Invisible University -- 2011

the Present as History: the theater of ressentiment
Edward Hopper, Manhattan Bridge Loop, 1928
Column A: commentary/entanglements/disciplinary deployments/links
Column B: moments/events/"phenomena" (Borad): the Internet connection/phenomenological field

on the Giffords shooting

"The so-called 'motive': another error.  Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, an accompaniment to an act, which conceals rather than exposes the antecedentia of the act." {re Imus and that which is called racism}

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (Penguin, 1968), p. 49

   At the level of real analysis the merely epiphenomenal and second-order event--the actual assassination--must be grasped as the rare real-world enactment of what in essence is a politics of redemptive violence directed at a demonized internal enemy played out in the theater of ressentiment.  The actions of the shooter were not caused by any particular statement or event, such as the infamous crosshairs map of Sarah Palin.  But his rage, and his fantasies of redemptive violence, were of a piece with those of vast swaths of the Right and more broadly of popular culture (e.g., Charles Bronson, Death Wish series).  That rage was given a theatrical framework within which orchestrated campaigns of demonization unfolded and continue to unfold.  

This was no random shooting.  It was an enactment of redemptive violence within the moral universe provided the Right as cognitive regime.  Sarah Palin is a major player in the construction and further development of this universe (eg.: Fox news: institutions, semiotics, demographics; input-output matrices--see Imus page), but nothing more.

On the other hand, within this universe of demonization these twenty House Democrats were in fact assigned a place reserved for the forces of Evil.  This moral universe is filled with rage directed at a variety of targets--gays, Muslims, Blacks, Jews, climate scientists, liberal professors.  As can be seen from the materials in Column B, a profound inarticulateness, apparent when people are asked what they are doing and appear only capable of producing epithets and gestures, suggests that the "issues"--taxes, deficits, health care--are merely the rhetorical means provided by the right cognitive regime.  

The essence of what is seen in Column B is rage, on the one hand, and a cognitive primitivism and pathology on the other.  Both psychoanalysis and developmental psychology must be deployed to decode both the rage and the cognitive primitivism.  

the process is stochastic, not deterministic: as a high school teacher once told me (in the context of the wave of school shootings in the '90s), for every kid that commits an overt act of violence there are a hundred right at the edge who are just as likely to jump from fantasy to action. Although as far as we know he acted alone,
Loughner was only one of a vastly larger subset of enraged primitives who inhabit the same moral universe and are beset by the same internal demons.  Most importantly, they are supplied with a steady stream of the rhetoric of demonization, complete with hit list.  This is why I refer to the the actual assault as merely epiphenomenal.

This gesture of revenge, of demonization and rage, is the underlying bio-emotional praxis of the Right.  That it has come to nearly dominate contemporary politics   MARX WAS WRONG

TPM LiveWire
Palin Uses Crosshairs To Identify Dems Who Voted For Health Care Reform
Jillian Rayfield | March 24, 2010, 5:47PM

Glorification and fetishization of weapons, implications of violence, the exuberant and visceral embrace of torture and the delight in defending it--as well as the demonization of the Other, provide the basis for categorizing and hence analyzing signs and images and discourse (the semiotic matter) available over the internet.

The gut-level orientations of the Right are rage and ressentiment. This rage and ressentient may become associated with this or that vehicle for its expression, but it is ontolgically prior to the issues with which is it associated.  

The images to the right are a sample of the more restrained invocations of violence that one finds.

But a second semiotic field emerges in relation to the Set of Column A. That is the field constituted by commentaries in various media--CNN, Fox at one end, the blogosphere on the other.




a politics of redemptive violence directed at a demonized internal enemy played out in the theater of ressentiment.

Kathleen Jamieson stumbles into the Heart of Darkness

The paragraph to the right, from a study of Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media  Establishment, inadvertenly provides a glimpse into the heart of darkness.

What Jamieson and Cappella don't understand, and can't face, even as they stumble into it, is the heart of darkness, the black hole, of civilization.  Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audiences a question for which we have no ready answer.  But wait.  Isn't the interest in Limbaugh predicated on his relationship to his mass audience?  And thus, shouldn't the purpose of the study be to illuminate this relationship?  Isn't it possible that the vulgarity and sadism of Limbaugh's rhetoric is the main event in this theater of ressentiment, while the "issues" are merely the occasion for  the expression of emotionally appealing sexual inuendo and sadism?  This is the stuff of Nietzsche's ressentiment.

from Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Estabisment (Oxford Univeristy Press, 2008), p.p. 188-89. (Emphasis added.)

   Limbaugh's attempts at gender-based "humor" are of the locker room variety.  As the California gubernatorial recall was heating up, Limbaugh informed his folowers that Leutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante--"whose name loosely translates into Spanish for 'large breasts'--leads the Terminator by a few pionts" (August 18, 2003).  A photomontage on the Limbaugh website shows a photograph of Schwartzenegger's head and shoulders from his Pumping Iron days as a body builder.  A naked woman has been transposed onto his shoulders.  Over her breasts is a sign reading BUSTAMONTE.  When Madonna endorsed General Wesley Clark, Limbaugh reported that she had "opened herself" to him.  Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audiences a question for which we have no ready answer.

from Media Matters: Changing The Tone, Or Changing Our Understanding?
January 14, 2011 5:21 pm ET

And let's not fool ourselves with the forced symmetry of "both sides do it," which is all too often employed in the media's overriding quest for "balance" at the expense of accuracy. On Monday, the New Yorker's George Packer observed:

In fact, there is no balance -- none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side's activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can't stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.
Tea Party Signs


This is a frequent form of expression--the racist carricature--but the overt racism should not obscure the underlying dynamic process of projection of the repressed and displacement of rage, on the one hand, and the creation of a suitable object as the target of sadistic aggression on the other.  

What makes a target suitable is that it must be annointed by higher authorities--portions of the Catholic clergy during the middle ages, organizations like Fox News-Freedom Works today--signals are given, and a carnival of rage follows.

This can be seen in the etiology and phenomenology of the anti-Muslim hysteria whipped up by Fox News (below)


Anti-Obama Billboard: President? or Jihad
(Video and transcript)
November 23, 2009 MSNBC The ED Show


This sign was mass produced.  The Right's most beloved forms of expression involve intimations of violence and death.

the telling text: Montgomery, Little Rock, UAW 238, Art Lamb;
McCain-Palin Rallies, 2008


from Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004):

"The legitimation of violence against a demonized internal enemy brings us close to the heart of fascism."  p. 84

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." p. 218

"Today a "politics of resentment" rooted in authentic American piety and nativism sometimes leads to violence against some of the very same "internal enemies" once targeted by the Nazis, such as homosexuals and defenders of abortion rights.

"The languge and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models.  They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as Orwell suggested. . . .  No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses.  No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of alegiance (one minute and 45 seconds into the video above).  These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy."  p.  202 (Emphasis added)

The point of quoting Paxton's work on European fascism is to draw attention to the  fundamental concepts of redemptive violence and resentment, which "fit" so strikingly the materials of Column B. Rather than suggesting that the contemporary right wing insurgency is fascist in nature, I argue that the concept of fascism is too narrow, too tailored to some of the specifics of the era of Hitler and Musolini, to grasp the psycho-social forces whose trace is left in the panels and links of Column B.

The terms nazi and fascist are used by all sides in the public area as epithets not concepts.  My guess is few, not only in the tea party but also in the media, actually function at the level of cognitive development where concepts such as fascism and socialism and liberalism are discused and developed.

The Daily Show Ridicules Megyn Kelly's Claim That Fox News Figures Don't Make Nazi References    

"I want my country back!"  
("The languge and symbols of an authentic American fascism . . . ")
RINO [Republicans In Name Only] American Traitor Rep. Mike Castle
Tap-Dances Around Obama Birth Certificate (July 20, 2009)

The two excerpts from the scholarly literature are equivalent: they both describe the modus operandi of ressentiment.



from Puritanism as a Revolutionary IdeologyMichael Walzer, History and Theory, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1963), pp. 59-90

About the Puritan saints Walzer writes of " . . . their almost Manichean warfare against Satan and his worldly allies, their nervous lust for systematic repression and control." p. 63 

"They felt themselves to be living in an age of chaos and crime and sought to train conscience to be permanently on guard against sin.  The extent to which they would have carried the moral discipline can be seen in the following list of offenses which merited excommunication in one seventeenth-century congregation:

-for unfathfulness in his masters service
-for admitting cardplaying in his house . . .
-for sloth in business.
-for being overtaken in beer.
-for borrowing a pillion and not returning it.
-for jumping for wagers . . .
-for dancing and other vanities.

  Had the saints been successful in establishing their Holy Commonwealth, the enforcement of this discipline would have consituted the Puritan terror." p. 64

"The persecution of witches, of course, was not a vital aspect of Puritan endeavor, but the active, fearful struggle against wickedness was.  And the saints imagined wickedness as a creative and omnipresent demonic force, that is, as a continual threat." p. 79

the Plen-T-Plaint, from Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas

"As culture war, backlash was born to lose.  Its goal is not to win cultural battles but to take offense, conspicuously, vocally, even flamboyantly.  Indignation is the great aesthetic principle of backlash culture; voicing the fury of the imposed-upon is to the backlash what the guitar solo is to heavy metal.  Indignation is the privilege emotion, the magic moment that brings a consciuosness of rightness and a determination to persist. . . .  Everything seems to piss conservatives off, and they react by documenting and cataloguing their disgust.  The result is what we call the plen-T-plaint, a curious amassing of petty, unrelated beefs with the world.  Its purpose is not really to evaluate the hated liberal culture that surrounds us; the plen-T-plaint is a horizontal rather than vertical mode of criticism, aiming instead to infuriate us with dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories of the many tiny ways the world around us assaults family values, uses obscenities, disrespects parents, foments revolution, and so on."  121-3

Rabids vs. Thoughfuls

Postings to Conn Post re. alleged child molestation

Rabid (n=3/10)

1.  Put me down for 100.00$ for this guys defence. He was kind. In Texas they would have never found the body. I tored of all the nambepambe judges letting these monster room free.  .  .  .

2.  This father is hero. Hopefully, those of us who feel the same will continue to lobby the law makers to pass laws making any indecent contact with a child AND dealing in any way with kiddie-porn, a felony, carrying HEAVY jail sentences. The fact that this dad is an attorney and knows the watered-down, perp-favored laws, says volumes. He meted out justice, swiftly and fairly. God bless you, Mr. Edington!

3.  About time someone takes the law in their own hands

Thoughtful (n=3/8)

1.  I heard the child was 2. Most 2 yearolds barely talk and most not capable of making up a story. How did the child tell the mother about this incident?

2.  So many are making comments without knowing the facts. What really did happen?? Think about both families and how they are both feeling. In the USA we are supposed be to innocent until proven guilty. And does being convicted of driving under the influence make this an automatic assumption of guilt. Learn the facts before you judge............

3.  I find it extremely disturbing that a man can be tried, convicted and executed without one shred of evidence, in the court of public madness and extremism.  Has our paranoia become so intesified that we are reasy to commit cold blooded murder merely on speculation and rumor?  The article stated: MacNamara said James did not have a criminal record and was not under "any investigation alleging inappropriate activity regarding children."  On May 1, 2001, James pleaded guilty in Superior Court to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was sentenced to six months, suspended after two days, followed by 18 months probation. He was also fined $500. If people think the above charges warrant the death penalty by stabbing, then the real danger to society are the majority of the posters here.

accusations and assaults vs. policy statements: the fundamental diference, isomoephic with rabids vs thoughtfuls
from opposing demonstations' signs at anti- and pro- war rally

from CNN, 4:00 to 6:00 PM, 9-15-07: pro- and anti-war demonstrators' signs

  pro-war demo signs:      "Traitors Go to Hell!"
                                                  "Deport Anti-war Protesters!"

 anti-war demo signs:      "End the War Now!"
                                                  "U.S. Out of Iraq!"
                                                  "Support the Troops!  End the War!"

Campaign 2008: McCain-Palin Ralies

Accusations Fly Between Parties Over Threats and Vandalism
Published: March 25, 2010 NYT

Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause, By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, May 13, 2008

•In Ex-Steel City, Voters Deny Race Plays a Role By Paul Vitellon
New York Times, April 4, 2008 (The rhetorical maneuvers of Pa. blue
collar whites)

Racist McCain Supporters in Pottsville, Pennsylvania

*The Sidewalk to Nowhere, McCain Supporters in Bethlehem, PA,  

Sarah Palin Rally Causes Confrontation with Obama Supporters  Sarah Palin Supporters confront Obama Supporters after a Palin rally on October 21st, 2008. One supporter of Palin suggests that Obama could be the antichrist. Then some guy picks up horse feces, calls it Obama, and throws it at Barrett.

•McCain Tries to Tame Flames He Earlier Fanned  (Scared . . . Arab; how large is the subset of right wing activists at rallies and demonstations of which she is an element?

Hatred, Ignorance and Racism on Display Outside a Palin Rally in Ohio   Oct. 19, 2008 (read article as well)

*Redneck lady disses Obama    Sept 30

Morning Joe's "troubling" report about liberal elitists from the Upper West Side by Rumproast    Daily Kos, Oct 31, 2008   This is a bold attempt to smear liberals by likening their semiotic behavior (semiotic behavior: symbolic content plus body language plus vocalizations) to that of the tea party demonstrators.

Ground Zero Mosque Rallies Sept. 11 CNN (at 1 minute in)  ---->

L.  We believe in the same document.  You just said you believe in the Constitution.

R.  I do believe in the Constitution

L.  But you just said you don't.

<this is where the psychic rupture/quantum moment/event occurs>

R.  People were jumping out of the buildings; people were disintegrating, all over the city

L.  By terrorists.  you can't blame Muslims for the work of the terrorists.

R.  I'm not blaming Muslims.  But if they had the respect that they claim they have . . .

L.  Why should they have to appologize for the actions of radicals?

R.  I would rather see no church than a mosque right where people are going to to . . .

the anti-Muslim crusade around "Ground Zero" Mosque



see thousands protest  


Rachel Maddow Interviews Uninformed Protesters, Claims
This Is The World Fox News Has Created’

"Uninformed" misses entirely the signifcance of the materials on the right subsumed under empiricities.

What is required to decode these performances?  What conceptual repertoire and theoretical resources are required, useful, interesting . . .

semiotics and psychoanalysis: eternal return, ressentiment and the mechanisms of defense.

transcendental empiricism; the theatrical deployment of the mechanisms of defense in the arena of politics; the semiosphere

What we see here is the primacy of rage, and the merely secondary significance of those rhetorical gestures and maneuvers that are confused with issues.  As can be seen, that is a cognitive impossibility.  Something else must therefore be at work--the lady doth protest too much.  (Levien on blood and guts nationalism)

•the actions of hegemonic agents in the constitution of the moment (from Urban II to Dick Army)


See second video especially (1 min +)                     

The (lynch) mob as emergent phenomenon

the mechanisms of defense in the constitution of the moment

the semiosphere in the constitution of the moment

the actions of hegemonic agents in the constitution of the moment (from Urban II to Dick Army)

Tea Partiers Mock And Scorn Apparent Parkinson's Victim


Woman stomped by Rand Paul Supporters  

Mr. Wolf's inability to respond conceptually to the question "what does jihad mean to you" reveals the chief cognitive charateristic of the Right.

Anti-Obama Billboard: President? or Jihad?
November 23, 2009 MSNBC The ED Show ((Video and transcript))

SCHULTZ: OK. What evidence do you have that he's not an American citizen?

WOLF: Well, I think the evidence has to be shown that he would be. That would seem to be the simplest thing to do, just to show that you are.

SCHULTZ: We missed this in the vetting process, though, all of this As a country, we screwed up?

WOLF: Very possible.

SCHULTZ: Possible. Jihad; what does jihad mean to you, Mr. Wolf?

WOLF: I think to me it means it's an extreme element of a struggle to overcome somebody. It can be interpreted probably some different ways. but to me it's-it's certainly not one of us. It's something other than what an American is, that I've been taught.

SCHULTZ: Jihad is religious war, is it not? The definition is religious war. You must have put that word up there for something. Do you think Barack Obama wants a religious war?

WOLF: I think it's definitely anti-Christian. Yes, I do.
This is another example of a non-conceptual/pre-operational rhetorical maneuver.  It reveals an inability to subsume a single case (Medicare) under a general category (government program).  Such an ability is characteristic of the concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 11).  The cognitive behavior of the right most closely resembles that of the pre-operational stage (ages 2 to 6)

This cognitive primitivism is the chief intellectual characteristic of the Right as cognitive regime.  Its chief psychological characteristics is rage, resentiment, and demoiztion.  And the ideology of the free market hs an unavoidable ethno-racist thrust.

Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare! Huffington Post, June 27, 2010

Part Two: Theory
Ressentiment: the Mechanisms of Defense and Eternal Recurrence

psycho-cognitive modalities
psycho-cognitive regimes
psycho-cognitive topologies

The mechanisms of defense in the construction
 of a demonized internal enemy

This graphic representation of a function of two variables is being transposed from its orginal context. Here the mesh represents the semiotic grid, the flags stand for rhetorical elements, and the surface peaks represent the emotional force seen in the videos.

The above videos contain a set of rhetorical elements and maneuvers ("prove he isn't a terrorist").  These can be placed in their appropriate topological neighborhoods (paranoid-schizoid or depressive)

the other as blank slate constructed by
mechanisms of defense    


Jasper Johns
After Hans Holbein. 1993
Encaustic on canvas
32 9/16 x 25 5/8" (82.7 x 65.1 cm)
Private collection



Cognitive Regimes

Red Fields--bourgeois (1):  CNN/MSNBC                bourgeois (2): Universities/NPR   Modern           (Modern corporation*)                      (human capital, cultural capital)  

                      Concrete Operational                           Formal Operational

                            Blue Field--barbarian: Fox News (Rentier  
                                           sectors**; provincial capitals***;
                                                r*c*st political ecologies)
three topological spaces defined by three different topologies: pre-operational; concrete-operational; and formal operational.  These are the invariants that define three different spaces

each space is filled with a repertoire of actors, objects, and networks;

Above: another way of thinking about the culture wars

"Spirits and demons are only projections of man's own emotional impulses. He turns his emotional cathexes into persons, he peoples the world with them and meets his internal mental processes again outside himself . . ."

Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo


Incisions via Internet:
1.  Google Images Tea Party Racism
2.  Other LINKS re Tea Party
3.  Categories and Typology
4.  MCCain-Palin Campaign
5.  Rabids vs. Thoughtfuls
6.  pro- and ati-war signs
7.  Walzer-Frank literary context
8.  Birthers chart
9.  I want my country back paired with Paxton excerpt
10. Levien literary context

Campaign of 2008

Tea Party and related reactions to Obama's election

depressive vs. paranoid-schizoid
Michelle Bachman speaks on 18th and 19th century American history.  These were her main points

diversity without racism or classism
founding father fought to end and did end slavery

here is TPM account, with video of the event.

here is chris matthews interview with a tea party leader (whose own history as revealed during the segment is itself of considerable interest in decoding the teaparty).

Such bizarre events require explanation.  The first step is to carefully look at her actual performance and to ask if it belongs to a subgroup of other similar performances (Jan Brewer, Sarah Palin on fruit fly and ndwspapers

there we find a general ignorance and cognitive primitivism.  

Since this is za political performance our next qustion must be what rational purpose might such permonances serve?

Data from the DailyKos, "Birthers are mostly Republican
and Southern," by kos, Fri Jul 31, 2009 at 08:20:37 AM PDT

The Research 2000 findings were pulled together from a
survey of 2,400 adults
Poll question: Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the
United States of America or not?
Choices: Yes   No   Not sure
No + Not Sure = variable graphed