Key Philosophical Concepts and Quotations for “Psychedelic Aesthetics, Literature, and Liberal Crises” – Week One

May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

When you learn to survive in a hostile environment, be it in the tear gas parks of Chicago or the mud slopes of WOODSTOCK NATION, you learn a little more of the universal puzzle, you learn a little more about yourself, and you learn about the absurdity of any analysis at all.  It’s only when you get to the End of Reason can you begin to enter WOODSTOCK NATION.  It’s only when you cease to have any motives at all can you comprehend the magnitude of the event . . . nobody knew where the fuck anything was, not even WOODSTOCK NATION.  Like Pete Seeger said, “If you were gonna join it, you had to join it by yourself.”  Figuring out how to get in and out of the whole thing was a problem as old as Western Civilization and as modern as traffic jam scenes in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend.”  You entered the End of Reason to be sure. (Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock Nation, 133)



Crisis / State of Emergency / State of Exception / Disaster:

 An important theoretical concept regarding a breakdown of legal apparatuses and the necessity for decision that either have no precedent or exceed existing conceptions. In legal theorist Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology (1922), he says the exception defines the norm and:

 All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized religious concepts not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver – but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.  Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries. (36)

The state of exception can also be conceived as similar to martial law. The discourse of uses this term. While “Political Theology” has different and more specific variants as a term within Christian discourse, the rise of interest in Political Theology among scholars since the late 1980s has also accompanied questions concerning the nature of religious discourse in the public sphere, particularly in the post 9/11 era. The Italian philosopher of aesthetics, Giorgio Agamben, for example, builds on Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology, calling the post 9/11 era an extended state of exception. Accompanying this is the disappearance of a certain European notion of transcendence in favor of more immanent views, especially in relation to bulky legal apparatuses that cannot function in states of exception. These “leaderless” states imply an “absent throne” (or perhaps a puppet-throne) and a return to nature, the pre-political, or the perennial. Agamben names this, building from Schmitt, explicitly in the book State of Exception:

The immediately biopolitical significance of the state of exception as the original structure in which law encompasses living beings by means of its own suspension emerges clearly in the “military order” issued by the president of the United States on November 13, 2001, which authorized the “indefinite detention” and trial “by means of military commissions” (not to be confused with military tribunals provided for by the law of war) of non-citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. (3)

Essentially, Agamben argues (in 2005) that since 9/11 the United States has been in a state of exception where legal apparatuses are constantly suspended because the deliberative process is too slow to react to states of emergency.


The Perennial

 A state of constancy, including recurring or cyclic, something that transcends the developmental / progressive temporality of modernity.



 A social construct arising from material and social conditions in Europe from the late Renaissance into the present. This includes a shift toward emphasis on individuals or “subjects” / citizens. A shift toward philosophical skepticism (Descartes’ cogito – “I think; therefore, I am.” A shift toward modern scientific method which establishes reality (scientia = knowledge) based on verifiable procedures.


European Imaginary

Roger Green’s term for collected attitudes about the importance of individuality, giving rise to the political “sacredness” of human rights and incorporating an historical narrative that sees ‘modern man’ as separated or alienated from a “state of nature.”



 An important characteristic of modernity developed especially by Friedrich Hegel and his student, Karl Marx. According to Marx, modern people are alienated from nature because they have moved from an economy of agriculture, where labor materially produces the necessities of living, to abstract labor, quantified by clock time and pay-rates that accompanied industrialization. In The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee writes:

Two centuries of capitalism and market nihilism have brought us to the most extreme alienations – from our selves, from others, from worlds. The fiction of the individual has decomposed at the same speed that it was becoming real. Children of the metropolis, we offer this wager: that it’s in the most profound deprivation of existence, perpetually stifled, perpetually conjured away, that the possibility of communism resides. (16)


Key Quotations and Definitions from the Introduction to The Coming Insurrection

“It goes without saying that the attachment of the French to the state – the guarantor of universal values, the last rampart against the disaster – is a pathology that is difficult to undo. It’s above all a fiction that no longer knows how to carry on. Our governors themselves increasingly consider it as a useless encumbrance because they, at least, take the conflict for what it is – militarily.” (12)


Resonances (see Deleuze)

“Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there. A body that resonates does so according to its own mode. An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire – a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations, always taking on more density. To the point that any return to normal is no longer desirable or even imaginable.” (12)



When we speak of Empire we name the mechanisms of power that preventively and surgically stifle any revolutionary becoming in a situation. In this sense, Empire is not an enemy that confronts us head-on. It is a rhythm that imposes itself, a way of dispensing and dispersing reality. Less an order of the world than its sad, heavy and militaristic liquidation.” (13)


The Party

“What we mean by the party of insurgents is the sketching out of a completely other composition, an other side of reality, which from Greece to the French banlieues2 is seeking its consistency.” (13)


There remains scarcely any doubt that youth will be the first to savagely confront power. These last few years, from the riots of Spring 2001 in Algeria to those of December 2008 in Greece, are nothing but a series of warning signs in this regard. Those who 30 or 40 years ago revolted against their parents will not hesitate to reduce this to a conflict between generations, if not to a predictable symptom of adolescence. (18)


What remains to be created, to be tended as one tends a fire, is a certain outlook, a certain tactical fever, which once it has emerged, even now, reveals itself as determinant – and a constant source of determination. Already certain questions have been revived that only yesterday may have seemed grotesque or outmoded; they need to be seized upon, not in order to respond to them definitively, but to make them live. (19)



Key Quotations from The Coming Insurrection Text


In reference to riots of 2005:


This whole series of nocturnal vandalisms and anonymous attacks, this wordless destruction, has widened the breach between politics and the political. No one can honestly deny the obvious: this was an assault that made no demands, a threat without a message, and it had nothing to do with “politics.” One would have to be oblivious to the autonomous youth movements of the last 30 years not to see the purely political character of this resolute negation of politics. Like lost children we trashed the prized trinkets of a society that deserves no more respect than the monuments of Paris at the end of the Bloody Week5— and knows it. (25)



Critique of Subjectivity


“WHAT AM I,” then? Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods. What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges – at certain times and places – that being which says “I.” Our feeling of inconsistency is simply the consequence of this foolish belief in the permanence of the self and of the little care we give to what makes us what we are. (32)

“The self is not some thing within us that is in a state of crisis; it is the form they mean to stamp upon us. They want to make our self something sharply defined, separate, assessable in terms of qualities, controllable, when in fact we are creatures among creatures, singularities among similars, living flesh weaving the flesh of the world.”(33)

“Because everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack.”(34)


Critique of Love

Everyone can testify to the rations of sadness condensed from year to year in family gatherings, the forced smiles, the awkwardness of seeing everyone pretending in vain, the feeling that a corpse is lying there on the table, and everyone acting as though it were nothing. From flirtation to divorce, from cohabitation to stepfamilies, everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus, but most seem to believe that it would be sadder still to renounce it. The family is no longer so much the suffocation of maternal control or the patriarchy of beatings as it is this infantile abandon to a fuzzy dependency, where everything is familiar, this carefree moment in the face of a world that nobody can deny is breaking down, a world where “becoming self-sufficient” is a euphemism for “having found a boss.” They want to use the “familiarity” of the biological family as an excuse to eat away at anything that burns passionately within us and, under the pretext that they raised us, make us renounce the possibility of growing up, as well as everything that is serious in childhood. It is necessary to preserve oneself from such corrosion. (40)

In the death of the couple, we see the birth of troubling forms of collective affectivity, now that sex is all used up and masculinity and femininity parade around in such moth-eaten clothes, now that three decades of non-stop pornographic innovation have exhausted all the allure of transgression and liberation. (42)


Critique of Labor

Excuse us if we don’t give a fuck.
We belong to a generation that lives very well in this fiction. That has never counted on either a pension or the right to work, let alone rights at work. That isn’t even “precarious,” as the most advanced factions of the militant left like to theorize, because to be precarious is still to define oneself in relation to the sphere of work, that is, to its decomposition. We accept the necessity of finding money, by whatever means, because it is currently impossible to do without it, but we reject the necessity of working. Besides, we don’t work anymore: we do our time. Business is not a place where we exist, it’s a place we pass through. We aren’t cynical, we are just unwilling to be deceived” (44)








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