The Imus Brouhaha and that which is called "Racism"

semiotic webs and cognitive regimes
         
Invisible University

Retexting the Real
(the other side of Being)

aa1971@wayne.edu



We follow the threads radiating outward from Imus's deployment of the standard semiotic repertoire of an American demographic subset--the ribald and risqué racist banter of  barroom and barbeque. The actual symbolic flows and institutional links are indicated in the "Imus" diagram to the right.  What emerges is an institutional matrix devoted to the production and distribution of text and symbol to an audience comprised of embedded listeners.

This embeddedness is not only about immediate contexts in everyday life (family, work group, cogitive regime); it is also about broader cultural  and historical contexs.

Pay attention only to actual data--in this case, as indicated at the right, actual statements, related statements, intra and inter-institutional roles, markets, political cultures, etc.

In the figure at the right, text production and distribution fall under the authority of the corporation of which Imus is only an employee, not a citizen on a soapbox, and therefore issues of free speech are irrelevant.  (Imus's contract with CBS makes this clear: his job was to push the envelope.) What is of critical importance is the place of the listener in this system of relations, the cultural contexts and social networks in which the listener is immersed, and the political economic framework within which he is situated.

And the subject (listener) itself--the he/she in this account--is only a preliminary fiction (since we begin already in the middle of things) subject to decomposition on the one hand and networkification on the other.
  


Imus's comments are characteristic rhetorical moves that define his show (his cowboy hat and chuminess with country western celebrities are two other white supremacist signals embedded in his show's semiotic web).  His show is one of many devoted to the deployment of the rhetorical moves of a variety of angry white men.

imushat

 In addition, with the intervention of the corporate advertisers into the Imus affair, questions of corporate structure, of inter-organizational relations, and of the relationship of corporate structure and networks to politics, are at issue. Was Imus's firing, in other words, also about politics--elite political actors maneuvering to alter the character of the semiosphere?

The question of  Imus's r*c*sm--is he or isn't he?--misses the point: Imus is a removable singularity: the entire account of his remarks can be constructed without reference to Imus's presence or to his pychological dispositions.  

Imus’s remark was, whatever its relation to his own psychic processes, part of a major media production, a show, a systematic deployment of specific rhetorical elements as part of the organization of markets and the circulation of symbols, and oh yes, vast flows of money.  As controlling interests of MSNBC and CBS and as major advertisers, the modern corporation is thoroughly entangled with the question of Imus.  This is meant not to cast aspersions or to suggest guilt.  It is to suggest that that which is called racism is so pervasive, so much a part of the very fabric of socio-cultural space-time, that the very unfolding of being in modern society is inflected by it.

A concept of Demonization is required to cover the common characteristics of the rhetorical moves of "racially insensitive" shock jocks.  Such a concept must deal with the rage and sexual obsessiveness, the sadism and virtual pornography, of the semiotic productions of these shock jocks.  These are the primal forces, the dark energy, of politics.

A further requirement is a concept of the theater of ressentiment, on the one hand, and a concept of cogntive regime, on the other.  One must imagine the immediate setting of the listener--at work, in his car, etc--the gross material features of his stage; one can
imagine--in the map to the right--millions of points of light, each one representing an affective outburst, e.g., a listener lighting up in response to Imus's remarks.  All this in the larger context of the prevailing symbols, icons, and demons of the current manifestation of ressentiment.

Demonization, cog reg, theater of resentiment are concrete expressions of resentiment, Nietzsche's fundamental concept of the psycholgical/ontological consequences of power, of "man's aimal spirit turned against himself."

 

•     •     •

The term r*c*sm itself is usually hurled as an accusation of personal culpability rather than deployed as a sociological and historical concept.  Its deployment in media discourse demonstrates the cunning of history: it conceals more than it reveals about the very phenomena it directs our attention to.  It is a symptom of the power of that which limits r*c*sm’s referent to mere deviance from bourgeois democratic norms.  Avoidance of analysis of the symbolic content of racist rhetoric, imagery, and theater shifts the focus away from r*c*sm as such, focusing instead on the racee as victim, on the one hand, and on individual culpability as the only ontological-analytical issues permitted, on the other.

R*c*sm is an effect of power, a symbolic and theatrical catchment area for residual but dangerously festering rages inevitably generated at the level of culture and politics by the intersection of power and biology.  (FIG. mech of defense)  Racist phenomena thus arise from the deepest levels of the psyche; they are the consequences of the clash between biology and power: it is the very fact of our subjugation under regimes of power called civilizations that drives racist phenomena.  Its roots are deep, not only historically, but ontologically.  R*c*sm is an integral, decisive, and inescapably deep feature of modernity.  It is biology's revenge, where great gobs of the repressed emerge as public discursive objects in power-laden situations.  (campaign 2006 ads; and now campaign 2008 ads)

The trivial view of that which is caled racism is provided by liberalism: r*c*sm=divergence between values of possessive individualism in a market economy and dynastic practices built around kinship/tribe/”race” and embodying structured expressions of sadism (militarism, death peality), and a symbolic practice isomorphic with a subset of the ego’s mechanisms of defense whose manifestation takes the form of demonization, up to and including lynchings, cruasades, ethnic cldansing movements in general.

•     •     •




Theatrical momenta of everyday life


Theatrical momenta of everyday life are those action-system effects/microgenetic primordial scenes:

Kramer’s rant

Imus in the Morning

Eight Mile Road (PF campaign 92)

The Meeting (academic departmental meeting on racism)


Each of these “events” is notable as the site of production of a discourse characterized as “racist.”  Kramer’s rant—the comic’s volcanic performance in a Chicago comedy club—and Imus’s casual racist banter for which he was fired by MSNBC and CBS, are familiar.  Kramer’s rant was primordial; properly analyzed, it gives us deep insight into the interaction between psychodynamic processes and cultural and historical contexts. 

Imus’s remark was, whatever its relation to his own psychic processes, part of a major media production, a show, a systematic deployment of specific rhetorical elements as part of the organization of markets and the circulation of symbols, and oh yes, vast flows of money.  As controlling interests of MSNBC and CBS and as major advertisers, the modern corporation is thoroughly entangled with the question of Imus.  This is meant not to cast aspersions or to suggest guilt.  It is to suggest that that which is called racism is so pervasive, so much a part of the very fabric of socio-cultural space-time, that the very unfolding of being in modern society is inflected by it.

Identity-Power processes are fundamental properties of societies and are inflected through institutions; institutions are situated in cultural and historical contexts: r*c*sm cannot be a property of the individual, therefore.  Nor can it be a property of an institution taken in isolation.  r*c*sm is a property of society as a whole; that is, it is ontologically fundamental.  It is a manifestation of a form of being that Nietzsche diagnosed as ressentiment.  {in topology: that which is called racism is a global not local property}

In the case of Kramer's outburst, what we witnessed was a kind of primordial scene in which all of history and culture are implicated [eternal recurrence].  And in the case of Imus's racist banter, at the very least the whole rhetorical turn of the post-war reaction, {From the New Deal to the New Right; From Wallace to Gingrich} is implicted--its consituencies, its media and its political institutions.  

And in the case of the Meeting especially one must avoid the sin of reductionism.  The whole point of that analysis is that the text production process in that setting must be taken as other than the sum total of mere individual expressions.

The figure to the right, Mechanisms of Defense and the Construction of the Other, provides a framework for interpreting Kramer's outburst.  It is also the framework for interpreting the relationship between Imus and his listeners--the heart and soul of the media as social process.

The four microgenetic unfoldings listed above, when taken together, provide four eigenvectors, specific rotational orientations into the body of the problemmatic adduced and concealed by deployment of the word racism.

And this is just the beginning of the unfolding of “Imus” qua problematic. 





Part II: Fragments

WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON HERE is that the problematic of that which we call racism is opened up through an examination of specific socio-liguistic processes.  Such an examination involves not only the close observation of specific behavioral momenta (the minute-by-minute give and take of the Imus affair); it also includes nested macrocontexts, as suggested by Imus Figure's bottom elements of three contexts (Nietzsche-Walzer-Carter).  

And it also includes as a primary macro orientation the understanding that the West has developed along two axes: identity and organization.  Power, hierarchy, race and class emerge out of the fundamental generative process peculiar to human history: viz., the way in which our semiotic capacity can be both a source of new forms of being (bourgeois), but also can be subverted and suborned by archaic characteristics in homo sapiens' evolutionary descent.  This in turn leads to a reconsideration of the persistence of dynastic, patriarchal power relations. [proto-Dorian convention] This is the point of Lenin's concerns: there are really two primary epochal ontologies at the level of the population as a whole: dynastic and bourgeois; rabids vs. thoughtfuls (isomorphic with congressional debate re bailout).

•     •     •

Take a look at these comments in response to the recent Connecticut murder story in which a two year old eroneously accused the next door neighbor of molesting her.  Her father leapt through the window and stabbed and killed what turned out to be an innocent man.  Before it was revealed that he was innocent, however, the story sparked a slew of reader comments to the Conn Post.

I have grouped these comments under two categories, rabid and thoughtful.  




                     Rabid                   Thoughful
Reactive Analytical
Oral-mythic/pre-operational Concrete and formal operational
Taken at face value as a dramatic whole  Taken as problematic, requiring various cognitive maneuvers
Enables instant projection/displacement Provokes critical response
Fits within broader semiotic stage set for demonization Actively resists demonization
Language use: primitive/reflexive/expressive/spontaneous Language use: instrumental/operational/deliberate

ss





Legal Battle Brews Over Imus Contract With CBS  
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007

Don Imus
(Wiki)





Identity-Power processes are fundamental properties of societies and are inflected through institutions; institutions are situated in cultural and historical contexts: r*c*sm cannot be a property of the individual, therefore.  Nor can it be a property of an institution taken in isolation.  r*c*sm is a property of society as a whole; that is, it is ontologically fundamental.  It is a manifestation of a form of being that Nietzsche diagnosed as ressentiment.  In topology, that which is called racism would be called a global not local property.   

What is the Imus event a moment in the unfoldng of?




nightlight
a hypothetical geographical construal of the theater(s) of ressentiment.  Imagine millions of points of light, each one representing an affective outburst, e.g., a listener lighting up in response to Imus's remarks.  Taken together they map the domain of a cognitive regime

Cognitive regime: see also Cognitive register

regimes can be characterized by their registers
the cardinality of registers can be ascertained
similar to cardinality are measure theory, complexity theory, systems theory, dimension theory
Measure (mathematics) Wiki



rabids vs. thoughtfuls: the principle axes of the semiosphere






Consideration of these forces draws us into literature and philosophy on the one side, psychology and biology on the other.  The texts indicated in the figure under Macrocontexts provide three literary-historical-philosophical interpretive contexts for the Imus remarks.





defense










 . . .  contemporary physics, particularly in relation to quantum theory and thermodynamics,  enacts a twisting free of the metaphysics of substance and subject inherited from classical ontology . . . Where metaphysics thought essenses, contemporary physics thinks events.  Where metaphysics thought permanence, contemporary physics thinks evolution.  Where metaphysics thought substances as self-identical substrata onto which accidents were added, from the outside as it were, physics celebrates the reversibility of substance and accidents, and thus the end of substantialism.  In this context "thinking" means thinking by way of mathematics: movement, contingency, chance, chaos are concepts that are no linger simply ontological, no longer simply inetrated within a pre-mathematical physics, but entirely and completely mathematical.

 (Truth & Genesis, 189)


The rhizome is a figure borrowed from biology, opposed to the principle of foundation and origin which is embedded in the figure of the tree.  The model of the tree is hierarchical and centralized, wheas the rhizome is proliferating and serial, functioning by means of the principle of connection and heterogeneity.  [Marks 45]

Deleuze and Guatarri argue that the book has been linked traditionally to the model of the tree, in that the book has been seen as an organic unit, which is both hermetically sealed, but also a reflection of the world.  In contrast, the rhizome is neither mimetic nor organic.  It only ever maps the real, since the act of mapping is a method of experimenting with the real: and it is always an open system, with multiple exits and entrances.  In short, the rhizome is an 'acentred' system; the map of a mode of thought which is always 'in the middle'.  [Marks, 45]

John Marks, Gilles Deleuze: Vitalism and Multiplicity (Pluto Press, 1998)


swarmology

The Internet, like the swarm, is based upon the rhizome model of organization. It is a non-hierarchical network of different sites that is continually expanding and further interlinking. Recent developments in internet technology have pushed this even further. Wikipedia, for example, is a decentralized form of knowledge production. Another website, digg.com, uses swarm technology to generate lists of popular links. It even has a visualization of this swarm technology: http://labs.digg.com/swarm/.
(from http://swarmology.com/tech_internet.html)






notes:

 What are racist phenomena?  Certain rhetorical gestures, specifically situated, simplistic in nature.  Gestures that enact a morality tale of the forging of identity: hard work vs. laziness; sexless vs. libertine; self-disciplined vs. wild--in short, the Puritan virtues as present in the dominant political culture of the United States.

 The psychic effects of power, the energy residue left after absorption of praxis into systems as subroutine of capital, become the raw materials of appetite and political theater (demonization), the dark energy of politics and history.

Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge University Press, 1975):

"The kind of argument Hegel proposes to use here is something quite different.  It is a form implicit in his system: it is to show how ordinary consciousness carefully examined breaks down in contradiction and itself points beyond itself to a more adequate form." 128

"The method is to start in ordinary consciousness ["Is Imus a r*c*st?] not import anything from the outside, and make an 'immanent crituque' . . . "  129

" . . .  Hegel is not proposing the use of a dialectical 'method' or 'approach'.  If we want to characterize his method we might just as well speak of it as 'descriptive' . . .  For his aim is simply to follow the movement of his object of study."

Stephen Houlgate, Hegel, Nietsche and the criticism of metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 1986)

Nietzsche's life sentence : coming to terms with eternal recurrence / Lawrence Hatab.
Publication Info.     New York ; London : Routledge, c2005.

Nietzsche and paradox / Rogério Miranda de Almeida ; translated by Mark S. Roberts.
State University of New York Press, c2006
 Purdy-Kresge Library     B 3317 .A42613 2006

eternal return: reformulated in terms of the Erlanger Programme: events/moments generated by the T of the group of {T ⊕ the rhetorical elements of ressentiment} from the Crusades to talk radio.  T here refers to the mechanisms of defense, which can transform each element of the group into all of the others)