Self-administered EMDR (YouTube), binaural beats for anxiety & depression, “cartesian vocal effect,” text.
Jesse Darling 2014
[performance lecture commissioned by Banner Repeater & delivered at Present Fictions, David Roberts Art Foundation, 29/3/14]
It’s true that I am full of words, which is partially attributable to an alleged condition of mine called Hyperlexia which is a corollary of autistic spectrum disorder most often found in women and gay men, if those are even appropriate taxonomies anymore. It’s a Rainman-like facility for ciphers, but in my case it’s words and not numbers. I remember the words and how they’re spelled, but I don’t know what they mean or how to say them aloud, so in general I make them mean whatever I like hashtag neoliberal hashtag whatever hashtag neologism ism ism ism isn’t.
I learned the right words late in life and I put them in my artillery belt and whipped em out from time to time and I vowed to fight my way to freedom with the others. Audre Lorde wrote that you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools, but in the absence of any other, one has no choice but to move through the master’s world. By “The master’s tools” I mean words like these ones, others, codes, philosophical devices, somatic signals, and audiovisual tropes that mobilize affect and set up a series of stimulus-responses in a process not unrelated to the trigger reaction in a traumatized subject. The master’s tools might also refer to: apple products, adobe products, nike and puma and adidas products, military drones, the health and vitality sector, neurolinguistic techniques of mobilizing sociality, ba & ma & phd certificates, prozac and Viagra, gps satellite technologies, academic queer theories and so on. I could out-theorize any one of you – bang! but it’s a bad habit, an avoidant habit, and I don’t want to encourage this abstraction as a point of principle. And yet, here I am.
We are all very very Cartesian, you see, because something happens to us moderns when we make it into the world and it knocks the mind out of the body never to return. This is the originary trauma, in my view, and in that sense we are all traumatized subjects. Could it even be said that the split Cartesian personality is a sort of schizophrenic schism? “It is our very own malady,” write Deleuze & Guattari, “modern man’s sickness. The end of history has no other meaning. In it the two meanings of process meet, as the movement of social production that goes to the very extremes of its deterritorialization, and as the movement of metaphysical production that carries desire along with it and reproduces in it a new earth. The desert grows … the sign is near.”
This, of course, like everything said by psychotics and priests, is completely irrefutable, although nobody really understands what it means. But there can be no doubt of the growing desert or the proximate sign. We seem to be nearing the end of history, and the world itself has become incoherent. The [fairly arbitrary] narratives of e.g. gender, time, space, futurity, etc have all shifted around into zones of relative indeterminacy; climate change and economic crisis have destabilized notions that are central to the philosophical project of being human. “Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder?” asks Roy Scranton, who reckons he ‘learned to die’ as a soldier in Iraq and cautions the readers of the NYT that it may be their time to do the same. “Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval theologians, and contemporary metaphysicians going to keep Bangladesh from being inundated by rising oceans? Of course not. But the biggest problems the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the root of humanistic and philosophical questioning: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live?
The notion of a future – as it was storied to us in our little bourgeois beds – is a post-war invention of the brave new hopeful. The future didn’t belong to the proletariat until modernity, and indeed there are millions around the world for whom the future has only ever been a fairytale, along with the shiny promises of capitalism. Nothing was taken from you; it never belonged to you. It never belonged to any of us.
It was the very barest fairytale to begin with, but its hold was strong - and losing one’s faith is traumatic. Nothing less than massive-scale military-industrial propaganda operations in the hope factories of neoliberalism and Hollywood could ever hope to replace it, and even with their wealth of resources you can see it’s getting harder to pretend. Anyway, most science is to some extent fictional and most fiction to some extent scientific, in the sense that all narratives are arbitrarily concluded waste processes that someone cooked up to help them survive, or to earn money, or to make somebody love them. We know all that, of course, but in order to continue living and working we need to form arbitrary narratives to make order of the heterogeneous timespace of endless now-until-further-notice, which is both a social-fiscal state of being (in terms of one’s current accommodation, occupation, financial situation, mental and physical health, etc) and a philosophical moment that accompanies the part-virtual reality of the encroaching, drowning, anthropocene as we watch our own deaths spooling out on HD.
The American Psychological Association published a recent report on the psychological processes associated with climate change, which include “sense making; causal and responsibility; appraisals of impacts, resources, and possible coping responses; affective responses; and motivational processes related to needs for security, stability, coherence, and control. These processes are influenced by media representations and formal and informal social discourse involving social construction, representation, amplification, and attenuation of climate change and its impacts. These processes reflect and motivate intrapsychic responses (e.g., denial, emotion management, problem solving) and individual and community behavioral responses.” Meanwhile, diagnoses of ADD and ASD – disorders of temporality and stimulus - are massively on the rise in a dual spike phenomenon unprecedented since the spatial malaises claustrophobia and agoraphobia became endemic in the brave new psychiatric urbanopolis of modernity. It’s my view that these kinds of disorders are what Nietzsche would have called “arrows of longing for the other shore” – futuristic teething problems of a world trying to figure itself out. “The etymology [of panic] derives from the Greek word pan, that means ‘everything existing’” writes Bifo Berardi, ruminating on the sorrowful soul of neoliberal postmodern labour: “The social context is a competitive society where all energies are mobilized in order to prevail on the other. The communicational context is that of an endless expansion of the Infosphere, which contains all the signals from which competition and survival depend. … The infinite vastness of the Infosphere is superior to the human capacities of elaboration, as much as a sublime nature overcomes the capacities of feeling that the Greeks could summon when faced with the god Pan.”
It’s a lot.
Bare life, or zoe, is roughly defined as the animal of us, the naked dumb hard-wired code that pushes us to survive. Bios, meanwhile, is what is known as qualified life, the life of the mind. It’s a Cartesian definition, really. Charcot and all the boys here are looking at a collapsed hysteric, who presumably had worn herself all out with the involuntary twitching and jerking and spasming, all the better to expose her naked life to the good doctors and theorists gathered there on that day. “The exchanges of looks that we see captured on the canvas are, in this respect, not only voyeuristic but also biopolitical, if by biopolitics we refer, following Michel Foucault, to political and social practices emerging during the nineteeth century that could be partially summarized as being focused on disciplining the living being, on optimizing its capabilities and exhorting its forces so as to integrate corporeal life into systems of efficient and economic controls.” (Pasi Valiaho)
In the state of exception in which we live, our bare lives are taken into political calculation: managed and administered with the strictest severity.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, of which the first edition was published in 1952, evolved from census and psychiatric hospital statistics, and from taxonomies featured in US Army manuals. Since the pathologization of any state of mind or being is a serious affair, the DSM has met with its share of critics. In the controversy surrounding the 1974 publication of the DSM-II, in which homosexuality was featured as a category of pathological disorder (amended in 1978 to ‘sexual orientation disorder’), gay rights activist Frank Kameny stormed the conference, grabbed a microphone, and started yelling PSYCHIATRY IS THE ENEMY INCARNATE! PSYCHIATRY HAS WAGED A RELENTLESS WAR OF EXTERMINATION AGAINST US! YOU MAY TAKE THIS AS A DECLARATION OF WAR AGAINST YOU.” Reviewing the DSM-V as a work of dystopian fiction in the mould of Borges, Sam Kriss writes: “At no point is there any sense that madness might be socially informed, that the forms it takes might be a reflection of the influences and pressures of the world that surrounds us. The idea emerges that every person’s illness is somehow their own fault, that it comes from nowhere but themselves: their genes, their addictions, and their inherent human insufficiency. A mad person is like a faulty machine.”
The modern prerogative to regard ourselves aspirationally as machines has led to the idea that the brain – that body without organs - can be rewired or re-encoded with neoliberal technologies such as neuro-linguistic programming, transcendental meditation, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Advances in neurological imaging mean that the ‘animal reflexes’ of the brain can now be gazed upon, which means controlled. We know this from Charcot and the lads, and the whole art-historical patriarchal colonial sovereign notion of who sees and judges, and who is beheld and beholden. The twitching, jerking, spasming neurological body constitutes a sort of bare life and is now – following Agamben again – “both subject and object of the conflicts of the political order.” The trigger mechanism, the psychotic delusion, the habits and repetitions of the obsessive-compulsive are animal processes, automated and authorized by our own rogue operating systems. The sci-fi singularity feared and revered by the automated generation is a fear of lost control, of processes haptic and entropic, of something evolving beyond one’s own design. In the event of danger, our brains quickly process available data and ascertain the possibilities of fight or flight. When we meet death, or assume we do, the amygdala shrinks back into itself like a scared scrotum and the whole shit shuts down, lil Bartleby, slushy matter snow crash: I shan’t, I can’t, I prefer not to. In a piece called Should We Be Triggered? Neurogovernance in the Future Tense, Kim Cunningham argues for an ontological reappraisal of PTSD, claiming, “Among its unexpected gifts, the trigger offers an affective, embodied critique of the normative uses of objects, and a critique of Euclidean notions of space and time as chronological. The trigger’s connective ontology also makes it a creative force for critiquing the social. … Thus, the trigger can be understood as productive of new, unimagined relations between disparate objects and processes that produce a temporary loss of bounded, linear time-space and an inherent critique of the affective normalcy associated with a particular object. And it is also to restore the subject a sense of place and time as discrete and linear, chronological.”
In the sense that the future is now, there is no future; in the sense that the past is still here, there is no past. “And yes, I know, I know:” admits Roxane Gay, “queer theory, no future, etc, the importance of rejecting futurity as privilege and violence of heteroproductivity, there are important things to reject. But how can I be made to give up the ever? The ever is for brujas, curanderas, albularyos, dwendes, faith healers and people healed by faith, possessed girls, writers, stupid kids, stupid kids who listen to writers, stupid kids who become writers, lovers. People who believe in love. Melodramatic people. “ Or otherwise: crazy people. Love is a kind of sanctioned psychosis we can all get behind: and, logically enough since love denotes that for which we will never get paid, post-secular capitalism and the Hollywood propaganda machine have reified love into some big libidinal mystery play. But I prefer to see it as a site of exemplary incoherence. That some incoherences are privileged above others is biopolitical in that it serves the failing world order: just as science-fictive narratives of the past, e.g., that the negro is cranially undeveloped and therefore born to subjugation or that women are weak-minded, have served to perpetuate the violence of slavery and oppression.
In an incoherent world, the DSM-V appears as a handbook of resistance; a science fiction that does what all good sci-fi should do in presenting an alternative reality to the one we’ve got. It’s a big book, the size of a brick; a few of those tied together and set alight would sure go nicely through one of the high windows of the master’s house. When you stop believing in fairytales, you also stop believing in pathologies, in the lie of logic, in the notion of objectivity, in the paradigm of gender, the dream of capitalism and the gaslighted lie that everything is fine. Mobilize your shame and dysphoria and anxiety and your spectral, speculative spectrum disorder and take up your place in the losermilitia. If you ain’t crazy, you just ain’t paying attention.