Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Militant Dysphoria - some thoughts

I've only been slightly following / intervening in the debates that have followed the Goldsmiths event for Dominic's Cold World. To be a Habermasian hippy (a surprise to many, no doubt), I think the debate is part of the intellectual point, and certainly one way to get out of or minimise the elements of 'hype' and 'promotion' that are bound to surround any commercial venture (except perhaps academic publishing...). I also hope many of the contributors to the debate get to publish their works via Zero, to go all Maoist: 'let a thousand disputes bloom'.

I was thinking of Cold World in terms of Perry Anderson's remark that for revolutionary agency we need a coordination of knowledge and will. The dysphoric relation, whether aesthetic, political, or actual, seems to me a relation of knowledge: the preceptual awareness of the stark and delibidinised mechanisms and structures of the 'practico-inert'. In this it's quite unusual, because I think often the focus of contemporary work has fallen, understandably, on the necessity of will (See Peter Hallward's essay - pdf). I think that Cold World traces the absence of agency, or its antinomy - drawn out between stylised despair (as in BM) or frantic (manic?) activism (the RAF).

The problems noted, which I have some sympathy with, is how such a relation of knowledge might produce a new form of will? The old, and for that reason essential and difficult, question of what used to get called the 'negation of negation'. Dysphoria essentially often seems to lead to a paralysis of will, or at least its collapse / attenuation.

(I think here the other crucial problem raised by many is between the singularity of particular forms of suffering / depression / dysphoria as lived experience, the diagnostic / psychiatric categories (of which I am highly suspicious), and then the question of dysphoria as figure / cultural diagnosis. Certainly some may remember the heyday for such cultural diagnostics in the 1960s / 1970s - Deleuze and Guattari's schizophrenia, Jameson's 80s addenda, Christopher Lasch's Culture of Narcissism, Norman Mailer's hipster as psychopath, and I'm sure there are many more. Similar problems were raised in respect of all these, not least related to Freud's comment about the difficulty of supposing a cultural or societal 'standard of health' against which we could measure social pathology).

As I've said I'm very suspcious of any politics of the worst in the current conjuncture, which is not to say it couldn't have a role to play at other points. But what I think 'militant dysphoria' probes is our concept of the will - and also the point made by Badiou concerning the translation or integration of affects within the consistency of the truth-process. I think Dominic on this is far more interesting than, say, Franco Berardi's similar remarks on the 'intellectual potency' of depression - which definitely lead straight to Baudrillard (in a bad way). Perhaps I'm imposing my own modest reading on Cold World, but I see it as a manual of the antinomy.

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