“Ne sachant m’expliquer sans paroles païennes, je voudrais me taire.”
(“Not knowing how to explain myself without pagan words, I would choose to be silent.”) –Arthur Rimbaud, from Bad Blood
“This dilemma of wanting the work to look like Art is ongoing” -Rebekah Rutkoff
This dilemma of wanting unrestrained egoic sociopathy and avarice to look like legitimate governance within a valid Social Contract is also ongoing. The question I ask myself these days has to do with the complicity of low-level players in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of meaning, and thus perhaps in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of compliance. For it is not benign. To manufacture meaning is also to aid in the manufacture of consumer demand (or to participate in the myth of culture as a thing made and sold)- the concept of the half-tame beast consumer demand whether real or imagined being one of the chimeras that pulls the shit-heaped cart of global capital and it’s attendant criminal classes.
The consumption of “high” culture (art, literature, intellectual or educated commentary) as a product, is the result of “social and political engagement” on the part of enlightened parties, and the consumption of culture, fuels a continued “dialectic of meaning” and “social and political engagement (of enlightened parties)” which is necessary to the continued reification of existing power structures and the cash flows they live for and upon.
If you keep paying the Piper, it’s possible he’ll never shut up.
Alternately, the appearance of complete dumb, uncomprehending conformity to the imperatives of Empire can be the most effective refusal to engage with it. It could be the equivalent of playing Dead to avoid Death. Play Stupid so you don’t have to be Stupid.
Oh yes, where is all of this coming from? Well, I’ve been reading a little book by Jean Baudrillard called In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities and The End of the Social. I thought about trying to paraphrase the argument, but decided I’d rather just share some choice excerpts:
“Now, in fact, the masses have no History to write, neither Past nor Future, they have no virtual energies to release, nor any desire to fulfill: Their strength is Actual, in the present, and sufficient unto itself. It consists in their Silence, in their capacity to absorb and neutralize, already superior to any power acting upon them”
“The social void is scattered with interstitial objects and crystalline clusters which spin around and coalesce in cerebral chiaroscuro (ed. note: Ital. literally light dark, from clark, clear, and oscuro, dark. in painting or drawing light and shade used so as to produce an illusion of depth, dramatic effect etc.) So is the mass, an in vacuo aggregation of individual particles, refuse of the social and of media impulses: an opaque nebula whose growing density absorbs all the surrounding energy and light rays, to collapse finally under its own weight. A black hole which engulfs the social.”
“The mass is without predicate, quality, reference. It has no sociological “reality”. It has nothing to do with any real population…A speechless mass for every hollow spokesman without a past. Admirable conjunction, between those who have nothing to say, and the masses, who do not speak. Ominous emptiness of all discourse.”
“The masses were, and have remained, pagans, in their way, never haunted by the Supreme Authority, but surviving on the small change of images, superstition, and the Devil. degraded practices with regard to the spiritual wager of faith? indeed. It is their particular way, through the banality of rituals and profane simulacra, of refusing the categorical imperative of “meaning”, which they have always rejected.”
“The masses are given meaning: they want Spectacle…messages are given to them, they only want some sign, they idolize the play of signs and stereotypes, they idolize any content so long as it resolves itself into a spectacular sequence. What they reject is the “dialectic” of meaning.”
“They distrust, as with death, this transparency and this political will. They scent the simplifying terror which is behind the ideal hegemony of meaning, and they react in their own way, by reducing all articulate discourse to a single irrational and baseless dimension, where signs lose their meaning and peter out in fascination: the Spectacular.”
“The mass is not a place of negativity or explosion. It is a place of absorption and implosion.”
Yes, implosion. The irreversible wrecking of Empire, under cover of staticky darkness, fully surveilled, on the shoals of the masses’ “indifference”; the shocking lack of curiosity about the exigencies of citizenship, lack of desire to engage in the Polis, an apparent preference for the watching of sporting events and the creation of internet memes that have “nothing to do with anything”.
Even the fascination of Brand names, the fetishizing of particular objects and the clever canceling or re-coding of their intended “value” (Yung Lean: “Louis duffel bag filled with Heroin, Louis Louis Louis duffel bag filled with Heroin”), and the apparently enthusiastic embrace of global corporate capitalism is not as reassuring a sign as the shit-sausage factory may believe or hope. Consumer demand is a smokescreen, creating the illusion of participation, acquiescence, long-term investment. Really it is merely a manifestation of ancient and unabated love-affairs with rituals and their objects, with a personal and collective mythos of transcendence or transformation that pre-dates this civilization, and will outlive it, too.
The masses would rather loot than buy. We’d be happy to use a stolen credit card number on the dark web. We will always steal from the Rich if we think we can get away with it, and we truly do not require “meaning”, or “meaning makers”.
As Baudrillard himself notes:
“Meaning is only an ambiguous and inconsequential accident.”
“When still quite a child, I admired the incorrigible convict on whom the prison gates always close again; I visited the inns and lodgings which he would have consecrated by his sojourn there; I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the flowery labor of the countryside; I scented his fatality in the towns. He had more fortitude than a saint, more common sense than a traveler- and he, he alone! served as witness to his glory and his reason.
On the roads, through winter nights, without shelter, without clothing, without bread, a voice would grip my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: there you are, it is strength. You know neither where you are going, nor why you are going; enter everywhere, respond to everything. No one will kill you any more than if you were a corpse.” In the morning I’d have such a lost look and such a dead countenance, that those whom I encountered possibly did not see me.”
-Arthur Rimbaud, from Bad Blood