Apocalypse Porn

Thinking about the end of Wednesday’s post this morning before rolling out of bed, I realized that joining up with a collective of applied Ballardian fiction writers is just about the last thing I’d want to do.

I get it that Ballard exerts strong appeal in certain circles, and I do find myself intermittently drawn into their orbits. Ballard explicitly theorizes his own novels from inside the text — a kind of “theory fiction” that lends itself to traditional scholarly writing. And Ballard’s diagnosis of late-capitalist culture resonates with a lot of people. Here’s a passage from Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise:

These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth-century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed.

Alternatively, their real needs might emerge later. The more arid and affectless life became in the high-rise, the greater the possibilities it offered. By its very efficiency, the high-rise took over the task of maintaining the social structure that supported them all. For the first time it removed the need to repress every kind of anti-social behavior, and left them free to explore any deviant or wayward impulses. It was precisely in these areas that the most important and most interesting of their lives would take place. Secure within the shell of the high-rise like passengers on board an automatically piloted airliner, they were free to behave in any way they wished, explore the darkest corners they could find. In many ways, the high-rise was a model for all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly “free” psychopathology.

That’s Ballardianism in a nutshell, or spilling out of the cracked shell. I’m skeptical that late-capitalist anomie and ennui, fermenting in the decay of traditional societal connections and expanding in the vacuum left by the collapse of traditional social constraints, is distilling itself into all hell breaking loose, the comfortably coddled bourgeoisie’s unrecognized and repressed desires frothing forth in a hedonic eroticized death drive pitting all against all and each against each. It hasn’t happened in the 44 years since High-Rise was published: the privileged bourgeoisie remain complacently conformist while those consigned to the lower storeys of the socio-economic high-rise are becoming more desperate, marginalized, precarious, more attracted to unshackling their aggression not as a Ballardian tonic for alleviating boredom but as an act of desperation.

Maybe the Ballardian reality is delayed but still coming. Maybe what seem like the side effects of late capitalism, the recoil from schadenfreudean hubris, the collateral damage and the unintended consequences, are really the main effects, the objectives. Maybe the distributed unconscious of the stock market really wants to crash. Maybe the multitude of immaterial labor — the creatives and bureaucrats and technocrats — really want to be made redundant by inhuman labor, tantalized by the nightmare of finding themselves suspended precariously above the abyss. Maybe the bored psychopathic elite really do mean to undermine their own security, to render the planet unlivable, to crank the creative destruction up to 11, to pick up the red phone and push the red button, to turn the controls over to an all-knowing psychopathic AI. Maybe Trump desires impeachment and imprisonment. Maybe the Democrats want to provoke the Trump followers to armed insurrection so they can call in the military to quell the insurgency, declaring martial law and suspending democratic process indefinitely. Maybe all of the Ballardian drivers are accelerating into the crash, thirsting for their own annihilation.

In contemporary theory, Ballardian notes can readily be discerned in Accelerationism, its Deleuzian lines of flight propelled by technology, capital, and intelligence, thrusting a disembodied affectless desire beyond the humanistic gravitational field into a posthuman exploratorium that to the normies left behind can look a lot like “the expression of a truly free psychopathy.” And Ballardianism permeates the world of fiction, from cyberpunk to the new weird to new horror into mainstream commercial entertainment. The medieval decadent ruling class in Game of Thrones and the well-heeled clientele of the futuristic Westworld theme park occupy recognizably Ballardian dystopian imaginaries. Are these cautionary tales or apocalypse porn?

Trump parades himself before his acolytes as a Ballardian president, flaunting his ill-gotten wealth and his “dark triad” personality traits of narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy, aggressively provoking confrontation seemingly just for the hell of it. It’s a performance enjoyed by the master showman, his routine choreographed and scripted and staged as an opioid-glazed spectacle for entertaining the inert masses. Fake news mingles with real news; all of it gets weaponized. High-Rise again:

A group of residents, all from the 14th and 15th floors, leapt out and hurled themselves into the mêlée. They were led by Richard Wilder, cine-camera gripped like a battle standard in one hand. Royal assumed that Wilder was filming an episode of the documentary he had been talking about for so long, and had set up the entire scene. But wilder was in the thick of the fray, aggressively wielding the cine-camera as he urged on his new allies against his former neighbors.

Nowadays Wilder might be renamed Fox. But he’s not the only one…

‘They’re all making their own films down there,’ Anne told him, clearly fascinated by her heady experience of the lower orders at work and play. ‘Every time someone gets beaten up about ten cameras start shooting away.’

‘They’re showing them in the projection theatre,’ Jane confirmed. ‘Crammed in there together seeing each other’s rushes.’

‘Except for Wilder. He’s waiting for something really gruesome.’

Like I said, I’m not sure I’d want to hitch my anarcho-collectivist wagon to an alliance of applied Ballardian writers… unless, secretly and unbeknownst even to myself, it’s what I crave.

 

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5 thoughts on “Apocalypse Porn

  1. ‘Maybe Trump desires impeachment and imprisonment.’

    Definitely could be, and all the others you listed. I’ve thought of it. And one of the papers the other day had someone talking about the ‘next two years’ and how much more impossible they still would be. Trump doesn’t care that much about impeachment, but I doubt yet he’s interested in prison. Nor even conviction, which he won’t get at this point with the Senate.

    The leftist blogs have wanted apocalypse porn while posing as ‘humane’ for almost 20 years, if not obviously more. The right-wing ones want it too. It’s not just elites that are bored, and not nearly everybody is. But recklessness such as is approaching (just short of reaching by now only by virtue of the mid-terms) gets more Hitlerian by the day. The Dems win has allowed some real progress, not least that it has exposed the whole system with the Republicans, which was definitely not there 2 years ago to anywhere near this degree, and certainly not at the beginning of 2016. It’s hard to believe the Iowa caucus is already 3 years ago.

    It could be that this election really threw this really fast-moving juggernaut into huge confusion, no matter what they say. Because they’re obviously hysterical with each day’s news, and believing for that day’s news cycle that some decision has been made–only to change course in belief by the next day. Some talk about ‘being sick’, and it is stressful, but I’ve begun a natural delimiting of this incoming filth. I was worried briefly last week that I would feel my face had fallen after reading threads on Wapo for a couple of hours at a time. After that, there is still a sense of depression, but you can butch it out. Loss of all humaneness simply had not occurred in a huge way until now. It is now just textbook sadism. Films and literature and theater which ‘confront’ this are a waste of time–these representations, even if they are in the form of ‘protests’ seem to only bloat the shit to ever more dizzying heights–in the sense of how news media is made out to proliferate the Trump Show by reporting on it all the time. And there is no shortage of just those time-wasting discussions about every tiny parsing (such as the pardons or not-pardon-danglings) There is this weird sclerosis you can see by reading WaPo threads (NYTimes is somehow much more civil; someone said there was a reason, but it could be just that the comments are moderated; on WaPo, you can write anything, and a pornographic word will just be picked up by the computers, etc, or commenters write deformations of the four-letterismes), that has them repeating the exact same things about ‘Trump’s criminal gang’ every day, no what the slight twist or turn may be. Then there’s no point to it, and it turns out those are not any better than the old aol screaming ones. NYT also often closes comments threads after a certain point, and there you can’t see the total hysteria that these WaPo threads carry, in full and present impotence.

    Most want to indulge in this Apocalypse Porn even if they also want to ‘fight bad things’. So I don’t think it’s just elites, but look at the movies people on these marginal blogs are always writing about, anything traditional or older and classical is considered irrelevant by them too. It wouldn’t occur to them that at some point Ballard theory could even begin to seem irrelevant.

    But while there is that accelerationism, what the Dems are (mostly) doing really is putting on some brakes. People who are not even supporting the ‘criminal gang’ think it’s a big deal that Manafort only got 4 years, and even though it’s an incorrect sentence, 4 years in the slammer is a huge deal for somebody 70 years old. But even the most ardent anti-Trumpists take this very seriously–way too seriously.

    I don’t see how it ‘could go either way’ at this point. Four years is four years. Cohen cleared up any ambiguity he may have made in public testimony just yesterday or the day before in closed-door testimony, regarding ‘who did what to whom’ about the pardons. That’s even in the articles. But the screaming doesn’t have time for it, and those who scream loudest about wanting to imprison the crime family are as right as they were a year ago, and have learned nothing about how things have definitely changed. But there is, of course, action going on elsewhere and destroying just for the hell of it in other areas right now, which is why not much culture as it was once understood even exists in new form anymore. It’s why I watch 19th c. ballets–it’s not dead just because it’s old. That gives time for the possibility of new production in all areas. But here, for example, the small businesses really are disappearing so fast it’s shocking, even ones you thought could afford it. The only thing saving us is residential rentals kept low, and expected to remain that way, because the 1% loves to preside over this city, but they are not in the majority, or DeBlasio would not be able to get rent freezes and the like. And it’s also symbolically important that Amazon was not kowtowed to, despite Cuomo’s continuing efforts. In one piece about Cuomo still begging Amazon, it was said that this really was most likely over. The importance of its staying out cannot be overstated, given that all you said about ‘Apocalypse desire’ is true and everywhere.

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  2. A website I follow linked to a piece called “Now,” written by “The Invisible Committee,” translated from the French. Here are some choice bits:

    In the riot there is an incandescent presence to oneself and to others, a lucid fraternity which the Republic is quite incapable of generating. The organized riot is capable of producing what this society cannot create: lively and irreversible bonds. Those who dwell on images of violence miss everything that’s involved in the fact of taking the risk together of breaking, of tagging, of confronting the cops. One never comes out of one’s first riot unchanged. It’s this positivity of the riot that the spectators prefer not to see and that frightens them more deeply than the damage, the charges and counter-charges. In the riot there is a production and affirmation of friendships, a focused configuration of the world, clear possibilities of action, means close at hand. The situation has a form and one can move within it. The risks are sharply defined, unlike those nebulous “risks” that the governing authorities like to hang over our existences. The riot is desirable as a moment of truth. It is a momentary suspension of the confusion. In the tear gas, things are curiously clear and the real is finally legible. It’s difficult then not to see who is who.

    That’s true to my experiences as a participant in student antiwar riots. But that was even longer ago than Ballard’s High-Rise. But here the Invisible Committee is lauding riot not as a means of advocating a cause but for its own sake, a way of acting and being in the world, an irruption of truth and clarity and the Real — Ballardian.

    Everyone can see that this civilization is like a train rolling toward the abyss, and picking up speed. The faster it goes, the more one hears the hysterical cheers of the boozers in the discotheque car.

    The Committee doesn’t want to stay aboard this accelerationist train; it wants to jump off, to escape. But isn’t that what all of the accelerationists are after — to reach escape velocity? Same impetus.

    Destituere in Latin means: to place standing separate, raise up in isolation; to abandon; put aside, let drop, knock down; to let down, deceive. Whereas constituent logic crashes against the power apparatus it means to take control of, a destituent potential is concerned instead with escaping from it, with removing any hold on it which the apparatus might have, as it increases its hold on the world in the separate space that it forms. Its characteristic gesture is exiting, just as the typical constituent gesture is taking by storm.

    To destitute is not primarily to attack the institution, but to attack the need we have of it. It’s not to criticize it—the first critics of the state are the civil servants themselves; as to the militant, the more they criticize power the more they desire it and the more they refuse to acknowledge their desire—but to take to heart what the institution is meant to do, from outside it. To destitute the university is to establish, at a distance, the places of research, of education and thought, that are more vibrant and more demanding than it is—which would not be hard—and to greet the arrival of the last vigorous minds who are tired of frequenting the academic zombies, and only then to administer its death blow. To destitute the judicial system is to learn to settle our disputes ourselves, applying some method to this, paralyzing its faculty of judgment and driving its henchmen from our lives. To destitute medicine is to know what is good for us and what makes us sick, to rescue from the institution the passionate knowledges that survive there out of view, and never again to find oneself alone at the hospital, with one’s body handed over to the artistic sovereignty of a disdainful surgeon. To destitute the government is to make ourselves ungovernable. Who said anything about winning? Overcoming is everything.

    I appreciate the impetus for freeing education and research and medicine and justice from their institutional corruptions, but this starts sounding like antivaxer logic — “to know what is good for us and what makes us sick.” They don’t want “one’s body handed over to the artistic sovereignty of a disdainful surgeon” — to whom them will they hand their bodies over? “To destitute the judicial system is to settle our disputes ourselves, applying some method to this” — can this “method” be distinguished from the vigilante lynch mob, the gleeful collective riotous now-ness of it being Justice in its true and clear and Real form?

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  3. I don’t think I’m just being biased by my leftist presuppositions in believing that the Republican party has debased itself profoundly not just in its refusal to bring Trump to heel but in actively and enthusiastically cowtowing to him. I understand that the Democrats’ active pursuit of impeachment proceedings is a way to slow down the larger Republican agenda being enacted offstage. And some glee is probably warranted in going after the bastard. But the man also needs to face justice, not just in populist enthusiasm but institutionally.

    It’s curious that these days Democrats serve mostly as a conservative force, pulling the breaks on accelerationist tendencies in banking, environment, labor relations, trade, wealth accumulation… Even the publicly visible left wingers in the party are calling mostly for restraint rather than revolt — reduce wealth disparity, reduce student debt, reduce climate change, reduce inequitable access to healthcare. Suddenly in backlash against Trump and company’s excesses they’re finding themselves closer to the mainstream. Trump is going down, if not legally then electorally.

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  4. All very interesting, even if I couldn’t fully comprehend some of those quoted texts. But this “lauding riot not as a means of advocating a cause but for its own sake, a way of acting and being in the world, an irruption of truth and of clarity and the Real — Ballardian” does suggest some of what I was talking about, viz., that that is not what it is. Or not necessarily and certainly not always.

    There is something about the media that demands you keep up with it closely, maybe especially now, but even that is not true. Even media that is factual should not be so vampirical. In both of those Trump-related cases yesterday, it was very clear that this ‘force’ was operating, because the attendant facts in either one of them were not enough to ‘get one’s rocks off on’. I know that feeling well, because the same paralysis, or something related, was there in Charlie Rose interviews just a few years ago, when ISIS was considered a long-term project. And I mean just the land holdings. And it’s gone, but the discussions of it were thoroughly vacuous, no matter if the spokespeople were smart CIA or any other kind of ‘expert at punditry’.

    But it happened again today with the Chelsea Manning arrest, which was more clear-cut. Of course she deserved to be thrown into jail if she was actually telling the truth that ‘she had already told the govt. everything’. This was a weird crossover somewhat like the ‘bigotry resolution’ the leftist Dems finally got through as painlessly as possible. But much worse, of course, because Manning wants to not get caught by whomever saying something that can itself yet again be parsed by all the rabble–in other words, the whistle-blowing ends up, from Assange and Manning and Snowden, to serve the purposes of the Trumpistas, because of their ‘purity’. I recall even at Snowden’s Debutante Ball the fact that Eric Clapper had LIED was so fucking overrated. Snowden gave us the matinee idol ‘whistle-blower’ which worked till it had nowhere to go. Mike Morell said, while he abhorred what Snowden did, that he didn’t think it was ‘in Snowden’s character’ to give away secrets explicitly wanted by the Russians. That is not at all credible, of course, it’s much more likely that Morell knows that Snowden did do so, and had little choice. By now Snowden begins to seem like some ‘pure Orwell character’.

    I like your conjoining of the pieces with the Dems becoming the ‘guardians of the mainstream’–including the most leftist Dems. Definitely makes sense, and is interesting how it could have formed itself into this mutation, because nobody could have thought it out.

    What struck me most was that the complete lawlessness of Trump and The Party of Trump could now be seen determined and shamelessly so to continue what it had only recently gotten really good at–because with Reagan or either Bush, they’d never been able to become this grotesque. Finally they really lapped it up. I first noticed it in summer of 2017, when Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and John McCain refused the demolition of the ACA. But very shortly, the ‘tax cut’ that Trump wanted was not something they would go against, even if it was highly questionable to say the least. I literally had these images of Collins, in particular, ‘finally joining the party’ (either meaning of ‘party’), as if she had earned the right to sell out.

    Also noticeable in these senators who won’t vote for the resolution against the emergency declaration. It is particularly strange that Romney doesn’t even care that this is total overreach of that branch. The best McConnell can do is to admit that ‘there are enough votes to pass the resolution’, which he did shortly after Rand Paul ‘turned’.

    But I think it was definitely in the autumn of 2017 that the whole Republican Party essentially fell in love with what they thought they could get with Trump now. Yes, now they were ready to accept it, and were ready to ‘party on’.

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  5. I’m surprised at the persistence of party loyalty even when confronted by overt boorishness and even criminality. It seems that policy commitment is secondary to social affiliation. Even lawfulness is secondary to loyalty. I was reminded recently that Clinton’s popularity among Democrats increased while he was under impeachment. Even if his offense was silly he still did in fact perjure himself. Did Clinton’s crime actually confirm some positive aspect of Dems’ perception of the man? Maybe — Dems found Bill to be a charming ladies’ man. Republicans meanwhile already had a visceral dislike for Clinton’s public persona even before Monicagate. That might be true of Trump as well — for his core constituency part of Trump’s appeal is his willingness to go around the law in order to get what he wants, so maybe this whole Mueller probe just reinforces their positive views of him. That might have been true of Nixon as well — he was already Tricky Dick even to his supporters before Watergate.

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