Halloween Tooth-Shaving in the Pre-Dawn of the Trumposcene

Halloween Tooth-Shaving in the Pre-Dawn of the Trumposcene[1]

 

On the last night of October 2016, having already considered shaving my teeth, I found myself at a Halloween party in Washington, DC, USA. I was joking there with a woman who wore a Donald Trump mask and costume. We weren’t laughing about the mask itself or what it portended, but were just indulging in the then typical pre-election guffaws about Trump’s racism and general xenophobia. We were each very different from the other—personally, politically, intellectually, etc.—but easily enough found common ground in the general non-alt-rightness that scaffolded a comfortable left plateau in that time and place.

I’d already intimated a Trump victory three days prior to the Halloween party, when my arrival in DC catalyzed a dream that I re-told to anyone who would listen in the subsequent days leading up to the election. In it, I catch sight of Trump standing alone at a social gathering, and decide to go troll him a bit. As we’re talking though, my jabs are failing to land and, despite my initial comportment, I actually find myself increasingly charmed by him, ultimately to the point of a full-fledged infatuation. Even in the dream I know this is a ridiculous way to feel, but in the manner of such infatuations I simply can’t help it. Meanwhile, Trump is physically growing as we speak, so that the course of our conversation is one in which I am increasingly charmed by him and he is increasingly enormous. It is only when he reaches a height of over 20 ft. that my feelings turn back to my initial distaste, but by that time he is too tall to hear what I’m saying and I am left shouting fruitlessly into his crotch (or rather, small mercies, the crotch of his beige slacks). When I woke up from the dream, I not only knew what was coming down the electoral pipeline, I knew that it was coming via a particular kind of reversal.

The truth is, not a day goes by that I don’t consider shaving my teeth. Not ‘consider’ as in rationally calling the question—who still believes that story?—but rather in the truest sense of the term, the sense in which one pits oneself against a determination of the constellate stars (i.e. [con] sīder-, stem of sīdus star). In my consideration, then, I experience the fated paring away of my tooth enamel, and then deny myself the action. It’s hard to complain about such trivialities in times such as these, but I’ll at least note that this isn’t the most pleasant part of my day.

This problem (pro – ballein, or ‘thrownness’) started simply enough: when I bought my first razor I kept it for a single night in a cup, next to my toothbrush. The first time I picked my toothbrush out of the now shared cup I had to actively select against the razor, which wriggled into my teeth-oriented psyche in precisely this moment of deselection: in choosing to brush my teeth, I chose not to shave them, and the bond was thereafter forged. I’ve long since moved my razor to a separate location—a different drawer altogether. But though the results are hygienically salutary, the experience sticks. A toothbrush is forever a nonrazor in my morning ablutions, and that ‘non’ (like most, if not all nons) is experientially parenthetical.

This reiterated (and painful) quotidian experience recalls a key element of the condition of listening, which is always a (compulsive) striving towards something that never occurs. That is, to listen is (among other things) to hallucinate a sound the reality of which is equally as imaginary as it is physical (though no less real for this fact). To be clear, this is not merely an argument about how hearing becomes meaningful, though one could certainly frame musical listening in this way, which is to say as a collective imagination of the type of meaning that is implied by form. More than this, though, listening is materially hallucinatory, in that the physical and neurological activities that constitute hearing do so through processes of filtering and transduction that literally require a difference between the gestalt of what is heard (i.e. inclusive of the imagination) and any grammatization of it (spectrogrammatic or otherwise). This process is also non-reversible, and thus extremely ‘lossy’ from an informational perspective.

The similarities with my shaved teeth are clear enough: if listening profiles an experience that never occurs, the psychedelic adjacency catalyzed by the proximity of my toothbrush and razor to one another likewise indicates an experience that occurs in its nonoccurence. And yet, filtering and deselection aren’t quite the same thing, and the difference is one that matters in this case: to insist on the hallucinatory element of listening is to describe something of the tendency to scale down to one’s perceptual capacities while simultaneously imagining up to the world, which is to say to describe a world that flows from a prior hallucination of identities (human and otherwise) that are compelled to listen. In being dramatically more personal though, my shorn teeth push this prior hallucination to the fore: unlike the filtering I highlighted with hearing, the temporality of deselection is primary: in a very real sense, that ‘I’ that brushes my teeth is produced after the fact of the impersonal though pointed sensation of scraping tooth enamel. It’s the only thing that makes the latter bearable: there is nobody who has to bear it, because it exists in the form of a thought that hasn’t yet landed on its thinker.

At the Halloween party in 2016, my laughter soon enough turned to—or really, was supplemented by—horrified disbelief. The jokes about xenophobia in general led to my derisively pointing out the car outside with two bumper stickers, one promoting Hillary Clinton and the other the local NFL team with a racist name. As happens when one derides at parties, the car was my interlocutor’s. Remarkably, though, she insisted that she wasn’t offended because she agreed the name was “a bit racist.” She felt okay about it because, in the end the racist name was a good thing because it “encouraged discussion about the historical prejudice against natives (sic).” And there we had it: a perfect precession of a simulacrum, spoken from a mask that turned out to be more about its dissimulations than anything else. Masks all the way down, yes, but also something else…something of a relationally constituted (pre)invariant that I’ve often thought about while having not shaved my teeth.

~Cecchetto

 

 

 

[1] A colleague of mine coined this term in recent conversation, but I expect she’d prefer it not be attributed to her. In any case I’m sure others have used it too.

XENO

 

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(xenophoran)

xeno-, comb. form.

Before a vowel xen-, repr. Greek ξενο-, ξεν-, combining form of ξένος a guest, stranger, foreigner, adj. foreign, strange; used in various scientific and other terms including, e.g. peculiar accessories; cross-species disease; symbiosis and parasitism; a snake genus; metamorphic mineral defacement or partial fusion; foreign rule; disease vectors allowed to feed on pathogens in sterile laboratory environments; a type of diagnostic comparison; cross-fertilization; germline engineering and the products thereof; taking its origin from outside the body, as in a disease or a tissue graft; glossolalia; emotional or sexual obsession with the foreign; a gastropod mollusk; a kind of fish with spineless fins, scaleless skin, and a complex sucking-disk between the ventral fins; mineral deposits found at high temperatures; an inactive virus; an armadillo; extraterrestrial life forms or the study thereof

Etymologically, XENO is trans. As graft, cut, intrusion, or excession, XENO names the movement between and the moving entity. It is the foreign and the foreigner, the unexpected outside, the unlike offspring, the other within, the eruption of another meaning. If the uncanny marks the hideous return as if new of what was always already known, the groundwork whose repression allows the enclosure of a domestic interior, XENO is of its own order. It is a foreign agent, speaking its own tongue, keyed to its own purposes. XENO may be incorporated, manipulated, solicited, seduced, and emplaced, but it would be a mistake to imagine that it is known. Snake, fish, mollusk, armadillo, heat changed rock, inactive virus, XENO slithers, swims, slides, infects, inhabits, holds up and withholds. It moves across; it infects as it moves; but it is not infected in turn. It generates transitions from which it itself is immune. It is trans-obdurate.

Trans-obdurate, XENO neither fools nor colludes; XENO gifts. What then of XENO as method?

I’ve been stuck on this question. It is, after all, quite a moment to be interested in the occult(ure), when even the U.S. Democratic nominee for the presidency finds herself responding to the meme magicians of the white right. XENO forms one part of the name of Nick Land’s neoreactionary blog; it’s one appellation of The Occulture; and it is the name the feminist collective Laboria Cuboniks gives to its manifesto. In this matrix of reference, XENO appears side-by-side with hyperstition, techno-culture, Cthulhu, and the occult; they travel together. Meme magic works by invocation, image dissemination, and gematria. When Hillary Clinton’s team took to their webpage to explain the racist implications of Pepe the Frog in the Deplorables meme circulated by DJT Jr. on Twitter, they cited the hyperstitional character of Pepe’s reclamation by fascists.

“We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda,” wrote an anonymous source quoted in the story. “We built that association.”

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The story didn’t describe the further occult association of Pepe with Kek, a frog-headed Egyptian deity of chaos and darkness. A  hyperstition in its own right, the Pepe-Kek connection further sediments the anti-Semitism of the original by aligning Kek with the denial of the enslavement of the Israelites in ancient Egypt. In this yet further twist, Kek repudiates the Passover story as itself an elaborate hyperstition designed to discredit the Old Gods of polytheism.

So what’s a fat, queer, half-jewish, antiracist, anticapitalist feminist theorist to do with her project on queer magic now that the whole boodle has been taken over by neofascists? This is obviously not anywhere close to the most pressing question of this political moment. But it is mine.

That’s more or less why I’ve been thinking about xeno- as method. To open to the outside, to work what is itself trans-obdurate, as method, is always also to welcome chaos and darkness. Chaos and darkness, though very often used as empty signifiers of defiant resistance, can be given quite precise specifications in this context, and ones that have little to do with the sort of masculinism that takes the autonomy of the willing individual as its ideal. XENO as method implies a horizon of action that cannot be determined at the outset. It is dark in the sense that it operates without the assurance of full knowledge and it is chaotic because it presumes that the force of the other is always wholly other.

The hateful, supremacist joke of Pepe-Kek meme magic is just another in a long succession of patriarchal projects aimed at controlling the outside, strapping down its meaning, and dictating its future.

In her quiet, precise way the astonishing Amy Ireland said all of this at the 2015 Tuning Speculation.

“The phallic law, logos, the circuit of identification, recognition, and light thus generates its occult undercurrent whose destiny is to dislodge the false transcendental of patriarchal identification. Machines, women–demons, if you will–align on the dark side of the screen: the inhuman surplus of a black circuit.”

The sons of Kek may repudiate the one of monotheism and the light of enlightenment, but they do so in what can only amount to a rearguard attempt to capture the force of the black circuit and bind it back to mechanisms of command and control.

They forget that XENO is trans-obdurate.

(The video is here. You should watch it.)

~r