Saturday, March 31, 2018
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Now that our media is full of reports and comments on Cambridge Analytica, a key feature of the affair is, as a rule, ignored: the context of Cambridge Analytica makes it clear how cold manipulation and the care for love and human welfare are two sides of the same coin. Tamsin Shaw recently pointed out the central role played by researchers into happiness, like "The World Well-Being Project, a group at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center that specialises in the use of big data to measure health and happiness in order to improve well-being,” then there is “Aleksandr Kogan, who also works in the field of positive psychology and has written papers on happiness, kindness, and love (according to his résumé, an early paper was called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole: A Unified Theory of Love’).”- Slavoj Zizek, "Cambridge Analytica didn’t abuse the happiness industry – it was used exactly how it was intended to be"
Why does such research on authentic happiness and well-being draw so much interest from intelligence agencies and defence contractors? This link is not externally imposed on the behavioural sciences by “bad” political manipulators but is implied by their immanent orientation: their aim is to discover “means by which we can be ‘nudged’ in the direction of our true well-being as positive psychologists understand it.” This “nudging” does not make individuals overcome their “irrationalities”: contemporary behavioural sciences “aim to exploit our irrationalities” since they view us “as manipulable subjects rather than rational agents.”
All this is extensively covered by our media, and we are getting a terrifying image of the new forms of social control which make the good old 20th-century “totalitarianism” a rather primitive and clumsy machine. To grasp the full scope of this control, we should move beyond the link between private corporations and political parties to the interpenetration of data processing companies like Google or Facebook and state security agencies. The biggest achievement of the new cognitive-military complex is that direct and obvious oppression is no longer necessary: individuals are much better controlled and “nudged” in the desired direction when they continue to experience themselves as free and autonomous agents of their own life.
But all these are well-known facts, and we have to go a step further. It is not enough to demystify the innocent-sounding research into happiness and to bring out a hidden gigantic complex of social control and manipulation that uses it. What is urgently needed is also the opposite move: we should focus on the form itself. Is the topic of scientific research of human welfare and happiness (at least the way it is practised today) really so innocent, or is it already in itself permeated by the stance of control and manipulation? What if sciences are here not just misused, what if they find here precisely their proper use? We should question the recent rise of a new discipline: “happiness studies.”
As is often the case, Bhutan, a developing Third World country, naively spelled out the absurd socio-political consequences of this notion of happiness: two decades ago, the kingdom of Bhutan decided to focus on Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross National Product (GNP); the idea was the brainchild of ex-king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who sought to steer Bhutan into the modern world, while preserving its unique identity. The Oxford-educated new king, 27-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, ordered a state agency to calculate how happy the kingdom’s 670,000 people are. The main concerns were identified as psychological well-being, health, education, good governance, living standards, community vitality and ecological diversity: this is cultural imperialism, if there ever was one. No wonder that, two decades ago, ethnic cleansing was conducted since it was “discovered” that the presence of a strong non-Buddhist minority is an obstacle to the happiness of the Buddhist majority.
We should dare to take an even further step and enquire into the hidden side of the notion of happiness itself – when, exactly, can a people be said to be happy? In a country like Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s and 1980s, people in a way effectively were happy: three fundamental conditions of happiness were fulfilled there. Firstly, their material needs were basically satisfied – not too satisfied, since the excess of consumption can in itself generate unhappiness. It is good to experience a brief shortage of some goods on the market from time to time (no coffee for a couple of days, then no beef, then no TV sets): these brief periods of shortage functioned as exceptions which reminded people that they should be glad that the goods were generally available. Life thus went on in a regular and predictable way, without any great efforts or shocks, one was allowed to withdraw into one’s private niche.
Secondly, the Communist Party was conveniently blamed for everything that went wrong, so that one did not feel really responsible – if there was a temporary shortage of some goods, even if there a stormy weather caused great damage, it was their guilt.
Thirdly, last but not least, there was an Other Place (the consumerist West) about which one was allowed to dream, and even visit sometimes – this place was just at the right distance, not too far, not too close. This fragile balance was disturbed – by what? By desire, precisely. Desire was the force which compelled the people to move beyond – and end up in a system in which the large majority is definitely less happy.
Happiness is something confused and inconsistent – recall the proverbial answer of a German immigrant to the US who, when asked “Are you happy?”, answered: “Yes, yes, I am very happy, aber gluecklich bin ich nicht…” It is a pagan category: for pagans, the goal of life is to live a happy life – no wonder Dalai Lama himself is having such a success recently preaching around the world the gospel of happiness, and no wonder he is finding the greatest response precisely in the US, this ultimate empire of the (pursuit of) happiness. In our daily lives, we (pretend to) desire things which we do not really desire, so that, ultimately, the worst thing that can happen is for us to get what we officially desire. Happiness is thus inherently hypocritical: it is the happiness of dreaming about things we really do not want.
Do we not encounter a similar gesture in much of leftist politics? In the UK, many leftists privately admit that the near-victory of the Labour Party in the last elections was the best thing it could have happened, much better than the insecurity of what might have happened in the Labour government would have tried to implement its programme.
The same holds for the prospect of Bernie Sanders’ eventual victory: what would have been his chances against the onslaught of the big capital? The mother of all such gestures is the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia which crushed the Prague Spring and its hope of democratic socialism. Without this intervention, the “reformist” government would have to confront the fact that there was no real possibility of a democratic Socialism at that historical moment, so it would have to choose between reasserting the party control and allowing Czechoslovakia to become one of the Western liberal-democratic capitalism.
The Soviet intervention saved the Prague Spring as a dream, as a hope that, without the intervention, a new form of democratic Socialism might have emerged. And did not something similar occur in Greece when the Syriza government organised the referendum against Brussels’ pressure to accept the austerity politics? The government was secretly hoping to lose the referendum, in which case it would have to step down and leave it to others to perform the dirty job of austerity. Since they won, this task fell to themselves, and the result was the self-destruction of the radical Left in Greece. Without any doubt, Syriza would have been much happier if it lost the referendum.
So, back to our starting point, not only are we controlled and manipulated, “happy” people secretly and hypocritically demand even to be manipulated for their own good. Truth and happiness don’t go together – truth hurts, it brings instability, it ruins the smooth flow of our daily lives. The choice is ours: do we want to be happily manipulated or expose ourselves to the risks of authentic creativity?
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Officially Stalinism was based on atheist Marxist theory, but if we look closely at the subjective experience of a Stalinist political agent, leader, we see that it's not a position of an arrogant master, who can do whatever he wants. It's on the contrary the position of a perfect servant. In a Stalinist universe there definitely is what in psychoanalytic theory we call the 'Big Other'. This 'Big Other' in the Stalinist universe has many names. The best known of them are the necessity of historical progress towards communism - simply history. History itself is the 'Big Other'. History as the necessary succession of historical stages. A communist experiences himself as simply an instrument whose function is to actualise a historical necessity. The people, the mythic people whose instrument the totalitarian leader is are never simply the actually existing individuals, groups of people and so on. It's some kind of imagined idealised point of reference which works even when, for example in rebellions against the communist rule, like in Hungary 56, when the large majority of actually resisting people raises up, is opposed to the regime. They can still say: "no, these are just individuals," "they are not the true people." When you are accused of: "My God, how could you have been doing all of these horrible things?" You could have said, and this is the standard Stalinist excuse: "Of course my heart bleeds for all the poor victims, "I am not fully responsible for it, I was only acting on behalf of the 'Big Other'" "As for myself, I like cats, small children, whatever - this is always part of the iconography of a Stalinist leader. Lenin in Stalinism is always presented as someone who likes small children and cats. The implication being Lenin had to order many killings and so on, but his heart was not there -this was his duty as instrument of historical progress and so on and so on.* Note
The way to undermine Stalinism is not simply to make fun of the leader, which can be up to a point even tolerated. It is to undermine this very reference, mythic reference which legitimises the Stalinist leader: the people.
“If mythic violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythic violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood. …Mythical violence is bloody power over mere life for its own sake, divine violence pure power over all life for the sake of the living. The first demands sacrifice, the second accepts it.”(Benjamin,1921/1986, p.297)
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Pamela Bland, "Stand for Something" (2/20/12)
It's time that I stand alone,
Proud and tall on my own.
No man will ever define me,
I'm independent, strong and will live successfully.
I've made it this far by myself,
With only a little or no help.
No one can make me or break me down,
It just adds more layers to strengthen me all around.
Learning that everyone has a choice,
Stand your ground and have a voice.
You are a survivor designed to overcome,
All the evil that's instilled within someone.
Keep moving forward towards better things,
Don't give up hope on your blessings.
Be the best person you can be,
So you can live your life guilt free.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Monday, March 19, 2018
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Monday, March 12, 2018
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) is a 1954 oil-on-canvas painting by Salvador Dalí. A nontraditional, surrealist portrayal of the Crucifixion of Jesus, it depicts Christ on the polyhedron net of a tesseract (hypercube). It is one of his best known paintings from the later period of his career.
Dalí's inspiration for Corpus Hypercubus came from his change in artistic style during the 1940s and 1950s. Around that time, his interest in traditional surrealism diminished and he became fascinated with nuclear science, feeling that "thenceforth, the atom was [his] favorite food for thought". His interest grew from the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II, which left a lasting impression on him. In his 1951 essay "Mystical Manifesto", he introduced an art theory he called "nuclear mysticism" that combined Dalí's interests in Catholicism, mathematics, science, and Catalan culture in an effort to reestablish classical values and techniques, which he extensively utilized in Corpus Hypercubus.
That same year, to promote nuclear mysticism and explain the "return to spiritual classicism movement" in modern art, he traveled throughout the United States giving lectures. Before painting Corpus Hypercubus, Dalí announced his intention to portray an exploding Christ using both classical painting techniques along with the motif of the cube, and he declared that "this painting will be the great metaphysical work of [his] summer". Juan de Herrera's Treatise on Cubic Forms was particularly influential to Dalí.
Corpus Hypercubus is composed of oil on canvas, and its dimensions are 194.3 cm × 123.8 cm (76.5 in x 48.75 in). Consistent with his theory of nuclear mysticism, Dalí uses classical elements along with ideas inspired by mathematics, science, etc. Some noticeably classic features are the drapery of the clothing and the Caravaggesque lighting that theatrically envelops Christ, though like his 1951 painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Corpus Hypercubus takes the traditional Biblical scene of Christ's Crucifixion and almost completely reinvents it. The union of Christ and the tesseract reflects Dalí's opinion that the seemingly separate and incompatible concepts of science and religion can in fact coexist. Upon completing Corpus Hypercubus, Dalí described his work as "metaphysical, transcendent cubism".
While he did attempt to distance himself from the Surrealist movement after his development of nuclear mysticism, Dalí still incorporates dream-like features consistent with his earlier surrealist work in Corpus Hypercubus, such as the levitating Christ and the giant chessboard below. Jesus' face is turned away from the viewer, making it completely obscured. The crown of thorns is missing from Christ's head as are the nails from his hands and feet, leaving his body completely devoid of the wounds often closely associated with the Crucifixion. With Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Dalí did the same in order to leave only the "metaphysical beauty of Christ-God". Dalí sets the painting in front of the bay of Port Lligat in Catalonia, Dalí's home, which is also the setting of other paintings of his including The Madonna of Port Lligat, The Sacrament of the Last Supper, and Christ of Saint John of the Cross.
A viewer's eyes may quickly be drawn to the knees of Christ, which have a grotesque exaggeration of hyperrealistic detail. On close observation of the original painting, 5 different images of Dalí's wife Gala appear in Christ's right knee, and 5 different images of Dalí himself appear in the left knee; the most prominent two being Gala's back/neck/back of head with right arm extended upward, and Dalí's own face complete with his trademark upswept mustache. The additional embedded images are more difficult to see in low-quality reproductions or prints.
The most striking change Dalí makes from nearly every other crucifixion painting concerns the cross. Instead of painting Christ on a wooden cross, Dalí depicts him upon the unfolded net of a tesseract (also known as a hypercube). The unfolding of a tesseract into eight cubes is analogous to unfolding the sides of a cube into six squares. The use of a hypercube for the cross has been interpreted as a geometric symbol for the transcendental nature of God. Just as the concept of God exists in a space that is incomprehensible to humans, the hypercube exists in four spatial dimensions, which is equally inaccessible to the mind. The net of the hypercube is a three-dimensional representation of it, similar to how Christ is a human form of God that is more relatable to people.
The word "corpus" in the title can refer both to the body of Christ and to geometric figures, reinforcing the link Dalí makes between religion and mathematics and science. Christ's levitation above the Earth could symbolize His rise above Earthly desire and suffering. The motif of the cube is present elsewhere: Gala is standing on one, and the chessboard is made up of squares.
On the bottom left of the painting, Dalí painted his wife Gala as Mary Magdalene looking up at Jesus. Dalí thought of her as the "perfect union of the development of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube". He used her as a model because "the most noble beings were painted by Velázquez and Zurbarán. [He] only [approaches] nobility when painting Gala, and nobility can only be inspired by the human being."
Novelist Ayn Rand declared Corpus Hypercubus to be her favorite painting, and she would spend hours contemplating it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She felt a connection between John Galt's defiance over his spiritual ordeal in her novel Atlas Shrugged and Dalí's portrayal of Christ in the painting.
A reproduction of the painting is mentioned in J. G. Ballard's 1969 surrealist novel, The Atrocity Exhibition and in Robert J. Sawyer's 1998 science fiction novel, Factoring Humanity.
After being first exhibited in Rome in 1954, Corpus Hypercubus was acquired in 1955 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where it was renamed Crucifixion. After nearly 25 years, the painting was loaned to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Daimaru Museum in Osaka, and the Tate Gallery in London from December 1979 until June 1980. Throughout the early and mid 1980s Crucifixion was loaned to museums in Japan, Mexico, and Spain, including the Palau Reial de Pedralbes in Barcelona, the only time the painting has been exhibited in Catalonia, Dalí's home region.
It was later loaned to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany and the Pabellón de España in Madrid before being loaned long-term to the Salvador Dalí Museum (St. Petersburg, Florida) from 1993 to 1999. In 2000, it was loaned to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut from January to March and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, as part of the traveling show "Dalí's Optical Illusions". In 2005, Corpus Hypercubus spent four months at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a major retrospective of Dalí's work, and in 2006 it was loaned to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, before returning to New York City.
In Madeleine L'Engle's novel A Wrinkle in Time, the characters in the story travel through time and space using tesseracts. The book actually uses the idea of a tesseract to represent a fifth dimension rather than a four-dimensional object (and also uses the word "tesser" to refer to movement from one three dimensional space/world to another).
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Monday, March 5, 2018
When commentators analyze the new wave of women's struggles, one of their conclusions is that "no means no" is not enough to lead to a "happy sex life." This is because it still leaves space for more subtle forms of coercion.
Recently, in The Guardian, we saw an exemplary case of this line of argument: "Badgering someone into queasy submission might technically be within the law, but it is not the road to a happy sex life and it may no longer protect a man from public censure," wrote journalist Gaby Hinsliff. She was covering the views of Erin Tillman, an American ‘dating coach’ who believes the potentially ambiguous absence of "no," but the enthusiastic presence of a "yes, yes, yes" or affirmative consent is what is required nowadays.
"In 2018, 'no means no' is totally antiquated. It puts all the pressure on the person in the most vulnerable position, that if someone doesn't have the capacity or the confidence to speak up, then they're going to be violated," Tillman has said. "If somebody isn't an enthusiastic yes, if they're hesitating, if they're like: 'Uh, I don't know' – at this point in time, that equals no."
One cannot but agree with all the critical points in this passage: How a weak "yes" under pressure equals "no," etc. What is problematic is the demand for "the enthusiastic presence of a 'yes, yes, yes.'” Because it's easy to imagine what a humiliating position this condition can put a woman into who, to put it bluntly (and why not?), passionately wants to get laid by a man. Basically, she has to perform an equivalent of publicly stating "Please f*** me!"
Are there not much more subtle (but nonetheless unambiguously clear) ways to do this? Furthermore, if one looks for "the road to a happy sex life," one searches for it in vain for the simple reason that there is no such thing.
Circumstances always, for inherent reasons, go wrong in some way in sex, and the only chance of a relatively "happy sex life" is to find a way to make these failures work against themselves. Directly searching for "the road to a happy sex life" is the safest way to ruin things, and the imagined scene of both partners enthusiastically shouting "yes, yes, yes" is, in real life, as close as one can get to Hell.
Things get even more complex with the right to withdraw from sexual interaction at any moment – it’s rarely mentioned how this right opens up new modes of violence. What if the woman, after seeing her partner naked with an erect penis, begins to mock him and tells him to leave? What if the man does the same to her? Can you imagine a more humiliating situation?
Clearly, one can find an appropriate way to resolve such impasses only through manners and sensitivity, which by definition cannot be legislated for. If a person wants to prevent violence and brutality by adding new clauses to the contract, they lose a central feature of sexual interplay, which is precisely a delicate balance between what is said and what is not said. Sexual interplay is full of such exceptions, where a silent understanding and tact offer the only way to proceed when folk want things done but not explicitly spoken about, when extreme emotional brutality can be enacted in the guise of politeness, and when moderate violence itself can get sexualized.
Oval Office orgasms
If we go to the end on this path, we have to conclude that even an enthusiastic "yes, yes, yes" can effectively function as a mask of violence and domination. Monica Lewinsky recently said that "she stands by her 2014 comments that their relationship (with Bill Clinton) was consensual,” but muses about the "vast power differentials" that existed between the two. Lewinsky says she had "limited understanding of the consequences" at the time, and regrets the affair daily. "The dictionary definition of ‘consent?’ To give permission for something to happen," she wrote. "And yet what did the 'something' mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age?.... he was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better," she said.
This is true, but she did not just consent, she directly initiated sexual contact, and it was Clinton who "consented," and the "vast power differential" was probably a key part of his attraction for her. As for her claim that since he was an older experienced man, he should have "known better" and rejected her advances, is there not something hypocritical in this self-ascribed role of an inexperienced victim?
Do we not find ourselves here at the exact, almost symmetrical, opposite of the Muslim fundamentalist view, according to which a man who raped a woman was secretly seduced (read provoked) by her into doing it? Such a reading of male rape as the result of woman's provocation is often reported by the media. For instance, in the fall of 2006, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia's most senior Muslim cleric, caused a scandal when, after a group of Muslim men had been jailed for gang rape, he said: "If you take uncovered meat and place it outside on the street…. and the cats come and eat it… whose fault is it – the cats' or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem."
The explosively scandalous nature of this comparison between a woman who is not veiled and raw, uncovered meat distracted attention from another, much more surprising premise underlying al-Hilali's argument: If women are held responsible for the sexual conduct of men, does this not imply that men are totally helpless when faced with what they perceive as a sexual provocation? They are simply unable to resist it, being totally enslaved to their sexual hunger, precisely like a cat when it sees raw meat?
In contrast to this presumption of a complete lack of male responsibility for their own sexual conduct, the emphasis on public female eroticism in the West relies on the premise that men are capable of sexual restraint, that they are not blind slaves of their sexual drives.
This total responsibility of the woman for the sexual act strangely mirrors the Lewinsky view that, although the initiative was fully on her side, the responsibility was fully on Clinton's. In the same way that, in the Muslim fundamentalist view, men are helpless victims of woman's perfidious seduction, even if they commit a brutal rape. In the Lewinsky case, she was a victim even if she provocatively initiated the affair.
The symmetry between the two cases is flawed, of course, since in both the men are in the actual position of social power and domination. However, playing the card of a helpless victim in such a case as Lewinsky's is a self-humiliating spectacle which in no way helps women's emancipation – it merely confirms man as the master.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
-Frederick Turner, "On Goya's 'Saturn'"
That god who stares from the picture-space
As if he - only now it's done,
The madness slaked - can recognize the face
Whose blood and brains he gulped, to be his son,
Catches the humanist's eye.
Chronus, blind time, knowing himself again
To be Kronos the wretched king,
Squirms like a frog across the void, his pain
Goya suggests in the stiff dance he's doing;
The darker shape of why
Is shadowed in the history of Spain.
The deed of sacrifice once done
Is such as never can be done again.
The naked body of the beloved son
In his sire's hand must die.
And many kingdoms of the past have died
Choked by the monuments they raised:
Eternity bought by infanticide,
An immortality of being praised.
The fierce Spanish sky
Towers like fate over exhausted fields;
The gold they wrestled from the sun
Wasted the factories and burnt the guilds.
All that the dark conquistadors had won
Time swiftly would deny.
The traveller, though, is not content at last.
There is an immortality
That looks, not to the future, but the past.
Thursday, March 1, 2018
A group of people is gathered outside one of those glamorous skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan, at a proper distance from the entry, which is duly manned by a security person checking the measured distance with a keen eagle eye and with a serious mien meaning business, a group composed mostly of employees from the offices towering high over the street, but also some tourists and some odd homeless looking persons. The purpose of this small gathering, comprising a dozen people or so, is smoking. The group is heterogeneous, the employees are in a rather formal attire, one can easily imagine them placed somewhere in the intricate workings of financial capital, tourists wear some incongruous informal multicolored gear, making a brief stop-over on their well planned route through the highlights of the city, the homeless are wearing some baggy crumpled clothes, each group duly corresponding to the cliché. We smoke in silence, standing relatively close to each other, for the place seems to be cordoned off by invisible strings, no doubt abiding by some rules issued by god knows what authority, but we look in different directions, feeling vaguely ashamed or at least not at ease, for the designated place is both located out of the official ways, keeping this nuisance at bay, and at the same time on display, for it can’t be quite hidden in this heavily frequented area and one feels like exhibited, the passers-by and the people on the way to the grand entry casting suspicious side-way glances at the new pariahs, not of approval. This is a haphazard congregation of strangers gathered for five minutes, for the duration of a cigarette, flocked together to a designated spot, having just one thing in common. Then someone says, out of the blue: “First blacks and Jews, now us.” There is an immediate outburst of laughter and merriment, the total strangers instantly becoming friends, for these brief minutes, cigarettes are short-lived and so is our friendship, but there is a surge of solidarity, a sudden human tie, and the brevity of the precious moment reaches far beyond the gathering, beyond the schedule which soon makes us disperse in all directions. It all evaporates in smoke, just as the cigarettes, but the brief moment has a curious staying power and reaches beyond the dictate of time, beyond the pressure of jobs, obligations, survival and allotted social slots. And it is clear that by laughing together we have won a small victory over the disapproving crowd that vastly outnumbers us and over the carefully designed regulations that isolated us on this spot. The excluded and the ashamed have turned the tables, at least for these moments, we are the winners.
The remark is of course made in the spirit of the smokers’ cheek, or rather their tongue-in-cheek. It would be a bit much to put in line centuries of slavery and pogroms with this new figure of outcasts and it would take quite a bit of conceit to claim such ancestry. But smokers always tend to speak tongue-in-cheek. There is a couple of blacks in the gathering and as it turns out also a couple of Jews (and yes, you have guessed right, they belong to the ‘financial capital’ part of the group, one can doubt anything except for clichés). The blacks and the Jews are particularly amused by the remark, the Jewish person smilingly adding: “We haven’t yet reached the point of the holocaust”. Some smokers can actually be blacks and Jews into the bargain, and we all turned temporarily into honorary blacks and Jews. There is a sudden swapping of life stories, one actually grimly stretching back to the holocaust, the other to the pre-Martin Luther King days. An elderly black man, I suppose belonging to the maintenance staff of the building, says, to the general approval: “In all my life I have never been so oppressed as a black man as I am now as a smoker.” And he has lived through the times before the civil rights movement when at least in New York it wasn’t so bad to be black as it is now to smoke, the one exclusion mirroring the other in their very discrepancy and in a strange connivance. The homeless have some stories of police chasing them for smoking in some perfectly legal places, the new handy excuse for harassment. The rather wealthy looking Jews suddenly look at the homeless with new eyes, almost in appreciation, with the incongruous specter of the common fate of exclusion in the air, connecting for a brief moment its widely disparate ways. The Spanish tourists tell of some tricks of guerilla tactics smokers employ in Spain after the anti-smoking measures were introduced, although far less serious than in the US – but the US are, as always, leading the way and we agree that soon we will all be there, partaking in the promised land.
Smokers of the world, unite. But we are already united. We have collectively managed an incredible feat of traversing the social divisions, of conjuring the specters of history and its antagonisms and laying them at rest, of finding some bits of solidarity across boundaries, laughing together and having fun, complete strangers in just a few minutes, standing off the main course in Manhattan, at the heart of the world power, at the center of financial capital, an unlikely collectivity based on smoke, and smoke alone. It became perfectly clear: smokers live in communism. They create communism wherever they are, even a few minutes from Wall Street. Smokers have started the Occupy Wall Street movement long before, only nobody noticed. They don’t wait for a future classless society to appear, they instantly make it happen. Smoking is an instant pleasure that requires instant solutions, it can’t be relegated to some distant future. Two smokers are already enough for a budding communist cell, when two or three smokers congregate the (unholy) spirit of communism flashes in their midst. Smokers form a party with a very simple membership token, everybody is welcome to join in, and they gladly accept honorary non-smokers in their gathering. This is a party that immediately starts to dissolve hierarchies at the stroke of the lighter. Iskra, the spark, was famously the title of Lenin’s political newspaper, and smokers take it literally, the spark is all it takes. Lenin based its title on the line that the spark is there to ignite a big future flame, but smokers thrive just on sparks and very small present flames, their future may indeed be uncertain, given their habit. This is communism without a future, for they will all die young, afflicted by lung cancers and heart attacks, to say nothing of impotence and wrinkled skin. They use weapons of mass destruction destroying their users, who accept their fate with cheerful equanimity.
The smokers’ party doesn’t have a program, except for what is immediately put into action. Their deeds precede their words. But this is not to say that their community is based just on pleasure and instant gratification, shying away from intellectual demands, quite the contrary. There is nothing like smoking together to instigate reflection, one is there sharing a break from the usual turmoil of life, looking at it from a distance, reflecting on it, all kinds of programs spring up in the space of few minutes, wild ideas circulate freely, just as the smoke, one looks back and looks forward, excepted from the immediate pressures and obligations, in a non-discriminatory community of friends and strangers alike. Crazy stories and good jokes are generously shared along with the smoke. One can suddenly hit upon a solution to a problem that one couldn’t find by a sustained intellectual effort, precisely because this is a non-productive pause from the requirements of production, and it takes more for the mind to work than effort. Smoking is the time of serendipity, gratuitous and unexpected gifts. It is essentially social, smoking alone never tastes the same (well, just as sex). The more it aims at the bodily pleasure, the more it arouses and invigorates the mind, it is a non-Christian activity par excellence, constantly testifying against the division into body and spirit. The craving of the body goes hand in hand and coincides with the craving of the mind, the one enhancing the other. The smoking party doesn’t start with a program in order to instigate action, but with an act in search of a program, and the moment a few smokers gather programs start mushrooming. They interpret and they change the world for the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.
Being social smoking is never socially neutral. Its social and historical connotations stretch in all directions, some far away from the communist one. But under present conditions of ban and the growing political anathema, against the backdrop of the excessive campaign and ever new regulations that epitomize something like a caricature of ‘biopolitics’ in its link with exclusion, smoking as a rule emerges as a metaphor, it mirrors and refracts all other exclusions in a miniature model, it traces a line of division which assembles and brings together multiple dividing lines. Smokers state and represent. They represent e. g. the cancer on the healthy social body, and enjoyment is increasingly treated like a cancer on the prescribed normative bodily demeanor. There was always something in enjoyment that reached ‘beyond the pleasure principle’, something recalcitrant and indifferent to the aims of survival. Smoking promotes enjoyment in the bosom of a pleasure-seeking society, against the backdrop of its hedonistic injunctions. It pursues pleasure a bit too far, to the limits which invoke the specter of the lethal, and what the society promoting health and pleasure is allergic to is, in one word, enjoyment. Freud, another great smoker, knew it well. So did Lacan, another smoker, who established a stark opposition between pleasure and enjoyment.
Of course the smoking communism dissolves just as quickly as it emerged – it all goes up in smoke. In the first step, with the magic power of cigarette smoke “everything solid melts into thin air”, following Marx’s (another smoker’s) line from the Manifesto, all social relations are momentarily a bit dislocated and shaken, and then in the second step the specter of communism that emerged in the process melts into thin air in its turn. Leaving no traces, just as the smoke? There is of course the danger of romanticizing the fleeting moment and extol its charms, the moment when everything seems momentarily possible, although through a smoke-screen. Oh, the passing beauty of the passing, the Sirens’ call of the instant sublime. There is the firm intellectual impulse to resist any such penchant as well as to resist the feel-good self-congratulatory move of turning something banal into something deeply subversive, with the bunch of self-aggrandizing quick-and-easy revolutionaries, dispensing with the need for discipline, pursuit and organization. But perhaps one should also resist this impulse to resist and allow for a moment of fancy.
Smokers, like proletarians, have no country, but they instantly create liberated territories wherever they appear. Smoking always represented liberty, a fickle freedom against the chains of survival, it is an anti-survivalist stance. It states: I am free in chains, while being chained to this habit that I can’t give up, but these chains allow taking a bit of distance to the overwhelming other ones and I am willing to pay the price. Smoking makes a statement, which can be read in all kinds of ways, cynical, spontaneous, relaxed, neurotic, psychotic, perverse, obsessive, compulsive, guilty pleasure, sinful, dandy, bon-vivant, desperate, anti-stress, aggressive, arrogant, seductive, available, mark of class, mark of lack of class, sociability, anti-social behavior … But against all odds and in a wild fancy I would like this statement to read: communism has a chance.