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165

Dis-identity Politics

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terms
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notes
Needs summary

Fisher, M. (2018). Dis-identity Politics. In Fisher, M. K-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher. Repeater, pp. 165-170

(noun) a brief moment of emotional excitement; shudder thrill

165

there is a certain frisson in seeing a major Hollywood film refusing to unequivocally condemn terrorism

—p.165 by Mark Fisher
notable
3 months ago

there is a certain frisson in seeing a major Hollywood film refusing to unequivocally condemn terrorism

—p.165 by Mark Fisher
notable
3 months ago
167

[...] Attacks on politicians tend to reinforce the atmosphere of diffuse cynicism upon which capitalist realism feeds. What is needed is not more empirical evidence of the evils of the ruling class but a belief on the part of the subordinate class that what they think or say matters; that they are the only effective agents of change.

This returns us to the question of reflexive impotence. Class power has always depended on a kind of reflexive impotence, with the subordinate class's beliefs about its own incapacity for action reinforcing that very condition. It would, of course, be grotesque to blame the subordinate class for their subordination; but to ignore the role that their complicity with the existing order plays in a self-fulfilling circuit would, ironically, be to deny their power.

'[C]lass consciousness,' Jameson observes in 'Marx's Purloined Letter',

turns first and foremost around the question of subalternity, that is around the experience of inferiority. This means that the 'lower classes' carry around within their heads unconscious convictions as to the superiority of hegemonic or ruling-class expressions or values, which they equally transgress and repudiate in ritualistic (and socially and politically ineffective) ways.

There is a way, then, in which inferiority is less class consciousness than class unconsciousness, less about experience than about an unthought precondition of experience. Inferiority is in this sense an ontological hypothesis that is not susceptible to any empirical refutation. Confronted with evidence of the incompetence or corruption of the ruling class, you will still feel that, nevertheless, they must possess some agalma, some secret treasure, that confers upon them the right to occupy the position of dominance.

—p.167 by Mark Fisher 3 months ago

[...] Attacks on politicians tend to reinforce the atmosphere of diffuse cynicism upon which capitalist realism feeds. What is needed is not more empirical evidence of the evils of the ruling class but a belief on the part of the subordinate class that what they think or say matters; that they are the only effective agents of change.

This returns us to the question of reflexive impotence. Class power has always depended on a kind of reflexive impotence, with the subordinate class's beliefs about its own incapacity for action reinforcing that very condition. It would, of course, be grotesque to blame the subordinate class for their subordination; but to ignore the role that their complicity with the existing order plays in a self-fulfilling circuit would, ironically, be to deny their power.

'[C]lass consciousness,' Jameson observes in 'Marx's Purloined Letter',

turns first and foremost around the question of subalternity, that is around the experience of inferiority. This means that the 'lower classes' carry around within their heads unconscious convictions as to the superiority of hegemonic or ruling-class expressions or values, which they equally transgress and repudiate in ritualistic (and socially and politically ineffective) ways.

There is a way, then, in which inferiority is less class consciousness than class unconsciousness, less about experience than about an unthought precondition of experience. Inferiority is in this sense an ontological hypothesis that is not susceptible to any empirical refutation. Confronted with evidence of the incompetence or corruption of the ruling class, you will still feel that, nevertheless, they must possess some agalma, some secret treasure, that confers upon them the right to occupy the position of dominance.

—p.167 by Mark Fisher 3 months ago
168

[...] I've had more mail about the reflexive impotence post than any other; mostly, actually, from teenagers and students who recognize the condition but who, far from being further depressed by seeing it analysed, find its identification inspiring. There are very good Spinozist and Althusserian reasons for this - seeing the network of cause-and-effect in which we are enchained is already freedom. By contrast, what is depressing is the implacable poptimism of the official culture, forever exhorting us to be excited about the latest dreary-shiny cultural product and hectoring us for failing to be sufficiently positive. A certain 'vulgar Deleuzianism', preaching against any kind of negativity, provides the theology for this compulsory excitation, evangelizing on the endless delights available if only we consume harder. But what it is so often inspiring - in politics as much as in popular culture - is the capacity to nihilate present conditions. The nihilative slogan is neither be 'things are good, there is no need for change', nor 'things are bad, they cannot change', but 'things are bad, therefore they must change.'

This brings us to subjective destitution, which, unlike Steve Shaviro, I think is a precondition of any revolutionary action. The scenes of Evey's subjective destitution in V for Vendetta are the only ones which had any real political charge. For that reason, they were the only scenes which produced any real discomfort; the rest of the film does little to upset the liberal sensibilities which we all carry around with us. The liberal programme articulates itself not only through the logic of rights, but also, crucially, through the notion of identity, and V is attacking both Evey's rights and her identity. Steve says that you can't will subjective destitution. I, however, would say that you can only will it, since it is the existential choice in its purest form. Subjective destitution is not something that happens in any straightforward empirical sense; it is, rather, an Event precisely in the sense of being an incorporeal transformation, an ontological reframing to which you must assent. Evey's choice is between defending her (old) identity - which, naturally, also amounts to a defence of the ontological framework which conferred that identity upon her - and affirming the evacuation of all previous identifications. What this brings out with real clarity is the opposition between liberal identity politics and proletarian dis-identity politics. Identity politics seeks respect and recognition from the master class; dis-identity politics seeks the dissolution of the classifactory apparatus itself.

That is why British students are, potentially, far more likely to be agents of revolutionary change than are their French counterparts. The depressive, totally dislocated from the world, is in a better position to undergo subjective destitution than someone who thinks that there is some home within the current order that can still be preserved and defended. Whether on a psychiatric ward, or prescription-drugged into zombie oblivion in their own domestic environment, the millions who have suffered massive mental damage under capitalism - the decommisioned Fordist robots now on incapacity benefit as well as the reserve army of the unemployed who have never worked - might well turn out to be the next revolutionary class. They really do have nothing to lose...

—p.168 by Mark Fisher 3 months ago

[...] I've had more mail about the reflexive impotence post than any other; mostly, actually, from teenagers and students who recognize the condition but who, far from being further depressed by seeing it analysed, find its identification inspiring. There are very good Spinozist and Althusserian reasons for this - seeing the network of cause-and-effect in which we are enchained is already freedom. By contrast, what is depressing is the implacable poptimism of the official culture, forever exhorting us to be excited about the latest dreary-shiny cultural product and hectoring us for failing to be sufficiently positive. A certain 'vulgar Deleuzianism', preaching against any kind of negativity, provides the theology for this compulsory excitation, evangelizing on the endless delights available if only we consume harder. But what it is so often inspiring - in politics as much as in popular culture - is the capacity to nihilate present conditions. The nihilative slogan is neither be 'things are good, there is no need for change', nor 'things are bad, they cannot change', but 'things are bad, therefore they must change.'

This brings us to subjective destitution, which, unlike Steve Shaviro, I think is a precondition of any revolutionary action. The scenes of Evey's subjective destitution in V for Vendetta are the only ones which had any real political charge. For that reason, they were the only scenes which produced any real discomfort; the rest of the film does little to upset the liberal sensibilities which we all carry around with us. The liberal programme articulates itself not only through the logic of rights, but also, crucially, through the notion of identity, and V is attacking both Evey's rights and her identity. Steve says that you can't will subjective destitution. I, however, would say that you can only will it, since it is the existential choice in its purest form. Subjective destitution is not something that happens in any straightforward empirical sense; it is, rather, an Event precisely in the sense of being an incorporeal transformation, an ontological reframing to which you must assent. Evey's choice is between defending her (old) identity - which, naturally, also amounts to a defence of the ontological framework which conferred that identity upon her - and affirming the evacuation of all previous identifications. What this brings out with real clarity is the opposition between liberal identity politics and proletarian dis-identity politics. Identity politics seeks respect and recognition from the master class; dis-identity politics seeks the dissolution of the classifactory apparatus itself.

That is why British students are, potentially, far more likely to be agents of revolutionary change than are their French counterparts. The depressive, totally dislocated from the world, is in a better position to undergo subjective destitution than someone who thinks that there is some home within the current order that can still be preserved and defended. Whether on a psychiatric ward, or prescription-drugged into zombie oblivion in their own domestic environment, the millions who have suffered massive mental damage under capitalism - the decommisioned Fordist robots now on incapacity benefit as well as the reserve army of the unemployed who have never worked - might well turn out to be the next revolutionary class. They really do have nothing to lose...

—p.168 by Mark Fisher 3 months ago