(See Part 1 here.)
This is a third or fourth draft. Each prior version has been discarded, deleted even. I can find many explanations for my ongoing inability to follow up to that explanation of Brazilian politics and society as immanently ironic. The natural segue would be to develop a theory of transcendental irony to generalize the Brazilian situation rather than being mired in local details. The goal of such a theory would be to elucidate the elementary particles (disavowal, pretense, bluff, dissembling, etc.) of ironic praxis and their configuration in what we could call the background radiation of postmodernity.
Yet the problem with this strategy is that Macunaíma is at once micro and macro, constituent part and systemic outcome. Maybe this is why wiser men have argued against transcendental theorizing — not because the transcendent can’t be truthfully denied (as perhaps someone like Jordan Peterson would argue) but because this notion of “background radiation” fails as disavowal, pretense, bluff, dissembling… the immanence of ironic praxis pushes out everything else (theory, the transcendent, the possibility of neat reductive argumentation…)
Taking irony seriously fails. So does taking irony ironically. Fails at what? At reading the “glitches in the Matrix” for what they are. This is how “Truth is the only weapon mortals can use in their struggle against the gods“: wherever we’re at peace with the ongoing situation, irony (disavowal, etc.) suffices. This is also why the demands on theory posed by Bolsonaro and Trump are so different. Trump is to the existing dialectical infrastructure (i.e. to deal with multiple inconsistent truth-claims) as Deep Blue is to Kasparov. The “establishment” reels because it has been defeated (in a game! this is still within/salvageable under the principle of sufficient irony) by unknown strategies for known rules.
The problem posed by Jair Bolsonaro is much more interesting. Jair is neither an old-school partisan for whom the ideology is true and justifies the means, nor a Trumpian master ironist. Repeated to the point of brainwashing, his political banner “and you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall save you” is (like Deleuze’s Pink Panther’s) his “becoming-world carried out in such a way that it becomes imperceptible.”
This is not a whimsical quotation; please read it once more. Like Trump, Jair contradicts himself; but the mature Trumpian engineering of ironic disavowals followed by overlapping bluffs is replaced by something asymptotically approaching a pure Socratic position. Again, this is not banal, but incendiary: Jair Bolsonaro is a man willing to take a public stance of “I understand none of this”.
Please indulge me while I try some freestyle soteriology.
Whether he fully realizes this or not, Jair’s Truth is not transcendent, not tactical, nor even epistemic. One does not come to know the Truth like one acquires knowledge of point-set topology. Knowledge of Truth comes as knowledge of rain — not even experiential knowledge but experience itself. To know the truth is to experience ambient truth-conditions.
How is the truth supposed to “help us fight the gods”? By piercing through what we tried and failed to call the “background radiation of irony”. Thus the biblical promise echoed through Jair’s banner: the experience-itself of truth (screaming under truth and crying under truth and making love under truth) is ecstatic. Truth stands besides itself, and in situations conducive to such an ec-stasis we experience being besides it.
What’s really tricky about this business of truth-ecstasis is that it’s surprisingly hard to clearly distinguish an existential situation (walking under truth) from an epistemological outcome (having truth on your side). Zizek correctly states that “God exists and therefore everything is permitted” — an unspoken consequence being that fascism is the product of epistemic rather than moral sins. On the contrary: a deep sense of morality in disagreement with ambient conditions pushes people into bridging is-ought gaps and walking away from the truth.
This should be in everyone’s minds as we ponder the chaos and corruption of the Worker’s Party rule: these were people that served a moral project that was very specifically dissonant from ambient conditions — and yet pure enough to tolerate passing for as long as possibly. It seems accordingly that this boorish new man would lead us to an alternate moral project dictated by his standard Christian values and his right-wing military training. But the Jair era is no mirror of the past.
It’s a strange and radical experiment where no one claims to “have the truth”. And if Jair’s presidency fails to deliver on these radical promises, their apparent capillarity might have already delivered at least some of the spiritual transformation that saves us from Macunaíma.
But maybe not, of course. Who the hell knows.