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militant preciousness

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Reading some of the “militant dysphoria” papers that have been posted, the same problems that I’ve been on about a bit re-appear. Adolescent insanity just about sums it up, but to be slightly more specific, let’s start with absolute vagueness when it comes to the payoff. Here’s the problem. If the point is simply to recognise the dysphoria and then work to get rid of it, that’s fine, but it’s certainly not news. This is what has always been said, and generally said with a lot less theatricality and more substance than here. So rather the point (from a marketing perspective, I guess) is to angle towards the recognition and embrace of the dysphoria. Which of course leads to a fairly simple problem: why the fuck would anyone get onboard with a politics that promises only to make the problems, the things that make us unhappy, worse?

Yeah I know. What a sellout to neoliberalism I am for saying it. Here, have some splintering bone ashes:

To systematise briefly: a world protects its consistency by rendering itself a black box, invincible and invisible, taken for granted. The human world is one determined by vitalistic principles, and it is these which are undone in dysphoria, hence undoing the world which they construct. If capital has subsumed the world of life, has exploited and manipulated its processes to such an extent that it becomes synonymous with life, and indeed a form of life itself, then perhaps the way of death, of non-life, of the freezing over of the vital offers a way out of its particular strictures. It is certainly true to say that capitalism as it stands now requires a degree of acquiescence with the “big other”- to at least pay lip service to the affirmationist common sense. This means that at the level of microeconomics, we must “enjoy” or at least pretend to do so, and at the level of macroeconomics that the dogma of growth of gross domestic product as strictly equivalent to the common good and the elevation of the general standard of living of humanity must be maintained. So in identifying with the state of dysphoria itself and hence to subtract from this world, the militant dysphoric effectively abandons a world already made cold by capital’s alien life, and then perhaps, undoes it. Perhaps.

The final “perhaps” is precious, isn’t it? Some of us, however, hold out for the chance that it might, just might, be possible to enjoy stuff outside of the framework of capitalism – or, Christ, even within it if that’s the lot we’ve drawn for now. A refugee enjoys her or his refuge, a starving man his food. Sometimes its nice to read a book or talk to a friend. Some of us even like sex sometimes (though maybe not these guys) that’s neither paid for nor framed within some subsuming logic of capital.

Oh and just to be clear: making strange never meant just being confusing and vague, or saying things that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. And also: Baudrillard did all this in Symbolic Exchange and Death, better, though no more convincingly. Here, have a bit more, from Nick Srnicek:

-To some degree, we can see this in Dominic’s discussion of the killing of Finke – the bystander who was killed by the RAF when they broke Baader out of custody. In the militant’s frame, this innocent bystander never enters into the calculations involved in their path. It’s rather bourgeois morality which would force this calculation onto the agencies involved, but it’s excluded here by the assemblage that has framed the militant. Whereas bourgeois morality would have paralyzed action by trying to calculate every possible consequence in advance, the militant has their frame contracted to a much more myopic vision.
-It is this aspect which makes the militant – potentially – a progressive and transformative agent, rather than a reactionary and conservative impediment. A sort of willful blindness, a contraction of the frame beyond everyday concerns, and the focusing of energies on a singular path.

Boy, well, that takes care of the tricky business of collateral damage, doesn’t it? Just to be clear, one could replace the word militant with US military at any single point in the above, and it would work out just as cleanly. Ever seen The Battle of Algiers? Notice the way that it stares the soon-to-be-dead right in the face? Have to say, the thought of toussled-haired hipsters, laptopped and bespectacled, writing such things leaves me just a little bit raw. Know what I mean?

In general: all seems like a lot of grad seminar smokebreak nonsense, the sort of things that the kids get up to when the instructor is out of the room. Or, worse, the sort of thing that irresponsible, comfortable people say when they’re bored. Which is maybe how all the very worst sorts of politics get started. The reveries of frustrated junior stock-brokers. It’s a simple test, easily dismissed as “guardianistical” by the initiates, but if your politics wouldn’t make sense to some poor fucker in a camp in Africa, or migrant worker caught just outside the tunnel, or a prostitute working the outer bits of the outer boroughs, you should stop and shut the fuck up think very carefully about what you’re up to. Only the rich want to die, only the rich privilege their own unhappiness. If you read this blog, you know that I am unhappy about 99 percent of the time – but I’d never, ever mistake that for a politics. Afraid we can’t really spare the bandwidth.

Perhaps I’ll say a bit more when I’m in a better mood. For now, I’ll just say I’m not regretting missing the event for drinks with undergraduates.

Written by adswithoutproducts

October 4, 2009 at 12:57 am

Posted in theory

56 Responses

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  1. “If your politics wouldn’t make sense to some poor fucker in a camp in Africa, or migrant worker caught just outside the tunnel, or a prostitute working the outer bits of the outer boroughs…”

    Why don’t you think militant dysphoria would make sense to any of these people?


    October 4, 2009 at 3:59 am

  2. To take up the theme: since I don’t know the poor African fucker or migrant worker, they do seem to enter into this narrative as exotics who exemplify some perfect moral point. Our Calibans.

    Although I do agree that the lesson of the RAF is certainly not: don’t worry about collateral casualties! It is: all gangs quickly devolve into gang narcissism. The RAF quickly became an organization that spent all of its energies on activities haveing to do with the RAF – namely, releasing RAF prisoners. As if that were the hot and burning issue of the day.

    However, I think you are rather unfairly arguing against the militant dysphoria thesis by assuming that dysphoria is a priori unattractive. That seems to me to be wrong. The black metal scene, which is like many music scenes and many subcultures, shows that, on the contrary, unhappiness can be as much an attractor, as much at the center of a collective project, as happiness. I myself have a much different critique of the happiness culture, and it starts from disputing that in all parts of one’s life wone strives for happiness, and that all activity is judged in terms of happiness. I think this is, as a sociological generalization, quite wrong. In fact, it is quite puzzling what happiness is, in fact, as a goal for one’s life, or a description of one’s life, and how it relates to happiness as it is connected to the feeling, this makes me happy, or, I am happy. The normative dimension of happiness is an odd compound of mood and judgment, and – I think – is often related to standards of social success. That is, once you make being happy normative, then, of course, if you aren’t happy, you are unsuccessful.

    And it is at that point, the nexus of striving, that you start talking to prostitutes and immigrants.


    October 4, 2009 at 5:07 am

  3. If happiness as the ne plus ultra criterion of a “successful” or “meaningful” life is quite wrong (which I agree it is), the same can be said of unhappiness – especially since it’s a fairly useless emotion that doesn’t push towards action. Anger or resentment are far more useful, and they don’t require that one be a self-pitying mope to begin with.

    And why is that black metal (adolescent insanity indeed!) is apparently most fondly thought of by people who live in places like Santa Cruz or Dorset, and why are they (progressive “militants” that they are) so forgiving of a genre that is at best coyly, at worst explicitly Nazi?


    October 4, 2009 at 7:22 am

  4. voyou,

    If the point is the disavowal of “enjoyment” as both a means and an end – and this is just what is being said, even though everytime I say that people respond with equivocations that clarify nothing – then no, I doubt the truly unhappy are going to respond to such a politics. The truly unhappy would want the unhappiness to end, and as quickly as possible. Sorry if it’s simple minded; it just happens to be the case.


    You’re right, they are our Calibans. But we can’t do politics without them. Extremely careful strategic essentialism is always the order of the day. Otherwise you end up with something with, um, rather narrow appeal – best suits vaguely depressed semi-intellectuals in their mopeyness and angst. (As I said above, I know all about mopeyness and angst – it’s just not where the politics lies, at least not without about a thousand intermediate steps…)

    However, I think you are rather unfairly arguing against the militant dysphoria thesis by assuming that dysphoria is a priori unattractive.

    Yes, I am! But it’s not unfair, as it is a priori unattractive. Embracing it makes things more complicated, but it still has to be a priori unattractive. We have a word for this, and that word is perverse. And perversity is just fine! But this specific perversity is not the foundation of a good politics. Sometimes the opposite of perverse is “normative,” sometimes it is “rational.”

    Your project sounds like a much, much better way of sorting out the difference between those two terms than this one, Roger. Problematizing happiness is very different from militantly pursuing unhappiness, isn’t it?


    October 4, 2009 at 7:42 am

  5. Seb,

    We agree on both points. I don’t know enough about Black Metal to say much about it, but I will say that the sophistry that starts coming when some take up the issue is kinda terrifying, yes.


    October 4, 2009 at 7:45 am

  6. Oh and by the way: I corrected something intemperate toward the end of the post. I shouldn’t call names, even if I’m upset. So I changed it. I am sorry to have done it in the first place.


    October 4, 2009 at 7:47 am

  7. […] nor the “militant” framing of violence adequately addresses the problem of – as AWP puts it – “collateral damage”. The bourgeois/moralistic view is essentially that […]

  8. Hi AWP, I think you’re most certainly right about the problem of collateral damage. In my defence, I take the RAF example not to be something applauded and endorsed, but as merely an example of this framing in operation. We can see similar things occur in relation to Salafi jihadists, and no one is saying they are a model for action. What I was more interested in was the very process of radicalization – either conservative or progressive or some unknown configuration. What, in other words, allows people to take on a militant stance? So maybe that clarifies more what I was getting at… It’s not a normative conclusion I’m talking about (at least not yet); it’s more of an analytic conclusion (hence the important inclusion of the word ‘potentially’ in the paragraph you cite from me).

    Regardless, I take your general point about ‘what use is this to the excluded of society?’ very seriously. I’m certainly not a member of the excluded (I’ve been very fortunate in life), so I do try to self-reflect on whether my ideas are or aren’t just “the sort of thing that irresponsible, comfortable people say when they’re bored.”


    Nick Srnicek

    October 4, 2009 at 7:34 pm

  9. Nick,

    Thanks for your reply. I think I understand what you’re saying in the first paragraph of your response. But what bothers me – and has bothered me from the start in discussions (if that’s the word) that I’ve participated in in re: militant dysphoria is this sort of halfhearted failure to answer the what seem to me to be the fundamental questions of political analysis / organization first before getting on to a fairly specific elaboration of potential practices.

    I’m glad you’re self-reflecting about these things. You sound a bit tenative in saying so, though, and you’re not offering to share what you’ve discovered. Which is fine. But I have a very hard time understandinging what business one would have ” reformatting the politics of continental philosophy” without some pretty thorough and fairly conclusive answers to just these questions.

    The ends and the means of political activity are not separable. This backs us right up back into the collateral damage issue as well, no? I’m afraid I get very worried about anyone who’d urge militancy without being able to tell me, very succinctly, what this militancy would serve.

    More widely, sometimes it seems to me that this has something to do with a sort of “cadre” effect that’s become current in contintental political-philosophical circles in the wake of Badiou, that and a tendency to minimize the categories that to my mind always have to come first – that is to say, the socio-economic categories, or from another angle the issue of constituency. Or maybe it’s a long hangover from the Schmitt vogue. Or both. I’m not sure, but starting the question with the organization of the event of militancy without thinking all the way through on what one would like the outcome of the event to be seems to me pretty irresponsible.

    Anyway, thanks again for coming round. Sorry if my tone was a bit harsh. I will admit to having become pretty persistently frustrated with the whole “militant dysphoria” thing.


    October 4, 2009 at 8:32 pm

  10. Personally, I think the means and the ends can be separated, at least to a large degree. Capitalism can use network organization as well as a hacker group can, as well as a guerrilla organization can. These sort of organizational means don’t point to any particular political end. Where I think they do interact is in that the means can limit the ends possible. Certain modes of organization preclude certain political ends, and that’s important to take note of (and something I haven’t written on at all).

    So with that being said, I do think there’s some value to analyzing modes of organization and subjectification, without having to pre-articulate a political program.

    Still, I do work on this stuff with at least some vague and some concrete ideas about what they might best be used for. I’m really quite mild in my own inclinations – better healthcare in the US, tighter financial regulations (including a financial transactions tax), greater power given to labour organizations, greater voice of developing countries within global institutions, massive restrictions on carbon use, an end to unjustified wars, wider support for peacekeeping missions, etc. It’s not revolutionary at all, and it’s perhaps merely a wishlist for any vaguely progressive person today.

    But, we (as leftists) still fail to accomplish anything approaching these goals, and my analysis is in part an attempt to understand how we can do better. I don’t take militancy to be necessarily violent militancy (although in some countries that may be morally defensible as well), and so it can be put to use in a variety of circumstances – directly revolutionary, or embedded heavily within an existing institutional sphere.

    No worries about the tone! I think it’s because I can understand why you’d be frustrated with it all, that I can understand the aggressiveness as well.

    Nick Srnicek

    October 4, 2009 at 9:02 pm

  11. The essence of a consumer society is that we focus more on the sizzle than the steak. To love the idea and aesthetics of militancy and revolution does not require a concrete political end, maybe it necessitates a deliberate confusion about the political end. The un-ironic marketing of the zero books (“unparalleled militant efficiency”) is a barely distorted mirror of the language of corporate ‘pro-active solutions’. And like any ‘strategic thinking’, it long ago lost all relation to what it is ostensibly talking about.

    But the same idea is more persuasively formulated by Ulrich Beck as simply opposing the idea of finding (or having to find) biographical solutions to what are really social/ structural problems. This idea can be easily communicated to anyone.


    October 4, 2009 at 10:01 pm

  12. Nick,

    I was unclear, and thus we’re using the words can / can’t in different senses. I meant can’t as a strong version of shouldn’t – we shouldn’t separate means and ends. I agree that they are infinitely cooptable. In fact (when it comes down to it) I’m not sure that all of the means available to us (that we’ve thought of so far) aren’t just as cooptable – after all, both revolution and democratic reform were invented during capitalist revolutions.

    I like your wishlist, and I am interested in your definition of militancy. I am wondering if I perhaps added you in to the general critique that I am advancing here a bit too hastily. Sorry if I did. I’m going to try to have more to say about Baader-Meinhof et al in the next few days.


    I agree. What is the Beck reference? Can you say more about it?


    October 4, 2009 at 10:24 pm

  13. Gabe,

    It’s disingenuous to say the least to be so damning of Zero based on one phrase, quoted out of context, used by one writer (not a Zero writer but someone contributing a blurb) in relation to one book.

    No doubt your knowledge of zero’s output is as thorough as your knowledge of their marketing rhetoric must be – otherwise you would be guilty of focussing on ‘sizzle’ and not steak – right?


    October 4, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    • Just passing by, like this post a lot, ads, as well as many others.

      This moniker caught my eye. Wow, I thought. Clearly comes fraom a good family. Seems brainy too. You sure know how to pull ’em in, ads. When I first came to Britain, my name took awhile to be accepted quite as thoroughly as we wanted. We were considered to be a form of Musbrat, which you’ll remember from Waugh. This happens very frequently, isn’t it?

      basic plumbing

      October 5, 2009 at 2:31 am

  14. ZST, I have read Owen’s book, and will read k-punk’s. Maybe it’s my fault for having overly high expectations, but there is a common stylistic let down in the blogs that is accentuated by the way the books promise more than they deliver, which is a perceptive or witty analysis of some cultural phenomenon, and then a final mini-paragraph which says, ‘and perhaps x shows that another way of living is possible’ which has not been earned in any way by the preceding analysis. I’m not convinced this (very enjoyable) polemic and analysis needs this ‘militant’ wrapping at all. And the clear pleasure in the ‘self-marketing’ and being ‘on message’ with the unified branding and catchphrases is pretty striking to an outsider.

    Ads – Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society is the text but I think I read it in Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘Work, consumerism and the new poor.’


    October 5, 2009 at 5:59 am

  15. Gabe,

    Ah, this merits a very long reply – in fact a reply that I really should write up as a post. Here, let me give it a try quickly….

    The short version is that I agree with you in general, though not about Owen’s book. Hopefully I’ll get this up this morning if my daughter sits still through one more Charlie and Lola.


    October 5, 2009 at 7:09 am

  16. […] a comment » Gabe just left a provocative comment about Zero Books under the “militant preciousness” post: Maybe it’s my fault for […]

  17. […] “the pol­i­tics of disaffection,” by Ads’s, “adolescent insanity”—draws a useful line in the sand and fol­lows up with a com­ment that self-​consciously polit­i­cal poet­mon­gers in this […]

    Dear Poets

    October 5, 2009 at 4:54 pm

  18. “Have to say, the thought of toussled-haired hipsters, laptopped and bespectacled, writing such things leaves me just a little bit raw. Know what I mean?”

    This right here…yes, I know what you mean.

    I’m at a university right now with a high percentage of students who enrolled on the G.I. bill. Listening to people who are clearly so insulated from the realities of death and torture and murder and war talking so flippantly about mere trifles like casualties does rankle (in this, of all years, the one with the highest casualty rate since the war began)— especially when I can’t walk two feet without seeing a 19-year-old boy in a wheelchair. Or wake up knowing that my best friend here is probably vomiting, like he does every morning when he wakes up. He jumps at the slightest noise, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to fail his classes…

    I can’t say I don’t indulge in my own dysphoria at times, and I understand that there’s value in discussing this as a sort of aesthetic posture, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t sound like a bunch of self-indulgent, cluelessly privileged “look at me, I feeeel soo baaad, even though I have it so good” mutual backslapping.

    In my experience, dysphoria has two possible end results: death, or seeking treatment. If you can still wallow in it comfortably and functionally, it’s probably not dysphoria. It’s probably just the same old ups and downs everyone has. Nothing too special. You might want to try focusing your attention on something or someone else.

    anodyne lite

    October 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    • Ok, I gotta be real, I understand what you are saying but fuck that noise. I didn’t join the military and took on massive, MASSIVE debt not to do so. Everyone else in my immediate family (3 brothers) did join. I don’t feel bad about being a “tousled hair, mac-book using hipster” who writes about theory and war and conflict. At all. So, no, I refuse to feel bad about not having mental illnesses caused by participating in war, sometimes participating in what amount to war crimes that will never be prosecuted. That’s why I didn’t join.

      I also think that saying someone who is poor or who isn’t as privileged can’t be depressed in the same way is a bit, well, wrong. I’m not sure what argument there is for saying they are.

      That said, I generally am against the politics of rotting-fleshism, but I’m not so sure that is what is going on in Dominic’s book or Nick’s paper.

      Anthony Paul Smith

      October 5, 2009 at 5:43 pm

      • OK, so that first part was a bit over the top. My apologies. I just hear this a lot from people and I don’t mean to downplay the pressure to join the military or the real problems it causes on veterans. Just the opposite really, which is why I wish more of us who came out of the working class and didn’t join would do more to stop more working class kids becoming fodder for an insane war machine.

        Anthony Paul Smith

        October 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm

      • Absolutely anybody can be depressed, genuinely ill with depression. PTSD is something different altogether. And nobody was asking you to “feel bad” about being what you are.

        But this tendency to want to externalize one’s own affects and then valorize them as if they are the litmus test for how capital-R Revolutionary you are is just… sophomoric.

        anodyne lite

        October 5, 2009 at 11:53 pm

  19. And by the way, Nick: I’ve read your paper and I don’t think you were downplaying casualties in it. Your presentation struck a balance against the airy-fairyness of the rest, I thought.

    I was thinking more of others in the post above.

    anodyne lite

    October 5, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    • Thanks AL. Though, in Alex’s defence as well, he points out the paradoxes of militant dysphoria, and makes a key part of his talk all about how militant dysphoria has this bad tendency to end up perpetuating itself, taking a sort of unacknoweldged pleasure in its unpleasure. It’s not so much a matter of some emo-type posture, but of (and Dominic’s book gets into this much better) focusing dysphoria on a single source and using it productively.

      Nick Srnicek

      October 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm

  20. APS,

    I’m not all that toussled of hair at the moment, and I do use a mac. The problems not with doing that, the problem’s with doing that and making calculations about colateral damage, the death of civilians, that sort of thing. But Nick and I seem to have sorted this out – so it’s a moot point. On the other hand, your refusal to enlist is admirable and exactly the sort of thing I’m saying is right. You seem to have a healthy resistance to the idea of killing or being killed. This is good.

    anodyne lite,

    I agree.


    That’s helpful. I’ll say more over on the other comment string.


    October 5, 2009 at 8:11 pm

  21. airy fairy?
    You are kidding me. Airy fairies unite!

    Hurray for the privileged, their computers and their hair. And how privileged and powerful they are. They write blogs! They publish books that achieve sales in the tens, even the hundreds! And, of course, if they’d been listened to, there wouldn’t be those guys in wheelchairs, because there would not have been a horrific, unjustifiable, murderous war, an invasion without a cause, promoted by lies and a hairy fairy nationalism that will never have enough, and that leverages its false moral authority to continue this system of mass murder. It was privileged dysphorics who marched against the war. If they are supposed to be discredited because, gosh, home from the war the casualties come, well, fuck that. The people who are discredited are the loudmouth, tinhorn euphorics and their positive vision for change change change in the Middle East.

    There’s a nice Mandelstam poem about the faux populism of claiming some special virtue from birth in the working class, written while he was doing one of his first stints in a labor camp:

    “I drink to military asters, to all they reproach me for:
    To the rich man’s fur coat, to asthma, to the jaundiced Petersburg day,

    To the music of pines in Savoie, the petrol on Champs-Elysees,
    To roses in a Rolls Royce interior, to the oil paint of Parisian pictures.

    I drink to the waves of Biscay, to a jug of cream from the Alps
    To the reddish hauteur of English ladies and quinine of distant colonies

    I drink but I still haven’t decided which one I shall choose:
    Sparkling Asti Spumante or Chateauneuf du Pape.”


    October 5, 2009 at 9:08 pm

  22. Roger,

    It was privileged dysphorics who marched against the war.

    Wait. Are you quite sure of that? Some of the dysphorics under discussion here seem pretty dismissive of that sort of thing. As am I, some of the time. But still… I think you’re drawing your own sides here, not addressing the sides as they are actually drawn, if they’re drawn. The militant dysphoria that’s been discussed doesn’t make special efforts to get people out on the street for anti-war rallies. Which is fine – that’s not my issue with it. But you’re blending and blurring here.

    Can’t tell whether you’re talking to me or not, but let’s be clear. I don’t claim “special virtue from birth in the working class.” I don’t because I can’t.

    Do you want to clarify yourself a bit? Because this was a confusing entrance into the discussion.


    October 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm

  23. I didn’t think it was so confusing. I was responding to anodyne light’s airy fairy comment. As for the people who went to the cold world talk, I know I.T. marched against the war. I’m pretty sure Dominic marched against the war. As for the inheritors of RAF, the autonomen left in Germany, and the Linke, they represent the one party in Europe that officially wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. As for black metal, I have no idea, since I don’t like metal. But your standard industrial bands, say the members of Atari Teenage Riot – Hanin Elias in particular, who is dysphoric if anybody is – sang against the war (see this link: So, who are these people, “the toussled-haired hipsters, laptopped and bespectacled” who were for the war? Hipster is a word that is one of those debased, kinder-words, like booger, but I assume that it has some referential reach – so does it describe a demographic that leaned towards the war or not? Another way of asking that question is this: would a bespectacled – I love the idea that the limpwristed have wasted their eyesight, wanking and reading henry miller, while the virile have been chasing after deer and tearing them apart with their bare hands – have believed that there was a link between Al Quaeda and Saddam Hussein, or that WMDs were found in Iraq, or that world opinion favored the invasion? I use those three lies because, according to Program on International Policy (PIPA), those belief that those three falsehoods were true was strongly correlated to support for the war in the U.S. Sure, I hate those fucks with glasses too, little hipsters – oh, how I’d like to take them hunting with me for rhino in Wyoming! – but there is that one undeniable advantage to reading in that you, uh, learn certain basic facts about the world.

    No, I’m not attacking you ads, but I dislike intensely stupid anti-intellectualism. Plus the random use of the word hipster, plus the idea that glasses are somehow, uh, unmanly.


    October 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm

  24. I wasn’t talking about IT, and most everyone around here I think pretty much knows that. I’ll try to say more about IT’s paper in a bit. Did you read it? It doesn’t fit at all with the rubric that I am having a problem with. Anyway.

    Just an aside: I’m not sure the first way I’d describe the Linke Partei is as an “inheritor” of the RAF. But just above didn’t you say something else about the RAF?

    Roger! The point isn’t that they were for the war! The point is the the politics of militant dysphoria, as I’ve seen it drawn out, advocate something like a withdrawal from exactly such activities! I could take the time to search around for a better example, but just this sort of gesture:

    Can you see what I’m saying? Geez. I’d never mock anyone for participating in the anti-war movement, and I’m sure that no one but no one that’s involved in this discussion was actually for the war. The issue is the posture that one takes in regard to engagement in this sort of politics in the first place! Part of what I resist in certain forms of this dysphoria as it’s manifested itself in the b’sphere is the withdrawal from things like anti-war marches!

    And on the “anti-intellectualism” front: again, I think you’ve misunderstood the way this has been going. If I’ve gotten slammed before in this argument, it’s for being a useless, ponderous academic, devoid of “project” or “engagement” whereas others are full up on that ol’ time militancy. I was being a bit of a dick with my characterizations, but it wasn’t aimed again intellect. It was against comfortable people 1) advocating violence (micro or macro) that I don’t really think they’re up to and 2) the deployment of a rather comfortable sort of unpleasantness as a paradigm for political action.

    I’m not bespectacled (who knows why – don’t read enough probably) but I’m sometimes toussled-haired. The difference is that I don’t project my unhappiness (it’s often enough there – and here in full view on the blog) as a recipe for a potential politics….

    Not an anti-intellectual, though – if anything, if I err, I err in the other direction. Almost constitutively….


    October 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm

  25. Ads, I was commenting more on anodyne lite than on your comment. I dislike squeezing moral surplus value out of meeting a crippled soldier,

    But to get to the meatier topic of politics and dsyphoria – Dominic is not the only person who is starting to attack the happiness culture from the left. Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book = which I’m reviewing – is an overview of the dysfunctional cult of positive thinking inn America. There’s always been a discomfort on the left with happiness in capitalism.

    On the other hand, the left clings to the utopia of happiness that will arrive after the circumstances that cause unhappiness are abolished. At that point, false consciousness will also dissolve, and people will be “truly” – as opposed to inauthentically – happy.

    Now I think, Ads, that you are operating in this tradition. And that confronting the person who is proud of being unhappiness, you have to say that such a person is politically and morally untrustworthy. The unhappiness forced upon somebody by circumstances does count, morally , because of the circumstances – that person’s unhappiness indicts the circumstances. But otherwise, and if a person is given “privileged’ circumstances, and suffers no neurological deficit, that person has a duty to pursue happiness, or to be unhappy only by empathy – with those who circumstances make unhappy. Dysphoria outside of that is morally suspect.

    Is that an unfair characterization of your logic?


    October 5, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    • Personally, I don’t think individual affects matter that much, as a leftist– or at least, every time I’ve ever tried to suggest that they might matter to any of the supposedly “militant” bloggers, I’ve been shot down instantly, usually by way of a number of Badiou-based arguments about why individuals don’t matter (but only generic sets do, or somesuch…)

      I only find it ironic that these are the same people who suddenly are trying to build an entire ethos on their own subjective affects–which happen to be sadness at the moment, or some kind of gloominess. But, of course, they could just as easily be something else, or change with the hemlines.

      I can’t help but note that it’s cool to be sad right now if you’re upper middle class and educated and move among certain circles (but that it’s very uncool if you’re working class). I can’t help but note that it’s suddenly a franchise to brand yourself dark and upset and intellectual. Hell, American Apparel even sells fake glasses so you can look thoughtful and serious! Even Jay-Z’s been wearing them, since Obama was elected.

      Pair the vague gestures toward “the possibility of a possibility of a better world” and the innuendos about paramilitary action with the utter inadequacy of the left’s response to the current financial/economic crisis, and you’ve got a parody of a scene from La Chinoise.

      anodyne lite

      October 6, 2009 at 12:11 am

  26. Wow. Good. Complicated, Roger.

    Just about right, except I’m not entirely sure what the “privileged” are “supposed” to do. I guess my answer would be that I’m not all that worried about them; I am worried about getting the politics right.

    But yes, I am operating in that tradition. Just should add that I see glints of happiness all around, often only in half form, but they’re there. (Owen gave a Piccadilly Line tour yesterday – the Piccadilly Line makes me happy, as does the Southbank Centre. As does Senate House Library. I’d simply like tons more of that sort of thing and the sort of world that supports it…) It’s those that I’d like to pound on – we’re not rebuilding from the very foundation, luckily.


    October 5, 2009 at 11:44 pm

  27. The whole discussion on militant dysphoria reminds me of a news item from a while back about certain Christian Apocalyptic groups advocating the intentional destruction of the natural world in order to catalyze the coming of the end-times — does it seem fair to regard the current debate as a secular extension of that agenda? Perhaps I’m giving the militant dysphorialists a bit too much credit (I must admit I’m near-totally ignorant of the more recent works being discussed), or reading Marx somewhat too dogmatically, but there does seem to be at least a glimmer of reason behind it, albeit somewhat perverse: if aggregatized dysphoria is a prerequisite for common class-consciousness, doesn’t it make some sense to accelerate capitalism’s domination of misery and thus sooner bring about the “new man”?

    In any case, as for the supposed falsified suffering of the bourgeoisie, (I mention this because I see critique of everyday life on your reading list) I think Lefebvre argues fairly convincingly that even they are not exempt from man’s essential alienation from objects, which in a real sense is the major tragedy of modern life. The passage I have in mind is in the first 200 pages or so of volume 1, but I don’t have my copy at hand; perhaps someone can help me out here. They are reduced to a tired Paterism, dominated by their own fetishism and blindered by alienation, and for this reason were obsessed by the bizarre and grotesque (Sade was, after all, a Marquis, and the Surrealists and Situationists mostly brought up in decent middle-class families), which seemed to them the only exultation; the bourgeois condition then being a sort of highbrow escapism. The problem isn’t so much that they are dysphoric, but that they are the wrong kind of dysphoric: the cognitive dissonance of bourgeois faux-individualism and its visions masquerading as prole alienation. Debord’s obsession with consumption is “politically suspect” as an expression of worker alienation exactly because it is such a perfect expression of bourgeois problems: how to consume, what to do with money (this presupposes having disposable income to begin with), the conflation of consumptive activity with identity — that is to say, what he was really getting at is a true formulation of bourgeois dysphoria. Lefebvre is coming back to me again: that the problem isn’t split between having and not having, it’s a fact that society as a whole has not transcended this duality, that the use value of objects cannot be realized under the commodity-form.

    Hm. I seem to have this problem where I write half-baked novel-length papers in your comment boxes. In any case, I do think there is a case to be made for dysphoria in all ranks of capitalist society, that the lower-class doesn’t have a monopoly on this sort of thing. (in full confession, I am from suburban Iowa, with a lower-middle-class parentage.) HL’s critique here to me stands not only as a very perceptive and reflective positive critique, but a powerful one that serves the interests of general Marxism very well. If someone is touting their dysphoria, I don’t think the reaction should be to tell them to give it up as false (for I don’t believe that a fictitious, self-created dysphoria really exists, and, were one to be scientifically discovered, it would very clearly exist as a symptom of society and the pressures on the individual), but to get them thinking about the actual causes and how those arise from their position in society.


    October 6, 2009 at 9:41 am

  28. The whole discussion on militant dysphoria reminds me of a news item from a while back about certain Christian Apocalyptic groups advocating the intentional destruction of the natural world in order to catalyze the coming of the end-times — does it seem fair to regard the current debate as a secular extension of that agenda?

    Yes, it has at times reminded me of that too, and I’ve said so in that initial response to Dominic here:

    if aggregatized dysphoria is a prerequisite for common class-consciousness, doesn’t it make some sense to accelerate capitalism’s domination of misery and thus sooner bring about the “new man”?

    Yes, that’s an age-old Marxist debate, “heightening the contradictions” and the like. Now I guess we’re calling it accelerationism. The short form of my response is that I am extremely doubtful about it, that it’s way too risky, far too likely just to lead to more of the same, only worse. But, yes, that’s part of what is vaguely at stake here.

    What a lovely paragraph in the middle about Lefebvre. And like him, I’m not at all interested in writing the bourgeoisie out of the political equation. They suffer too, they often are the drivers of change, etc. But the issue that I have here is that the directionality of some of the claims advanced under the banner of MD aim in a direction exactly opposite to that espoused by HL, the ends of whose political argument could never, ever be called dysphoric. Rather, he mined everyday life, such as it is in our societies, for glimmers of hope – things that could be brought to the fore during and after the change. (This is, of course, reductive – and HL’s career was extremely long – but basically this is HL’s overarching position).

    If someone is touting their dysphoria, I don’t think the reaction should be to tell them to give it up as false (for I don’t believe that a fictitious, self-created dysphoria really exists, and, were one to be scientifically discovered, it would very clearly exist as a symptom of society and the pressures on the individual), but to get them thinking about the actual causes and how those arise from their position in society.

    Very much agreed. That is, in the long run, what I am trying to say, even if it’s coming out a bit complexly!

    Always nice to have your comments, w!


    October 6, 2009 at 11:43 am

  29. Ads: Just to clarify, the “perhaps” that you find so precious is supposed to qualify the paragraph above (my stab at systematising the latter two chapters of Dominic’s book) and to point towards the fact that Dysphoria is not going to do what Dominic appears to want it to do. It is a caricature of his position, essentially, not my own. Whilst I don’t agree with your politics, I’m equally suspicious that the shit of the misery of the left can somehow be transmuted into gold.


    October 6, 2009 at 6:18 pm

  30. A note on being, and marching, against wars. In my case: colossal fail on both counts. I’m dubious about the usefulness of marching even now, but wish I’d at least made the most basic nominal gesture of choosing sides then.

    Dysphoria probably neither here nor there in this, except that I might have made a better decision if I’d been less readily becalmed by the balanced arguments / deranged apologetics for mass murder presented to me on the honourable pages of the Grauniad. Can I have been that morally inert and gullible? Yes, I can.


    October 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm

  31. The whole discussion on militant dysphoria reminds me of a news item from a while back about certain Christian Apocalyptic groups advocating the intentional destruction of the natural world in order to catalyze the coming of the end-times

    …christian apocalyptists and muslim terrorists unite to bring on the Mahdi. A match made in heaven creating hell on earth.


    October 6, 2009 at 11:47 pm

  32. “I’m worried about getting the politics right.”

    What will you do with “right politics?” Engage in the excitement (fun even?) of convincing yr blogging colleagues of their rightness? Not a bad idea. Of course by the time the present moment’s right politics have been articulated, the present moment will have passed and the articulation will be of no political value. But clearly creating something of political, rather than critical value is not the purpose of these discussions, so no problem there. Have fun! That’s all this could possibly be about. In the meantime, we’ll be out here on the corner, all depressed in that outer borough.


    October 7, 2009 at 6:32 am

  33. I’m not really sure why these sorts of blog-discussions bother me so much. Its a game, like any other, and innocent enough, right? An “alternative” game for alternative privileged people, who listened to My Bloody Valentine in High School and would rather read and discuss in their infinite leisure time, rather than play golf with the squares. I think I’m upset cuz I’m not getting a sense that any of the contributors are aware of the gameness. It reads as if everyone posting here really believes this is more important – more helpful to humanity, or whatever- than say, sharing a cigar at the old boy’s club over some whiskey sodas.


    October 7, 2009 at 6:41 am

  34. Alex,

    Fair enough. Perhaps I’ll revisit the piece.


    I know just what you mean, and am pretty much the same way vis a vis protests. I’m going to respond to the interesting stuff that you’ve have on the blog lately just as soon as I get a minute…




    So you’re advocating the development of a politics without writing and discussion? Or you’re just not interested in politics? If the latter, or even the former, why hang around the blogs? There’s lots else you could be doing with your time, no?

    I’m not sure where the “old boy’s club” thing comes from. Many of us know each other well or not so well but we’re having a discussion out loud, on here, where anyone in the world is free to participate if they want. If it was the sort of club you want it to be, we’d just sit somewhere by ourselves and talk. One of the basic axiomatic beliefs inherent in blogging is that we believe in discussing these things publically… It’s an anti-club, really.


    October 7, 2009 at 10:21 am

    • Right, but there are a lot of people who couldn’t possibly participate in a discussion like this, because they’d be automatically ruled out by their lack of access to a) education, or b) the internet itself.

      The internet is not a class-free zone, even if it is our little utopia.

      anodyne lite

      October 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm

      • No agree absolutely. But it’s not what Chris thinks it is. If we’re going to have a discussion, this is about as “open club” as we’re going to get.

        I spend my days teaching classes that are only open to those who’ve paid to be there. This on here is a different story, even if your point is valid.


        October 7, 2009 at 8:43 pm

  35. would it be fair to call militant dysphoria, a rigourous pursuit of unhappiness ?

    i have a relative inlaw who comes from wealth and privilege. i do not and when we talk, she tries to make her life seem miserable as if to cover a sense of guilt for being what she is or to make herself seem my equal in not so much fortune, as i have none, but unfortunate in other areas.

    its like she will do things to make herself miserable or unhappy and that makes her happy. mostly its just trivial stuff tho as i dont think she could handle doing the really ‘important’ stuff. sometimes i feel she wants my pity and other times shes rubbing my nose in it…

    …reminds me of the whole camel thru the eye of a needle thing, kind of fake


    October 7, 2009 at 10:37 am

  36. Just to say I think I have some responsibility for the term ‘accelerationism’, but it was always meant as a summing-up for the purposes of critique. I have no faith in a politics of the worst, especially in the current context. On Baudrillard, I’ve noted the irony that Forget Foucault is a remarkable criticism of many of the problems:

    I once disposed of all my research / apocalypse culture stuff because it depressed me… Although Kirsten Ross’s Emergence of Social Space has a nice defence of adolescent rebellion in the context of Rimbaud, which seems germane.

    I should say I enjoyed Militant Dysphoria a great deal, especially the close readings. I do wonder whether it recapitulates the stalled aporia of agency, however, although I think that’s an effect of reality.


    October 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  37. Gents and Ladies, the production of “accelerationism” (or apocalypticism or politics of the worst) here as a straw man to justify a kind of liberal-humanist reformism as its real alternative is beneath you.

    I mean I’m skeptical about affect, skeptical about Badiou, worse that skeptical about black metal, but I have yet to hear why skepticism regarding such matters justifies propping up capitalism via a rather paternalistic boo-hoo-ing about the poor and the halt, whose misery is really earned (indeed, the implicit assumptions here about the, erm, value of earned-ness here are intolerable).

    Or: if bourgeois sadness is politically indifferent, it’s not because it’s “bourgeois” or “sad.” It’s because it’s not militant enough.


    October 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    • All righty then, Jane, see you down on the corner of Lexington to rally the Gloom Troops at, what, 9:30?

      I don’t think anyone here is an apologist for capital, at all. Rather, I just think we fail to see how being the most turgidly despondent motherfucker in the room is an effective political maneuver. “Not militant enough”… what is that, a McClusky paraphrase?


      October 8, 2009 at 4:16 am

  38. But this discussion isn’t politics. Its a game that has no (or almost no) effect on the political realm. Its about as relevant to politics as a game of bowling. Y’all are bowling. Or playing Dungeons & Dragons. But your characters are “prostitutes” and other exotic people from the outer boroughs. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I guess. What is unnerving is that I’m getting a sense that the game you’re playing is somehow more important than a game of cards between friends. You don’t seem to see yourself as gamers but people orchestrating something of relevance to the “real” world. Why else would someone anodyne lite write

    “but there are a lot of people who couldn’t possibly participate in a discussion like this, because they’d be automatically ruled out by their lack of access to a) education, or b) the internet itself.”?

    Who cares if not everyone can play? Is there the same sense of exclusionary guilt when two people play tennis?


    October 7, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    • But your characters are “prostitutes” and other exotic people from the outer boroughs.

      LOL! How DARE you! I’m from da Village, close to where Sylvia Myles lives, in goddam Manhattan.

      water and sewer

      October 7, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    • Chris, it seems to me that you think the word “game” has some terrible discrediting meaning, as opposed to… well, what? Real life? Any part of real life in which you can apply a strategy is a game. Prison, work, dinner table conversation – even the strategy of making a comment about blogs being a game, as if one were some spectator, is a game.

      The game, here, is commenting on the ideas in a book. This id different from Dungeons and Dragons, or shooting off nuclear missiles – two other games -but has certain similarities. And so what?


      October 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    • In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure typing this is more important than the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, Chris. So don’t lump me into your little “group” who’s “playing” a “game.”

      I’m commenting on a blog about a post or two I’ve read. That’s all. I don’t feel guilty about anything. I was stating a fact: the internet is not a class-free zone. Endpunkt.

      anodyne lite

      October 8, 2009 at 3:56 am

  39. I mean, most people don’t even VOTE cuz life has been so disillusioning and depressing that they’ve lost all sense of possibility. And here you all are: excited, hopeful, engaged about politics at a level much more time consuming than voting. How have you all been sheltered from that disappointment? How have you all managed to hold onto the naive desire of youth to “make a difference”? Does life not beat the fuck out of you like it does nearly everyone else? And if not, how are you in any position to articulate a politics for the majority who are old and sad and not at all excited?


    October 7, 2009 at 7:04 pm

  40. its not about ‘them’. it’s all me, all the time…

    …dysphoria is contagious. seems not even wealth and privilege is a cure

    funny, but i think it would cure me!


    October 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm

  41. Ben,

    I agree with what you say about accelerationism etc, and yes especially in the current situation. I would really appreciate it if you could say more about this:

    I do wonder whether it recapitulates the stalled aporia of agency, however, although I think that’s an effect of reality.

    Truth be told, I can imagine forms of accelerationism that would potentially be viable. Consolidation of industries into near-monopolies ripe for the picking of the public, media companies especially. But even still, it’s very tricky politics. And I’d have nothing to do with any that does anything close to fantasing about disaster, “post-humanity,” and the like.

    At any rate, helpful comment…


    October 7, 2009 at 8:55 pm

  42. Well the comment was based on a rapid and choppy re-read of Dominic’s book but I sensed an aporia between a nihilist militancy (of a quasi-suicidal sort) and a nihilist aesthetics. Hence the lack of a conclusion seemed to me to speak to the absence of agency, in terms disengaged from these previous failures. I guess it’s a ‘one more effort to beome militantly dysphoric’ idea, but, from memory, I think this space if left open / hanging – rightly.
    The ‘reality’ of the aporia would be the actual disaster of the RAF and equivalents – the model of provoking the state led to the securitisation of the state and not revolution. Also, I’d say, the impasses and disasters of a certain aesthetics of nihilism. In the case of BM I’m trying to write something that takes seriously (ie critically) the role of right-wing/facist politics in the aesthetic (I don’t think you can split the ‘radical/experimental music’ from the ‘retrograde aesthetic’.
    More grandly I was thinking of Malcolm Bull’s work in the NLR on the symmetry between market (non-) agency and populist mobilisation as caught in a vicious feedback loop.

    On ‘accelerationism’ I’d distinguish from this a politics of reclamation, or ‘recuperating the recuperators’, which would detourne (or salvage to use Evan’s term) existent social and technological forms in non-commodified ways. This is where I’d tend to go. I suppose this was prompted for me even more by a reading of Polanyi. I certainly don’t think the alternative to accelerationism is neo-primitivism or ‘abandonment’ – in fact I tend to think accelerationism converges with these kinds of currents in a modelling of exodus / catastrophe / lines of flight – just in different directions…

    On the other hand, I do think non-commodified forms would involve some ‘slowing down’ or putting on the brakes – there are some nice remarks on this in Timothy Brennan’s recent book Secular Devotion.

    Anyway some of these ideas will appear in the new book, which I hope doesn’t fall into the trap of substitutionism of theory for politics but rather tries to think through theory as form of political reflection. If you / anyone else want a look at the pre-pub version feel free to email.


    October 8, 2009 at 10:27 am

  43. we have no choice but to accelerate. voluntary reductionism won’t work, humans are reluctant to take a back step to anything even aliens should they even bother with us. we burn our bridges cos we usually have no intention of going back that way.

    technology and the rise towards the singularity it is. onwards and upwards.

    surely the dysphoria is the melancholic reluctance to let the past go and embrace an unknown euphoric future as promised by the profits of doom.


    October 8, 2009 at 9:23 pm

  44. […] you) might want to read. First, Duncan’s typology of the role of left intellectuals. Second, these three posts about, in a sense, the degree to which it makes to sense to call some recent academic […]

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