Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The fascist superego

There is a traditional way of talking about the fascist superego as, essentially: monarchical, masculine, militaristic. It is the censorship of the id, and the protection the ego from its drives which are canalised into minimal reproductive activity. It is the repression of sexuality and the feminine. Whereas the modern, rational ego would negotiate with the id to allow pleasure its say, the premodern superego can only treat the claims of the id as a threat to be crushed. But if we take seriously the idea that there is an incipient fascist potential in Trumpism, we might want to query this conception, or at least update it. The description above sounds a lot more like a Christian reactionary like Ted Cruz, or perhaps a right-wing Islamist, than a right-wing populist like Trump. The man who brags about pussy-grabbing and 'smart' predatory practices, whose garish casinos and towers exude sumptuary extravagance, is many things, but not a puritan. Indeed, there's a sense in which he is more permissive than his rivals, allowing people to feel less guilty about bigotry, back-stabbing, ecological despoliation, casual sexual assault, and hoarding of property. In fact, even the Nazi regime, despite its sexually repressive propaganda, ran a voluptuary ship, encouraging young men and women and boys and girls involved in the Nazi movement to engage in pre-marital sex. The rate of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies soared. Despite the formal disapproval of sex workers, moreover, it encouraged and protected the existence of regulated brothels and red-light districts on grounds of national health. In crude propaganda terms, fascism extols heroic self-sacrifice over pleasurable indulgence, and directs all of the surplus libidinal energy into paraphilia (fetishism of uniforms and medals), aggressivity (war) and father worship (fuhrer). In its practical record, fascism needed people to fuck for pleasure, as if for the collective pleasure of the nation. From a metapsychological viewpoint, the traditional way of talking about the fascist superego is dependent on the precepts of 'ego psychology' in which the health of the patient depends on the ego being protected against a superego which might otherwise squash the poor ego. Of course, Lacan - in rejecting ego psychology, in claiming that the ego is already too strong, too mortifying in its grip, too voracious in its cannibalisation of the subject - famously assigned the superego to the side of jouissance. Far from crushing your pleasures, it orders you to enjoy. In the juridical sense, to enjoy is to exercise a right, say, to property. Droit du seigneur, for example, refers to a supposed right of feudal lords to have sexual access to subordinate women on their wedding night. In this sense, one's body can come to be inhabited by someone else’s enjoyment, marked as such like someone else’s property. If you're the sort of person who would rather paint than go out on a date, would prefer to go for a quiet walk than attend a raucous party, would rather watch television than fuck, then you can imagine the kind of superego bullying that would make you feel weak and pathetic for such choices. The intimidation that says you have to be enjoying yourself right now (because it's the Olympic Games, or the Queen's birthday, or your birthday, or Christmas), and that you must be enjoying yourself in this particular way (socially, ideally lubricated with libations), is hardly 'fascist'. But it's easy to see it being recruited for a fascist superego. It makes one wonder if the 'fascist strongman' of the future will not be quite extravagantly on the side of (a certain idea of) pleasure and enjoyment, flashing expensive cars and clothes, rioting in public 'debauchery', etc. It will be the promotion of 'vigorous' and very socially regimented kinds of pleasure. It will be 'transgressive'. It will consider withdrawal from these pleasures small, weak and pathetic. It will harness a form of ruthless competitiveness over who is enjoying more than who, to its side. (Isn't one of the possible functions of social media self-display to wage that competition? To say, "I'm very visibly having fun, and thus winning"?) One could try to respond to this by withdrawing from pleasure, but that would simply mean narrowing one's mind and becoming depressed. (Narrow-mindedness might, in fact, be a giveaway of covert depression -- especially among the narrow-mindedly optimistic.) But the answer to the fascist recruitment of one's jouissance, to the bullying fascist superego, might just be to reject intimidation - to figure out for yourself what you might enjoy, and doggedly pursue it. And if you happen to be the sort of person who enjoys what to others is routine, unadventurous, banal and unheroic, whose fondest pleasure is crafting knitwear memes or sending certain Tumblr users shots of your genitalia, you might refuse to feel small and pathetic as a result.