Analyze the Analyzers

Charlotte Maulbec

August 15, 2016
Judith_Beheading_Holofernes_by_Caravaggio

Analyze the analyzers — It hasn’t gone unremarked that the public sphere is entering some kind of terminal phase.  What is unclear is whether this is senility or something genuinely dangerous.  We’ve always scoffed at the pundits, but today’s atmosphere has a scent of genuine dystopianism.  This is related to the marginalization of critical rationality.   The ruling class and their professional hangers-on have found a new libidinal energy source in their earnestness about “the most important election of our lifetime”:  No time, apparently, for reflection, critique, or even the irony that they used to permit and even promote in certain sectors of the academy and mass-culture industry.  This is complemented by the bizarre double-think that treats statements of support for the most institutionally well-supported candidate in the history of the country as acts of bravery.  But the energy that sustains such a state is a recoil from Trump’s libidinal magnetism.  To Trump’s opportunistic flirting with the most fanatical and dangerous elements of the right, liberals respond with the Unified Voice of History, as if assorted managerial types protecting their well protected interests amounted to the struggle of the universal class.  For many this narcissistic compensation for the reality of fragmentation is too tempting to resist.   For many of us, the attack on Trump is the first time that we have consciously experienced a unified effort of the bourgeoisie and the culture industry it controls, 2001 and 2003 being too-distant childhood memories.  Little could have prepared us for the irony that, this time around, a Republican would be the enemy.

Uncanniness emanates from the forgetfulness of those who should know better.  Not only the critiques of bourgeois feminism vanished into thin air as the straw-man, freshman-seminar oppositions of “class, race & gender” are trotted out with gravitas; but also, and more insidiously, the minimum degree of social consciousness has evaporated.  Psychologization is the order of the day, from top to bottom, regardless of the injunctions from responsible professionals in their responsible newspapers to lay off pathologizing Trump.  Politics reduced to personalities is no longer politics, and hardly even psychology.  At the same time that liberals demand starry-eyed worship of the supposed social achievement of the “first woman president” crystallized in Clinton, a rather unsavory actualization of the neoliberal ideology of individuality, they censor any thinking beyond individuality concerning Trump.  The bourgeoisie has its cake and eats it too.  Meanwhile, more starve.

Those of us on the sidelines on account of both objective and subjective factors (it takes both to make a declassé intellectual) are treated as sadly misguided, delusional, if not outright evil.  A discourse that works by such quiet violence gives a different sense to the political situation than outright repression.  Capitalism produces not only surplus bodies, but surplus minds, each its own Cassandra with all that that entails.

It is certainly true that liberals, Democrats and mainstream ideologues are “hysterical” in the conventional sense of displaying unwarranted, exaggerated and uncontrolled emotion and excitement.  But if we take in a more technical sense, and try to understand the identifications, conversions and anxieties that have turned the bourgeoisie and professional classes into a frantic 24/7 herd-mind, we must wade through the set of symptoms in the search of the logic governing their loud orientation to the present situation.  Hysteria in psychoanalysis often indicates a crisis of identity, the impossibility of desire due to an unresolvable question as to  what one wants and how one would go about recognizing it.  Clinton’s campaign, empty of any content and therefore unable to answer that question directly, has found a temporary solution by leaning on the libidinal generator called Trump.  “No matter what, not this!”  But what do liberals really want? They find it hard to speak forthright about class domination, since that would assume their particular position as the champions of the winning side in the antagonistic society that has now covered the globe, rather than hiding behind the screen of meritocracy.  Liberals and Democrats have made their gamble for political definition based on the evasion of definition.  The solution can only be temporary.

There is obviously an element of regression in the situation; the logic of identification holds sway where we find “the weakness of intellectual ability, the lack of emotional restraint, the incapacity for moderation and delay, the inclination to exceed every limit in the expression of emotion and to work it off completely in the form of action” (Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego) (though in this case the “action” is the constant production and circulation of press pieces.  Freud’s models hit a limit, though, since nobody, with precious few exceptions, is identifying with Clinton or securing their group-bond with others via a shared position of being-loved with respect to her.  What has fused the group-think is a kind of head, but an enemy head and one with lousy hair at that.

But what happens when the figure holding it all together, holding together the bric-a-brac of inabilities and impossibilities in the Clintonite vision, disappears?  Perhaps auspiciously in this case, the intensity of solidarity in group-think often matches the intensity of panic and diffusion in the moment of disintegration.  “The mutual ties have ceased to exist, and a gigantic and senseless fear is set free.”  In his Group Psychology Freud uses the example of a play on Judith and Holofernes: “A soldier cries out: ‘the general has lost his head!’ and thereupon all the Assyrians take to flight.  The loss of the leader in some sense or other, the birth of misgivings about him, brings on the outbreak of panic, though the dangers remains the same.” Leading general, enemy general — the analogy is not perfect.  But in any case the panic is coming, unless Clinton is able to genuinely forge a life-raft of good-will out of this battle which is as unlikely as it is undesirable.  An electoral victory for Clinton changes nothing concerning the deep threat of the right, which is the source of the entire Clintonite rhetoric.  The most dangerous elements of the far right are not going to disappear when Trump disappears as a credible threat, a process by most metrics already well underway.  The future becomes the science fiction that the present is already slipping into.  Disintegration is in the cards, and perhaps some opportunity.