Masochism and Terror: Fight Club and the Violence of Neo-fascist Ressentiment

Andrew Hewitt
My contribution to this series of articles in Telos is not that of an historian or a social theorist, and it does not deal with totalitarianism in anything other than a rather spectral sense. To this extent, it might seem a little out of place. This essay concerns itself not with the analysis of a specific historical society that might (or might not) be characterized as totalitarian, but with the way in which a certain sense of the totalitarian has shaped the self-understanding of liberal Western popular culture. It starts from two very different points. At the level of theory, I examine avenues of political thought—specifically critical of totalitarianism—^that have been blocked by the historical events of the latter half of the twentieth century. At the level of cultural representation, however, I begin with an artifact of popular culture that I take as typical of certain trends in the representation of "fascism"—that term being understood, in this case, in its broadest and most imprecise sense as something disruptive to the liberal ideals of tolerance and non-violence. The essay will veer, then, rather perilously between the sublimity of high theory and the ridiculous thrill of a Hollywood action movie. In the process, I wish to argue for the operation of two apparently contradictory understandings of totalitarianism within public cultural discourse. The first—^which I will call the terror of the totality—opposes the open consensus of civil society to the closed order imposed from above by the state apparatus. The second—which I will call the terror of the fragment—opposes that same consensus to the threat of chtonic or atavistic violence arising from below. This latter is totalitarian insofar as it derives either from conviction—^the belief in a truth whose totalizing claims cannot be squared with the pragmatic give-and-take of liberal debate, and
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whose claims must be enforced—or from a fundamental pre-social violence or antagonism that reveals the partiality and impotence of our social conventions. It is through the concept of terror, I wish to argue, that we might begin to understand what links these two different threats to liberal society. The first form of violence—state terror—operates as a machine; the second—the terror that predates all social contracts—erupts. With the collapse of Eastern Etirope's communist regimes following more than forty years upon the defeat of European fascism, it again became possible—as the various contributions to this series attest—^to resurrect a concept of totalitarianism that had long been compromised by its role in justifying the political standoff of the cold war. The very same historical events that have allowed the concept to resurface, however, seem at the same time to have disabled another strain of thinking about totalitarianism. I think specifically of the analysis offered by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adomo in Dialectic of Enlightenment—an analysis in which the twin poles of totalitarianism are marked not by fascism and communism, but by fascism and capitalism.' I am no political scientist, but I think it safe to say that the equation of fascism and capitalism as political forms of totalitarianism is, on the face of it, absurd. It is certainly not a contention I would wish to defend, nor one I even think it particularly necessary to refute in this essay. I would, however, like to rescue other aspects of Horkheimer and Adomo's analysis from the oblivion to which recent events in political history might seem to have condemned it. Globalization—with the cultural, political, and military conflicts that it has unleashed—seems to have made Horkheimer and Adomo's infamous critique of the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and capitalism pertinent once again. My contention is not that Horkheimer and Adomo's fears have somehow come to fruition through globalization, but that a rhetoric that enabled opposition to an enemy whose power was characterized by its sheer totality no longer meets the exigencies of a situation in which that power is applied in a fragmented or terroristic fashion. There is a danger, I believe, in persisting with the characterization of fascism or neo-fascism as culturally monumental and politically invested in the State. We need to be attentive to the operation of proto-fascist ideology within the rhetoric of those who oppose totalization. We need to uncover the rhetoric of a certain bio-politics that was always fundamental to fascism.
1. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adomo, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1987).

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It is my contention that we need to think the concept of terror in dialectical relation to the concept of totality as it is articulated in Dialectic of Enlightenment. The totalitarianism thesis of the 1950s rendered problematic the strain of Hegelian Marxism (practically synonymous with Westem Marxism tout court) that depended upon its power to resolve the contradictions of capitalism within a teleological "grand narrative" through recourse to the work of the so-called "master-thinkers."^ Likewise, for the post-war left, the concept of revolutionary violence—^the role of terror within the provisional dictatorship of the proletariat—^was colored by the need to confront and work through the challenge posed by a quite specific form of state terror, namely the atrocities of the Stalinist Gulag. The Gulag seemed to provide prima facie evidence for the equation of fascism and communism that formed the basis of the cold war's totalitarianism thesis. As a unifying term, totalitarianism described a "top down" terror made possible by the erasure of the difference between State and Party, by the concomitant foreclosure of civil society, and by the identification of political reason with the demands of a trans- (or arguably pre-) historical subject. This subject might be figured as the race, or a concept of the proletariat that was itself also justified by Marx's reference to an ambiguous ethical imperative of the "species being." Terror, it would appear, was on the side of totality—the bringing to bear of the fiill might of the totalitarian regime upon its cowed and terrorized subjects. Of course, the operation of this "terror" was more complicated in reality, and the fact that it was used primarily to characterize Stalinism, rather than Nazism, is important. This terror was characterized not only by virtue of the might that was brought to bear (the terror of totality, as I would call it) but by the arbitrariness and unpredictability of its operation. The binary racial logic of Nazism was altogether clearer and outwardly directed: I am who I am (Aryan) because I am not who you are (Jew). In
2. I take the term from Andre Glucksmann, Les maitres-penseurs (Paris: Grasset, 1977). The work typifies the project of the so-called nouveaux philosophes of the post1968 backlash in France. Themselves imbued with the ideology and rhetoric of the 1968 student uprisings, these thinkers nevertheless reacted strongly against that intellectual tradition to challenge the potentially totalitarian thrust of Hegelian Marxism. Often overlooked outside France—and overshadowed by the more successful intellectual exports of poststructuralism, whose intellectual rigor they lacked—these thinkers signaled the disaffection of radical thinkers in Europe with the systematicity and rigidity of leftist political theory. In the current context, they are interesting for the way in which—like Horkheimer and Adomo—they, too, take up the putative implication of the concept of totality so crucial to Hegelian thought in the ideological workings of totalitarianism.

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the Soviet case, by contrast, terror relied both upon the total power of its agent and upon the fragmentation of any social or civil unit capable of resisting it. It could happen everywhere, it could happen anywhere. Even where a binary logic of "them" and "us" was invoked to justify purges, the very nature of the purge was paradoxically oriented toward "us" rather than "them." The purgative and self-devouring nature of Stalinism made it almost impossible to know whether one was terrorizer or terrorized. Indeed, this uncertainty is the condition ofterror, the final intemalization of an extemal power structure. In this sense, then—^according to a "logic" that I would characterize as the "fragmented" operation of terror—one cannot truly speak of the subject of terror. Terror, in this formulation, would be a discourse and practice in which the status of the subject is itself called into question: Am I subject or object of the purge? Can there be a subject of the purge? Is the purge the process whereby the true historical subject is to be effected? What I wish to suggest—in an historical leap—is that it is this "fragmented" or "fragmenting" aspect ofterror (i.e., its dialectical and disruptive operation rather than its total power) that presages the terrorist ofthe twentyfirst century. The suicide bomber is not just one form of terrorist, but the very realization ofterror in all its dialectical rigor. Rather than explore this claim in the geopolitical terms of East-West confrontations, however—a field of which I know less than nothing—I wish to explore cultural shifts within the cultural representation and theorization of power in Westem Etirope. I do so in order to demonstrate ways in which this concept of terror has arisen as a dialectical response to forms of "totalitarianism" still perhaps best explained by Horkheimer and Adomo—^whatever the patent shortcomings of their analysis at the level of political formations. My observations, therefore, belong in a volume considering the recrudescence of totalitarianism as an analytic category only insofar as that attenuated notion of the totalitarian operative in Dialectic of Enlightenment might be said to retain some interpretive value. What I wish to retain from Horkheimer and Adomo might only be termed "totalitarian" by way of a conflation all too common in their analysis: namely, a pervasive confusion of "totality" and "totalitarian" that derives from Adomo's oft-quoted dictum from Minima Moralia, "The whole is the un-tme" {Das Game ist das Unwahre). Any self-closing, selflegitimating system that projects itself as a totality is liable to the chaise of totalitarianism from the perspective of Dialectic of Enlightenment. Indeed,

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from such a standpoint, the global capacities of capitalism render it all the more "totalitarian," potentially, than any of the regimes of which the term might generally be used in political science. Politically totalitarian regimes traditionally dedicate a specific function within the public sphere to the explicit enunciation of official ideology and to the expression of collective belief in that ideology (demonstrations, rallies, marches, etc.). Indeed, under such regimes civil society is often reduced to such explicit and coercive demonstrations of faith. This is not the case, of course, in capitalism. The acts of faith that constitute "belief in capitalism are not extraneous to the operation of capitalism itself. One "believes" in capitalism (or at least one did, until neo-conservatism began rendering such belief an explicit article of faith) by living it. Thus, for example, the visit of President Bush to the site of the September 11 bombings in New York City may have given rise to spontaneous shows of patriotism on the part of the city's fire fighters, but the collective "belief in the system that was under attack had earlier been better articulated by the city's mayor, who urged the citizenry not to go out on marches and demonstrations, but to get back to the business of business, to get back to the work of shopping. The "totalitarian" aspect of capitalism consists in the fact that we "believe" by acting—even if we do not wittingly act out of an explicit belief I do not shop because I consider it my duty, or in explicit defense of a socio-economic system. What this suggests—and it is this that I retain from Horkheimer and Adomo—is that the "totality" projected by capitalism is all-encompassing because it does not need to construct itself as an object of faith. Some have referred to this as the "post-ideological" nature of late capitalism.^ The need of totalitarian regimes to demonstrate—or stagemanage—belief in their system paradoxically implies that this belief is always perilous, always at stake. The totalitarian ability to coerce a demonstrative belief is undermined by the need of such regimes for belief to be demonstrated. The explicit nature of totalitarian ideologies—the ability to articulate a set of core beliefs—is at one and the same time their strength in
3. One sees this tendency already in the early 1960s with the influential work of Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (New York: Free Press, 1962). The concept reaches an apogee of sorts thirty years later in the famous work of Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992). Fukuyama has, of course, since revisited some of the fundamental tenets of his earlier work.

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the face of a woolly and poorly articulated capitalism, and their weakness in the face of a capitalism that needs no explicit articulation. Recently, Slavoj Zizek has refuted, in a masterful manner, the misguided criticism leveled at poststmcturalist theory that its putative reduction of "reality" to little more than a series of discourses or textual operations leaves no place for the critique of ideology. Such critics argue that if we have nothing but discourse, we have no standard for assessing the tmth content of denotative statements and, therefore, no grounds for distinguishing between truth and misrepresentation. As Zizek points out, however, what has resulted from such theories is a new concept of ideology, in which a supposedly "post-ideological" consumer capitalism would, in fact, exemplify the very operation of ideology." In an argument I will retum to later in a quite specific cultural context, Zizek claims that ideology does not consist in the simple mis-representation of a fact or reality. Ideology is, instead, the construction of a reality of which the misrepresentation is itself a crucial and disavowed component. In other words, if "reality" is x, ideology is not simply any discourse that misrepresents that reality as y (as the classic theory of false consciousness would have it). Instead, ideology is the condition x, which is made possible only by the very act of misrepresentation y. Ideology exits the realm of mere representation (the reproductive realm of the superstmcture) and becomes constitutive, performative, dynamic, and productive. In such a formulation, ideology follows the logic of disavowal: "I know, but..." This disavowal is not simply a failure to penetrate to the tmth of things—an unfinished project of self-enlightenment—but the condition of possibility of continuing to live at all under the present conditions. In short, ideology becomes a precondition of individual and collective good health, rather than the symptom of an illness to be cured. The very theories that have been held by some as responsible for disempowering a critique of ideology have, in fact, allowed us to see the operation of ideology in its new context. This is a position with which Adomo would certainly have had much sympathy. For Adomo, tmth always inhered in the "split," in the conscious and unconscious, institutionalized and quotidian separation of discourses. The tmth is not x, ideology is not 7; rather, ideology is the condition x that is made possible only by the belief;'. Indeed, y need not even be a belief, and tends instead to the condition of an action.
4. Slavoj iXick, "The Spectre of Ideology: Introduction," in Mapping Ideology, ed. Slavoj 2izek (London: Verso, 1994), pp. 1-33.

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My example for tracing the ways in which totalitarianism and terror have realigned themselves in the popular cultural imagination is provided by David Fincher's 1999 movie Fight Club, starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham-Carter. My consideration of the film tums as much on its cultural context and reception as it does upon the film itself as a finished product. In his review, the Los Angeles Times's film critic Kenneth Turan took exception to what he saw as a proto-fascist social vision at the film's core.' The ostensible grounds for his criticism lie in the film's ambiguous romanticization of a paramilitary fraternity of anti-social anarchists—"Project Mayhem"—^that gathers around the charismatic leader-figure of Tyler Durden. The interplay within the film of testosterone-driven anti-social and anarchic behavior and a somewhat paradoxical obsession with the intemal hierarchical order of the group, a fascination with weaponry, and a central and crucial leader all figure prominently in the images and understanding of historical fascism popularized in the age of the History Channel. It is also a characteristic convergence that we find repeated in present-day right-wing paramilitary—and socalled "libertarian"—groups. Certainly, popular culture seems to have taken note of a recent resurgence in this nexus of ideological elements. Films such as Fight Club and American History X foreshadow a fear of antisocial and terroristic activity on the right—a fear that we have since conveniently transposed onto extemal foes. I wish to argue that the film critic in question—along with countless others who followed his line of argument—was on the right track, but that the "totalitarian" paramilitary aspects ofthe film merely made explicit and comprehensible the operation of a certain "totalitarian fragmentation" that might best be described as terror. If the film hamesses anarchy to a commitment to strict social hierarchy, we should beware of identifying proto- and neo-fascism only with the second of these ingredients. We need to be alert to the anti-authoritarian strain of the totalitarian impulse—an impulse that sees in social order an inadequate and merely secondary reconstruction of a more fundamental order, intuited only through unmediated and visceral experience. The narrative of Fight Club (though not its visual representation) opens with the nameless narrator (Edward Norton), a mild-mannered antihero, on a plane home from a business trip. An insurance adjuster whose
5. Kenneth Turan, review of Fight Club, directed by David Fincher, Los Angeles Times, October 15,1999. A Google search of Fight Club and the term "fascism" tums up a bewildering amount of debate about the political position ofthe film.

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job it is to visit car crash sites, calculate the rate of failure of car parts, and weigh the resulting insurance claims against the cost of redesigning the cars, he is paid to subject bodies—corpses—^to an economic calculation. On the plane he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a charismatic figure who seems able to express all the fhistrations the meek hero cannot. On arrival at his home, the narrator finds his building on fire and leams that his own apartment has blown up for some unexplained reason. In a loving fiashback, the narrator meanders through the apartment, Ikea catalog in hand, ordering articles, as captions and prices float over the screen, tuming the apartment itself into an illustration from the very catalog from which he orders. The catalog provides reading matter for a visit to the bathroom, as our hero continues to consume new items even as he evacuates what he has already consumed. Capitalism, we are to understand, is an extremely efficient system of digestion. At a loss and bereft of all worldly goods, the narrator fishes from his pocket the card of Tyler Durden, a soap salesman, and calls asking to be taken in for the night. Tyler lives in an abandoned and dilapidated house in a deserted, post-industrial part of town. The two become close, with the narrator becoming gradually, but never explicitly, infatuated with Tyler (indeed, the degree of the erotic attraction is decidedly higher in Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel than in thefilm).*On their first drunken night out, Tyler dares our hero finally to vent his anger and punch him. From this humble beginning, the idea for weekly bare-knuckle fight clubs develops, and soon an underground set of franchises has fight clubs springing up nationally, spreading word ofthe famous Tyler Durden. By this point, the narrator has given up the nine-to-five, blackmailing his boss into offering him a comfortable early retirement package. Dissatisfied with his life, he has trouble sleeping and begins attending self-help groups for a variety of fatal diseases from which he does not suffer. The groups embarrass him at first, as he is obliged to "share" with fellow sufferers emotions that he is not feeling. With practice, however, he realizes that he does begin to experience the necessary emotions, and the groups become a necessary catharsis to him. He meets another "faker" (Maria, a mess of a femme fatale, played by Helena Bonham-Carter), whom he despises for threatening to blow his cover. However when the desperate and self-dramatizing Maria attempts suicide, Tyler rescues the heavily dmgged woman from her apartment, and together they begin a torrid affair, whose accompanying noises keep the 6. Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (New York: Henry Holt, 1996).

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narrator awake at night. The woman is clearly an interloper in this male world and is treated accordingly by both men. The narrator is all bile. Increasingly drawn into Tyler's countercultural world, the narrator accompanies him on night raids to a liposuction clinic where they secure the fats necessary for the production of soap. Over time, combatants from fight clubs begin to show up at Tyler's home and eventually form a paramilitary organization—Project Mayhem—^that at first engages in high jinks at the expense of corporate America (e.g., waiting tables at government banquets and pissing in the soup) but later grows increasingly violent. The narrator becomes more and more uneasy at the escalating violence and the paramilitary turn that the group takes as "recniits" begin tuming up at his door. Gradually, he is marginalized within the group when he raises a voice against these developments. Shortly before the group's planned master-stroke—^the detonation of bombs in all the skyscrapers in the city center—Tyler goes missing, and the narrator pursues him across the country in an attempt to halt the plan. The response of people to the narrator's questions about Tyler's whereabouts are strangely puzzling, as are Maria's reactions to his intrusive questions about her liaison with Tyler. Slowly, the realization dawns on the narrator that he and Tyler are, in fact, one and the same person. He has been planning the terrible attack; he has been having the affair with Maria. His projection of the Tyler figure as his own doppelganger is a disavowal of the violent affect that he dare not express otherwise. At the end of the film, the narrator and Maria are reunited and treated to a top-floor, panoramic view of the city's spectacular collapse (a directorial tour de force). It is at just before this point—^when Tyler forces a revolver down his friend's throat—^that the film opens, the narrative effectively reconstructing how this moment of confrontation came about. This rather complicated staging of a suicide exemplifies one central component of my argument here: namely, that the prevailing fantasies of violence in what we might loosely term the "postmodern" era—and I shall, as we see, be taking the 1960s as a crucial watershed in this respect—are no longer sadistic ("What do the victims matter, if the gesture be beautiful?") but masochistic. Following Gilles Deleuze, I argue that such masochism is not merely the flip side of its sadistic predecessor and counterpart, but an entirely different regime of power—one that sees in the experience of pain the possibility of a rupture in the otherwise seamless operation of an apparently "post-ideological" ideology. While concepts such as sadism and masochism cannot, of

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course, be understood outside of their psychoanalytic framework, it is not at the level of psychoanalysis that I wish to argue here. One can, I believe, understand the import of the following distinction delineated by Deleuze without resorting to the analysis of supposedly "fascist" individuals: [The masochist's] sadism is a culmination: it is as though expiation and the satisfaction of the need to expiate were at last to permit the hero what his punishments were previously intended to deny him. Once they have been undergone, punishments and suffering allow the exercise of the evil they once prohibited. Likewise, the "masochism" of the sadistic hero makes its appearance at the outcome ofhis sadistic exercises; it is their climax, the crowning sanction of their glorious infamy. The libertine is not afraid of being treated in the way he treats others. The pain he suffers is an ultimate pleasure not because it satisfies a need to expiate or a feeling of guilt, but because it confirms him in his inalienable power and gives him a supreme certitude... .The masochist is able to change into a sadist by expiating, the sadist into a masochist on condition that he does not expiate.' In political terms, one can certainly see how the sadist's violence—a violence that "confirms him in his inalienable power and gives him a supreme certitude"—accords with the "totalizing" aspect of totalitarianism. It centralizes power and renders it absolute. But for the masochist, too, "punishments and suffering allow the exercise of the evil they once prohibited." Hardly more comforting, this—a fascism of the little guy that seeks to secure its legitimacy through the intricate series of contracts and formalities central to the practices of the masochist. If we recall the nature of the Rousseauian social contract that lies at the very heart of Enlightenment social theory itself, we cannot but be struck by its "masochistic" tendencies according to the above formulation. The social contract consists of the surrender of partial individual will to the paradigmatic subjectivity of the volonte generale, the surrender of the self to the Self, so to speak. The payoff for the original suffering is participation in the power that represses and therefore liberates us. Unlike some—such as Zizek and Eric Santner—I am deeply suspicious of the recent reemergence of the masochistic episteme in a putatively oppositional form, and of the whole accompanying discourse of redemp-

7. Gilles Deleuze, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus In Furs, trans. Jean McNeil (New York: Zone Books, 1991), pp. 39-40.

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tive violence that can be traced back to the more messianic writings of Benjamin.' It was a rather different Benjamin who, in his famous (by now, one might almost say infamous) essay on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," developed the crucial notion of the "aestheticization of politics." The terms in which that concept is described could hardly be more pertinent to the visual delights offered by Fincher's film: Mankind, which in Homer's time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic' The description, of course, might be tailor-made for the concluding scene of Fight Club, in which the narrator and Maria—having killed off the narrator's alter-ego of Tyler Durden but having failed to abort Project Mayhem's detonation of downtown skyscrapers—stand in awe before a plate glass window and watch the whole world implode. The camera, meanwhile, is poised behind them, watching them watching. Voyeurs of the voyeurism of others, we, the audience, experience in exemplary form the operation of disavowal: "We know, but..."'" This notion of mankind 8. See Slavoj I'lzek, The Sublime Object ofIdeology (London: Verso, 1989); and Eric
Santner, "Miracles Happen: Benjamin, Rosenzweig, Freud, and the Matter of the Neighbor," in The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology, ed. Slavoj Ziiek, Eric L. Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2006). 9. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968), p. 241. 10. The ambiguity inherent in this shot runs through the entire film: the audience's metacritical distance from the characters' own scopic pleasure is subverted into a second form of pleasure. The structure of this pleasure is essentially masochistic. Elsewhere in the film, for example, we share a subversive joke with Tyler—in his evening-time capacity as movie projectionist—as he splices frames of penises from hardcore pom into family movies, traumatizing an audience that cannot quite admit or grasp what it thinks it has just seen. We ourselves become victims of that very gesture, however, when Fincher himself intercuts such a shot into the credits at the films conclusion. (Fincher is rightly famed for his use of credit sequences.) We are—by this conclusion—both distanced from and implicated in the film's aestheticization of violence. More than this, we are implicated precisely by the very gesture of distancing: critique has become a form of affinnation. Our complicity is the belief >' without which the filmic x would not be possible. The critique of ideology has become the predominant medium for the propagation of ideology insofar as it fails to grasp the way in which ideology does not merely represent, but actually operates. This, I would argue, is the central paradox of Fincher's film and the characteristic gesture of what

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"experienc[ing] its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure" is the very premise of Fight Club—^the reinvigorating experience of pain as marked by the bruises and stitches on the protagonists' bodies. In this new configuration, however, the terms of Benjamin's analysis are reversed. Whereas for Benjamin the experience of self-destructive pleasure is a mark of selfalienation, in Fight Club the experience of pain is precisely the antidote to alienation. It is as redemption from the world of corporate death that Norton's character turns to the fight. In a gloss on the film's ethic for a promotional interview in The Face, Edward Norton characterizes an ethical reversal central to the film:
"What's being requested is not 'Can I hit you?' but 'Will you hit me?'...The point is: 'I need to get shaken, I need to feel something. I need that punch in the nose that wakes me up.'... It's not being proposed that violence directed outwards has some sort of purgative or cathartic effect.""

This explanation is intended, at least in part, to disarm tbe critics' suspicion that the film is somehow neo-fascist in its celebration of violence. No cathartic or expressive value is being ascribed to violence, Norton assures us. It isn't about hurting others. I wish to argue, however, that this disavowal of any aggressive intent marks a mode of re-sentiment central to the representational system of the "new" discourse of neo-fascism: affect not as something that is "purged" from the subject by means of a violent expression, but as something external that "affects"—and, indeed, effects—^the subject. Norton disclaims a violence perpetrated by the subject, but he raises the question ofa violence that is necessarily constitutive o/the subject. Pain is the experience of authenticity reworked not as a discredited—and potentially aggressive—expression, but as a radically
one might term the new "masochistic" discourse on neo-fascism. We consume the critique of consumerism: we gaze at Pitt's personally-trained, sculpted body, as it in tum mockingly gazes at the ubiquitous bodies of underwear models on billboards, to the accompaniment of Norton's voice-over telling us how "I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms." The masochistic pleasure of the fight club is projected onto the audience: we laugh at the poor suckers who are unwittingly subjected to inter-spliced snippets of pom, and laugh all the harder when we realize that we ourselves are the suckers. 11. Norton is a particularly eloquent actor, and his comments are taken from an interview with Craig McLean entitled "Public Enemy Number 1: Edward Norton," The Face. December 1999, p. 71.

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physical and aestheticized ethics of bodily impression. There ltirks here the fantasy of a redemption through the suffering of violence, a fantasy that today extends, I think, to the broader belief that a confi-ontation witb—or subjection to—the violence inflicted by anti-Enlightenment ideologues might somehow redeem liberalism from its own torpor. The question Fight Club raises with respect to new discourses on neo-fascism is: what happens to the subject in recent cultural attempts to re-connect with a more visceral form of "experience"? If the physical body has become the irreducible core of experience—^the locus of pain—^what relation does it entertain to metaphysical or even discursive notions of subjectivity? I would claim that the discourse of "fascinating fascism" that emerged in the 1960s involved a critique of the category of experience as a medium for reconnecting with more "authentic" notions of subjectivity. The cultural engagement with fascism at the time—and the questioning of the role of affect in political life—actually made possible a theory of ressentiment that we only now see resurfacing mfin de siecle fiirtations with neo-fascist iconography or topoi. The new discourse, I propose, experiences metaphysical subjectivity as precisely the thing that stands in the way ofa new aesthesis. It is the body itself that serves as a final residue of authenticity. We are reduced to a metaphysics of the physical. Though a much-touted postmodern irony has left us suspicious of unproblematized notions of authentic cultural expression—that is, the ability or need of the subject to express itself and the capacity of language for such expressions—what we are left with is, quite literally, an ideology of impression, the scarred impressions upon the body that mark its "authentic" engagement in the world. The invitation extended to the other to infiict pain on me reconfigures the ethical scenario that Nietzsche describes in On the Genealogy of Morals as the essence of ressentiment: "Every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering," Nietzsche writes, "more exactly, an agent: still more specifically, a guilty agent who is susceptible to suffering—in short, some living thing upon which he can, on some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy."'^ As described by Norton in his interview, the ptirgative function of violence is no longer paramount, whereas for Nietzsche, "the venting of his affects represents the greatest attempt on
12. Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy OfMorals andEcce Homo, trans, and ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p. 127.

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the part of the suffering to win relief, anaesthesia—^the narcotic he cannot help desiring to deaden pain of any kind."'^ If for Nietzsche ressentiment consists in "a desire to deaden the pain by means of affects," in Fight Club it has, instead, become the basis for a new aesthetic.'" It is no longer a question of deadening the pain, but of experiencing it—an aestheticization that breaks through the anaesthesia of everyday existence. The reduction of experience to the level of bodily pain suggests a fantasy of direct and immediate access to the real. At the same time, however, this fantasy of physical immanence—the subject in, or as, the body—obviously threatens a certain metaphysical conception of the subject. Tattered and wounded though they may be, the protagonists experience their wounds as a mark of authenticity, a physical reminder that they exist. By refusing to identify with the bodily ideal propagated in advertising, they champion a fantasy of the "real" body over its symbolic displacements. Riding a bus plastered with the ubiquitous male iconography of Calvin Klein underwear, Norton's character—through voice-over—^tells us how "I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms." Confronted with the commercial perfection of the advertised male body, Tyler and the narrator ask themselves, with an historically inflected sneer, "Is that what a man looks like?" This is a body that is fixed, made perfect, immortalized, and immobilized on a poster—but implicitly castrated (i.e., "fixed" in more ways than one). And what is notable about the heroes' reaction is their refusal to identify with it. Or rather, the film reconfigures the refusal to identify—^the supposed mark of unique authenticity, the victory of "real" bodies over the regime of representation—into an identification with the refusal. The phallic power of the monumental male body—an ironically graphic realization of Adomo and Horkheimer's identification of fascism and capitalism as twin forms of totalitarianism—is bought at the price ofa castration that the heroes no longer accept. In this refusal ltirks the fantasy of a power greater than and irreducible to the "merely" phallic or symbolic. Elsewhere in Benjamin's writing on fascism—^namely, in his "Theories of German Fascism"—we find a sketch of a very similar mode of identification. Here Benjamin analyzes German responses to the traumatic defeat experienced in World War I and asks, "What does it mean to win or lose a war?" At the symbolic level, he answers, 13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.

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This meaning says, so to speak, the winner keeps the war in hand. It leaves the hands of the loser; it says, the winner conquers the war for himself, makes it his own property, the loser no longer possesses it and must live without it To win or lose a war reaches so deeply, if we follow the language, into the fabric of our existence that our whole lives become that much richer or poorer in symbols, images and sources.'^ If this is so, Benjamin asks, then how is it that Germans of the right can so obsessively cling to the experience? Having traced the stages traversed in coming to terms with the loss, he notes that "what finally distinguishes the latest effort from earlier ones in the process involved here is the tendency to take the loss of the war more seriously than the war itself"'* This intemalization of loss—this paradoxical affirmation of lack as the very basis of identity—marks the apotheosis of "the novel assertion that it is precisely this loss of the war that is characteristically German."" In other words, rather than re-appropriating "the means of identification" in a revolutionary affirmation of the war's true significance, the fascist internalizes lack—ontologizes alienation—as the very condition of (German) subjectivity. In the case of Fight Club—we might say, by way of analogy—what first seems like the dismissive refusal of a merely specular identification (with the model) in the name of a more authentic (bruised) identity is in fact an attempt to establish identity through pain as the inchoate experience of lack. "What's being requested is not 'Can I hit you?' but 'Will you hit me?'... The point is: 'I need to get shaken, I need to feel something. I need that punch in the nose that wakes me up."' Even the fiippant coinage of the term "body fascism" to describe the culture the protagonists resist—"I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms" —tells us something about the intended political valence of this scene. Our authentic heroes favor a visceral, embodied, "real" subjectivity over the politically suspect lures of the imaginary. They do not need an armored fascist body to smooth over the fractures of some injured psyche. Like the soldiers wounded in war, who thereby escape the need to relive the war as trauma, their bruised bodies serve as the guarantee of an intact psyche.
15. Walter Benjamin, "Theories of German Fascism: On the Collection of Essays War and Warrior, edited by Ernst Jiinger," trans. Jerolf Wikoff, New German Critique 17 (Spring 1979): 123. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid.

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They do not need to imitate some fascist/capitalist ego-ideal in bodily form; they are "real" men, with all the messiness that might involve. What is politically troubling here is the facile use made of an iconography in which the unity of fascism and capitalism offers an easy target. Rather than simply accepting the "perfect" body as iconically "totalitarian," we need to be suspicious of ideologies that oppose so glib a totality in the name of an unacknowledged, more visceral, "real" experience of the body. Indeed, one might take as a graphic and emblematic example of the kind of shift I am trying to indicate—a shift away from "totalizing" to "terroristic" configurations of totalitarianism—^the need for culttiral criticism to move beyond the monumental physical iconography of National Socialism, Italian fascism, and Soviet communism. By refusing the sculpted bodies blandished by consumer capitalism—the eroticized montimentalism of Calvin Klein, capitalism's own Amo Breker—^the heroes distance themselves from a "body fascism" that seems to validate graphically Horkheimer and Adomo's equation of capitalism and totalitarianism. But the "fascistic" aspects of a contemporary culture exemplified by this film operate, in fact, at a quite different level. The sneer at the Calvin Klein poster on the bus is an easily recognizable political trope. I refuse the capitalist ego-ideal—^the form taken in the post-cold war era by the totalitarian impulse. While the belief of the novel's narrator that "we are all part of the same compost heap" might seem a long way from the pristine angularity of fascist statuary (or metrosexual "body fascism"), such a belief—as Lukdcs consistently pointed out in his critiques of the proto-fascist aspects of Expressionism and in his theory of fascism in general—has always been a part of fascist ideology." We have forgotten the proximity of totalitarian thought to the eco-logic of the compost heap. When the narrator of Fight Club tells us that he "wanted to put a bullet through the eyes of every panda that wouldn't fuck to save its species," the affinity of that eco-logic with a mtirderous eugenicism becomes exaggeratedly apparent." Similarly, Fight Club's theme of consumption and recycling—ordering from the catalog while sitting in the toilet—is itself reproduced and replicated in the specific form of
18. This is a position developed in the polemical essays of the so-called Expressionism Debate, waged in the exile journal Das Wort in the 1930s, most specifically in "Expressionism: Its Significance and Decline," Internationale Literatur 1 (1934). The thesis is developed and brought to a head in GyOrgy Lukdcs, The Destruction of Reason, trans. Peter Palmer (London: Merlin, 1980). 19. Pahhnmk, Fight Club, p. \23.

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violence perpetrated by Tyler Durden against the establishment. At night he raids the garbage skips outside a liposuction clinic to rescue the fats he needs to produce both soap and explosives. He recycles bodily waste as an explosive force. This trope has itself been recycled—^this time from the proto-fascist writings of the Futurist F. T. Marinetti, in whose writings we find "the plainest, the most violent of Futurist symbols": In Japan they cany on the strangest of trades: the sale of coal made from human bones. All their powderworks are engaged in producing a new explosive substance more lethal than any yet known. This terrible new mixture has as its principle element coal madefrombones with the quality of violently absorbing gases and liquids.^" This ability of the body to produce explosions—in both Marinetti's writing and Fincher's Fight Club—is politically ambiguous. It exemplifies a certain romanticization of the power of the somatic: the rendered body offers up a violent opposition of which the traditional political subject is no longer capable. In the case of Fight Club, that which is recycled (reproduced) is that which has been "expressed" (literally, as abject human fat, that which is extraneous to the self-image of the bourgeois subject and has been extruded by liposuction). By insisting in our critical theory upon the importance of the iconic and statuesque body to the self-representation of totalitarian regimes, we risk forgetting the bio-political aspect of totalitarianism. We risk underplaying the political dangers inherent in taking "nature" as the evaluative benchmark of a political ethic. Access to a violent somatic experience is taken, here, as proof of access to the real: biology—^no less than in fascist eugenicism—is truly the bottom line. If, as Adomo seems to indicate, we can no longer speak in the totalitarian age of fully formed political subjects, the only hope for resistance seems to comefromthe somatic itself, orfrommodes of subjectivity abstracted from the interpersonal realm.^' In effect, the compost heap becomes the model of community in a putatively "post-political" situation. It is this supposedly post-ideological condition that the new popular cultural discourse on fascism installs as the very epitome of the new ideology. The predominant
20. F. T. Marinetti, Selected Writings, ed. R. W. Flint (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971), p. 82. 21. Theodor W. Adomo, "Freudian Theory and the Structure of Fascist Propaganda," in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Continuum, 1982), pp. 118-37.

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form in which potentially fascist ideological material enters into popular culture today is—as it often was in the 1920s—as a form of romantic anticapitalism. In light of the oft-proclaimed—and oft-repeated—historical death ofthe subject, it is the body that must serve as a constant reminder of silenced affect and as a privileged trope of this romantic anti-capitalism. The rigid demarcation between self and other that we traditionally link to the statuesque fascist body has been replaced at the level of the physical by tropes of a more fluid organicism. Our own conceptions ofthe fascist imaginary have themselves become fixed almost entirely on the image ofthe hard, delineated body as the symbol of a hypostatized autonomous subjectivity under threat. Thus, a certain glib "anti-fascism"—a rejection of rigid demarcations of self and other—provides safe haven for the countercultural reconnection with an ecological strain of proto-fascist ideology that we have too Iong forgotten. Fight Club's pretension to a critique of consiunerism rests upon a misunderstanding ofthe operation of fantasy as a socially cohering force. We might, by way of concluding our consideration ofthe film, encapsulate the problem in one example of the work of subversion undertaken by Project Mayhem. In what seems an tincannily direct lift from Slavoj Ziiek's 1999 essay on fantasy as a political category, the film shows the members of Project Mayhem tampering with the airplane evacuation information familiar to all frequent flyers. At the very beginning ofthe film, when the two heroes first meet, the inanity ofthese brochures—showing passengers alighting calmly as the plane goes down in flames—has been commented on. As one of the first interventions of Project Mayhem, urban terrorists sabotage the printers and distribute to the airlines emergency evacuation notices that show screaming, terrified people hurling themselves from the plane in flames and traumatized children preparing to meet their death. This, we are to understand, is what really happens in plane crashes. To pretend otherwise is to acquiesce in the ideological anaesthetization that corporate America perpetrates against us. Zizek has written specifically on this scenario in another context: The standard notioti ofthe way fantasy works within ideology is that of a fantasy-scenario that obfuscates the true horror of a situation: instead of the full rendering of the antagonisms that traverse otir society, for example, we indulge in the notion of society as an organic whole.... Suffice it to recall the safety instructions prior to the take-off of an airplane. Aren't they sustained by a fantasmatic scenario of how a possible plane-

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crash will look?... Is not this 'gentrifying' of a catastrophe (a nice soft landing, stewardesses in a dance-like style graciously pointing with their hands toward the 'Exit' signs) also ideology at its purest? However, the psychoanalytic notion of fantasy cannot be reduced to that of a fantasy scenario that obfuscates the true horror of a situation. The first, rather obvious thing to add is that the relationship between fantasy and the horror ofthe Real that it conceals is much more ambiguous than it might seem: fantasy conceals this horror, yet at the same time it creates what it purports to conceal, its 'repressed' point of reference.^^ The film offers the satisfaction of sharing in the unmasking of ideology— sneering at hyperbolic masculinity along with Brad Pitt, even as his own body replicates exactly "what a man looks like"—precisely as it reinstates it both scopically and narratively. The anti-ideological work of the terrorists serves, in fact, to re-instate a notion of fantasy as cover-up. What we arrive at is the stupidity of those in the know—^the arcane knowledge of the anti-government survivalists, for example, who "know" what the government is trying to "hide." This gnostic play of hide-and-seek has become the predominant epistemological form of what we might call "soft fascism" in the present day. In purporting to reveal what is hidden to the unsuspecting public, "libertarian" conspiracy theories in fact obscure what fantasy always already reveals for us. A critical model of political fantasy as "obfuscation" or "cover-up" itself in fact covers up potentially fascistic ideological material that is otherwise all too evident and, more often than not, all too invested in a logic ofthe evidential. By insisting upon a notion of ideology as mis-representation, we imply what we cannot articulate in positive terms—namely, that we would know true representation if and when we saw it (for example, the terrified passengers burning up in an airplane). I have used Fight Club not because I consider it a particularly important movie (though it is certainly an extremely good one), but because I take it as a particularly graphic example of a trend that I have observed elsewhere in the more strictly delineated political arena. I wish now to suggest some paths by which this new configuration of fascism and terror seems to have come about. Saul Friedlander was first to take critical note, in 1984, ofthe emergence in the 1960s of a new discotirse on fas22. Slavoj Ziiek, "Fantasy as a Political Category: A Lacanian Approach," in The iizek Reader, ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmund Wright (Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 1999), pp. 92-93.

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cism, and he took it as itself an historical phenomenon worthy Friedlander's study served to periodize the post-war reception of fascism, arguing that by the mid- to late-1960s, a new discourse of fascism—for which we might, by way of shorthand, borrow Sontag's famous notion of "fascinating fascism"—had begun to emerge.^"* This new discourse—to which Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" stands, in many ways, as unwitting godfather—stressed representational and aesthetic politics over the specific historical analyses of Nazi and Fascist crimes that had thus far shaped the immediate post-war attempt to come to terms with the past. The disadvantage ofthe new discourse was that its focus on ideology as representation potentially replicated the very depoliticization it claimed to analyze: the historical horror of fascism consisted, after all, of rather more than just the "aestheticization of politics" that Benjamin had so famously described in 1936. The great advantage of Benjamin's study, however, lies in its ability to locate structures of thought and affect that might allow us to analyze "the fascist within us"—a pressing issue for the New Left ofthe 1960s. As Friedlander's presentation demonstrates, the fascism debates that reopened in the mid-1960s, within the new paradigm of "aestheticization," were overdetermined. On the one hand, they marked a response to a constimer culture that finally seemed to have fully enacted the process of anaesthetization that Susan Buck-Morss reads into Benjamin's essay." This anaesthetization, moreover, seemed to have resulted in a certain privileging of specularity as a mode of consumption—as witnessed, for example, by Debord's infiuential analysis in The Society ofthe Spectacle (1967), or by the work of filmmakers such as Pasolini, whose putative analyses of fascism were, in fact, confrontations with the realities of postwar consumer capitalism. Anaesthetization, then, was primarily identified with the specular and with constimption. Constimption—the most visceral of bodily acts—had, by metaphoric extension, become identified almost
23. Saul Friedlander, Reflections of Nazism: an Essay on Kitsch and Death, trans. Thomas Weyr (New York: Harper and Row, 1984). 24. Susan Sontag, "Fascinating Fascism," in Under the Sign of Saturn (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980), pp. 73-105. 25. Susan Buck-Morss, "Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin's Artwork Essay Reconsidered," October (1992): 3-41. Her arguments are taken further by Lutz Koepnick, "Fascist Aesthetics Revisited," M>tfemwm/Aforfe/7i/fy 6, no. 1 (January 1999): 51-74.

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entirely with a certain mode of capitalist existence. To the extent that the body's functions had been so radically colonized by such metaphors, the possibility of revolt seemed to lie in reclaiming an experience ofthe body, reclaiming the metaphor. I wish to argue that this possibility is problematized in recent cultural confrontations with the twin totalitarianisms of capitalism and fascism. As Fight Club nicely demonstrates, we have entered a new stage in the reception of fascism as aesthetic spectacle. A generation of theory no longer burdened by the crisis of modernism that made Benjamin, Sontag, and Friedlander so timely in their different ways, has begun to emerge and fmd its expression not only in postmodernism, but also in a reconfigured cultural fascination with fascism. Fight Club offers a simultaneous critique and instrumentalization of a certain logic of re-sentiment, a logic that seeks to reproduce as impression the emotional states that are absent as the cause of its violence. While we might think of totalitarianism,fi-oma political perspective, as asserting and imposing a social order that belies real social schisms, we need also to beware of a quite different politics of ressentiment that seeks to generate affect in response, to create a kind of "subject effect" in the face of political and cultural anomie. In Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," we find a reconstruction of the conditions of possibility of such political ressentiment as a mimetic mode of experience: re-sentiment. It is no coincidence that Benjamin's theory of fascism should derive from a consideration of modes of representation, since representation is, in a quite different sense, the organizational principle of democracy. In Benjamin's analysis, "expression"—perhaps the grounding trope of liberal democracy, the collective will of civil society expressed at the ballot box—is no longer a guarantee of legitimacy or meaning, but a mere depoliticized ptirgation of disgruntled affect. I would argue that the essay takes us beyond the problematic of representation—which carries an unerringly negative connotation in his essay as the form of violent "expression" granted by the fascists to those whose legitimate needs they ignore—into a consideration of what he calls "reproduction." It is this newly performative and (re-)productive notion of ideology that allows us to understand the articulation of potentially totalitarian tendencies at the heart of consumer culture, I believe. The opposition of "expression" and "representation" is central to Benjamin's essay. "Fascism," he writes, "attempts to organise the newly

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created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves."^* We should beware of conflating expression with representation or reproduction, however. Elsewhere in the essay, Benjamin claims that "any man today can lay claim to being filmed," while complaining that "in Western Europe the capitalistic exploitation of the film denies consideration to modem man's legitimate claim to being reproduced."^' Reproduction is something to which we have a "legitimate claim" whereas "expression" is what we get instead of our "right"—and all this in the context of an analysis of the political potential of film. In Benjamin's presentation, the so-called "capitalistic exploitation of the film" would seem to consist precisely in the replacement of reproduction by expression. Thus, the category of expression serves as the medium of capitalist repression, a form of repressive desublimation practiced by capitalism as it slips into its post-liberal stage. It would be wrong to identify fascism in Benjamin's essay with expression itself, but the possibility of an abreactive expression goes hand in hand with the suppression of real economic change. The ideological superstructure is cut loose, so to speak, and tumed over to society's losers as a form of booby prize. Fascism would, then, not be the emergence of uncontrolled and irrepressible natural affect into the political realm, but a particular mechanism for the reproduction of anaesthetized sentiment as re-sentiment, or ressentiment This, I think, is crucial: we should not understand affective ressentiment as the explosion of some raw material into the realm ofa politics that cannot offer it adequate expression. This is the scenario that Fight Club would have us believe. Ressentiment should be understood otherwise—as a mimetic mode of experience in which affect does not precede expression, but where, on the contrary, expression mimes and recreates the semblance of affect under the conditions of a modem political and aesthetic anaesthesia. It is the "punch in the nose" that reminds us we exist. The danger of ressentiment is that it offers the semblance of an original affect even as that affect is produced by its very repression. To this extent, ressentiment follows the logic of the simulacrum, a rehearsal of affect that seeks to leam itself through repetition. I wish to see the passage from a demand for expression (linked, by Benjamin, to the diversionary political strategy of fascism, and opposed to
26. Benjamin, "The Work of Art," p. 241. 27. Ibid., pp. 231,232.

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the legitimate demand for "reproduction") to a desire for what we might call "impression"—^the punch that wakes us up—^as the movement from a sadistic to a masochistic conception of violence. I would further argue that this reconfiguration of a politics of impression demands that we rethink not only our responses to such forms of violence, but also the cultural paradigms traditionally invoked for characterizing fascism. I have been suggesting that we need to think the concept of terror in dialectical relation to the concept of totality. It is a fragmentary or fragmenting act that derives its legitimacy from its putative status as the intervention of a more fundamental totality supposedly traduced by the false totality of the social and political status quo. Of course, used as a blanket term, "terrorism" clearly erases important distinctions between what one might broadly call "internal" and "external" threats of violence. By "internal," I mean threats launched from within a social body ("bringing the war home," as it was called in the 1960s); and by "external," I refer to terroristic usages of violence enacted upon a society by forces explicitly foreign and oppositional to it (September 11, for example). I have been focusing here on the "internal" terror—the threat "from below," so to speak, that emerges from a certain romanticization of anti-capitalism and takes shape as a form of critique of the "totalitarian" tendencies inherent in capitalism itself In an age of globalization, however, such distinctions as "internal" and "external" do not really hold: the young Muslims who bombed London's buses and underground in July 2005 were card-carrying, cricket-playing British citizens. Despite these misgivings about the term, I do believe that both forms of terror are marked by a broader shift in liberal understandings of violence. I also think that we can trace this shift to the same nexus of events and ideas that saw the emergence of the "fascinating fascism" paradigm in the 1960s and 70s. The present difficulty on the left in responding to violence (or its threat, whether from terrorists or dictators) is the result, I would argue, of a certain "masochistic tum" in the conception of violence that we can trace to the late 1960s and that resurfaces today quite explicitly in work of figures such as Zizek. On the radical left, the possibility of violence and terror was raised long before the wave of "external" terror that we have now seen on the streets of New York, Madrid, and London. By way of example, let me cite a remarkable joint statement issued by the editorial collective of the leftist German journal Konkret in 1967 on the occasion of the murder by police of an unarmed peaceful protester against the Shah of Iran's visit to Ber-

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lin. It was this murder that was to rally the student movement into more direct and radical political violence. Konkret, meanwhile, was a cleverly populist mix of politics and pom for the chattering classes, whose editor at the time was Ulrike Meinhof—soon to become infamous as one ofthe leaders ofthe so-called Baader-Meinhof Gang of urban terrorists. Entitled "Violence" ["Gewalt"], the article theorizes political violence as no longer just an exception, serving to prove the rule of non-violence, but a means that we neither reject categorically, nor use arbitrarily, and whose methods and revolutionary legitimacy we must first leam to grasp through theoretical reflection and practical application.^* In other words, violence cannot simply be seen as a response—^rational or irrational—to a certain situation that has been weighed and analyzed. It is, itself, a process of reflection. The rules of violence's application are learned by the practice of violence itself. The collective characterizes its position as support for a form of "enlightening violence" {aujkldrerische Gewalt). The "enlightenment" pretensions ofthis form of violence—an apparent attempt to square antiliberal action with liberal norms of reason—is itself symptomatic of a shift in the ethical position that violence occupies here. This is a shift that I would describe as a move from sadistic to masochistic uses of violence. In his description ofthe epistemology of masochism, Deleuze points out quite convincingly that the [sadistic] libertine may put on an act of trying to convince and persuade; he may even proselytize and gain new recruits But the intention to convince is merely apparent, for nothing is in fact more alien to the sadist than the wish to convince, to persuade, in short to educate. He is interested in something quite different, namely to demonstrate that reasoning itself is a form of violence... .The point of the exercise is to show that the demonstration is identical to violence. It follows that the reasoning does not have to he shared by the person to whom it is addressed any more than pleasure is meant to be shared by the object fi'om which it is derived.^'

28. "Gewalt," Konkret 6 (1968), reprinted in Vorwdrts! Nieder! Hoch! Nie Wieder! 40 Jahre Konkret: Eine linke deutsche Geschichte 1957-1997, ed. Hermann L. Gremliza (Hamburg: Konkret Verlag, 1997), p. 114. (All translations ofthis article are my own.) 29. Deleuze, Mjioc/iwffi, pp. 18-19.

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Meanwhile "the sadistic 'instructor' stands in contrast to the masochistic 'educator'," for "the imperative and descriptive function of language transcends itself... in Masoch toward a dialectical, mythical and persuasivefiinction."^"As a form of societal and self-enlightenment, this form of terroristic violence presents itself as pedagogical, a learning process. Whereas the sadist undermines enlightenment by its own means, the masochist reinforces its persuasive discourse. The pedagogical function of violence as understood by the collective of Konkret—an absurd form of Auflclarung—accords very closely with Deleuze's description of masochistic violence. Such violence does not oppose the processes of political reason at all, but sees itself as their necessary extension. As such, it is a form of pedagogical communication. The authors argue that it is impossible for the intellectuals and students to make themselves understood by the revolutionary proletariat: "Only since we have tentatively begun to speak the language ofthe system itself," they write, "have the workers been able to understand us.... This language is the language of violence."^' In this article, violence is explicitly presented as a form of language—both the language of "the system" and the language instinctively understood by the working class. The condescension of the formulation is matched only by its romanticism. For example, the authors magnanimously point out that the workers have really been in a kind of latent dialog with the intelligentsia all along, had we only been better able to understand the value of proletarian violence "when some of them punched us in the kisser" (wie einige von ihnen uns jetzt in die Fresse schlagen) in frustration at our endless talking and abstract theorizing. The precondition for fluency in the language of terroristic violence is a masochistic subjection to the violence ofthe proletariat. Violence, in this romanticized formulation, becomes a form of communication across classes—a communication in which the working class has long sought to engage us, if only we had been able to "listen." As if to make explicit the terms of analysis that I have been using here, the authors—in an attempt at self-criticism for previously having failed to collaborate with the working class—^belittle their own earlier anti-violent stance in the face of state violence: "We were all too grateful for the opportunity to get beaten up—but this masochism rendered us incompre30. Ibid., pp. 19,23. 31. "Gewalt," p. 114.

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hensible to the workers."^'' There is a parsing out of sexual and political pathologies here. According to this logic, while masochism is the modality ofthe bourgeois liberal, a form of innocent sadism is the healthy (though often manipulated and misguided) response ofthe working class to its own repression. Even as they seek to move beyond such masochism, however, the authors ofthe piece reinstate it rhetorically, referring to "the violence that daily cripples and represses us, our generation, and our society" as a "normal, everyday self-rape."" This paradoxically explicit disavowal of masochism goes hand in hand with an attempt to characterize oneself rhetorically as victim. The intemalization of repression is referred to as a "self-rape" {Selbstvergewaltigung), and the term is an apt description of the rhetorical movement ofthe piece—a masochistic attempt somehow to own one's own rape. This is a fantasy that I think we see rehearsed in those recent theories of redemptive violence that trace themselves back to Benjamin. I re-encountered a similar logic as I attempted to work through the theoretical stakes of Zizek's analysis of Fight Club. Picking up Eric Santner's notion ofthe historical "symptom" as the repetition not of past acts, but of past failures to act, Zizek posits the necessity of a redemptive revolutionary violence. Much to his credit, he does not shirk even the most shocking examples to support his thesis, drawing on the Nazi past for evidence of a violence that somehow knows its own insufficiency. Thus, he argues: One should read this Kristallnacht precisely as a "symptom": the furious rage of such an outburst of violence makes it a symptom—^the defense formation covering up the void of the failure to intervene effectively in the social crisis. In other words, the very rage of the anti-Semitic pogroms is proof a contrario ofthe possibility ofthe authentic proletarian revolution.^'* He reads "post-Communist outbursts of neo-Nazi violence" in the former East in a similar vein, as a kind of melancholic recuperation of Communism's failed anti-capitalist potential. Zizek argues that "although this
32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. Slavoj Ziiek, "The Ambiguity ofthe Masochist Social Link," in Perversion and the Social Relation, ed. Molly Anne Rothenberg, Dennis A. Foster, and Slavoj 2i4ek (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003), p. 120.

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Strategy [of revolutionary violence] is risky and ambiguous (it can easily regress into a proto-fascist macho logic of violent male bonding), this risk has to be assumed—^there is no other way out ofthe closure ofthe capitalist subjectivity."^' Like Brad Pitt sneering at the underwear model—and I trust that Slavoj would graciously accept the comparison, if not by the argument that drives it!—Zifck is tendentially identifying subjectivity with a form of totalitarian closure. Again echoing the protagonists of Fight Club—a film he obviously admires—^Zizek argues that "violence should primarily be conceived as self-violence, as a violent reformation of the very substance of a subject's being. "^* The political stakes, meanwhile, are stated quite clearly: "Sadism," he argues, "involves a relation of domination, while masochism is the necessary first step toward liberation."" Taking Fight Club as my prime example, I hope that I have demonstrated how there has been a shift in filmic violence away from expressive and cathartic violence and toward an "impressive" and affective self-violence. While there is by now a long tradition of thinking sadistic violence in relation to enlightenment, the relation of such violence to enlightenment is one of what we might call "parallel negation": its structures—as Lacan demonstrates—are homologous, but in a parodistic sense, so to speak. With masochism, the relationship is different. Enlightenment, here, is predicated upon submission rather than liberation. Deleuze indicates how sadism and masochism should be thought as distinct epistemological structures rather than as two terms of a dyad, and it is obviously simplistic to think of them in terms of active and passive. Nevertheless, I do believe that there lies a greater danger right now in the intellectual fiirtation with masochism than in any temptation to sadistic—or expressive—violence. There is something defiating about the conclusion to Fight Club, something a little too clever in the revelation that the narrator and Tyler Durden—follower and leader—are one and the same. But the revelation perhaps tells us something about what is currently going on at that second level of my argument here, within the realm of academic theory. If we need to reject the simple opposition of sadist and masochist as complementary terms within the same discourse, we can nevertheless think the discourse of sadism in general as the disavowed projection of the masochist. In other
35. Ibid., p. 116. 36. Ibid., p. 119. 37. Ibid., p. 118.

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words, the sadist might not be the other who completes my scenario of fantasized violence, but rather the subject position I must myself disavow.^* The "internal" and "extemal" forms of terror can no longer be separated, because the latter functions as the disavowed discourse of the former. If the danger of a "sadistic"—or so-called "black"—enlightenment was the hollowing out of any positive sense of enlightenment, a "masochistic" episteme, I believe, awaits a dangerous redemption from outside. It becomes political theology. However, it is only from the perspective of our own discursive distinction of profane and divine—a distinction that is itself profane—that the "outside" agent of redemption need be characterized in theological terms. Benjamin himself had multiple formulations for his angel of history—some of which stressed its mundane historical nature rather more than its angelic one, we should remember. The challenge, I believe, is to redeem theory from the spell of redemption and the lure of political theology.

38. Taking up my example ofthe political trajectory of Ulrike Meinhof, it is interesting to note that at diflFerent stages she "identified" both with the perpetrators and with the victims of Nazi violence. This instability of identification, I want to argue, is necessary within the logic of terror—a logic that threatens all subject positions.

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