Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Can we evoke the notion of democracy in the United States?
Pr. Joseph Natoli: Who « evokes » and « invokes » it more than the plutocrats who operate behind its screen?
Two levels of operation here: Sovereign power rests with the people who elect representatives who wield that power for them. In terms of what is actually going on, market values have shaped a cultural imaginary more or less commonly shared which feeds a plutocratic regime while at the same time is blind to it.
Because cultural imaginaries float within an ever changing universe of spin and signification, which capitalism itself profits by and cannot escape, market values and plutocracy itself cannot reach an unassailable determinacy.
Barack Obama’s election twice to the presidency is a sign of this weakness in plutocracy’s hold on the American cultural imaginary. What we see openly and audaciously going on is plutocracy’s ownership of elected representatives, a situation that President Obama first ingenuously hoped to transcend.
The enthusiastic response to Bernie Sanders’ head on attack of plutocracy is another sign that the Achilles heel of the plutocracy an unbridled capitalism has created, more so in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, is an unbridled, fragmented, dazed and confused cultural imaginary which for the sake of profit has flourished. I discuss the entrapment of that imaginary in privatized cyber domains below.
In the United States, did the capitalist system perform its ultimate stage by becoming a plutocracy?
I follow Thomas Piketty on this regarding the dangers of an entrenched plutocracy due to inherited wealth and he follows Marx in believing wealth in fewer hands would ultimately destroy democracy.
Neither has taken into account that all this can happen in a macrosphere ignored by those increasingly lost, in every pathological way, in what Bifo Berardi calls « the infosphere » which constructs a « psychosphere » where reality’s conflicts becomes « whatever » matter.
Bernie Sanders is at the moment trying to draw everyone’s attention to the same page, namely, the U.S. had a middle class democracy that now exists only nominally as a front for a plutocratic regime.
In the psychosphere where everyone asserts a uniqueness to their troubles, different remedies are likewise sought. If the Jacobins and the sans-culottes had been in such a madhouse of a psychosphere, a revolution on the Left Bank would have been a « whatever » matter on the Right Bank.
The transformation of a so-called democracy in plutocracy is it a natural process or does it mark the US decline?
We are all globally, some rapidly, some slowly, inclining toward a personalization/privalization of what philosophers call « the Great Outdoors » and the only thing we can be sure of is that this is the greatest division/fracturing of human attentiveness the world has ever seen. And it is therefore the greatest gift to any ruling order, regardless of their claims to legitimacy. The U.S. is a front runner here, caught between awareness of conditions « on the ground » and a chaos of personal determinations of everything online. Even the perils of global warming have not overcome this liminality.
The emergence of the plutocracy is accompanied by the return of the old devils, fascism and extremism going from Daesh to the diverse neofascist groups, does the matrix plutocrat regenerate the fascism with its various faces?
The « old devils » may show up in a post-history millennial world but who’s to recognize them? And you can expect that the « old devils » will vie with the new ones in a moshpit of cyberspace. Baudrillard remains the man here when it comes to the hyperreal. You can see the U.S. presidential election crossing between hyperreal and a Rabelaisian « real. »
The problem that the « infosphere » presents to any regime is that ultimately their « mots d’ordre, » as Deleuze referred to the order messages of a resident order of things, swirl in ever changing texting and imaging of cyberspace, an unruly domain.
Discrepancies between a virtual rallying, as in much of the Arab Spring Revolutions, and real conditions indicate that dissent and disruption now emerge from illusions of empowerment. Such illusions not only make successful change difficult but also entrenched power less fearful of real challenge. What one seems able to personally design in cyberspace cannot be implemented in the world, creating extremes in frustration and anger.
The vitriol we see in cyberspace records a level of always unfulfilled recognition that finally breaks out into a real world in affiliation with groups advocating extreme actions, unquestionably real, certain to be recognized, finally fulfilling. All the hopes of the deluded.
I do see all of this as the results of our Rappacini-like techno-capitalist explorations, which have far exceeded in a short period of time our human capacity to assimilate in anything other than pathological ways.
Whatever the real conditions behind the 9/11 attack in the U.S., Daesh is doing battle in cyberspace for the control of minds, refugees Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are wandering with smartphones, and one can assume that Europe entices them because they have seen on their smartphones how Europeans live. Everything, from despotic regimes and plutocracies to the challenge to both to the escape from both has moved to a realm of interaction that signals old devils can return, unrecognized. When the new no longer rests in any way on the old, history ends and we enter a pernicious cycle of endless return. The shopper returns to buy yet again the same item. Only profits move forward. And discourse in the « Great Outdoors »? See, the 2016 presidential primaries.
Maintaining the candidacy of Hillary Clinton despite the scandals of Benghazi and emails, and the FBI investigation, is it not symptomatic of America’s image? Clinton was not she beforehand elected by the various lobbies?
The worst kind of Liberal is a Third Way triangulating one leaning into the problem. Plutocracy works both sides of the street: Liberal and Neoliberal. Hillary picks up the gentrified plutocrats who call themselves Democrats. She will also, in a general election against Donald Trump, pick up the gentrified Neoliberals.
Does the Republican Party live a crisis or is it about a joke of plutocracy which favored Donald Trump to better install Hillary Clinton? Don’t you think that Trump is the best objective ally of Clinton?
I think the Republicans were genuinely surprised that a no-nothing populist throng would get behind a P.T. Barnum like Trump. I think the Republicans know they can trust Hillary to not hurt the plutocracy while Trump, one of their fellow rich boys, has a lot of grudges to settle with that crowd. Trump is a loose cannon who would probably do a lot of damage to the Neoliberal reputations by the time he’s impeached. Hillary wouldn’t upset the rigged system, make a few cultural politics moves, and be the recipient of so much vitriol and bad press that the country would be anxious to vote Paul Ryan president. You know, Ayn Rand’s keen disciple.
What do you think about the level of political debate in the United States? Is there another stake than to replace a president by another one?
When everyone is a writer and everyone is an intellectual, there are none of these. The hegemony of personal opinion nourished in the « Infosphere » has sent every arbiter of what was once called the Western Tradition of Rationality and Realism into the whirlwind. Plutocracy is the beneficiary. There is a desperate need to create both a politics and a discourse for a post-truth world. Right now the incomprehensible and therefore troubling effects of living in this sort of world has benefited an entrenched order of wealth and power. Electing a president is not a deep structure remedy but it means something. Consider if Gore had accepted the presidency in 2000 and not allowed Scalia to take it from him.
Bernie Sanders is often described as radical. Compared to whom and to what, in your opinion? Does Sanders embody the new American left like the new European left, Podemos and Syriza?
Podemos is a viable political party in Spain; Sanders’s position is confounded by his association with the Democratic Party, which is like a death sentence to radical/fringe politics. And Sanders’ « Democratic socialism » does not sound anything like Democratic socialism but more like Social Democracy.
That said, he’s confirmed Occupy Wall Street’s focus on the wealth divide, taken the word « socialism » out for a « get to know me » walk, and has gotten Millennials voting.
Whether some form of socialism will bud in the U.S. depends upon whether the mounting negatives and deficits of a plutocracy are or are not anesthetized by the sudden and growing expansion of and commitment to cyber reality.
The American Dream, the New Way of Civilization, the End of History do not they announced the current political impasse in the US?
We would like to think that eventually a lot of alibi bullshit runs into the wall of reality, the real material, objective historical conditions of the surround… even though those are being pushed into the circus of cyberspace.
My own post-truth slant is that human mediations of « the things themselves, which do not speak » are endless, and often quite removed from « the things themselves, which do not speak. » The U.S. has reached this liminal stage in its cultural imaginary sooner and more dramatically than elsewhere.
A great deal of arrogance and presumption has retreated into personally designed cyber domains, and being there, accompanied by such illusions, won’t get us over a real-world threshold, what you call an « impasse. »
Our mutual friend Henry Giroux, who is a light in the darkness of this world, evokes the intellectual, moral and political bankruptcy in the United States. Can we say that Trump and Clinton are the standard bearers of this bankruptcy?
Every American shares and bears this bankruptcy. The real sin is that American presumption and hegemony forces societies elsewhere to also share and bear.
You can’t expect some portion of the 80% of the population totally abused and disowned since Reagan not to jump up behind a flashy demagogue. Call that something new.
Hillary is a fossil of a Liberal order that did much damage in the past but was covered up by the cult of Bill Clinton personality worship. Call that same old same old.
But where is the soldier McCain?
Out trumped. Donald Trump has shown us that American electoral politics is entertainment seeking « followers » like videos on YouTube. Trump has gone viral; McCain and the entire Republican Party machine is old school analog. While hucksters work the stage like a vaudeville act, lobbyists work back stage. Trump has a problem because he has no affiliation of lobbyists working for him backstage. He’d be stringless, no puppet master and antic crazy.
You are an interesting and prolific writer. You write on politics, economic, philosophy, literature, culture, etc. By approaching various and varied themes, don’t you break the bourgeois codes of specialization? Is it this, a postmodernist writer?
Thank you for the compliment. Here in « Midwestern Mild, » I am mildly tolerated. And for this I am grateful.
Science, not arts and letters, forced the specialization game. I don’t discipline my thinking within the walls of disciplines. I’ve had the freedom every since I was blacklisted from teaching in my 20s for union activity. I roamed wherever I wanted, wrote, and was, in my 50s asked to teach. I think you could book publish then and not be a voice lost in a sand storm.
Postmodernity sees only narratives where the disciplines see truths. As everyone now knows everything and knows it differently and has the support of friends in the Infosphere, your truth only matters if it interferes with mine. Otherwise, the contemporary response is: « Whatever. »
I’m amused by how every talking head speaks of « narratives, » not realizing by doing so they’re upending the pretenses of modernity which they are most likely supporting. It wasn’t « narrative » that McNamara, Defense Secretary, was tied to as he pushed the Viet-Nam « conflict » ever onward: it was « systems analysis. » And I don’t think any follower of Friedrich Hayek blows off their economic « science » by saying it’s a narrative.
It’s unfortunate that we don’t see the fictional/creative/constructive side to our reasoning or how deep rooted imaginaries of desire and fear shape our « logic. » We’d still be drowning in a sea of narratives but at least we wouldn’t let anyone dig in as uncontestable.
« Dark affinities, Dark imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey », is it the quest of light in a dark world which encouraged you to write this book?
It’s a retrospective of my writing; « the dark Satanic mills of Blake, » D.H. Lawrence writes, « how much more darker and more satanic they are now! » I follow William Blake’s view that we’ve sunk into a one-fold vision and only the imagination is recuperative. I’ve written about what keeps us fallen and in darkness, and that has had me wander widely. I don’t see the inferno here but simply wrongheaded human mediations of an astounding planet wrought by the « crooked timber of human nature. » That’s Locke.
You are also a film critic. Why does the concept of superhuman hero return constantly in the American cinema? Do USA and American public need superheroes wearing the Stars and Stripes banner?
So, something takes hold in a culture and you try to find the connection to the prevailing order of things, the regime of the psychosphere.
Even something so stupid as a superhero craze or Reality TV of the use of the word « So » by millennials, which isn’t used to sum up or in consequence of what has already been said, but as a rejection or termination or « whatever » someone else has said. Fragments upon fragments.
The need is to find a common thread to hold an audience in common thrall. The superhero in a costume…a focus point you can’t lose sight of and who takes you through evil conflicts and so vindicates your superior ability to do the same because, after all, you’re the superhero!
Super human heroes in movies? When « narrative » is reduced to a 140 character tweet and emojis and we are post-books and attention span is at the speed of the click, you can expect that the tolerance for complexity and length beyond comic books/video games/graphic novels etc has vanished.
Fantasy history and heroes makes no demand on erudition, or literacy. Fantasy can be reduced to simple forces that real history cannot.
Those who approach the infosphere from an alternative critical frame of analog transmissions are fading while at the same time the culture is moving at nano speed toward a loss of such pre-infosphere awareness.
That kind of cultural liminality leads to cultural psychopathologies, which are all around us, as well as to what looks like, from the perspective of those not born into the new paradigm, « A Descent into the Maelstrom, » which they recognize as a Poe title and not an app.
You could say that the U.S.’s top spot as a techno-capitalism force plunges it more wholeheartedly into this maelstrom but it is not alone in this. The force of spectacle and spin transmitted via an alternate « reality, » i.e. cyberspace by the powerful machinery of globalized capitalism is now universal.
Bollywood has its superhero movies. The Pakistani cartoon Burka Avenger and Dust, an Afghani superhero, both women, as well as The 99, a team of Muslim superheroes tells us that the need to expand the increasingly diminished powers of any individual anywhere is not restricted to the U.S. There’s a universally operative algorithm here tying superheroes to demolished lives. The thing about the superhuman hero is that he or she fixes stuff now, in this world. That remains a socialist drive.
I also associate the superhero, « The Iron Man, » as a rush to robotics, to a transformed humanity. Think of it as preparation for man into cyborg, the melding of human and AI and the creation of a biochip.
We yearn to be post-human perhaps because our market rule has so shattered our lives that we need to hold on to a transcendence, a Singularity.
On the darker side, we subliminally feel that we as humans have led not only ourselves but the planet to disaster.
We need to kill the human. The « super human » is a masked, as in a dream, murder wish fulfilled. We destroy the crooked timber of our own natures and become something better, other.
Perhaps this is the mastering subliminal psychopathology shaping our world of avidity, terror, torture and genocide. And it may very well be that U.S. Americans are in the vanguard here, while mass psyches elsewhere are commanded by poverty and powerlessness and not a Thanatos drive. The urge to survive, to live marks all cultures who have not driven themselves toward Thanatos.
You are one of the founders of Bad Subjects, the most ancient magazine on the web which created an original concept of information in opposition to the mass media, can we say that the future is in alternative media and that there is a necessity to search information elsewhere than in mainstream media? Isn’t the fight of alternative media against the mass media the fight of originality against conformity?
See my response to questions 4, 7, 9 and 14. Everything not your own opinion is alternative now. I don’t know how we can get everyone’s attention on the same page. That time, textual, is passed. Perhaps we can slip in something provocative in a cat video gone viral? We can’t go on, we go on. That’s Beckett. I think Bad Subjects andCounterPunch, my writing sites, do a good job in going on.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Prof. Joseph Natoli?
Joseph Phillip Natoli is an American writer, teacher, librarian, oil painter, cook and farmer, now retired. He was born August 24, 1943 in Brooklyn, New York, received B.A. and M.A. degrees from a tuition-free Brooklyn College, a Ph.D. (with a dissertation on William Blake and Carl Jung) and an MLS from the State University of New York at Albany. He helped form the first college faculty union in New England in 1974, subsequently retreated to a subsistence farming life in southern Appalachia, returned to both adjunct teaching and various library positions. He wrote first for theJournal of Phenomenological Psychology, followed phenomenology into literary theory and literary theory into deconstruction and postmodernity. He initiated the SUNY Press series « Postmodern Culture » in 1991, publishing a wide variety of monographs until 2009. He directed a Europe program, « Is This a Postmodern World? » from 1995 to 2010 hosted by Birkbeck, University of London, University of Utrecht, Leiden University, Katholieke University, University of Vercelli, and the University of Zaragoza.
In 2010, he began « pro bono publica » online writing for various journals: Senses of Cinema, Bright Lights Film Journal, popmatters, Americana, Journal of Popular Culture, Dandelion Salad, Truthout, Writing for Godot, Bad Subjects, where he is a member of the editorial collective. He writes a weekly article for CounterPunch.
Interview: « Conversations with American Scholars » Featured Guest: Joseph Natoli The Journal of American Popular Culture Spring 2007
He wrote numerous books: Travels of a New Gulliver, 2013; This is a Picture, and Not the World: Movies and a Post-9/11 America, SUNY, 2007; Memory’s Orbit: Film & Culture 1999-2000, SUNY Press, 2003; Postmodernism: The Key Figures, eds. Hans Bertens & Joseph Natoli, Blackwell, 2002,trans. into Japanese, Czech, and Turkish; Postmodern Journeys: Film and Culture 1996-1998, SUNY Press, 2000; Primer to Postmodernity, Blackwell, 1997 (2nd printing, Spring 1998)trans. into Chinese: Jiangsu Publishing House; Speeding to the Millennium: Film & Culture 1993-1995, SUNY Press, 1998; Hauntings: Popular Film and American Culture 1990-1992, SUNY Press, 1994; A Postmodern Reader, eds. Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon, SUNY Press, 1993; Mots d’Ordre: Disorder in Literary Worlds, SUNY Press, 1992; Literary Theory’s Future(s), ed. University of Illinois Press, 1989; Tracing Literary Theory, ed. University of Illinois Press, 1987; Psychocriticism, Joseph Natoli and Frederik L. Rusch, Greenwood, 1984; Psychological Perspectives on Literature: Dissident Freudian and Non-Freudian, ed. Archon, 1984; Twentieth Century Blake Criticism: Northrop Frye to the Present, Garland, 1982.
Dark Affinities, Dark Imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey, is a retrospective of his writing on literature, psychology, literary theory, postmodernity, textual studies, politics, economics, journalism, education, film, TV, food, and sports is in production at the SUNY Press.
A timetable of all his writing as well as reprints of his online writing and a portfolio of his oil paintings can be found at www.josephnatoli.com
Published in American Herald Tribune, May 15, 2016: http://ahtribune.com/us/2016-election/900-joseph-natoli.html
In Oximity, May 16, 2016: https://www.oximity.com/article/Pr.-Joseph-Natoli-We-need-to-kill-the-1
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.160516.htm