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.