Monthly Archives: July 2015

On the Necessity and Modes of Desecration

A little kerfuffle in a tiny corner of the art/literary world seems to me to bear some significance worth exploring. The conceptual writer Vanessa Place has been removed from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs committee for refereeing the panel presentations for the 2016 AWP Convention. This is as a result of her latest project, which is the gradual tweeting of the entirety of Gone With the Wind, on a Twitter page with a picture of Hattie McDaniel (the “Mamie” of the film version) and an image from the cover of a sheet of music for a late 19th century “coon song” on it. Place’s removal was the result of a petition initiated by AWP members, on the grounds that her project was racist and caused pain to people of color (henceforth “POC”).

Meanwhile, another conceptual artist (one of the best known), Kenneth Goldsmith, has been under attack for the presumed racism of a recent project of his: a public reading of the autopsy conducted by the police medical examiner of Michael Brown, the young man shot in a now globally known incident in Ferguson, Missouri. Here, a new actor enters the scene, a group calling itself the “Mongrel Coalition.” The Mongrel Coalition demands, forcefully and obscurely, immediate “decolonization,” and, with strategic wisdom, chose the soft targets of Place and Goldsmith (as a synecdoche of white dominated innovative literature and art more generally) to denounce the exploitation of black bodies by white aesthetes (“gringpo”): http://gringpo.com. The Mongrel Coalition seems comprised of graduate students; at the very least, they know all the white guilty vulnerabilities of the academic literary elites, and are familiar enough with the discourses of said elites to establish the double bind: one the one hand, innovative literature is formalistic play that ignores and, by implication, is complicit with, the oppression of POC; and, on the other hand, innovative aesthetic devices were invented by POC and stolen (and tamed) by white people. As you can see from the mock titles on the website, the indictment of these cultural black body snatchers is that they want to keep their “white privilege” while (by) gesturing towards an alliance with POC. How would one actually align oneself with POC? Presumably by finding ways of implicating others in that double bind, which keeps you one step ahead of those who might implicate you.

Place, as we can see from her Artist’s Statement in response to the dust-up (https://www.facebook.com/notes/vanessa-place/artists-statement-gone-with-the-wind-vanessaplace/10152841235969212?pnref=story) and, no doubt, Goldsmith, want very much to be exemplary leftists and allies of POC (Goldsmith has, in response to the unexpected and vehement criticism of his performance, requested that the transcript and video be suppressed). Place, in particular, sees her project as a kind of performance of White Guilt, in which case she might (but doesn’t seem to) see the ferocious attacks on her as a part of the performance itself—if you volunteer yourself as a scapegoat so as to cleanse the community, you shouldn’t be surprised if others take you up on it. She acknowledges the “cruelty” of what she has done, in iterating a history of cruelty, and so the “cruelty” of the response to her would seem to affirm her intentions. At any rate, if not paralyzed by White Guilt, that’s how she could easily take up the consequences of her action—and then things might actually get interesting.

The kind of conceptual art Place and Goldsmith does is very much in the tradition of Duchamp’s “Fountain,” aimed at transgressing and confusing the boundary between what is art and what is not art. Goldsmith’s previous books have mostly been transcriptions, for example of 24 hours of traffic reporting in New York City, or, more recently, his Seven American Deaths and Disasters, which transcribes reports of JFK’s assassination, RFK’s assassination, John Lennon’s murder, the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the Columbine massacre, 9/11, and Michael Jackson’s death. Place has done some more “modernist” (surrealist, stream of consciousness) type writing, but quite a bit of transcription as well—of court documents of sexual offense trials, for example. To put it simply, the idea is that if you read these texts within a frame reserved for “literature,” you read them differently, and they resonate in surprising ways.

Whether one enjoys or is interested in conceptual art or not, it is useful to consider why it might be a target for victimary fanatics—especially when it tries to be “politically relevant.” The purpose of conceptual writing is to de-authorize texts, to treat them as floating discourses that no one controls and therefore no one should own (part of the point of Place’s Gone With the Wind project is to bait the Margaret Mitchell estate into a copyright lawsuit)—and in which we are also therefore all implicated—any text is just part of our language, and cannot be contained within the circumscribed fields of authorship, genre, etc. To de-authorize is to de-sacralize, and to de-sacralize, for those invested in that version of the sacred, is to desecrate. For the victimary activist, iterating, without comment, without credit, descriptions of violence done to black bodies, is a desecration of those bodies just as much as drawing an image of Muhammad is a desecration of the prophet for some Muslims. The experience of POC (and, perhaps LGBTETC, as honorary POC, but the Mongrel Coalition doesn’t seem to me so certain about that) is sacred, in other words, and only an authorized priestly caste can perform the rituals sanctifying it. Reading over the website of the Mongrel Coalition, I wouldn’t expect violence from its members—if anything, we can see this as an extremely savvy career move, which is sure to open up publishing and job opportunities (situating it firmly within the tradition of the avant-garde and Romanticism more generally). But the logic has already, and will continue to, seep out into the broader culture, and its implications are violent. If certain modes of experience become sacred, their sacrality can and must be defended with all means necessary, and “argument” will not be a very effective means. Only anathematization will suffice, and anathematization requires the support of various means of intimidation—to defend something sacred to you is to show that you are willing to go to lengths to which those who might desecrate it are unwilling to go. This little incident (from which I’m sure Place and Goldsmith will recover, a bit tarnished, perhaps) is a useful reminder that to engage the victimary is, necessarily, to engage in desecration; indeed, that desecration must be the main means of struggle in the attempt to neutralize the victimary, in particular since if the much desired (by the left) hate crimes legal (and moral) regime is to work, it must rely upon the sacrality of experience (otherwise, how would you know when a Confederate flag is being displayed in a “hateful,” as opposed, say, to a satiric or scholarly, way? Only a POC priest[ess] is duly authorized to tell you). And it is best to understand what that implies. For me, at any rate, the possibilities of conceptual (and procedural) writing and art have just risen a bit in my estimation as potential cultural weaponry.

Victimary Perfect Storm: The Five Big Lies

In no particular order I list here, not the only lies spread by the Left (far from it!), but the ones that, it seems to me, have attained total coverage, i.e., that guarantee swift, coordinated, thorough and effective responses when questioned:

One: There are no real differences between men and women.
Two: Same sex attraction is as normal as opposite sex attraction.
Three: Blacks are always and only victims of white supremacy.
Four: Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
Five: Illegal aliens are just American citizens who haven’t yet received the proper documentation.

Any facts contrary to these assertions are evidence of actual oppression or reactionary lies.

With the exception of number four (regarding which the public has far less first hand evidence), the Left is never foolish enough to assert these lies; rather, it just goes ahead and acts as if they are self-evidently true (there is a lesson for us all in that).

We are already beginning to see the extraordinary destruction that must be wrought to civil discourse and civil society to sustain these brazen lies: Christians who believe in traditional marriage must become cynosures of hate, any Islamic group or state marginally less psychotic (“moderate”) than the most demented (“extremist”) is to be empowered, all attempts to defend American borders or preserve the distinction of American citizenship must be dismantled, criminals must be given an ever larger space in which to destroy; even more: anyone who points to health or safety issues resulting from unrestricted migration, who points to actual crime statistics, who directs our attention to longstanding Islamic doctrine and practice, to the benefits offered by one family form over another—that is, anyone pointing to a vast range of obvious truths, which you only have to pay the faintest attention to the real world to see, is evil. Big Lies require All Lies All the Time. The large digital corporations, like Yahoo, Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook (along with many more traditional corporations), are all clearly ready to get on board with a campaign to keep these Big Lies hermetically sealed.

We have not yet begun to see the large scale violence that will be needed to ensure these lies remain the ruling doctrine. But therein lies the only possibility of resisting the victimary perfect storm. There is another compulsive Lie of the Left, which surfaces periodically but which we must call “aspirant,” rather than “Big” because it has not yet prevailed nearly to the extent of the five above: self-defense is the source of violence. This is the argument of the gun control fanatics, and it has been conveyed by the usual furious and grotesque demonization of guns and gun owners (the type of propaganda so successful in installing the other lies). The reason push back against this lie has had considerable success (the right to gun ownership is more firmly established in law than it was 50 years ago, running counter to left wing victories on virtually every other front) is simply the existence of tens of millions of Americans who are determined to maintain their own guns and right to self-defense, forming a compact lobby to help them do so. Still, why has Obama not tried to override gun rights through executive action—isn’t this another area where Congress has failed to act, so he must? I think the only reason is some dim awareness that an attempt at gun confiscation would lead to a blood bath. Still, so what? Does the Left not have the stomach for the massive bloodshed of their enemies? Would they really have a problem with a few more Wacos? On the contrary—they would cheer it on; indeed, there have been indications for years that Obama and his gang would relish the chance for a showdown with some fat target within the bitter clingers community. It must be, then, that they are not sure that they would win, which is to say they are not sure that the men (and occasional woman) with guns under their command would obey the order to use force to take the guns away from those who have them by right (or at least not enough to avoid a fiasco). But if the bodies of armed men (Engels’s excellent description of the state) would hesitate there, perhaps they would hesitate elsewhere. Perhaps they would also refuse to act against thousands of Churches refusing to pay their taxes, against parents whose homeschooling does not conform to new “marriage equality”-friendly NEA dictates, or to enforce millions of dollars in fines against counties and cities refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses, or against local police officers or citizens practicing self-defense framed by mobs, or local authorities and citizens enforcing the border on their own initiative, etc. Slowly at first, for sure, but given the persistence of the dissidents, perhaps over time there will be more refusals—and it might not take many to set in motion a cascade.

It is easy to see that conservative pundits and politicians have been paralyzed in the past few days, suffering shell shock from the hammer blows of the recent Supreme Court rulings, and reluctantly awakening to the realization that we now live in a different country. The usual proposals—win more elections, go back to court, take back the culture, come up with cleverer appeals to the youth, etc.—all ring hollow and smack of denial. No one knows the next move in the game because all the rules have been suspended. We all know that leftists in power will do whatever they want and no one will stop them. (We also know that much of what they want to do is crazy.) The right is already splintering between those who want to accept the devastation and “move on” (usefully revealing their contempt for their “base”) and those who realize there’s something more at stake here than whether the Republicans gain a few points now that they can avoid the issue of “marriage equality,” while those ready to fight have no unifying program or manifesto. Leftist penetration has been very deep and there are few normal people who would not be loath to surrender at least some part of at least one of the Big Lies that they have bought into. Opinions changed and convictions abandoned after years of resisting and sustaining psychological battering for years (yes, I must be complicit somehow in racism; ok, I guess homosexuals can marry) are the hardest to revisit and reconsider.

So, here’s a minimal proposal. Refuse assent to any of these lies or any of their corollaries (refuse the entire network of lies)—openly if possible, “between the lines” if necessary. Caution is called for—ultimately, the Big Lies are instances of Leftist trolling, that is, laying out bait to get a response they can use to draw their enemies out into the open and make them easy targets. (To ask whether the Left “believes” its own lies is to make a category error—the Left has nothing to do with belief, only with the exposure of the presumably fraudulent beliefs of others—Leftism is OCD, obsessive compulsive debunking, with complete faith deposited in the most tireless and unrelenting debunkers.) Truth bearers will, indeed, become targets—that’s the point of the whole enterprise, as the Left has no real “positive” agenda, no better version of civilization, no model of social order. But people can try to be massive and dispersed targets rather than isolated and concentrated ones, and targets engaged in cultivating the practices of civilization in the face of social disorder. To get their way, the victimo/bureaucrats will have to take children out of their homes, arrest those responsible for the physical defense of vulnerable communities, shut down houses of worship and expropriate businesses, and at each point along the way men who have sworn to uphold the Constitution and who share much with their targets will have to decide if they can really, in good conscience, do that.

This truth bearing approach is the only way to test the weak link of the Left: the likelihood that the demands for enforcing the Big Lies will eventually strain the loyalties of the men with guns (we can easily imagine how many in the military are filled with disgust at the current regime’s alliance with our enemies, how many in the border patrols chafe at the refusal to let them do their job, how angry police must be at the opportunistic race baiting—I don’t know about the FBI or ATF, though). Once upon a time the Left could recruit its own militant cadres, ready to handle weapons, wield clubs, bust up a meeting; they could even set up parallel quasi-state institutions where civil society was weak enough. Other than their dwindling union ranks, form where could they recruit a steady supply of thugs—gay pride parades? (Well, there are historical examples, but the numbers just aren’t there.) They are stuck the forces they have been demoralizing for years. It follows that, more important than taking back the academies or Hollywood or the courts is making sure that the force available to the regime is lacking in the numbers and/or reliability needed to apply effective violence against those who only defend their own right to bear witness to subversive truths. This certainly implies that overt partisan appeals should be to law enforcement, but whether it further means those forces should be joined en masse or, on the contrary, starved of personnel replenishment by people who would rather defend their communities, must be left open for now. Individuals will ultimately have to make up their own minds about that, but, either way, the natural right to self-defense in bearing witness to truths in danger of being lost can be the basic unifying principle around which resistance can gather. And, this, incidentally, is also the only way of ensuring that there will be enough trained, organized and moralized people to fight the Caliphate, when it comes to that. Ultimately, these new centers will have to attract the younger, digital crowd to help construct new economic and security networks—the only way to do that, though, is to allow them to do their jobs in a way that the politicized incompetence of government-linked corporations doesn’t, and that’s more of a long term matter (there are probably quite a few libertarian hacker types, though, just to get things started).

The starting point, though, is constant questioning on the most basic topics whenever we are confronted with the Big Lies—elementary, even childish questioning, which might start to drive the Leftists mad like a buffalo under attack from a swarm of mosquitos. I suggested a few questions a few posts back: what is a man? What is a woman? What is marriage? Things which everyone knew without thinking not too long ago, but which raise storms of controversy now. We can add many more questions: what is “law”? What is “government”? What is a “right”? What is “equality”? “Democracy”? “Liberty”? What is a “judge”? In their ferocious deployment of these terms, the Leftists have forgotten that someone might ask, given all that seems to depend on these terms, what sorts of entities, exactly, we are to take them to be, and why? We would be returning to a kind of Socratic naivety (or irony, if that’s your reading of Plato). We might even start a “national conversation.”