Meaning as Substance: Navigating the Desert of Modern Language in an Age of Discontent

“Thorough, adamant and uncompromising privatization of all concerns has been the main factor that has rendered postmodern society so spectacularly immune to systemic critique and radical social dissent with revolutionary potential.”

Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence

“This construction [the virtual] is a new, topological body which is a projection of a non-topology into a topological arena. This construction forces immense tension into the psyche, the conflict between a flatlined construction of self, a topological personhood, and the non-topological self and it’s gradual degradation by the persona being irreconcilable… This temporal state of society, accelerated by the emergence of virtual topology, is both a breakdown of experience and a penetration via the persona that spawns an obscene integration of self into the virtual.”

L. E. Haywood, in the Simulated Collective’s Virtual Topology and the Gothic Flatline

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

“And yet, as you all know, joining humanity is never a simple matter. By beginning to live the same temporality as Westerners, the Japanese now had to live two temporalities simultaneously… the asymmetrical relationship between the West and the non-West, which is tantamount, however abstractly, to the asymmetrical relationship between what is universal and all the rest that is merely particular.”

Minae Mizumura, The Fall of Language in the Age of English

The Technological Age has rapidly accelerated the forces of globalization, mass integration, and the collectivization of human knowledge, economy, and ways of being that has, in essence, started since indigenous dispossession caused by European migration to the “New World”. When conversation with a Japanese person can be made in seconds and not months, time itself is contracted to a singularity, as if “everything everywhere” is happening all at once. This linguistic cacophony and the proliferation of creation into a topological space, a space of infinite depth, contortion, and near-limitless being, at first sight, exists in direct opposition to the capitalist’s goal of cultural hegemony. The “proletarian” virtual provides the allure of seclusion among the noise, and also, the potentiality of discovery and liberation through the anonymity of self-creation; however, this is nothing of the sort. The efforts of capitalists to centralize and concentrate language still persist, and the conception that the virtual is a “space” of interspaced connections, rather than a demiurge of boundless origins, in it of itself, is the force of ideology at its highest point (Haywood, 2022). The topological virtual, in its nature, exists not in the efforts of a future where humanity achieves linguistic transcendence, but for the forces of domination that seek to render all ideological diversity inconceivable.

As articulated in the modern philosophical tradition, ideology constructs reality, as in, it defines the boundaries by which reality and “worlds” can be conceived. As described by Althusser,

“It is characteristic of the Ideological State Apparatuses that they form part of the superstructure and, as such, ensure the reproduction of the relations of production behind the protective shield of the Repressive State Apparatus and the possibility of resorting to it.”

Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism

In a post-Fordist world defined by deindustrialization, the personalization and automation of work, and an era of austere neoliberalism, the working class has been utterly subjugated, and without an active, vibrant labor movement to represent them, the ideals of individualism, self-interest, and apathy have been subconsciously acculturated by the working class. However, from the 1999 WTO riots to Occupy Wall Street, it has been shown that the postmodern age has not entirely siphoned off radical sentiments, and movements interested in challenging the current state of global capitalism can and will develop. In the interest of completely terminating any opportunity at capitalizing off this optimism, capital has turned to technology to render capitalist realism hegemonic: to eliminate the ability to imagine new futures. At first glance, technology, as described by its transhumanist proponents, is the concentrated human will towards development, progress, and advancement. Regardless of who controls technology and who eventually becomes a victim of it, the core of the postmodern, technocratic ideology stems from the belief that the virtual is a nexus where human creativity can be fostered and a more productive society can arise.

In truth, their future has come to pass with levels of economic productivity exponentially increasing and the business of data mining and data collection generating billions of dollars for the amoral and near-omnipotent wealthy. Nevertheless, this so-called economic prosperity has solely benefited the upper 0.1% of the global population, with trillions of dollars siphoned from the ever productive working class during an economic, epidemiological, and ecological crisis. Within this climate of theft and expropriation, resentment towards the general system builds and confounds the status quo, resulting in the explosion of libidinal energy and tension within the still visceral collective unconscious. The hero worship of traditional ideals and return of simplicity propels individuals to acculturate fascist and identitarian ideals, reducing their discontent towards a directed, systematic terror against those oppressed, marginalized, and otherwise rendered invisible due to constructed categories and identities. In contrast, this energy can be directed to more constructive, progressive, and radical thought that actively seeks to reimagine new futures, rather than regress to a pre-modern age, and in this unique place, the psychology of those who hold this new ideal is more whole despite existing within the ever-worsening paradigm.

A catalyst for this ideological cacophony is the ever-expanding and near-“limitless” virtual, a topological structure granted with the novel idea of infinity in which debate and meaningless discourse can take place constantly. Within the virtual, the billions of users that occupy its infrastructure engage in a level of inter-subjectivity on scales unimaginable, as the barriers to communication and new understandings are destroyed. However, given capitalists’ desire to enforce cultural hegemony as defined within Gramscian thought, this revolutionary level of proximity to the Other has to be managed, or at least, constructed in a manner that facilitates the continuation and the supplanting of neoliberalism as the just ideology of the postmodern. Within this framework, a common linguistics arises as the means of communication, are in themselves, technologies used by bourgeois power to regulate and encapsulate the virtual. Despite the illusion of its boundless infinity and unlimited “marketplace of ideas”, the virtual is strategically placed as an incubator for the neoliberal outlook and the means by which human subjects experience and conceptualize the state of the world and the possibility of unique futures.

“Modern technology, like ancient techne, from which it springs–and like science and metaphysics, which are essentially one with it–is a mode of revealing. Being, through its manner of ruling in all that is, is manifesting itself within it.”

Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays

As the common linguistics of the virtual begin to subsume into its foundations, it, in the Heideggerian sense, becomes transparent as it constructs the virtual itself, limiting and constructing the possibilities of interaction capable within itself. In a dialectical fashion, virtual linguistics relates with the ideological and repressive apparatuses of society that ultimately maintain hegemonic structures. Structures unconsciously influence the human users of the virtual, which through the unconscious Persona, recreate those structures through the process of intersubjectivity. The constant, yet highly chaotic, process of integration, sublimation, and reaction, thus, characterize the virtual as not a free-flowing space for infinite, unbridled ideological debate and inquiry, but a machinic locale that reproduces hierarchies pre-existing in the Real.

“Whether viewed through the lens of a single system of power, or through that of intersecting oppressions, any particular matrix of domination is organized via four interrelated domains of power, namely, the structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal domains. Each domain serves a particular purpose. The structural domain organizes oppression, whereas the disciplinary domain manages it. The hegemonic domain justifies oppression, and the interpersonal domain influences everyday lived experience and the individual consciousness that ensues.”

Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Oppression with the Real, as articulated by Black feminists, exists and is managed through the interlocking and self-integrating matrix of domination; however, in a more terrifying way, the matrix of domination in the Virtual is embedded in itself. As critiqued by L. E. Haywood in Virtual Topology and the Gothic Flatline, the virtual does not exist as a space and a network by which individuals occupy locales within its infrastructure. A more worrying and odd reality is subsumed beneath. Rather, the virtual, in its continually odd and transfixing nature, is “a formless topology, an infinitely elastic structure capable of shaping itself depending on the needs of the moment”. The virtual’s status as an infinite source of power, reality-construction, and rabid creation is a “techne” unpredicted by its own fashioners. It fulfills the dream of those in the business of cultural construction: a space in which deception is the norm and alienation is the reality. The organization of cultural products is thus facilitated by the virtual’s transience and the dissociation one begins to experience from the tangible and grossly semantic.

“Almost everywhere the law of blood, the law of the talion, and the duty to one’s race—the two supplements of atavistic nationalism—are resurfacing. The hitherto more or less hidden violence of democracies is rising to the surface, producing a lethal circle that grips the imagination and is increasingly difficult to escape. Nearly everywhere the political order is reconstituting itself as a form of organization for death. Little by little, a terror that is molecular in essence and allegedly defensive is seeking legitimation by blurring the relations between violence, murder, and the law, faith, commandment, and obedience, the norm and the exception, and even freedom, tracking, and security.”

Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics

The topological structure of the virtual facilitates the institutionalization of violence, hidden violence towards the subconscious that ultimately make living unnecessary to participate along with the “living”. In this Gothic flatline, organized violence becomes a tool by which hegemony is constructed, and the legitimization of a virtual matrix of domination allows this matrix to become the transparent technology that automates virtual hierarchy. Political orders in the postmodern no longer are based in reality, and discourse is facilitated through metaphor. The divergence from the Real, as in a schizophrenic departure towards phantasmagoria, reconstitutes political tensions as “culture wars” defined by the use of symbolic language to mimic the real structures that continue to persist in the lives of those oppressed. Black political activism is reduced to “the race issue”, and real political activism and radical change is rendered impossible within this construction.

“[Moralism] provides an emotional shoring up of the reactive stance of the weak, ‘who define themselves in opposition to the strong’… left moralism has been energized by increasing investments in injury, failure, and victimhood. When power is identified with what is ruthless and dominating, it becomes something the left must distance itself from, lest it be co-opted or compromised.”

Wendy Brown, Wounded Attachments

Ultimately, in this world of socialized zombieism where life exists in order to further the extension of capital and domination of wealth over labor, the interests of the working class has become concealed and banished to the space of lofty academia and disgruntled distress. In an age where the means of communication are constructed and self-replicated without the purview of the apparatus, the referentiality towards social constructs disappears (or at least, eludes). Without the ability to identify oppression, violence orchestrated in the interests of maintaining a status quo chaotically aggregates the discontent and contorts through virtual topology. It seems impossible to escape this Virtual Infinity, but in an accelerationist manner, it is evident that we can only escape but through.

Engaging with hegemony remains a difficult task, and those aiming to topple it must go back to the drawing board and re-engineer new modes of action. It will not be painless; it will not be comfortable; and it will not be effortless.

The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

Contending with the now as praxis for a radical future is the moment at which we declare war against what seemed insurmountable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: