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Month: January, 2016

Vaguely connected thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”


Star Wars is myth and it is franchise and it is owned by Disney. It presumes to encompass the collective desires of our liberal bourgeois spirit—paradoxically, through a return to a mythic past, both in a galaxy far far away and in the experience of the cinema. Who really watches movies at the theater anymore anyway? I am not French. But I go to see Star Wars and enjoy it. So it is fitting that the The Force Awakens repeats the past to the word.

A sequel (or, in this case, prequel), like Episodes I–III, is not enough. That is why The Force Awakens is the essential remake. “Fans” want nothing so much as the total repetition of a myth. People recite Star Wars lines like Homeric bards. And so we want to see it again, performed in all its classicity.  How much happier the box office when the symphony is playing good ol’ Ludwig van than some contemporary avant-garde nobody?

Star Wars is an ideological universe with a hotly debated canon.

Myth and brand are composed of not just of a mere name alone, but of the world of symbolic instantiations contained within it. This is not just, for example, the lightsaber itself, but the image of the lightsaber trapped in ice, nudging its way, finally breaking out. To be canonical, the mass must be performed with complete devotion to its symbols. The communion wafer literally is the body of Christ.

Star Wars, like religions, is a lifestyle brand.

So we have a DisneyTM instantiation of Star Wars. It is satisfyingly PC; that there are women/black leads tickles my bourgeois liberal fancy. And is Poe Dameron a queer figure? Headlines in my news feed ask. But deep down, one misses the weird racism of the prequels—Jar-Jar, Sam Jackson’s pimpsaber, and usurious Watto are just a few that come to mind. What good is a myth if there’s nothing “problematic” that we have to confront about it at some point or another? Thus spawns Christian apologetics.


Spinoza against the Jacobins


In a piece for Jacobin, Harrison Fluss calls for a reevaluation of the civic religion of Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being, which he positions as something deeply influenced by the radical, “savage” philosophy of Spinoza. Fluss is right that Spinoza offers a potent alternative to the unresolved problems of liberal pluralism. But in trying to connect Spinoza’s philosophy with the example of Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being, he misrepresents Spinoza’s own views (and how these views can be of use for a contemporary project of collective liberation) so that he can affect a more sympathetic understanding of Robespierre. Beyond a distinction between public religion and private religion, Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being relates to Spinoza only tenuously through a proclaimed dedication to secular reason.

Aside from having a distinctly non-Spinozist anthropomorphic understanding of a God that “watches over,” “punishes,” and otherwise has feelings or passions, the Cult of the Supreme Being incorporated a loosely Christian/deist spiritual vocabulary with classical Roman flourishes into an ideological structure supporting a particular faction to maintain a religious hierarchy that exploits the fears and “sad passions” of men  for political power. In short, his conception would invariably reintroduce the problematic relations of ideological control Spinoza rails against in the Theological-Political Treatise. Perhaps Robespierre himself was not so radical, violent, and virulent in his hatred of Christianity as the Hebertistes, but that doesn’t mean that their claim of him reintroducing a cloaked Christianity and seeking to be its Pope isn’t without merit in some sense. Of course, their alternative—utter nihilism and death—was hardly better.

Spinoza’s appreciation of organized religion extends as far as the ability of its scripture to offer a community a common language of stories that provides moral guidance to generally inspire people to act in certain ways conducive to their best interest. But scripture need not be understood as “The” scripture of any particular religion, conceived from the top-down (as from the divine revelations of prophets or Robespierre’s imagination), but rather (like his entire metaphysical system) constructed immanently; its power and truth manifested in its real consequential existence in the minds of people—in how it actually influences how things act and are acted upon by each other.

On Bowie


Bifo writes about David Bowie’s 1977 single “Heroes” as a monument that marks the time when “the hero” in Western society faded and was replaced with a mechanical world of fragmentary experience subservient to the great Market-God. The algorithms of financial accumulation have since drained the world of its sensuous,  mythical experience and have mapped credit onto the silent materiality of things, sucking all language and meaning into a spiraling black hole. “We could be heroes / just for one day,” Bowie sings, anticipating the fleeting nature of his own art.

History’s turning point, according to Bifo (who cites Hito Seyerl’s The Wretch of the Screen)—1977—seems to be punk, the coinciding failures of the greater “punk project” with the capitulation of the Italian Autonomist movement (both liberating impulses failed spectacularly and were reintegrated into all-welcoming neoliberalism), at least insofar as this turning point includes the Eno-Berlin-Krautrock phase of Bowie’s great trajectory, which in any case is a popular choice for turning-points. Low, released the same year just months before Heroes, tops off Pitchfork’s Best Albums of the 1970’s, among other indicators of canonicity. And in some way it kinda sounds like what Bifo is talking about—Bowie’s Berlin/Thin White Duke phase is a definitive departure from the colorful baroque epic Ziggy Stardust into the ominous electronic waste-scapes of late capitalism’s dark future where the production starts to look less glam (“classic” or “classical”) rock and more techno. (Worth noting: coinciding with the twin deaths of punk and the autonomists is the release of Star Wars—opening a new field of mythic meaning whose art-function fits perfectly within the logic of neoliberalism.)

But it isn’t hard to tell that Bifo’s thing really isn’t about Bowie as much at it’s about his own work (language is hijacked by the financial accumulation of late capitalism and we need poetry to win it back) with some artist chosen as the figure (or one of many figures) to champion it. Bowie, a postmodern chameleon whose works are undoubtedly provocative and interesting regardless of whether one really gets into all of them, can serve as a champion for pretty much any ideological group. I actually recall seeing Bowie in a Louis Vuitton ad on the back cover of the Economist not too long ago, and his obituaries in that magazine and others of decidedly capitalist bent testifies to the fact that he’s hardly just a leftist icon. Queer blogs seem to emphasize his Ziggy Stardust stage, while hip-hop media’s remembrance of Bowie identifies him as the originator of classic samples. Everyone has a different favorite Bowie, and so on. Right around the time his underrated Young Americans came out he had probably been doing some coked out readings of Jung’s Wotan—one wonders if Stormfront would consider this instantiation of Bowie as Übermensch or entarteter Künstler.

And even if we accept the “Bowie as hero” thesis, the sort of hero-artist figure he assumes is hardly one that reawakens a primordial poetic sensuality uncorrupted by capitalism—no matter what ironic distance to the “conscious simulation at the heart of the heroic game.” Bowie’s penchant for reinvention tells, if anything, that it’s “simulations the whole way down.” But this isn’t to say that Bifo is wrong in his own remembrance of David Bowie. The whole ad hoc discourse around Bowie upon his death is a testament to our collective need to seek artists to articulate our multitudinous desires for collective liberation from the conditions of the present. When great artists die, they are reborn as texts, and we engage with them as readers are known to.