David After Dentist And The Critique Of Everyday Life

I spent the last year writing what I’m now calling a “nonfiction fantasy,” a book entitled Pick Your Battle. It’s ostensibly about urban foraging (searching out the wild greens one can find growing along roadsides, collecting apples from the neighbors lawn, and so on), and writing it required that I wander my neighborhood on a kind of self-imposed snipe hunt. It was a scavenger hunt for nature. I picked blackberries, apples, figs but most of all what I confronted out on the roads and in the alleys was what the YouTube philosopher and ghost Rick Roderick defined as the problem of psychoanalysis in reverse.

In a culture so overloaded, where we already suspect – if we don’t know – that its goal is psychoanalysis in reverse: to make the parts of us that think into ones that don’t; just react, follow, or replicate. One thing that we can do, is tune out. So, many of us do that in one form or another. We take the culture and simply try to tune out as much as we can. But there is a flaw in the strategy. And that’s that no culture ever was so pervasive. Even this word [culture] may be bothering you. There was a time when culture meant going to things created by us folks, as opposed to nature. Where is nature now?” -Rick Roderick, Philosophy and Human Values (1990), Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

What I was looking for out on the dirt roads, in those alleys, was not some bedrock foundation from which to launch an attack on the unreality of my everyday life, but a way to break the boundary between nature and culture. To put this in Marxist language, my goal was to overcome alienation.

When philosophers like Rick Roderick spoke of postmodern culture as involving “psychoanalysis in reverse” what they were describing was the current political system’s solution to the problem. Capitalist cultures necessarily alienate their subjects from the world through the production process. A worker makes something not for his or her own use, but for exchange in the market. This is how a worker is alienated from his own labor, and the source of all the alienation in Capitalist society. In postmodern or late Capitalist societies the solution for this is to naturalize the alienation.

To put this in terms that are easy to grasp we can compare the figure of Charlie Chaplin to the little boy in the David after Dentist. According to Henri Lefebvre, whose theory about Everyday life as an ideological space that takes itself for reality informed my project out in the alleys, Charlie Chaplin was a figure who “revealed alienation by dishonoring it.”

That is Chaplin was a type of character who exposed the contradictions and gaps in everyday life. In his movie Modern Times he exposes the alienating process of production quite directly, but he does this as a fictional character in a film. Part of what makes Chaplin a force for good, according to Lefebvre, is his mythic character. The viewer of a Chaplin movie knows that Chaplin isn’t real even if Chaplin is revealing real things.

David in the David after Dentist video, on the other hand, is small, powerless and comical, all the things that Chaplin is, but he’s also real. He asks the question “is this real life?” And the answer is yes. David, as a real little boy, doesn’t reveal alienation but is merely hallucinating. That is, the alienation from reality that David is experiencing is merely real. We get to watch David live his everyday alienation after his trip to the dentist rather than watch David communicate an alienation that is common to us all.

Lefebvre says, “What is fake in one sense is what is essential, the most precious, the human, in another.”

When we take what is fake in an other to be real the other loses his or her reality. It’s a paradox.

What postmodern, digital, or YouTube culture has lost is this fakeness at our core. TC mark

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  • Jake

    interesting

  • JJ

    Sweet.

  • Ameltoid

    Compelling, concise, and clear; good examples; informative without feeling like a textbook… more please!

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      Glad you enjoyed this.  I will be writing more, and probably writing a few essays that aren't only transparent illustrations of ideas as well.  But I'm enjoying putting these together and making the videos.

  • blog

    seems bleak

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      What precisely seems bleak, and is that an objection or just an observation?

  • Brandon h

    I'm calling it. Recycled college essay. Where the fuck is the editor of this site?

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      Did you watch the video?

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      Anyhow, it's sad how we've been trained to relegate thinking to college and can't apply anything remotely abstract to our lives.

  • Intrigued

    Take this for what you will, Douglas.

    You mentioned in reply to Ametoid that it was an illustration of an idea
    and you've done that well enough but I found myself wanting something
    more, a summary of impact perhaps or some meaning you've derived from
    this observation. You've drawn us in this picture of the world from a
    new perspective in exposing the paradox but aside from revealing how
    smart you are with this exercise, I wonder what the point is. As it
    stands, it strikes me as rather a smug, self-satisfied ending; an
    intellectual exercise with no spirit and soul. And yet I have the impression
    there's more to this (or perhaps better said, to you) than you've given us here. So for that, I'm looking forward to seeing what else you write.

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      I think I can see what you're saying, and I don't necessarily think you're evaluation is entirely wrong. I approached this bit of writing as basically instrumental.  That is, I wanted to clarify in writing what I'd illustrated in through the video.  I actually made the video first, and then I wrote this essay.  In fact, the first version of the essay was too abstract and contradictory and so, at the editor's request, I clarified the piece.  I chose to simply illustrate one idea.  
      But why did I do this?  As Daniel Coffeen would say every idea has an affect and is embodied.  So the question is, who the fuck am I and why am I telling you these slightly odd things?  Am I just trying to show off?  
      I'm starting from the perspective that we all feel anxious, that the sense of crisis that I've been living with for the last decade is pervasive.  But, even if you feel that crisis as I do, there is no way for you to tell that I feel it.  Not from what I've written.  I'm turning to thinking and philosophy as a response to this crisis I feel.  The crisis is ecological, political, economic, cultural, in fact we live in a culture that really is nothing but crisis management.  So that's my starting point.  
      It may be difficult to tell, but I'm actually a fiction writer first.  You can the flavor of what my fiction is like here: 
      http://www.flurb.net/11/11lain
      In any case, in the future I'll try to think about affect as well as concept.  And I'll even probably tell some stories along the way.

      • Intrigued

        I
        read your story. Thanks for the link. What you've replied above and what I read
        there gives a better sense of who you are. What little you say about the crisis
        fits with how I felt as the ideas in this piece settled in my mind. I was
        hoping Blog would come back and explain “bleak” (now doesn’t that read oddly)
        because I want to know if they picked up on the same thing I did. I'm not sure
        how to describe it other than to say I find our technological perspective perverse.
        We're so overly exposed that on many levels truth, perspective and reality,
        what Chapman used to reveal, ceases to have much value and meaning. The personal
        becomes impersonal in today's voyeuristic technology whether that be youtube
        antics or on facebook. We've transformed into whorish players, puppets and
        predators. We know there's something missing but blindly grab whatever we're
        being sold as the cure for what ails us, just like addicts hungry for a fix.
        Consumption is this century’s crack. It's insidious, sneaky and to me quite
        frightening when I think of where we’re headed. This isn’t sustainable on any
        plane – physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually but society is so
        caught up in the seductive lie of consumerism that it’s beyond changing the
        outcome. So I take it on from within, striving to get beyond what is outwardly
        cultivated. This is the very best part of what is for therein lies my hope.  I suppose that’s why I wanted more from this
        piece rather than simply exposing the truth of our transposed views.

        I often feel naked when I write or reply to someone’s work, like I’ve exposed
        my vulnerabilities. I don’t know how to get around that other than to recognize
        that a piece of writing is nothing more than an expression of a capture of a moment
        in time. Funny, considering I’m posting anonymously but now I’m questioning whether
        I’m completely off track in assuming where you’re going with this.

        Regardless, I’m looking forward to reading your work even more than before
        hoping that between your concepts and perspectives, and perhaps your discussion
        with Coffeen, my eyes will be opened to something beyond what I see now.

      • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

        It seems like you and I are largely on the same page.  Hopefully as the essay progress there will be a bit of progress beyond the simple exposure of this.  
        Your feeling of being off track is probably an indication that the usual critique of consumerism is exhausted.  Maybe we have to think harder just to ask the right questions.  I'm not saying that I'm up to the task, certainly not on my own.  
        Thanks for the exchange.  More next week, probably.

      • Intrigued

        I ran across this today and wondered if it might be of interest to you.

        Puritanism and the reversal of opposites: dissolution of extremes and the coming end of an age

      • Intrigued

        I ran across this today and wondered if it might be of interest to you.

        http://jtoddring.wordpress.com

  • Daniel Coffeen

    I sense the beginning of an ongoing discussion — we began it, in passing, in our last podcast.  Here, you seek the false in order to reclaim the real, the authentic. It's there in your distinction between nature and culture.

    But I wonder — truly wonder, not know — if you, and we, need this distinction — a distinction that I think has wreaked great havoc on personal and societal being.  And so I offer this: once we live in a world that is always already a put on — and hence always already real; once we live in a world that is all cultural or, for that matter, all natural (aren't roads and factories and stories and music natural in some sense?); once we're beyond the pale of the real, might we find other criteria of critique and other opportunities for humor and joy?

    Nietzsche, for instance, never asks if something is real or authentic. He asks: does this or that make me healthier, more vital? Does it further life? Or diminish it? 

    Which is all to say, once we dispose of the “stage,” there are new ways of making sense of experience.  This is what interests me.

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      Daniel, it's funny how by trying to capture and hold onto the fake I can so easily be seen to be grasping after the real once again.  
      I absolutely do support this move to find new criteria, but my thinking is that setting criteria, making a choice, requires something Real in the Lacanian sense.  That is, there is something like an abyss or a contradiction at work in the moment of decision.  It's something nearly divine that happens, not spiritual but rather empty and strange.  Finding our collective ability to choose some new criteria, something other than the value produced through exploitation, that's the trick I'm attempting to think up.  
      Health and vitality, these are those old utilitarian notions of value again maybe?  Not that I want to be sick, but maybe there is something worth choosing that might not be self-affirming directly.  

      By the way, that's my son Benjamin in the video mash-up.  He's fourteen now. And he has to pretend to listen to conversations like this one all the time.

  • John Casey

    You nod to Lefebvre in the title, but your most substantive quote is from Rick Roderick?  

    This is just a guess, but I imagine you've read a little Zizek and now the Marx-Lacan lenses are on non-stop.

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      You have my number.  Rereading Lefebvre's critique, even as I knew that he rejected Lacan, I couldn't help but see Zizek's Lacan on every line.  I'm actually kicking around the idea of defending that crazy Apocalyptic preacher's video about the phallus symbols at the Denver airport from a Zizekian perspective in a future essay.  That's how bad it is for me.  
      Also the next vid/essay is going to be on Rebecca Black's Friday as an illustration of Althusser's ISA and Zizek's concept of ritual or ideology through action.

      • John Casey

        Where do you locate the ISA?  In pop-music?  Black's lyrics?  Youtube?  

        I'd say there's far more Zizekian superego (ENJOY!) floating around that song, than structural Marxism (though “gotta wake up, get to the bus stop…” does point towards interpellation of some sort).  

        Am curious how you'll pull the two together.

      • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

        The ISA is the bubble-gum pop song form itself and the music video form, but yes I will definitely be talking about both cynical distance and the superego injunction to enjoy.   The argument is that this is a video that interpellates the viewer into the position of the hedonistic consumer specifically by affirming his or her feeling of being more than a mere hedonistic consumer.  What we are commanded to enjoy is our revulsion at seeing life reduced to this vapid, biological, level.  And we do enjoy it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brad.pike Brad Pike

    I can tell you put a lot of thought into this and thought the video was really engaging. I wished it was longer and there were more episodes if that's any indication.

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      Thank you for the encouragement.

  • http://twitter.com/MissKimball misskimball

    I agree with Brad, this was really interesting and accessible and I look forward to more of these

    • http://twitter.com/DougLain Douglas Lain

      Thanks!  I'll write more of these, and other things as well.

  • 13ft

    I will admit to a weekly squizz of failblog. But I am finding it less funny with each passing week. Not because of the predictability of human stupidity, nor do I feel above the sophomoric chuckle. I find that many of the videos could be easily set up and staged. I can very well imagine a few friends on a bored weekend challenging each other to see who could get on FB first.

    And so it goes; my inherent distrust of human motive has chinked away at yet another wall.  I assume everything is fake. Until proven otherwise I have no reason to think any other way. The net in all it's glory has honed that distrust to a smooth idling chainsaw that cuts into every aspect of my viewed world. 

    I do think that the goal of capitalism, in addition to disassociation, is to flood the consumer with choice. So much so that the self is buried and overwhelmed. This bogs the motor of the mind to a barely moving crawl. Turning any citizen into a buyer and not a dissident.

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