Thursday, August 04, 2005

How the Left was Lost (pt. 3)

Stalling for time, yesterday I posed the question: "What happens when a mentally unbalanced but brilliant homosexual French intellectual with a death wish finds himself in the middle of an Islamic revolution?"

Let's listen to Foucault's own answer: "It is perhaps the first great insurrection against global systems, the form of revolt that is the most modern and most insane." Bear in mind that this was intended as the highest possible compliment.

A recently published book, nicely summarized in this Boston Globe article, argues that the Iranian revolution

appealed to certain of Foucault's characteristic preoccupations — with the spontaneous eruption of resistance to established power, the exploration of the limits of rationality, and the creativity unleashed by people willing to risk death. It also tied into his burgeoning interest in a "political
spirituality"..."Industrial capitalism," he said, had emerged as "the harshest, most savage, most selfish, most dishonest, oppressive society one could possibly imagine."

This last quote firmly establishes Foucault as having had either the most impoverished, or the most expansive, imagination of the 20th Century. And yet, Foucault here does us the favor of making explicit a set of assumptions that have not only seized the "blame America first" Left, but also provide one key intellectual foundation to the post-60's counterculture. While most American leftists and liberals would not agree with such a stark and explicit condemnation of our society, a diluted version is figuratively in our drinking water: the romanticized Che of T-shirt fame (not the sadistic murderer, mind you), the celebrated "authenticity" of hip-hop artists like Tupac Shakur ("Thug Life"), to Oprah Winfrey's website, which urges the reader to Live Your Passion, and exhorts the reader:

Are you screaming on the inside?

Everyone feels it. Get in touch with your ire power!

Now, as pop culture phenomena these trends are fairly innocuous, but they demonstrate why we are intellectually unprepared to meet the challenge of Islamofascist terror. The notion that our bourgeois society smothers our authentic selves, leaving no outlet for our stored-up rage and passion, leads to a simultaneously romanticized and patronizing view of the Other, as expressed in the headline of this NY Times analysis of the 7/7 bombers:

Seething Unease Shaped British Bombers' Newfound Zeal

And how else to account for this humdinger which begins that same article:

[The bombers] ... turned their backs on what they came to see as a decadent, demoralizing Western culture. Instead, the group embraced an Islam ... focused passionately on Muslim suffering at Western hands. In many ways, the transformation has had positive elements: the men live healthier and more constructive lives than many of their peers here, Asian or white, who have fallen prey to drugs, alcohol or petty crime.

This romanticized "noble savage"-ism brings us back to Foucault on political Islamism:

a notion of coming back to what Islam was at the time of the Prophet, but also of advancing toward a luminous and distant point where it would be possible to renew fidelity rather than maintain obedience. In pursuit of this ideal, the distrust of legalism seemed to me to be essential, along with a faith in the creativity of Islam.

Here Foucault is equating the rule of law ("legalism") with grim obedience, and contrasting these with the "luminous" creativity of the Islamic revolution. Thus, the far Left's utopianism is no longer focused on economic perfection, which in any case has been rather better achieved in the vast aisles of the local supermarket than in the entirety of the Soviet experiment, but instead on a spiritual redemption. Foucault called this a "political spirituality."

As for the reach of these ideas, ask yourself: What baby-boomer parent today would encourage in their children a faith in legalism and a distrust of creativity? Yet these are essential underpinnings of conservative political thought: certainly the Framers of our Constitution understood that politics was a realm to tame passions, not exalt in them; that spirituality was expressed in houses of worship and in our homes, not in the streets and in the legislature; that creativity was to be expressed in science, literature, and art, not in mass rallies.

Does our society tamp down on opportunities for Dionysian ecstacy of the sort exalted by the late French philosopher? Of course, and sometimes too much so. But better to err on the side of the Apollonian, the rational, the predictable, then to be left intellectually unarmed against the post-modernist worldview of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German composer who famously said of 9/11:

"That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of,that people practice madly for ten years, completely fanatically, for aconcert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the wholecosmos."


Blogger USMale said...

One of the elements in MF's fascination with the Iranian revolution could also be its exaltation of the masculine. I am a gay man myself, and a psychotherapist, and I take it as axiomatic that gay men, who so often have a precocious relationship to their own femininity, are not at all exempt from the trials of becoming men. It is vastly complicated because the core accusation in all rejections of the homosexual male is that he is not a man, but something feminine. Working through that wound without running off course or aground is no easy task. In the world of MF, masculinity is sexually desirable but intellectually suspect. MF's participation in S&M here in my hometown was not (IMHO) just about the ecstacy of power exchange, but the ecstacy of power exchange between males. And I am willing to bet money that MF was a bottom. Islam, unlike Christianity, supports an unapologetically primitive masculinity. This great surge of primitive male energy in Iran--patriarchy on steroids-- might very well have appealed to MF's own complicated and conflicted relationship to his own gender. He was without doubt a brilliant man, but I see the wreckage of this intrapsychic war all over his unfortunately influential corpus (Latin pun intended).

8:57 AM  
Blogger Goesh said...

- it really is enough to make one barf - these zealots were apparently not satisfied with honor killings and the like - you can't purify enough with just one villain at a time, better to bomb a bunch of then-

5:29 AM  
Blogger Goesh said...

them, not then

There will be no gay-rights parades in Shariaville, that's for sure. In fact, they hang homosexuals in Iran - there was a posting somewhere with picture of two young victims,both were very young. Apparently the Left believes that islam will not spread and grow, despite reports that it is growing. Apparently the Left believes jihadis are too dumb to ever subvert established legal systems with sheer numbers and voting and intimidation. I fail to understand how the Left can view life in 3rd world muslim countries with its execution of gay people and the honor killings of women and then not believe that such an ideology could take hold and spread in Western nations. Recently in Canada there was some serious consideration given to allowing muslim authorities to decide divorce cases. Can you imagine that, in a civilized society of Law and democracy such considerations were even on the table for discussion!? The Left needs to be checking out some of the bloggers from Norway and Sweden to see how multiculturalism is working there. Time is running out for the extension of good faith and reason and keeping one's head in the sand.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Dymphna said...


There is a dissonance, a disconnect between what the Left 'feels' about its own beliefs and positions, and what it thinks are solutions for the suffering of the oppressed, whom it is their job to liberate from the grip of the mechanistic West. They are not connected to the larger culture in their own eyes. Rather they have a special dispensation, a cosmopolitan citizenship that is shared with other elites. It is trans-national. It's shit.


Your thought that MF's fascination with the Iranian revolution was due to its exaltation of the masculine is sad beyond words. The Ir. Rev. caricatures the masculine, making it evil and ugly in its aggressive dogmatism.

Gay men are not exempt from any of the suffering of being human. In fact, they have a heavier load to bear than others. But when you say

the core accusation in all rejections of the homosexule is that is he not a man

that doesn't connect for me. Lee Harris (I think) discusses the frequent response to gay men as arising from the sense that they are so viscerally Other for many people. And that is a visceral reaction, not a considered response. For many straights, the gay as Other is an understanding of him as neither male nor female. And that is much harder than what you suggest.

I am intrigued by your observation that gay men so often have a precocious relationship to their own femininity -- choice construction in a # of ways, but especially the connotations of precocity. It is both too old and too young at the same time.

I could never get through MF. He simply didn't move me...brilliance is necessary but not sufficient for real engagement.

7:06 PM  
Blogger jpe said...

Foucault is great fun and one of the best analytic minds around (The Order of Things? Best. book. ever.) - of course, one need take his political prescritions with a grain of salt.

That said, this hardcore moral equivocation between capitalism and truly rank cultures was an unfortunate, but passing, episode. I wouldn't read too much into it. Sure, the left still has its weirdo moral nihilists, but the right still has its Christian Reconstructionists, blahblahblah.

9:56 PM  
Blogger jpe said...

usmale: great comment. Gender in Arab culture is completely fucked-up, and you really drew out some of that.

10:00 PM  

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