspiracy theory's ideological reliance on the individualization of its object, it was itself not a consequence of or contribution to a totality but one itself.

Horning, quoting Andrejevic, describes as his "epiphany" the following line:

conspiracy theory, despite its infinite productivity, remains a failure of the imagination that corresponds to an inability to think, in the current instance, outside the horizons of capitalism.

If there seems to be a synchronicity to what I'm arguing and what the quote claims, then I'm not being clear. Horning grabs on this, though, in particular the claim about the "inability to think," and contextualizes The Jogging's project, and specifically its deploying of a contextually-rich aesthetic, within those grounds.

I'll admit that it is incredibly tempting to consider conspiracy theory as a form of failure, as a recuperable Will to Knowledge or what the fuck ever. It's maybe the only way we (as in, people who are interested in or familiar with conspiracy theory without being involved in the generation of promulgation of it, which is to say more precisely "people for whom Conspiracy Theory is an object") have of even beginning to really acknowledge the actual labor involved in the production of this phenomenon. Of course it's fucking patronizing, but then what else would you expect. They're such good workers and if only we could convince them to see the light, throw off the shackles of false consciousness, arise and see beyond the shadow world of oppression, Raise Awareness To End Capitalism.

Of course, it isn't the only possible way to acknowledge the labor of conspiratorial narrative praxis. And it sure as fuck isn't the only Marxist reading of conspiracy theory, unless you're very invested in selling papers (on the street or to JSTOR, who cares). What it fundamentally does is to ignore that the production of totality within the field of the conspiracy is not a consequence of the mode of production but parallel to it.

Anyway: the second point is that I think Horning is more or less accurately describing the theoretical foundation of The Jogging's project, and that the theoretical foundation of The Jogging's project is fucking awful.

The third point is that, like the aforementioned interminable photography exhibitions, The Jogging's artistic praxis is symptomatically reducible, as a consequence of the predominance of framing, to its creative use of titles. And its titles fucking blow.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 in Recap: The Best

Top 5 Fiction

The Hanging on Union Square
Violence is the air that Hanging has no choice but to breathe, and reading it makes needing revolution as easy as exhaling.
The Conservation of Shadows
The real critique of the political economy of science fiction, however, is not this deeply embedded symbolic joke at the expense of genre triumphalism, but the use of the substance that titles the story.
A Tale for the Time Being
Which leaves me to say that that is something I can respect but not really love, not in the ways that I love the lengthy passages about the power outage or the contrived silliness of the way it preempts Ruth's googling, or the shot of elation immediately dissolving into disappointment at the academic article and its paywall.
The People in the Trees
There is -- there has to be -- a better term than the sutures-showing "unreliable editor," though it seems to me not entirely inapt.
My Education
To focus, for instance, on the logistics of which fish would be the best decision to be the first to occupy Regina's new tank, and to decide, based on rational dialogue, as Dutra does, on a member of the class of Pioneer Fish, is never really a disengagement, and to see it as such is to deny the ways in which capitalism's movement between the universal and the particular is totalizing.

Top 5 Films

The Last Stand
I legitimately sat very stiffly upright and covered my mouth with a fist and said "OH SHIT" much, much louder than I thought I could talk without actually yelling.
Pain & Gain
Pain & Gain was Spring Breakers without the fucking thinkpiecey bullshit; a gaudy, glossy & cheap fuck you to America whose misanthropy coincidentally happened to reify structural oppressions.
You're Next
If the home invasion genre is better at performing the haunted house than those films whose generic identity is rooted in the trope, like last year's Silent House, then You're Next's invasion at a distance (as metonymized through the crossbow) ramps it up a notch; the house pops inwards with an objective cause that only ever announces itself after the fact, in wound of flesh or property
After Earth
That the film positions family as the site of trauma does not mean that the film positions family as the cause of trauma.
I was incredibly excited about the idea that we might be allowed to spend an hour and a half doing little more than following Vin Diesel, absolutely devoid of companionship, wrestle a planet into submission.

Top 5 Posts, Not Otherwise Represented

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
The Hawksian gesture is always a productive site of inquiry into the film's epistemology precisely because of its aggressive immanence, its entanglement with reductive homosociality, its negative formalism. It is necessarily a gesture at odds, a refusal of depth, an indication of aporia. It is an invitation to act disrespectfully, to criticism, to analysis, to a reaction absent humor or charity or sincerity, because it is a preemptive disarming, a smirk or a shrug or a swagger without content.
The Purge
Because vertically integrating class, which is maybe just my cute way of saying acknowledging class struggle without representing it, in the context of the constitutive hostility of private property by way of the justification of violence within it is necessarily an obscurantism by way of ethics of the abstraction of legality, also known as the threat of force.
But then I really do believe that much of the importance of the ghost as a figure in culture is a way of centering a becoming-conscious of the collective, of land as an abstraction, and particularly of its becoming-linguistic. Ghosts take the form, generally, of the individual, but almost always speak primarily of and as the history of a place. And their actions, while generally claimed to be some sort of revenge or guidance, are almost always more productively viewed as the linguistic relation of the land to itself, the way the theme park, for instances, fixes in time momentarily the meaning of a particular murder which occurred on its grounds, in order to enter into the discursive world, if only to attempt to articulate itself.
The Childhood of Jesus
They flee, finally constituting (with the anomalous and otherwise pointless appearance of a hitchhiker) an ideal nuclear family unit; a(n absent) father, a mother, two sons, and a potentially vicious Alsatian.
Hello Kitty's Fashion Music Wonderland & Hello Kitty: Here We Go!
Speaking of Kitty with the gendered pronoun obscures the point here significantly. That is: she herself is not a character. She precedes narrative. Kitty White is neither character nor stuff; she only exists as stuff, but on its periphery, or as a structuring force. Kitty is, that is to say, the way that stuff enters into the realm of representation, that it becomes-linguistic.

Top 6 Things I Wrote Elsewhen

WASD A Mile In Another Person's Shoes at the Bygone Bureau
When the world caters to the player’s schedule, exploration becomes one of the central categories of play; a world that only comes to life when you consciously choose to bring it there creates a compelling reason, and something like a moral imperative, to explore.
A/Functional Definition: 55 Theses on Final Fantasy VII
5) What might be considered the hallmark of jRPGs is the turn- and menu-based battle system. This can be seen most clearly in the way that any deviation from this mode is automatically and necessarily recognized as such.

6) Given (5), the defining mechanic (as opposed to thematic or aesthetic) of the jRPG as a genre can be said to be abstraction.
Structure Does Matter
The role of the dungeon master, as I see (and attempt to enact) it, is not the “storyteller,” but the “audience,” or the active interpreter of the text as posited by the players.
The Haunting at HKE
The lands of Hello Kitty Kawaii Town are fractured.
Cat Power at The New Inquiry
[K]awaii is an aesthetic that is born of, and develops as, a society-wide expression of desire for utopian socialism.
Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction reviewed in Strange Horizons
[Menial] is a rejection … of the narrative economy of science fiction. Once you start telling the story of the way systemic limits on access to capital affect groups for whom that oppression intersects with other, often more visible oppressions, the tall tale about the rugged individual begins to seem a little thin.

Top 5 Non-Writing Things

Curating the Hello Kitty Kawaii Hell Town tumblr as a whole. From mid-June to early October, I ran the blog with the help and contributions of a few friends. It was really exciting to me.

Unemotional Christmas by The pl. n. Single below.

Announcing A Truly Blonde Child's first release, set for January 7, 2014. Xena: Season 1.

The 4th of July single "West" by A Truly Blonde Child.

My birthday present to myself, "Not 23" by Uninterpretative: no!