Guerra cultural

I. 

Praxis is at once the agitating mechanism and the key site of misosophy, the hatred of wisdom. Philosophy teaches, on the contrary, ambivalence and detachment. Contrary to philosophy, theory-in-the-world is of-praxis, specifically the praxis of deferral. Taking a loan is the theory of being able to pay it back at a later time. This deferral operator also binds (at least potentially) to the misosophical microaggression of making theoretical claims. Such is life: in practice, misosophic acts of theory are always everywhere, whether out of sophistry, droll self-absorption or plain hatred. Theory is very often captured by smaller-axiology praxial enterprises — ideologies, strategy consulting, hustling at large. 

Of course, when asemic horizon invokes this word — theory — it means what it means: theory is the theory of generic structure. The horizon implies a radical practice of deferral, one that continually threatens never to come back to the lower axiologies and instead just sail away indefinitely. That this horizon is asemic points (and this becomes natural and unsurprising with time) to a rejection of meaning even in the last instance. Unlike, say, Zizek’s marriage to communism-in-the-end, the theory of the theory of the theory … of generic structure merely points to structure, which is to say, to the abstract gesture of structural consistency. This is an abstract gesture because it corresponds to a systemic outcome of the indefinite complexity of theory. The gesture therefore runs the risk of saturating its misosophic potentials.

Still, the strangeness of this project should underscore the ethical import of the theory it pro/duces. Zizek is not personally completed by his own cleverness — his underlying struggle is to build new foundations for dialectical materialism so that communism might win. The ethical point of asemic horizon is rather more abstract: to overcome praxis by deferring it into a cascade of expanding axiologies until we get to… whatever general axiology holds. If old man Slavoj were to deign to engage us… it would be a short conversation, ending in a division by zero. Zizek is well above the standard leftist trope of highlighting our apparent contraleftist stance– but at any rate, there’s little for him to chew on — we have next to no stance on anything

Nota bene, we speculate about Zizek because we see him as thoughtful and open-minded. Anyone else would be excused for finding us boringasemic horizon is not about to be forcefully denounced by Vox, Paul Joseph Watson or the 8-Bit Guy. It is profoundly subversive, but not in a way that promptly bubbles up and makes it visible. Theory in our genre and mood holds its breath, dives into caves to find new clearings. If we eventually participate in a revolution, it will have been in the temporal mode of Happy the Clown — looking backwards as we throw the seeds of emancipatory unintelligibility. 

II. 

Guerra cultural appears to translate to “culture wars”, but that’s a category mistake. In the Culture Wars, “cultures” take on the syntactic role of a subject. Living unfolding cultures (take the U.S.: southern evangelical versus northeastern liberal) find themselves at axiological crossroads. The syntactic object of Culture Wars is the “issues” — abortion, forced bussing and so on (and so on) — at the center of these crossroads. GC works in reverse: loose semantic networks of pseudo-issues coalesce into contrived cultural camps which are then the object of controversy. Whomever or whatever wages <em>guerra cultural</em> sees these camps as politically-necessary “quilting points” (points de capiton) that arrest axiology drift. There’s an urgency to this: the drift devalues political actors — the dudes about which we decided to stop thinking circa “… Prince Kropotkin“. 

To some extent, the drift also devalues theory because it’s not theoretical< — it flows from the open-ended becoming of the world. Theory is, after all, a praxis of intelligibility, whether sincere or contrived, serious or droll, and there’s nothing intelligible about the inevitability of revolution — where, of course, “revolution” has pretty much been redefined to mean the unintelligible inevitability that looms over our attempts to arrest the drift.

Now, despite the fact that GC strives to uphold a variant of Jameson’s lemma (easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Macunaíma) it has none of the “closure power” that Jameson and others attribute to capitalism. GC is an autoimmune response; in a perverse way, it fails to develop into a sensu stricto culture war because it emerges as a systemic response to the collapse of a prior cultural closure. 

There used to be progressives and conservatives. Popular singers (“artistas”, in português-Patropi) all had vague claims to persecution or resistance during the military dictatorship that was gradually phased out in the early 1980s. Circa 1990, conservatives were easier to find in Congress than in any given barbecue gathering. The only people that attempted to capitalize on the still-settling dust of the Berlin Wall were dusty communists in opposition to international developments — fools of an entirely different breed from what was coming.  

Then the purges started. Everyone who couldn’t fall in with the new politics crowd was somehow found to be “corrupt”; they shot down Collor de Mello, the first president to be elected since whenever, and subsequently the men who prosecuted were shot down in another corruption scandal. In this process, we were both taught that corruption is both a floating signifier (the word doesn’t mean anything — if everyone is “corrupted”, what does “non-corrupted” even look like?) and the root cause of all evil. After a while (and there are, obviously, many more ins and outs to this; the spread of evangelical Christianity continues to generate corrupt politicians in the old style), a new world was born — one in which CEPAL-trained dependency theorist Fernando Henrique Cardoso could be counted as “right wing” by leftist and rightist imagination alike. 

Again, this is oversimplifying — you have to fit meu nome é Enéas in recent Brazilian history somehow — but it adds up to a decent representation of the extant balance of power circa 2000-2005. At that point there was no guerra cultural. For a while, there were even artistas (by which, we remind, is meant “best selling singers”) in top cabinet positions. The polar opposite of guerra cultural is nasal-reggae star Gilberto Gil in the Ministry for Culture.

III. 

A recent object lesson in GC that wandered onto my radar was the episode in which the as-of-2020 Minister for Culture (some non-artista idiot) was caught giving a speech that (quite literally) parallelled certain published speeches originally given by relevant Nazi official Goebbels. At face value, this looks like a particularly painful choice for political seppuku, but a little quick “12 Angry Men”-type reflection solves the puzzle: given all that we know of the general chaos in the Bolsonaro administration, the man was probably fed lines by a disgruntled underling. But what caught my attention wasn’t that someone in the more apparent-ideological sectors of the Bolsonaro government did something idiotic and self-destructive: it was the abhorrent development in which mass media zeroes in on the background music of the offending video instead. It’s Lohengrin, Wagner, Hitler’s “favorite composer”. 

Mounting pressure compounded by the evidence of German music, the culture minister gets fired directly by Jair Bolsonaro. It’s not like his public image can afford the impressions that he has Nazis running things. 

Is this satire? Are fish wet? Yes, and also that particularly Brazilian brand of yesno: Macunaíma.

At one point in this discourse-cycle, we’re even treated to B&W footage of Bayreuth. This man has Nazi overtones, specialists (Macunaíma) tell us — it’s in the minutiae of his supposé-non-macunaimique aesthetics. But no one seems to recall either that German culture as a whole was subject to extensive denazification by the occupying powers, and if the Lohengrin is something that was cleared, then the sincerity of the occupying powers is up for suspicion. Not that it matters to guerra cultural: someone serious might ask how is it that Nazi music is still in widespread circulation, but the marginal utility of attention to this issue quickly collapses — the seduction of Macunaíma (as that which delivers us from high culture and Nazis) can’t withstand extended thinking. 

Also: no one seems to remember Wagner’s quite overt anti-semitic theories, which precedes Hitlerism by nearly a century. After all, it’s not at all clear that Hitler personally had any particular feelings about Wagner — and by reductio to GC, there is nothing about the nazifascist tragedy that isn’t about the person and mustache of Adolf H. More to the point, the antisemitism of Wagner seems to run at slightly different theoretical lines from standard Nazi race ideology: at first, the German composer wants to target Meyerbeer, a personal and intellectual rival that enjoys success from richly staged populist melodrama. Wagner’s music is by constitution an entirely different enterprise; it boasts a highly advanced detonalism that’s often pointed as the opening salvo for the fully atonal music of the 20th century. An artistic genius, Wagner is however ill-equipped for the kind of theoretical attack he wants to deploy against triviality in music; his antisemitism is built out of existing, lazy tropes and for the remaining decades he seems to praise and support Jewish musicians and composers. The judgment of time almost unanimously falls to the idea that Wagner’s music has nothing of the misosophia of Wagnerian theories. This is further reiterated by denazification. 

Isn’t there anyone available that has the requisite cognitive skills to figure this stuff out? I might even volunteer — but I’m busy with theory.

IV.

We’re going to need this diagram again:

diagram

Culture wars are the continuation of cultural politics by other means. Guerra cultural is a reiteration of Macunaíma in new politics drag. Macunaíma’s yesno is the “denial of A-B that opposes B”; the political garb is the “denial of A that corrupts B”. It shouldn’t be difficult, from these observations, to solve for B. If we allow ourselves to indulge in synecdoche, we might even give Wagner a role as an avatar of B: civilization, intellectualized passion, truth-rain, all that good stuff. It’s harder to solve for A — it has an awful radioactive core in misosophia, but extends indefinitely into “General Praxis”. And in the absence of culture to moor cultural politics that enact cultural wars, there is nothing that can protect GC from the natural and sweet narcissistic idiocy in which we’re all (both within and without Macunaíma, in Rio and Warsaw) continuously almost drowning.

Which is why, of course, Bolsonaro retreats from it every single time

GC presents to the metapolitics of truth-rain a savage challenge whose extent perhaps only Jair fully understands. The soteriology in…and you shall know the Truth” has to do somehow with deliverance from the secondary antinomy. But it’s not like this can be obtained by Jair: Truth itself must “set you free”. It must therefore dissolve at once the reality of the primary antinomy and that of the tertium non datur. It must affirm a transcendental role for the primary antinomy, neither real nor nonreal, just there in sheer thereness. This is, of course, the very nature of truth-rain — radical thereness proven by radical thereness. But thereness-qua-thereness is nothing and does nothing. The existential core of truth-rain is sweet but tends to be crowded with philosopher sage types. How can truth-rain be affirmed through the base misosophia of real life?

That is perhaps the most general form of the problem we seek to defer. What we want is to have sufficient technology that high-grade theoretical development and social coordination start going hand-in-hand. What Jair wants to do now — while also struggling with GI tract trouble, undergoing surgery twice a year and raising a teenaged girl — we think it’s better achieved in General Axiology.

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