GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 19, 2020

Transposing the Scene

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:08 pm

I’ll be coming back here to issues addressed in a post from April 9, 2019, “The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis of Anarchist Ontology,” and which I can now place in the context of the conversion of the ritual/mythical nexus into practices. The starting observation is a simple one: it is extremely difficult to speak about politics, history or social order without modeling these constructs on a scene upon which all are present. It is necessary to make a real effort not to talk about social groups (“whites” and “blacks,” “men” and “women,” “racists,” “transgendered,” “liberals,” “conservatives,” etc.) as if they were unified individuals with a single intention. It takes an even greater effort to resist speaking of individuals this way, even if doing so is equally delusional or, more precisely, “mythical.” The difficulty here is clarified by what Francis Noel-Thomas and Mark Turner call the “classic style,” which David Olson considers central to the emergence of “prose” (and therefore literacy) and which generates the illusion that the writer and reader share the same scene (this is what is taken to be “clear writing”). If we think that there is some “we” that shares the same scene, what we really believe is that we have a shared center, and that finding the right sacrificial object and the distribution of that object will resolve any conflicts.

It would be impossible to overstate how prevalent and destructive this mythical mode of thinking is. Anyone who says “we” without specifying the practice that constitutes the “we” participates in it. But no one can be blamed for it—it is a deeply laid intellectual and cultural inheritance. That we no longer share a sacrificial center, where distribution takes place directly and intentionally; that the social center is now permanently occupied by someone who cannot be sacrificed—after all these centuries this has still not registered. All of our social and political concepts—justice, liberty, equality, nature, democracy, right, and so on—share the same “big scenic” imaginary, as if we were all imagining ourselves standing around a shared central object. The occupied center is still taken as a kind of accident, acceptable only insofar as we can reduce the occupant to the implementation of one of these concepts. The concept of the free market, contrary to appearances, represents the same kind of primitivism, as if we were all at the same meal exchanging parts of the sacred body with each other: “wealth” and “GDP” are imagined as the beast at the center, even if the beast continues to grow. All of the “social” disciplines are engaged in the impossible task of transposing the scenic imaginary of a shared sacrificial scene onto the realities of a social order with a permanently occupied and sacrificial-repellent center. Our strongest moral inheritances are no less attempts to bypass this “imperial” reality and imagine a direct relation with other individuals with God as an ever more distant center. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was once a moral revolution—in what percentage of actual interactions that anyone today engages in does that statement provide even the slightest guidance? It only makes sense insofar as we can imagine directly dividing something up with our “neighbor”—rather than engaging with our neighbors only through very complex transactions presided over by the center. All the mystifications of our thinking, all of what Marxism tried to understand as “ideology,” or deconstruction as “logocentrism,” comes down to this. The same is true of what Bachelard called “atomism,” the “prejudice” in favor of seeing reality as composed of indivisible individual units, even if we keep dividing them further. We think of social being as divisible “substance” rather than articulated practices which have their end in more perfected practices because we have not yet developed modes of practice and inquiry that would identify and resolve once and for all the anomalies of transposed Big Scenic Thinking. But that, then, is exactly what the form of originary thinking I’m calling “anthropomorphics” is for.

Still, those moral inheritances pointed the way forward—not in their moral “principles” or theology but in new, disciplinary forms of organization they created. What is important about early Christianity, Talmudic Judaism and Greek philosophy is that they were communities dedicated to working out the implications of a particular revelation or mode of inquiry. It is in such disciplinary spaces that the originary scene can be retrieved, not in fulsome assertions of togetherness or universality. What matters is constructing practices that work out targeted cause and effect relations; or that iterate memorable events in controlled ways so as to make them transformative of other practices; or that modify or assess or create the conditions for other practices; or that confront mythical thinking with its sacrificial imaginary. Practices that, like the originary event, create forms of humanization, even if that now means relativizing the human in relation to the organic and technological non-human. All of these practices can proceed without or with occasional reference to the occupied center precisely to the extent that they operate under its assured security—they are all simply working out the implications of a secured center that need not be subordinated to one arbitrary principle or another, and thereby simply gives direction drawn from the strongest work in the most advanced disciplines. Everything comes from the center, and all is given back to the center, in accord with the imperative to create spaces of humanization. A little thought experiment that enables us to distinguish between when something has been learned, and when it has not been learned, is a greater tribute to the center than all the bleating about equality, love of humanity, etc.

One especially ruinous consequence of the attempt to transpose the parameters of the originary scene onto the occupied center society of scenes is the reduction of human desires to the lowest common denominator under liberalism. Politically, the wager of liberal democracies has been that the frustrations of being abstracted from communal relations into meaningless work and frivolous, often degenerate leisure and the hatreds generated by constantly playing groups off against each other could be kept below the threshold of destabilizing resistance or disintegration by ensuring each individual had enough possessions to fear losing them. At every point, responsibility, obligation and reciprocity are replaced by fear, humiliation and demoralization. Here as well disciplinary spaces of intergenerational pedagogy, invention and inquiry counter these tendencies, but then these kinds of spaces get targeted as well. But the reason this all seemed plausible is the assumption that an equalizing distribution modeled on the originary scene could be abstracted from the devotion to the center that is just as essential a component of the scene—as if humans are just animals capable of dividing portions in a peaceful way. But everyone needs to donate the center, even those who have so crippled themselves as to believe themselves capable of satisfaction with a growing piece of the pie. I have been wondering why the billionaires support the craziest left-wing groups—I know all the economic and political reasons regarding creating consumers, controlling workers, taking out competitors through regulation, high-low vs. the middle, etc. It’s all true, but it doesn’t seem to me enough—it reduces them to the same measure, in the same demeaning way, as the working class man assumed to be satisfied with a TV, house and car. They need to believe they are worthy of their wealth, which is actually a very worthy sentiment, and no doubt many of them support worthwhile enterprises (or at least sincerely try to) aside from their political giving—they simply can’t imagine any way of improving society other than giving a bigger piece of the pie to those with the least, because they have no way of imagining society other than on a scene with a shared center rather than a layered order with an occupied and directive center.

The moral imperative issued on the originary scene is to iterate the originary scene, and this is not done by imagining oneself in all kinds of friendly and cooperative relations with fictional collective constructs but by creating a present. And creating a present can be turned into a practice. Take any discussion—it will be filled with references to the past and future, along with the present. References to the past are inherently mythical: they represent narratives of attempted occupation of the center that serve as precedents of the imperatives from the center we see ourselves as following now. The same with references to the future: they are either projections of successful adherence to today’s central imperative as followed by the author of the narrative, or jeremiads warning of disaster for not following those imperatives cut to the size of the author. Convert all such mythical references to the present, and you impose a very enabling constraint upon your thinking.

What would otherwise have been constructed as a mythical narrative of the past must now be reconstructed as traces of the past in the present, identified as such through practices designed to recognize such traces. In this case there is an explicit acknowledgement of constructing a particular observational system designed to record some things and not others. A narrative of American slavery continued up through segregation and into the present can be aimed at positioning all of us on a single scene upon which some of us are where we are because of slavery and others are where they are for other reasons, and we must find some way to rearrange ourselves on that scene. If one is compelled to identify traces of slavery in contemporary institutions and practices, we get a very different distribution. Of course a practice and discipline created to find such traces will be able to do so, and it may be that the current practices of the anti-white cult have identified quite a few. But, of course, you find them because you’re looking for them, and have deliberately constructed practices to bring such things into view. In distributing these traces across the present, though, you necessarily open the field, in a way a linear narrative does not, to other practice designed to reveal other historical traces—and such practices will also uncover many traces that don’t fit the initial frame. And nothing obviously follows from identifying such traces: whether remedying the effects of past actions whose traces we find in the present is a meaningful project is itself to be determined by another practice.

Refusing to mythify the future, meanwhile, enables us to avoid fantasizing in the present. This doesn’t mean we don’t deliberately produce the future—it means that we construct practices whereby we find elements of possible futures in present practices. (I can use “we” here because I’m referring to practices that could produce such “wes”.) Practices are self-contained, while opening up onto other practice—indeed, they are self-contained by opening up onto other practices, which means converting other practices or elements of them into pieces of its own practice. A practice addresses problems generated from past practices—open questions, anomalies, hypotheses we haven’t yet found a way to test, etc. These new problems suggest new practices which haven’t yet been constructed, and it is out of these possible practices that the future will be produced. In other words, instead of “visions” of the future, look to everything tacitly spreading out from the “edges” of your current practices as signs of practices that could prepare the way for other practices, and could in turn prepare… Eliciting the tacit is itself a(n aesthetic) practice, which will in turn produce more of the tacit to elicit. Even to talk of the “goal” or “purpose” of a practice is to mythify, to imagine a whole scene in which we are all present in front of the center—what a practice produces is itself simply part of the practice, part of its continuation and revision, not some external objective reducing the practice to a means.

Converting past and future narratives into present practices involves extending practices “horizontally” across the various social scenes. Finding traces of slavery will lead you to find other historical traces and, in fact, constructing practices to identify other traces (and more differentiated forms of the traces you started looking for—why should “slavery” necessarily indicate a single, unified event producing homogeneous traces?) is an act of deferral that kicks in when mythical narratives that can’t be operationalized in a practice start to congeal. Similarly, identifying some elements of possible practices will “slide” over into identifying other elements, ones you can now identify because of the “apparatus” constructed in the course of previous practices so that you get more articulated practices of, say, pedagogy, showing others how to condition themselves to notice ever more minute elements of possible practices. All practices tend towards lowering the threshold of significance. It is precisely and only through this horizontalizing construction of the present that the vertical is accessed and comes through loud in the increasingly clear imperative to build more practices like this, like this distilled essence of the originary scene.

Constructing practices of presenting is the only way to break the addiction to the Big Scene, for which the blue pill of The Matrixis really a very good analogy. Redpilling involves the ongoing, patient work of distinguishing the Big Discipline from the Big Scene. The concepts generated by the metalanguage of literacy addressed at some length in Anthropomorphicsare essential to sustaining the Big Scene: the justice vs. tyranny opposition, for example, opposes a divinely sanctioned division of the center to its usurpation—as long as you think in such terms, you must imagine yourself on a Big Scene with other “citizens.” The same is true of all the concepts required to support the “internal scene of representation,” to refer to our recent Zoom discussion. The “internal scene” is really our “inalienable” piece of the Big Scene. But we can always initiate an inquiry with those terms. Is the tyrant always tyrannizing and doing nothing else besides? If so, “tyrannizing” becomes incredibly complex, and we’ll have to start making distinctions within the concept; if not, well, what else does he do aside from, alongside of, perhaps even as part of, his daily tyrannizing? Inventing practices that reveal such distinctions constitutes the disciplinary infiltration of the Big Scene. The same with the “internal scene”—where is the boundary between the inner and the outer here? Will we not find much of what is most interior to be, in fact, traceable to all kinds of external scenes? This is a kind of deconstruction, but, rather than discovering that positing centrality involves constructing a margin to play the center off against, we discover that constructing margins (the rebellious anti-tyrant, resisting from his inner scene) in fact reveals the center.

I’ll repeat the moral-political difference that follows here. Rather than, as we imagine ourselves doing on the Big Scene, expelling the tyrant (and his supporters and instruments) in the name of the exemplary (scapegoated) victim, we instead refrain from scapegoating (we learn to detect signs of accelerating convergent attention) because scapegoating is always an attempt to disorder the center by prepping us to look for indications of a hidden usurper behind it. Maybe there’s an attempted usurpation in process; maybe not—either way, it is increased coherence of the center and the matching of responsibility with power within practices at all levels that will always already disable any usurpation.

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