Fredric Jameson – Utopia, Dystopia, and the Myth of Neoliberalism

MAN is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.

-Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

It is easier, someone once said, to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism: and with that the idea of a revolution overthrowing capitalism seems to have vanished.

-Fredric Jameson,  An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army

The two epigraphs are well known to many on the Left and Right as being the bookends of a discourse that stretches from the Enlightenment to the demise of Soviet Communism in ’89. After the fall of utopian ideologies we’ve come to the point where such artificial dreams lie in a vacuous realm of fantasy rather than in any prospects for a future reality – and, to be fair, let us also remember what Susan Buck-Morass stated in her excellent survey of both Communist and Capitalist ideological utopianism:

The Construction of mass utopia was the dream of the twentieth century. It was the driving ideological force of industrial modernization in both its capitalist and socialist forms. The dream was itself an immense material power that transformed the natural world, investing industrially produced objects and built environments with collective,
political desire. Whereas the night dreams of individuals express desires thwarted by the social order and pushed backward into regressive childhood forms, this collective dream dared to imagine a social world in alliance with personal happiness, and promised to adults that its realization would be in harmony with the overcoming of scarcity for all.1 (9)

This leads me to the new book that once again tries to answer Jameson’s Utopian Manifesto. I speak of  An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army which brings together Jameson’s original manifesto, An American Utopia along with short stories, essays, and critical appraisal of this work. As Slavoj Zizek in his forward suggests this manifesto questions the standard leftist notions of an emancipated society, advocating— among other things— universal conscription as the model for the communist reorganization of society, fully acknowledging envy and resentment as the central problem of a communist society, and rejecting dreams of overcoming the division between work and pleasure. Endorsing the axiom that to change society one should begin by changing one’s dreams about an emancipated society, Jameson’s text is ideally placed to trigger a debate on possible and imaginable alternatives to global capitalism.2

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Death of Culture: On the Decay of Thinking

It is very likely that never in human history have there been as many treatises, essays, theories and analyses focused on culture as there are today. This fact is even more surprising given that culture, in the meaning traditionally ascribed to the term, is now on the point of disappearing. And perhaps it has already disappeared, discreetly emptied of its content, and replaced by another content that distorts its earlier meaning.

-Mario Vargas Llosa,  Notes on the Death of Culture

( -Author’s disclaimer: these are but the ramblings of a disturbed creature living at the moment on planet earth, spinning about a minor sun in a minor galaxy flowing around in a void somewhere this side of eternity… probably not meant for you! Read on or not: the author no longer cares if you do or don’t, and if you want to spout invective back: that’s fine, too! But, be warned, the author is known to bite back…)

Our Necrophilic Culture of Doom
Creative Destruction: The Age of Metamorphosis
Crash Culture: Panic Shock, Semantic Apocalypse, and our Posthuman Future

Something happened yesterday to convince me that Mario is right, we’ve entered that stage of completed nihilism of which Nietzsche once prophesied. We’ve let whatever was once termed Western Culture (whatever that is? Or, however you wish to define it: I want!), whether in its European or its shadowed reflection here in North or South Americas vanish. What’s left is this ruinous wasteland of terabytes of textuallity that seem to run the gamut between the Sublime and the Ridiculous. The notion of a center of culture is laughable when our mediatainment complex seems to have replaced it with its simulacrum, its fake mirror of inane parodies.

No matter how many of us here on FB, WordPress, or any number of media communication systems seem to still read/discuss the classics, still harbor some inkling of the ancient signs of cultural data from Greek, Islamic, Hebraic, European, African, India, China, Russian, etc., what Tolstoy once sadly hoped would become ‘world literature’ is gone. What we have now is T.S. Eliot’s fragments shored against the ruins…

Should we bewail this? I doubt it… it’s done! We’ve allowed it to go down… our great modern masters such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett live out its maximalist and minimalist designs and finished the bookends of Western culture in the burial grounds of the 20th Century. Now begins something else… a new world strikes up, one we should not bewail, but accept as a clean slate, and emptying of the vessels of sense and non-sense, of wiping the cultural frames of reference, making way for a new world.

Yet, we ask: Is there anything, anything at all out of the great traditions of the past worth saving, restoring, redeeming? What would you save, what restore, what redeem? Isn’t the cultural accumulation of Civilization like that over bloated thing we like to hate: Capitalism just one more decadent accumulation of too muchness? Maybe it is time to lop the excess, end the accumulation of data that no one but some advance machinic intelligence could ever encompass.

As one studies the latest trend of self-publishing one realizes that the majority of material published is illegible, almost inane and so badly repetitive and lacking in either good taste – literary or otherwise, that one wants to light a bonfire across the blipstream of our current cultural malaise. The literary critic’s task used to be one of arbitration, of being the great reader of her age, of forming the best, the aura and sparks of greatness from out of the cultural worlds around her, interpreting and embellishing the works worthy of the common reader’s consumption. But now this is nothing but a zoo for dissatisfied curmudgeons. Shaping taste is like any other commodity valueless, a part of the end game of a completed nihilism. One more bonfire of the vanities against which there is no redress.

Truly ours is the mongrelization of culture through a flattening of value into nothingness in which nihilism of value and meaning having wiped the external power of social, religious, and philosophical – and, some say, scientific and artistic meaning from its external anchors in authority and has forced us back on ourselves, forced us to seek out some internal compass to guide us and shape our taste, and – can we even say it, moral vision. Yet, as neuroscientists and cognitivists, and advance philosophical and other forms of thought keep reminding us: there is no there is, there is no Self, no Subject, no centralized inner being or essence, nor first-person singular left within this thing we once termed the “human”. Even to use such a term as ‘moral’ or ‘morality’ (i.e., normative navigation systems) has a certain tastelessness, a distaste and aftertaste of bitterness in our minds. There is nothing left to tell us what is of worth, no one from that cultural past from Plato to Deleuze to whatever calls itself the keeper of the cultural light, to give us a hint of what should be studied, reflected upon, scrutinized for shaping one’s life, mind, and sociality – one’s culture. There is no culture, only the endless sub-cultural mimesis of a thousand-and-one subaltern worlds of our cracked world.

Some might say: But wait, we’ve democratized learning, publishing: haven’t we? Have we? Is this what we want to call it now? This anything goes, over populated smorgsboard of anyone and everyone who can put one word in front of another and punch the Indie index screen, upload an .epub or .mobi to their favorite site for offloading by other Indie wannnabees? This endless circle of inanity? A sort of contentless content? A loop-world of repetition of desires without desire? No thank you.

Oh, but aren’t there some great books being published? Sure there are… one could name hundreds if not thousands published every month out of hundreds of thousands published at the same time. But who reads all these endless works? And, better yet, does anyone read anything older than last year anymore? People wonder how I know so much, wonder where I got the time in my life to read and study so many authors, thinkers, poets, political writers, philosophers, etc.? The secret is not how much you read, but rather how you read. I mean how effectively you gain access to those few authors that can compress hundreds of years of learning to the point that you do not need read everything, that in reading these few one knows the many, one has access to the minds of all those thoughts that have drifted down the ages through the best and brightest minds and now have a special place in yours.

But where to discover such authors? That’s the difficult question isn’t it? Because we can all understand a truism that what might be excellent and of value for me might be both foolish and of little value to you or another or any grouping of others. The path of learning, what the Germans once termed Bildung and the Greeks Paideia come with long struggle and hardship and difficulty. My life was singular since I did not have academic training, was not guided into certain pathways in my learning. I did not have the luxury of having past knowledge laid out for me to pick and choose. No. I did what many do outside the academy, I ambled through endless libraries of books seeking out of the sundry chaos of reading, of exploring art, philosophy, politics, sociology, medicine, history, etc. etc., without any rhyme or reason, order or pattern till I became aware of certain authors here and there that seemed to have discovered techniques in reading, memory, and visualization that allowed them to absorb vast amounts of information, and yet to do this with a keen eye for discernment that allowed them to separate the wheat from the chaff to use a colloquial expression.

Over time one began to listen to these various authors as they would mention each other as if in conversation across millennia. As if along the way one saw certain men and women being mentioned over and over, repetitively as exemplars of learning and taste. One began to realize that these men and women who were mentioned over and over, generation after generation formed a sort of canon of works that people would refer to continually. One could go to the index of almost any book and begin to discover certain authors listed repeatedly in book after book. These became the core of my curriculum, the set pieces of my reading and pondering of what seemed to many as the best and brightest thinkers of the past and present. It was this long struggle generation after generation that formed and shaped what we’ve come to know as Western Civilization and Culture, and it is this ancient canon of art, philosophy, literature, poetry, political writing, erotica, etc. that we are losing in our time. This ancient core curriculum that many battled to retain out of the past is now being dissolved, abandoned, dispersed by those who would seek the destruction of this past, efface it, demolish it, wipe it from the face of the earth as no longer viable. The whole humanistic enterprise of learning, bildung, paideia: culture is being overthrown for something else – nonhuman, posthuman, inhuman…. almost anything but – human.

So that we have to ask: Is this truly what we want? What have we gained in destroying our Western cultural inheritance? Has it truly opened up something new? Have we enriched ourselves with this blank world of non-meaning? Looking around me and watching the political, social, cultural worlds of our moment what I see is just warring factions, identitarian politics: race wars, gender wars, Left vs. Right to the maximalist nth degree of pyromania… we’re taking a nosedive into a final nihilism from which nothing human may ever again emerge… Why? Why do we think this is what we want? Why is a choice of Hilary or Trump a choice at all? Have we fallen so low into boredom and malaise that we can no longer think for ourselves? Demand of our Leaders something better? A world worth living in for our children and grandchildren? Is democracy truly dead? Is the liberal tradition now mute? The liberal era in politics and democracy over? Maybe it needs to be brought down? Looking around the planet all we can see is the dire effects of the liberal enlightenment world of democracy that has brought utter chaos and degradation to most of the rest of the Third-World through its supposed democractization efforts, hiding its actual economic and cultural imperialism and hegemonic globalist agendas. So should it just die a long slow death, or a hot fast one? If so, what comes next? Apocalypse or a new Dark Ages? That’s the question…

Our nihilism has taught us that the universe is a vast killing machine, indifferent and impersonal to human wants and needs; our planet is a cyclic processor of organic and inorganic systems of creation and destruction, a realm where from the smallest bacterium to the largest mammals in the oceans there is predation, endless and never ending. We all have pile up mountains of bones in our lives of the animals and plant life we’ve killed and eaten to survive. We’re nothing but processing systems with mouths and asses for intake and expulsion. We dress ourselves up in finery and pretend we are exception, unlike our distant cousins the apes and chimpanzees; or all the other creatures we share this planet with. We assume mythologies of angelic heights, but end up killing through genocide any and all who do not comply with our vision of secular or religious life and ideology. We are the only animal on the planet that will not accept being an animal. We seek immortal godhood through religion or transhuman egoistic individualism, trying to invent organic of inorganic modes of being to continue and endure forever. In the process we accumulate guilt and shame that we suppress and repress, hiding from ourselves the fact that we live fantasy lives that are nothing but … nothing.

Here and there through the ages the discovery of feral children has brought us back to the truth of our natural inheritance in animalistic jouissance. Yet, unable to accept the truth of who and what we are we dream of separate, transcendent worlds inhabited by glowing immortal beings to insure our hopes and wishes against the natural truth of our universal place in the universe that could give a shit about who are what we are, a universe that doesn’t even know we exist, a universe in which an asteroid at any moment could wipe the human species from the face of earth without further thought or meaning. This is the truth of nihilism…

…it’s against nihilism that we’ve built up the lies of culture, the chain of thought and images, poetry and philosophy against the actual and real truth of our nullity that we are mere accidents in the scheme of accidents that make up this universal catastrophe. Only now that Western Civilization and its Leaders can no longer provide the illusion of democracy or a viable planetary culture are we seeing this nihilism completed in our time. Now comes the decomposition of Western Civilization… an end to its growth and hegemonic reach, the final days of its empire. Now comes the age of barbarism… of the new.

‘Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!’

-Epitaph to W.B. Yeats Burial Stone

(Note*: This is not a definitive nor encyclopedic statement on nihilism or post-nihilism or any other notion, concept, proposition, or even non-propositional non-knowledge etc. for those below who wish to continue to embellish other facets of the diamond of nihil… feel free! I already see several commenters below and on reddit who have added their plenty to the empty reflections of said author, as well as attributing to his minor shit more shit…)