I thought that, in the tradition of the great philosophers, I would initiate my posting with a Hegelian triad—Schizophrenia, Bagels, and Time. But what do these three things—Schizophrenia, Bagels, Time—have to do with one another? They seem so radically different, but when we (psycho)analyze them, aren’t they virtually the same?
The first thing in life to do is contemplate the phallic content of food. Hotdogs (wieners) and sausages always fascinated me. Prominent at football games where a majority-male crowd horde together to cheer for an all-male team with tight-fitting spandex. Sweating, grabbing… flirting?
The game itself is rather heterosexual-patriarchal, no? The orgasmic hike to start the play, where the newborn-baby-sized football is passed from person to person on the way to the final touchdown. Is this a tragicomic tale of fatherhood? The subject (quarterback) begins at the start of the timeline, and soldiers through a war-like terrain of infancy, in solidarity with other parents, priests, teachers, etc., to finally let go in an ecstatic celebration, marked by the touching down, spiking, letting go of the ball/child. The fable takes an epic twist when our opponent is able to do the same, in spite of our attempts to knock the child down (check the militarization of the ad industry, and particularly, commercials that involve military airplanes, jet fighters, drone strikes, radar technology, military gear co-opted into car commercials, etc), and then we are returned to the starting point, only to try to successfully raise another child.
What happens in the stands, as the players sublimate the intensity of our desire to conquer the Other and raise our children, is quite different. We are always being challenged by the game, by our fellow fans, to cheer successfully—to carry the football to the end of the field without touching it; with our smiles, face paint, love for the players. Back to the hotdogs, the challenge to us is dual: not only do we have to cheer our team to success, but we have to avoid all appearance of weakness, and particularly, non-normative sexuality. The hotdog is almost an enticement to act slightly gay, to slip a soft smile with a lisp under the radar to our next-seat neighbor. Transgression is a worrisome thing—what if the next-seat neighbor is gay? Or, radically distilled, what if I’m gay? So, the use of the hotdog is not simply to evoke sexuality, but to sublimate sex, to provide a manner of expressing sex, but then to repress it in the final instance by making sex so transparent that it must become an unspoken, ever-present reality.
Alain Badiou, the French communist intellectual, says essentially the same thing about capital—it is so omnipresent in our society, it forms the backdrop to everything and therefore cannot be transgressed, since it is transgression; it is always already the violation of itself as private property, privacy, oneness or individuality. We are always already double crossed by capital, since the raising of the subject, itself, will only lead to a self-reflective challenge, an insecurity. When we eat a hotdog at a football game, furtively watching the ballet on the gridiron, we are not merely admitting that sexuality is a fluid thing that we repress in order to support the old game of patriarchy and war against the Other, but we are sublimating the repression of that admission by negating its very possibility. If you walk up to someone eating a hotdog, and you say, “Hey, you are just eating that hotdog, because you’re actually queer, but you don’t want to admit it,” you will likely be punched in the face, laughed at, or spit on.
This reminds me of the psychoanalytic theory that money is dirty, it is shitty, it makes you feel disgusting, but it is also, literally, covered in the fecal matter of hundreds of people. While capital is clean, money is dirty; money is the dirty representation of capital, the abstraction. Capital constitutes the valorization of money invested in commodity production, interest, and rent; in a way. Money is only the proof that one has produced material goods for society, which take the form of commodities, space, or the self-valorization of money through interest. The question of money’s dirtiness, of course, is also the question of the excess of capital: interest, rent, and surplus value. The “dirty jew” was, and is still even after the holocaust, the only person in European society who had the onus of money lending. The jew and the money itself became dirty, because they represented the excess of capital, the thing that exists beyond our grasp and exploits us.
Slavoj Žižek identifies this exploitative exteriority of capital as the objet petit a of psychoanalysis. That is, the unobtainable object, which one always desires, because within it lies the completion of the ideology that is manifested by the subject. In short, money is the object of desire in capital, because having “money” is an objective never fully satisfied. Money is always somewhere else; I remember talking to a wealthy person in the West Hills while canvassing one time, and he told me, “I appreciate what you’re doing, I just don’t have any money to spend. My expenses are so high,” as he gestured to the Jaguar in his garage, his large front yard, and his three-story house overlooking downtown Portland. Expenses, indeed. Wealth is symbolic, as our friend Stephen Quirke once said. Not only does it lie “outside” to be perceived in status but never obtained (even for those who enjoy the status, as it is often tied up in “expenses”); it always functions as a “way of life” or, better still, “quality of life” modifier.
I recall when I was squatting in Brooklyn, New York. I spent perhaps $10 a week of money that I had saved up on coffee, but by and large my expenses were nil. Life became life again. I was reminded that it is not me who works, but life that works. I was simply filling up space-time, moving in the flows of the moment. If I stopped riding my bike on impulse, and looked down a street, I could follow a different line of thought that would inevitably lead to deeper ideas, interesting encounters, new friends. This notion of life as the thing that compels us is to a greater or lesser extent, obliterated by capitalist conquest. But is that not “what makes sense” today? As we look around us, we see the obliteration of nature—bombs, detonation of mountaintops, total devastation of forests, damming of rivers, slaughter of millions of animals every day, and so on, etc. It became clear a long time ago that capitalism was about destroying nature. This is the very nature of capitalism, one might say, to transplant the subject(ivity) of nature, the dominion of nature under which we live, into the objective reality of human conquest. I think there is a clear line that connects Francis Bacon to the positivism of Comte (ironic, because he was a follower of the fashionable socialism of Saint-Simon) to the objectivism of Ayn Rand to the ideology of “frictionless capital” via Bill Gates. This lineage is grounded in what Marx called the metabolic structure of capitalism: the problem that ecological exploitation under capitalism will always increase. The eating of hotdog inevitably leads to bad health, and we should remember the process of accumulation of foul body parts that brings about the existence of the hotdog—the hotdog’s connection, already, to the anus of another animal, prefigures its effect as a kind of transubstantiation of castration, an annihilation of the subject of sex between men, a total proscription of real gender intercourse, which according to the Ancient Greeks, manifested the reality of society and democracy.
If all of this is true, do bagels not represent the somewhat awkward intellectual double of hotdogs? Are bagels not the “Jewish” contribution to “cosmopolitan” society, par excellence? Bagel comes from a Yiddish word meaning “ring”, already evoking the image of the hole, the anus, for psychoanalysis, the empty center of the death drive which can only be filled by knowledge, which Sartre identifies as the ontic separation of negation from ontological nothingness. Negation is the intrusion of the archive in daily life, vis-à-vis the differentiation of an undifferentiated reality which we cannot fathom. We are thrown in the world with no ability to understand one thing from another, until we are able to tell this from that, to differentiate things as they appear to us via negation. By structuring our thought, “this is not that,” we are able to line up things not in an essentialist manner, but in through a method of contiguity and extension. Like David Hume would say, our world is understood empirically not by noticing the core of what things are, but by understanding their individuality and uniqueness as opposed to other things. Hence, we do not understand an object in itself, but rather we understand objects for ourselves (for others). This knowledge appears through a general sublimation of memory and archive, as we are able to connect the consistency of an object’s behavior over a connective plane of time; i.e., “This rock has been there for 5 years, it aint movin’ less i throw it somewhere.”
Jews are the ones who “ask too many questions”, who investigate everything, who spend hours arguing about legal-religious texts. Jews are connected in the antisemitic world with the archive, the dirty annals of knowledge, accumulating dust, etc. Let’s remember that the word annals comes from the root annus, which means year, and is only one letter off from anus, which means, simply, circle. So today’s white-bread bagel jumps into existence as the dough of existence civilized, baked by fire, and then entering your life as a simple place-holder without nutritional content. The bagel is the ultimate zero—the empty signifier of the nothingness that is heterosexuality. Like the hotdog, the bagel is the sublimation of the subject that cannot be raised. So, if I walk into a dehli on Wall Street, and I ask somebody wearing a suit and reading the paper at 7am, “Are you eating that bagel, slathered with cream cheese, because you are performing a daily ritualized celebration of patriarchal civilization and capitalism?” I would likely get an eyebrow raised, a patronizing smile, and, at best, ignored. The whole point of the bagel is that it is a symbolic virtue that represents time. If you take history into account, the bagel was a gift given to women after childbirth. The bagel represents the completion of a cycle of life; the vagina, the earth, the solar system, the universe—time and reproduction, itself. Time to read the paper, and drink a cup of coffee, to recreate. Within the structure of capital, where reproduction, sexuality, and time are enclosed within a comfortable system, the bagel is also a closed circuit, shut out from critique and things that manifest a non-capitalist value, which Graeber tries to get at in an anthropological theory of value.
Like the bagel, capital becomes a flow, not only a pattern of life, but a patterner of life—capital is the empty center around which the purely symbolic self-identification of ideology, which constructs our life, is based; it is the object that is never understandable in-and-of-itself, but only through its interaction with other things. It is the confidence game at its finest, where its central signifier, money, is always already displacing the subject (the individual) by becoming objectively more than him/her, although it is utterly devoid of values. This is why I wanted to start my blog series on the subject of bagels and time: because it is only through considering the everyday manifestations of inter-cursive repression that we can engage in a full truth-telling of our modern psychology, and where we’re at in relation to capitalism and schizophrenia.