A Small Chronicle of Disaster


The I has a content that distinguishes it from itself, because it is either pure negativity or a splitting movement; it is consciousness.  This content, in its differentiation, is also the I, because it is the movement of self-suppression or that same pure negativity which is I.

- Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind


Although Bloom is the fundamental possibility that man never ceases to contain, the real possibility of possibility, and has for that reason been described, felt out, and practiced many times over the centuries – both by the Gnostics in the first centuries of our era and by the heretics of the end of the Middle Ages (the brethren of the Free Spirit, the kabbalists, or the Rhenan mystics), by Buddhists as much as by Coquillards [large bandit groups of 1450s France] – Bloom nevertheless only appears as the dominant figure within the historical process at the moment when metaphysics reaches its completion, that is, in the Spectacle.


The generation that perceived the face of the Gorgon, squinting through the steely storm - the generation of expressionism, futurism, constructivism, Dada, surrealism – was the first to bear this terrible secret all together at once.  There it experienced some thing whose radicalness and white-hot calcination could not find any suitable expression even in all the vertigo of the 1920s. The whole history of the century can be interpreted on that basis as a succession of reactions against what was perceived at that point and in which we still remain.  Because since 1914 it’s not that “civilizations” have come to know that “they are mortal,” as PEOPLE have said: it is commodity civilization, as it has been spread from the West to the rest of the world, that knows that it is moribund.


In reality it’s been more than a century – basically since our exposure to the fall-out plume of symbolist radiation – that Mr. Bloom has been the near-exclusive “hero” of all literature, from Jarry’s character Mr. Sengle to Michaux’s Mr. Plume, from Pessoa himself to the Man without Qualities, from Bartleby to Kafka, of course forgetting Camus’-The-Stranger and the New Novel, which we’ll leave to the undergrads.  Even though he was most precociously approached by the young Lukacs, it was only in 1927, with the treatise Being and Time, that Bloom, dressed in the transparent rags of Dasein, became the central non-subject of philosophy – it’s legitimate, one way or another, to see vulgar French existentialism, which had an impact that came much later and went much deeper than anyone could have suspected by looking at how short a time it was in vogue, as the first thinking made exclusively for the use of Blooms.


PEOPLE have been able to ignore for a long time now the massive evidence of Bloom in  all these manifestations, writing it off as simply a literary phenomenon, as a purely philosophical exaggeration.  For the rest, PEOPLE still train themselves to do so: it relaxes the atmosphere.  It’s just that, in passing, PEOPLE would like to forget what THEY are politically the contemporaries of, to forget that Bloom first appeared in literature at the very moment when literature as an institution was disrupted, and in philosophy at the moment when it began to crumble as a system of truth.


In other words, when Valery wrote: “I felt, with a bitter and bizarre pleasure, the simplicity of our statistical condition.  The quantity of individuals absorbed all my singularity, and I became indistinct and indiscernible,

he was not adding another suppelementary object to the venerable contemplation of Aesthetics: he was expressing politically what it means to be just one more body in the aggregate of a population managed by Biopower.




Uprooting


Every new stage in the development of commodity society requires the destruction of a certain form of immediacy, the lucrative separation of what had been one and united into a relationship.  It is this split that the commodity then takes over, mediates, and extracts profit from, clarifying a little more each day the utopia of a world where every person will be, in all things, exposed on the one market.  Marx admirably described the first phases of this process, though only from a labor bureaucrat’s perspective, the perspective of Economy: “The dissolution of all products and all activities into exchange value,” he wrote in Grundrisse, “presupposes the decomposition of all frozen (historical) relationships of personal dependence within production, as well as the universal subjugation of producers to one another. … The universal dependence of individuals indifferent to each other constitutes their social bond.  And this social bond is expressed in exchange value.” 


It would be perfectly absurd to consider the persistent devastation of all historical attachments and of all organic communities as a short-term defect in commodity society, one that it would only take the good will of men working for reform to deal with.  The uprooting of all things, the separation into sterile fragments of each and every living totality and the autonomization of those fragments within the circuits of value are precisely the essence of the commodity, the alpha and omega of its movement.  The highly contagious nature of this abstract logic takes on the form of a real “uprooting sickness” among men, which makes the uprooted ones throw themselves into an activity that always tends to uproot those who are still not uprooted or are so only partly, often by the most violent of methods; whoever has been uprooted will uproot others.  Our era has the dubious prestige of having brought to its apex the proliferating and multitudinous feverishness of this “destructive character.”


Somewhere Out of the World

“Be like passers-by!”

- Gospel of Thomas


Bloom appears inseparably as the product and the cause of the liquidation of all substantial ethos as a result of the eruption of the commodity into all human relationships.  He himself is thus the man without substantiality, the man who has really become abstract, because he’s been effectively cut off from all milieus, dispossessed of all belonging, and then thrown out to wander. We have come to know him as such, as that undifferentiated being “that does not feel at home anywhere,” as that monad who comes from no community at all in a world “that only gives birth to atoms” (Hegel).  Naturally, to admit the universality of the pariah status, of our pariah status, would mean admitting too many comfortable lies, both for those who claim to be part of this “society” and for those who integrate themselves into it while claiming to criticize it.  The famous doctrine of the “new-middle-classes” or alternatively of the “vast-middle-class” has for the past half-century corresponded to the denial of our bloomitude, its total perversion.  PEOPLE would thus like to try to reapproach the total dissolution of all social classes in terms of social class.  Because Bloom is not only today’s neo-bourgeois, who has so pathetically failed the confidence of his bourgeoisie; he is also today’s proletarian, who now no longer even has the slightest vestiges of a proletariat behind him.  At the extreme limit, he is the planetary petty-bourgeoisie, the orphan of a class that never even existed.


In fact, in the same way as the individual resulted from the decomposition of the community, Bloom results from the decomposition of the individual, or, to put it plainly, that of the fiction of the individual - the bourgeois individual has only ever existed on the freeways, and there are still accidents there.  But we would be mistaken to see the human radicalness that Bloom sketches out by seeing him merely in light of the traditional concept of the “uprooted” person.  The suffering that all true attachments/commitments now expose one to has taken on such excessive proportions that no one can even allow themselves to feel any nostalgia for their origins.  In order to survive it’s been necessary to kill that off too.  And so Bloom is, rather, the man without roots, the man who gets the feeling that he’s at home in his exile, who has laid down his roots in the absence of a place, and for whom the idea of uprooting doesn’t evoke any kind of banishment, but on the contrary an ordinary situation.  It’s not the world that he’s lost, it’s his taste for the world that he’s had to leave behind.


A totally new kind of poverty has swooped down upon men with the colossal development of technology… What good is all our cultural heritage now if no experience ties us to it?   The last century’s horrible mish-mash of styles and visions of the world showed only too clearly where hypocrisy or abuse in such matters gets us in order for us not to consider it honorable to own up to our misery.  So, then, let us confess it: this poverty of experience is not just the poverty of private experiences, but a poverty of human experiences.  So is it a new kind of barbarism? In effect.  And we declare it to be such in order to introduce a new concept, a positive concept of barbarism.  Because where does a poverty of experience lead the savage barbarian?  It brings him to begin at the beginning, to start over from the start, to pull himself out of it with the little he has, to build with the little he has, and in so doing to look neither to his right nor to his left… We have become poor.  We have sacrificed the heritage of humanity, bit by bit, and often we have pawned it off for a hundredth of its value in order to receive in return the petty coin of “what exists” … Humanity is preparing itself to survive culture if need be.  And the essential thing is that it’s doing so while laughing about it.  It is highly possible that here or there such laughter might have a really barbaric sound to it.  That’s great.  So couldn’t individuals thus give up, some time or another, a little bit of their humanity to the masses, which would one day pay it back plus interest on capital and interest on the interest?


Walter Benjamin, Experience and Poverty


The Loss of Experience


As an observable Stimmung, as a specific affective tonality, Bloom is in touch with the extreme abstraction of the conditions of existence that the Spectacle fleshes out.  The most demented, and at the same time the most characteristic concretion of the spectacular ethos remains - on a planetary scale - the metropolis.  That Bloom is essentially the metropolitan man in no way implies that it might be possible by birth or by choice for him to remove himself from that condition, because there is no outside of the metropolis: the territories that its metastatic extension does not occupy are always polarized by it; that is, they are determined in all their aspects by its absence.  




The dominant trait of the spectacular-metropolitan ethos is the loss of experience, the most eloquent symptom of which is the formation in it of the very category of “experience” in the restricted sense where one has “experiences” (sexual, sporting, professional, artistic, sentimental, ludic, etc.).  Everything about Bloom flows from this loss, or is synonymous with it.  Within the Spectacle, as they are within the metropolis, men never have the concrete experience of events, but only of conventions, rules; a wholly symbolized, entirely constructed second nature.  There, what reigns is the radical split between the insignificance of everyday life - called “private” life - where nothing happens, and the transcendence of a frozen sphere called “public” which no one has access to.


But all this looks is starting to look more and more like ancient history.  The separation between the Spectacle’s lifeless forms and the “formless life” of Bloom, with its monochromatic boredom and silent thirst for nothingness, moves aside at numerous points to make way for indistinguishability.  The loss of experience has finally attained to such a degree of generality that it can in turn be interpreted as the primordial, original experience, as the experience of experience as such; as a clear disposition, that is, towards Critical Metaphysics.


The Metropolises of Separation


Metropolises are distinct from the other grand human formations first of all because the greatest proximity, and usually the greatest promiscuity, coincide in them with the greatest foreignness.  Never have men been gathered together in such great number, and never have they been so totally separate from one another.


In the metropolis, man experiences his own negative condition, purely.  Finiteness, solitude, and exposedness, which are the three fundamental coordinates of this condition, weave the décor of each person’s existence in the big city.  Not a fixed décor, but a moving décor; the amalgamated décors of the big city, due to which everyone has to endure the ice-cold stench of its non-places.


The hip, plugged-in metropolis-dwellers here comprise a rather remarkable type of Bloom not only in terms of intensity but also in the numerical extent of their legions: Bloom’s imperialist fraction.  The hipster is the Bloom that offers himself up to the world as a tenable form of life, and to do so constrains himself to a strict discipline of lies.  


The final consumer of existence, stricken by a definitive incredulousness concerning both people and language, the hipster lives on the horizon of an endless experimentation on himself.  He has circumscribed the volume of his being and has decided to never get out of it, if not to ensure the self-promotion of his own sterility.


Thus, he has replaced the emptiness of experience with the experience of emptiness, while waiting for the adventure he’s always ready for but never comes: he’s already written out all the possible scenarios.  In a deceived ecstasy, the solitary crowd of hipsters, always-already disapperared, always-already forgotten, pursue their wandering path like a raft full of suicides, lost in a depressing ocean of images and abstractions.  And that crowd has nothing to communicate, nothing but conventional formulas for absent enjoyment and a life with no object within a furnished nothingness.


The metropolis appears, moreover, as the homeland of all freely selected mimetic rivalries, the sorry but continuous celebration of the “fetishism of little differences.”  PEOPLE play out all year-round a tragicomedy of separation: the more people are isolated, the more they resemble one another; the more they resemble one another, the more they detest one another; and the more they detest one another the more they isolate themselves.  And where men can no longer recognize each other as the participants in building a common world, everything only further catalyzes a chain reaction, a collective fission.


The teachings of the metropolis show, from different angles, the extent to which the loss of experience and the loss of community are one and the same thing.  It must however be taken into account, in spite of the nostalgia that a certain romanticism so enjoys cultivating even in its enemies, that before our era there had not, and had never been, any community.  And these are not two contradictory affirmations.  Before Bloom, before “separation perfected,” before the unreserved abandon that is ours-- before, then, the perfect devastation of all substantial ethos, all “community” could be but a hummus of falsehoods – a false “belonging,” to a class, a nation, a milieu – and a source of limitation: and anyway, if it were otherwise it would not have been annihilated.  Only a radical alienation from the Common was able to make the primordial Common burst forth in such a way that solitude, finiteness, and exposedness - that is, the only true bond between people – could also appear as the only possible bond between them.  What PEOPLE call a “community” today, while gazing out upon the past, obviously shares in this primordial Common, but in a reversible way, because it’s just second-hand.  And so it’s up to us to have for the first time an experience of real community, a community based on the honest assumption of our separation, exposedness, and finiteness.  


Following Bloom’s example, the metropolis simultaneously materializes the total loss of community and the infinite possibility of regaining it.


The elucidation of the possibilities contained in our times depends exclusively on whether we consider the Bloom figure.  Bloom’s eruption into history determines, for “our party,” the need to completely rebuild our foundations, both in theory and practice.  All analysis and all action that does not absolutely take Bloom into account will damn itself to eternalizing the present exile, because Bloom, since he’s not an individuality, doesn’t let himself be characterized by anything he says, does, or manifests.  Each moment is for him a moment of decision.  He has no stable attributes whatsoever.  No habits, no matter how far he pursues his repetition of them, are susceptible to conferring any being upon him.  Nothing adheres to him, and he doesn’t adhere to anything that may seem to be his, not even “society,” which would like to support itself upon him.  To cast a light on these times, we must consider that there is on the one hand the mass of Blooms and on the other the mass of acts.  All truth flows from this.


A Genealogy of Bloom-Consciousness


Bartleby is an office employee.

The diffusion of mass intellectual labor within the Spectacle, in which conventional knowledge counts as exclusive competency, has an obvious relationship with the form of consciousness that is proper to Bloom.  So much so that except in situations where abstract knowledge dominates over all vital milieus, outside of the organized sleep of a world produced entirely as a symbol, Bloom’s experience never attains the form of a lived continuum which he might add onto himself; rather it just starts to look like a series of inassimilable shocks.


Thus he has had to create an organ to protect him against the uprooting that the currents and discordances of his external milieu threaten him with: instead of reacting with his sensibilities to this uprooting, Bloom reacts essentially with his intellect, and the intensification of consciousness that the same cause produces ensures its psychic preponderance.  Thus the reaction to these phenomena is buried in the least sensitive psychic organ, the one that is most distant from the depths of being.  His pure consciousness is, then, the only thing that Bloom manages to recognize as his own, but it is a consciousness that has become autonomous from life, that no longer feeds it but merely observes it, and in its lapse, muzzles itself.


Bloom cannot take part in the world in an inner way.  He only ever goes into it in exception to himself.  That’s why he has such a singular disposition towards distraction, towards deja-vus, towards clichés, and above all why he has such an atrophy of memory that confines him in an eternal present; it’s also why he’s so exclusively sensitive to music, which alone can offer him abstract sensations – we should here mention speed and “sliding,” which are also bloomesque enjoyments but this time only insofar as they are abstraction itself arising as sensation.  


Everything that Bloom lives, does, and feels remains something external to him.  And when he dies, he dies like a baby, like someone who’s never learned anything.  With Bloom, the relations of consumption have extended themselves over the totality of existence, and over the totality of what exists.  In Bloom’s case, commodity propaganda has so radically triumphed that he effectively conceives of his world not as the fruit of a long history, but like a primitive man conceives of the forest: as his natural surroundings.  A number of things become clear about Bloom when he’s looked at from this angle.  Because Bloom is indeed a primitive man, but he’s an abstract primitive.  It would be enough to summarize the provisional state of the question in a formula: Bloom is the eternal adolescence of humanity.

changed May 27, 2010