Bourgeois-Yet-Proletariat: The Sam Kriss Story
“The civilized classes present to us the still more repugnant spectacle of indolence, and a depravity of character which is all the more shocking since culture itself is the source of it. I forget which ancient or modern philosopher made the remark that what is more noble is in its corruption the more abominable; but it is equally true in the moral sphere. The child of Nature, when he breaks loose, becomes a maniac, the disciple of Art an abandoned wretch. The intellectual enlightenment on which the refined ranks of society pride themselves, reveals on the whole an influence upon the disposition so little ennobling that it rather furnishes maxims to confirm depravity.”
-Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man
Take a trip today to any University throughout the Western world, and what will you find? What is the prevailing perspective of the intelligentsia in the era of ‘late capitalism,’ what is the motivating principle of their self-organization into a distinctive Class? We cast our eye out over our once illustrious institutions today and come across only dishonor, crumbling intellectual discipline, a collapsing curriculum, students publicly dressing down their faculty (once known to them as MASTERS). Higher and higher this pile of disgraces climbs, scraping the sky like a warhead as it screams down devastation upon civilization. Enough!
As much discussion as these observations have elicited, still we are far away from the truth of the matter. Debate today rages over Academic POLITICS more than Academic TRUTH, over the policies of hiring committees, over the unionization of students etc. The lecture hall swells with unsculpted minds, a slurry of clay and subsidized tuition poured out the back of society like a cement mixer through the windows. Intellectual division of labor carries on incessantly as class sizes grow, and in order to manufacture new tasks for an ever more homogonous and untalented student body to perform, a kind of jargon has been perfected for them to specialize in mass producing and translating into novel formulations for magazines journals and reviews around the world.
In other words, the motive-principle of the Academy today is as a kind of intellectual proletariat. Among the academy and the intellectuals today you will find few who qualify as Scholars, no, what you’re much more likely to encounter is not Scholars but Ideologers, and that is something very different indeed. Under conditions of post-modernity the professional student conceives of himself primarily as a worker in the factory of mystification. Capitalism, he believes, reproduces itself perniciously, as a species of mental virus unconsciously infecting us all, driving us to reproduce it in our practices in every realm and domain of our existence; philosophy, theology and culture being no exception to the ironclad laws of history.
Churning and sputtering and groaning, the workers in the ideology factory sit at the machines in their overalls spinning cranks wildly as meaningless papers on gender normativity in Stephen Universe fly off the assembly line directly into the furnace of obscurity. Truth doesn’t enter into it. Under normal conditions this great factory, this great generator of false consciousness, works to reproduce the #mindset of the ruling and privileged classes, whoever those may be. But as the intellectuals unionize, as they become conscious of their destiny, their ideological labor is transformed into an act of revolution, and production in the academic factory shifts to a new ideology, a mystification that in turn highlights and exasperates the conflicts of capital so as to manufacture the (false) consciousness which they uphold is the precondition for a final reconciliation of man.
At least that’s the theory, as I’m sure at least some of the Dirtbag Left are vaguely aware. This new ideology, which is reproduced today on an unprecedented scale by leftist columnists and disaffected and underpaid graduate students, is that, of course, of Post-Marxism. It amounts, among the critics and commentators, to little more than a general malaise, a disaffection, a preference by people who never left college to read comic books and watch queer children’s cartoons over the study of the culture which they have supposedly taken as their life’s work. What is this malaise, this disaffection? What form does it take? The sophisticated earlier versions of it, of Existentialism and Pessimism, that once flourished on the European continent generations ago, have given way to the current, lazier version employed by the Dirtbags on their podcasts and in their articles. Today it is less an act of revolution, but one rather of boredom and antipathy to psychological health and the vigorous intellectual well-being of writers like Goethe.
What is truly being reproduced and mass produced by the Ironycels and Dirtbags of the world is nothing less than alienation itself, which at the deepest level turns out to be the foundation of their whole world-system. The principle of Alienation. Rousseau spoke of the Natural man, of man being returned to himself, and what he meant by this was something later explored by the Post-Kantians with the greater technical precision which their Phenomenology allowed. Man contains within himself an essence of Humanity, which is but an infinite bundle of potentials. Only one may come to fruition, and in this act of limitation Man becomes progressively more alienated as our economic and political institutions require increasing levels of specialization and particularization to succeed and make a living streaming podcasts for self-styled dissidents as they ride the trains home for work.
Overcoming this alienation, returning the individual man to his own infinite human potential, has become the animating metaphysics of much of modern philosophy, even those ideologies, like Marxism, which take such analytical results largely for granted, and it remains so to this day, for the Dirtbags as well, as they struggle with their archaic mystifications in an increasingly unlikely effort to restore man to his dignity by means of progressively lazier attempts to stoke the fires of alienation to the necessary height. Though the fire swelters, the disaffected and (at last?) almost fully alienated essence remains unyielding, and it now takes a whole legion of writers like Kriss and commentators like Chappo to work the disintegrating and ever more unwieldy bellows of leftist ideology.
What way out is there then? The Ironycels believe they’re in possession of a noble tradition of alienation, one which they furthermore believe gives them the final say on the subject, and they mean to milk this tradition for all its worth in funding their easy bourgeois-yet-proletariat lifestyles of ritualized and empty pop-culture media consumption. For these alienated souls there is no way out. Their ideology, in better tuning and adapting itself to automated mass reproduction, has stripped away every extraneous component, every bit of truth and beauty complicating the industrial process of mystification fabrication. Maybe it’s here that they went wrong, and maybe by following to the end the path they’ve resolved upon they have removed at last every other option. When the dead-end is reached, and restoration of the Ironycel to essence is nowhere to be found, where will he go then?
Such is the tragedy of the Ironycel, to be so mystified by the false consciousness he himself creates so as to be totally cut off from any possibility of escaping it, to the point where its inexorable pull carries him on careening at the speed of history towards the very same all-encompassing nihilism he had set out to save humanity from in the first place. But what of the alternate paths offered to us by history? What if, for a moment, we put aside the latest fashion in theory and return again to the foundation of our Modern society? It is there that hope is to be discovered, not in ideology, but in philosophy, not in total surrender to Sentiment, but in the individual act of will required to reach inside yourself and rediscover your own human essence in the act of willful limitation of your own ego and the ultimate recognition of the independence of the world, of truth, from the constructive effects of Ideology.
It is here that STRIVING rescues the individual, by freeing him from the false consciousness of ideology and his delusional faith in his ability to overcome alienation by means of further alienation, as if such a process weren’t infinite and didn’t allow for endlessly descending levels of self-degradation and spiritual debasement. The true WHOLE MAN embraces his limitation, and in it finds not a Political Freedom, but an Ideal one. Long ago such ideas were cast off by Kriss’ forebearers, relegated to an unread chapter in a forgotten college textbook which lies languishing somewhere on the Dirtbag’s shelf. It’s for just this reason that the malaise of the Ironycel will continue to reproduce itself so prodigiously in the Academy, as for the Ideologer, truth doesn’t enter into it, and the only organizing principle they know, that they can know any longer, is the sterile and empty mass production of an obsolete political consciousness, one intended to incite an industrial class that doesn’t even exist anymore to redeem us all in Revolution that will likely never happen.