Invisible University
more real than reality
Donald Trump's Heart of Darkness: Ressentiment and the Mechanisms of Defense

(Melanie Klein's Paranoid-Schizoid Position)

Matthias Grünewald - The Temptation of St. Anthony (1515)
The site as a whole recognizes that the Internet is the techno-cognitive axis of a praxiological revolution in thought, where the extended mind is fused with philosophy  as the critical accompaniment to empirical practice.  It is now possible to do something that a book, by virtual of its technical limitations, could never do. The expanded semiotic capacity of the internet enables a wallowing in the existential muck of political life--the materials on this page are cases in point.  This wallowing, however, can be done while keeping in mind an ever-expanding array of academic and literary texts.  This keeping in mind is something only a living human, embedded in history and culture, can do.

The point is not to select a particular theoretical perspective as true (e.g., Nietzsche, Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Lacan, Piaget, Vygotsky, etc.), but rather to deploy it as a productive way of encountering the rhetorical performances within the theater of ressentiment of the far right.  Hence the importance of clicking on the links, rather than skipping them as if they were footnotes.  This site is a rhizome.  Its principle of production is transcendental empiricism.  "Texts" and "data" coexist in a plane of immanence governed by consilience, attunement, and affinity.  The Brandom-Sellars observation is borne in mind:

  . . . according to Sellars's view, the difference between theoretical objects and observable objects is methodologcal rather than ontological.  That is, theoretical and observable objects are not different kinds of things.  They differ only in how we come to know about them.

  . . . according to Sellars's view, the difference between theoretical objects and observable objects is methodologcal rather than ontological.  That is, theoretical and observable objects are not different kinds of things.  They differ only in how we come to know about them.
Our Heart of Darkness: Understanding "Trump" as Genetic Ontology

Understanding "Trump" demands  a radical reconceptualization of that which is evoked and simultaneously suppressed by the use of the term
human nature, and a reconnaissance of the territory simultaneously evoked and suppressed by use of the term racism.  The problematics raised by deployment of these two terms--racism and human nature--are intertwined.

Figure 3 provides the theoretical fields that turn the merely empirical into a plane of immanence.  What is required is a deeper understanding of the relationship between Donald Trump's performances, the crowd reactions, the history of the Republican Party, and the role of media in the performance of the psychological processes of projection and identification that are the essence of mass politics.  Figure 3 is an attempt at one kind of ontology: an ontology of the subject.  But this subject is not the "individual."  The latter is an ideological fiction (Cartesian and bourgeois-Christian).  The subject is an effect of a multiplicity of forces converging on an organism; an effect of history, culture, and language.  (see Foucault/Trombadori; Roth)

The genetic ontology that is the core of the "Trump" phenomenon is
ressentiment and the mechanisms of defense

Kurz's last words, at the end of Heart of Darkness, are "the horror, the horror."  That horror is with us today in spades. for the Trump performances tap into and give expression to the heart of darkness that is itself both a product of civilization and something, perhaps more deeply rooted, that is amplified by civilization (Melanie Klein*), worked up sometimes into a frenzy of rage and other-direct hate.  The rhetorical violence of Trump rallies, not ideology and policies, is what is fundamental. The Trump performances--the audience, the cultural-historical context, and Trump himself as a therapeutic object with which the audience member can identify--become deeply intelligible when viewed through the prism of certain key concepts: Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment; psychoanalysis's concept of the mechanisms of defense (and Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence*); Wilbur Cash's concept of the proto-Dorian convention; the Lacan-Atwater Signifying Chain; and Robert Paxton's concept of  transcendental violence.  And the whole mess can be brought under the sign of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.**

On the far right there are not issues, but postures, gestures, various encodings of the same sado-sexual reflex.  Rage and pornography (Ted Cruz's bathroom attack ad against Trump).  Sex and violence in various covert as well as overt forms make up the entirety of the rhetorical field of populist Republicanism.  Lee Atwater has provided us with the pragmatics for the production of this Republican rhetoric; Jacques Lacan its concept.  Christopher Browning (Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland) and Jan T. Gross (Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland) have provided us with descriptions of what can be achieved when this deep and unquenchable rage is turned into action by political leaders.

This heart of darkness is Nietzsche's description of the politics of ressentiment:

Here the works of vengefulness and rancor swarm; here the air stinks of secrets and concealment;  . . . and what mendaciousness is employed to disguise that this hatred is hatred!  What a display of grand words and postures, what an art of "honest" calumny! (The Geneology of Morals, II, 14)

We have much to think about, even if there is little that can be done.

*Daniel Chapelle, Nietzsche and Psychoanalysis (State University of New York Press, 1993)
**Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' and Contemporary Thought: revisiting the horror with Lacoue-Labarthe, edited by Nidesh Lawtoo.
Walzer et. al.

Images, videos, transcripts



Musso Rant

Images on RMD

Atwater-Lacan signifying chain

Heart of Darkness: text

Heart of Darkness: criticism


Texts: Crusade to Plen-T-Plaint

Texts: historical (

Reader's comment

On Language: Rosenfeld; Ground Zero debate

Donald G. Mathews/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice Part I

Part II:  Religion as Punishment ()

Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory

Sacred Violence in Early America
Reader's comment in Frank Bruni, "The Trouble for Hillary" (New York Times, July 30, 2016)

Emile, New York 4 hours ago

Mr. Bruni's remarks about "how weak many Americans feel right now," and how they suffer from "disillusionment" has become the liberal path to empathizing with Trump's supporters. The problem is that it's a false narrative.

Trump supporters have always felt strong, not weak. Yes, they are full of hate, but not from disillusionment. Rather, hatred has always pulsed through their veins, and Trump simply amplifies it.

I have a home in rural upstate New York, in a town where I have to mingle with Trump supporters. The homes where Trump signs are posted attest to the fact that his supporters are not poor. And the Trump supporters I see around town do not behave the least bit as if they feel either weak or disillusioned. Mostly, they are loud and vulgar whites who, before Trump, held back from being openly racist, but are now willing to casually utter the most appalling things about Obama and his family, or make the grossest sexist asides, in full awareness that there [are] people around them whom they don't know who can hear them.

Dispense with this utterly false narrative that sees Trump supporters as sufferers. They are doing just fine. Most are what they've always been--arrogant, potentially dangerous people--fascists in the making.

Clinton can never hope to win any of them over. Her best strategy is to target the majority of Americans who recognize Trump's indecency, and make the case that no decent person votes for a man like Trump.

Trump doesn't challenge anti-Muslim questioner at event   Rochester, New Hampshire Sept 18, 2015("We need this question. This is the first question."  In New Yorkese: we need this question like we need a hole in thehead   Trump is taken aback by the question, showing that the dialectic had begun

  Note Atwater's explanation of the way in which the issue of "taxes" in the GOP's rhetorical context functions as "Nigger, nigger."  Republican denunciations of "Hillary Clinton", seen as the extension of "Obama", thus are not issue-related.  It is the ultimate expletive, the synonym for the unspeakable: N . . . . . r.  Watch Trump rallies closely.  The audience is usually unfocused, almost bored in  the haze of broken English spoken by Trump.  Bored, restless, talking among themselves, cognitively not there, but waiting for the punch line, the expletive, the primitive, hate-filled denunciation.  Then they wake up, some more slowly than others, as they catch on, and howl their delight, only to subside into a state of not being.  This the pundits refer to as "energy."  This is, ontologically speaking, some really primitive stuff.  This is why media discourse on the real-world economic grievances of white men simultaneously get it and miss it completely.  They are finally being forced to address what has been a trend obvious for decades, but not discussed in the media until the breakdown of elite control of public discourse in the primary campaigns of 2016.  What they miss is the deep structure of this rage; the cognitive primitiveness of its expression; the centuries long history of ressentiment as the inner logic of ultra-nationalism and fascism and racism

What Lears can teach us: Nietz

Signifying Chain, Associated Milieu, and Individuation

from Wikipedia: Lee Atwater on the Southern Strategy

As a member of the Reagan administration in 1981, Atwater gave an anonymous interview to political scientist Alexander P. Lamis. Part of the interview was printed in Lamis's book The Two-Party South, then reprinted in Southern Politics in the 1990s with Atwater's name revealed. Bob Herbert reported on the interview in the October 6, 2005, edition of the New York Times. On November 13, 2012, The Nation magazine released a 42-minute audio recording of the interview.[9] James Carter IV, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, had asked and been granted access to these tapes by Lamis's widow. Atwater talked about the Republican Southern Strategy and Ronald Reagan's version of it:

Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now you don't have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he's campaigned on since 1964 and that's fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.

Questioner: But the fact is, isn't it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

the Musso Rant

Video: Martin Bashir interviews John Cantin on MSNBC.  Father of gun victim to hecklers: ‘What happened to my daughter wasn’t propaganda’

Video: Pro-gun advocate shamelessly heckles father of gun-violence victim before getting Tasered by police and arrested   Daily Mail 21 June 2013

Video: John Cantin's Speech at Mayors Against Illegal Guns Rally   Published on Jun 20, 2013

Article: Kelly Ayotte Criticized by Domestic Violence Activist,
A security officer hovers near John Cantin as gun rights activist
Daniel Musso harasses him at a gun control rally

Consider this example from Sophia Rosenfeld, A Revolution in Language: the Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, 2001).  After you have read this excerpt, consider these two other examples of cognitive-discursive divergence, drawn from the current political scene: The Musso rant (right) and the Ground Zero debate

-- These texts and videos should be read and viewed before proceeding --

The enormous cognitive gulf between the enlightened representatives of the French Revolution and the village folk, between the two protagonists in the Ground Zero debate, and between Musso and the modern civilized citizen (John Cantin), has been inadequately conceptualized.  The two ontological modalities on display in these texts and videos are both emotionally and cognitively at odds.
[see semiotic regimes]

Here is an excerpt from Martin Bashir's interview of John Cantin where Cantin comments on the cognitive-linguistic brutishness of the crowd:

JC: However, when I went up I just looked at some of their signs and talked to them a little bit and realized they really didn’t know much about what they were there for. . .

MB: And this man in the red shirt [Musso] who approached you—the Boston Globe reports he was later arrested.  But what was he actually saying to you personally?

JC: Well, you know, I blocked him out.  He kept saying something about what kind of gun —he kept repeating—he had a very limited vocabulary from what I could see.  He wasn’t making a lot of sense, I don’t even know if he knew why he was there, for sure.  I don’t think he realized what we were actually there for.

from Thomas B. Edsall, Donald Trump, the Winning Wild Card, New York Times, March 8, 2016

Tom Davis similarly noted that the shift of the Republican base to more working class white communities has changed the cultural character of the Republican electorate. Republican voters are now more “guttural,” as Davis put it, more comfortable with Trump’s boastful, violent rhetoric and less connected to the cosmopolitan, modulated language of suburbia.

The Kansas Experiment (NYT August 9, 2015)

from F. Nietzsche, The Geneology of Morals, III, 14:

Here the works of vengefulness and rancor swarm; here the air stinks of secrets and concealment;  . . . and what mendaciousness is employed to disguise that this hatred is hatred!  What a display of grand words and postures, what an art of "honest" calumny!