“There’s a time for reciting poems, and a time for fists. As far as I was concerned, this was the latter.”
— Roberto Bolano
— The Savage Detectives
Salvage is a magazine and online presence of what might be called the fifth wave leftists*. Self-described as being allergic to mordant doctrinaire leftism with its moldy boilerplate adherence to out of date rules and regulations and the language of discourse that proscribes x vs y in the manner of a papal hissy fit, they are you might say, hip to their own jive. And yet, a scan of their editorials and essays suggests a kind of leftist Tourette’s syndrome in which certain habits of style just can’t be jettisoned.
And mind you this is not meant only as a critique of style – after all who doesn’t enjoy the image of Genet in a kaftan and paratrooper boots?
And to be clear, we are not completely in disagreement with the editorial position(s) expressed.
The issue here is the unfortunate impulse among leftists to slide into a sort of hyper-distilled linguistic hermeneutics in which the correct elegant construction takes the place of a visceral description. It is a problem best described perhaps by Twain saying: don’t describe the old lady screaming, have her come on and scream.
Mind you they do on occasion come close to an appropriate level of vomit and bile, as to cite one example, the editors do manage to score some rhetorical points by describing Attorney General and mad racist Southern leprechaun Jeff Sessions as “klan curious.”
It’s a nice touch, if ultimately, given the target and the stakes, a bit tepid. Sort of like describing Hermann Goering as both weight challenged and a man of excessive Roman appetites. It makes the point but one wants more. After all, we are describing fascists not spineless liberal tailors who make excuses and nice suits for fascists.
Consider the following from an otherwise stately kick to the balls of the establishment:
“Trump’s support for the carbon-based economy has specific class valences. As Andreas Malm has shown, the dominance of that economy has been determined to a substantial extent by the exigencies of political class domination. If its early supersession of alternative energy sources was imbricated with the defeat of the British working class in the 1850s, the suppression of alternative energy and the conservation of the fuel deathlock economy today is about reversing the rise of ‘new economy’ capitalist sectors.”
Notice the kneejerk spasmodic use of: “As Andreas Malm has shown” – which is the classic sophistication gambit in which the presumptive intellectual drops a name but offers nothing beyond that as if to say – well if you don’t know then go look it up. And indeed Salvage does say upfront that they prefer to avoid what they call the stale styles of the academic – thus an absence of footnotes – but what we say is they’re bullshitting you by being snobs – which is bad enough – and not having the gumption to admit it – which, frankly, is worse.
…the exigencies of political class domination…
Oh good grief.
And seriously, what are we to say about the use of “imbricated” – when a .5 cent word would have been more effective? And that’s just it, the overly complicated linguistic triple sowcow that sticks the landing of being essentially correct and yet arrives nowhere precisely because it’s just so fucking full of itself it ends up being to revolution as an anatomy textbook is to seduction.
Or, as made clear by remembering the punchline to the old joke about getting advice from Microsoft: You know it’s advice from Microsoft because it’s 100% accurate and 100% useless.
Consider the following from another Salvage missive:
“Rather, it is the ideological modality of racial contradictions which are organised politically.”
This is from an essay entitled “The Meaning of Macron” and in which the seemingly well-intentioned author highlights the various ways in which Jupiter/Macron has outmaneuvered the right and the remnants of the left and stolen from one and then the other to slither into power. And while seemingly a less odious and less oppressive figure than the vile sadistic blue velvet Sarkozy he is best understood in the context of a resurgent and more refined traditional French bigotry.
Thus modalities of ideology and politics, yada yada yada.
Technically true but what it means if translated from uberspeak to the vulgate and prole is: those assholes over there control all the shit and skull fuck people they don’t like.
But modality sounds better to people who like their Adorno with a nice cup of coffee (and who doesn’t) and perhaps a soupcon of Horkheimer, and racial contradictions slips more easily from the lips of an intellectual than – those motherfuckers are a bunch of steel-boot wearing thugs – or: Macron looks good, sounds hip, but he’s a sleazy ruthless neoliberal pig fucker and we’re in rats alley where the dead men lost their fucking bones. And their jobs. And their health insurance. And any hope for the future.
None of which is to dismiss the critique of Macron. Rather to highlight the failure of the method the critique takes which is not only a failure to appeal to the viscera and the mind but a failure to disengage from the oh-so-traditional house style of the haut leftist.
For example, the essay is correct when it points out that where Macron says he wishes to end the post Charlie Hebdo state of emergency this is a lawyerly parsing of the language because Macron’s idea of ending the state of emergency is to make it permanent and enshrine its excesses in law thus creating, as the saying goes these days, a new normal. And that new normal will include a permanent state of mass surveillance and police oppression.
All well and good, for the critic, but let’s take what they say and translate it.
Here’s the Salvage essayist:
“The other very important point of Macron’s presidency is its relationship to what Claude Serfati calls the ‘permanent state of emergency’. While Macron seems to want to end the formal ‘state of emergency’, his proposal is in effect to legalize it, to include it in the common law. Hence it will no longer be a state of ‘emergency’ but just the regular state under which France will exist. As a matter of fact, his current draft legislation, entitled ‘law for the reinforcement of the fight against terrorism and for the reinforcement of homeland security,’ legalises many of the tools of the state of emergency. These include home-search, house arrest, closing of places of worship (obviously, this will mainly target Muslims), monitoring private communications, and so on.
This complex set of repressive state apparatuses, while mainly targeting Muslims, will also likely play an important role in the repression of the emerging social front that will try to organize itself against macronism. The repression and control of non-white populations has proved to be a kind of laboratory for the repression of last year’s movement against the labour law.”
Or, to translate: The neoliberal bankers with their credit fetish being more palatable than the Le Pen fascists with their fetish for discipline and punishment want to keep themselves in power by throwing poor people and minorities under the bus and the boot heels of the pigs. This will allow them to be tough on crime – Macron’s Sista Soldjah moment – and better looking than the fascists.
And it’s that last part that really matters and is of course absent from the theories of the professors. Namely: Macron fucks better than Le Pen. After all, he’s 40 and his oh so hot for teacher wife is older o la la…
And make no mistake about it that’s as important as anything else. The atavistic dream state of the tribe includes fantasies about the first couple as a mirror in which the citizens see themselves. Chic, sexy, “human” and shagging while quoting Rimbaud and ordering the cops to bust (mostly Muslim) heads. Thus the average Jean gets his rock off because the leader of the tribe takes on the leather and chains of discipline and punishment and fuels the sadomasochistic Lynchian dream-state – fuck the minorities but do it cool. Leather restraints yes, but designed by Hermes. Thus we are inside the lubed up seductive trainwreck of The Dreamers rather than the dry toast of theory and the distinction is crucial.
What follows is essentially more blather about dialectics and this left and some other left and so on and then we get this whopper:
“The fact that state violence, which has always targeted non-white people, …”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
What the fuck is it with the leftists that they just keep writing such crap? And other leftists don’t call them on it? The fact “that state violence, which has always targeted non-white people”…is at best correct but useless or at worst wrong and dangerous is a never ending fungal infection in the left’s claim to moral and intellectual superiority. Yes the state targets non-whites and targets Whites because that’s what fascists do – they target anyone who resists and what the fuck do we say about the dead White Irish who were victims of state violence during the genocide we call the Potato Famine? Or the White people who vanished in the gulags? Or all the leftists who vanished under that testimony to German humor – Work Shall Set You Free?
It is here that The Ink heads for the door.
There is on the one hand, something sad about these pointy-headed katzenjammer kids and their over reliance on sounding smart rather than winning, and on the other, being inaccurate if not downright telling lies and just going on and on with hyper-articulate polysyllabic bullshit.
And of course not a word about how the hoped for emergent coalition of leftists will contend with the fact that they are under permanent surveillance and have been infiltrated by the cops. Contrasted with the NY Review of Books which once printed instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail on its front page. So, to Salvage how about less of the Beat stylings of Adorno and instead a 10 point plan on how to subvert surveillance?
Yeah, don’t count on it.
Instead what we get is a very cool corpse, dead on arrival but man, look at his shoes and that jacket! Tres Chic! I’ll see you at the barricades! (but first, a word from our sponsor).
For a look at the essay referenced see the links below:
*Roughly speaking: First Wave, say mid 19th century to the bloodbath at the end of the commune. Second Wave from then until the triumph of Franco. Third Wave from post war until the end of the 60s, in 1976 with the election of the weak “outsider” Carter. Fourth Wave from 1984 until Occupy. Fifth Wave from Occupy until the present.
We understand some might place the First Wave back around 1789. It’s an interesting point but for the sake of the general notion here, we stay with the above time-line.