Our modern world is laden with the bearings of science, technology, and the march or tendency towards infinite progress, as if the destined nature of humanity is the cyborg future envisioned by the dystopian stories of our time. Magic, and even the concept of the supernatural, is no longer preoccupied in the conscious, and the belief of a world dynamic and fluid with the influences of forces beyond no longer rests in the conscious. However, to say that the essence of magic is not lost in the human unconscious is to be incorrect. Specifically, magic and its revolutionary promise of “a world without work” is more enchanting to the modern person than meets the eye. Heavily inspired by Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, I argue that the trappings of magic exist within the fabric of societal arrangement, and the power hidden within it structures and helps validate the sovereignty of powers that be.
The Demiurge, A “Gnostic” Psychoanalysis, “Infinities”, and Deleuzian Analysis
Gnosticism was an esoteric philosophical tradition that spanned mid-antiquity that held beliefs tied to the nature of the divine popular throughout the Mediterranean. However, early Christians viewed the movement as heretical, seeking to blot out its existence from history. The nature of the Gnostic tradition as “heretical” and “deviant” from Christianity was uniquely interesting, and in tandem with the “heretical” witches of the medieval period, analyzing power and social structures through the concept of the heretic is a useful tool. Those considered “deviant” or “in opposition” are met with the terror of hegemony, and the experiences of subjugation reveal unique perspectives of the dynamics of power and the methods by which powers validate and replicate their existence.
The demiurge is a concept key to the Gnostic mythos, described as “an ‘arrogant beast’ that resembled an aborted fetus in both appearance and character”1. A being casted off from its divine origins, it fashioned the world as “a reflection of [its] personality”1 and used archons that “[administered] the material world”. This description of a force which reproduces and reflects itself into the society and world it creates as a means of ensuring its domination is oddly reflective of sovereign powers and the hegemonic forces of our world. The concept of a “matrix of domination”, articulated by Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins, is emblematic of the machinery of the demiurge.
“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… 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
The demiurge extends its power into the material from the immaterial and influences, rather, reflects itself into the real, projecting and constructing reality. This idea of an “invisible visible”, an object both immaterial and truly material, is developed in Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx in his reading of the ghost in Hamlet.
“Whence the theatricalization of speech itself and the spectacularizing speculation on time. The perspective has to be reversed, once again: ghost or revenant, sensuous-non-sensuous, visible-invisible, the specter first of all sees us. From the other side of the eye, visor effect, it looks at us even before we see it or even before we see period. We feel ourselves observed, sometimes under surveillance by it even before any apparition.”Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx
As a specter which peers into and surveills, the Gnostic imagination characterizes the demiurge as a “visible-invisible” force which conceals and subsumes itself into reality by its own reflection. In Derrida’s words, the demiurge manifests “the visor effect: we do not see who looks at us”, and through the visor effect, reality itself becomes the demiurge and attempting to separate it from reality is a futile effort. The hidden and cryptic, in Derrida’s theory and the knowledge of Gnostics, is the true site of knowledge-production and reality construction, and uncovering its meanings allows one to discover the Holy Grail of Reality and begin unraveling and deconstructing structure.
The valorization of concealment directly then pointed towards a psychoanalytic view of the Gnostic as the unconscious itself is out of perception, but simultaneously helps structure, manage, and organize perception and sensation. The “visible-invisible” unconscious, in a very unexpected way, can be analyzed through the ideas of the heretic and mystic: the unconscious’ natures of sublimation (in the Freudian sense) and naive mystery are most attuned in the Gnostic sensibility, as those sensibilities help realize the presence of the “visible-invisible”. In more specific words, the Gnostic attitude when integrated into a psychoanalytic framework allows for a re-evaluation of libido as not simply generated by sexual urges emanating out of some void, rather out of an imperceptible but actively present nexus of libidinal energy. These nexuses of libidinal energy seemingly interspersed produce and reproduce libidinal energy, alluring to the human unconscious, and the nature of Infinity becomes possible.
When humans were able to generate fire, new possibilities of living, sustenance, travel, and existence popped into existence as if to violate the Laws of Thermodynamics. In the same strain, nexuses of libidinal energy exist out of perception and possibility, but through their “visible-invisible” projection into the unconscious, they pop into existence. The awareness of a seemingly infinite well of libidinal energy and, thus, the promise of infinite possibilities mimics the same “creative” ability of the demiurge and its capacity to construct realities. Thus, nexuses of libidinal energy generate not only the concept of Infinity (and all things which come it by corollary), but also the capacity to generate Reality and validate such a new Reality. Within this construction, the Real cannot be conceived as an objective marker one can individually point to, rather, it is actively shaped by the “visible-invisible”.
“Capital is indeed the body without organs of the capitalist, or rather of the capitalist being. But as such, it is not only the fluid and petrified substance of money, for it will give to the sterility of money the form whereby money produces money. It produces surplus value, just as the body without organs reproduces itself, puts forth shoots, and branches out to the farthest corners of the universe… Machines and agents cling so closely to capital that their very functioning appears to be miraculated by it.”Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Deleuze and Guattari’s articulation of their concept of the body-without-organs can be effectively integrated with a Gnostic psychoanalysis. The body-without-organs, described as a foundation by which systems are placed upon, begin to be articulated from, and are “reproduced”, is, in effort, the best description for the psychological Reality formations engendered by the Gnostic demiurge. These nexuses of creation are not machines, or “organs” in the Deleuzian sense, rather, a pulsating foundation of the material and psychological (which in the Gnostic psychoanalytic sense begin to enmesh with each other). This foundation provides the means by which ideas, and thus, structures can be projected upon it. It energizes the matrices, the machines, that produce the dynamics of Reality, and without labor, it generates the possibilities for all futures allowed within a particular system.
“Eradicating these practices was a necessary condition for the capitalist rationalization of work, since magic appeared as an illicit form of power and an instrument to obtain what one wanted without work, that is, a refusal of work in action.”Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch
In an odd parallel with the definition of magic put forward by Silvia Federici, this unnamed foundational force of Reality generation and formation is, at its heart, a magical concept. Originated from a Gnostic understanding, the “visible-invisible” as a palpable force is one “without work”, an emanating and constantly proliferating force that seems to not need the labor of working and oppressed people across the world. However, the power from corporations to nation-states to justify and perpetuate their existence through Reality construction is, at its heart, originated from both the “visible-invisible” ghosts and living people whose labor generates the capital, that under an economic system of expropriation, justifies sovereign orders of domination. Thus, this force cannot be solely conceived as a force of magic, emanation, and speculative “Infinity”, but simultaneously, a palpable consequence of labor—the capital that allows for sovereign powers to legitimize and re-perpetuate their existence. It must be, in a Hegelian fashion, a synthesis: magic-capital.
Sovereignty, Borders, Markets, and Humanities
“Watching Children of Men, we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
Diverting away from this discussion of the esoteric and psychological, the vivid presence of magic-capital within the business of Reality construction and formation has a natural, obvious, connection to the discussion of political systems. Political systems, as a means of organizing and consolidating power and determining who and who does not have access to power, necessitate the accumulation of magic-capital as their modus operandi. The ability to construct a Reality by which one’s existence is necessitated as a foundational axiom is the most well-desired resource any hegemonic order seeks to gain, and by any means so. To uncover the dynamics of magic-capital construction, it is efficient to look at postcolonial theory to understand the means by which powers construct Realities, and thus, the possibilities of certain subjectivities, in an interesting parallel with the Fisherian concept of capitalist realism.
Achille Mbembe, a true master within the field of postcolonial analysis, provides insights that help clarify and begin articulating the consequences of magic-capital as a political and legitimizing force. Reading Bataille2, he discusses the dynamics by which sovereignty, death, and the political become intertwined and help support each other within a unique construction.
“By treating sovereignty as the violation of prohibitions, Bataille reopens the question of the limits of the political. Politics, in this case, is not the forward dialectical movement of reason. Politics can only be traced as a spiral transgression, as that difference that disorients the very idea of the limit. More specifically, politics is the difference put into play by the violation of a taboo.”Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics
As the site by which the possibility of “Infinity” can exist, magic-capital allows for the limitations and “prohibitions” to be violated, and the violation of the “prohibition” allows for sovereignty to be defined. Sovereign powers, thus, gain the ability to, in essence, separate themselves from the concept of the limit. And to go beyond the limit and reach past the finite requires magic-capital. As Mbembe continues, he articulates that sovereignty requires the right to kill which he coins as “necropolitics”, and this “capacity” to determine who dies and exists at the fringes of life and death. Discussing race within his discussion of sovereignty, Mbembe states,
“In the economy of biopower, the function of racism is to regulate the distribution of death and to make possible the murderous functions of the state. It is, he [Foucault] says, ‘the condition for the acceptability of putting to death.’”
The ability to regulate and construct machines for the automation of death to objects eviscerated from the potential to gain a semblance of sovereignty relies on the financial domain of magic-capital. The psychological domain of magic-capital provides the mystic, specifically, out-of perception justification and “acceptability” of a political system, and through the hidden labor by which justification is placed upon, the financial domain provides the domain by which automation is possible. It, magic-capital, is the “body-without-organs” of political systems, the foundation by which the functions of politics can be executed and the means by which systems can violate the concept of the “limit” to execute their ideological beliefs.
However, for sovereign systems to eliminate the deviant and heretical in order to render their existence as simply consequential in the mind of the body politic, these “eliminated” deviants have to be objectified, not in the feminist sense but Hegelian sense. Mbembe connects Hegel’s relation between death and the “becoming subject”:
“Hegel’s account of death centers on a bipartite concept of negativity. First, the human negates nature (to his or her own needs); and second, he or she transforms the negated element through work and struggle.”
Sovereign systems must themselves form objects out of those who are deviant and negate their existence out of Reality, and through magic-capital, political systems can use the psychological domain of magic-capital to render those who it wants invisible out of perception, and thus, possibility entirely. Those who are then rendered invisible cannot have the ability to access their own subjectivity and must become objects out of the purview of society. This process of creating once-visible subjects into now invisible objects can only be executed by the “visible-invisible”, in this instance, magic-capital, a force which is an Hegelian synthesis of this particular dialectic. This can be seen within the carceral system, best deconstructed by Angela Davis in her work, Are Prisons Obsolete?
She describes how those who are encountered with the possibility of “radical alternatives to prison” view that discussion as “hardly acceptable” as, like our society entranced with capitalist realism, people view prison as an axiom of civil society, rather than a construction.
“On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens in them.”Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
The palpable psychological fear of asking “what happens in them” is magic-capital at work. Those within prisons are no longer guaranteed the ability to have subjectivity and impart their existence within society, as psychologically, magic-capital renders them no longer as subjects but as negated objects. They then become a mysterious and mystical Unknown, and accessing the primal fear of the unknown is the desired effect of oppressive political systems, as the fear of the unknown prevents society from interrogating the underbelly of political life that allows “civil society” to exist.
“We thus think about imprisonment as a fate reserved for others, a fate reserved for the ‘evildoers,’ to use a term recently popularized by George W. Bush. Because of the persistent power of racism, ‘criminals’ and ‘evildoers’ are, in the collective imagination, fantasized as people of color. The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers.”Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
These objectified persons are out of mind and out of sight (as goes the old idiom), and as Davis states, outside magic-capital’s construction of civil society exists a “black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited”. Once this action of mechanized violence becomes legitimized as the rational undergirding of a seemingly “civil violence”, violence, both psychological and material, becomes inevitable. As Michel Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish,
“Punishment, then, will tend to become the most hidden part of the penal process. This has several consequences: it leaves the domain of more or less everyday perception and enters that of abstract consciousness; its effectiveness is seen as resulting from its inevitability, not from its visible intensity; it is the certainty of being punished and not the horrifying spectacle of public punishment that must discourage crime… As a result, justice no longer takes public responsibility for the violence that is bound up with its practice.”
The inevitability of violence as the nature of civil society allows for magic-capital to remain invisible due its natural part of societal and Reality construction. Thus, powers with magic-capital, and thus with sovereignty, exist in their own Subjective Realm beyond critique as they mark the boundaries by which bodies under their power and political system are valued and placed in determined proximity with death and negation. The Subjective Realm is the locational domain of magic-capital, all physical as the geolocational site of power, psychological as the justification of power, and financial as the origin of the economic means by which objectified individuals’ labor are rendered invisible.
“Those who carry the penalty [punishment] tend to become an autonomous sector; justice is relieved of responsibility for it by a bureaucratic concealment of the penalty itself… And beyond this distribution of roles operates a theoretical disavowal… a technique of improvement represses, in the penalty, the strict expiation of evil-doing, and relieves the magistrates of the demeaning task of punishing.”Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Within a market economy, the creation of a Subjective Realm and the propagation and extension of one’s Subjective Realm is a business, and by extension, there exists a market of domination. Achille Mbembe states,
“Coercion itself has become a market commodity. Military manpower is bought and sold on a market in which the identity of suppliers and purchasers means almost nothing. Urban militias, private armies, armies of regional lords, private security firms, and state armies all claim the right to exercise violence or to kill. Neighboring states or rebel movements lease armies to poor states.”
A la the Social Darwinism touted by imperialists of the early 20th century, this market of domination requires magic-capital accumulation and the extension of this financed magic-capital past the borders of the domain by which a certain power occupies–the imperialist project. Imperialism, within this rethinking, can be thought not only as the accumulation of base resources by the means by which magic-capital can be acculturated and accumulated. Those who exist within the imperial periphery, both colonial and neo-colonial, are sent outside of the market and cannot access magic-capital and sovereignty over themselves. Those in the imperial periphery under colonization and a “state of exception” are, as aforementioned, rendered objects, and within the lands beyond the imperium, the “rule of law” is rendered, and as necessitated, destroyed. The rule of law, within the classical liberal imagination as articulated by Enlightenment philosophers, can only exist when all persons have some level of sovereignty. However, when individuals are stripped of their sovereignty and even the potential to gain sovereignty, they no longer have the guaranteed rights to humanity itself. They occupy an uncanny space through objectification, and inside a space with no order and true “law”, conflict is a natural consequence.
“That colonies might be ruled over in absolute lawlessness stems from the racial denial of any common bond between the conqueror and the native. In the eyes of the conqueror, savage life is… something alien beyond imagination or comprehension… The savages are, as it were, ‘natural’ human beings who lack the specifically human character, the specifically human reality, ‘so that when European men massacred them they somehow were not aware that they had committed murder.’”Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics
Outside the purview of any legitimate legal structure, violence is sanctioned as a means of quelling the animalistic Other, and acquiring magic-capital becomes possible only through the hegemony of violence. This constant necessity of violence is described by Mbembe as originating from some “divine foundation”, unknowingly mentioning magic-capital in his essay. He describes the concealment of this necessary cycle of violence in Necropolitics:
“Lying beneath the terror of the sacred is the constant excavation of missing bones; the permanent remembrance of a torn body hewn in a thousand pieces and never self-same; the limits, or better, the impossibility of representing for oneself an “original crime,” an unspeakable death: the terror of the Holocaust.”
As the arbitrator and executor of “unspeakable” acts of violence, powers that be must construct the self-replicating matrices of domination that ensure violence is perpetuated and re-perpetuated. Within American society, the school-to-prison pipeline, the legacy of redlining and housing covenants, and the cycle of poverty all are a means to ensure that Black communities remain segregated and objectified and outside the rule of law. Even within the imperium, those of certain “identities” and existences can be rendered objects as long as they remain under a state of seclusion.
“Under these circumstances, colonial occupation is not only akin to control, surveillance, and separation, it is also tantamount to seclusion. It is a splintering occupation, along the lines of the splintering urbanism characteristic of late modernity (suburban enclaves or gated communities).”Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics
It requires the mass technologization and quantification of society to allow for the automation and replication of often simplistic systems of order and assemblage (as in racial quanta, defined sexualities, the gender binary, etc.), with killing described by Mbembe as “precisely targeted”. Medical systems terrorize marginalized people, legal systems render them impossible, and political systems create the incubator by which their rights and ability to access power are rendered impossible within a society’s Reality.
“In consequence of the rationalization of the work-process the human qualities and idiosyncrasies of the worker appear increasingly as mere sources of error… Neither objectively nor in his relation to his work does man appear as the authentic master of the process… he is a mechanical part incorporated into a mechanical system… The contemplative stance adopted towards a process mechanically conforming to fixed laws… impervious to human intervention, i.e. a perfect closed system, must likewise transform the basic categories of man’s immediate attitude to the world: it reduces space and time to a common denominator and degrades time to the dimension of space.”Georg Lukács, Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat
This technology behind matrices of domination (that automate power through mass death and control) is at the heart of the modern application of magic-capital accumulation. The virtual Internet has become the magnum opus of those seeking to create systems of domination. An infinite location by which corporate and state power can mold and bend like a topological shape, it allows for hegemony to “[subordinate] everything to impersonal logic and to the reign of calculability and instrumental rationality.” The violence of colonization, worker oppression, and other systems of isolation and marginalization can be distilled into an “impersonal” algorithm which goes beyond the supposed fallibility of humanity and is touted to make descriptions of objective truth. Within this boolean algebra of “true” and “false”, systems of domination through the virtual can seemingly forever justify their own existence by rendering their presence as necessary for societal construction–-a continual motif of the specter of magic-capital. The abstraction and de-identification of power within the “objective” Algorithm helps justify unconsciously the horrors of class society, and through the psychological domain of magic-capital, render the presence of class out of perception and sensation.
Resistance and the Experience of the Objectified
When conceptualizing the origin of sovereignty, one must not neglect the opinion of those who lie outside the bounds and borders constructed by powers in the business of magic-capital. The view of the heretic, the deviant, and the oppressed has a unique utility in its ability to provide a view into the phenomenology of oppression and objectification. In places where magic-capital is absent, individuals must resist by converting their bodies into tools of mass propaganda. In death, they are able to establish their own sovereignty by regaining their ability to control their own death and the meanings attributed to their death. In essence, they are able to accrue their own magic-capital for which its psychological domain is prompted, e.g. rioting.
“In this instance, my death goes hand in hand with the death of the Other. Homicide and suicide are accomplished in the same act. And to a large extent, resistance and self-destruction are synonymous.. In such a case, triumph develops precisely from the possibility of being there when the others (in this case the enemy) are no longer there. Such is the logic of heroism as classically understood: to execute others while holding one’s own death at a distance.”Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics
This logic of revolution and resistance implies that the death of one’s own subjectivity leaves behind a shadow placed upon the castle of magic-capital constructed by political systems. This shadow is eternal, and thus, one’s own death is irrelevant to themself. One’s death becomes an eternal signifier of a life beyond the system, some afterlife of being beyond oppression. Resistance is an industrial effort, and in our modern world, a means to combat the ineffectual tides of social forces that seek to render a gilded Reality that hides the terror within.
Thus, revolution becomes an effort of the cataclysmic to exert the full summation of all those minute occurrences of self-determination and subsume the hegemony of the powers, and simultaneously, render the market of magic-capital moot and create a new foundation–one beyond the oppression of class society.
The only question left is not when, but how this revolution should occur.
1 Daniel McCoy, The Gnostic Demiurge
2 Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share and the History of Eroticism
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