Jazz Thoughts

Basic mechanics of modernity

Further notes on fascist aesthetics

Basic Mechanics noted how affective response can be assembled into large, quasi-populist movements via machinic demands for simplicity & extensibility. Such an observation not only acknowledges radicalization of aesthetic power [1], but provides a means for disarticulating its role in the many fascist movements around the world. Indeed, aesthetics has increasingly become a debate ground for dissonance in sensation & values [PL7, see below], and this situation exceeds not only the "distracting" qualities of aesthetic glory, but its emphasis on (liberal) subjective choice per se. Fascism can be described simply as support for "authoritarian hierarchical government," & so its corresponding aesthetic glorifies such authoritarian hierarchy. Such an urge toward hierarchy is conveyed — and indeed enacted [2] — via "artistic" production that promotes separation & stratification. Such stratification typically entails glorification of outcome per se, i.e. anything that creates winners & losers, or generally allows someone to claim superiority over another. Moreover, such stratification produces a sense of finality, as consummated by a basic sense of glory that accompanies any (compatible) result. (Simply, nothing is more "ugly" to fascists than conflation & equivocation. The more strongly they feel the superiority of one thing over another, without possibility of reversal, the better.) Fascist aesthetics constantly celebrates the very granularity it extracts & imposes: It can be traced, though, bringing both violence & fascism itself more into consciousness. What is the locus of this aesthetics? I have undertaken preliminary traces in prior investigations, and since that might not be obvious, now I want to gather such thoughts in one place, both for clarity & for possible further elaboration.

To articulate these thoughts into notes, then, let me begin by reprising some thematic observations & notes from my previous series of works [3], taken chronologically:

Such a series of notes becomes rather diffuse, and perhaps some seem unconnected at first glance. However, how is violence simultaneously sublimated & glorified? (Such is the imperial legacy of aesthetics.[4]) Violence produces a sort of legibility [5], something dear to modernity (and opposed by queer theory [PL7]), and such legibility has been figured via the symbolic (e.g. aesthetic [PL]) domain. How might one disarticulate symbolic violence then? Since nature has been figured as violent (& even "unreasonable" [MA]) — such that (even unreasonable) violence is figured as natural — and the modern commodity fetish itself always already suggests magic [PL], the systematizing (rationalizing) priority of modernity is haunted by its irrational dual — figured & channeled via the aesthetic spectacle, where glory per se is concentrated. (One might consider the generation of so much "irrational" sublimation to be the "entropic" dual of excess rationality.) In response, one might adopt listening as moral practice, perceiving in the everyday, but the (imperial, now more broad) breakdown of economic reciprocity increasingly breaks circulation & therefore individuation itself.[PL] (So an overemphasis on separation likewise compromises separation, although it does yield machinic subjectivity.) In other words, the position from which we (can or might) perceive such aesthetic violence is saturated by that same violence. However, for instance, comedy — based in equivocation — continues to function in opposition, such that one can consider a pharmacological approach to the comedy-sex-sports nexus of play.[6] In other words, laughing at power can reconfigure the nexus & disrupt fascist aesthetics. (This is one possible response, dependent on situation relative to the nexus.) Some further thoughts:

So, given those thoughts, whence pharmacology? How might the finality of competitive sports be refashioned through the equivocating jostle of comedy? Where are the poison & the cure? What rewards the libido, and in turn facilitates reproduction more broadly? If fascist (aesthetic) hierarchy rests on information — i.e. on knowing who has more, who wins — & so demands legibility, how might information asymmetry come to undermine typology itself? Bluntly, categories & binaries must be undermined; "results" must be called constantly into question. Moreover, the abstraction of fascist "progress," with its ensuing speed & acceleration (per [PL6]) [7], must be undermined to the point that its categories shift & blur, to the point that multiple temporalities can come to presence.[8] (The modern machine simply cannot accommodate this.) We must undermine categorical hierarchy (& so typology in general) in order to produce political choices beyond the contemporary (imposed) binary of increasingly abstract (deterritorialized) financial capitalism & aggressive identity-based (i.e. quasi-tribal) belonging.[9] (So we must be neither nowhere nor exclusively somewhere.) Are technology & automation — hence "system" — to be for people or only for (authoritarian) hierarchy & profit? That war will largely be fought in the domain of aesthetics — although it will still bring plenty of violence too.

  1. In this context, radicalization specifically involves the stripping of relation & context: One might ponder aesthetic response being ripped from the plane of its own messy immanence, i.e. given the form of a vector pointing elsewhere.

  2. Simply, experience forges & conditions the subject itself: The power of aesthetic experience for subject formation has already been interrogated by such writers as Guy Debord (around the notion of "spectacle"), Jonathan Beller (according to a "cinematic mode of production"), & Giorgio Agamben via the historical (& religious) narration of glory per se. (While having noted the first two ideas on more than one occasion, I've more often adopted Agamben's concepts & language around glory.)

  3. Abbreviations to be used here to refer to works from the previous series are as follows:

  4. Modern empire had need to both deny & glorify its violence: Each leads to more violence, and together as a dual, they function all the more powerfully. (One might think of enlightenment aesthetics as almost passive aggressive in its insistence on personal choice that always already leads to the same violent outcomes.)

  5. When I say that violence produces a "sort" of legibility, I specifically mean that violence engages a sorting operation: It produces the hierarchy & separation demanded by fascist aesthetics.

  6. I already undertook an interrogation of comedy via familiarity & gesture [WF], and then made tentative attempts to trace some events across the nexus (& beyond).[PL6] More is warranted, but I've generally found other (theoretical) treatments to be unsatisfying to this point. (Perhaps it's worth keeping some secrets too.)

  7. When categories are conflated, if such conflation cannot be undone by violence, the fascist impulse is to forge meta-categories that continue to support a rigid hierarchical order. Such meta-categories increase both abstraction & speed.

  8. Music is especially well suited to articulating & blurring multiple temporalities, etc.

  9. Such a choice is as recently articulated by Berardi. (Berardi also cautions against too much specifically linguistic competence in such matters, since it can invoke mediation & so erode empathy. In other words, I might note that grammar is itself typological, and so undermines what I'm seeking to express. I've yet to find a suitable alternative, pace [8], however.)

Todd M. McComb
30 April 2017