Fantastic Politics: Subversion, Symbolic Order, and Exit Strategy

Building on Lacan and others Rosemary Jackson in Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion will express the underlying truths of our fractured age of anxiety and dissolution. She’ll read in the fantastic works of literature the strange paths taken by singular individuals seeking a way out of the straight-jacket of our false symbolic order, our civilization’s global hell:

Literary fantasies from Sade onwards are driven by precisely this kind of restless dissatisfaction. They express a desire for the imaginary, for that which has not yet been caught and confined by a symbolic order, yet the self-mutilation, cruelty, horror and violence which they have to employ to re-turn to the imaginary suggests its inaccessibility. Their awareness of the problem of representing the ‘real’ draws attention to the relation of signifying practices to that order and its constitution, for with the removal of a fixed notion of ‘character’, the problem of fictional representation is stressed. A fantastic text tells of an indomitable desire, a longing for that which does not yet exist, or which has not been allowed to exist, the unheard of, the unseen, the imaginary, as opposed to what already exists and is permitted as ‘really’ visible. Unlike the symbolic, the imaginary is inhabited by an infinite number of selves preceding socialization, before the ego is produced within a social frame. These selves allow an infinite, unnameable potential to emerge, one which a fixed sense of character excludes in advance. Each fantastic text functions differently, depending upon its particular historical placing, and its different ideological, political and economic determinants, but the most subversive fantasies are those which attempt to transform the relations of the imaginary and the symbolic. They try to set up possibilities for radical cultural transformation by making fluid the relations between these realms, suggesting, or projecting, the dissolution of the symbolic through violent reversal or rejection of the process of the subject’s formation.

What if rather than on the level of the singular subject we see this process in the larger context of global civilization itself, of the collective subject of the various forces that seem to be tearing each other apart, the reactionary fronts of the religious fundamentalisms (i.e., the monotheisms of Jewish, Christian, Islam) that seem to want to impose their order upon the liberal humanist world; the liberal humanist world in dissolution through the slow and methodical self-reflection within its cultural critiques in the arts, philosophy, normativity, sciences, etc. that seem to be rewriting the very conception of subject and subjectivity in both individual and singular, as well as collective and political, social, and cultural domains; and, the instigation of the strange non-knowledge of that lies the other side of the human condition, just outside the constricted limits of the extremes of atheism or religious forms of life and thought. We seem to be at that point where the Symbolic Orders of both secular and religious civilizations are coming apart at the seams, and each is reacting to this situation through violent and cruel reductions to war and fundamentalist impositions of their vying Reality Matrix’s. If Zizek is correct (and I believe he is to some extant) what is needed is to disturb the current Symbolic Order to the point that it bursts and we can replace it with what has been hidden in the ruins of its fraying world-view for a long while now.

Reactionaries and Progressives alike seem to be failing us, seem to be falling into arch defiance of the truth that we are all succumbing too. The Symbolic Order that was built up over centuries that came to a head in the eighteenth century as the Enlightenment belief in instrumental Reason is giving way to something new, the power of the liberal humanist civilization is decaying and fraying at the edges through the power of its own self-critical apparatuses. It has been reversing and replacing the base conceptual frameworks it constructed over two-hundred years ago, and in the process other more primitive and religious fundamentalisms based on ancient ideologies and normative visions are testing the boundaries of this great behemoth. Liberal humanist civilization is dissolving in our time which is leading both reactionaries and progressives to extreme visions in seeking to stay the tide of this dissolution.

It’s my own contention that the literature, philosophy, and arts of the fantastic can shape this world vision, open us to the incomplete and unfinished symphony of reality, allow us to make the transition, guide us in this in-between time of the failing Symbolic Order, and help in shaping the new more open order replacing it. We are in that interregnum period or between-the-acts stage of transition in which the world seems to be entering a topsy-turvy, chaotic, and failing or crumbling world; one falling into war, fundamentalist reactionary and progressive visions, and a world-wide global civil-war among ethnic, social, and national conclaves based on age-old religious and political strife’s.  But in even in the midst of this break up of the old order we are seeing in fact reversing in its course, one revealing the decaying and artificial lies, propaganda, and illusionary systems of belief and ideology upon which civilization has been based for far too long. Even the madness of our current politics there is a sign of hope, at once a Bakhtinian moment of carnival when the center cannot hold and chaos and laughter sprout everywhere, even as tears and tragedy romp across the world in strange and fantastic forms of metamorphosis and transformative ways beyond telling.

The fantastic is not an escape from reality, but an opening up of new realities, of new forms of social, political, and visionary modes of being toward reality. Reality is not a cage for thought and feeling, not a prison house within which the rich and powerful can command and control the feedback loops of some industrial mediatainment complex and thereby the vast populations of the world. No. The fantastic is about subverting these vast systems of power and control that seek to keep us ignorant and asleep in a world of consumption, slaves to our desires for more and more and more. The earth does have its limits and we will confront them willy-nilly whether we like it or not. The corrupt world that capital built is falling apart at the seams and the writing is on the wall of what is coming with climate collapse and the depletion of our earth’s natural resources. We must discover new ways to meet these challenges and being able to navigate the real with a larger symbolic order based on an open and unfinished vision of the world and universe is what the fantastic is about. It offers nothing more than a way out of our present predicament, an exit into reality rather than a closure in the hell hole of modern neoliberalism’s dark fantasia of an austere hell of debt and poverty.

20 thoughts on “Fantastic Politics: Subversion, Symbolic Order, and Exit Strategy

  1. Reblogged this on Jacob Russell's Magic Names and commented:

    “The fantastic is not an escape from reality, but an opening up of new realities, of new forms of social, political, and visionary modes of being toward reality. Reality is not a cage for thought and feeling, not a prison house within which the rich and powerful can command and control the feedback loops of some industrial mediatainment complex and thereby the vast populations of the world. No. The fantastic is about subverting these vast systems of power and control that seek to keep us ignorant and asleep in a world of consumption, slaves to our desires for more and more and more. “

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  2. I feel this in my visual art.. I reject “realism,” and am equally unsatisfied with pure abstraction. I find I’m always searching for something else, something between, something lost and becoming in the fragments of this broken world.

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    • What’s interesting is his reduction to an absolute dualism to brain/software. I think it’s idiocy to see it as Reason as destroying it’s own defense systems as he says here: “APE won’t listen to reason but it can be dissolved by it.” It’s not reason that dissolves the filters during psychedelic or even as in Rimbaud “derangement of the senses”, but rather – if you will, programs outside Reason altogether. In other words there are other programs in the brain not under the control of instrumental Reason that seek outlet, seek to overcome the Great Wall that Reason built and let other forms of reality be exposed to consciousness that have been expunged, dismissed, and filtered out through long education in Reason. From Plato onward the forms of cunning reason that were part of other educational techniques based on myth, ritual, and religious practice found a voice. Reason began the long demythologization and war against Cunning Reason and has yet to win as we see … yet, in monotheism we see Plato’s instrumental Reason replace Cunning Reason and enforce a new dictatorship of the One over the Pluralist paganism of ancient animistic worlds… (Forgive the short haul perspective on this sordid history…)

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      • sounds like a post in the making, never quite sure what to make of grand narratives of the dominance of Reason or de-mythologizing or the like given that the vast majority of folks still live with/in spook-filled worlds and as for so called mono-theists take a close look at the practices of the people:

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      • No, there’s no grand narrative here. No monolithic history. Facts are facts: some things actually happened and certain forms of Reason won out over others… one just follows the money trail (no pun intended!). In other words- one follows the power and authority in history (those who one out). One doesn’t see polytheist Churches or Eleusian mysteries around ? right? Instrumental Reason and Monotheism is what is around… is that a grand narrative or just a fact in time… ?

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      • Yea, just not mainstream culture… is what I’m getting at. …
        Hell, one can read Adam Parfrey and other extreme culture journalists and find a whole sub-cultural matrix out there. 😉

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      • sure but i’m talking about mainstream culture from the trinity worshipers (plus mary for many) on thru (not to even get into superstitions and the like), to borrow a phrase we have never been modern and unless we truly become post human never will.

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      • So you’re trying to suggest that polytheism is mainstream culture? Where in academic or even the mediatainment industry do you see this? Interesting observation… To me all of these belong closer to the counter-cultural rhetorics of dissent rather than to any form of actual mainstream cultural narrative. I guess I just can’t buy it yet… What I see is still the heavy doom of monotheistic Jewish, Islamic, and Christian cultures across the world… Islam holds almost 1/3 of the world… sure the older cultures in South East Asia with Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and other religious systems… but to say they are mainstream culture in the world at large is a little bit iffy… sure you can point to them, just like you can point to New Age paganism, witchcraft, Satanism, etc… it’s there but I wouldn’t say it’s mainstream… more in the fringe and extreme end points of culture rather than mainstream or center of culture.

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      • well you can ignore the examples i have given and the fact that the christians here and abroad are by and large not neo-platonic monotheists, or skip over the overwhelming numbers who believe in angels, devils, evil-spirits or ghosts and the like, wouldn’t be hard to find examples of that sort of thing in pop cult or even academic research, hell even stop in at youtube and watch the ministers ranting about Oprah and co.
        syncretism is the norm not the fringe

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      • Why would I ignore examples? It’s just that examples of belief in angels, demons, ghosts, witches, etc. has been around since the beginnings of Christianity, that’s not some new thing to suddenly appear. We’re speaking not of the Christian mythologies and inclusion of pagan thought in both Catholic and Protestant traditions… but to say that’s polytheism is another matter… it’s not, Dmf… These other entities are not gods, but creations of the supposed One God… which means its subsumed under the One rather than as in let’s say Olympus: the Many gods… or farther back the Titans… or the polytheism of tribal cultures the world over…. And, yes, even I have reported of the new academic research in Esotericism and its traditions in Hermetic, Occult, Neo-Platonic Theurgy, Gnosticism, et. al… But even these are subordinate and not mainstream polytheism of any stripe or measure…. nor is New Age thought or Magick, etc….

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      • to try to get back around to my point which was simply that there is no One to rule them all, no Logos/Reason, not a logic or a being or such, people interact with the many and their relations are ever shifting with new contexts and assemblies.
        as for the christian mythologies and the poly, see the work of my old prof David Miller: http://dlmiller.mysite.syr.edu/Books.htm

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      • Yea, I’m not defending the mainstream view or its monotheistic view of existence as homogenous, etc. … obviously as you must know by now I’m against this whole Symbolic Order we live in and offer a more heterogeneous and outlaw view of culture and revolt, yet to assume that Reason and Logos are not used like sledgehammers across our cultural praxis is to argue against the whole Enlightenment project (which is something I too argue against from my own perspective). Obviously most of current thought since the postmoderns has been an attack on the whole Enlightenment project of Reason/Logos… yes, mainstream civilization (which is capitalism and neoliberal west) lives under the older worldview of Reason/Logos… whether we like it or not.

        I’ll check it out. Yea, weird, read all of those works back in the seventies and eighties. strange that… 😉 All but David’s… that is.

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      • yeah i get what yer after what i was trying to suggest is that like all human activities it isn’t order-ly in the doing so no means for a whole Symbolic Order ,this is part of the promise,or threat, of attempts to develop universal grammars/codes, internet of everything, etc only there they recognize that the means for such connections/command&control are tech of the future as they don’t yet exist and never have.
        see the work of http://faculty.cas.usf.edu/sturner5/Papers/CogSciencePapers/paper.htm

        “Practices: Turner has published in the overlapping fields of sociology and philosophy, particularly on the notion of practices. In The Social Theory of Practices as well as in other writings Turner argues against collective concepts like culture: what we call culture (and similar concepts), he argues, needs to be understood in terms of the means of its transmission. There is no collective server by which it is simply downloaded and “shared”. What we take as “collective” is really produced through experiences of interaction which are different and produce different results for different individuals but which also produce a rough uniformity through mechanisms of feedback rather than “sharing”. He has extended this argument in various places, most recently in relation to the philosophical idea of “normativity” which he argues is an explanation of “facts” which are the product of an unnecessary and mystery-producing redescription motivated by an attempt to take back ground from social science explanation.”

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      • Yea, that’s just the usual spin trying to pull together nice fictions that can’t be supported… no better than the usual conspiracist narratives. Although some say he did believe in UFO’s 🙂

        It’s like Newton practicing alchemy in secret… 🙂

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