October 11, 2004

STAYING ALIVE

You know you're facing raw bio-power when you witness something like the scapegoating of Billy Connolly last week.

Connolly had dared to interrupt the latest disgustingly hypocritical self-righteous, self-pitying British indulgathon by introducing some irreverence into the discussion of the Bigley affair (who doesn't know that Bigley was a reckless mercenary and had a mail order bride? O, the Big Other, of course).

You don't have to be Col Kurtz to smell the cynical hypocrisy of the political project that has guided the faux moralistic-sensationalistic coverage of the Bigley death - the concealment of the systemic under the personal (i.e. Blairism, i.e. the cultural logic of current Kapitalism).

Why should we care more about Bigley than anyone else who died last week? What of the pedestrians mowed down by idiot American forces ('hey dude') in Fallujah? What of those seeking to escape a tyranny that they were born into (i.e. that they didn't choose to enter in order to make ) who are turned away from Britain as a result of class traitor Davros Blunkett's Daily Mail fascist anti-asylum seeker legislation? And what, apart from racism, justifies the description of 'these people' as 'savages'? How is killing someone yourself, face to face, more 'cowardly' or 'brutal' than dropping bombs on them from a great height?

It's difficult to determine exactly what Connolly said - but the ensuing outrage establishes once and for all that the great taboo of our time is not sex but death.

Sex is boring, indeed, foisted upon us at all angles and at all times. Rebecca Loos 'pleasuring' a pig on Channel 5; atrociously unfunny sitcoms like Carrie and Barry and that unfeasibly shit Friday night C4 series whose name escapes me, whose reliance upon explicit sexual reference show that sex in such comedies is now as drearily inevitable as the litany of cosy social embarrasments in such staid seventies shows as Terry and June used to be. Where once the comedy, such as it was, turned upon burning the roast beef when the boss was due for a dinner party, now it depends upon gratuitous smut which is offered up with that sniggering adolescent duplicity typical of sexualists: i.e. sex is both ordinary, everyday, nothing special yet at the same time charged with a frission of naughty transgression.

Sex is obligatory, ubiquitous. It solicits discourse, endlessly. Death is still unspeakable, something that demands silence, reverence, respect. We cannot speak ill of the dead (unless they are an intellectual of course --- that can be ridiculed and condemned; about time that too clever by half fuck died donchathink?). In this connection, it's worth remembering Zizek's remark that one should only speak ill of the dead, since they have lived their life and only now can it be judged.

Indeed Zizek - alongside Baudrillard and Foucault - has been tireless in his insistence that the Dead have a crucial role to play in the current bio-political regime.

'The sanctity of Life' - the idea that organic life is a special gift that should be preserved at almost any cost - is the vitalist principle that rules our cities of the undead. The fact of life, not the quality of life is --- we are assured in so many subtle and not so subtle ways --- the crucial thing. As soon as we are persuaded that we are lucky to be alive, the thought of complaining about quality of life becomes churlish, ungrateful. As soon as we think that the only important thing is staying alive, we will mortify ourselves, become intensively dead, measure out our lives in health food spoons.

Many of Poe's most powerful stories were about the freezing intensive death that can be the only result of a fastidious fear of organic death: 'The Premature Burial', about a cataleptic man whose terror of death is so great that he ends up walling himself up in his own anti-death security prison; and 'The Masque of the Red Death', whose jaded revellers waste their lives in an empty hedonistic denial of death that is of course ultimately futile.

You can't escape death by protecting the organism. Deleuze, whose work is always compromised by a disastrous weakness for vitalism, is absolutely right when he says that only organisms can die. But the alternative to organic life-death is not some aeonically persisting Life ('life doesn't die, only organisms do'); it is the desolated unlife of the cosmos, the body of uttunul, or the Spinozist God.

The God of classical theism, the personal, transcendent God, is a vitalist God. The roots of this conception of God lie in the philosophy of Aristotle. Aristotle famously distinguishes between four different types of cause: material, formal, efficient and final. Of these, final cause is the most significant for Aristotle, who based his philosophy and ethics around the idea that everything in the universe had been designed to fulfil a specific purpose. This investment in final cause, or teleology presupposes a well-ordered universe whose ultimate purposes have already been set - or pre-recorded, as Burroughs has it.

Aristotle's philosophy was taken up in the Middle Ages by Thomas Aquinas who provided the theoeretical underpinning for modern Roman Catholic ethics. Aquinas said that God had laid down a final cause, a purpose, for everything in the world, and that things were good insofar as they fulfilled that purpose and bad insofar as they failed to. The notorious Catholic condemnation of homosexuality arises from the conviction that sex organs have one purpose and one purpose only: the reproduction of the species. The consequences of holding this belief actually go much further than a rejection of 'deviant' sexual activity of course, since it also rules out, for instance, women after the menopause having sex.

Aquinas' view is in every sense Pro-creative: it is our duty to stay alive and to reproduce more like ourselves. Thus Catholicism is a major propagator of what John Gray calls 'human plague', the destructive and self-destructive spread of 'homo-rapiens' who are voraciously consuming the limited resources of their biodrome. Here, we are confronting the bio-logic of Human Security in person: sex-pleasure as a means, not of escaping death, but of reproducing it.

Out beyond the pleasure principle, outside the reproducer meat-circuit, are the anti-Creationists: the Gnostics, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Lovecraft, Lacan, Ligotti, those for whom organic life is a stain upon Zero, an excresence. Burroughs, too, can be counted among the anti-Creatonists, in his insistenct that what is presented to us as the world is pre-recorded by malevolent control agencies in a 'Reality Studio'.

Naturally, you don't get off the pleasure-death ferris wheel, the Garden of Earthly Delights, by dying.... There is no worse fate than dying as an organism... The way out lies in annulling the organs, in getting out of the organism, in making contact with the pitiless indifference of the flatlined unliving body of uttunul.

Posted by mark at October 11, 2004 10:08 PM | TrackBack