GABlog

April 9, 2019

The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis of Anarchist Ontology

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:26 am

As sacral kingship disintegrated, and the unity of the sacred and social centers was dismembered, the response in the late middle ages in the West was to retrieve the originary scene. Going back to the scene is the only response to any social crisis: if the existing institutions and the totality of gestures they organize no longer defer violence, what else could there be to do other than discover some new gesture; and what other means could we have other than finding some central object the deferral of the appropriation of which we can organize around? Sacral kingship in its high imperial forms (i.e., “divine kingship”) is in fact anti-scenic: the sacral king of a community small enough that they might still be able to simply kill and replace the king if his powers fail is still the center of a scene; with the monstrous empires of antiquity, where the king is completely protected and most people, we can assume, pay him tribute while relying more directly on their ancestral cults, there is no real social scene. In a sense, nothing happens for very long periods of time, other than court intrigues.

The Axial Age acquisitions, then, restart history by creating centers outside of the imperial one. The Axial Age acquisitions—Greek philosophy, prophetic Judaism and Christianity and even, I think (but probably less so), Chinese philosophy, are both anti-imperial and imperial. They construct a position from which the existing emperor falls short in God’s eyes, which is to say they institute a kind of permanent resentment towards empire; while at the same time imagine an eternal and universal empire under a true, divinely ordained king. Western “history” is, we could say, the history of the deserved fall of empires until the establishment of the one true empire at the end of days. Both Marxism and liberalism fit this apocalyptic pattern. So, from the failure of non-scenic imperialism, the recovery of scenicity takes the form of the imagining of “History” as a scene. This is why the anti-imperial side of the Axial Age ultimately wins out—the only acceptable God-Emperor would be God himself, who will rule once love of Him has been implanted in all human hearts by some revelation produced by the final, cataclysmic fall of increasingly evil empires.

We can see a comprehensive iteration of the originary scene here: our evil inclinations lead to us wanting, also fearing, but finally demanding and deserving the tyrant to end all tyrants; while the gesture on this scene that prevents our final descent is the Word of God becoming our words. How violent this final apocalypse must be, and how much it depends on human action rather than divine intervention will vary according to circumstances, but the structure is unvarying right down to the present day. We are still told, in the midst of declared crises of the liberal order, that the “voice of the people” finally sets things right. We still think there is a “voice of the people”—nothing can be more commonplace than to hear commentators says the “American people want (or don’t want)” this or that. What they mean to the extent that they are accurate, is that a sufficient majority could be patched together, by hook and crook, for a particular purpose. But imagine what it would sound like if politicians and pundits spoke in that way (as they often undoubtedly do amongst themselves)—there would be absolutely no reason to grant any decision they make the slightest legitimacy. Which means there is no other way of thinking about liberal legitimacy than according to what is still a Rousseauian notion of the “general will.”

And it is also true that unanimity regarding the originary structure of a social order is necessary if that society is not to completely degenerate into warring forces devoid of any limits on the weapons used and aims pursued in the struggle. So, it’s not surprising that liberalism recognizes this. Even leftists need to reference a unanimously held originary structure. Their anti-whiteness, for example, is not asserted as a matter of taste or mere tribal hostility—they must assert that there was in fact another, truer, America all along, with its own genealogies, its own sacred events and names, its own anticipated apocalypse. These are all versions of what I would call The Big Scene, and in the end there isn’t that much to choose from among them. The Big Scene is big in size and in consequences, but most importantly it is big in the sense of limitless because it is a scene constructed, not around a center, but in order to prevent the emergence of a center. A centered scene always has limits in space and time—participants must be in a circumference a certain distance from the scene to be witnesses, and if the number of participants grows beyond the size of this original circumference, it is people in the “rows” further back who acknowledge the precedence, in space or time, of those in the front rows, so this growth can be orderly.

A scene whose participants are devoted to the suppression of any center, though, is inherently unlimited. One can organize entire countries, or the majority and most active parts of them, around preventing the emergence of some proxy for a center. One can even organize regions around it; it’s too soon to say whether the world can be organized in this way. Such scenes are like lynchings—anyone can come along and throw another stone. They tend toward egalitarianism—everyone is against the same thing, and intensity is always increasing so no one can establish real preeminence in that regard. Elections are still about selecting a government, so they must put someone, some imperial figure, at the center—but the history of democracy is the history of the effacement and disfiguring of these central figures so that they represent nothing more than “who we are as a people” at this point. No doubt part of the hysterical hostility to President Trump is the overly imperial figure he strikes—he seems to actually make decisions, rather than just being the final filter through which the information circulating among elites and specialized institutions is processed. But all of the surrounding para-governmental institutions—the media, the NGOs, the universities, and so on—are completely uninterested in governing, and are free to engage in perpetual center smashing. They support politicians, of course, and more fervently than ever, but center-smashing politicians, more interested in gestures and less in coherent imperatives. And the politicians themselves eventually assimilate to this crowd. Governing of a sort continues, by the civil servants hired to do it, but they are themselves increasingly caught up in virtue signaling and helping to take down anyone who threatens to establish order.

It was liberalism that finally tilted the apocalyptic scene towards its permanently anti-imperial trajectory. And that’s when we get The Big Scene firmly installed as the imagined retrieval of the originary scene. It is a false scene, because it imagines a world without the Big Men—in this sense, liberalism and democracy are carnivalesque. But for this very reason it seems closer to the originary scene, which had no one at the center, just an object to tear to pieces. Anyone presuming to be a Bigger Man would violate the scene, but the same must be the case for any attempt to propose a general basis for agreement on anything whatsoever because that too must merely be an attempt to sneak someone into the driver’s seat. This is why resentments cannot be remedied in this way: only resentments that are framed in terms of some discord between the social center and the sacred or paradoxical center can be addressed. But only a shared concord between both modes of centrality makes discordance a problem—if all social centers, all central authorities, are equally illegitimate because equally evanescent and arbitrary, resentments can only feed on each other.

The discourse of The Big Scene is deeply rooted in our cultural and political vocabularies. If you listen carefully, across the entire political spectrum, you will see that virtually no one criticizes anything or anyone on any other basis than the violation of one norm of equality against another. All we see is people leveraging one residue of liberalism against another. It’s all people elbowing each out of the front row in the march of The Big Scene. For example, people can acknowledge that there are relations between nations that are best described as “imperial” or “hegemonic,” but such words are only used as terms of opprobrium, and the states accused of creating such relations will insist on euphemisms disavowing them. Imagine somebody criticizing the Saudis and Israelis for not superintending the Middle East effectively enough, or China for not establishing clear rules of inter-state interaction for East Asia, or the US for not thinking seriously about the best mixture of traditional and modern social forms to promote throughout Latin America. For that matter, think about how the sting of populist nationalism would be removed, and the basic ends of such nationalisms brought closer to achievement, if we could simply acknowledge, one, that many, maybe most, societies will be ethnically mixed; and, two, that in ethnically mixed societies there will almost always be a dominant, majority ethnic group that should set the tone for, be deferred to by, and in turn offer patronage to, minority groups. All of these approaches would imply “little scenes” with a center, and therefore must be overrun by The Big Scene apocalypse.

Restoring the originary structure of the social order only secondarily involves getting into arguments over the officially recognized founding events: the “real meaning” of the American or French revolution, of “1688” or the Magna Carta. “Arguments” are part of the problem. The originary structure will be restored through the constitution of disciplinary scenes carved out of the many anomalies of The Big Scene. Every scene must be revealed as originary, as having a central object, even if unidentified or even unsought; every scene institutionalizes itself, even if minimally. The semiotic materials of the scene should be used to name every emergent practice on the scene. The practices on the scene at least then become objects of the scene, and the origins of those practices point to other objects to be placed at the center. Relapses into argumentative clichés can be named, as can the pedagogical moves used to circumvent them. This kind of practice in itself looks back toward other originary scenes, as it finds its precedents in them, in part by looking for models to extend its own scene. The more such practices inform and lead others to institute related practices, the more the commonly recognized founding events can be introduced, probably in a revised manner, into the discourse.

By the way, did you understand the title of this post? (Before you started reading? While you were reading? At this point?) “Anarchist ontology” might be a fairly familiar phrase, going back the Reactionary Futureblog. We’ve been contrasting it with “absolutist ontology” for a while. That one might propose that an ontology has an “anthropological basis” might not be very surprising for people familiar with GA. “The Big Scene” is a phrase new to this post, but, of course, in GA we are always speaking of scenes, the scenic, and scenicity. Perhaps the originary scene was a small scene, so this one is distinguished from it, perhaps pejoratively—that it’s the basis of anarchist ontology, which is generally distinguished unfavorably from absolutist ontology, would reinforce this impression. But if you’re unfamiliar with all of this, the title would look like sheer gibberish. It would be “unclear.” Now, that someone would say the title is gibberish and unclear, rather than saying that there are signs here of an unfamiliar disciplinary space is another way of being on The Big Scene. The norm of “classic prose” is that your writing should place all readers on the same scene along with each other and the writer. A text which some will understand but others won’t is inherently suspect. Imagining yourself on The Big Scene is the equivalent of what Marxism called “ideology.” The kinds of incommensurabilities between languages identified by Anna Wierzbicka are “retouched” through supplementations like “progress” and “cultural development” rather than seen for the originary constructs they are. There is nothing outside of the attention articulated in disciplinary spaces as they study the always distinctive and present imperatives from the center. Building distinctive spaces to study what is distinct even in those spaces under the spell of The Big Scene and being able to answer charges of merely having a little scene by ratcheting up the distinctions all around is the way you resist The Big Scene.

1 Comment »

  1. […] The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis for Anarchist Ontology, on GA Blog. […]

    Pingback by Cantandum in Ezkhaton 04/14/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores — April 14, 2019 @ 10:23 am

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