Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Me and Breivik's Manifesto Part_1: the dead father

Me and Breivik's Manifesto. Preface: are you a legitimate military target


I totally get mortal terror, not merely because of the times I have looked down the barrel of a gun, not always with my own finger on the trigger; since I remember thinking I was thinking about my own death. Developmentally, in large part this is likely the result of the fact that I drowned as a very young kid. At one year, more or less, I threw myself (or was pushed, or fell) into a swimming pool in Cuernavaca at a cocktail party. I (falsely) remember all of it, not only from my point view: the look on my mother's face as she jumped into the pool in her 1970s cocktail dress and brown sandals; the way I looked so at peace, with the blue sky behind me, floating arms akimbo in the cold clear water; my older sister, on the edge of the pool in blue inflatable arm bands (I guess no one thought I would decide to have a swim)... These memories can't be my memories. They must have come from all the stories my family must have told me, and each other. I remember some sense of God and purpose in these little narratives – something like you came back from the dead for a reason (when they pulled me from the pool my heart had stopped and I wasn't breathing; my grandfather, a cardiologist, did CPR until I came back).

Death and mortality are intimately linked to just about everything in human culture – from porn to god to medicine. Mortal terror is not only about the physical reality of death. It plays out in our culture and individual lives in countless ways. I might need to explicate this more clearly, at some point. Right now, I would just like to suggest that in our anxieties about, for instance, love/ companionship, health, politics, the economy, etc., what we are worried about is a sense of control over our lives and our futures, agency in the world, in the ability to provide for and protect our loved ones and ourselves. This is, at its most basic, a fear of inevitable death. Symbolically, this drama also plays out in our consciousnesses and ideologies. And at this symbolic level, Breivik is my mirror image.

We are both looking at the dead Father. It would be more accurate to say dying, sick, emasculated Father, which of course is the same as the death of the “Father.” We are looking at Donald Barthelme's dead Father being drug to his grave by his sons, and their lovers. Barthelme's novel is a joke on Freud and Lacan. And it's funny. Postmodernism is funny. But it's also tragic.

I remember listening to Zizek at work one day talking about something or other, authority maybe, on some youtube video. He told an anecdote about how the exercise of authority by the father, actually punishing the kid that is, renders him ridiculous, desperate, a clown. And this is where I think we are in the death of the Father. In one of my larger paintings, War Cries, I looked at consumerism and violence and desire. My contention in that painting (or at least in writing about that painting) was, among other things, “that the end of authority creates the alienated longing to re-establish it through any means; and the alienated longing to do away with it entirely. Or, that authority has never existed but exists only as the desperate desire to overcome death, which leads to murder … . How else can we explain the apparent (suicidal) trajectory of Militarist/ Capitalist social organization?”

This is exactly the situation of Breivik's Declaration. The text and the man are desperate to (re)create an imagined paternal authority that undoes the the threat of an invading other. And it leads Breveik to murders that will ultimately prove senseless.

Ironically what Breivik fears (in the death of the Father/ the end of stability, certainty and authority) is exactly what he himself unleashes: uncontrollable violence and fear. Breivik  states (p.12):
Most Europeans look back on the 1950s as a good time. Our homes were safe, to the point where many people did not bother to lock their doors. Public schools were generally excellent, and their problems were things like talking in class and running in the halls. Most men treated women like ladies, and most ladies devoted their time and effort to making good homes, rearing their children well and helping their communities through volunteer work. […] If a man of the 1950s were suddenly introduced into Western Europe in the 2000s, he would hardly recognize it as the same country. He would be in immediate danger of getting mugged, carjacked or worse, because he would not have learned to live in constant fear.
He goes on to describe other 'social problems' the family of the 50s might encounter: pornography, homosexuality, violence in schools, and, oddly, that dad can't crack sexist jokes at work and mom would get laughed at for dressing pretty (p.12). What this nostalgic “memory” of a better time betrays is an encompassing fear of actual and symbolic (directed against cultural/ intellectual institutions) violence.

I sort of doubt that Breivik ever read any of the 'multiculturalist' thinkers he criticizes in the introduction, but whatever primary or secondary sources he did read, he got the analysis about the decline of paternal authority and paternalist social structures right.

Let's imagine that authority (perhaps more generally consciousness / language)  was established in order to manage (forbid, control, unleash) the will to power (Nietzsche), the excess of life and death (Bataille), the abject or the feminine (Kristeva). And then follow a trajectory that leads (a long way) to the rise of the nation-state in Europe, and then the relative peace and prosperity (for some) that followed WWII through the decline of authoritarian communism. And then imagine that for a generation or two, certain Europeans and Americans (excluding ethnic and religious minorities, the poor) lived with this (fake, built on violence around the world) edifice of stability, security, prosperity. If you were born into the (memory of this) place, class, and ethnicity that benefited from this order of things, and saw the world from your own place in it, then the terror of its decline is mostly sensible.

Breivik talks at length about “political correctness.” By this he means the “the General Line of the Establishment in Western European countries today (p.11)" and, roughly speaking, the cultural element of Marxist economics (p.13) as seen in the philosphical positions of The Frankfurt School and Deconstruction. I don't think he has really given these positions a fair reading. Instead he merely looks at the way that they are put into practice as an assault upon the values and institutions he holds dear – partriarchy, traditional gender roles, (his) ethnic identity, capitalism, etc. And in this respect he does get it more or less right. Postmodernity (I am using this term for convenience to refer to the philosophical and critical traditions developing from Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and company; I realize that the term itself means more or less nothing at all), at least in the humanities and social sciences, is deeply suspicious of Western power and knowledge.

But Breivik sees this critique as violence (an ironically very postmodern position). He envisions a robust and influential militant movement seeking to dismantle patriarchy (and succeeding). And the telos of all multiculturalism according to Breivik is that “In the end, the result is inevitably the concentration camp, the gulag and the grave (p.11)"

To me, however, this "multiculturalist" movement looks like a tiny, self-referential, irrelevant joke. While Postmodernity has certainly had a cultural and social impact (the loss Breivik laments), it has, for the most part, left all of our Western structures of domination intact, and arguably stronger than before. In some respects it has created a hipster in place of a revolutionary.  In other words, in the cultural space where we once questioned what our dad's had done in the war, we now have  an entirely apolitical, fashion-obsessed, self-absorbed (creative) class more concerned with bikes, music and skinny jeans than murder, torture and war.  And everyone else still doesn't give a fuck (I am reminded of the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games). And even those few of us with a political disposition, tend to take part in praxis that will never have any structural effect upon the organization of capitol and domination. Candle light vigils, civic participation within a two (or five or whatever) party system, street theatre, etc. will never change the world. And why shouldn't it be that way if everything is equally good and equally bad. Breivik on page 340:
In addition to just plain decadence, there is a widespread ideological feeling in Europe that nothing is worth fighting for, certainly not through armed struggle. There are no Great Truths, everything is equal.
Interestingly for me, I almost agree. I ended this post about the development of a robust reactionary right wing in the United States with this statement about resisting authoritarian structures:
A messy, fluid philosophical position doesn't lend itself to throwing Molotov cocktails, so much as sipping appletinis, and then thinking about it.
The dead Father is likely scary enough on its own for someone like Breivik. But when Breivik looks at this dead Father, he also sees a militant horde of Islamists ready to occupy the wake left by this receding power. Islam, for Breivik,  will take over the failing social structures of European culture not in a strictly military campaign, but in a cultural war. Al quaeda will not win this war. Europe will lose this war (without intervention from the Justiciar Knights) because of it's own cultural and social decline. 

Another way to say this is that Breivik's (symbolic) Father did not just die; he was killed. For this reason in the Norway attacks, Breivik's "military" targets were the “traitor whores” of multiculturalism (p. 1160).  And the use of this word "whore" is telling.  In one way of looking at this document, it is an expression of a deep and pathological fear of the feminine other; and an extended lament of, and anxiety about castration. 

Next time.
from page 563

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