Returning to Horseshoe Theory

A couple of weeks ago, I made a Facebook post complaining about someone using horseshoe theory in an argument regarding fascism. For those who aren’t familiar with the theory. Horseshoe theory believes that the political spectrum looks like a horseshoe with the “far right” and the “far left” actually being quite close together.

File:Political spectrum horseshoe model.svg - Wikimedia Commons

A diagram of horseshoe theory.

Ultimately, it is a theory used by centrists to attempt to persuade others (and themselves) that centrism is a superior political theory to politics both on the left and the right. Proponents of the theory will often turn to the authoritarian regimes of fascist Germany and communist USSR to suggest that, at their ridges, communism and fascism are essentially the same. Yet, this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of communism and fascism, those two historical examples, and the political left and right. Fascism retains ultranationalism, xenophobia, patriarchy, protectionist trade, strict hierarchical enforcement (i.e. race and class hierarchies), and a mixed/privatized economy. This was the case in fascist Germany where Hitler promised the bourgeois that he would outlaw labour unions in his rise to power.

“Hitler kept his promise to capital. After being declared Chancellor in January 1933 he outlawed both workers’ parties and the trade unions within a few months. Thousands of Social Democrats, Communists and trade unionists were arrested and murdered.”(Source)

Nazi Germany did not attempt to socialize the economy as proponents of horseshoe theory might have you believe. They were proponents of privatized industry – something far away from the socialist approaches in the USSR. Even though I don’t believe that the USSR represents an actual example of communism (particularly with and after Stalin it functioned as state capitalism), it didn’t hold ultranationalism, xenophobia, patriarchy, protectionist trade, strict hierarchical enforcement and a mixed/privatized economy as central tenants of its ideology (though it may have practiced some of those things). The only real similarity between the two regimes was that they were authoritarian. Proponents of Horseshoe theory might use this to suggest that authoritarianism is intrinsic to both the far right and the far left in an attempt to prop up their theory, but this is absurd. It reveals a complete ignorance of multiple political ideologies on both the right and the left: most notably anarchist or autonomous ideologies on the far left which completely shun any institutional political authority.

Thinking about the horseshoe theory, I’ve come to think that this discussion comes about because of a larger error which is taking place. I’ve come to see the idea of a “political spectrum” in general as one that is, itself, problematic. The political spectrum is not a fixed entity, and political theory or ideology do not need to condition themselves to fit into its structure. Horseshoe theory attempts to fit all of the political into a neat little classical liberal box which believes that all political ideology flows out of liberal/conservative dichotomy. Horseshoe theory reduces all of political ideology to notions of liberty (both social and economic, to varying degrees), but political ideologies tend to not fit into these structures. Both “leftist” and “rightist” politics should not be forced into the categories of “more liberty” or “less liberty”, but rather should be understood under the nuanced positions of each theory or ideology.

Attempts to map the political spectrum can get pretty messy…

Political ideologies do not need to neatly fit within a spectrum of the political for the spectrum itself is no more than a mere taxonomy, a device for organizing knowledge of various ideologies. To suggest that it is otherwise – thus granting the political spectrum ontological priority over political ideologies – would be to render the political spectrum a transcendental property. This is absurd. There is a multiplicity of political ideologies that are disparate from one another in a multiplicity of ways. These cannot be nicely mapped onto a structure that attempts to rule them. The ideologies exist prior to the structure, and the structure simply seeks to understand them.

Is this not true of most taxonomic classification? That they are useful as organizing devices, but fall flat on their faces when taken as universals?

Musings on Advent Traditions

Christmas Simpsons -- Christmas

I tend to think that what a person (or anything really) does is a better indication of who that person is than what one believes. The actions that a person – or an object, or an animal –engages in are more evident of their character than what they might believe. For instance, a person might profess to hate a type of candy, but if they continuously go back to the bowl for more candy it might show that they really desire it.

Furthermore, while it is often posited that beliefs shape action, I’m of the opinion that this relationship is more cyclical. Our actions are just as likely to shape our beliefs as our beliefs are to shape our actions. For example, reading can lead to a desire for reading, which might shape ones believe to think that reading is good. My belief in this is partially because I assume a voluntarist understanding of action. Voluntarism prioritizes the will over the intellect in terms of decision making. Actions do not develop through conscious belief, but through the power of the will. Voluntarism, on a theological level, can be traced back to Duns Scotus (a medieval theologian of univocity), and in philosophy, flows through the disparate philosophical tradition of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud.

Because of this, I believe that the habits that one engages in are fundamental in shaping how one behaves and lives. Habits are actions that become ingrained into one to the degree that they become second nature. The traditions that we partake in have the ability to become habitual. The ways that one might worship in church, for instance, have the ability to become a part of a person on a level deeper than intellectual belief. The liturgical elements have the potential to become a part of a person, resulting in unconscious action. Thus, when engaging in the liturgy, the actions can take place without conscious effort; the actions simply happen.

Using this as a background, I find myself in an interesting stage of my life. It is the first year that my partner and I are truly “on our own” after getting married this summer. Both of us have come from families and communities where the season of Advent is filled with tradition and habit. Thus, this season presents us with the opportunity to begin to shape and form our own traditions and habits relating to the season. This is a daunting task. While our traditions and habits will shift and shape over the years due to numerous factors, it is both exhilarating and terrifying that the habits and traditions that we begin today have the potential to shape not only what we do in the future, but who we are as people and a couple. The traditions and habits that we begin this advent season have the potential to play a huge role in our future.

So far, many of our traditions have been borrowed from our familial traditions. This seems like a likely avenue for adopting tradition. The habits from our past have already been ingrained into us, so we continue to follow those traditions which are already unconscious in our being. I think that it would be interesting to go and analyze the traditions which we have adopted, and which are neglected. Why do some traditions become ingrained into us, while others fall to the wayside? These will be questions that my partner and I will grapple with when trying to form habits around our own traditions both this year, and in the future. How can we develop habits and traditions that allow us to become the people we wish to become?

Why did the Christians desire Trump?

Just a note before I begin. I thought that I would just mention that this piece is pretty rough. I wrote it to work through my thoughts on the most recent election. It is by no means polished, but I wanted to post it as my blog post this week. My opinion is just one of many think pieces and responses, and it doesn’t really bring forward any opinion or insight but my own struggle to grapple with the results of the recent election. Please feel free to offer feedback or advice on this as I continue to struggle with the political and theological. Because this is more of a personal reflection I haven’t cited strongly. If desired I can look to find citations for facts and evidence that I’ve presented offhand. The purpose of this is not a rigorous investigation into the theories I’ve provided, but a personal grappling which may someday turn into such a rigorous investigation.

Image result for God bless America

Introduction

On the evening of November 8th I felt anxiety and shock. This wasn’t necessarily anxiety for myself (Despite being an immigrant to the United States, I was thrown into this world with a whole heap of privilege), but rather, an anxiety for all of those who don’t have the privilege of being a white, straight, cisgender, male identifying person. My anxiety goes out for the people of the future, and the horror of the world that they might be able to live with. My anxiety goes out to our non-human friends, and to the earth. Who knows what the current administration might hold for these groups?

In the wake of this anxiety, I’ve been trying to make sense of why people voted for Trump – especially the estimated 80% of white evangelical voters who voted for him. I do recognize that a good number of Christians likely voted for Trump in order to gain a conservative Supreme Court. I get that, but at the same time I still find it horrifying that so many Christians took to the voting booths and voted for a xenophobic bigot. Christianity, as I understand it, holds to the central tenants that we must love one another unconditionally, that we must help the oppressed, and serve those who persecute us. Xenophobic nationalism does the exact opposite of these things. Those evangelicals who voted for Trump did not vote in favour of the oppressed or the persecuted – they voted for the oppressor and the persecutor. This is what I’ve been struggling with.

What I’ve been trying to situate is this: why did the Christians desire Trump? What caused evangelical Christians – en mass – to go out and vote for a candidate and party that seems paradoxical to the teaching of Christianity? This post will show my rough conclusions on the topic. I begin by looking at the death of God in the 19th and 20th century to show the need to develop and create new gods. From there I explore the transformation of Christianity into the American religion, a chimera of Christianity and capitalism. Under this framework, I examine the principal claim of the Trump campaign: “Make America Great Again” by suggesting that this assertion is synonymously a call to “Make God Great Again”, “Make Capitalism Great Again” and “Make Whiteness Great Again.”

This post seems especially pertinent given recent events which include increases in violent attacks  against minority groups in the United States and the release of a horrifying video showing “alt-right” Nazi propaganda with a focus on white power. This latter group has ties to Breitbart media and Stephen Bannon who is a “alt-right” proponent (read: Nazi) and was recently announced as President elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist and Senior Counselor.

The Death of God

“‘Whither is God’ He cried, ‘I will tell you. We have killed him – you an I’”

Nietzsche’s cry of the death of God is often misunderstood by people who don’t read Nietzsche. People like to throw out (or criticize) the claim that “God is dead” without actually unpacking what that means. The Death of God is the loss of ground. This loss of ground might be the loss of empirical ground, moral ground, immunological ground, etc. For instance, Peter Sloterdijk writes that, throughout Christendom, God functioned as an sphere or ground that provided immunological protection against the external or outside. Developments in modernity led to the shattering of this sphere. With the ability and desire to transverse the globe through scientific and technological advancement, humans no longer needed God to account for many of the mysteries of the world. Enlightenment thought’s emphasis on rationalism and science provided explanation for the mysterious. God was no longer necessary to provide a grounding principle for experienced phenomena.  With an increase in global travel, the outside was no longer as terrifying making the protection that God provided meaningless.

In Nietzsche’s writing, God’s death is the demise of a moral grounding. Unlike the empirical and rational spheres, the moral retains an element of mystery. Questions of morality cannot be answered through empirical or rational means in the same way that questions relating subjects like biology or physics can. Nietzsche is writing during the 19th century when the church is still a central agency within the European public sphere. Yet, Nietzsche sees that the actions of those around him are not grounded in a morality based on Christian principles. Nietzsche fears that the God whom the people profess has, in essence, died, because no one is following Her. What Nietzsche fears in the Gay Science is a loss of the moral ground and a fall into nihilism – a groundlessness. The Gay Science the madman cries out in vain over the loss of God. It would be a mistake to call Nietzsche a proponent of nihilism: Nietzsche initially mourns the loss of the moral grounding, fearing that the people are governed by nothing (Nietzsche comes to affirm the groundlessness, but that is for another post).

The American Religion

“What, after all, are these churches now if they are not the tombs an sepulchres of God?”

What, then, comes after the death of God? One way of responding to the death of God is to replace God with another God or gods. This requires retaining the religious qualities of the Christian deity, while attributing those characteristics to Her replacement. In leftist and neoliberal circles, N/nature has taken on the attributes of the divine. Jeremy Butman states that “as the Christian God retreated after Descartes, the attributes traditionally ascribed to Him — goodness, perfection and permanence — were in different ways transposed onto the body of nature.” Christianity’s notion of the divine provides a foundation or ground for the contemporary liberal movement of environmental sustainability. God, as traditionally understood, is ignored or considered insignificant, while the attributes of God are retained.

Conservative circles did not, in the same way, retreat from Christianity. God, the church, and the religious fervour remained accepted truths within these groups. For many, the belief in God still remains a central precept to one’s life. This is especially the case in America, where Christianity is still upheld as a stronghold. Yet, even from the earliest conceptions of America, we see that ‘God’ is not identical to the God of Christianity. The classic quote of Benjamin Franklin that “God helps those who help themselves” shows the merging of the American mythos with that of the Christian mythos. Within America, particularly in protestant America, the role of capitalism and Christianity begin to merge.  Weber’s protestant work ethic communicates a blending of capitalist and protestant forces. The difference between capitalism and Christianity become opaque. Many would attribute the prosperity of America’s free market on the centrality of Christianity within the nation. Within this mythology, American exceptionalism bled into American Christianity.

Walter Benjamin writes that capitalism adopts religious structure and tendencies to become, itself, a religion. In America it becomes difficult to toe the line between the  religion of capitalism and the religion of Christianity. Together these forces would become what I’ll term “the American religion.” The Bible suggests that one cannot serve two master, one cannot serve both God and money. In order to solve this problem – so that  this religion could retain both the God of capital and the God of Christianity – it was necessary for the American religion to merge the two deities. As Benjamin writes in Capitalism as Religion “God’s transcendence has fallen, but he is not dead. He is drawn into the fate of man” (p 260). God doesn’t die for the American religion. God is retained within capitalism. Benjamin writes at length on the merging of capitalism and Christianity into the American religion:

“Capitalism is a purely cultic religion, without dogma. Capitalism itself developed parasitically on Christianity in the West–not in Calvinism alone, but also, as must be shown, in the remaining orthodox Christian movements – in such a way that, in the end, its history is essentially the history of its parasites of capitalism. Compare the holy iconography of various religions on the one hand with the banknotes of various countries on the other: The spirit that speaks from the ornamentation of banknotes….Christianity in the time of the Reformation did not encourage the emergence of capitalism, but rather changed itself into capitalism. Methodologically [it] would be [productive] to first examine what associations money has adopted with myth in the course of history – until it could draw from Christainity enough mythical elements in order to constitute its own myth.” (p. 263-264)

The American religious myth might be the most strong example of Benjamin’s claims. A country where Christianity and capitalism merge into the central mythology and religion in order to become the true American religion.

Making America Great Again

What does it mean to “Make America great again”? At the time of Trump’s campaign the economy was doing decently, unemployment was quite low, and America, by generally used metrics, was doing pretty well. What is failing – in the eyes of some, at least – is the great American religion. Despite unemployment being low, wages for many white workers have stagnated since the 1970s while the cost of living has continued to rise. This is a major issue, and one that both the left and right should be critical of. Elsewhere, many see the atheism of academics and elites as a certain godlessness that goes against not only Christianity but America. “Progressive values” of free choice abortion and same sex marriage are seen as direct attacks on Christianity, but this is a Christianity imbued with social and class antagonism which see the move towards egalitarian institutions as a direct attack on the American religion. This Christianity is spearheaded by the patriarchy and social antagonisms of capitalism. The American religion places an emphasis on individualism (c.f. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps). Thus, when proponents of the American religion see themselves falling, they see their religion under seige. A need was created to “Make America great again” which functioned as a rallying call to “Make the American religion great again” while simultaneously working towards “Making Christianity/Capitalism/Us (White, evangelicals) great again”.

The use of “again” signals the fact that this call is inherently reactionary. The American religion must have been great at some point for it to be returned to. Given the rhetoric of the Trump campaign it doesn’t seem far fetched that this (imaginary) past existed some time when there was stricter separation between the races, a time when White communities were allowed to deny access to Black people; the time of Jim Crow. This is emphasized in the campaign rhetoric surrounding Islamic refugees and Mexican immigrants. American greatness can only be realized through the eradication of the Other. A return to greatness is conditional on building a wall on the Mexican border and insinuating the dismissal of Islamic refugees from the country. Xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric is necessarily tied to the promotion of the great American religion. Keeping people who aren’t white out of America functions as the innermost ethic of making America great. (This isn’t even to mention the promotion of ‘stop and frisk’ as a means of controlling the Black community.) In order to make America great,  America must first be cleansed of all its undesirables – it must be cleansed of those who aren’t white so that it can be made great for those who are.

Desiring Greatness

“No, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism”

Much like the crowd who desired Barabbas, and the masses who desired Hitler, evangelical Christians desired and elected Trump. This was caused, at least in part, through the polymerization of Christianity, capitalism, whiteness and patriotism under the guise of the American religion. The Christians desired greatness. They desired the return to the greatness of the American religion. What American evangelicals believed was that their God – their great religion – was under threat (whether this religion was ever great, and whether it ever ceased to be great is another conversation). In the minds of many individuals this great religion needed to be saved.

Will Trump be able to make their religion great again? We cannot let that happen. Because making the American religion great requires the elimination of the Other. It means oppression for many who are seen as minor within the American landscape. We see this already in the propaganda of right wing Nazi groups in the United States – groups that are no longer afraid of professing white supremacy – and we see it in the attacks on individuals who do not fit the privileged norm. This is not something that I, nor any person who professes that love should conquer hate, should hope for. We must fight against the desire for hate with an affirmation of love, affirming differences rather than attempting to homogenize them. The God of America may have won the election, but we cannot allow it to win the day.

 

Citations and Mentions

Benjamin, W. (2005). Capitalism as Religion. In E. Mendieta (Ed.), C. Kautzer (Trans.), The Frankfurt School on Religion: Key Writings by the Major Thinkers (pp. 259–262). New York ; London: Routledge.

Butman, J. (2016, August 8). Against “Sustainability.” The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/opinion/against-sustainability.html

Gilles, D., & Guattari, F. (1994). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University Of Minnesota Press.

Nietzsche, F. (1974). The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. (W. Kaufmann, Trans.) (1 edition). New York: Vintage. Thesis 125.

Sloterdijk, P. (2014). Globes: Spheres Volume II: Macrospherology. (W. Hoban, Trans.). Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext.

On Affect: Doctor Strange and A Man Escaped

Note: This post contains spoilers for both Doctor Strange and A Man Escaped.

Last week, I wrote a post which examined how the concept of affect, as given in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, pertains to art. Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the purpose of art is to create sensations and build monuments which perpetuate a struggle. Today, I want to compare and contrast two films – A Man Escaped (1956) and Doctor Strange (2016) – by writing about my experience of watching these films. In this way I hope to try and explore the ways that these films might have affected my body. I understand that this exercise is, from the beginning, doomed to failure. Affect is pre-subjective, so attempting to look at the results of affect through subjective experience. Thus, this would be an ill-fated project from the start. With that acknowledged, I’d like to begin on this project, exploring where it might bring us.

These two films have nothing to do with one another. Doctor Strange was released this year, with a budget of approximately $165 million, is a superhero film starring Hollywood regulars Bennedict Cumberbatch as the titular character, Tilda Swinton as his mentor “The Ancient One” and Mads Mikkelson (who is undoubtedly never going to match up to his role as Hannibal) as his foe Kaecilius. In the film, Doctor Strange – a pretentious neurosurgeon turned time and material bending sorcerer – who must tap into his mythical abilities in order to save the world. It was released, to much fanfare, in IMAX and 3D. The film features state of the art surrealistic computer generated effects which allow it to create mythical and futuristic realities full of mind blowing images of radiant and bright colours. A Man Escaped, on the other had, is a 1956 war drama starring François Leterrier as the main character Le Lietenant Fontaine, a french soldier in a Nazi war camp after being captured for blowing up a bridge. It was filmed in black and white, and the majority of the film takes place on two or three sets: Fontaine’s room, the stairwell and hallway outside of his room, and the place where the prisoners wash themselves. The film centres around Fontaine’s planning and attempt to break out of prison.

Doctor Strange Costumes On Display At Marvel’s Comic-Con Stage

Doctor Strange is a film full of movements and speeds. The opening sequence is a prime example of this. This scene, which ranks among the films finest, features tightly choreographed combat combined with the mystical and surrealistic bending of reality. In this scene the Ancient One and Kaecillus fight over an object stolen from the Ancient One’s library. The fusion of elements lead to the characters battling on the streets of a city, while bending the rules of reality. It leads to a spectacular scene, full of stunning imagery. The whole thing is aided on by a pretty stereotypical blockbuster hollywood soundtrack, featuring epic music and combat sound.

Another scene of spectacular nature occurs when Strange first arrives in Nepal. After a car accident leaves his hands incapable of performing surgery, Strange spends all of his money attempting to fix his hands. Desperate and without much hope, Strange spends his last dollars travelling to Nepal to seek healing. When he arrives, the ancient one shows him the power of her magic, hurdling Strange through a visual tour de force of other dimensions and worlds of a multiplicity of colour and hallucinatory-esque design.Doctor Strange featured spectacular elements, effects, and sounds. In addition to the visuals the film contains witty dialogue, plot, and an exceptional soundtrack. The film blasts the audience through its story, until we reach the end, which relies on a clever maneuver of temporal manipulation. All of this I found quite entertaining, and yet, upon the closure of the film, I didn’t have a desire for more. I had enjoyed the film. I thought that it was one of the better Marvel films that I have seen. Yet, I didn’t feel that same draw, that same energy, that I had felt in A Man Escaped.

While Doctor Strange is a film of movements and speeds, A Man Escaped is a film of a stationary nature. A Man Escaped begins with Lt. Fontaine in a car beside a handcuffed man. As the car drives, Fontaine continuously glances at the door handle, hoping to escape. Eventually, at a stop, he opens the door and runs, but is tracked down by the Nazi officers. After this initial sequence, most of the film takes place at the Nazi prison where Fontaine is detained. Much of the plot focuses on Fontaine’s plan to escape, which is intensified when he learns that he will soon be put to death for blowing up a bridge. This plotting and planning all takes place in his cell and once-a-day cleaning break with other prisoners. While the film doesn’t present stunning visuals, action or movement, the suspense was able to draw me into the film. I felt myself actually frightened for Fontaine, and worrying that he was going to be caught. I honestly wasn’t sure whether the escape would be successful or not – whether he would be seen and have to run, whether his plans would be thwarted by and officer seeing his chiseling away at the door – and I found myself thoroughly drawn into the narrative.

Man Escaped | I | Film Review | Slant Magazine

When the film was over, I found myself desiring more. The film ends with Fontaine and his young partner, Jost, scaling the walls of the prison and escaping into the French countryside. What I desired was more. I wanted to know what happened next. Would the Germans capture the two escapees, would they go their own ways, would they find safe passage? The film didn’t end on a cliff hanger – the two men were able to safely get away from the prison – and yet, I desired more of the film. This desire did not come about on a conscious level, I can only think that the film – through the score, acting, script, or what have you – must have interacted with my body in ways that shaped my desire for more. Despite the stationary nature of the film – even large parts of their escape consist of playing a waiting game on the roof of the prison – it was able to affect my desire.

I think that a large part of this was the soundtrack of the film, which heavily features the Kyrie of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor. This music draws one into its rhythms in order to help portray the overall feel of the film. If you have some time, I recommend giving it a listen. Close your eyes and let the music seep into you. Let the melancholic rhythms and voices touch and affect you.

As the song flows over one feels a slight melancholic hopefulness which burrows and affects us, allowing the song to shift us from being to becoming. This enables us to be drawn into the experience of Fontaine. Shaping our becomings and our desires at pre-intellectual levels. This song, along with the pace, acting, and overall arch of the film allow one to be drawn into the setting, film and era. They produce a desire for struggle – a struggle akin to the one that Fontaine performs while scaling and traversing the walls of the prison.

There are a couple of reasons I can see for the difference in feeling that were produced in me while watching the two films. A Man Escaped is a classic which is heavily aided by the aforementioned masterpiece of Mozart’s Great Mass in C-minor. This music, combined with the tension of Fontaine’s escape builds beautifully towards its end. A Man Escaped does an exceptional job of bringing the audience towards the climax of the film. It completely emerges the audience within a single act, with a single purpose. The entire film works towards Fontaine’s attempt at escape. The music, acting, story, setting and everything else strive towards this climax, this end. The film is teleological in the sense that it is always moving towards some end – though the audience is never sure if that end is tragic or hopeful for Fontaine.

Doctor Strange, because of its role in a larger universe, has the responsibility of creating a full origin story for the character, which leaves the film a bit more disjointed in its overall arch. It needed to establish multiple characters within a grander narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which extends far beyond the individual film. Furthermore, the purpose of this film is simply to entertain. Storytelling, at points, almost comes secondary to the effects and grand gestures. The purpose isn’t to draw one into the universe, but to show one the universe as a spectacle. In A Man Escaped, the audience is already fully immersed in the universe of the film – it is our universe, our reality. Doctor Strange must first establish its universe before attempting to immerse its audience.

This isn’t to say that Doctor Strange is a poor film. I quite enjoyed it. It is simply to say that A Man Escaped was a more successful film at bringing me into the world of the character and establishing desire within me.

On Affect

Note: This post contains spoilers for the film Inglorious Basterds

Asger Jorn 1961 'The Suicide of Mr. H', Institute of Arts, Detroit ...

Asger Jorn ‘The Suicide of Mr. H’ – at the Detroit Institute of Art

Since reading Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy” earlier this year, my engagement with art has been profoundly impacted Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the subject in that book. D/G think about art in a way that is different from most engagements with the subject that I have seen. For many, a piece of art is imbued with meaning from a variety of factors such as the artist, the cultural environment, the contemporary zeitgeist, or what have you. For Deleuze and Guattari, art does not contain meaning, rather art serves as a means of preservation. For Deleuze and Guattari, art preserves “a bloc of sensations, that is to say, a compound of percepts and affects” (WTP 164). The key to art, for Deleuze and Guattari, is its ability to produce sensations in bodies. They key element of this production are the affective capabilities of a piece of art.

The concept of “affect” is one that Deleuze and Guattari borrow from Spinoza. Spinoza defines affect as “affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time the ideas of these affections” (The Ethics, 11/139). According to Spinoza, “the human body can be affected in many ways in which its power of acting is increased or diminished, and also in others which render its power of acting neither greater nor less” (11/140). This means that various affects, such as love, hate, anger, hunger, etc., impact our bodies in certain ways that shape the desire or will of the body. The body then responds to these affects. Spinoza gives a number of examples:

“the infant believes he freely wants the milk; the angry child that he wants vengeance; and the timid, flight. So the drunk believes it is from a free decision of the mind that he speaks the things he later, when sober, wishes he had not said. So the madman, the chatterbox, the child, and a great many people of this kind believe they speak from a free decision of the mind, when really they cannot contain their impulse to speak” (11/143).

In each of these examples the actor believes that they are acting freely, but really they are acting as a result of affects which are acting upon their bodies. The infant is affected by hunger, the drunk is affected by alcohol, etc. People are conscious of their actions, so they believe themselves free, but there are other actions which are acting upon their bodies in ways that shape their desire, and ultimately their action.

Deleuze and Guattari expand on the idea of the affect. Affects are central to their notion of becomings. Becomings take place as the affects affecting bodies. They describe affect in their “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal…” Plateau “For the affect is not a personal feeling, nor is it a characteristic; it is the effectuation of a power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel” (ATP 240). This might not be the most clear description, but the affect is an action or power upon a body. The power of the pack (a multiplicity) which throws itself into a body to cause some action to take place. Affects take place between bodies. One body affects another in shifting its desire or will. The result of the affect is a becoming: “Affects are precisely these non-human becomings of man. just as precepts – including the town – are nonhuman landscapes of nature. Not a ‘minute of the world passes’ says Cézanne that we will preserve if we do not ‘become that minute’” (WiP 169). What this means, roughly, is that a body is infected by another body at a minor level, which shifts the being. This intermingling of bodies is the affect affecting the body, creating a new sensation.


Before we continue, it is important to realize that these sensations are not conscious. Affect, here, is different from the use of affect as an emotional state. If we look a moment at Anti-Oedipus, a text that doesn’t actually touch on affects directly, we can see an example of how the affect works at a level below the intellect. A central question for AO is Reich’s question of “Why did the masses desire fascism?” (AO 345). D/G deny Reich’s answer, which relied on the ideological, subjective, irrational and negative criteria. The cause of this desire took place at a lower level: “There is an unconscious libidinal investment of desire that does not necessarily coincide with the preconscious investment of interest and that explains how the latter can be perturbed and perverted in ‘the most somber organization,’ below ideology” (AO 345). The shift in desire takes place at a pre-ideological level – on the level of affect. It is the rhythms of the Fascists, the rhetoric and the speeches which acted directly upon the bodies of the masses. These rhythms affected the bodies in such a way that their desire was predisposed towards fascism.

At face value this concept – that it was the sounds and rhythms acting upon the bodies of the people which shaped their will to desire fascism – seems absurd. However, if we look at an example in film it might begin to make a bit more sense. In the film Inglorious Basterds by Quinten Tarantino, there is a scene that takes place right after the Basterds (a group of American Jewish militants sent to Europe with the task of “Killin’ Nazi’s”) have defeated a group of Nazi soldiers. Three Nazi’s remain from the conflict, and the Basterds have taken them prisoner. Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, interrogates the commanding officer of the Nazi. The commander refuses to answer Raine’s questions, so Raine threatens him with the “Bear Jew” – a member of the Basterds who “Bashes [Nazi] brains in with a baseball bat.” After the commander continues to refuse, the music begins to swell up, and the “Bear Jew” – Sgt. Donny Donowitz, played by Eli Roth – comes into the scene and, at climax of the music, begins to beat the Nazi commander with a baseball bat. As he strikes the Nazi officer with the bat, the music stops, and Donowitz beats the Nazi soldier to death to the cheers of his comrades.

The horrifying aspect of this scene is that, as it is taking place, you begin to cheer for the man who is about to beat another human being to death with a baseball bat. The music wells up inside of you, affecting you in such a way that you want it to happen, you desire this horrifying event to occur. There are multiple things acting upon you in that moment: The music, the events of the film leading up to this occurrence, the smugness of the Nazi officer, one’s prior knowledge of the horrors committed by the Nazi’s upon the Jewish people, etc. All of these things culminate in our desire to watch a man beaten to death with a baseball bat. Finally, it happens; the music stops; the viewer comes back to reality. We watch a man beaten to death on the screen, to the cheers of others. We hear ourselves cheering and are disgusted that we could cheer for a man to be beaten by a bat. Those things – the music, the events leading up to the killing – are things that have affected us. These affects have shaped our desire. They are affective powers which intermingle with our bodies and render us to act in a certain way. Tarantino’s films are particularly proficient at doing this – moving the audience to desire things that are contrary to the ways that they usually feel.

Returning to art, Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus that “art, as soon as it attains its own grandeur, its own genius, creates chains of decoding and deterritorailization that serve as the foundation for desiring machines, and make them function.” (p. 368). Art opens up new lines of flight and escape; it is able to tear down – deterritorialize – the structures or territories that are built upon a body. Art, then, is able to create sensations that work upon the body, affecting it in various ways, in order to shape desire. This is brought forward even more in Deleuze and Guattari’s final text where, as mentioned near the beginning, they posit that the purpose of art is to preserve and create sensations. For D/G “Abstract art and conceptual art are two recent attempts to bring art and philosophy together, but they do not substitute the concept for the sensation; rather they create sensations and not concepts” (WiP 198). Through these sensations art is able to build monuments, but these monuments are different than we might initially thing. According to these authors “A monument does not commemorate or celebrate something that happened but confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed suffering of men and women, their re-created protestations, their constantly resumed struggle” (WiP 176-177). The purpose of art, then, is to create sensations and build monuments which perpetuate a struggle. Art’s purpose is to affect bodies in ways that shape desire. Art affects bodies – and effective art is art that more strongly affects our bodies.

Time Travel

Humanity is constantly in search of a new horizon. Capitalism has brought about a world in which newness, innovation, and transformation are considered the highest virtues. The contemporary marketplace moves at blistering speeds in search of the next horizon. This movement is reflected in our media. Through film, television, and writing, artists are able to depict phenomena which, while impossible in our contemporary settings, allow one to dream of a new horizon. Through narrative one is able to travel not only to the deepest depths of earth an space, but also to the present and the future through the magic of time travel.

One of the gifts of humanity is that we have the ability to dream. Time travel allows us to dream about things that seem an impossibility. Through our narrative media we enable each other to experience these dreams come to life through the text or the screen. Sometimes these dreams seem more understandable than others.

As I see it there are two types of time travel in fiction. There is linear time travel and nonlinear time travel. As far as I know these seem to correspond with a linear and nonlinear view of time. I don’t wish this post to become a rigorous undertaking of different philosophies of time (though I do think that this would be a fun exercise – particularly comparing each with a ancient and modern view of temporality), rather I hope to explore how time travel functions within fictional narratives.

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” -Doc Brown, Back to the Future

images-duckduckgo-com

The First time of understanding of time that we reach is a linear understanding. What I mean a “linear” understanding of time is that events happen within a linear space (such that A causes B causes C) within a linear line of time.

linear-time
A perfect example of this is Back to the Future. When an event occurs in the past, its effect changes the future. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly uses a time machine, created by his friend Doc, in order to travel from the year 1985 to 1955. In going to the past, Marty’s actions have impact events as he knows him. Marty and the viewers connection to 1985 is given through a photograph that Marty has of him and his siblings. The seminal movement in the film occurs when Marty saves his father from being hit by his mother’s car. It is this moment which changes everything in the future. Marty’s father is never hit by his mother, thus she never takes him up to her room. Now Marty is the one whom his mother falls in love with. Ignoring the Oedipal implications of the entire film, Marty becomes the figure that his father was supposed to take.

If we posit that Marty’s father being hit by Marty’s mother constitutes point A in their relationship as husband and wife, every event that occurred after this event is, hence force, changed as the result of A never having taken place. When Marty pushes he father out of the way of his mother’s car, Marty changes the future. This is shown in the film through the photograph. As Marty navigates the world of his father and mother, he sees that his siblings begin to fade from the photograph. This ultimately culminates as Marty, himself, begins to fade. In order to restore the future that he had changed, Marty works throughout the film to reunite his father and mother, thus setting off a new series which culminates in the birth of him and his siblings.

The film positions everything as strictly linear. Event A causes event B causes event C. By changing event A, everything that comes afterwards is also changed. This is sometimes known as the butterfly effect – an event where one small action can change everything going forward. So Marty’s actions in the past have an unreserved impact on the future. A paradox occurs from this, however. If Marty never existed, how would he come back to change the past? If Marty changed the past so that he never existed, then it would be impossible for him to change the past.

dbz

One narrative that attempts to circumnavigate this paradox is the world of Dragon Ball. In Dragon Ball Z, the character Trunks travels from the future to warn the other characters of a series of events that will lead to much destruction on the earth. One aspect of this is that the character Goku will die of a heart virus without a cure in the present. Trunks, being from the future, is able to provide a antidote that allows Goku to survive the heart virus. In doing this, Trunks effectively changes an event in time (the death of Goku) which changes the reality of the future. Again, this appears paradoxical. If Trunks comes from the future and saves Goku, the current Trunks will no longer have any reason to come back to the past. The circumstances that lead Trunks to come to the past no longer exist.

Rather than simply allowing the paradox to fester, Dragon Ball presents the present and future as alternative timelines. When Trunks returns to his present, the reality has not changed as a result of his actions in the past. So while the actions in each of the timelines occur as A>B>C the actions in the present timeline does not seem to impact the future one.

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
-the Doctor (Blink)

tardis

Doctor Who presents an example of a nonlinear timeline. Under a nonlinear view events still happen within a linear space (A causes B causes C), but these events do not take place upon a linear line. Using the language of the Doctor, time is “wibbly wobbly”. What the Doctor gets wrong in the given quote is that such a view of time still remains linear (if linear is taken to mean that A causes B causes C) because, as we see from the events of Doctor Who events still take place within the realm of cause and effect. In the diagram below I give and example of what this time might look like:

nonlinear
While the Doctor often warns against creating paradoxes, and often warns against breaking the rules of time, there are many instances in the show where the audience is given evidence of the “time-y wimey” nature of time. One example of this is in the episode entitled “The Fires of Pompeii”.  In the episode, the Doctor and Donna travel to Pompeii just before the volcano is set to explode. Throughout the episode the Doctor is convinced of the rules of time, and, despite Donna’s best efforts, refuses to stop the ruin of Pompeii from occurring. According to the Doctor, to stop this from occurring would be to break the rules of time. Near the culmination of the episode, the Doctor discovers that an alien race is using the volcano to conquer the human race. In order to stop the destruction of humanity, the Doctor must destroy the converter which is holding the volcano at bay, thus causing the destruction of Pompeii. In order to save humanity, the Doctor must sacrifice the city of Pompeii.

In this action, we realize that time is cyclical. The actions of the Doctor were always already taking place. The destruction of Pompeii is a point within the overarching tim-y-wimey, wibbly wobbly reality of time in this universe. If we look at the Fire in Pompeii as point A that caused B (the Doctor knowing about the destruction of Pompeii) it would seem that B would follow from A. Given the strange “wibbly wobbly” nature that is presented in this nonlinear or cyclical view of time, B is able to actually proceed A creating time as more of a flux, rather than a straight path.

Time and time travel are really interesting conundrums. The ways that we’ve theorized time travel in our fictional narratives makes use of our creative energies in ways that provide new pathways through fiction. Our ability to dream is awakened in these energies and pathways.

Short Reflection on the Behemoth

“People have so manipulated the concept of freedom that it finally boils down to the right of the stronger and richer to take from the weaker and poorer whatever they have. Attempts to change this are seen as shameful intrusions into the realm of the very individuality that by the logic of that freedom has dissolved into an administered void.” -Adorno

Freedom under finance capitalism means freedom for corporations. Corporate interests are given legal precedence over water, land, animals, and people. In the pursuit of liberty, liberty transformed into a behemoth.

A repetitive monster that reproduces itself asexually. Like a cellular organism it thrives via exponential growth. Each generation doubling the size of its predecessor. Feeding upon everything. Shaped through its desire to feast upon the bodies of plants, animals, people. Devouring all of Being until the Being and Behemoth become tautological. Nowhere left to turn it doubles back, cannibalizing itself.

This is the freedom that we have been given. A beast that forces us to participate in order to survive. To participate in our own destruction; to participate in the destruction of Others.

And we all know this. I don’t think of myself as overly creative. What I’ve written is nothing but a repetition. It isn’t subtle. Nothing is new. Sameness repeats ad infinitum. Aren’t we all aware of the snarl that accompanies us? Not that we have any choice. There is never a choice. A choice between a fascist and a fascist isn’t a choice.


Quote from: Adorno, T. (1994). Messages in a Bottle. In S. Zizek (Ed.), E. Jephcott (Trans.), Mapping Ideology. London : New York: Verso. p. 36