Dark Curricula: March 2017
Welcome to the Post-Rationalist era. See what I did there? Instead of something like “Post-Modernist” I replaced “Modernist” with “Rationalist”. Because the driving force behind society no longer appears to be rational. So we have to adjust. We have to adapt. We have to find our Power Animal or create a new religion or rely on Voodoo or burn the Wicker Man. Tonight, at midnight, we will burn the current gods in favor of the previous gods, who will rise from those ashes. Lines are now irrevocably drawn — to make this years’ harvest you need to support the tribe, you need to make sacrifices. I’d always suspected humanity would return to this state, I’d just never suspected it would be so soon and facilitated with such idiocy and venom. When you next meet me I will be wearing the robe and mask of the Owl.
The Society of the Spectacle
This is what prompted my "Post-Rationalist" comment. When you read late 20th century philosophy you become infected with the generative powers of the time. Marxist contrasts, structuralist inclined, sometimes barely understandable tracts with sentences peppered by koan-like power jolting you from the capitalist machinery you've become swamped by.
Maybe less so now that we're back to the old gods. I actually feel like this manifesto, and others adjacent to it, Baudrillard perhaps, are precisely buried in the systems they criticize. They don't jolt me out anymore, they paralyze me. Compared even with media friendly Marshall Mcluhan, there isn't much that's more spectacular than Debord's stylistic criticism. And I love these things, don't get me wrong, but I love them as conceptual games... Today they don't seem to provide very meaningful ammunition on the structures they stalk. There's a nasty recursiveness here, generated by those who wanted to illuminate. This is the nature of the cultural gravity well, the event horizon of 20th century suburbanization. High priced academia will suck all the life out of your revolutionary text.
I wonder if there could've been any other reaction to the events of the 60s particularly things that fueled Paris May 68. Intellectualism fighting within itself, trying to break the chains of the enlightenment, and perhaps coming to terms with the fact that intellectualism, the citizenry, the workers, and the burgeoning corporations and media feeding them (and off of them) had reached a point where strictly logical arguments were no longer were sufficient.
Clever will eat itself.
Then, as now, there may have been elation in public revolt, still the underlying oppressive structures calcified and grew. The idea of "The Worker" as something other than a literal meaning was made into mockery, fading as the televised spectacle of the revolution became much more important than any revolution itself. I can feel Debord here warning about Reality TV, understanding even the instant evaporation of his own message, I can feel him warning about "franchise culture" and normalization, or more recently coined "HyperNormaliztion". And yet, for his prescience, it remains an algorithm of symptoms.
It's amazing as well as ineffective. It's an important relic predicting exactly what would unfold.
The Year of the Flood
Second book of the MaddAddam triptych. I am enjoying the crap out of these. There’s character overlap with the first, but in an interesting, tangential manner. The first book outlined the people involved in the destruction of society. This book describes the people involved in the creation of their own societies. This book wanders around a bit. We become familiar, mostly, with God’s Gardeners — a modern urban communal rooftop farming nature worshiping org. I don’t say “cult” here, because Atwood plays deftly with fuzziness of “cult”, “society”, “organization”, “terrorism”, “corporation”. There’s subversive contrasts with what may ordinarily be recognized as a cult with a corporation, what may be assumed as a religion with a revolution. I like this, a lot.
There are the dystopian trappings. But as I noted last month about Brave New World, these dystopian bobbles aren't the important elements. They're salt and pepper. They entice, they're honey, they're red herrings. Underneath are Atwoods' observations about the depth of pop culture as the engine for misogyny and class warfare, which is brilliant.
And yet she’s delivering a powerfully hopeful narrative. Why hopeful at the end of the world? Because the characters you care about in the story care and try to protect the others, there is a deep humanism in the books’ protagonists that is flawed but... civilized.
I can’t think of a better word. Civilized. I also can’t think of a concept that’s been more recently abused.