t byfield on Thu, 15 Jun 2017 23:15:03 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Can the Left Meme?

Lots of bad bits too. No amount of theory can paper over basic flaws in analysis.

One of the more useful observations I've seen lately (can't remember the source, alas) is that in the current US political context rightists see violence as a form of speech whereas leftists see speech as a form of violence. True or accurate or not, this observation has the virtue of highlighting the relationship(s) between speech and violence.

When it comes to recently reinvigorated right-wing revanchists, their acceptance and even embrace of violence transforms the meaning of their words and images. Meaning follows a sadistic logic, in which words explain action and action lends force to words. But that content is arbitrary: there's nothing intrinsically sinister or violent about Pepe the Frog or any other right-wing -eme, visual or verbal. On the contrary, the right's approach is precisely to assign esoteric and even occult meanings to phrases, punctuation ("((()))"), images, rhetorical forms, gestures, anything. To the extent that "memeing" means anything, most of its meaning boils down to that process.

Leftoids can "counter-mirror" (IOW, parrot or even ape) rightist techniques as much as they want, but it won't work very well because the left has a fundamentally different view of the relationship between speech and violence. The mainstream left, and even most of the radical left at this point, has completely forsworn violence as a legitimate political strategy. That was partly deliberate, a victory of important moral strains in leftist and progressive thought; it was also partly unwitting and/or circumstantial, the result of ferocious persecution and subversion by rightist and state elements. But, regardless the origin, the insistence that speech and violence are categorically different rather than a continuum has severely limited what the l3efts's words and images can mean. Put simply, the left doesn't inspire fear.

This is just a historical observation. I am CERTAINLY NOT suggesting that the left should rethink its rejection of violence. Precisely the opposite: I think that good-faith, communitarian rightists (there are many) need to find ways to restrain and/or exclude those who would pursue similar political outcomes with force rather than persuasion.

But the question here shouldn't be "can the left meme," it should be "can the left speak and act with violent abandon?" At the moment, the answer is no. That's one reason — just one — that I'm a leftist.


On 11 Jun 2017, at 18:20, Gabriella "Biella" Coleman wrote:


Lots of good bits in here covering the nitty gritty mechanics of the
alt-right and their stellar command of media manipulation in light of
theories of art and cultural production. Worth a read.

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