skip to Main Content

Process and the Derailing of Reality: Erotic Theology (Part VI)

Process And The Derailing Of Reality: Erotic Theology (Part VI)

In part five of this essay we looked closely at the forgotten early modern Platonic thinkers Giordano Bruno, Ralph Cudworth and Anne Conway and their theories of unconscious desire. As valuable as Lady Anne is in offering us a mystic Christianity “after finitude,” in order to outline our Christian-Platonic theory of desire we shall concentrate here primarily on Bruno and Cudworth because of their far more developed conceptions of the unconscious. So we might reassemble from part five, to take Bruno and Cudworth together means to consider the thesis that the cosmos runs on unconscious conjunctive and disjunctive repetition. It is a creature of habit; process is erotic synapsis.

To follow this speculative line of thought also means that one must do away with the notion that desire is a relaxing of bonds, a lack of discipline, when in fact all desires are tensile relations of bonding and habit, as Bruno understood. The human being arrives in the world, always-already epiphenomenally produced by this process. One can only try to study how bonding and habits take place and use this to change by what and which one and one’s society is bonded. In the Spirit of Plato’s Sophist, let us say that this is a slow process of turning conjunctive logos (discourse) and repeated habits back upon themselves from within process. Wittgenstein was perhaps not far from the mark when he recognised that within a “language game” there can be all manner of disagreements, but for the very “game” to take place there needs to be an implicit agreement already on the language that is used, a “form-of-life.”[i] Wittgenstein, of course, was a little too hung up on language for his own good. We are speculating about a deep synaptic mimesis, repetition and conjunction that precede even the convolution and unconscious complexity already required for simple “form of life” languages of orders and reports of battle, of yes and no answers and the shouting of “Slab!”

All manner of communicative habits and “forms-of-life” take place in the world, whether in man, animals and plants without them ever becoming the historical meta-game about games we would call philosophy, and, dare one say it “consciousness.” As Heidegger said – thought is rare, a matter on which both Deleuze and Voegelin would surely agree. We would do well here to recall Voegelin’s rejection of Jung’s theory of the collective conscious, quite simply because what Socrates and Plato actively strove to do was to turn away from the collective unconscious they saw around them in order to ask what the true good life and the good society might be.[ii] Here we might also take a page from Neo-Aristotelian Alisdair MacIntyre too and his recognition that all societies have a virtue ethics of a kind, everyone has models of the “flourishing” lives that should be imitated and those that should not, even if between and even within cultures there might be a great deal of difference in what these models and virtues should be.[iii]

Moral philosophy, so we should say, is as old as mankind and the desirous mimetic habits that gave rise to it, but perhaps it only truly makes a leap when people begin to be disturbed into conscious action by the anxious fact that things have changed too suddenly. That the old myths are now hard to understand. That there are now too many competing models of what it means to be good. That these must now be sorted. Perhaps Peter Sloterdijk is correct that the quest to find the “good form,” from Plato to Wittgenstein, is a matter of “secession,” a rejection of mainstream society’s unconscious “fate kitsch.” The philosopher produces a school or monastery in which the form might grow and be carried on as a lived disciplining of desire that renders good habits unconscious tools.[iv] Wittgenstein once remarked that “culture is a set of monastic rules (Ordensregel), or at very least implies a set of monastic rules” – a sentiment Giorgio Agamben has taken up in looking at the monastic origins of modern conceptions of disciplined regula vitae (rules for life).[v] It is towards this genealogical question of a monastic modernity and its bonding of desire that we shall turn in this essay. Just as there is political theology, the question of the genealogical secularization of divine power and oikonomia, so too is there an erotic theology – a long history of the “libidinal economy” of desire and its bonding and habituation in “forms of life” that produce and reproduce flourishing and degradation.

Libidinal Economy

But first we must look closely at Plato’s journey through the unconscious Athenian “form of life.” At the very core of Plato’s observations on the virtuous life lies the question of desire. Eros for Plato is not univocal, but equivocal, as Socrates’ reminiscences of Diotima’s teachings in the Symposium declare: “Love, almighty and all-beguiling, includes every kind of longing for happiness and the good” –even if those who are beguiled by philosophy, business, athletics and many other fields are not usually regarded as lovers.[vi] To Diotima Eros is the offspring of Resource (Poros) and Poverty (Penia), neither a god nor a mortal man, but a spirit in between, at once an entity philosophical in every capacity, but at the same time “a mighty illusionist (goetes), quack doctor (pharmakeus) and sophist.”[vii] Eros is equivocal, but unavoidable, a metaxic bonding and repetition drawing men towards what their psyche considers to be the good and beautiful in life. Every instantiation of this relationship is one towards eternity, for what lies in the heart of every human being is the desire to possess the good and hold onto it forever. Thus, at once there is a profound interplay of Same and Different, of lack and positive seeking desire, of truth and phantasma at work in the synaptic process that is Eros.

The most basic form this relationship takes is simply sexual desire towards beautiful bodies, the desire to reproduce oneself unto eternity, by which all of nature is bound, even to the point of enduring great hardship.[viii] Yet, in some people this takes on a slightly higher desire, that for recognition (timē) and fame (kleos), as is exemplified by the great craftsmen, heroes, poets and cultural founders, whose legacy is far more immortal than any of the mortal descendants they might have ever brought forth.[ix] However, the highest form of Eros, so Diotima claims, is that of the one who seeks to know the good and beautiful in itself, ascending beyond the beauty of the body, art, nature, fame and the well-governed state, towards the possibility of seeing “the heavenly beauty face to face” and calling it his own: “begetting true virtue and rearing it, he would begin to become beloved by the gods, and if any man were to be immortal, surely it would be him.”[x]

What a lovely vision of things indeed. Plato of course later reworked this in the Republic with its vision of the tripartite human soul and the social repercussions that result from the mass-psychological dominance of its different parts. The highest part is nous, which governs the philosophical mind’s pursuit of the Forms and the philosopher rulers of Plato’s speculative Spartan-Pythagorean kallipolis; the middle is thymos, which governs the spirited and becomes dominant over nous in the timocratic warrior society; the lowest is epithymia, appetitive desire, which all men contain, but which rises to social dominance only with the corruption of timocracy into plutocracy, then democracy and finally the rule of the most venal man of all, the Tyrant. But what would happen then if we were to begin to build a Platonic mass-psychology? One that collected together Diotima’s insights on Eros as equivocal tensions towards the eternal, Plato’s political discourse on social injustice, Cudworth’s unconscious “habit” and Bruno’s “sorcerers of desire”?

Today, of course, one might have to modify the epithymotic category slightly because the perpetuation of kin does not quite have the old imperative that it used to. If there is a relation towards eternity at work in the short-sighted consumer hedonism of the present it is the Cockaignian fantasy that some moment of enjoyment might last eternal. That through the sad vulgarism of the culture industry’s nostalgia-machine that some sacred Bataillean moment of pure excess might be magically summoned to return again and again in place of any tomorrow or higher aspirations. Dotan Leshem hits the nail on the head in recognizing that the political theological origin of modern economic assumptions about infinite growth and infinite human appetite has its origins in Diotima’s teaching.[xi] But is Plato saying that the lower desires to procreate and to be recognized unto eternity are futile, just as he had in the Gorgias with the leaky jars of pleasure that can never be satisfied?

As Leshem illuminates, this is certainly how Christianity absorbed the idea. Gregory of Nyssa synthesised Diotima’s highest Eros into Agapē and claimed that only God as an eternal entity could absorb infinite desire and love. Everything else perishes but non-identically returns, so we might say, along with the habits of desirous bonding. Should we then angrily accuse everyone of the heresy of treating the immanent “libidinal economy” as though it is the only real God and all its little commodities as an obscene idolatry doomed to devastate the Earth? To do so is as old as the iconoclastic fears of Plato and the prophets. It was always possible to simply reverse such things, to prioritize and liberate the simulacrum (idol, copy), as Klossowski, Lyotard and Deleuze found so dully easy to do to Plato and Augustine.[xii] Just so much anti-Platonism is simply banal Satanism – it remains inside the Platonic metaphysical machinery. It is just as easy to take this and flip it back again on its head, having learned a thing or two in the process. Many anti-Platonists in the past few centuries, especially the Nietzscheans, have preserved Platonism by believing Plato to still be a living and evil contemporary, continuing to think about him far more deeply than many self-titled Platonists. For this at least we might be thankful. As we saw in part two of this essay Deleuze’s discovery of “pure event” is a valuable contribution that was latent in Plato’s Sophist but never spelled out.

Indeed one cannot help but admit that the true potentiality of epithymia as a factory of “desiring production” could only be loosed once biological reproduction took a step back. Deleuze and Guattari seem to have been onto something when they argued that the possibility of capitalism has haunted all societies – the terror of the “decoding” of flows of kinship, custom and materials and the privatization and deracination of social “organs.”[xiii] Once this is considered it is very difficult not to see this terror permeating Plato’s discourse on the democratic mentality in the Republic. Yet it is for this very reason that, in turn, Plato, and more especially Christian Platonism, haunts liberal democratic thinking like a kind of primeval fascist ghoul. It is kept on ice as an undead Father telling you that it is forbidden to enjoy the world, forbidden to liquidate the tribe in favor of the “freedom” of the privatization of the organs, impotently threatening that it will all end in tyranny and punishment. Plato must be endlessly disobeyed and inverted, even if there are hardly more Platonists about the place than there are bona fide Aristotelian “essentialists” for post-structuralist to legitimize their existence against. The (Christian) Platonic discourse on desire thus cannot avoid appearing pantomimic, bombastic, hyperbolic, the nightmare of liberalism, the rumour of terrible self-inflicted punishment, the reverse side of the Landian LARPing of the nightmare of the capture of human desire towards death in the machinery. It cannot be invoked without some degree of theatrical tongue in cheek, the telling of the truth with a smile.

One only need read Byung-Chul Han’s recent Platonic lament on our current situation: “Neoliberalism is depoliticizing society in general—and not least of all, by replacing eros with sexuality and pornography. It is based on epithumia. In a burnout society of isolated, self-alienated achievement-subjects, thumos is also withering away. Communal action—a we—now proves impossible.”[xiv] Han is incorrect that Eros is being “replaced”, as though it were separate from and simply animated the other aspects of desire and their multivocity. Yet, at the same time, he does not go nearly far enough in articulating our rapidly changing libidinal economy. Web 2.0 and its new forms of erotic bonding have come upon us so fast these past few years it is now increasingly impossible to imagine there ever was a world before them. Thymos has been reduced to competing over a tiny pool of pointless online recognition that evaporates in microseconds. Nous, degraded below even the old cold “instrumental reason”, is simply an instrument to trick, monetize and harvest data and epithymotic attention.

To this effect one might note an astounding essay from the August 2018 edition of Church Life titled “Vaporwave and Simone Weil’s Void.” Vaporwave is the phenomenon of young people slowing down music from the 1980s (often shopping mall muzak) and pairing it with hyper-colour effects in order to try to achieve the feeling for something transcendent they believe once existed, but which never really existed at all:

“That we are even able to desire consumer products so deeply, and on a metaphysical level, is absurd. Of course, this absurdity is itself a gift. Weil writes that God “has given us this faculty of infinite illusion so that we have the power to renounce it out of love.” Vaporwave represents this first movement of renunciation. It is the preliminary tentative motions away from idolatrous orientation. As a genre, it sings of the restless human heart, imbued with an Augustinian hunger for the absolute.”[xv]

But renunciation is a difficult business, especially when its social technologies have largely long since disappeared. Even so, renunciation has only ever belonged to a small segment of mankind. It is not a “form of life” for everyone. Rather, the problem today in the flattening of desire into nothing but most chained up and pitiable epithymia is that more and more people are increasingly pushed towards a “first movement of renunciation” and no further. This produces only sad affect, an shadow-monasticism of hikikomoric anchorites longing for something that cannot even be articulated. To know this is to know of how sad affect attempts to increase appetition in order to compensate for an enjoyment unable to identically return. Thus the desire is repeated at a higher register, but anhedonically.

This is not the battle of a few desert fathers with the Noontime Demon of acedia, the old sin of sloth and avoidance of the regula vitae, but a terrible ktetic discipline afflicting millions. Nonetheless, it does have a monastic ancestry, as does a great portion of the modern disciplining of desire in general, as Agamben has observed so well. Regimentation need not deny desire, as Agamben shows. From the regula of the Thelamite monks of Rabelais who do as they please, to the regimented perversion of de Sade’s One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom, regimentation of desire simply disciplines it into a shared “form of life” that can spill out and bond whole societies.[xvi] One might recall Foucault’s observations on the history of the timetable and Lewis Mumford’s on the clock and how the externalisation of the monastic forms of discipline helped to produce the protestant work ethic that built modernity.[xvii] As R. H. Tawney famously put it, the Calvinist businessman’s aim was to “turn the secular world into a gigantic monastery.”[xviii] Perhaps the Joachite Age of the Monk really did happen in the end in an obscene sort of way.

But now this age of clock and timetable is slipping away. In the rapidly changing hyper-developed centers of the global ecumeme the way of things is dissolving beyond post-industrialism, de-industrialism and service industrialism into endless data-shunting, gig economies and algorithmic mining. Moving, consuming, re-mixing and hoarding data is becoming the real work, the real object of desire that the rest of the world labors to enable. Work, news and politics are becoming gamified and computer games in the form of social media have become serious work and politics. The meme and influencer economy feeds back endlessly upon itself. Work and rest, public and private have evaporated as though they were never there at all. What a diabolical act of genius it was of Zuckerberg and friends to hack the noetic, epithymotic and thymotic pleasures human beings derive from communicating and playing games with one another.

What a strange and perversely regulated discipline this is indeed. We are all now expected to do it – to make, break, share, steal and give away content for free – without cessation and with very little to show for it all. Perhaps soon even the Franciscan “highest poverty” of the ascetic ending of ownership might make a return, but not in the form of a communism of shared “use” as Agamben might hope. Rather the world seems increasingly heading towards a perpetual hyper-capitalist “rentism” of all manner of terrible varieties in which the great majority of people will be expected by their hep Silicon Valley masters to rent and share everything they have until the day they die.[xix]

Is not such a force of habit and desirous bonding an insane repetition, Eros ground down and trapped like a stuck record? Does it not seem very close indeed to Freudian Thanatos, the death drive? Does it not make the devilish claims of Nick Land that “addiction comes from the future” in increasingly binding desire towards its own hypnotic demise seem slightly less eccentric than it used to do?[xx] Now, all this might make one feel rather vicious. The world belongs to the Devil, there is nothing new to see here, and even if there were, perhaps people even deserve it for being such wretched, godless little creatures endlessly selling out their birthright for a mess of pottage. This is all part and parcel with a long tradition of eroto-theological discourse. Perhaps to some this will sound very dull, for the political theology of liberalism will always have it that damnation is a matter of conscious “choice”- whether bad personal choices or complaint about never really being given a proper choice because the system is rigged.

Perhaps the furthest the latter has ever been taken is by political theologian Adam Kotsko, who accuses the American neoliberal obsession with “poor life choices” to be based upon a cruel Christian oikonomia, as rigged against man today as it was against Adam and Lucifer at the start. Kostkso’s solution is to repurpose Origen and Gregory of Nyssa’s old idea of universal salvation – that even the Devil will eventually be saved, that Hell is only temporary. The only thing to do is to stop blaming people for choices and to restart the system to give everyone a proper starting chance – especially minorities.[xxi] And yet, one should point out, this millenarian belief also brings with it Origen’s problem of the possibility that man might fall again and again – that time is cyclic.

The root problem is perhaps that the dispositif of choice enshrined by modern liberalism assumes human beings to be terribly conscious creatures in what they choose to desire, just as Locke did, as we saw at the end of part 5 of this essay. Liberalism may have flirted with the idea of the unconscious in the mid-20th century – in art, film, music and marketing, in popularizations of the ideas of Freud and Jung – but it never really stuck. Perhaps this is because since the beginning liberalism has so closely sutured personhood – juridical, identitarian, consumer – to the need for each moment to be Kairos, for it to be a timely test of what a person is made of like the little fig tree Christ cursed.

In comparison, the archetypal Platonic test of character is that of the Myth of Er at the end of the Republic in which souls choose their next lives. Only those who during their earthly sojourn actively seek wisdom or have suffered a great deal end up choosing well by carefully considering their choice. Thus: “for this reason and because of the luck of the draw there was a general change of good for evil and evil for good.” All those who choose are then compelled to drink from the Lethe – the river of forgetfulness.[xxii] Plato is saying that we are forgetful creatures, compelled again and again, even when we learn something, to be unconscious of our lives. The best we can perhaps do is try to remember that something is not quite right and to develop shared habits and myths to think and act differently. One must try, at least, to inspire a thought or two about how desire comes to be stuck and ground down as it does. Current puzzles need a mythopoetic history, a sense of cosmic dimension to them. We shall then have no qualms of talking about the Devil and Evil. Not a jot.

Catherine Pickstock certainly doesn’t pull any punches in claiming that our current “compelled repetition” of forced nostalgia, clicking, mass-production and bureaucracy all belong to the Devil – it is his business to fake: “For the reign of the identically repeatable is the reign of the copy, and who the Lord of the copy is, we have already learned. Modernity, therefore, as the banishment of the reality of the Devil, could be taken as the Devil’s most conspicuous, yet most concealed work of counterfeit.”[xxiii] To Pickstock repetition can only ever come from good or evil – the Judgement of God “punctuating” reality in an act of gratuitous love to provide endless chances for us to come to know Him, or that of the Devil covetously corrupting res. Pickstock as occasionalist of love and intellect is perhaps very close to Anne Conway in many ways. But why is the Devil obsessed with fake copies? Perhaps just as C. S. Lewis once said of the evil Eldil archon of the Earth in his Space Trilogy – the Devil is frightened. He is so unable to let go of his hold on the world that he was no longer anything but fear of loss. We too have become trapped by a false conviction that to let go of the compelled Same will rob us of the thin promise of the repetition of some once happy state, which, like Vaporwave may never have been there at all.

One might also note that Platonist D. C. Schindler has no qualms in calling diabolical in every sense the liberal belief rooted in Locke that man is a pleasure creature whose conception of the good is entirely subjective. As Schindler emphasizes, Locke believed the will to possess an infinite potentiality greater than actuality, a deluded conception only able to end in a flight from reality into private hedonic fantasy.[xxiv] Liberalism has other deep self-destructive epithymotic fantasies hiding in the closet too. As Roberto Esposito has observed, Rousseau’s primordial “nature man” entails the impossible maximisation of communitas (obligation to share with others) and simultaneous immunitas (dispensation from being obliged to others).[xxv] Maybe outside of Eden “nature man” is only possible in a society in which everything, including all social interaction, is taken care of by contractualising machines. Perhaps the end of liberalism will be Locke drooling in a VR helmet and Rousseau dying alone surrounded by the laboring of inhuman swarms of applications. The rumor that we were made for greater things than this must begin to be whispered in corners everywhere.

But maybe most interesting of all is this. Even Freud himself closely associated the death drive with the Devil. In Civilisation and Its Discontents, amidst some very Manichaean comments about Eros and Thanatos, Freud introduces a “quite exceptionally convincing identification of the principle of evil” from Goethe’s Faust. In the third scene of the play Mephistopheles makes his first appearance, announcing that he exists to destroy everything beautiful: “Annihilation’s forces meet resistance from something coarse asserting its existence. I toil away, endure through thick and thin, but never really get beneath its skin.” The naïve pre-contract Faust simply replies that God will always simply create more beautiful things: “And thus against the ever-living creative power, that heals us from our pain, you rage in your malevolent misgiving and clench the fist or treachery in vain. Strange, sterile son of Chaos, think anew, and find yourself some better things to do.”[xxvi]

In choosing Goethe’s Faust as the model for Life-against-Death, perhaps subconsciously Freud could not avoid internalizing the remnant crumbs of Christian-Platonism in Goethe’s creative Romanticism, in which Death is a secondary aspect of Eros and its plenitude, that like the Devil all it can do is temporarily pervert. As Catherine Pickstock argues, there is a “sublime remainder” to Freud’s theories even if he was himself unable to perceive it.[xxvii] For Freud mythic narrative and cultural history take center stage above any recognizably “pure” biological notions concerning human nature. Most notable and bizarre is Freud’s belief that the development of a person re-enacts the development of the species – children’s behaviour imitates the “childhood of man” of religious imagination. No wonder then that Freud was the starting point for so many mystical visions of human history and the liberation of desire in the 20th century – Reich, Jung, Norman Brown, Laing, Deleuze and Guattari.

There is much to be said about the “sublime remainder” in post-Freudian thought. In the name of the liberation of desire the mid-century Freudo-Marxists either downright denied the existence of Thanatos, as did Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm, or, like Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse, believed it possible that it might be tamed. [xxviii] In a strange sense both of these positions remained structurally “Christian” rather than “Manichaean” in that they affirmed that the problem was not a cosmic dualism of Powers, but the perversion of human nature through a primordial “Fall” – the killing of the Urvater (primal father) and internalizing his authority in order to (re)produce human societies filled with repression and violence. The phenomenon of Fascism followed by the post-war threat of nuclear annihilation drew these thinkers to ask why it seemed that people desired to oppress and be oppressed. They believed that if people could be liberated from cold, technocratic and obedient “instrumental reason” into a new age of sexual, creative and social liberation, then the world would be governed by Eros and Life. Some, such a Norman Brown and Theodor Roszak, regarded themselves as working in the spirit of the “body mysticism” of Jacob Boehme and William Blake’s Gnostic libidinal rebellion against the “dark satanic mills” of Urizen, the oversized spirit of reason. [xxix] These thinkers were millenarians, strange materialist descendants of radical Christian and Jewish non-conformism. Reich, Fromm and Brown eagerly admit as much. As Brown put it: “psychoanalysis is the heir to a mystical tradition which it must affirm.”[xxx]

Although 60’s “Sexo-Marxism” has often been compared to the ideas of Rousseau in its emphasis on the inherent naïve goodness of human desire prior to its misshaping by the Urvater, the Gnostic notion that one could again simply return to the innocence of Adam with the right consciousness is much older. From the mediaeval Adamists who lived naked in the forest and the radical protestant sects that flourished during the English Civil War to the strange Utopian sex communism of Fourier, it returns again and again in spite of equally hyperbolic reactionary attempts assuming that only the totalizing policing of sexuality can restore civilizational “vitality.” [xxxi]

Our dear old friend Plato with his nuptial number, rigged wedding lottery and “bastards in a bureau” (as C. S. Lewis put it) is the great-grandfather of both sides by way of a Christian great-grandmother.[xxxii] He is the ancestor of every Shulamith Firestone “Xenofeminist” wishing to use technology to abolish the womb and the family and of every angry INCEL who has just discovered J. D. Unwin’s Sex and Culture and has decided that anything less than “enforced monogamy” will doom society to an imminent collapse.[xxxiii] It is this aspect of Plato that is the least useful. This is not simply because historically eugenics and breeding humans like horses has been a barbarous and unchristian business, whether deployed in the name of progressive, preservative or reactionary causes. It is because it promises the naïve notion that if you liberate or forcibly regiment sexuality you can breed “souls” – you can get every other desire, however epithymotic, thymotic or noetic, to do whatever you like for free. Even Plato was able to realise that such an approach, however speculative or ironic it was intended to be, would be short lived before changing shape into another socio-erotic topology.[xxxiv] Whatever social order one might desire, one must account for its natural mutation and wearing out over time. Moving with the Non-All of time, allowing for things to grow and die and return, is far more sensible than foolishly looking for cheat codes to complete the system.

Nevertheless, the blunt matter of fact is that the Space Age “liberation of desire” was immediately folded back into a Bernaysian consumerism already keen to proclaim that the path of excess led to the palace of wisdom. It had wagered that just as the materially “overdeveloped” society produced surplus goods, so too did this now mean there was “surplus repression.” The great cold superego of the old Father was no longer needed, desire could do as it pleased. Yet, as Žižek would famously put it, all this did was swap out the hard old father, whom at very least one could stand up to and punch on the nose, for the liberal father who insists he only wants you to be happy, who controls through passive aggression, who insists that you must enjoy.[xxxv] Thus, it was not that Death or Urizen won, but that both desire and reason came to be bound differently, twisted out of shape in a different manner, so that by the late 20th c. there were very few “better things to do,” as Faust would say.

Thus at the end of the century there appear predictable phenomena such as Nick Land’s Devil’s advocacy for the Thanatos that mid-century had either rejected or believed it possible to tame. More than anything this all now reads like an attempt out of pure boredom to push “there is no alternative” to its most nihilistic and absurd consequences. So too it should never be forgotten that by 1990 we find Norman Brown declaring that he and Marcuse had been too “elitist” in their aspirations and that instead should have simply advocated dissolving into a great Bataillean orgy of eternal consumerism: “Here Cumz Everyone.”[xxxvi] The very root of the error of course already lay in the left Freudian reduction of Eros to nothing but the promise of the eternal appetition of sex and commodities. The “sublime remainder” was not quite strong enough. The spiritual poverty of last century is exemplified by the fact that thinkers such as Bataille and Brown could only read mystical imagery of sexual union and marriage, from the Song of Songs to Teresa of Avila and William Blake, as simply univocal epithymotic sexual desire.[xxxvii] Eros still needs to be liberated from Death, so it would seem, at least in part because of the horrible materialist univocal abuses it has been subjected to – by both the Bernaysian sorcerers of consumer desire and intellectual barbarians.

Yet, at the same time, it is very curious that under the shadow of another Almighty Death, that of climate change’s touted Sixth Mass Extinction and the re-emergence of openly Fascist aspirations, that none of the major leftist theorist types of our age has attempted to return to the quest for the liberation of Eros. Instead, it took until recently for any of the American academic leftists I know to even vaguely consider the idea. What precipitated it, one must emphasize, was an external influence – Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. Only in what remains of the New Age movement has the Schelling-esque “heterodoxy” of an imminent age of radical love overcoming ontological violence managed to survive the cynicism of the late 20th century. If someone had told me a couple of months ago that lots of very clever people I knew would soon be manufacturing post-ironic “Orbgang” memes about magic and the power of love to save the world, I would have told them to get out of town.  But to many after Trump’s victory in 2016, “meme magic” is not only real, but the new normalized state of exception. Only an outsider and exception like Williamson with her mystical language and radical proposals about race and the environment can equal Trump, so the wager goes. If the reader hasn’t seen an “Orbgang” meme before, here is a particularly fine example that utilises the imagery of American Christian “outsider artist” Henry Darger, who spent much of his life creating elaborate fantasy narratives about the struggle between love and hatred. [xxxviii]

No matter how kitschy and absurd Williamson might appear, is there not something of a “sublime remainder” about her talk of “dark psychic forces”? Very clearly there is not merely an older New Age audience for such things, but also a younger audience – a section of the collective unconscious raised on the mystical conflicts of Love and Death in programs like Twin Peaks and Neon-Genesis Evangelion. Moreover, the “wholesome” – kindness, friendship, thankfulness – has very quietly become a transgressive memetic novelty these past few years. If the internet gets off on being a rotten place of one-upmanship, bigotry and “cancel culture”, then perhaps the most rebellious act is to be nice to people. We live in strange times indeed. We should be asking ourselves: how well do we even know the habits of the collective unconscious? Have we any idea what deep and hungry desires for something higher there might be hiding in plain sight?

Tyranny and Conjuration

Nonetheless, one is a little reticent to still call the current bonding of desire “neoliberalism” as Byung-Chul-Han and so many others do. For the most part the coagulation of Chicago Economics and post-hippie “self-psychology” that came together at the end of the 1970s always claimed to be about happiness, freedom, self-esteem, enjoyment, attainment.[xxxix] There would be no dread “neoliberal consensus” or de-politicisation to complain about to the point of fetishism if the great majority of people had not basically believed this to be good and true. The “sorcery of desire” is very real indeed and comes in many persuasions. For example, many of us have derived a great deal of joy from mocking “neoliberalism” as naïve and vomitous. The system has in fact encouraged cynical reason as a potent form of demythologizing in order to mythologize and bind “there is no alternative” even tighter.

But the problem of the decaying of this paradigm is not merely that populisms of all persuasions have been on the march since the chicaneries of intensified debt, deindustrialization and austerity were pulled to keep business as usual going after the 2008 global financial crisis. Nor is it that the core of online “culture” is a caterwaul of wretched lonely cries for help that can only be articulated through a complex series of ironic transactions. Nor is it simply that there are deep generational rifts between “Boomers” and “Millennials” – the former assuming the latter to be entitled, lazy and undisciplined; the latter accusing the former of having ruined everything from the environment, housing and economics to Christianity. Yet perhaps the last of these social crises – for all the vulgar fondness the great content machine has for it as a means to stir up mutual hatred and clicks at the expense and occlusion of every other age group – gives away what the true issue really is.

The fact is that “Millennials” aren’t kids any more. Most are now heading into their 30s, increasingly angry or simply accepting of the fact that they have very little to show of late 20th c. marks of achievement (home ownership, a decent job, marriage, two cars in every garage etc.). The “Boomers” are now heading towards their 70s and many have very little material to show after a lifetime of work. Time has crept up on us all. Online increasingly “Boomer” no longer even means a specific age group, but simply a personality archetype open to all ages, a self-satisfied stupidity unable to realize that the world no longer works as though it is 1990. Many Boomers aren’t Boomers at all, so one can say in at least two senses. But time goes on, machinery slowly wears out. The heady days of the late 20th century, a strange, unique exception of stable, spiritually lazy overabundance in world history could not repeat forever, largely because they were bought at the price of ever having to really think about the future. From here on everything will be unstable, perpetually precarious, angry, thwarted.

Yet, maybe there has been a certain beauty to the tight interweaving of mutually reinforcing cynical and naïve enjoyments we have seen this past forty years. The great majority of people now alive have known no other world and perhaps will miss it when it is gone. The recent intensification of and flight into compelled nostalgic repetition of the late 20th century is not an uncanny thing, but a defensive measure. That a pop-cultural revival of the 90s was recently possible, a decade that was already all re-mix, may still seem outlandish. That very soon there will be a predictable and forced “2000s revival” sounds even hollower. Even more astounding is the realization that within a decade there will likely be another economic crash and that we now have all manner of Fascists and Neo-Marxists wandering about the place. Having spent the best part of the past few years polishing their rhetorical chops and sharpening their knives for just such an occurrence.

The (neo)liberal democratic “end of history,” like all millennia, instantly began to lose its magic bit by bit as soon as it was declared. As one more simulacrum of the eschaton it necessarily had to instantly flip over to become katechon – immunological, defensive, pleading its case more in the negative than in the positive.  It might not be perfect, but everything else would be far worse, the Anti-Christ of Stalin and Hitler, so it says, “never again.” But it is in the very nature of the katechon that keeps out the Apocalypse that it must fall eventually,[xl] simply to be replaced, so far as we have seen, by the cyclic erection of another katechon in its stead. Walter Benjamin called this the return of the “mythic violence” that establishes another brutal order on a founding crime as opposed to disjunctive “messianic violence” that redeems every terrible thing that has ever been done.[xli] The former is a million times more likely than the latter, no? As Roberto Esposito observes, the katechon admits that it must immunize the order of things by using a little bit of apocalyptic violence in order to keep out the worse apocalyptic violence.[xlii] Why not then stick with the Devil you know? It all depends on whether people are willing to take the risk, to roll the dice for, at very least, a better katechon.

While the air is now filled with informatic angels bearing an infinity of LARPed fantasies about Other Worlds that might exist after this one is gone, at present the immunology of cynical reason still always intervenes, holding back the process. It says that this is all for show, performativity, busywork, games.  This is perhaps the hardest ensorcelment to break, for it murmurs to us that for all the present “wokeness,” “second sexual revolutions” and so on, these are merely a repetition of the 60’s. Boomers v. 2.0. That should one but close one’s eyes even for a moment, twenty years will have passed and all there will have been is one more round of the long lunch in the institutions (though most likely not nearly as secure a luncheon as the last). I’m not sure anyone worth their salt, howsoever noble of loathsome they find contemporary “social justice” movements, might find such a compelled repetition inviting.

But of course it is very hard to give such things up. In recognizing that the claimed liberal “end of history” believes itself to be inherently progressive, we might just as viably turn on its head what Esposito says of katechontic immunization against the worst. The liberal katechon binds also by bribery, immunizing with little hints of “progress” (whether social or techno-commercial) in order to prevent thinking about any possible alternative. Both past and future evaporate in an endless present of tantalizing momentary re-injections of the undead “right side of history” – a weak, repetitive redawning of the third millenary age attempting to match a perceived perpetual series of crises of work, nature and capital that never really change a jot at all. No wonder then that the greatest novelty has become compelled nostalgia for the late 20th century, wherein each decade was imagined to have the epochal quality of a yuga, but very little of any spiritual or intellectual substance took place at all. On this matter “hauntological” Marxists like Mark Fisher make the mistake of trying to find hidden revolutionary crumbs in late 20th century pop-culture.[xliii] One needs to go back much, much further than this tiny little blot to find the true unfinished and forgotten possibilities, even if they have left a breadcrumb trail into our own lifetimes.

We shall say this. The monastery-society that liberal modernity built is simply changing its regula vitae, as it has done many times to try to compensate for the surplus vagabond populations, deracination and hunger for new niches and markets that it produces. As its modes of compelled (re)production increasingly center over data hoarding, hacking and sharing, so too are its ways of life and bonds of desire changing to fit with this.  Presently, at least, this is being actively encouraged and processed as a katechontic measure to sew people up in perpetual precarity, busywork, electronic nomadic solitude. We may well have a very sad century before us indeed, a silently dissocialized but hyper-networked desertification of the landscape, of the senses, of lifeforms and the forms of life, of the spirit.

If we must join the ‘cene kids, so to speak, we shall call it Eremocene – erēmos (the wasteland, the bereft, the hermit, the lonely). Britain now has a Minister for Loneliness, because loneliness is very literally killing people.[xliv] A recent study of “millennials” in the US found nearly a quarter of those surveyed regarded themselves as not having a single real friend in the world.[xlv] Most curious of all is that among young people there is apparently a “sex recession” on – important causes cited being ballooning depression and anxiety, the hyper-competitive nature of dating apps and sleep deprivation due to digital distractions.[xlvi] These are not anomalies. These are the unconscious “burnout” world we live in now and it is only likely to become worse.

In the not too distant future we may find that let alone all the other things we might like to think or do or say, we will be stuck before we have even started, having to first learn how to live with other people again, like some habit arrived at for the very first time. The most important forms of Eros that this century is likely to require are Platonic philia – the bond of friendship- and its Christian cousin, the agapē of the congregation under God, howsoever secularized their descendants might be. The fact is that one does not get to ignore this. If you do, then you have simply already chosen to be subjectified and bound by the emergent species of “sorcery of desire” and its injustice.

Let us take a look at a very prominent case study. Recently heads have been spinning trying to work out how noxious message boards like 4Chan and 8Chan could in but a few short years have gone from nerds talking about video games and Japanese cartoons to becoming recruiting grounds for Neo-Nazi terrorists. The simple fact that these are places of agonistic socialization, where the initiation ritual is to accept that nothing is sacred, that everyone is out for themselves, that outsiders are a lower species who exist only to be mocked in retaliation for the mockery of nerds. Eventually philia could only be formed around the most vicious, brutish and vengeful forms of collective belonging. One is strongly reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s post-apocalyptic novel Slapstick and its declaration that the problem with Americans is not their fondness for sin, but simply their loneliness.

Perhaps the young white male nerd has been the perfect post-industrial subject, a late Master, for whom the world simply existed to pay out all his enjoyment and fantasies, even if this was obviously impossible and a laughable from the very start. He was the guineapig for the regula vitae increasingly expected of everyone. Now the decaying subject lashes out, knowing that it has been cheated and given a life of anhedonic desocialisation, but is unsure how and why. Even to say as much might seem to be giving these wretched, spoiled creatures too much attention in an age when thymos is trying to make a return and everyone is mimetically competing for attention, when everyone claims to be wounded.

Societies have always produced “surplus” populations of young men. Historically they have dealt with this by turning them into cannon fodder, slave labor, colonizers or simply let them become brigands in the wilderness. To end up in the monastery would have been a very fortuitous fate. Modern Capitalism, fed on crisis and the endless dissolution of its monasteries, has been especially good at producing sturdy vagabonds and then trying to plough them back into the system. Surplus young black men end up prison labor; surplus third world populations end up a migrant horde wandering across the globe in search of work. Surplus young white men – well – as the old declining Master subject, their punishment is largely let them eat internet. The fact is that the sorcerers of consumer desire no longer need this subject. They are now interested in a far more diverse range of ideal variations on this subject, a shopping mall of bright and shiny urbane identitarian electronic consumer niches. If the wretched white nerd has a duty, we must inform him that it should be to prevent others from becoming patsies to the same scheme of desocialized misery that he has. Decent people do not let others fall for the cheap tricks of parlor magicians and patent medicine salesmen simply because the quack is kind enough to point you out as a mark in the crowd and pay you a compliment or two.

If, as Alasdair MacIntyre famously put it, we are waiting on our own new Saint Benedict to give us a rule of life, a new system of virtuous habit to follow, then perhaps we should hop to it and begin to look out upon the collective habits that we share and sift the good from the bad. What is to be done? The solution in Vonnegut’s Slapstick was that everyone should be given extended families by lottery, a rather absurd but nonetheless Platonic proposal of a sort – one that causes US presidential candidate who suggests it to win an election.[xlvii] A far more reasonable suggestion might instead be that the only alternative to the currently emerging regula vitae is to build different ones, better ones. The alternative to the enforced erēmic and the twisted forms it takes when it attempts in panic to rebuild itself a shared philia is the active (re)creation of the universitas, the guild that encompasses a whole way of life, bound appropriately enough for our Brunonian language by a shared conjuratio, or oath of purpose. The imperative against the Devil and Death must be, with Faust: “find yourself some better things to do.”

Milbank and Pabst in their marvellous The Politics of Virtue seem to have made a step in the right direction in search of a redemption of the increasingly peripheral rural cities of the UK and the shared mutualist virtues lurking beneath the surface that their people still possess.[xlviii] There are latent unconscious habits, “forms of life” that are lived out every day, which might just be able to help us find a way out of this mess. Towns must be rebuilt, clubs refounded in order to supply sites for habits to be shared and imitated in the pursuit of flourishing, purposive republics of letters re-energised. In this the internet and whatever comes after it can certainly play a part, for this great Megamachine of hoarding is not going anywhere.

Nevertheless, the net does need to be decentred from the oversized role that it has come to play, a black hole where the human race sends all its spare time in consciously unproductive and immiserating efforts. Let us recall that back in the 90s the computer promised the paperless office and failed even at this. In the 2000s the end of monopolic strangleholds over ownership were promised. In the 2010s social media promised political revolution. Now we are we promised eChanges and decentralisations that seem to be doing little more than draining everything even faster towards the World Cities and into the dark bunkers and purses of the two or three Megacorps who, for now at least, have won the internet. So much more could be done.

If there is a conceptual symbol from which one might take a lead, perhaps it is Lewis Mumford’s “invisible city” framed in his 1961 The City in History, at the very dawn of the Information Age yet to be, the very year Paul Baran theorised the dispersed networks of the internet. Seeing the social wasteland that post-war technocracy was constructing, Mumford found in the emerging networks created between museums, libraries and universities the possibility of recreating a living society within a decaying one.[xlix] Perhaps something might still be done with them, particularly those in regional cities, as with all the church, scout and masonic halls that now stand idle. To quote from a more famous book on “invisible cities,” the goal is to “seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of Inferno, are not Inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”[l]

There could indeed be all manner of local joint stock, cooperative and mutualist operations that might make life both purposive and bearable in the face of the alternative. We need to at very least to think a Digital Distributism, a Stack Platonism or a Guild Socialism for the age of the Nomos of the Cloud. Perhaps one might even try to recover the forgotten Guild Federalism of Karl Marx’s contemporary, Carl Marlo. For Marlo the Christian answer to the French Revolution and liberal deracination was that only by giving decent work to all might the “paganism” of monopoly and the reduction of men to vagabondage be overcome.[li] It is these sorts of ideas that need to be reinspected and re-envisioned to deal with capital’s non-identical repetition of the vagabondage of globalised labour and informatic loneliness. Perhaps such considerations could even intersect with increasingly popular notions such as UBI, Green New Deals, job guarantees and treating care-work as work that deserves to be paid. Without local social reconstruction such ideas would be very poor things indeed, little more than the attempt to utilise the state to legislate endless Band-Aids for social dissolution without ever really dealing with it, as both Plato observed of social decline in the Statesman and Hillaire Belloc of industrialism in The Servile State.

Desire needs to be shown models of flourishing, models of shared lived habit and mastery worth imitating. In the end it all depends on what we already have. Such a possibility rises and falls on whether people will take the chances they are given or whether such things are doomed to magical thinking. At very least the attempts must be far more purposeful and determined than all that upper middle class farmers’ market and hipster rot the past couple of decades have limply attempted, much to the devaluing of anything bearing the words “community” or “local” to the level of effete kitsch and tiresome uniformity. Similarly, increasingly popular terms like “Benedict Option” for creating new religious forms of life beyond liberalism often seem to convey a certain undercurrent suggesting the escape of a religious elect from a damned, empty and heathen society. Perhaps some efforts of that ilk might last and not fall into cultish pressure cookers paranoid about external infection that many “covenant communities” and hippie communes have fallen into in the past, but this would miss the point – the Socratic duty we owe to the society that raised us, however sick it might be. We have an adventure ahead of us, something worth desiring that does not seek escape from the world but heads directly back into the Inferno and renders it liveable.

If there is a good little image to consider, perhaps of the “Beno” types Patrick Deneen has found it: “a variety of cultures that is multiple yet grounded in human truths that are transcultural and hence capable of being celebrated by many peoples.”[lii] In this “variety” Christianity, even if it is now rapidly in decline and barely relevant to the great majority of people, still has a major part to play. This is of course if it should be interested in adjusting its own unique communal form of love, agapē, to the latent possibilities of the present. This should not at all be a difficult task, for, like Platonism, especially its older varieties possess quite an archive of human experiences. As Vince Garton wrote not so long ago in a fascinating article for Jacobite:

“What is characteristic of this “cyberpunk” age is the collapse of the boundaries not just between the future and the present—a “future so close it connects”—but also the past: for progressives as much as conservatives, the future comes to be constituted by the recovery of historical projects prematurely foreclosed . . . Beyond the dilemmas of Protestant modernity, the postmodern metropolis with its Gothic darkness and its neon lights, its complex and unbearably persistent ethical disparities, points towards a potential rediscovery of the profundity of the human soul—the outlines of a new Baroque. In the twenty-first century, the horror, splendor, and love of Catholicism will have their role to play once more.”[liii]

There is something a little exciting and terrifying about the possibility of a “New Baroque.” In the 20th c. everyone lost, and so, therefore, no one truly has lost. The world is full of waking fantasies now, oh yes, but perhaps the greatest fantasists of all are those who somehow have it in their heads that the anomalous easy conditions of the late 20th c. still hold and shall last eternal. The Baroque as dispositif conjures into existence a strange and warped version of an Antiquity it attempts to imitate, it can only be a non-identical repetition, a variation on a past that can never really return, a creative misreading as we see in Cudworth’s discovery of the “inconscious” hidden within the works of Plotinus. There are all manner of Baroque and better things that one might do, should one set one’s desires to it. Some will work, some will fail, and some will remain unfinished for others.

And yet, in the scheme of things the universitas and the conjuratio cannot form anything but part of a necessarily “mixed constitution” of things. Leviathan is not going to let anyone’s people go, not for all the half-thought pipedreams of post-nation state “patchworks” and naïve global Edicts of Caracalla. If the katechon is increasingly panicked, whether by economic and political decline, mass migration, climate change or a combination of such things, then it will but tighten its territorial bonds of compelled repetition – its austerities, its immunologies, its mindless nostalgia and data farm, its sovereign right to inflict both death and social death. Instead we must wait upon the new Brunonian “sorcerers of desires” increasingly emerging through gaps in the machinery and the terrible consequences they are likely to bring.

Thus far we have seen but a little of the new populists who seem to be able to place attractive imagery and affects in the minds of the spiritually and materially hungry masses of miserable human beings. It is highly likely that populisms of all sorts will only increase in efforts to limply Band-Aid the excess of confused and sad affect. Might the dread Tyrant manifest to take advantage of this? Will the righteous Statesman appear to start over a new and better order? With all the ballooning public and private debt, perhaps we will find ourselves very much back in an Iron Age frame of mind indeed: the new order established on the promise of debt forgiveness. As to whether this is done in good faith to overcome or save the current katechon, and/or further immiserate the populace is the real question. [liv]

The Platonic problem of the mimetic shadow double never goes away, any more than the predicted confusion of the Anti-Christ and the Second Coming. As Voegelin observed of the “saviour with a sword” figure of the Statesman in Order and History III: “If a ruler appears who wishes to reform the polis the people cannot tell if he is indeed the true ruler or only his mimesis . . . The polis of man has no natural head, like a beehive, who would be recognizable at once as superior in body and mind (301e).”[lv] The “mimetic character” of actual politics is, as Voegelin observes: “inevitable and cannot be radically abolished. All one can do is inject as much of “true” reality as possible into the actual polis at times and let it run its course until the misery has been great enough so that, let us hope, the people will prove amenable to another injection.”[lvi]

What will happen in our own time is hardly likely to be a problem of the all-powerful One, however. We will surely see not just one sorcerer after another, but many at once, competing to be chosen, loud, boisterous, some lasting no longer than mayflies, most utterly incapable of fulfilling what they promise. Many clever people may indeed look around not merely at the opportunity available, but at the paucity of options and decide they are obliged to become a sorcerer too. And should things become very bad then likely they will promise to be some great saviour, whether they come with a sword in the name of hatred for the current order like some Emperor Frederick Dux e Babylone; to restore it to some forced mimetic simulacrum of the touted Good Old Days; or whether they preach some form of radical messianic love. For every Trump you will see a Marianne Williamson and laugh though you might when you first see them, by the tenth time you see them you will not be laughing any more. You will likely love them as saviour or blame them for every awful thing that the Earth has ever brought forth.

In such a situation it remains the philosopher’s duty to practice a worldly form of the tile game of the Myth of Er, learning to think well before choosing, of not simply snatching up some future life that might at first seem very lovely on the surface, but which transpires to be loaded instead with the most dreadful repercussions. And yet, even if one might be right and the people choose poorly, it will mean very little indeed to wander around proudly crowing that one was oh so very correct in a society where everything is in very bad shape indeed. Then, perhaps, the only thing left to do might be to learn the sort of courage and clarity to be able to say, as Apollonius of Tyana did to a shocked Vespasian: “Nero freed the Greeks in jest, but you have enslaved them in earnest.”[lvii] Yet, such candour has only rarely changed a tyrant’s mind, and one would have to be very stupid indeed to think, as Kojève did, that someone like Stalin had “finished” history by becoming the good and loving tyrant Hiero had dared to theorise before a king in Xenophon’s On Tyranny.[lviii] Even Plato was sold into slavery by Dionysius of Syracuse, so the irony-loving antique doxographers had it. Zeno of Elea too, so is said, bit out his tongue rather than give away the plans of his fellow rebels against the local tyrant. In the end one must hope that we will get what we deserve, as was the only prayer that Apollonius was ever wont to make – that there might be justice in the world.

Here perhaps is a final clue to help us out. As Voegelin perspicaciously observed: “the Joachite dux emerges from the tension between a growing civilization and an idea of decline, while the Platonic ruler arises from the tension between a real political decline and a new spiritual substance.”[lix] There are more than enough Joachite “Accelerationists” today still convinced that history “progresses by its worst side”, that very soon the time will come to feast eternal on the obese and raddled body of Leviathan. But perhaps what we should really be asking is what a “new spiritual substance” might even look like. As I have attempted to show in many different ways throughout this essay, from science fiction and the intersection between Voegelin, Souriau and Plato’s Sophist to the poetry of the khora, the “new realism” offers us a chance to rethink Christian Platonism in a different light, to become creative, philosophic and open-souled thinkers again “after finitude.” There may be very many other launching points yet to be considered and I heartily wish the reader luck in their adventures.

But the real labour must be the slow hard work of rebuilding philia, the (re)discovery of shared and lovely habits worth imitating, the promise of meaningful work and flourishing as opposed to the intensifying erēmic sorcery of desire. Perhaps the only sorcerer ruler worth taking seriously would simply be one who actively encouraged such things, whether or not they came as part of a package of some great big Green New Deal that radically reconstructs the system of labour and production or otherwise. But in spite of the coming and going of the Lords of this World and threats of diabolical Death, the work of Love must endlessly be done, the open soul’s endless anamnetic movement towards finding “better things to do.”

 

Notes

[i] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, Basil Blackwell, Oxford UK, 1986, section 241. Cf. section 19 in which the term form of life first appears.

[ii] Eric Voegelin, Order and History V: In Search of Order, ed. E. Sandoz, University of Missouri Press, Columbia MS, 1999, pp. 74-6.

[iii] Alasdair MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016, esp. pp. 27-31.

[iv] Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life, trans. Wieland Hoban, Polity, Cambridge UK and Malden MA, 2017, pp. 138-9.

[v] Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Vermichte Bemerkungen,” Werkausgabe, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M., 1990, Bd. 8, p. 568; Giorgio Agamben, The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form of Life, trans. Adam Kotsko, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2011.

[vi] Plato, Symposium, 205d.

[vii] Ibid, 203d. On the equivocity of the term pharmakeus and the sorcery of Eros and Socratic irony, see of course Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1981, pp. 117-9.

[viii] Ibid, 207.

[ix] Ibid, 208-210.

[x] Ibid, 212a.

[xi] Dotan Leshem, The Origins of Neoliberalism, Columbia University Press, New York, 2017, pp. 163-70.

[xii] See: Pierre Klossowski, Diana At Her Bath/Women of Rome, trans. Stephen Sartarelli and Sophie Hawkes, Marsilio Publishers, Venice, 1990, esp. Ch 6 of Diana; Jean-François Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant, Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2015, esp. pp. 81-5. While Deleuze’s pursuit of the phantasma/simulacrum deals with Plato’s Sophist, these other two thinkers are dealing with Augustine’s City of God, esp. Book VI, Chaps 6-9 and its condemnations of the theatre and idol-worshipping “civic religion” as encouraging the mockery of the divine. Augustine is using a Platonic discourse against phantasma as simulacra (statues) to upend Varro’s educated pagan divisions of religion into fabulous (theatrical), civic and philosophical in order to find Christianity not merely equivalent with the last and highest that dispenses with idols, but far superior due to its seeming uniqueness in promising eternal life. It is not, as Deleuze said, that every generation must learn to reverse Plato, but that every generation perhaps needs to reverse the stifling “climate of opinion” in order to find something fertile and living to work with. It is not 1968. There is nothing interesting to say about the simulacrum anymore. One doubts there is any necessary dialectical “progress” in this process.

[xiii] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley et al, Athlone Press, London, 1983, pp. 180ff.

[xiv] Byung-Chul Han, The Agony of Eros, Continuum Press, New York, 2017, pp. 43-4.

[xv]Scott Beauchamp, “Vaporwave and Simone Weil’s Void,” ChurchLife, 30th August 2018, https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/vaporwave-and-simone-weils-void/?fbclid=IwAR1f1-MQBHyl8NP7NS1pf7pzm2XIu2gLVMTzh4373QmLjzRt5i4wXAierIU

[xvi] Giorgio Agamben, The Highest Poverty, esp. pp. 5-8.

[xvii] Lewis Mumford, “20. The Monastery and the Clock,” in Malcolm Miles et al eds, The City Cultures Reader, Routledge, London, 2000, 121f; Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage Books, New York, 1979, pp. 150-4.

[xviii] R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, John Murray, London, 1948, p. 115.

[xix] Giorgio Agamben, The Highest Poverty argues for a future communism that utilises the Franciscan rejection of ownership in favour merely of temporary use. It would be very bitter indeed should “use” be enforced by a class of hyper-lessors. For an interesting take on a hellish future of “rentism” from a communist futurist see: Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Verso, New York, 2016.  For those with a very strong stomach: Alexis Kalargas, “The Great Disruption: Proptech & ‘Generation Rent’,” Assemble Papers, November 2018, https://assemblepapers.com.au/2018/11/01/the-great-disruption-proptech-generation-rent/  Note especially how these new “proptech” companies: “construct a seamless online rental experience that removes the need not only for physical paperwork, but also for physical interaction. Users can match with a potential flatmate, search for and rate available properties, chat directly with agents, take a virtual tour, make an offer, process references, generate rental contracts, transfer a deposit, sign a lease and arrange insurance – all without leaving the comforts of the app ecosystem.” See also: Mikhal Khoso, “The Rental Economy,” The Startup, 5th February, https://medium.com/swlh/the-rental-economy-230251a3a966

[xx] Nick Land, “Machinic Desire,” in Fanged Noumena, p. 337.

[xxi] Adam Kotsko, The Prince of This World, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2017. Cf. the author’s more recent Neoliberalism’s Demons, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2018 which sadly dispenses with much of the theology for a more generic American critical theory approach. While Prince centres around the idea that blaming and condemning people must be done away with to build a better society that gives them better choices, Demons seems to forget about this in favour of blaming neoliberalism entirely on reactionary white men, who seem to exist to be imminently defeated by social democracy in America. The author seems to believe reaction to be a total pushover and its adherents of no particular importance, let alone worthy of being forgiven or saved. At least compared with so many others he has a confident view of the future, but one doubts the now predictable cyclic action of the American “libertarian to alt right pipeline” machine will be so easy to banish.

[xxii] Plato, Republic, 619-21.

[xxiii] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, pp. 120-4.

[xxiv] D. C. Schindler, Freedom From Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Liberty, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame IN, 2017.

[xxv] Roberto Esposito, “Guilt” in Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community, trans. Timothy Campbell, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2010.

[xxvi] Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey, W. W. Norton and Co, New York, 1961, pp. 68-89. Cf. Johann W. v. Goethe, Faust Part 1, trans. J. Wayne, Penguin, London, 1949, Act 1 Scene 3.

[xxvii] Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity, pp. 114-6.

[xxviii] Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, trans. Vincent R. Carfagno, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1973 claims that Freud himself told him not to take the death instinct seriously, and thus he never did. Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Fawcett Crest, New York, 1973 similarly denied it and like Reich blamed the desire to oppress and be oppressed on sexual repression. Deleuze and Guattari similarly considered Thanatos “ridiculous” – with two exceptions. One is the capacity of capital to waste itself in “anti-production” without paying out post-scarcity. It is from this that Nick Land, “Making it With Death,” Fanged Noumena, pp. 271-80 takes its lead in desiring to speed up the process and to go beyond the human into transhumanism, and, more recently by becoming an arch-capitalist reactionary blaming immigrants and the welfare state for slowing down the process.  Yet, it is exactly this “body of death” that deterritorialises too fast that Deleuze and Guattari warned their readers about – it goes insane and destroys itself with no benefit.  In comparison see Noman O. Brown, Life Against Death, Wesleyan University Press, Middleton CN, 1970 and Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilisation, Abacus, London, 1972, who both claimed that Death was in fact a healthy drive if it and Eros were not socially repressed. Marcuse imagined that in a “healthy” society without sexual repression and material scarcity, new rules would have to be created to repress the forces of repression and repressive desublimation – i.e. controlling people by bribing them with pleasures. Brown on the other hand took Eros and Thanatos to be dialogical in a Hegelian sense, imagining a millenarian end of history in which human beings would live happily and freely and accept death as a natural part of life.

[xxix] On the use of William Blake’s mystical thesis about the domination of Urizen (the spirit of reason) over creativity and desire in the 1960s see of course: Theodor Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture, Faber and Faber, London, 1973, esp. pp. 84-122.

[xxx] For some blatant sex-millenarianism see: Noman O. Brown, Life Against Death, esp. p. 308ff; Wilhelm Reich, The Murder of Christ, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1953. For Jewish messianic “self-psychology” that is basically Feuerbach in disguise see:  Erich Fromm, You Shall Be As Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament, Holt & Co, New York, 1991.

[xxxi] See: Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, Penguin Books, London, 1991, esp. the chapter “Life Against Death” on the Ranters. On Fourier and his enduring influence see: McKenize Wark, The Spectacle of Disintegration, Verso, New York and London, 2013, pp. 51-83.

[xxxii] Plato, Republic, 459-61.

[xxxiii] Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, Verso, New York, 2016. Cf. Helen Hester, Xenofeminism, Polity, Cambridge UK, 2018, which for a book attempting to be as edgy as possible expends most of its energy on generic inclusivity boilerplate because of the noxiously obvious fact that historically “eugenics” has been especially brutal to minority women. In comparison with all this see the vitalist Freudianism of J. D. Unwin, Sex and Culture, Oxford University Press, 1934, which claims to be a study of more than 60 historical societies and ends up with some rather Platonic recommendations. The best most stable society would be one ruled by monogamists, have a slightly more liberal middle class and a polyamorous lower class.

[xxxiv] Plato, Republic, 545d-546d and onwards to the end of Book IX, should one desire. The changing of the topology of desire over time, in Plato’s belief, towards the worst is the unanswered problem in Peter Sloterdijk’s attempt to fuse Plato’s eugenics with Heidegger, Nietzsche and transhumanism. The attempt to re-edit the human being towards “excellence” may degrade within a couple of generations into simply cute novelty or pointless monstrosity that even the most nihilistic Accelerationist would find disappointing. See Peter Sloterdijk, “Rules for the Human Park,” in Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger, trans. Ian Alexander Moore and Christopher Turner, Polity, Cambridge UK and Malden MA, 2017.

[xxxv] See esp. Slavoj Žižek’s classic analysis of the post-modern father in The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, Verso, New York and London, 2000, pp. 342-7. If anything, perhaps all Žižek is doing is simply drawing out the conclusions of the concept of “repressive desublimation” that Herbert Marcuse had already seen at work in consumer society in the early 1960s, but thereafter chose to overlook. One might note with a little mirth the comments by liberal George Lakoff, The Political Mind, Penguin, London, 2008, p. 79 in which the old patriarch was analogous to hard old Aristotelian categorisation and the nurturant “liberal father” is analogous to Wittgenstein’s nuanced and overlapping “family resemblance”. Curiously the only variation on the old Space Age Rousseauian Freudo-Marxism that has survived is that of Deleuze and Guattari, which would see Oedipus as something late, the product of the nuclear family trying to socially reproduce Daddy the entrepreneur over against Mummy, the infinite bounty of the Earth. But even this is perhaps not Deleuzoguattarian enough. Today we would surely have to say that Daddy has become the platforms who gives access to Mummy, the endless stream of delicious data, but is owed infinitely by Oedipus for the favour. It is not simply that the imperative is to socially reproduce more data monetisers and hackers, but that children now are in many cases quite literally raised by the clever epithymotic discipline of gamification and the platforms more than by human parents in a way that television as babysitter was never capable. Television now looks like a very “cold” medium indeed.

[xxxvi] Norman O. Brown, “Dionysos in 1990” in Apocalypse And/Or Metamorphosis, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991.

[xxxvii] A major theme of this book is that even in pre-modern times the often sexual language of mystical union seemed to appear to some to simply be a cover for base desire:  Ioan P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. From the Lacanian perspective of “lack” in relation to mediaeval courtly love: Erin Felicia Labbie, Lacan’s Mediaevalism, MIT Press, London, 2006. For a good old-fashioned base Freudian-Nietzschean take on things: George Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1986.

[xxxviii] Should the reader be interested in learning a little about Henry Darger, this short documentary is a great place to start: Frederik Knudson, “Henry Darger,” Down the Rabbit Hole, 27th August 2017,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjCS_u3Sgpg

[xxxix] One might note this interesting gem: Paul C. Vitz, Psychology as Religion, Lion Publishing, Grand Rapids USA, 1977 written by a Harvard professor of psychology who became a Christian because he was unable to teach in good faith the ideas of his contemporaries that denied the existence of sin and Death. The book is also very useful in that it is an early recognition of the compatibility with Space Age “self-psychology” and consumerist narcissism.

[xl] Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth, trans. G. L. Ulmen, Telos Press, New York, 2006, pp. 59-62.

[xli] Walter Benjamin, “Critique on Violence,” in Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Shocken Books, New York, 1972,  pp. 277f.

[xlii] Roberto Esposito, Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life, trans. Zakiya Hanafi, Polity, Cambridge and Malden MA, 2015, pp. 63-8.

[xliii] Mark Fisher, K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher, Urbanomic, Falmouth UK, 2019.

[xliv] Australian Medical Association, “Should We Minister to the Lonely?” 1st February 2019, https://ama.com.au/ausmed/should-we-minister-lonely

[xlv] Timothy Meads, “22 Percent of Millennials Say They Have No Friends. But Why?” Town Hall, 6th August 2019, https://townhall.com/tipsheet/timothymeads/2019/08/06/study-22-of-millennials-say-they-have-no-friends-n2551186

[xlvi] Bella DePaulo, “7 Reasons Why Young People Are Having Less Sex,” Psychology Today, 25th November 2018,  https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/living-single/201811/7-reasons-why-young-people-are-having-less-sex

[xlvii] Kurt Vonnegutt, Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!, Panther Books, New York and London, 1976, pp. 125-8.

[xlviii] John Milbank and Adrian Pabst, The Politics of Virtue, Rowman and Littlefield, London and New York, 2016.

[xlix] Lewis Mumford, The City in History, Harvest Books, London, 1989, pp. 563-7.

[l] Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver, Harvest Books, New York and London, 1974, p. 165.

[li] On Distributism see of course: Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State, Cosimo Classics, New York, 2007, G. K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity, Dodo Press Reprint, Milton Keynes UK, [1927] 2017. On Guild Socialism: R. H. Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, Dover Publications, New York, 2004. On Carl Marlo there is very little in English except this overview: John Weiss, Conservatism in Europe 1770-1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1977, pp. 61-4. For those with a spot of German:  Karl Marlo, Untersuchungen über die Organisation der Arbeit, band III, Verlag von Wilhelm Appel, Kassel, 1848-56, esp. pp. 849-62 at the end of the text on Marlo’s proposed “Föderalismus.” Perhaps, as Weiss declares, Marlo was indeed an early thinker of the “corporatist state” that eventually formed the basis of fascism. Yet, reactionary nationalism was most certainly not what Marlo had in mind, as his introductory statements on p. 41 make clear (my translation): “so long as human society fails to gain a common conviction over its highest interests, so long as Christianity and the idea of associative rights derived from it has not yet penetrated into the hearts of all peoples . . . eternal peace will live only in the writings of hopeful publicists and in the songs of philanthropic poets. Incidentally, it can be asserted without exaggeration that the spread of correct economic views, as well as global traffic, which is increasing with the growth of industry, could and will contribute much to the friendly shaping of the relations of all peoples.” At worst Marlo’s ideas certainly have something of a millenarian flavour to them that might be toned down a little.

[lii] Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, Yale University Press, London and New Haven, 2018, p. 193.

[liii] Vince Garton, “The Gravity of Horror,” Jacobite, 5th July 2018, https://jacobitemag.com/2018/07/05/catholicism-and-the-gravity-of-horror/

[liv] Of late the ritual of regular debt cancellation in Antiquity, especially the Hebrew Jubilee mentioned in Leviticus 25: 8-13, has increasingly been coming to attention, especially among Americans (for obvious reasons). Amusingly there was a meme going around recently concerning a preacher who went on a radio program to talk about the Jubilee and received a caller who insisted that the Jubilee must have been a punishment from God because it sounded like . . . socialism! Indeed there is much to be said about the very Calvinist American economic-theology of debt and damnation, but we shall leave that to others. The most commensurate current book on ancient debt forgiveness expressly links Christ to this practice:  Michael Hudson, …And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to The Jubilee Year, ISLET Verlag, Dresden, 2018.

In Plato debt forgiveness and the place of debt in general is very unclear, though an eccentric friend of mine would hermeneutically extract its importance from the fact that both the Republic and the Statesman begin with conversations about what is “owed.” In the former case Kephalos is the first to define justice – as paying one’s debts. In the Statesman Socrates is “owed” a description of the statesman and the philosopher (the latter of which is never undertaken, suggesting perhaps that the statesman is the true philosopher). To suggest from these fleeting expressions alone that what Plato is really talking about is debt in Athenian society is a little too much, I feel. Nonetheless, the Republic’s emphasis on the concentration of wealth in private hands has led at least one Platonist writing after the 2008 “credit crunch” to read democracy as simply a better way for the plutocrats to enlarge their debt farm and prepare the way for the tyrant: Roger Sworder, “A Contrary History of the West,” in A Contrary History of the West and Other Essays, Sophia Perennis,  London, 2011.

One might note that Plutarch, Lives, Solon, 15 describes Solon as cancelling the debts when he refounded Athens, but includes rumors that he let his friends know about this first so that they could unjustly take advantage of the situation. See of course Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, esp. p. 197-9 on the tyrant arising from the magician-chieftain who lends out his massive wealth of gifts so that he may be owed infinite loyalty in return. If there is one thing Deleuze and Guattari got very much correct when so many others have missed it, it is that money has always belonged to the tyrant, to the empire, as we see in our own time with the US dollar as “global reserve currency.” The state and the market need one another to exist. Perhaps this is why Nick Land fantasises about privatised states “accelerating the process” using crypto-currency. Yet for all the “Accelerationist” fantasies, if the BlockChain should ever be worth anything, it will be because the complex of existing governments and the global FIRE sector will simply fold it back into their own dominance over the means of accounting and biopolitical control over life.

[lv] I only possess the single edition on Plato, without Aristotle: Eric Voegelin, Plato, University of Louisiana University Press, Baton Rouge, 1966, p. 163.

[lvi] Ibid, p. 163.

[lvii] Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, Penguin Books, London, 1970, p. 132.

[lviii] See of course the Strauss Kojeve debate in: Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, Corrected and Expanded Edition, eds. Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013.

[lix] Eric Voegelin, Plato, p. 157.

 

This is the sixth of six parts. Also available are “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Voegelin, Process and the New Realism,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Haunted Ontologies and Different Modes of Existence,” “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Catherine Pickstock and the Return of Platonic Cosmology,” and “Process and the Derailing of Reality: The Strange Curse of the Ages of the World,” and “Process and the Derailing of Reality: Love and Violence.”

Jonathan Ratcliffe

Jonathan Ratcliffe is Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a doctoral candidate in Asian History at the Australian National University. He is working with Chris Heggie-Brown on a history of technology and politics, provisionally titled "Voegelin Among the Machines."

Back To Top