Guy Debord: Beyond the Society of the Spectacle


The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point that it becomes images.

– Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

Yet, let us add that the accumulated capital is that of the Subject who has become a total image, immersed in a world of information where reality is nothing but a copy of copies. One of the first texts to begin a critique of representationalism, of the production of reality out of images: a world where Plato’s Cave becomes our only reality, but one that is itself inverted, one in which the shadows on the wall vanish into the wall and we follow them into the darkness rather than the Light of the Sun. This is the Society of the Spectacle. Sitting here at my desktop peering into the screen of my computer, or momentarily lifting my iPhone and peering at the face of my young daughter as she talks to me from a city hundreds of miles away I realize this is our reality now. We’ve all vanished into the screens of an unreal world and come back out and let the screens follow us into our world.

“But a critique that grasps the spectacle’s essential character reveals it to be a visible negation of life — a negation that has taken on a visible form.”1 Yes, it has, yet we no longer realize it as a negation of life – instead, it is our life, our reality; we’ve become immersed 24/7 in information, it follows us everywhere now rather than us following it. The shadows are alive now, it is only us that exist in stasis, a simulated image turning in a void; our actual selves have become data – roaming beyond us in the onlife worlds we once inhabited as passive onlookers. The tools of this immersive process are no longer separate from us – as in Debord, but surround us on all sides even as we move through the world.

Debord lived in the age of television, in a media age of print and electronic media as monolithic and bound to specific encapsulations. People now move with the dataflows, follow their trails in work, play, and sleep. We are never without this new sheath of information that wraps us in its cocoon like an agent of light without reflection. For Debord the spectacle presented itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned. Its sole message is: “What appears is good; what is good appears.” The passive acceptance it demands is already effectively imposed by its monopoly of appearances, its manner of appearing without allowing any reply.(KL 475)

Ours is an inverse relation to this. We live in the appearance of appearances, we are no longer passive in regard to information: we are information, inforgs or information organisms (Floridi) that actively pursue the life of images as producers rather than consumers. Many of us have become knowledge-workers or part of that new class termed the cognitariat. Others live in the lesser worlds of the precariat, the service worlds of older forms of economic slavery, shifting with the shadows of older forms of work and bound to a precarious world where they are become more and more marginalized as machines replace them year by year.

Yet, Debord was correct when he said that the spectacle aims at nothing other than itself. (KL 488) In a world where the appearance of appearances is the only reality there is no sense of the physical only the immaterial sign that tracks itself in the spectacle is true and substantial. One is nothing but data now, therefore one’s physical embodiment means nothing to the spectacle: only one’s data counts as appearance of appearance – this is your true body now, a data-body floating among the onlife worlds as a transactional commodity for the spectacle’s consumption. You are no longer a consumer: you are what is consumed. Your dividual or affective relations as data are consumed by thousands of economic machines daily as part of the spectacles mapping and tracking programs. What these systems know is your desires, your affective relations, your dividuality. They use that to market you and consume you.

Debord’s belief in the individual has also vanished: “Individual reality is allowed to appear only if it is not actually real.” (KL 505) Nothing is real, everything is real. The individual has become a dividual (Deleuze):

The affect is impersonal and is distinct from every individual State of things: it is none the less singular, and can enter into singular combinations and conjunctions with other affects. The affect is indivisible and without parts; but the singular combinations that it forms with other affects form in turn an indivisible quality, which will only be divided by changing the quality quantitatively (the ‘dividual’). The affect is independent of all determinate space-time; but it is none the less created in a history which produces it as the expressed and the expression of a space or a time, of an epoch or a milieu (this is why the affect is the ‘new’ and new affects are ceaselessly created, notably by the work of art).2

The dividual as affective relations is produced by the spectacle-machine: an image, a part-object – a data-being that is both mobile and dispersed in the networks of global data; but since there is no inside or outside (i.e., the presence/absence dichotomies of metonymy) to the online world of the inforg we’ve merged with the spectacle beyond recognition as appearance. Our bodies continue to be dispersed among the security spaces of the neoliberal order, but those are only the entrapments of our onlife self: the commoditized mobile carrier of our data packets. Only the dividual matters not the body that carries it. As Debord says:

When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings — dynamic figments that provide the direct motivations for a hypnotic behavior. (KL 508)

We are our images not the other way round. We are Plato’s world magnified: codified Ideas that have been copied into copies and let loose upon the global datastream. This is why bodies have such difficulties with identity theft: your real being is an image, a dividual that is no longer under your control; and, even, more it has its own life beyond you. Like any other life form it is open to vulnerability, hacking, pirating, manipulation, and theft: it can turn your body into a criminal tool, or take from your body any and all property. There is no security anymore. You are nothing more than a blip on the insecure screen of life.

You are nothing but Subject-as-data. The securitization of one’s onlife life is first and foremost a 24/7 project. One’s alienated being roams beyond you like a dark twin who is up to no good. Yet, as Debord will remind us: “The spectacle is the bad dream of a modern society in chains and ultimately expresses nothing more than its wish for sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep.” (KL 531) But there is no sleep in our mobile spectacle, only vigilance: permanent paranoia. One can always lose one’s identity and one’s life to an other.

When Debord suborned the mediatization of reality to a bureaucratic form he did not know it would become what it is now: we no longer need administrators who channel and concentrate power in some objective form, rather we have internalized these forms of power and administrate ourselves. When he said that the “social separation reflected in the spectacle is inseparable from the modern state — the product of the social division of labor that is both the chief instrument of class rule and the concentrated expression of all social divisions” (KL 551), he did not see that in our information age power would be dispersed within the networks invisibly shaping our desires through other means. The normalization of this mode of command and control has become ubiquitous and invisible; reversible: we enter it and it enters us – we are shaped even as we shape. The feedback loops are continuous and have no horizon nor hierarchical organization.

Whereas for Debord the general separation of worker and product tends to eliminate any direct personal communication between the producers and any comprehensive sense of what they are producing. (KL 574) In our age there is instead total immersion between worker and product, and communication has cut the manager out of the equation to the point that what is produced is the user herself as dividual, as affect in the spectacle.

He spoke of there being no freedom apart from activity,

and within the spectacle activity is nullified — all real activity having been forcibly channeled into the global construction of the spectacle. Thus, what is referred to as a “liberation from work,” namely the modern increase in leisure time, is neither a liberation of work itself nor a liberation from the world shaped by this kind of work. None of the activity stolen by work can be regained by submitting to what that work has produced. (KL 584)

In our time the construction is complete, and we are onlife 24/7. There is no separation between work and leisure: one is always working even in leisure. One’s dividual life and one’s bodily life are both commodities in a surplus-value regime that never ends until death. And even in death one’s artificial immortal life goes on as part of the spectacle of global capitalism. Data is never lost only degraded.

One could say that our age is not so much the Society of the Spectacle, as it is the Society of the Immersion: we’ve become immersed in images to the point that we are images. There is no separation as in Debord. We have entered our images as appearance: it is the image, not us that is real in this world of immersion. Only signs are real, not bodies. Yet, it is our bodies that carry the signs and are still paraded before the humiliation of the Law and State.

1. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle (Kindle Locations 464-466). Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Colebrook, Claire; Colebrook, Claire (2013-05-13). Gilles Deleuze (Routledge Critical Thinkers) (p. 61). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

10 thoughts on “Guy Debord: Beyond the Society of the Spectacle

  1. I once read Society of the Spectacle by substituting the word “Internet” for each mention of “Spectacle.” That was eerie, it didn’t fit perfectly, but it was weird how much it actually did fit the context.


    • Yea, it wouldn’t fit because of the inversion of the technological worlds: one was built on total passivity of consumer, the other on the activity of a producer of knowledge: (but there are those who are consumers of it as well, it’s not all clear cut).


  2. Steven, you keep writing things that are really important, by which I mean (in the light of honesty) that they’re things I’m thinking about and would write more on if I had the time. You’re output right now is amazing in terms of quality and sheer amount- where the hell are you getting the time from?

    I recently wrote a very short and not at all academic thing- probably publish it on libcom shortly- that took issue with the idea that the happiness industry is some insidious monster that shapes us, as if we were still in the society of the spectacle and a reliance on the idea of the passive consumer who receives an intravenous infusion of media (as if the prosumer didn’t already exist- was it Toffler in Future Shock who talked about that, years since I read it).

    I’ve been reading bits and bobs of Baudrillard- Guattari wasn’t paying off for me in relation to affective/dispositional hooks into the text- as well as going back over Ballard. What one finds in these two, over and over again, is the idea of an active participation in the mechanisms of mediatization, a kind of “practice of everyday information”, that is less about mutual aid as it might be mutual exploitation. A pithy way to recapitulate all that kind of immersed and ingenious mutual manipulation is in the Xenofeminist assertion of a politics “for alienation”.

    There are maybe two strands going on that I’ve been thinking about a little. The desire for alienation and the damage of anomie. I think we need to be careful to disentangle these and see where they interact and when their interaction is benign and when it is malignant- and even if these corporeal metaphors even make sense any more.

    At the same time I wonder whether it is too quick to say that we have become images. We might have become digital but we have always been images, and in that sense it is less that we have entered an age of Immersion than that the nature of Immersion has changed profoundly. We used to be immersed in nature but that has changed so that the Immersion has become electronic, so that the immersion has become compulsive and offloaded, a conscious immersion and extension into the practice of self-presentation that have been going on for some time.

    I don’t want to undermine the real shifts in the means of relating to information and image but I can think of three modes of being as image that have gone before, although they are all centred on the individual rather than the digital dividual.

    1. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life: Goffman’s idea of the face-to-face encounter as the management of the impression that one leaves on the others.

    2. Glauconianism: This is the idea, presented by Jonathan Haidt in his book on moral psychology, that Plato is wrong to insist on our desire to be moral and to be just and to be good. In fact, he says, it is Glaucon who is correct: we are far more concerned with the appearance of integrity than on actually being a person of integrity. Haidt positions this next to evolutionary theory and the idea that when we lived in smaller groups we had to appear to be benefitting the tribe. Sometimes this would mean being good and sometimes this would mean seeming to be good.

    3. The Metzinger idea of the Phenomenal Self Model: could this be positioned as the interior representation of the neuro-behavioural system “self”, and that in the digital immersion we are seeing a profound extension of that Model, or for the ability to exteriorise the Model for others?

    There are stories everywhere about the distinction between one’s lived life and one’s digital life. The depressed teen whose Instagram account presents to the world the image of perfection…how sad, and how acutely the distinction is drawn so that the image becomes unbearable, a lie too heavy to bear. Is there any other way to see such stories than as ‘retreat from the real?’ I have a friend, one of the authors of a transgressive manifesto for the digital age, who used to make money selling “rape suits” on Second Life, who suggests that the point of Immersion is to “produce an intense form of experience”.

    A few years ago, embarrasingly ahead of me on this, they wrote a couple of blog posts on The Aesthetics of Immersion. To quote from the first part of the two part post:

    “In the shift therefore from the spectacular to the immersive, we are also losing something by way of ‘communication’ insofar as art as immersive experience does not ‘repent’. Nor indeed does it actually ‘dream of Evil’ in the strictest sense – what happens rather is that it simulates evil. The dream of Evil is autoamputated and technologically reproduced for an emotional life that now understands its suffering and violence in terms of entertainment and leisure. Immersive communication is significantly different to spectacular communication in that there is a helplessness in the dreams of literature which leads the dreamer towards expiation. The same is not true of immersive communication, where the artistic value is found in and only in the elaborate nature and intensity of the interactive experience. There is a tragic aspect to literature that immersive art does not have – it is the job of creators of immersive content to produce intense relations between other individuals. The component of artistic penance vanishes – you can treat your slave well, or you can treat her badly – the job of the artist is only to detail what either of these options might entail. Moreover, the players now embark on roles of cruelty and enslavement, real emotional engagement, but experienced as leisure”.

    Full post here:


  3. I’ll admit that a lot of my posts are overflow out of my work-in-progress… flotsam and jetsam of my daily work.

    “At the same time I wonder whether it is too quick to say that we have become images.” Of course for me images are not some immaterial Platonic notion, but rather the very materiality of the sign itself in the Lacanian and Deleuzian sense: of the bilateral interaction between virtual/actual as going both ways. And when you say ” Immersion has become electronic” I disagree. For me Immersion is what Floridi will term onlife:

    we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.1

    It’s this sense that we are information that we are already data-beings or as Zizek calls it appearances as appearance; or, in the old Platonic parlance copies of copies is this notion. Yet, it is an inverse relation to Platonic idealism of Ideas as separate from the world, objects in a suprasensible world to which matter is formed, rather its in the Deleuzian sense of modulation of the virtual and actual in their bilateral interaction rather than a passive or passivating process we are so immersed that it is a post-intentional process in which our conscious minds have no part or separation. So in this sense we no longer belong to the Society of the Spectacle because we are in Buadrillard’s sense integral to the reality in which we are operative engineers.

    I agree that immersion does disconnect us from critical reason and its ability to have the distance necessary to reflect on its immersion… this was actually Baudrillard’s point in his essay on Evil, etc. Many see Baudrillard as pessimist/cynic when in fact he is actually very much a speculative realist or materialist. What he objects too is that people get simulation and integralism confused: especially in his works on art and artists. He sees them as producing ready-mades as art when in fact it is the artist themselves who have already become ready-mades. It’s this inverse relation to Platonic representationalism that he attacks. Same for Guattari-Deleuze… many get it wrong in their understanding of this very issue. This is where I disagree wholeheartedly with both Zizek and Badiou who are themselves bound to a metaphysics of lack and castration which sees desire as a Platonic concept in search of its idea or lost object; rather than as in Deleuze/Guattari as neither lack nor castration, but rather as a productive force that interoperates at the level of virtual and material in a bilateral logics rather than a univocal logics.

    When they say that it is the programmer or engineers project: “There is a tragic aspect to literature that immersive art does not have – it is the job of creators of immersive content to produce intense relations between other individuals.” That’s just it: there are no “individuals” only dividuals or affective entities in the intensive relations of the digital universe. This sense of the individual has been dispersed, fragmented, traumatized: it has been violently elided from the very process in this immersion, it has become dividual and pure affectivity. In fact they do not “produce intense relations between other individuals” instead what they’ve done is to subtract those intensive affective relations from the very equation: this is why the shock of such mass murders as we have seen frequently begins to make sense – these young men are already immersed in their dividual worlds of affectivity and have no control over what they produce, because they are not even aware as “individuals” anymore, they’ve truly become dividuals immersed in a reality that has itself become digital or infospheric. Simple version: their living the video game as reality TV with themselves as the directors, scriptwriters, producers, and actors in an immersive field of virtual / actual perversity. What Scott Bakker wrote of in Neuropath of the post-intentional or non-intentional consciousness has become literally manifested in these strange mass murderers as the Batman movie killer, et. al. What’s sad in Berardi’s new book is that he still slides back into metaphysical explanation and himself misapplies many of the lessons that Guattari and Deleuze have to offer. This is why to me Beradi fails miserably: he does not understand Guattari or Deleuze in their radical intensive mode, and tries to conform their thought into his Autonomous politics which was born under the sign of Spectacle.

    I’ll have to address your other statements in another post… I need to read the posts you pointed to… I may make it an actual post… you have intrigued me to research further… 🙂

    Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.


  4. This is Arran, commenting from my partner’s account, as my partner, dissolving my dividual into hers.
    When I said that

    “We used to be immersed in nature but that has changed so that the Immersion has become electronic, so that the immersion has become compulsive and offloaded, a conscious immersion and extension into the practice of self-presentation that have been going on for some time”

    I didn’t mean to import any kind of ontological rupture from nature to electronic as if they were different registers of being. I’m precisely against this kind of digital dualism. If I gave the impression otherwise then that is my mistake. I was mainly pointing at a phenomenologico-affective shift, an alternation in the quality (but not kind) of experience within immersion. If I imported any discontinuous dualism then it is probably because this is found everywhere we come into contact with digital immigrants typical of a less tech-savvy generation. An example:

    During my minimal counselling training I encountered a seminar on professional ethics when encountering clients online. Should you accept that friend request or reply to that instant message? The problem was only conceivable insofar as cyberspace was seen and experienced as radically discontinuous with meatspace such that the coordinates governing ethical life, and particularly the quasi-juridical professional ethics of the counselling and psychotherapy regulatory bodies, could become so destabilised as to be called into question. The vertigo of immersion into the infosphere produced the ‘frenzied’ panic that Baudrillard connects to the transition from semiology to semiurgy in Forget Foucault, and which results in the necessary scepticism of delirium. Despite the internet having been around for some time, and despite the room being full of people in their early 20s who must sit on the border between immigrants and natives, the lecturer and the assembled students all expressed the same navigational paralysis. In the frenzy of the delirium the old certainties became impossible to guide ethical behaviour. Of course people all had their answers, they could all answer the question of what to do with the friend request of the woman you have been seeing professionally for marital problems. The point is, and this has seared itself into me as a moment of authentic confusion and standing apart from my peers, was that it appeared as a question at all.

    That there should be a need to discuss the ethics of interactions with clients outside the counselling environment where the interaction is online as a separate problem with separate “issues” to mull over stuck me as a profoundly confusing experience. Their delirium prompted a kind of reaction-formation…a feeling of being surrounded by people who didn’t understand the very basics of the world that they lived in when they came to think about it, despite being perfectly capable of living in that world effectively.

    When I mark a distinction between nature and cyberspace this isn’t an ontological distinction that could be mapped onto the scenario of the counsellor’s confusion…their inability to see that whether the interaction is on the street, the supermarket, the forum or facebook the same ethical principles would hold (if they hold at all; i’m speaking from the perspective of a discussion of professional behavioural regulation). The nature I refer to isn’t this ontological nature as a pre-digital real, and it isn’t intended as nature as wildness or wilderness either. I mean that prior to the expansion and the being-at-home with the digital realm there were less extensive means for image manipulation… it was lo-fi and could still be seen as disingenuous or fake, there was still the distinction between producer and consumer and the consumer who was a producer had ideas above her station or was an amateur (look at pornography: it is the amateurs who are the real professionals, who really understand what pornography is doing).

    Last night I posted an introductory post on the phenomena of hikikomori, a psychiatric diagnosis that roughly translates into psychiatric parlance as ‘acute social isolation’ syndrome. I want to look at this from a variety of perspectives but all of them as a refusal in theory, and as the hikikomori’s refusal in practice, of the idea that they are in any sense psychopathological…and thereby to connect up with the idea of benevolent psychopathology of the kind Ballard talked about. One such approach is to focus on the hikikomori as demonstrating that in after immersion into the infosphere the idea that locking oneself up in one’s room is necessarily a form of withdrawal is stupid and nostalgic for an era of humanist face-to-face encounters that (outside of special environments) never took place. The hikikomori who never leaves his room but who explores, elaborates, modifies the MMORPGs and forms part of a community of players, editors, wiki-makers, cosplayers, develop their own stand-alone mods, have youtube channels with up to a million subscribers, other vloggers (word feels old fashioned) that they interact with…. in what sense has he withdrawn from social interaction? The face-to-face is displaced by face-time.

    But I think we should be careful with making this total. The hikikomori is clearly an extreme example of a generalised trend. We’re not quite there yet.

    I’m not sure if I agree with your reading of mass murder, which Bifo and others seem to readily to attribute to an inability to distinguish the simulation from the real because they are immersed in a hyperreal of violence, or how you put it, “living the video game as reality TV with themselves as the directors, scriptwriters, producers, and actors in an immersive field of virtual / actual perversity”.

    I don’t think I would deny that this immersive “cinematic narrative syndrome” isn’t real, but that it in these instances we should pause to consider their continuity with older psychoses. Virilio talks about a stereo-reality, a living in two realities, but of course they aren’t…the augmented reality of the infosphere is one where there is no ontological distinction. But Virilio’s mistake is the same as psychiatrists of old, that of taking psychosis as a departure from the real rather than an intensification of it. In fact the psychoses of these guys- dressed as the Joker (cosplay elements) in the Batman movie and opening fire to inspire chaos like your antihero- is the corporeal playing out of a psychodramatic ritual intended to establish a return from a derealized or depersonalized state.

    You see the obliteration of the self is not experienced so easily as all that. And this is where so many theorists, and not just Bifo, fail for me. They do not want to pay attention to the realities of psychopathology and to the damaged psyches that are already being brought forward. Where one of these aspects is picked up the other is dropped- Heroes looks at the “cases” but doesn’t understand the psychopathology.

    James Holmes, I suspect, the problem is less that of fully inhabiting the fantasy of the spectacle, but the opposite: James Holmes is looking to return to himself, to the self that has been traumatized, torn open, and all the rest, by taking fragments of the semiurgical landscape- which is our real landscape- and recomposing them according to his own logic in order to deliver himself from derealization and depersonalization.

    This is borne out by the recently released notebooks of James Holmes. He says the desire to commit mass murder has been with him for at least 10 years. The notebooks detailed many cinemas and many other methods of killing (he rejects serial killing; he rejects terrorism). He wants to spread to be clear: “the message is, there is no message”. The existential howl over the disappearance of meaning is repeated over eight separate pages with lines and lines of one word repeated over and over:”why?”

    “The real me is fighting the biological me,” he says, in the journal. As a neurology student- does Bifo even mention this?- JamesHolmes was aware of the ways in which he was never anything more than an informational illusion. The real me is the idea that behind the illusion, behind the mystifications, there is something really real, as if the illusions weren’t all there is. There is more than a touch of neuronihilism here: “Can a person have both no value AND be ultimately good AND/OR ultimately evil?” He also specifically says he feels he is “divided”, in a reference to Laing he is probably familiar with.

    He talks about the desire to kill becoming a reality in order to “escape” the divided and antagonistic reality of himself. To escape what? The unreality of himself. The madness.

    [i am aware i’m now half-rambling to you…working up a post through the conversation]

    He had tried to “fix” his mind, but to found that

    “It is broken. I tried to fix it. I made it my sole conviction but using something that’s broken to fix itself proved insurmountable. Neuroscience seemed the way to go but it didn’t pan out. In order to rehabilitate the broken mind, my soul must be eviscerated. I could not sacrifice my soul to have a normal mind. Despite my biological shortcomings, I have fought and fought.”

    He tried to heal what he perceived to be a split in his subjectivity and to bring himself away from the dream of mass murder. The soul. It is the soul that he wants to return to- precisely to the idea of an essential true self. The escape is the escape both from madness and from a life lived as a video game.


    • I like your “hikikomori, a psychiatric diagnosis that roughly translates into psychiatric parlance as ‘acute social isolation’ syndrome”… should be interesting study. I tend to agree that we’ve become immersed in technologies to the point that our whole lives are absorbed into them to the point that we rotate in a mediatized universe non-stop: moving from one activity to the next. This moneyed generation of young people are the first to totally be connected in the net as normalized. Even in the 90’s and early 2000’s it was still a new toy, but now it’s so normalized and part of all the gadgets we use from iPhone to the various Pads, music, etc. young people seem to think this is just the way it is. And, like many isolationists or loners, shy or otherwise sociopathically distant this seems to be the alternative to real contact… a way of making contact without making “real” contact (i.e., flesh contact where one has to face both one’s emotions and the other’s). That’s the key: we’re raising a generation of affectless young people who when faced with the usual teen-age hormonal changes just are not prepared for what is going on inside them because they’ve never had the years of contact with others to work through the normal aspects of growing up: instead they’ve closed themselves off in mediatized worlds that distance them from others and themselves, allowing only the mental to gain a foothold…

      My problem with what you’re saying is that it seems life Bifo you’re imputing too much into these beings, as if they really understood what it is they were doing… my feeling is that their ego’s had already been shattered and that it was the subpersonal and older regions of the affective brain that had taken over and were determining the actions now. I don’t Holmes or any of the others had any iota of a sense of what you’re saying: they just were not that aware, and even the memory and cultural mechanisms of sociality had been so damaged they could not tell what they were doing even to this day. I think you’re a big softy who wants to see people still struggling to attain themselves, but in truth its just a lot darker and more mundane than that: evil is pointless – there is no meaning in it at all. No escape, no way out, just pure rage at the universe… that’s the truth of many of these young people.


      • Well I don’t think Holmes has any idea of what he’s doing either, not really. But I also don’t think he was completely stupid or unaware, even if he couldn’t consciously articulate what he was doing. Of course evil is pointless, and of course there is no meaning, but this was one thing Holmes was definitely aware of…we should reiterate, he wasn’t a totally disconnected guy: he was a neuroscience postgraduate. He was immersed in the nihilism of neurological reduction that is the truth- and we can see that he inherited a certain belief from this that his madness was caused by a broken brain- but he also posits that he has a soul. I don’t think he would particularly have a theoretical grasp on all this, if he had he’d have got his sublimation from theory rather than killing. It’s not so much that I see people as trying to attain themselves as much as I see them in this relentless pursuit of trying to make sense of the world and themselves. This isn’t intentional either, it’s just what brains do.

        Perhaps I am a big softy, but I have to be. I work in the field of therapy. I believe that every action undertaken by a human being is an attempt to cope with being alive. I think this includes suicide and murder and dressing as the Joker whilst unloading bullets into the bodies of cinema goers. There is no meaning but there is still the meaningless search for a meaning that won’t come. For human beings even “there is no meaning” becomes a meaningful statement. I’m a depressive realist. This is the real trap. I think there is only one kind of person who escapes from it: the psychopath. But even he has to cope with being alive. [I wrote a paper for a book coming out on psychopaths but in the end it was rejected; too many edits; not enough knowledge of metaethics, but the upshot was this: the psychopath exists in the world of moral nihilism and so is the only one who lives in the ‘real world’].

        I can’t help but draw on clinical experience. I hope this doesn’t come over as a kind of trump card, because as I say it may well be I am a softy because I have to be. Still, I work with addicts. Not your common garden addicts, This is a crisis centre in Glasgow. These are people who are hardened decades long heroin addicts- often rough sleepers, sex workers, people with multiple bereavements, no real friends, years without authentic emotion unsupressed by opiates and benzos. By their own admission they’re often violent, murderers, enforcers, very bad people, liars and manipulators. They will admit it. But it all makes sense when you consider where they’re coming from and the world they live in. If you want the Social Darwinism that Bifo talks about in Heroes that is where you’ll find it: among the underclass of substance misusers.

        It’s still all a way of coping. Numb the emotions. Get rid of the awareness of one’s life and one’s actions. Keep doing them to get keep going. Keep going to get another hit. Even rehab is part of the circuit of addiction and coping. As my friend @autodespair always says: can’t cope, won’t cope.

        This exchange has made me go back to Heroes, wasn’t planning to for a time- as part of the suicide research I’m doing. I’ll probably try to work up a post on John Holmes specifically.

        Ha! I was thinking of my own pathology. I have so little time to read and I just keep proliferating the reading/writing projects. It’s a kind of ADHD, a word-salad of reading. I’ve never really got through D&G, I’m working my way through lots of stuff on suicide, neurophilosophy, Laing, more and more…maybe the withdrawal of the hikikomori would be helpful!


      • No, I agree. Why I’m pushing is that it seems at the moment that there is a central issue at stake in philosophy and politics: it has to do with “lack” which is traced back to Plato’s thought in many philosophers and psychologists: Freud and Lacan being only the two most visible. Deleuze and Guattari tried in their four books to present a view of the human based no on “lack” but on production, the sense that we are not lacking “being” but that we produce it. That it is this very psychology and philosophical notion of “lack” itself based on this notion that we are lacking something and that because of that we seek a lost object of desire out there in external relations, that late capitalism has used this to its own accord to trap us in a hyper-consumerist society turned dystopic, etc.

        My struggle is to determine who is right? They both can’t be: either we follow Plato-Descartes-Kant-Freud-Lacan- etc. or we follow the Stoics-Lucretius-Spinoza/Leibniz-Schopenhauer-Nietzsche-Bataille-Deleuze etc.

        What side of the divide do you see yourself?

        And, I understand the humor… 🙂 I, too, find that I’m a little hikokomori myself at times: although I’m in contact with people all the time in my life that takes me out and about. So not sure that truly qualifies… but I do spend a lot of time writing, especially of late since I started this book project. My mind is so mercurial anyway… it’s like a thousand flowers blooming at times….

        That’s why I tend to see the mind like Deleuze/Guattari as a productive machine… I find it more difficult to turn it off, to unplug, and be still rather than in Lacan or Zizek the need to desire something outside myself to generate life or thought. For me it’s more a matter of developing defenses against this productive power itself which is so blast productive that at times it want let me alone… those are the times I take off to the mountains, go fishing, or amble up to the forests and just disperse those pounding energies in footwork, wander trails in the wood and along rivers 🙂


  5. Well I certainly feel more inclined to the Stoics, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Bataille. But also Ligotti and Cioran and Baudrillard types. Those who go for excess and abundance but for whom this also means “too much”…waste, the excremental, and so on. But I’m not so sure about Deleuze and Guattari. Like I say, I don’t seem to have really found a way into them. I think maybe there has been such a focus on them while I was at uni and so much so again these days (kill the Deleuzians, they said; now the Deleuzians are everywhere again).

    Mercurial? Mine is quite arid. I would prefer if it was more so, if I could give up on the insistent need to read/write “just enough” to keep sane. In fact just as I go further into nihilism I’m also going further into mysticism and getting a kick out of psychomagic rituals. I would like to be in the position of a mind that wouldn’t stop producing. Of course, I’d probably change my mind if I had this imp of the philosophical constantly nagging me.


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