Part 1 of 4: Eden and Modernity
“We are still living in prehistory, and all things are still in the stage prior to the just and true creation of the world. The true genesis is not at the beginning, but at the end.” — Ernst Bloch, On Karl Marx, 1968
“Arrival from always, for departure to everywhere” — Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations, 1875
In the Beginning
“Nobody can stay in the Garden of Eden… I wonder why.” — James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room, 1956
Before there was heterogeneity, there was only divine infinity. Divine infinity was utterly free of contradiction. Because Being lacked difference, there was neither order nor disorder, neither harmony nor antagonism. All existence was reducible to pure boundless essence — light without dark, space without void.
The first act of the Divine Will, the act of Creation, necessitated a retreat, a contraction [tzimtzum], the self-imposed exile of the divine presence from an allotted vacated area. A beam of divine light emanated out of the all-surrounding radiance into this new place, the first void, and that beam coalesced into the first figure — Primordial Man [Adam Kadmon]. Primordial Man was gifted with ten divine attributes: creativity, reason, knowledge, kindness, discipline, beauty, endurance, acceptance, reproduction, and humility. Although the divine attributes shone forth from the mouth, ears, and nose of Primordial Man as a perfect unity, the divine attributes emerging from the eyes took a confused and disorderly form. To facilitate the creation of differentiated finite beings, vessels were prepared to capture, order, and shelter each chaotically-distributed attribute.
But the vessels were too weak and isolated to assimilate the potent light pouring into them. The vessels shattered. This was the first Catastrophe. The divine sparks clung to the broken shards, diffusing into them and sustaining them as they scattered through the void. These fragmented shells are the basis for the material world and the source of all evil.
The subsequent creation of Earth was intended as a restorative process, an attempt to commence the reality initially envisioned in the divine plan but disrupted by the Breaking of the Vessels. With the creation of Adam, purity was almost established, and Redemption was almost complete. On the seventh day of the world’s existence, the First Shabbat, Adam could have finalized the separation of the holy light from the demonic shells, achieving the potential for unity and harmony latent in our world.
Instead, Adam sinned. His expulsion from the Garden of Eden was the second Catastrophe. The repetition of the Breaking of the Vessels on a lower, material plane of existence prolonged this situation of confusion and obstruction, the detention of the divine sparks by the forces of evil, the constraint of the transcendent modes of existence by the base forms of matter.
This account of our fallen world was produced by post-Inquisition Jews trying to make sense of the cataclysms of dislocation, oppression, and violence that they and their ancestors had been subjected to by various kingdoms and empires throughout history. The founder of this school of Jewish mystical thought was Isaac Luria, a sixteenth-century rabbi in the small town of Safed near the Sea of Galilee. In the aftermath of the Spanish Exile, Safed became a hub of innovative and dramatic Kabbalistic theory. To create his remarkably original and influential ideology, Luria synthesized concepts from the system constructed by his predecessor in Safed, the proto-Spinozist Moses ben Jacob Cordovero; the experimental poetry of the legendary and mysterious Eleazar ben Kalir; the Zohar, which is the classic Kabbalistic text; an assortment of obscure mystical treatises; and (Luria’s extremely unconventional interpretation of) the mainstream, traditional rabbinical commentaries. The Hebrew word “Kabbalah” literally means “that which is received,” the wisdom we have received from those who came before us, and Luria would agree with G. W. F. Hegel’s thesis from his lectures on the history of philosophy that the “inheritance we receive” from antiquity must be “metamorphosed,”“enriched and preserved at the same time,” as “tradition is no motionless statue, but is alive, and swells like a mighty river, which increases in size the further it advances from its source”.
The true source of the staying power of Lurianic Kabbalah is its anticipatory consciousness, the opening of its metaphysics onto the horizon of practice. The doctrine of the Breaking of the Vessels is paired with another doctrine — the Messianic rectification or repair of the world [tikkun olam]. According to this teaching, we are not doomed to sit in waiting for an anointed savior to bring our lowly existence in this miserable abyss to a merciful end. There is a task which the Divine Will cannot accomplish alone, a task that must be taken up by regular human beings: the realization of all unfulfilled potential, the restitution of cosmic harmony through the intervention of decidedly non-cosmic humanity, the completion of Creation. Only ordinary people can liberate the fallen sparks from their prisons, reassemble them, raise them to their proper places, and begin an entirely new order, a world of plenitude and joy which has always been dreamed of but never enacted.
Lurianic Kabbalah posits that we owe our existence to the Fall — the tragic “breaking” of the vessels is compared to the messy and painful “breakthrough” of birth. Our origin coincides with our expulsion from Paradise, which means we have no Golden Age to return to. Thus our position must not be one of nostalgic desire for a time that never was, and it would be equally misguided to drift into passive acceptance of the status quo or pathetic yearning for some eternally-deferred salvation. We have a job to do. It is only through the diligent, organized, concentrated effort of human beings that the shackles foisted on the light of the divine attributes can be removed and the unconstrained development of life can proceed.
The Messiah strikes as a collective force.
Walter Benjamin told us that “the life of man in the pure spirit of language was blissful”.1 This blissful life was only possible in the Garden of Eden, where language was completely immediate and concrete, devoid of limitations or abstractions. Drawing on the ideas of Counter-Enlightenment philosopher J. G. Hamann (who was himself influenced by Kabbalistic linguistics) and idyllic poet Friedrich “Maler” Müller, Benjamin described the language of Adam as one of simple and non-instrumental expression, a language consisting only of the names Adam assigned to God’s creations for the purpose of receiving and knowing them. In Eden, language perfectly coincided with knowledge. Because the Adamite naming-language and the mute “language” of inanimate objects were “related in God and released from the same creative word,”2 no alienating split existed between subject and object.
Alienation was introduced by “the birth of the human word, in which name no longer lives intact and which has stepped out of name-language” to “communicate something (other than itself)”.3 Here Benjamin echoes the grim Hegelian summary of the alienating effect of the mediating function of language: “the word is the murder of the thing”.4 In his fifth “Hymn to the Night” (1800), Early German Romantic poet Novalis put this lamentation another way: “the unmeasurable flowering of manysided life” “disintegrated” “in concepts”.
Unlike the knowledge involved in non-alienating language, which was derived directly from God’s creative labor, the knowledge imparted by the forbidden fruit concerned judgment and shame, establishing the first gap between subjective experience and objective appearance, cleaving an unbridgeable chasm between the “I” and the “Other”. What was the fig leaf if not the first autonomous signifier? Adam and Eve’s subjective alienation from the natural world, which Benjamin called a “turning away from things,”5 led humanity down the path to the Tower of Babel, the archetypal representation of the confusing multiplicity of human language and our resultant linguistic alienation from each other.
But just as Isaac Luria and his followers offered a Messianic solution to the Breaking of the Vessels, Walter Benjamin offered a (more modest) Messianic solution to the Fall of Language: translation. Benjamin proposed a Redemptive model of translation, one that “catches fire from the eternal life of the works and the perpetually-renewed life of language” to encourage “what is meant” to “emerge as the pure language from the harmony of all the various ways of meaning”.6 The translator has the weak Messianic power to emancipate a spark of this pure language — the fiery spirit of expression embedded in the nucleus of intention at the heart of an original text — from the burden of “heavy, alien meaning” and “linguistic flux”.7 The translator can then “release in their own language that pure language which is exiled among alien tongues,” “breaking through decayed barriers of their own language,”8 reinvigorating both the translated text and the language it is inserted into. The influence of Early German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schlegel is apparent in this conception of translation; in his 1919 doctoral dissertation The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism, Benjamin quoted Schlegel’s proposal that criticism “present the representation anew,” “once again form what is already formed,” and “complement, rejuvenate, and newly fashion” each particular work of art under consideration “so that — hovering — one grasps the universal”. Through the act of translation (the extraction of a particular instance of true expression from its context and its electrifying introduction in a more-perfect form into an entirely different context) the totality of all of the imperfect human languages can be nudged closer to universal divine language, which can only be glimpsed in the gaps between individual languages as the Absolute medium of language as such.
Of course, if God does not exist, we cannot be satisfied by Benjamin’s claim that the objectivity of “the translation of the nameless into name” or “the translation of an imperfect language into a more perfect one” is “guaranteed by God”.9 And even if God does exist, His Messiah might not have any meaning outside of purely religious contexts. In an early writing, Benjamin denied that the goals of any historical dynamic should “be built up on the idea of the Divine Kingdom” which can have “only a religious meaning,” and he warned that “only the Messiah himself consummates all History” and “nothing historical can relate itself on its own account to anything Messianic”.10 Does this mean that Messianic Redemption as imagined by Benjamin is strictly a matter of personal faith, valuable only as an emblem of hope, or, more pessimistically, as a wish-fulfillment fantasy?
No. In cautioning against secular endeavors to make the Messiah into the consummation of History or the foundation of an “order of the profane,” Benjamin was not rejecting the existence of a link between human effort and the Arrival of the Messiah. His point was that the Messianic Era is not the conclusion of all that came before it — it is the annihilation of History. Benjamin affirmed that the profane “quest of free humanity for happiness” truly “assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom,” yet this quest can succeed not through the construction of a new order but only through the downfall of “all that is earthly,” a downfall we are destined to find “only in good fortune”.11 The path to the Divine Kingdom is not carved by a progressive project of gradual perfection; it is a rupture brought on by sudden and partially-aleatory destruction. The capitalist system of social relations cannot become something else through a piecemeal Ship of Theseus procedure — a new order can only be initiated once the old structures have been obliterated. The “eternal and total” cessation of the history of class society, a termination which is also a completion, “is the task of world politics, whose method must be called nihilism”.12
The Benjaminian revolutionary does not add a new chapter to History; the revolutionary “blasts open the continuum of History”13 through the deployment of a “constellation saturated with tensions,”14 tensions that conjoin the present moment with a “very specific earlier one”15 in order to “blast a specific era out of the homogenous course of History,” “a specific life out of the era,” and “a specific work out of the lifework”.16 Those elements excavated from the ruins of the past, crackling with liberatory energy, generate immense friction upon their entry into the cross-historical constellation, and the Being-toward-transcendence that has served as the medium for all revolutionary movements throughout time can be glimpsed in the highly-charged synapses between historical terms and scoured for previously-obscure use-values. This is why there is no need for religion to serve as the guarantee of the objective truth of the translation of “nameless, imperfect” observations into “named, more-perfect” prescriptions — we have a method of accessing historical truth that obviates the need to rely on God’s revelations.
That method is historical materialism, and its framework is Marxism. It is through Marxism that the radical content of Messianism can be crystallized and put to use. Ernst Bloch, Benjamin’s cheerful friend and rival, a fellow German Jew, characterized the relationship of Marxism and Messianism as symbiotic: “without atheism [or materialism, if you would prefer], Messianism has no place,” because prayer alone cannot effect universal transcendence, while Messianism “prevents Marxism from discarding its visions of a goal ahead”.17 Bloch argued that “reason cannot blossom without hope” — “hope conceived in materialist terms” — and “ideal images,” which are much more than just childish daydreams, “hasten ahead of and precede an objective historical tendency”.18 Jacques Derrida, another Jew who got himself mixed up in twentieth-century European philosophy, described Marxism’s “undeconstructible” “emancipatory promise” as a “Messianism without religion,” a desire for transcendent Ideas of justice and liberation distinguishable from the laws, rights, concepts, and predicates of the current profane world but detachable from any theological roots.19
Marxism gives us the Adamite power to assign names to the social creations that exploit and oppress us, slicing through bourgeois abstractions and mystifications, breaking us out of the narcissistic feedback loop of idealism, pointing the way toward objective reality. Messianism appropriates this otherwise-academic analytic power for the benefit of subjective political practice, aiming Marxism’s destructive capacities at the status quo, obliterating this tyrannical Kingdom of Necessity so we can make the great leap forward into the Kingdom of Freedom, a social order in which the “unmeasurable flowering of manysided life” can finally be cultivated.
Although Jacques Lacan claimed that the “Judaic tradition” was “the tradition from which it must be said that psychoanalysis arose,” he vehemently denied the Kabbalistic possibility of blissful life in the pure spirit of immediate language. He asserted that the “foundational dream of every idea of knowledge” is a “return” to “pre-discursive reality,” but escape from alienating linguistic mediation is impossible, because “every reality is grounded on and is defined by a discourse”.20 Lacan’s primary contribution to psychoanalytic theory is his extension of this axiom to the subjective reality of the human being, which he taxonomized as the “speaking-animal”.
When infants enter the world of language, they gain subjectivity but pay a tremendous price for it; this is Lacan’s return to Sigmund Freud’s theory of castration, purified of Freud’s unscrupulous mythological bioessentialism through Lacan’s application of the structuralist filter provided by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and linguists Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson, as well as Alexandre Kojève’s idiosyncratic but seminal interpretation of Hegel and the early-development psychology research conducted by Henri Wallon (from whom Lacan shamelessly plagiarized) and James Mark Baldwin. Lacan argued that infants can only form their identity through their reflections in the mirror and the signifiers handed to them by their Symbolic Orders, but the autonomous images and symbols that they identify with do not fully belong to them and can never adequately reflect their subjective realities. All of us are forced into webs of words, ideas, goals, and personas that serve as the only possible sources of the raw material which constitutes our subjectivities but simultaneously bar us from a sense of completion, unity, or potency. We are not “one with everything,” we cannot have everything we want, our Being does not feel whole or coherent.
In light of this disturbing and painful experience of fragmentation and lack, it is no surprise that the impulse “which animates unconscious instinct” is a “search for an archaic and regressive quality of indefinable pleasure”21 which we falsely believe lies just out of our reach. We feel nostalgia for a pure, non-alienated, completely-pleasurable subjectivity which precedes alienation, but this prelapsarian state never existed. Alienation is not inflicted on us after the fact by some malevolent agent on the Outside — alienation is a cut from within, a cut that gives rise to us. The appearance of the alienating signifier marked the creation ex nihilo of subjectivity. It is precisely the inescapable emptiness inside of us that deserves the credit (or blame) for our existence as subjects, and yet our drives and desires can be understood as doomed attempts to fill this constitutive void. The cruel function of the force the Freudians call the “Pleasure Principle” is “to make man always search for what he has to find again, but which he never will attain”.22 Capitalist ideology is predicated on the promise of providing its hostages with a never-ending chain of commodities and shreds of power (white power, patriarchal power, legal power, ownership power, political power-as-representation, and so on) that putatively serve as cures for alienation. Lacan said that the defining characteristic of “the discourse of capitalism” is “the foreclosure, outside of all the fields of the Symbolic, of castration,” a denial of subjective and proletarian lack which entails that “every order, every discourse that has a kinship with capitalism leaves aside what we will call simply ‘the things of love’”23 or ton erotikon, which in Theages (as Lacan noted in Seminar VIII) were the only things Socrates claimed to know.
Revolutionary politics suffers from its own tendencies to foreclose castration. Lacanian theory can serve as a vaccine against three common strains of this hubris: 1) the Romantic desire to go back to the way things were 2) the bureaucratic-sectarian desire to achieve complete unity and harmony 3) the submissive desire to rely on the Great Leader, the Irreversible Verdict, or the Party Form as the Absolute incarnation of proletarian self-consciousness.
- Nostalgia for the Good Old Days is always an inherently delusional method of coping with the disappointing nature of our reality — like it or not, things never were “the way they used to be”. Regardless, the point is moot; Simone de Beauvoir urged against “confusing the present with the past,” the difference being that “with regard to the past, no further action is possible,” because, as Arthur Schopenhauer reminded us, “no one has lived in the past” and “the present alone is the form of all life”. Traveling back through historical time is neither desirable nor possible.
- Dissent, division, and discord are inevitable in any revolutionary or post-revolutionary movement, and any effort to silence or purge “wreckers,” “revisionists,” and “renegades” who are supposedly preventing the imminent advent of utopian conformity indicates a potentially-disastrous (see: Moscow Trials) denial of the nature of subjectivity. Where there is heterogeneity, there is contradiction.
- No glorious teacher, immortal science, or principled organization can ever compensate for adherents’ lack by becoming an all-encompassing repository of revolutionary knowledge, issuing wise commands from on high with all of the comforting certainty and authority of Scripture. Blind, intellectually-craven faith in the ritualized Master Signifier, the communist Subject Supposed to Know, plays a crucial role in skewing the balance away from democracy, dynamism, and free thought in the direction of discipline, intransigence, and centralism.
If we can never be free of alienation, conflict, or doubt, if Paradise never existed and therefore can never be restored, why bother discussing revolutionary politics in the lofty language of Messianism? Lacan explains: “the symptom does not cure itself in the same way in Marxist dialectic and in psychoanalysis”; in the register of class struggle as compared to that of psychoanalytic clinical practice, “it is to quite different procedures that the symptom has to yield”.24 Psychoanalysis slithered out of a growing crack in the armor of the patriarchal family, but Marxism bursts through the chest of the bourgeoisie. The hero of Lacanian psychoanalysis is Antigone; the hero of Marxism is Spartacus. It is no coincidence that the optimism inherent in the production and circulation of revolutionary theory, which springs from a mixture of faith in the masses and solemn necessity, more closely approximates Lacan’s theory of love (which capitalism “leaves aside”) than his attitude toward knowledge. Lacan argued that love aims directly at Being, at the Real, that which slips away the most in language, and unlike knowledge, which owes nothing to Being and is terrified of the harrowing Real, love is “put to the test” through its confrontation with the agonizing “impasse” of human connection, the “impossibility” of complete unity, and can only succeed through “courage with respect to this fatal destiny”.25 Lacan, like Isaac Luria and Socrates before him, felt an elitist aversion to sharing his teaching with the non-specialist masses, largely leaving the dirty work of transcription to his disciple-scribe Jacques-Alain Miller, who often played the role previously performed by Cḥaim Vital and Plato. Lacan also notoriously refused to forgo the pleasure of willfully opaque and self-indulgent expression in his knowledge-production process. But the revolutionary theorist, subordinating unadulterated personal expression to the pragmatic and pro-social mission of political practice, confronts and attacks the limits of the written word to the best of their abilities in order to wield its mass-communicative power. The divergent priorities, goals, and scales of psychoanalysis and Marxism lead to radically different sets of possibilities. The psychoanalyst cannot help their analysand escape from the subjective alienation of the signifier, but Marxists can organize an escape from the alienation of wage-labor. No person or object can fill the void of subjective lack, but the communist movement can end the hunger, sickness, and desperation caused by private property relations and material deprivation.
Because lack is the essence of subjectivity, individuals encounter a firm limit to their capacity for personal transformation, but our contingent social relations have no eternal essence and are thus transfinitely mutable. We are not condemned to spend eternity in the world of the tyranny of Kojève’s Father, Master, Leader, and Judge. With regard to dynamics of power, relations of production, conditions of subsistence, distribution of resources, etc., there is no inexorable limit to the revolutionary transformation that can be performed through the communist process. Lacan theorized a psychoanalytic tool called the “sinthome,” which the individual subject creates by unknotting their unhealthy and unstable tangle of privileged images and signifiers in order to tie themselves together with a more effective and sustainable knot; communism is a collective, political expression of the sinthome — its process is a forceful, thorough unknotting of frayed, suffocating, archaic historical relations, followed by the thoughtful, creative weaving of a healthy, useful, brand-new societal superstring.
Requiems for abstract uncontaminated “human nature” or pure “species-being” are not only irrational, fictitious bases for utopian thinking — they also pale in comparison to the far-more-ambitious concrete goals of communism. It was a bit self-important of Friedrich Nietzsche to declare himself “powerful enough to break the history of humanity in two,” but it would not be presumptuous for communism to make that same claim. The struggle to imbue the proletariat with long-lost dignity and strength seems meek when juxtaposed with our Messianic potential to negate the proletariat and the class system as such, unsteadily but surely fumbling toward a social form that has long been dreamed of but never enacted, ushering in an era that is entirely unprecedented, creating a way of life governed by a logic that would mark the introduction of genuine novelty into the organization of the human race.
Return to Tradition
“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” — Ted Kaczynski, The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future, 1995
“Origin is the goal” — Karl Kraus, The Dying Man, 1914
Understood as a political endeavor, the Unabomber terrorist campaign was an unambiguous failure. Over the course of 17 years, Ted Kaczynski killed three people and injured 23 — some of whom were selected haphazardly while many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time — and accomplished nothing.
There are two levels of political action: planning and fighting. Political planning moves through three stages: the investigation of conditions, the generation of concepts and objectives, and the formulation of a strategy. The fight then supplies the developed plan with a series of questions: “who are our friends and who are our enemies?”, “what are our strengths and what are our weaknesses?”, and “what are the strengths of the enemy and what are the weaknesses of the enemy?”. The answers to those questions provide the blueprint for the fight. All aspects of the two levels of political action must orient themselves around the same purpose: victory. In radical politics, ethics is inscribed in the dimension of victory — it is wrong to lose and it is right to win.
Ted Kaczynski’s investigation of conditions started and ended with technology. In his manifesto, Kaczynski dismissed the significance of “the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system,” because the assumption underlying his plan is that the technological advancements that emerged from the Industrial Revolution are the ultimate determinant of our society. The modern social problems Kacyznski correctly identified — ecological destruction, denial of self-determination, dehumanization, social atomization — were all attributed by him to the machinic logic of industrial-technological society. Economic exploitation and crises of accumulation were explained as the effects of the technological system. Kaczynski claims that Karl Marx only considered production to be “the decisive factor in determining the character of a society” because he “lived in a time when the principal problem to which technology was applied was that of production,” but now that technology has “so brilliantly solved the problem of production,” Kaczynski says that Marx would “undoubtedly agree” that “production is no longer the decisive factor”.26 As production and class struggle are not assigned a role in Kaczynski’s investigation of conditions, the masses appear throughout his thinking only as the helpless, brainwashed victims of technological society — never as productive forces or political subjects.
Kaczynzki’s generation of concepts and objectives grounds itself on anthropology and sociology. His foundational question is “what were humans like before advanced technological society and what are they like now?” His lifelong interest in anthropological research on pre-industrial societies instilled in him a longing for a return to that world. In an interview, he said: “there is no doubt that the reason I dropped out of the technological system is because I had read about other ways of life, in particular that of primitive peoples”.27 A book written by Christian-Anarchist sociologist Jacques Ellul called The Technological Society (1954) equipped Kaczynski with the theoretical structure to articulate his political analysis and goals. Ellul argued, as Kaczynski later would, that the system and logic of technology have become the primary decisive social factors, rendering Marx outdated. From this point of view, relations of power are shaped by relations of technology (those who wield technology vs. those who are subordinated by it), and not relations of production (those who sell labor-power vs. those who extract surplus-value). His enemy established, Kaczynski concluded: “the single overriding goal must be the elimination of modern technology” “and no other goal can be allowed to compete with this one”.28
Yet, perhaps unexpectedly, his critique of technological society is not paired with a Romantic image of primitive life. Kaczynski has consistently inveighed against those who distort the reality of Paleolithic societies to fit their “politically correct” agenda or to reassure squeamish and effete pseudo-revolutionaries that the return to tradition will be smooth and seamless. Kaczynski’s primitivism takes the form of an appeal to macho Wild Nature, not to soft contemporary morality — Kazynski does not envision the elevation of humanity but the resurgence of animality. In his manifesto, he reduced people entirely to their “natural” anatomy or biological essence, describing human behavior as nothing more than a “problem of neurons, hormones, and complex molecules”. His political project is thus the destruction of the artificial technological system that has separated us from our natural biological state and the restoration of the pre-historical social forms, flaws and all.
It is tempting to psychologize the energies underlying Kaczynski’s political principles as the reactions of a lonely outcast to emasculation and humiliation (feelings spurred on by the wildly-unethical CIA-affiliated psychology experiment that was performed on him as a young college student). Perhaps his political actions were fueled by a desire to compensate for self-perceived impotence and victimhood by embodying the hypermasculine role of the violent rugged individualist, displacing his lack onto the convenient scapegoat of technological society. It would not be much of a stretch to explain the surprising amount of space he devoted in his manifesto to seething denunciations of “hypersensitive” leftists with “low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, depressive tendencies, defeatism, guilt, and self-hatred” as a standard case of projection. His brother reported that he would frequently rant about feminists and had a lifelong problem connecting to women. When he noted in the manifesto that “not all was sweetness and light in primitive societies,” he gave two examples of primitive social problems, one of which is not like the other: “abuse of women” and “transexuality”. The most compelling support for my armchair speculation is the moment Kaczynski described as a “major turning point” in his life, when he “burst from the ashes” of his despair to a “glorious new hope” like a phoenix: his first experience of homicidal urges, after a meeting he set up with a psychiatrist to discuss undergoing gender-confirmation surgery following weeks of fantasizing about “becoming a female”.29 He changed his mind by the time he arrived at the consultation, so he lied to the psychiatrist, directed violent (self-)hatred at them, and gained an enormous sense of optimism and empowerment from his rage-fueled realization that he was capable of committing murder. Kaczynski identified this graduate-school episode as the moment when he decided to escape to the wilderness.
But it would be a mistake to explain away Kaczynski’s political actions as the product of his personal struggles to form a healthy identity and healthy connections with other people. He did not arrive at his Alienating Technology vs. Primitive Nature dichotomy by random chance, and his jump from unhappy, reclusive survivalist to steadfast political terrorist did not occur in a vacuum and was not inevitable. He had read some of the work of environmental activist Edward Abbey, who combined harsh-but-beautiful nature narratives with critiques of industrial society and advocacy for eco-sabotage, but Kaczynski was “not really politically oriented” and would have restricted his disgust for modernity and appreciation for primitive society to his personal life if not for the local land developers who began clearing the pristine forest around his cabin to launch industrial construction projects.30 His (logical) feeling that nowhere was safe from the endless destruction and expansion of the technological system was the factor that convinced him to channel his resentments and values into action.
The most developed articulation of his strategy can be found in an article he wrote in prison entitled “Hit Where It Hurts,” where he encourages revolutionaries to strike the industrial-technological system at its decisive points: the electric-power industry, the communications industry, the computer industry, the propaganda industry, and the biotechnology industry.31 Early on, however, his strategy was considerably more vague. His second terrorist attack was an unsuccessful attempt to blow up a commercial plane, which he targeted because he assumed a majority of the passengers would be businesspeople (he would later say that he was “glad now that that attempt failed” and that he was “not insensitive to the pain caused by our [sic] bombings”).32
In all of the statements he released during the bombing campaign, Kaczynski pretended to be a member of an imaginary collective called the “Freedom Club,” because he had no political “friends,” no allies or supporters to help him achieve his goals. Isolation is not a recipe for political success. In an 1884 pamphlet intended for mass distribution, the Communard Élisée Reclus promised: “As for the anarchists, never will we separate ourselves from the world to build a little church, hidden in some vast wilderness”. In 1902, Vladimir Lenin wrote a critique of terrorism that cuts to the core of Kaczynski’s failure: Lenin condemned the revolutionary terrorists of his era who “neither counted on nor hoped for any definite action or support on the part of the masses,” and whose “predilection for terrorism” was “causally linked with the fact that, from the very outset, they have always kept and still keep aloof from the working-class movement”.33 Funnily enough, Kaczysnki cited Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution as evidence that “a surprisingly small number of people can outweigh the vacillating and uncommitted majority,” and therefore there is no need to merge with the masses or rely on mass action to destroy the status quo.34 The Bolsheviks constituted a small fraction of all Russians, but at the time of the Revolution there were approximately 200,000 members of the Bolsheviks’ party and 150,000 members of the revolutionary Red Guards — not exactly comparable to one man living in a cabin.
Which is not to say that Kaczynski has been a total political loner. There was a wave of environmentalist sabotage and private property damage in the late 1990s and early 2000s that put a minor dent in the profits of some ecologically-destructive firms (car dealerships, ski resorts, logging companies, and so on) before it was crushed by aggressive law enforcement crackdowns, although the wave’s connection to Kaczynski was tangential at most. The anguished eco-fatalism depicted by Paul Schrader in First Reformed (2017) speaks to the continuing cultural attraction to terroristic reactions to the ongoing industrial destruction of the natural world — “somebody has to do something!”. But the most legitimate and direct (though occasionally disowned) upholders of Kaczynski’s legacy are a motley of tiny, militant, and sectarian social media groups, campsites, publications, and terrorist cells. It is far more common for them to use Kaczynski as the inspiration for their survivalist lifestyles than to take up his political practice, but there are a few exceptions. A Kaczynski-inspired organization in Mexico has been shooting biotechnology researchers and bombing nanotechnology laboratories, and its offshoot in Chile has targeted Santiago’s metro system (?), bombing a bus stop and the home of the highest-ranking city transportation bureaucrat. The most significant political actor who has drawn on Kaczynski for inspiration is fascist mass murderer Anders Breivik, who consulted Kaczynski’s manifesto while writing his own and lifted the passages that complain about “political correctness” and “leftism,” although Breivik replaced the latter term with “multiculturalism”.35
There are also the anarcho-primitivists, whose relationship with Kaczynski is fairly complicated. Prominent anarcho-primitivists like John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen have corresponded with him and share many of his assumptions and goals (and Jensen even shares his transphobia), but they are more firmly situated in the anarchist tradition than Kaczynski, and their vision of primitive life is much more Romantic than his. Like Kaczynski, the primary analytic framework of the anarcho-primitivists is anthropological, in their case rooted in the work of Marshall Sahlins, Fredy Perlman, Paul Shepard, Stanley Diamond, and Paul Radin, among others. For the primitivists, the destruction of technological society and the restoration of primitive society represent a solution to the problem of subjective alienation. As always, the primary insight provided by ideal images of “traditional life” pertains to the present day, not to the past itself. The primitivists have convinced themselves that the natural state of humanity is free from alienation, which was introduced by the arrogant, reckless creation of either modern industrial-technological society or (erratically-defined) civilization itself. For Derrick Jensen, the situation is simple: “civilization is killing the planet,” and “if we once and for so long lived in balance with nature and each other, we should be able to do so again”. The title of Zerzan’s book Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization (2008) is the perfect summary of anarcho-primitivist ideology — we feel empty because civilized humanity is “pathological,” and we can stop feeling this way if we return to our allegedly-healthy wild origins. In that book, Zerzan complains that “culture has led us to betray our own aboriginal spirit and wholeness, into an ever-worsening realm of synthetic, isolating, impoverishing estrangement,” an estrangement he described in an earlier work as “the nothingness, the void, just beneath the surface of everyday routines and securities” that “everyone can feel”. Zerzan adopted the Situationist critique of the alienating effect of “symbolic activity,” an effect he believes can be attenuated through a revival of primitive non-symbolic forms of communication (licking, sniffing, telepathy). Elsewhere Zerzan distilled “the liberatory project” to the struggle to “return” a “sense of wholeness and freedom”. Lacan is spinning in his grave.
How do the anarcho-primitivists propose we take on their amorphous enemies — “technology,” “culture,” and “civilization”? Dating back to the heavy State repression of environmentalist black-bloc tactics in the early 2000s, the political action of this “movement” seems to be limited to magazines, social media activity, and speaking tours. Their theory of collective transcendence veers toward an ultra-localist, ultra-pessimistic eschatology. Jensen announced (before the pandemic) that “we’re in the midst of a collapse of civilization,” and also the collapse of “the American empire” and “culture,”36 while Zerzan informed us that “you can’t smash the State” and “abolishing capitalism is equally implausible,”37 leaving us with the option of doing… what? Setting up mini-communes in the woods while we wait for “civilization” to finish collapsing, I suppose.
Their specific response is laughable, but it is undeniable that the primitivists are reacting to a real set of social conditions. Industrial-technological society is experienced as dehumanization, instability, and helplessness, and it would be an error to dismiss the suffering and brutality baked into the actuality of modernization. To clarify the nature of modernity, a useful point of departure is the phenomenology produced by two deeply-ambivalent early German sociologists, Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel. Tönnies (1855-1936) came of age at a historical, geographic, and economic crossroads — he spent his childhood on a farm in a rural, “organic” community, but his wealthy father abandoned agriculture and moved his family to a bustling market town to become a banker. Tönnies attended top universities in various cities, where he studied a broad range of scholarship on the transition from antiquity to modernity: the economic theory of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Marx, along with the work of Enlightenment philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and David Hume and the leading nineteenth-century European legal theorists, anthropologists, and sociologists. In the 1880s, Tönnies used his vast knowledge of social philosophy to develop a schema capable of reflecting the experiences corresponding to the transformation of social relations initiated by industrial capitalism. His system counterposes two radically-different social formations: Community [Gemeinschaft] and Society [Gesellschaft]. According to Tönnies, Community involves organic social relations, shared history and customs, ties of kinship, and communal ownership of primary goods, while Society is mechanical, tied together by self-interest and commerce, governed by formally-enacted laws and the “rationality” of market logic. Tönnies placed particular emphasis on the contrasting relationships between the individual and the collective in the two types of social organization: “in Community, individuals developed their identities within the wider, coexisting whole, whereas in civil and commercial Society, individual identity was ontologically prior to that of the wider group, attachment to which was merely secondary and instrumental”.38
There were moments when Tönnies cautioned against presenting the dynamic between the two models as a simple before-and-after. He denied that they were time-specific or mutually exclusive and maintained that the two social forms were only analytic tools that served to identify trends that would always coexist to varying degrees in any given life-world. But there are also instances in his work that contradict this pivot toward non-historical abstraction. He claimed that “the natural, underlying constitution of civilization (though now lost to us) is communistic,”39 and his primary sociological concern was sketching out the massive historical transition from this archaic communistic epoch to the modern “capitalistic” organization of humanity. To guide his construction of this historical narrative, Tönnies heavily relied on Marx, whom he referred to as “the most outstanding and profound social philosopher” with respect to what he considered to be “the most important point of view — the economic one”.40 In fact, through the lens of anthropology, Marx also spent the 1880s (his final years) undertaking a study of the transition from primitive community to modern society, recorded in his little-known Ethnological Notebooks. When Tönnies wrote his 1887 magnum opus, he incorporated Marx’s work on the historical circumstances of the emergence of capitalism, the mechanics of the extraction of surplus-value, the psychological effects of mass-production techniques, and the momentum of the accumulation of capital. Tönnies was especially convinced by Marx’s claim that capitalism is “pregnant” with the “elements of the new society,” a dynamic he rephrased in his own terms: “socialism is already latent in the very concept of Society [Gesellschaft]”.41 He occasionally expressed a teleological view of history, in which social organization naturally progressed in stages from primitive communism to capitalism to socialism. Sometimes he depicted socialism as the centralized state-capitalism envisioned by Edward Bellamy, elsewhere he advocated for a syndicalist type of system, and at other points he outlined a true communist project to abolish wage-labor and the State. In a writing on “future prospects,” Tönnies anticipated anarcho-primitivist rhetoric in his assertion that “the entire culture has been overturned by a civilization dominated by market and civil Society, and in this transformation civilization itself is coming to an end,” yet he also suggested that “class struggle may destroy the Society and the State which it wants to reform,” and perhaps some of the “scattered seeds” of civilization will remain alive, “so that the essential concepts of Community may be encouraged once again and a new civilization can develop secretly within the one that is dying”.42 His primitivist association of industrialism with pathological civilization and his desire for a natural, uncorrupted system of social relations are not easily reconciled with his denial of the possibility of a straightforward return to Community and his endorsement of a guild socialism based on industrial workers’ cooperatives. His nostalgic Romanticism co-exists with his encouragement of the workers’ movement to go beyond “voicing a Messianic hope based on ‘Spirit’ alone” because the masses can only be mobilized if the “call for Community” is “incarnated in a living principle capable of development”.43 These inconsistencies and ambiguities are certainly not unique to him — critics of industrial capitalism have always struggled to elaborate a coherent and principled solution to the problem of modernity.
Georg Simmel, who co-founded the German Society for Sociology with Tönnies and Max Weber in 1909, is the great theorist of modern urban alienation. Simmel laid out the depersonalized, homogenizing, and calculating nature of urban social relations, famously identifying the “blasé metropolitan attitude” of the city-dweller who lets urban life snuff out their fiery particle, developing an outlook of indifference and apathy as a response to their overwhelming environment. Simmel’s analysis of modern urban phenomena is commonly rendered in the thermodynamic-physiological terms of shock and equilibrium adopted by Freud and applied by Walter Benjamin to the urban poetry of Charles Baudelaire. But as Benjamin would later do, Simmel ventured beyond the metaphors of overstimulation and sensory overload into the concrete realm of capitalist reification and money fetishism, engaging in a form of historical-materialist cultural criticism that would profoundly shape the thinking of two of Simmel’s students and Benjamin’s fellow travelers: Georg Lukács and Ernst Bloch. For Simmel, the city is not only loud and overcrowded, it is also “the seat of money-economy,” because the “many-sidedness and concentration of commercial activity” in urban areas have elevated the dominance of exchange-value to a level “which it could not have acquired in the commercial aspects of rural life”.44 Simmel argued that the ideology formed around capitalist exchange-value pervades the urban mindset and leads to a ruthless and ultra-rational destruction of individuality, a reduction of individuals to mere quantities, and a transformation driven by the money-economy “of the world into an arithmetical problem and of fixing every one of its parts in a mathematical formula”.45 Money “becomes the frightful leveler — it hollows out the core of things, their peculiarities, their specific values and their uniqueness and incomparability in a way which is beyond repair”.46 In Simmel’s narrative, the transition from Rural Community to Urban Society is experienced as such: first the objective world is separated from the subjective world through its reification by the modern money-economy, then the objective mind marginalizes and represses the subjective mind. In addition to the money-form, Simmel assigned responsibility for modern urban alienation to the capitalist division of labor, which exacerbates the social division and atomization of urban life, and also to the shift from customized craft production to impersonal mass production, which severed the pre-capitalist relation between producer and consumer.
Notably absent from Simmel’s account of the development of modern urban alienation: proletarianization and wage-labor, class struggle, private property relations, or commodity fetishism apart from the money-form. It is therefore not a shock when Simmel concludes that “it is our task not to complain or to condone but only to understand” modern social relations47 — the ne plus ultra of bourgeois academicism. The only solution he offered was a Nietzschean affirmation of creative and unique individual subjectivity, a Romantic, aestheticist stand against the dehumanizing forces of the commercial metropolis. His reporting on the destruction of pre-modern culture was a eulogy, not a call to arms; he recognized that the “political, agrarian, guild, and religious” logics that governed pre-capitalist society had become meaningless, archaic, unnatural, and unjust, which made the capitalist money-economy a necessary evil in his eyes, a system that opened up new possibilities, precisely because of its alienating effects, by giving the Self an opportunity to transcend its relation to Society.48 All that remains for us as historical subjects living at the anti-climactic capitalistic End of History is a cultural struggle to expand and cultivate the subjective world, an effort to create meaning, shrink the territory of reification, and bring the objective world closer to alignment with the subjective mind. The idea of an egalitarian and cooperative social order organized around collective well-being instead of a competitive class system structured by the value-form was undesirable for the meritocratic Simmel, who believed that “any social order requires a hierarchy of super-ordinations and subordinations” and that individual freedom pursued through the will-to-power would be impossible in a communist system where the masses rule collectively.49 The capitalist atomization he elucidated so effectively and poignantly was the price he was willing to pay for the unleashed expression of the modern Übermensch.
To the extent that Red Desert (1964) revels in modernity, it is a work of science fiction, and to the extent that Red Desert recoils in disgust, it is a work of horror. The film’s director, Michelangelo Antonioni, analogized this polarity in terms of gender norms: “the split between morality and science is also the split between man and woman, between snowy Mount Etna and the concrete wall on the housing estate”.50 For Antonioni, femininity is natural, caring, and grounded in tradition, while masculinity is synthetic, oblivious, insensitive, recklessly hurtling into an alien future. Antonioni generated explosive tension by refusing to pick between these warring tendencies. Red Desert has a reputation for portraying industrial-technological society as an uninhabitable wasteland, poisonous to both the body and the soul, yet there is another, more subtle attitude at work, a reaction of awe, wonder, and excitement in the face of the astonishing technological creations and achievements unlocked by industrialism. Antonioni’s empathy and ruthlessness did not cancel each other out. The film does not avert its gaze from the horrifying, dehumanizing, cancerous consequences of industrial development, but Antonioni explicitly warned that “we must not long for the more primitive times, thinking that they were a more natural landscape for man”.51 In a quote that exasperated his leftist critics, Antonioni once said: “I felt that the skyline filled with things made by man, with those colors, was more beautiful and rich and exciting than the long, green, uniform line of pine trees, behind which I still sensed empty nature”.52 He identified subjectivity with human creativity, and Red Desert adopts this logic by celebrating the mighty creations enabled by industrial innovation. Antonioni was not the only artist who reacted to the massive transformations engendered by postwar industrialization with a mixture of fear and desire, of course. The contradictory impulses of Red Desert closely mirror the perspective expressed in work produced by some other artists of Antonioni’s era, particularly abstract industrial minimalists like Mark di Suvero, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson.
Just as they experimented with unorthodox materials to keep pace with their changing realities, Antonioni made use of advancements in the means of film production to better reflect objective and social changes. To craft Red Desert, his testament to the capacity of new technology to facilitate new beauty, he left black-and-white behind for the first time. The power and brilliance of his experiments with color filmmaking are no less stunning than the magnificence of the colossal silos, smokestacks, and pylons that comprise the film’s inhuman industrial landscape.
The film’s protagonist, a mentally-ill woman named Giuliana (Monica Vitti), serves as the embodied symptom of the sickness, terror, and alienation of industrial-technological society. She is married to the manager of a petrochemical plant in Ravenna, a rapidly-developing industrial region in Northern Italy, and she is the only person in that hellish environment with enough depth and sensitivity to go insane. Her husband, Ugo (Carlo Chionetti), is vaguely concerned by her condition, and his colleague, Corrado (Richard Harris), is vaguely interested in pursuing an affair with her, but Giuliana’s plane of existence never truly intersects with theirs. Industrial society destabilizes her, untethering her from the people and settings that drift out of her reach. In bursts, she desperately, frantically searches for human connection in an atmosphere too contaminated and soulless for intimacy to take root. There is an unforgettable image where Giuliana is standing apart from her husband and his friends on a pier when they are enveloped by a heavy fog rolling in from the sea, literalizing her subjective dissociation. Offering her guidance that only increases her alienation, Corrado says: “You brood on your illness. But it’s just an illness like any other. We all suffer from it a bit. In one way or another, we all need to get better”. Corrado has accepted that modernity is inherently and universally sickening, and so Giuliana’s problem is conceived as a failure to discard feminine softness and adjust herself to the polluted world of science. It appears as though Giuliana has taken this advice to heart by the end of the film; when her son asks her whether the poisonous vapor emanating out of the smokestacks is dangerous for birds, she reassures him: “The little birdies know by now. They don’t fly there anymore”.
Did Antonioni agree that our best option is to purify ourselves of sentimentality and adapt to this cold new reality? The film’s gorgeous fantasy/flashback sequence may shed some light on his outlook: When Giuliana tries to comfort her ailing son by telling him a story about a young girl on a faraway beach, the viewer is transported to this desert island, a magical and lush place, in a startling departure from the film’s bleak and barren setting. The girl (who can be interpreted as a stand-in for Giuliana as a child) spent her time alone among the wildlife on the island, an isolation she chose because “she was bored with grownups, who scared her,” and “she didn’t like boys, all pretending to be grownups”. But one morning, her idyllic seclusion was interrupted by a strange and exotic ship. When the girl swam toward it, she saw that there was no one aboard, and it reversed course and silently left. When she returned to shore, she heard an eerie, wordless song resounding all around her, but she could not determine the location of the voice. Giuliana’s son asks who was singing, and Giuliana replies: “Everything was singing… everything”. There is deep longing and warmth in her voice as she tells her story, but she also sounds frightened and disoriented. It is unusual for a utopian fantasy juxtaposed against dystopian reality to be permeated by its own ambiguity and uneasiness. But for Antonioni, primitive paradise and industrial modernity are two sides of the same coin: the natural past, like the synthetic present, was both alluring and unsettling. Alienation was there from the start — the girl in the story physically distanced herself from the anxiety-inducing Other, but when she attempted to reach out to the visiting ship, she was rebuffed by an empty boat. The singing she heard on the island was beautiful and moving, but she was unable to bridge the distance between herself and that disembodied voice. “Everything” was singing, except for her.
What is Red Desert encouraging us to do? That is the wrong question. Unlike many of his peers, Antonioni was not a didactic filmmaker. His objective in Red Desert was to confront technological alienation in its specificity, without reducing industrial development to its alienating effects or implying that a return to tradition could free us from alienation. He simply rendered modernity in its cruelty and splendor. What we do with the uncomfortable truths he captured and conveyed is a decision he was not willing to make on our behalf.
Walter Benjamin mockingly christened them the “Magic Jews”. Gershom Scholem condemned them as Jewish Satanists. Thomas Mann accused them of Jewish fascism. When the Weimar Republic ended, their popularity did, too (although they escaped the Nazis, thankfully), and after that they were cast into total obscurity for fifty years. At the end of the twentieth century, however, H.G. Adler, Judith Friedlander, and Manfred Voigts retrieved them from the dustbin of history, and in the last few years Bruce Rosenstock and Mårten Björk have written some of the first major English-language analyses of their thinking. I am talking about Oskar Goldberg, Erich Unger, and Adolf Caspary, a group of heretical philosophers who earned the right to be remembered.
Voigts aligned them with the German Expressionists, and Friedlander thought of them as “Mystical Rationalists,” but Rosenstock’s description seems the most apt: Kabbalistic Vitalism. Their goal was a “restoration of a communal intensity of Jewish life,” and the source of their cultish appeal to young German Jews was their promise of an ancient, authentic, and pure “vitality of experience”.53 They believed that humanity has retained its secret link to its sacred origin, enabling us to tap back into that divine wellspring of spiritual energy. They repudiated the notion that our role as constituent parts of a transcendental organism could ever be annulled, that a sharp line could ever be drawn between Primordial Man [Adam Kadmon] and his fallen emanations. The circle’s controversial leader, Oskar Goldberg, presented the Ancient Hebrews as the best model for a revitalized and re-enchanted world, based on his theory that they organized their archaic community around spiritual rather than material needs. The Ancient Hebrews did not establish the State-Form that begets disenchanted civilization because they aimed at a sublation of nature, a journey into a higher realm of life, instead of pursuing the mere accumulation of natural resources. In the modern world, “life is but a barren remainder” because “geopolitical and economic interests” have replaced mythologies, deities, and rituals as the substrate of social relations.54
To help clarify and confirm the correspondence between human nature and the divine realm, Goldberg and Erich Unger closely engaged with the work of the German theorists who were involved in an effort between 1880 and 1930 to defend and revive a Romantic philosophy of science known as Naturphilosophie, which had been marginalized in European academia by dogmatic positivists, Kantians, and Darwinists. Rosenstock explains that the field of Naturphilosophie, which was founded by F. W. J. Schelling and developed by Novalis and Lorenz Oken, has since been mostly forgotten, while a competing variant of vitalism known as Lebensphilosophie — which lent itself quite well to Nazi ideology — has received far more attention.55 Goldberg and Unger’s interest in Naturphilosophie allowed them to translate the traditional Kabbalistic idea of the human mind as the site where microcosmic and macrocosmic processes dynamically intersect into the modern biological theories of Hans Driesch and mathematical innovations of Georg Cantor, who used their respective academic disciplines to investigate the connection between mundane reality and infinity. Goldberg and Unger’s search for concepts capable of effectively articulating the irreducibility and authenticity of vitality was a search for matériel in their larger struggle against the capitalist mechanization, commodification, and depersonalization that desiccated collective self-consciousness. But where the conceptions of nature and authenticity generated by Ted Kaczynski as a response to the same problems were stifling and misanthropic, the Kabbalistic Vitalists generated concepts that were open-ended and utopian. Rather than reducing humans to our existence as animals, as Kaczynski did, they understood life as the surplus that exceeds matter, and humanity as the surplus that exceeds animality. Instead of returning humanity to its purest biological state, they wanted the human will to supersede the realm of biology. The question of the possibility of this goal would become the central problem of Maoism, as I will discuss in the third installment of this project.
Why did Gershom Scholem, the greatest historian of Jewish mysticism, regard Goldberg “as a representative of the devil in our generation”56? This motif of Goldberg-as-devil was not a one-off for Scholem: throughout his lifelong burning hatred of Goldberg, he would continue to compare him to “Lucifer” and “Satan”. At first glance, the loathing Scholem felt toward Goldberg and the philosophy of the Kabbalistic Vitalists appears baffling —in his youth, Scholem was obsessed with German Romanticism and idolized Schelling and Novalis. He went on to rescue the history of Kabbalah from scholarly disrepute and did more than anyone else to promote knowledge of the Jewish Messianic tradition. But the mature Scholem was not a radical. He utterly lacked passion for the Real, so he was terrified of Goldberg’s desire to destroy the status quo. Because he was a Left Zionist, he felt profoundly threatened by Goldberg and Unger’s attacks on the legitimacy of nation-states and the Zionist project in particular. Scholem had a strong fascination with historical Messianic movements like the Sabbatians [more on them in Part 2], but because he lacked the stomach for revolutionary nihilism, he feared that they were all destined to descend into the abyss. Eventually, Scholem turned on Schelling, Novalis, and Oken, because he felt that the rationality and pure logic of science and mathematics needed to be protected from their myths, symbols, and ambitions. Goldberg’s bond with those Naturphilosophie thinkers was so strong that one of his friends once described Novalis as his only real precursor.57
Although Scholem and the Kabbalistic Vitalists shared an opposition to modern European Jewish assimilationism, Scholem’s solution was the creation of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, an option that Goldberg and Unger unconditionally rejected. Scholem caricatured Unger’s position as censuring the Zionists for “wasting their energies on the building of villages, settlements, and similar nonsense” instead of “learning how to work magic,”58 but Unger’s critique was far more compelling and serious than Scholem was willing to let on. Unger believed that the equation of the Jewish people with a bourgeois nation-state would entail the degradation of Jewish identity to the diminished status of a chauvinistic cultural formation like “Englishness” or “Frenchness,” allowing the Jews to become nothing more than a socially-constructed “race” among races, a modern religion among modern religions, maintained only by genealogy and geopolitical power.59 Unger’s suspicions were justified — at its core, the Zionist movement was just an imitation of nineteenth-century German nationalism.
The Kabbalistic-Vitalist return to the way of the Ancient Hebrews had no relation to the modern Blood and Soil logic of a bourgeois ethnonationalist ideology like Zionism. What made the nomadic Hebrews so appealing to Goldberg and Unger was their perception that Abraham allowed everyone to join his new people, uniting his tribe around shared practices, beliefs, and spiritual goals rather than shared ancestry or economic interests.60 The Kabbalistic Vitalists understood the Ancient Hebrew conception of community as being radically universalistic and ethical, incarnating a vision for a politics organized around solidarity and a particular mode of collective well-being, not Völkisch fantasies or the stabilization of the accumulation of capital.
Although Goldberg proclaimed the necessity of becoming enemies of technology, his desire to escape from classes, States, and civilizations had no relation to the “rewilding” sentiment of contemporary primitivists. He dissented from the Romantic idea of a drastic schism between organic and inorganic matter. Instead of opposing Nature and Technology, the Kabbalistic Vitalists placed the natural world and the industrial world on the same side of the equation, and opposed that “empirical” pair to the concepts Unger called “metaphysical”: ethics, humanity, religion, and transcendence. Adolf Caspary, the Kabbalistic Vitalists’ house economist, wrote sophisticated and rigorous critiques of the technological system in the late 1920s, highlighting the role of the rising organic composition of capital in the creation of an ever-increasing surplus population, emphasizing the fact that “without the machine, the proletarian cannot live at all, and with the machine, they can only live like a proletarian,” and predicting the environmental catastrophes that would result from industrial-technological extraction, production, and circulation.61 In our era, marked as it is by deindustrialized surplus populations and climate disasters, Caspary’s argument for the centrality of industrial progress among the evils of modernity has proven to be prescient. But the Kabbalistic Vitalists believed that the natural world, no less than industrial-technological society, is “empty,” as Antonioni put it, inherently incomplete, incapable of creating meaning on its own. Yes, the worker is more than a cog in the machine, but the human is also more than a collection of body parts. Nature is not the totality of our existence. Goldberg and Unger saw no reason to valorize a realm that presents obstacles on the path to collective human infinity. After all, in Lurianic Kabbalah the “vessels” are simultaneously the source of the natural/material world and the origin of evil. Entropy may be the trend of raw matter and energy, but as Rosenstock says, the existing natural order, along with every existing social order, has a tendency to harden into (brittle) fixity, and in an unjust world, stability and normality are the enemies of divine justice.62 To accept the “natural” way things are or the way things were is to betray your commitment to the way things should and can be. Here the explicitly-religious tenor of Kabbalistic Vitalism is easily transposed into the secular register of communism; the parallels between their call for a community that prioritizes “metaphysical” over “empirical” goals and Mao Zedong’s call to “put politics in command” are easy to draw. For Unger, the mission of politics is to heal the fragmentation and atomization of society through the “coming-into-Being of an ethically-satisfactory order of human together-existence”.63 Is it not the goal of even the most adamantly-atheistic communist to create a society that values humanity enough to overcome material and social obstacles and organize itself around our collective well-being?
Part and parcel of the Kabbalistic Vitalists’ rejection of the flattening of the human being to an aggregation of particles was their rejection of the flattening of tradition to an aggregation of events. The history of humanity is not a pile of happenings. Every moment in our history is not of equal significance, every act is not of equal relevance, and every lesson is not of equal truth-value. It is worth carrying the torch of a tradition if and only if its flame of wisdom continues to burn, and it is only worth re-lighting an extinguished torch if it was discarded before all of its oil was depleted. In his essay on Russian author Nikolai Leskov, Walter Benjamin makes the case for the moribund art of storytelling, contrasting the long lifespan of a story told by a great storyteller with the fleeting relevance of a mite of information that leaps off the page of a newspaper but “does not survive the moment in which it was new”.64 For Benjamin, a story can be deemed authentic when “it contains, openly or covertly, something useful,” and a storyteller can be deemed authentic when they are someone who “has counsel for their readers,” because “counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom”.65 First the storyteller gleans wisdom from their life experiences and the stories woven from the life experiences of those who preceded them, and then they thread this collected and personalized wisdom into their own stories. But Benjamin believed that the content of the forms of writing that dominate modernity, such as news reports and even novels, “neither comes from oral tradition nor goes into it,”66 disconnecting the modern writer from the age-old streams of experience that serve as the fount of wisdom, stripping expression of the “aura” lent to it by what Benjamin called elsewhere the “breath of pre-history”.67 Benjamin, following Leo Tolstoy, compared storytellers like Leskov to the pre-industrial artisans, describing their craftsman task as the fashioning of “the raw material of experience, their own and that of others, in a solid, useful, and unique way,”68 a socially-necessary task that has been outmoded by cheaper and more efficient production processes that leave no time for the “slow piling one on top of the other of thin, transparent layers which constitutes the most appropriate picture of the way in which the perfect narrative is revealed through the layers of a variety of retellings”.69 Great storytellers have always taken the time to root themselves in the soil of the collective wisdom of the people, which explains why even the stories passed on from the Ancient Egyptians have survived like “the seeds of grain which have lain for centuries in the chambers of the pyramids shut up air-tight, and have retained their germinative power to this day”.70 Arthur Rimbaud believed that “there’s no difference between a hand holding a pen and a hand pushing a plow,” but the industrialization of the role of the storyteller broke “the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation,” a chain that Benjamin identified as “memory”.71
The political radical returns to tradition for the express purpose of encountering applicable wisdom; the political reactionary returns to tradition either as a justification for present injustice or as a hopeless and unprincipled attempt to escape from present suffering. If Oskar Goldberg were the reactionary zealot that his contemporaries believed him to be, his return to Jewish tradition in search of a basis for Messianic politics would have led him to a monarchic-integralist position; the traditional Jewish understanding of the return of the Messiah revolves around the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the rise of a theocratic Temple-State, and the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty. But rather than recklessly, thoughtlessly throwing himself into the arms of the ancients, Goldberg lifted up the relics that he found to be useful and discarded the heirlooms that he found to be distasteful. For Goldberg, the moment when the Israelite “nationalists” used their “technological-architectural skills” to build Solomon’s Temple was not the dawn of the Golden Age of the Jewish people but the moment of the Fall of the Jewish people.72 Before King Solomon constructed his Temple and cemented the transformation of the nomadic confederation of Hebrews into a centralized, expansionist United Monarchy of Israel and Judah, the God of the Israelites dwelled among them, but Solomon’s process of State formation expelled the divine presence from their midst, disrupted the magical connection between the Jews and God, and foreordained the Exile of the ancient Jews from their home.73 If the Temple was Goldberg’s symbol of the Jewish enactment of Tönnies’ transition from Community [Gemeinschaft] to Society [Gesellschaft], then it would not only be an error to resurrect the Kingdom of the Israelites — it would be equally wrong to simply resurrect the primitive social form of the Ancient Hebrews, which, in the end, hardened into a kingdom. As Anton Chigurh says in No Country for Old Men: “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?" A regression to the same system that produced civilization would produce civilization anew, relaunching the same ancient land disputes, scrambles for resources, and consolidations of political power that turned “metaphysical” communities into societies of accumulation.
The Kabbalistic Vitalists did not wish to resume completed historical stages. Rosenstock characterizes their method as follows: a journey into a hidden realm “where the yet-to-be-completed is found in its latent, undifferentiated, virtual state”.74 This is the goal of radical historical analysis. Friedrich Schlegel wrote that “the historian is a prophet looking backwards,” and in this context prophecy must be understood not as faux-objective prediction but as purposive revelation, historical knowledge transmitted with the intention of activating specific dormant possibilities. All historical analysis is shaped by ideology, and the historical knowledge that dominates a given society has an inevitable tendency to align with the ideology of that society’s ruling class. To discover, formulate, and relay the historical content capable of posing a genuine threat to the stability of an unjust social order, it is generally necessary to travel on what Benjamin called the “secret smugglers’ path,” the “neglected and overgrown” “mule track” of tradition, “poorly marked” but never fully covered.75 Obscurity is obviously not an indisputable signal of radicality or wisdom, however. Useful historical constellations cannot be assembled carelessly or arbitrarily. Goldberg believed fundamental truths could be discerned not through “any random single object,” but only through “such an object that presents the whole realm of experience and that presents it as the realm of Becoming in-itself,” a part that reveals the whole.76 Blind immersion in the random flux of time can yield no wisdom because the distribution of Truth is not egalitarian. Goldberg divined a deeper lawfulness in the ley lines of history, a transcendental pattern that structures events and ideas, and without cognizance of the Ur-Phenomenon that each historical phenomenon refracts, knowledge collapses into a useless accumulation of facts.
Henri Bergson, the founder of the immanentist school of vitalism, conceived of historical durée as “nothing but a succession of qualitative changes, which melt into and permeate one another, without precise outlines, without any tendency to externalize themselves in relation to one another… pure heterogeneity”.77 Significant differences exist between the visions of transcendence in Benjamin and Goldberg’s respective philosophies, but immanentism unites their conflicting positions against a common enemy. Benjamin asserted that Bergson’s conception of durée “has the miserable endlessness of a scroll” because it purges novelty, conflict, and discontinuity from history, paring it down to the empty and mechanical passage of time, as understanding estranges itself from “genuine historical experience” when sources of heterogenous time such as tradition and death have been excluded from it.78 Goldberg agreed that the fatal flaw of Bergsonian immanentism is its compression of history into pure difference and repetition, its endorsement of a blank, homogenizing logic in which the “unity concept that should have brought forward the new where each unity must be different from every other, ends up making everything (i.e., any period of time) new,” and “as a consequence, nothing else ever happens except that everything stays always ‘the New’”.79 Rosenstock points out that there are unmistakable similarities between the Kabbalistic Vitalist critique of Bergson and Alain Badiou’s transcendental critique of the Bergson-inspired ontology of Gilles Deleuze. Just as Goldberg alleged that the immanentist conception of history forecloses genuine novelty, Badiou sees Benjamin’s “miserable endlessness” in the Deleuzian conception of Becoming. He insists on a theory of history in which it is possible to “disjoin the previous state of an object (its site) from its subsequent state,” introducing an authentic cut or phase-shift in the function of historical time.80 Badiou claims that true novelty can only be brought into Being through a transcendent Event that forms an Absolute rupture from the current situation; Unger believed a new “Uniqueness” could only be conjured by a political “interruption act” that works “all-at-once”.81 Goldberg, like Badiou, saw a propensity for social and political inertia in immanentism, a willingness to crush the manifold of potential eruptions into “the usual and normal processes of the empirical world of things,” an inclination to “work with what is given” and to present each successive development within the ever-selfsame status quo as a genuine appearance of novelty.82 The “radical” immanentist plunges headfirst into the waves of modernity, and, in doing so, loses sight of the shoreline.
But what does it really mean when Goldberg relates humanity to “the finitization of the infinite,”83 or when Badiou says that “the aim of philosophy… is to restitute the infinity to the banality of manifold-being,”84 or when their shared sage Georg Cantor claims that it is possible for us to overcome the gulf separating finitude and infinity because humanity “partakes greatly of the infinite”85? Goldberg was a genuine anti-capitalist who had his materialist moments, but his ultimate philosophical intention was to link Cantor’s Absolute Infinity to God’s divine infinity [Eyn Sof], Cantor’s transfinite numbers to the divine attributes [Sefirot], and Hans Driesch’s idea of the organism as “intensive manifold” to Primordial Man. Cantor was a Christian, but he would have approved of the spirit of the Kabbalistic Vitalists’ appropriation of his work; he described his discoveries in mathematics as the realization of the desire of Leibniz and Spinoza to cross the divide between their infinite God and finite world.86
Should the project of liberating the fallen sparks of infinity from their shackles of finitude take a religious form? Goldberg developed an interest in detecting and communicating with ghosts, because he believed we have an ethical obligation to emancipate ghosts from their “earthbound condition” and allow them to continue “their proper progression” out of the material world and into the spirit world.87 Every year, millions of people starve to death; perhaps we should hold off on addressing the ghost problem until after we put an end to the immiseration of the living? It is obscene to speak of breaking humanity free from its spiritual cage while millions of incarcerated people languish in literal cages. As long as billions of workers are still reduced to the status of merchandise, how can Redemption — which Goldberg believed must occur on a global scale — be advanced through the contemplation of the numerical values [gematria] of sacred Hebrew words in the Torah? The Kabbalistic Vitalists wanted to harness the life-energies of humanity, but, in their system, this energy was connected to the renewal of divine revelation and served the restoration of the divine presence in the world. Benjamin, whose Marxism is too often downplayed, argued that the creation of a situation in which “revolutionary tension” and “collective bodily innervation” interpenetrate and translate the energy of the masses into revolutionary action, a situation in which “reality has transcended itself to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto,”88 is possible not through the “religious ecstasies” sought by the mystics but through the more “fruitful” intoxication of “profane illumination,” “materialistic, anthropological inspiration”.89 Irish revolutionary James Connolly knew that the true origin of revolutionary élan vital is not “flowery phraseology” or “spiritual cravings” but “unsatisfactory social conditions” and “a desire for material well-being,” which is why “the source of revolution is not in the brain, but in the stomach”.90
The promise offered by communism is the socialization of transcendence, and the value of Marxism lies in its ability to cleanse the Messianic conception of transcendence of its religious mystification, narcissism, vagueness, and naivety by grounding it in the activities, needs, conditions, and relationships of actual, living people. As Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology (1845), “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life,” and “life involves, before everything else, eating and drinking, a habitation, and clothing,” from which it entails that “the first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself”. Goldberg’s Ur-Phenomenon was God; the Ur-Phenomenon of Marxism is the relations of production, the compulsions and contradictions governing a society’s industry and commerce, the economic dynamics that constitute the logic at the core of every social form. When historical understanding centers production and labor, it becomes clear that history is not the smooth and empty flow of time, nor is it the upward spiral of the Holy Spirit as it develops its self-consciousness and strains toward its Absolute destiny. History is structured like a tower, expanding and developing through the creation and sublation of modes of production, swaying precariously in the hurricane gusts released by the ascent and collapse of ruling classes, buckling under the immense force of the struggles between castes, founded on the faultline of the eternal desire for liberation. A new world cannot come about through the construction of a new story on top of these age-old columns and girders of exploitation and oppression. Communism is not the mending of structural deficiencies; communism requires the demolition of every deficient economic, social, political, and cultural structure.
This process cannot succeed unless our investigation of conditions is thoroughly materialist. Our enemy is not a paranormal, intangible, eternal entity — our ultimate enemy is the capitalist class, the group of people who own the tools, land, machines, facilities, and factories involved in the production process and who use this economic power granted to them by private property relations to extort propertyless individuals into becoming wage-laborers. The proletariat is not an anointed, sacred, spiritual force — it is a group of people defined by lack of ownership, and it came into Being through expropriation, dispossession, and alienated labor. The proletariat’s essence is negative. This implies that the “metaphysical” liberation of the proletariat involves the liberation of the individual from their “empirical” proletarian status. This liberation can never occur so long as there is a parasitic exploiting class extracting surplus-value on the basis of their ownership of the means of production.
There is a mundane, worldly explanation for the “barren” character of modern life: the bourgeoisie hollows out our social relations through the colonization of utility by abstraction, the transubstantiation of useful activity into an object to be bought and sold, the reduction of work to the generation of abstract economic value. Capitalism captures pleasurable, beneficial, and necessary social activities and corrupts them by absorbing them into its arcane system of commodity production and circulation. The pointless expansion of constructs like profit and capital is prioritized over the provision of concrete goods and services. The most dramatic result of this ruthlessly-abstract logic is climate change, the prime example of a catastrophic consequence of capitalism’s insensate will-to-accumulate that accidentally creates a set of collective needs that can only be met if capitalism is overthrown. Our enemies are powerful, but they have many self-destructive tendencies. The proletariat has power of its own, and that power comes from not from its connection to some divine primordial life-energy, but from the unlimited leverage it possesses as the ultimate source of capitalist profits. The source of the power of the capitalist class (besides adrenochrome) is its control over life-sustaining resources, means of production, and repressive and ideological apparatuses of the State. But all of the tricks and weapons they have at their disposal cannot alter the fundamental truth of capitalism, formulated here by American socialist Eugene Debs: “you do not need the capitalist,” but “they could not exist an instant without you,” because even though “they have everything,” “you do everything”.91
The modern world is “fallen” insofar as human life is stamped by degradation and waste, as we are forced to expend our limited life-time on mind-numbing commutes, miserable jobs, careful interactions with despotic bosses, harmful social associations motivated by financial considerations, and exorbitant payments to bloodsucking landlords or banks. And that dull, stressful life of alienation and exploitation is only available to those who are lucky enough to avoid homelessness, illness, and violence: the violence fueled by oppressive social hierarchies, the violence of the policing and carceral apparatuses, and the military violence of the settler-colonial and imperialist powers. The Messianic idea is a refusal to believe that this is the only form that human life can take, that things have to be this way. It seemed to Rimbaud that “we were owed other lives,” a feeling that drew him to the Paris Commune. Building on a quote from Victor Hugo, another French Romantic writer who refused to accept the status quo, Eugene Debs said that “in all the procession of centuries gone, not one was for humanity,” because, throughout time, “the few have ruled, the many have served,” but Debs was convinced that “the eternal years, the centuries yet to come, are for humanity, and out of the misery of the past will rise the civilization of the future”.92
What would it mean for the 21st century to become the first “century for humanity”? The “civilization of the future” would need to be comprised by relations of production that are no longer coercive or exploitative but voluntary and cooperative. The separation of people into classes would come to an end. Value would be determined not through abstractions drawn from objectified labor but through social needs. That would require stripping the shell of the commodity-form away from the products of nature and labor, pulling every individual out of capitalist labor markets, and disentangling goods and services from capitalist consumption markets. This project must be taken all the way to its conclusion as quickly as possible — the history of the future of humanity cannot begin until a stake has been driven through the heart of the history of private property, the history of class society. Caspary offers sound technical advice regarding our daunting task; he urged against viewing industrial-technological production as a neutral tool instead of a “motor of production” in-itself, a self-perpetuating system that develops and installs its own accumulative logic, driving society to continue producing surplus populations and also to continue production for its own sake.93 This is a valuable corrective to the petit-bourgeois “fully-automated luxury communism” fantasies dreamed up by unserious people like Aaron Bastani. Caspary warned that any anti-capitalist movement that simply seized ownership of the existing means of production without transforming them would be “forming a workers’ council on the deck of the Titanic,” “self-managing a sinking ship”.94 If we want to stop producing for the sake of production and start producing for the sake of well-being, we would need to invent an entirely new system of social relations. That system, the communist mode of production, would be designed around the social condition pursued by the Communards in 1871 and reanimated by Kristin Ross in 2015: “communal luxury,” the free provision of resources, the destruction of the division of labor, the redistribution of access to art and knowledge, and the refutation of Übermensch logic via the encouragement of everyone’s latent abilities and creative passions. In this Messianic Era, humanity would concern itself with universal needs and collective dreams, transcending animality and touching infinity for the very first time.
I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Robert Leventhal.
All Rimbaud quotes sourced from Wyatt Mason’s 2002 translation.
- Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” 1916, Selected Writings, Vol. 1: 1913-1926, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, M.A.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 72.
- Ibid, p. 70.
- Ibid, p. 71.
- Slavoj Žižek paraphrasing Jacques Lacan, who was paraphrasing Alexandre Kojève, who was paraphrasing Hegel.
- Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” p. 72.
- Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 1921, Selected Writings, Vol. 1: 1913-1926, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, M.A.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 257.
- Ibid, p. 261.
- Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” p. 70.
- Walter Benjamin, “Theologico-Political Fragment,” 1921, Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), p. 312.
- Ibid, p. 313.
- Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 1940, Selected Writings, Vol 4: 1938-1940, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, M.A.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 396.
- Ibid, p. 397.
- Ibid, p. 396.
- John Marsden, “Bloch’s Messianic Marxism,” New Blackfriars, January 1989, Vol. 70, No. 832, pp. 32-44.
- Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, 1993, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge Classics, 2006), p. 74.
- Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX: Encore, 1972-1973, trans. Cormac Gallagher, Lacan in Ireland, August 2004, p. IV 10.
- Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960, trans. Dennis Porter, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), p. 42.
- Ibid, p. 68.
- Jacques Lacan, The Knowledge of the Psychoanalyst, 1971-1972, trans. Cormac Gallagher, Lacan in Ireland, p. III 12.
- Ibid, p. II 4.
- Lacan, Seminar XX: Encore, p. XIII 13.
- Ted Kaczynski, “The Road to Revolution,” The Anarchist Library.
- Theresa Kintz, “Interview with Ted Kaczynski,” The Anarchist Library.
- Ted Kaczynski, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” The Washington Post, September 1995.
- Suzanne Marmion, “Unabomber’s Psychiatric Profile Reveals Gender-Identity Struggle,” Chicago Tribune, September 1998.
- Kintz, “Interview with Ted Kaczynski”.
- Ted Kaczynski, “Hit Where It Hurts,” The Anarchist Library, Spring 2002.
- Richard Paddock and Shawn Hubler, “Unabomber Threatens LAX Flights, Then Calls It a Prank,” Los Angeles Times, June 1995.
- Vladimir Lenin, “Revolutionary Adventurism,” Iskra, Fall 1902, Marxists Internet Archive.
- Kaczynski, “The Road to Revolution.”
- Benjamin Ramm, “The Unabomber and the Norwegian mass murder,” BBC, May 2016.
- Andony Melathopoulos, “Reflections on Seattle 1999: An Interview with John Zerzan,” Platypus Review, Vol. 125, January 2020.
- Carson Wright and Andony Melathopoulos, “The Left Has Never Been Against Civilization: An Interview With Derrick Jensen,” Platypus Review, Vol. 125, January 2020.
- Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, 1887, trans. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis, ed. Jose Harris (Cambridge University Press: 2001), p. xviii.
- Ibid, p. 13.
- Ibid, p. 12.
- Ibid, p. 260.
- Ibid, p. 257.
- Ibid, p. 210.
- Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” 1903, The Blackwell City Reader, 2nd Edition, ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 12.
- Ibid, p. 13.
- Ibid, p. 14.
- Ibid, p. 19.
- Georg Simmel, “Individual and Society in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth- Century Views of Life: An Example of Philosophical Sociology,” 1917, The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. and ed. Kurt H. Wolff (New York: The Free Press, 1964), p. 76.
- Mark Le Fanu, “Red Desert: In This World,” Criterion Current, June 2010.
- Richard Brody, “DVD of the Week: Red Desert,” The New Yorker, January 2011.
- Bruce Rosenstock, Transfinite Life: Oskar Goldberg and the Vitalist Imagination, 2017 (Bloomington, I.N.: Indiana University Press), p. xiv.
- Mårten Björk, “Life Against Nature: The Goldberg Circle and the Search for a Non-Catastrophic Politics,” Endnotes, Issue #5: The Passions and The Interests, October 2019, p. 331.
- Rosenstock, Transfinite Life, p. 4.
- Ibid, p. xxiv.
- Ibid, p. 177.
- Ibid, p. 171.
- Björk, “Life Against Nature,” p. 339.
- Ibid, p. 334.
- Rosenstock, Transfinite Life, p. 188.
- Ibid, p. 96.
- Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov,” 1936, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), p. 90.
- Ibid, p. 86-87.
- Ibid, p. 87.
- Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” 1939, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), p. 185.
- Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” p. 108.
- Ibid, p. 93.
- Ibid, p. 90.
- Ibid, p. 98.
- Rosenstock, Transfinite Life, p. 191.
- Judith Friedlander, “Religious Metaphysics and the Nation-State: The Case of Oskar Goldberg,” Social Research, Spring 1992, Vol. 59, No. 1, Religion and Politics, Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 164.
- Rosenstock, Transfinite Life, p. 95.
- Walter Benjamin, “What Is Epic Theater?”, 1939, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), p. 149.
- Rosenstock, Transfinite Life, p. 92.
- Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, 1889, trans. F. L. Pogson (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1919), p. 104.
- Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” p. 185.
- Rosenstock, Transfinite Life, p. 87.
- Ibid, p. 88.
- Ibid, p. 97.
- Ibid, p. 87.
- Ibid, p. 54.
- Ibid, p. 71.
- Ibid, p. 52.
- Ibid, p. 49.
- Ibid, p. 208.
- Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,” 1929, Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), p. 192.
- Ibid, p. 179.
- James Connolly, “The Economic Basis of Politics: The Stomach, Not the Brain,” The New Evangel, 1899.
- Eugene Debs, “Industrial Unionism: An Address Delivered at Grand Central Palace, New York,” 1905 (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company Co-operative, 1911).
- Eugene Debs, “The American Movement,” 1898 (Girard, Kansas: The Appeal to Reason, 1908).
- Björk, “Life Against Nature,” p. 352.
- Ibid, p. 344.