The Costume & Inscribed Violence
From fantasy into reality, the image has its own defenses and prophetic will.
In Jean Genet’s “The Balcony,” the costume is a social role waiting to be fulfilled… by anyone.
Benjamin Bratton expands on this with the idea of “inscribed violence” in the image-form. We imagine, then simulate our fantasies with defenses in place, which tend to provoke offensive reactions when we de-simulate them into reality. We are left to consider the prophetic, aesthetic reality of imagining a machinic state or architecture that does not need humans.
- 0:00 How violence is provoked by fantasy.
- 2:31 The balcony and the revolution.
- 5:14 How far does mimetic desire go?
- 6:54 Most things happen twice: the story, then reality
- 9:41 Post-terrorist architecture.
- 12:40 Turning the desire into a blueprint (simulation to be de-simulated)
- 14:37 Recognize that the world is f***ed.
- 16:43 The parable of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.
- 18:55 The desire to be the simulacra of man. (oh, to be a machine)
- 21:43 The black mirror of capitalism. (Amazon and the state)
Step 71: The Costume & Inscribed Violence
Part 1: The costume
Jean Genet wrote The Balcony, with three versions from 1956-62. For our purposes, it centered on social roles and dismissed many of the comfortable narratives about how society and authority function.
The premise is that in a small town a revolt is underway. Many of the city leaders, the judge, the magistrate, the chief of police, and the priest are under enormous pressure. Naturally, they all go to the local brothel to enjoy the sadomasochistic pleasures and relief provided by talented sex workers. Meanwhile, the revolt becomes full-blown riots in the streets. The rowdy, angry citizens are approaching the brothel, rampaging from street to street.
In The Balcony the scared, feckless cowards that run the city force the sex workers to trade clothes with them so they can sneak out the back incognito. The riot approaches the brothel but as it does, the angry energies dissipate and as the sun rises the people are left standing around. The sex workers decide to come outside, but the only clothes they have are the vestments of authority left behind by the cowardly leaders. –
They don the garb of the absent city leaders and as they come outside the sun rises, oddly signaling an end to the darkness… and the citizens greet them enthusiastically with reverence, happy to find someone to take a place of authority in this new void the revolution created.
The populace, who briefly rioted, are in the habitual rut of desiring leaders. The costumes of the office are enough. Who cares who wears them?
People are shaped by the role society confers upon them.
The habits of office and society’s expectations create the grooves, the deep ruts from which personality and subjectivity are born: the military general inevitably becomes loud and brash, the judge righteously judgemental, and the politician becomes charmingly compromised.
Yet, the more subversive truth is in the void of authority. There is no actual authority, simply the trappings we empower and to which we submit.
One ending of the play has the former sex workers setting up the government in the brothel. Once the den of iniquity it is now the new state of constituted power. Darkly humorous, they still employ the same sadomasochistic practices, only this time in the bureaucratic, legal form: petty sadistic punishments to whip citizens into shape, or demeaning and withholding from people… treatments that the people are perversely comforted by.
Step 71: The Costume & Inscribed Violence
Part 2: Inscribed Violence
We can see how this need to replicate our ingrained stereotypes can be tied to memetic Desire… but how far does mimetic desire go?
Genet’s play makes it seem sadly programmatic: even as we rebel, we want to replace the leaders with a replica. This may be due to comfort with a type of leader, and conditioning to have someone in charge, but perhaps it is simply that we don’t have new ideas. We don’t have a model in place to imagine forward.
Consider that perhaps even the rebellion is not a release of rage through jealousy or wanting, as René Girard might say, and not an economic balancing through sacrifice due to excess, as Georges Bataille might say.
What if it is dumbly reactive? What if we just follow a prescriptive call-and-response plot?
Benjamin Bratton says things happen twice: the story, then the act. The story prefigures and predicts the act, reality is already planned: the story has its own will to become manifest in reality, and we are merely the vehicle it drives.
But before the story is the fantasy, the imagining.
Something prods you to react, your fantasy weaves up a notion, and you start to turn it into an image. Bratton refers to this as the “image-form,” which is a simulation. That really just means you are simulating how your fantasy would work in reality, you are tweaking and testing the image-form in your head. Now to bring this simulation to life you must de-simulate it…. that is take it from thought and plan and make it real.
an architect is walking along, sees a building with a lousy entry way, and is provoked to fantasize a better entrance. Once he has created the image-form, that is simulated his better idea into a plan, he is compelled to make it real.
A painter may have an idea requiring a series of steps to “bring to life” the idea.
This is the alchemy of fantasy > converted into simulation > then dissimulated into the world.
But, just like that architect: your new entry-way, or painting, or even the sentences you utter out into the concrete world provoke an alternate fantasy in others to destroy or challenge the new reality.
Knowing this attack will be forthcoming, the original fantasy embodies defensive mechanisms within itself, within it’s structure. So, the idea comes into reality with a defensive posture, to fend off anticipated attacks.
Your simulation (idea) imagines the alternative fantasys that it will provoke: it dreams it’s own attack and potential death. This (metaphorically and literally) manifests as castle walls and turrets, or spikey fences. Then our curious self wonders how we could overcome, counter, or destroy the challenge.
The example Bratton gives is post-terrorist architecture, such as after 9/11 all buildings had security concerns designed into them. These are balustrades outside, lots of cameras, and sophisticated, seemingly spacious entrances that could be opened or closed instantly, as they are tactically designed to thwart various scenarios.
And we think: How exactly do I dodge those cameras, get through those balustrades? would a mini-copper fit? It worked in that one movie.
Every heist features a character who says “it is not about the money, it is the challenge.” They break into Fort Knox, or crack the uncrackable safe, or steal cars from a moving train: the more impossible the more stimulating.
As the game escalates the person who designs, for instance, the armored transport must think like a thief and fantasize their challenge to defend against it. These challenges start as a dare, but to back it’s claim it becomes offensive and ostantacious. The armored transport and men bristle with weapons, presenting “offensive capacity” as deterrance or threat.
Just remember, everything happens twice: once in the imagining of the story, then when the story is tested by reality. In this way, all stories are prophetic. This is because they need to be fulfilled.
Scientists are seriously trying to clone dinosaurs right now and make light-sabers.
We are actively de-simulating fantasy into reality, which is the second time the story happens. In this case, perhaps Darth Velociraptor will slice your belly open.
Bratton discusses terrorism through architectural provocation: you make epic centers that taunt, you invite destruction. (This sounds like victim-blaming, but it is also real.) One means of avoiding an attack is to flatten and disperse everything. To camouflage your society: make all buildings the same, and have no central hubs, so there can be no site for the symbolic attack: there can be no asymmetrical gains.
Now, to wrap this back into the individual and mimetic desire: the hidden desiring models go to work, you develop a fantasy to have the coveted goal, or person, or object. Now you must make the story in your head align with reality: because what you think is who you are, right?
We convert the desire into a blueprint, and we build ourselves, adding turrets and moats, and bridges, and cameras. Your architecture is inscribed with violence, defensive and offensive postures, deterrence, and welcoming well-walled gardens. And, of course, to truly be left alone, you must become brutalist architecture, a monolith, and even that is a provocation.
Some people, predators, appear as a guileless mirage. By using the camouflage of language they dazzle and confuse, gaining access to you only to plunder. As we recuperate and design ourselves anew, we imagine and then simulate a more complex self, perhaps prickly one time, then perhaps gooey, repeatedly dissimulating our own image-form into reality.
Step 71: The Costume & Inscribed Violence
Side note: Erich Fromm
“The very person who is considered healthy in the categories of an alienated world, from the humanistic standpoint appears as the sickest one.”Erich Fromm
To paraphrase: The sick individual is sane in a society that alienates people. Your normalcy requires alienation behind the walls of your castle: you do not live in a humanistic society, no matter what people say.
Our seeming structure of democracy, or blended humanistic individualism, even “liberty” and “freedom,” can just as easily become a costume. They are converted into a shell of a concept into which anyone can slide in, and this incepts -Trojan Horse style- any number of confused ideas into a role or idea, modifying the stereotype over time, creating reactive counters, and so on.
At some point, when you feel that this is all madness, “we are all fucked,” you are right. This recognition is at some point sanity. Sanity is a destructive, acidic force in an insane land: asking for reasons erodes the unconsidered scaffolding of belief, or exposing the emperor’s hiney.
However, given Genet’s play, even the debauchery of the administrators did not cause people to lose faith in the ‘symbolic belief structure’ of the administrator. This tells you that people secretly want their politicians to provide to the scandal.
Step 71: The Costume & Inscribed Violence
Part 3: the state as an autonomous image
We were speaking of people who camouflage their intent, using dissembling and a cloud of words to dazzle or confuse you. This is the word costume of a politician, as an example.
Let’s look for a minute at a society that props up empty people as their rulers.
Naturally in Baudrillard fashion, at this point we are caught up in the black magic of symbolic exchange, divested of the original motivating force, and merely following the laid-out script, enacting a series of deadlocked morality plays.
But first let’s clarify the stage.
The state is not society: it is geographically bound, a semi-permeable envelope of limits, while society is the social and cultural fractal dispersing through the constituted (legal) demarcation of power. They are entangled. But within the limits of the state, is how our society moves, and in this way, the state is channeling or shaping our desires and dysfunctions.
In “The Balcony” the people welcome the image form. As the sun rises and the right garb appears, almost magically, it is incidental who wears the costume. The citizens are grasping for the predictable, which empowers the “affect” (or affectation) of authority. This grasping for the image or costumed familiarity grants the aesthetic preeminence over content, more readily grasped if it conforms to the archetypical cliché.
Bill Clinton was precisely what we wanted him to be. So was George W. Bush, though they were nothing alike. It has been said that populist leaders, Hitler or Trump, are like empty vessels taking on the imprint of society: society creates the character from malformed putty into a trope. And then we worship or demonize it, like some golden calf, granting it authority over us and forgetting we created it.
This process can manufacture appearance as primary. The empty image is proportionately as useful as its lack of guts.
Since we believe primarily (initially) from the “image form” expressed, it is odd to think of the new gods we manifest.
Do we subconsciously wish for a sadomasochist state? We aren’t dreaming up virtue; we are de-simulating reality television.
Maybe we are giving humans too much credit, too much agency, in this scenario. What if, instead, the state is manifesting its own goals? Is it producing and executing its own “image form,” creating its own fantasies, and de-simulating them into reality?
That implies the state is sentient as if in its complexity it has its own intelligence and will, and we merely serve it.
As Marx (and others) would say we serve the machines of labor, like the Golden Calf mentioned previously. To consider this we can see the managerial/bureaucratic state supplies and demands decentralization, or spreading out, with human cogs expanding the machine. The machine’s goals have become our desire: we have seen the fantasy and must make it real.
We now dream the machine’s dreams.
In the factory or workplace, we not only serve the robot but jealously, mimetically, mirror it. We long to be the simulacra of man, the robust tin man: all efficient, shiny superficial reason and no messy heart.
Bratton says as individuals we have our role in society reflected back to us.
We are seen as a Republican plumber, or a Liberal artist, and encouraged into that role by those around us, enmeshing us as cogs who have thier proper place.
This reductionist image-prejudice (a stereotype of your appearance) drives us into a rut or groove so deeply channeled we cannot escape. We see ourselves as society sees us: mimetically, we desire what they desire, and they desire us to be a simplistic character, so we fulfill the image to become the one-dimensional man.
More profoundly, if all you can imagine is the machine, you cannot imagine your escape, so (accelerationist or futurist style) you simulate and dissimulate merging, but always within the machine state parameters.
Amplified to the state level, in “The Balcony,” the state is a sadomasochistic image that we demanded. This is, in the Walter Benjamin sense, the “aestheticization of politics” … the simulacra of politics.
As many thinkers have mentioned, the fear is that the state is no longer humanistic but trans-human: the trains will run because they must, humans be damned.
In this regard, the corporate integration into state bureaucracy and infrastructure is so thickly ossified, that in an inverse sense, we don’t run the government as much as the government runs itself, much like a well-decentralized company.
From the accelerationists, we can see that humans are merely denying our obsolete role. We are rooting around in the bones of an industrial supply chain that cares less about where we left our hearts. As a matter of fact, you are better off without it.
The goods will be produced and delivered, sans mankind.
Similar to a type of “black mirror” episode, Amazon will continue shipping far past having humans to send packages to. Eventually, humans will hinder speedy package delivery and in comedic tragedy be executed for the sake of efficiency.
This is underscored by our autonomous logics, the programs that determine efficiency for these companies. Our hyperbolic instantiated programmatic competitions (i.e. find the fastest, most efficient way) are literally greedy for resources and corner-cutting (like a good capitalist) and will combat others, even creating false-flag operations. Eventually, the programs will be the only others to combat, once those pesky human consumers are removed.
The convoluted point is, as stated earlier, the state limits society, and yet society projects the “image form” that shapes the state into reality. From the aesthetic simulation (the “image form”) we have produced the state as a machinic corporation because we imagined it. Just like designing architecture with offensive and defensive postures, we have imagined and implanted the state with autonomous defenses, like a castle or vault, which provoke violent attacks and challenges.
Because we imagined it robust, machinic, and eternal even without humans to hold down the roles, this leviathan will live on. It has the appearance of life, of purpose, and just like Genet’s sex worker wearing the judge’s wig, the costume all that is needed to be the state.
Step 71: The Costume & Inscribed Violence
Up next we will look at camouflage, and how mimicry and hiding are both forms of protection and a means to attack.
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“Wanting: Memetic desire in everyday life” by Luke Burgis
Freud, Rene Girard, Shakespeare
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