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The Repressed is Never Silent

The Critical Art Ensemble on Konrad Becker's "Strategic Reality Dictionary"

The late 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century marked the time of the West’s last and perhaps only great intellectual free-for-all. When it came to questions of knowledge and the real, the tendency was a pluralistic “anything goes.”Scientists, transcendental philosophers, spiritualists, alchemists, naturalists, and so on could all congregate in one salon and have something civil and intelligent to say to one another. The pressure of the contradictions was not too great, and in some cases there was no contradiction at all. A scientist could make a reputation for studying the ectoplasmic arts or quantifying the weight of a soul. A successful inventor could attempt to build a radio to listen to the dead or a telephone to communicate with spirits without becoming a laughingstock. All knowledge systems and discourses seemed compelling, and the truce between secularists and transcendentalists for the most part seemed to hold. Charges of heresy and the barbaric punishments that accompanied the charge were neutralized, and no one was killed for being devout. (That would come later in the 20th Century with the understanding that priests and all their ilk should be hanged by their disemboweled intestines.) It was only in this tiny window of time that relative tolerance would reign among the old and new crafters of the real. Prior to this moment there were centuries of religious intolerance and absolute intolerance toward secularism, and after the window of tolerance, nearly a century of “enlightened” intolerance toward the spiritual with outcomes that ranged between ridicule and death.

This narrative of a persistent evolution of society toward an enlightened secularism fits only a relatively small demographic in the West. For the grand majority of people around the globe, the world and events in it are controlled and/or haunted by all manner of invisible creatures. Gods, demons, ghosts, spirits are constantly intervening in the material, bending it to their needs, and stealing human agency. To combat this situation or in many cases to profit from it, people specializing in visualizing the invisible realm and controlling the agents within it have been necessary. Holymen, necromancers, wizards, witches, priests, gurus, and shaman have mediated the visible and invisible worlds, and over the centuries produced complex systems of knowledge about the ontology of the nonsensible and how this competing reality(ies) affects us.

But to the newly empowered elite class of constructors of reality and history, such superstitious nonsense will not do. While superstition can never be totally eradicated as it is impossibly embedded in the fabric of culture, it must be repressed to the strongest degree utility will allow. That which is outside a given cultural history is very easy to render invisible, and when it does appear, it is framed within a seemingly nonjudgmental anthropology that in the end has the opposite effect by delivering an often screenal occasion for judgment and skepticism. That which can’t be done away with is contained. Visibility and acceptance are limited to specific cultural institutions (e.g., churches or temples). The exact boundaries of tolerance are always moving as the struggle to contain is constant. Digital realities and mass media have made the containment process even more difficult on both the material and the ideological levels. Fortunately for the reality makers, superstition is not a completely dysfunctional relic so long as it is limited to use by the consumers of the hyperreal to generate profit or ideologies of profit.

Having come to the end of the Strategic Reality Dictionary, readers know there is a deep contradiction within the secular class of reality engineers and behavior managers. While they stake their power on a profound relation to the material and to the measurable, too many invisible forces (those not investigated by physicists) still seem to exist and must be controlled. What is to be done with social currents, mass hallucinations, crowd psychology, trance psychology, virtual reality, the unconscious, and the rebellious elements of consciousness itself? The ways of the past and the artisans of the invisible real call out to the forces of the new. Under these conditions, the radically repressed once again become necessary sources of knowledge for the management of the real/hyperreal. No one speaks of this occult tendency, and it stays camouflaged as military research or psychological investigation. New names are invented, but the forms do not change. The world is still haunted and bewitched; the knowledge of the shaman, the somnambulist, the spiritualist, the mesmerist, the magician, the alchemist, the necromancer, and the illusionist speak from beyond the grave; and Giordano Bruno lives.

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