Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Ickean dreamwork

A 'Content Warning' is appropriate here, given the subject and tone of this post.*

That is to say, I am about to speak of the violent, sexual abuse of children, and of the fantasies through which this traumatic subject is experienced.  In a way, of course, I'm speaking here about my own investment in this subject, albeit only indirectly.  And just because I'll be talking about delusion, about conspiracy theory, is no reason to assume to that I'm dismissing these fantasies, or suggesting that they belong solely to a special case of people.  I think we should take them seriously, because there is something disturbing about them, and because at any rate there isn't any august position from which it is possible not to be subject to fantasy, and its coordinates: the abused, the abusers, the horrified spectators.  Even those reacting to the moral panic have their own persecution/conspiracy fantasy.

So, let's start with David Icke.  Icke is an antisemitic conspiracy theorist, whose trademark theory is that the world is subject to the secret rule of alien reptilian beings.  But his foundational ideological gesture, linking the progressive-sounding New Age patter with the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' stuff, and the chumminess with American white nationalists, is that he is "exposing the dreamworld".  That is, he is attacking a representation, a construction, of reality that he claims is a fantasy.  He is not wrong about that; his mistake is simply to think that it is possible to live outside of fantasy.  This notion of a Bastillean rupture with the unreal is, of course, culturally pervasive, and evidently speaks to a widespread desire.  But it is as possible for humans to live outside of fantasy as it is for fish to live outside of water.  Anyway, for years Icke, like other reactionary conspiracy theorists of the genre, has written extensively about an alleged Satanic child abuse conspiracy.  But he didn't make it up all by himself: the raw material for it came from the national media, as well as from the police and social workers.  Among those he named as a Satanic child rapist was Ted Heath, who has been the subject of such rumours for some years.

Now sometimes reality embodies fantasy in an uncanny way.  Just as 9/11 resembled something from a Hollywood production, so the current paedophile scandal at the top of British politics increasingly resembles something from the Ickean imagination.  For the full Icke experience, one would merely need to overlay the scenario with some added contours - Satanists, Jews, alien reptiles, bloodlines, magic rituals, mind-programming.  This comes up because, of course, Ickeans are crowing about each new disclosure, or claim, or nebulous allusion, that comes up in connection with the child rape scandal.  Now with the resurfacing of the Heath allegations, his old texts in which he had named the former Prime Minister as a Satanist child rapist are resurfacing.  The master saw it coming.  As I say, the Ickeans are wrong in their assumption that Icke did anything other than synthesise existing memes.  And if you look at the linked text, it is also clear that the particular ideological dreamwork through which he processes this material is not particular to him.

The structure of the confection is, of course, a textbook example of paranoiac knowledge. Everything is connected: a supposed satanic ritual site in Buckinghamshire is associated with the Prime Ministerial residence, 'Chequers', which leads to the black and white squares on a chequers board, which leads to the 'floor plan' of Freemasonic temples, and so on. Essentially, paranoia is about 'making connections' endlessly, exploiting the slippage of signifiers, without ever knowing where to make the cut, where to disconnect.  If you really want to, you can go on making connections endlessly, forming a chain of identifications linking one thing to the next thing to the next thing, ad infinitum.  At some point, rigour means making the cut.  The inability to do so is a sure sign of the presence of jouissance; I'm too invested in it, enjoying it too much, to stop the chain of associations.

And the lurid details that Icke fondly layers into his rape/snuff fantasies - the vivid details of sexual violation, slaughter, organ harvesting, fat and blood collection, consumption - are very powerfully libidinally invested.  Every good horror flick is also someone's porn.  Horror wouldn't work, wouldn't have its particular repulsive charge, if it didn't engage the libido.  This is not to say that the Ickeans consciously 'get off' on this stuff.  They, of course, find it 'horrifying', disturbing, almost impossible to bear.  Living with such 'knowledge' is not easy.  But it is precisely the horror that they are getting off on in a way, and are addicted to.  This isn't a moralistic point, and moralising wouldn't help.  What is needed, if anything, is a certain pragmatic toleration of psychic amorality, so that these fantasies can be more openly engaged with.

Icke's little touches, anyway, are so telling.  He hears from a woman who was forced to lie on the cold floor of a church while a little boy, no older than six, was forced to crouch over her while being raped.  At the end, his throat was slit, and the blood poured over her.  In a striking moment of identification with the woman and the horrific thoughts she lives with, Icke puts in brackets: "(God, the thought of it)".  This feminine identification, this identification with the one who is passive, abused, helpless on the cold floor, helpless in the face of her own thoughts, is a moment of truth.  It is, to put it this way, the truth of the text: it is Icke's helplessness in the face of his own thoughts, the plague of fantasies that assails him, the desires that motivate them which he doesn't even understand, which structures the text.

And there is something to be said about unconscious desire here.  All fantasy stages a desire of some sort.  To be absolutely clear, this doesn't necessarily mean that the unconscious desire in question is about abusing, or being abused, or spectating at abuse.  Ideological fantasies - that is to say, all fantasies - proceed through phases of disguise, displacement, and overdetermination.  Freud's remarkable, unsurpassed and really under-explored paper, 'A Child is Being Beaten', describes some of the phases through which desire and its fantasmatic fulfilment can pass, such that an original incestuous desire to be loved by the parent becomes, through stages of permutation and concealment, an erotic fantasy about 'a child' being beaten by some authority figure.  In the phases of the fantasy, one proceeds through different identifications - the one perpetrating the beating, the one experiencing the beating, and then ultimately the horrified/aroused spectator.  I am not suggesting that this reading can be transposed onto the Ickean fantasy here; that would be crass.  But the point is that there is a yield.  They're getting something out of these fantasies, because the fantasy stages the fulfilment, at some remove, of an unconscious desire.  What are you getting out of your fantasies? 

At least Icke is aware that he isn't to be trusted.  Embedded within his labyrinthine horror fantasy is a degree of self-satire.  Icke hears from an "informant" who was raped as a child, and who has the most stunningly elaborate story to tell.  Some days after speaking to him, his informant gets in touch again, to say that she had been abducted by "six Satanists" and, with a syringe held against her neck, told to stop talking to "That dangerous prat, Icke".  They also, as if the threat to kill her was not enough, added that they would abduct her dog, and post it back to her in pieces.  The fucking dog.  If you were to analyse this as one would analyse a dream, and that is essentially what a fantasy is, you would say first of all that the unreality is precisely an indication that the unconscious is at work.  Because the unconscious recognises no difference between the real and the unreal.  Second, you would pay close attention when the figure of an "informant" appears, and when specific statements take place within the dream, such as "That dangerous prat, Icke".  Of the many ways in which we deal with unacceptable thoughts, the crafty rhetoric and witticisms through which we allow them to expressed while disavowing them, probably the most ideologically charged is that whereby we project them onto a monstrous, demonic figure - which is literally what Icke does here.

What have I done here?  I've taken a quite commonplace set of ideological gestures, above all the invested, libidinised identification with victimhood, and projected it, displaced it - put the blame for it  all on a single, culturally marginal crank.  This is a useful way to avoid criticism - if that is even possible on the internet - because I can talk frankly about these fantasies, the obscure identifications taking place in them, and their invested nature, without appearing to attack anyone who actually matters.  But I said already: those reacting against the moral panic are every bit as implicated in this. The 'backlash' columns, in which pundits go to battle against cultural hysteria, end up reproducing it.  They start with a disavowal.  It can't be true.  Lovely Ted?  The former Prime Minister who detested Mrs Thatcher?  It just can't be.  They proceed to identify the real conspiracy and menace: Dominic Kennedy of The Times and Dan Hodges of the Telegraph both invoking the Third Reich.  As if that was indicative of a proportionate, considered and non-invested response.  As if that wasn't itself a paranoid persecution fantasy.

What is it that they're trying to protect?  By 'they', I mean, not those who actually are guilty.  Not those who actually abused or helped others to abuse.  But those who just want it to go away, who experience the whole saga as more of a deep existential threat than a possible opening to justice.  Maybe some of them are trying to protect the institutions they value - the family, the church, the state.  In this, they cut the sad figure of the guilty guardian of family secrets who won't hear it said that father, or mother, may have raped the children.  I suspect many more are worried about the still undecided cultural shift that the current moral panic adverts to, and particularly about having to re-evaluate and change their behaviour if the old sexist, patriarchal norms sustaining sexual violence are widely discredited.  And for them, the moral panic and the conspiracy mongering is a gift, in that it weakens and damages the case for social change.  

Because the really traumatic thing that the screen of fantasy is designed to protect us from is that the use and abuse of children, sexually, physically, emotionally, is not an 'alien' behaviour.  It is not something that comes from another planet, or even another culture.  Zizek's commentary on the Fritzl case is astute: the unconscious assumption of many parents is that they have absolute entitlement, absolute right to enjoyment of, use of, disposal of, 'their' child.  It comes out by implication.  Think about how pissed off many parents become when there's a move to ban what is euphemistically called 'smacking' - "don't you tell me how to raise my child."  There is, of course, a reason the desire is unconscious, in that it is absolutely incompatible with prevalent social norms; yet it persists, it is there, stitched into the fundamental cellular unit of capitalist civilization, the Oedipal family.  And it is there, far more recurrently than in 'stranger danger' or 'elite predation', that violation is more common than we would like to think.  This is what the fantasy projections - about Jews, about Muslims, about alien Others, about the Third Reich - are protecting us from.

*About trigger/content warnings, I am reminded of my old R.E. teacher who, when showing us a very upsetting propaganda film about abortions one day, explained to the girls in the class that he'd be very disappointed if none of them walked out in distress.  And he truly was disappointed.  There is a sense in which the TW, or CW, has the same function as the 'parental advice' on old CDs, or the 'health warning' on tobacco - it's the advertising.