Ed Berger on Metaphysics of Absence

Following on from Monacelli’s article on patchwork yesterday, Ed Berger has been in the comments of an old Xenogothic post also making me quite excited about patchwork again.

Adding to a post from last year on the metaphysics of absense, Ed writes:

I’ve been rereading Tiqqun’s This is Not A Program recently, and found my mind drifting to this post. I’ve mentioned before how I think that a lot of Tiqqun’s arguments find an interesting compliment to some of the stuff you’ve been sketching — the discussion of secession, understood outside of the traditional notions of secession as state-formation, as a basis for communism (I recently found an essay by John Roberts that (critically) described communization, the theorertical frame that Tiqqun is closest to, as “exit-communism”); their return to Bataille to connect this to absolute heterogeneity, etc.

Anyways, in one of the later chapters of This Is Not A Program is a lengthy discussion of presence. Absence is mentioned only obliquely, it’s rather uhh absent but still haunts the text, and I think there might be an interesting way that what they’re saying might relate to how you’ve described Mark’s acid communism as an ‘eerie politics’ .

They start with some fellow named Ernesto de Martino and his book The World of Magic (looks pretty lit). de Martino suggests two “ages of presence”, one associated with archaic society and the other to the modern. In the modern (I guess now postmodern) condition, presence is presupposed, with a “guaranteed being-in-the-world” which is based on a split between the (stable) self and the world being taken as a given. In the archaic — the titular world of magic — the intrinsic stability of this barrier is recognized at a fundamental level. The self is always subjected to exteriority, and the world is always teeming with that which cannot be assimilated. Magical rites, shamanism, etc. respond to this ‘crisis of presence’ by restaging the crisis as a means to regain control over it. This is the importance of the fetish, which serves as the receptacle or object that stands in for the subject-in-crisis (as an ‘alter-ego’). So the crisis of the interior sense of presence derives from exteriority, or what de Martino calls the “world which makes itself present” leads to the ‘recapture’ of presence via magic and religion.

Tiqqun critique de Martino that seems very similar to your critique of the legacy of Descartes here: they suggest the opposition of presence and the world-which-makes-itself-present is a false one that is stuck within a phenomenological frame of reference; instead, presence and the world-which-makes-itself-present should be understood as process, the latter being what gives rise to the former. The ‘primitive’ or archaic society is intrinsically open to exteriority, and this openness is in fact the ground for magic and religion. The modern, meanwhile, with its given acceptance to the stability of the self/world ‘boundary’, is a closed entity, which induces an impoverished form-of-life.

They go on to argue that we have to historicize presence, or look at the different ways that presence is organized — “economies of presence”. Today there is a “general crisis of presence”, reflective of immense social crisis (i.e. economic, political, ecological, etc) — but this is augmented with take-up of Foucault’s biopolitics as the political management of this crisis. They mention depression and its pharmocological regulation in relation to this, which immediately brings to mind Mark’s insistence on the political character of depression, but biopower is expanded to encompass the welfare state, policy activity, etc. “Biopolitics holds a monopoly over remedies to presence in criris, which it is always ready to defend with the most extreme violence”.

Left politics that seek to grapple over biopower (welfare state social democracy, managerial socialism, etc) don’t seek to abolish it, but instead look to its perfection (elsewhere they indict forms of ‘green’ social democracy, basic income schemes and ‘cybernetic socialisms’ under this critique). Against this they suggest an ‘ecstatic politics’, the aim of which is “not to rescue abstractly — through successive re/presentations — human presence from dissolution, but instead to critique a participitable magic, techniques for inhabiting not a territory but a world. And this creation, this play between different economies of presence, between different forms-of-life, entails the subversion and liquidation of all apparatuses” (apparatuses being the ‘tools’ that the biopolitical regime utilizes).

I’m not quite sure how to square this with the remixing of presence and absence into the weird and the eerie, but the various points of connectivity — the mutual basis in presence/absense, the discourse around biopolitics (particularly in relation to mental health issues), and the similarities between ‘ecstatic politics’ and ‘acid communism’ — seems like there might be an interesting dialogue to form here. Also there’s this, a bit from the beginning of the book, which makes Marcuse sound utterly Bataillean, and also seems to fix precisely with the approach you’ve been articulating:

“Before ’68 brough the dialectic swaggering back — the dialectic as the way of thinking final reintegration – Marcuse attempted to think through this curious configuration of conflict [here they’re talking about the paradox of resisting something that holds itself as having no outside]. In a speech from 1966 entitled ‘The Concept of Negation in the Dialectic’, Marcuse attacks the Hegelo-Marxist propensity to introduce negation within an antagonistic whole, whether between two classes, between the socialist camp and the capitalist camp, or between Capital and labor. To this tendency he opposes a contradiction, a negation that comes from the outside. He observes the staging of conflict within social totality, which have been the defining characteristic of the workers’ movement, is but the mechanism by which they freeze out the event, prevent the actual negation from occurring from the outside. ‘The outside is that which I have spoken is not to be understood mechanistically in the spatial sense, but, on the contrary, as the qualitative difference which overcomes the existing antitheses inside the antagonistic partial whole […] and which is not reducible to these antitheses […] [T]he force of negation is concentrated in no one class. Politically and morally, rationally and instictively, it is a chaotic, anarchic opposition: the refusal to join and play a part, the disgust at all propensity, the compulsion to protest. It is a feeble, unorganized opposition which nonetheless rests on motives and purposes which stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the existing whole.”

There is so much to unpack here but, right off the bat, I’m reminded of Mark’s essay “Digital Psychedelia” in which he writes explicitly on capitalist counter-sorceries. This is certainly a thread that Mark himself was exploring, albeit with different reference points.

I’m going to sit on this for a while and maybe read some Tiqqun for myself. Perhaps a Weird ‘n’ Eerie Acid Communism refresher is on the cards.

Leave a Reply