A lot of theory-making is about taking words way too literally — to the end of their meaning, their asemic horizon. If there is any truth to the analytic account of “slips of the tongue”, then language is a buildup of such accidental disclosures. If only for this reason, there’s often profit in staring back at language coldly.
In most human-scale situations, objects are illuminated from multiple, dispersed directions. First-principles thinking teaches us that this light comes from a strict handful of sources, among which in huge disproportion the sun. But what we understand to be light is always-already scattered; first by the large-scale structure of the universe, then by the layered bureaucracy of the atmosphere, and finally by the colorature of the world itself, which always reflects back some of what it does. As a result, clear surfaces like lakes and rivers, shot by light energy from low and high angles alike, appears reflective and sometimes opaque.
Here Jacques Siboni’s elaboration on the Four Discourses of Lacanian theory is particularly helpful. The Master says: the water is clear; the hysteric says it’s clearly not — it’s a mirror of the sky. Whenever in control of the diegesis, the Master then deploys extradiegetic technologies that act not in the water, but in the light: namely, he introduces polarizing filters that can make it maximally transparent or reflective at will.
Isn’t this how political polarization works? The standard critique of polarization charges it with a Cartesian demonology of illusions: we’re not divided societies, but the diegesis can be arranged in such a way that we appear divided to the extreme. If this “discourse of the Master” (which silently posits a very large axiology that deep-down unites us and that we’re only temporarily unable to see due to the smoke) is Proposition A, Proposition B must be the charge that increasing polarization is an actual dynamic, an out-of-control dynamo that melts the once-promised large axiologies into air.
But how are these propositions actually implemented in politics? The very thin and soupy nature of contemporary-as-of-2020 symbolic political struggles has increasingly highlighted that there are considerable structural affairs behind and beyond the childishness of loud anti-trumpism and anti-bolsonarism playing at vanguard politics. Some good text has come out of this in the American scenario: text exploring patronage networks and underlying class interest and-so-on-and-so-on. Unpolarized light carries the day; polarization is a filter, a layer, and to the extent that it vanishes outside the frame it’s a mere diegetic trick.
Life outside the American system — which is set up so that there are red and blue teams — can take different shades. Take Brazil: the more strident the vanguard wings grow, the more the enabling power of the Old Center grows.
The Brazilian federal congress was established in its current form in the late 40s and, for all the hullaballoo about a protracted military intervention in political affairs, was never really dissolved. Representatives are not elected in concrete districts, but nominal and half-secretive lists; you get to choose one name, but if he’s already elected, his votes spill over to the smaller-fish politicos of his (true, ex ante suffrage) choosing. Add to this the gross over-representation of sparsely populated states that are about as far from Rio-São Paulo as Madrid is from Petersburg, on one hand, and the general over-representation of the People by some 600 mouths, a crowd with an intricate social structure that determines their access to the levers of power. They will tell you that the ’89 Constitution was, contrary to previous reboots of the state machine, legitimized by the people — but back in the 80s all talk of electing an actual Constitutional Assembly were drowned in some loud talk about direct presidential elections… and the Congress crowned itself supreme lawmaker to draft the Supreme Law.
The upshot is that under the rules of presidentalism, the People tend to elect highly-visible federal executives that come with clear-cut ostensible political agendas, but the executive must secure the support of Congress somehow. Now, if Congress is continually engaged in backstabbing melee fight, this opens space for clever maneuvering through the procedural shortcuts that only primum inter pares congressmen can navigate. But if we insist on ideology and truth in our politics, this Tim Ferriss-lifehacking tactic loses teeth. The Centrão (the political machine among political machines, so finely tunebd that the local jargon is “physiological”) therefore gains importance. Democracy affords the People free snacks, but not free lunch: the sharpest pin-pricks at Macunaíma are returned by the dullest and strongest wallops from its great big belly. They say Jair has been making increasing overtures to the Centrão — which would be nothing new; Dilma had her cabinet stacked with ministries for fisheries and such minutiae, filled with ideological blanks. Macunaíma.
Since God is a lobster (cf. Gilles Deleuze & the Sundance Kid — “The Geology of Morals”), every process is twice (first, to select, then, to fold). It took me way too long to understand the implications of this and I won’t pretend either to explain them or indulge in the affectation that my particular misapprehension can aspire to any degree of “canonicity”. Indeed everything that is maximally structured and whole and sublime must find itself in a kind of symplectic complementary-ness to the absence of meaning in the absence of meaning. This is why we must avoid both naïve validation and outright skepticism of actual ongoing revolutionary movements — more often than not it pays to be very literal: movements, motion, kinetic energy — that can be seen from our windows to the world. Everything flows — everyprocess is movement; and the loudness in this or that cultural outcry should not move us beyond the essential indifference demanded not only by theory, but also philosophy, spirituality and even, to some significant extent, civilization.
Political analysis is either gossip from streets and corridors, or high structural theory from mountains and offices. But what agitates gossip is a kind of structural theory that projects an affectation of hip meaninglessness while reporting on the truth that cynical actors let through in the pauses between words. Likewise, a kind of gossip about transient impulse-response waves separates high theory from a kind of Vulcan spiritual slumber. The contours of these transients tell theory that its fundamental conceit is correct and just; at the same time, they provide the opportunity and the temptation to speculate on the surrounding context. Gossip-mongers are unconscious analysts (in the precise sense of Lacan’s four discourses); theorists are almost invariably hysterics, to the point that theory should be investigated as a personality disorder.
So what’s the deal with theory? There’s a lot to read about it in this website.
What’s the deal, instead, with pick-up artists and seduction teachers? They are worth deeper investigation, and not only because there seems to be a Venn circle between people interested in theory and in “pick-up”. At first blush, there’s a lot of misogyny — dehumanizing and off-putting to another type of theory-seeker. But there’s much to deconstruct in this misogyny, and behind the song-and-dance of “women are for the womanly things I’m lacking in right now”, there’s a roughed-up foregrounding of value as the dynamic valve underlying the gap between what these men want and what they get. By suspending the distracting idea that women, too, have value, teachers of seduction seem to be actually teaching production: men must improve, on their own, for their own sake, to the limit point (the asexual horizon) where they lose their clingy ethos and stop needing women in a fundamental existential sense. Only then can they emerge as actual misogynists — and hopefully, snap out of it by talking to women and realizing (bringing back from reality) their humanity.
Forceful as the buildup of testosterone makes this stuff read like, it’s relatively straightforward as a structural/axiological affair. The buildup in testosterone means it’s hard for them to stare at words coldly, take them to a limit horizon that is asemic but sexual and get a boost in abstraction powers from it. Still, the larger-and-larger axiology tends to find all the structural motifs that reconcile theory, chrematistics, pick-up methods, politics of all kinds and more, many more. There’s a bit of a leap of faith to be made here, but it’s closer to the leap of faith in the beginning of math textbooks than the one that leads followers of Osho to build Rajneeshpuram. What is asked that you believe is that politics is an example, a particular case that, like pick-up methodology and eventually theory itself, needs to be absorbed in the higher axiologies. In higher axiologies disagreements become less and less relevant. In general axiology whatever powers we have are fused together. Emergence means something new rises up. To what transcends “everything we have” we attribute the extent of infinity. Infinite bliss. Infinite wisdom. Infinite wealth. Infinite power.
There’s a probably apocryphal peroration on Roman stoicism which says — everyone must play the game. The ball is everything while in game. But when the game ends and the ball is tossed aside, it’s worthless. General axiology is not the ball.