Dominic Fox - Libidinal freezing of the world, one in which the promise of future satisfaction is evacuated of meaning

Dominic Fox, Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection and the Politics of Militant Dysphoria (Zero Books, 2009)

"To live well in the world one must be able to enjoy it: to love, Freud says, and work. Dejection is the state of being in which such enjoyment is no longer possible. There is an aesthetic dimension to dejection, in which the world appears in a new light. In this book, the dark serenity of dejection is examined through a study of the poetry of Hopkins and Coleridge, and the music of depressive black metal artists such as Burzum and Xasthur. The author then develops a theory of militant dysphoria via an analysis of the writings of the Red Army Fraction's activist-theoretician, Ulrike Meinhof. The book argues that the cold world of dejection is one in which new creative and political possibilities, as well as dangers, can arise. It is not enough to live well in the world: one must also be able to affirm that another world is possible."

"We have been told by the living that the idea of a vital world is that of comfort and warmth. Dominic Fox assures us that this is not the case. With an unparalleled militant efficiency, Cold World blackens the lines between poetics and politics, music and negative resistance. It is a haunting sermon from the world of the dead exhorting the living to revolt in the name of a life whose vitality has been disenchanted by coldness and whose sacredness has been profaned by nigredo." - Reza Negarestani

"Dominic Fox's timely and important Cold World pinpoints the fundamental issue underlying contemporary debate about the possibility of revolutionary politics in a culture suffused by paralysing despondency. Drawing on a remarkable array of sources from Coleridge and Gerard Manley Hopkins to Xasthur and Ulrike Meinhof, Fox explores the necessary yet apparently contradictory link between refusal and revolution. While refusal without revolution perpetuates the very condition it would negate, revolution without refusal quickly lapses into phantasmatic utopianism. The quandaries of this particular dialectic have never been as lucidly charted as they are here." - Ray Brassier

"Cold World is a book about unpleasure: a sermon in the name of death. One of its premises is that socially sanctioned hedonism, in Western societies, is not rebellion but conformism – not a particularly astounding insight by itself, but one which gives rise to the question of what relationship a real rebellion might have with pleasure. Andrea Dworkin, who is not discussed in the book, would have made an excellent example of what it calls “militant dysphoria”, or politicised unpleasure. In the event, I went for Ulrike Meinhof instead. It’s a fairly bleak, grim, angry book; it says something about how I felt about life as an adolescent, and is meant, really, as a comfort and consolation to other adolescents. I hope their parents – and mine – will forgive me.
One of the reasons why I’m reluctant to supply a positive image of how human beings might enjoy their lives, their sexual lives in particular, is that such images are the very currency of consumerism. Actually enjoying one’s life is not the same as conforming to an image of enjoyment. Actually enjoying sex is not the same as enacting a role in some sexual scenario. We do, of course, imagine things we would like to have, or do, or be, and represent our desired future realities to ourselves and to others. What we actually do and become may be orientated by such representations, but even when things work out pretty well it never really coincides with them. It’s comic when Alan Partridge compliments his partner, post-coitally, on a “textbook” shag, a successful performance which needless to say has done nothing to draw off and dissipate his permanent nervous anxiety. We understand that he is a person captivated by an image of fulfilment, that he is unable to imagine his way out of his own fantasies – the classic comedic automaton, in fact. (It’s also implied that his mail-order bride is something of a professional in the execution of “textbook” sexual services).
The cold world is, in one sense, the world in which there’s nothing left to sell, in which the promise of future satisfaction is evacuated of meaning. The image has no potency, and the system of values organised around representations collapses. Insofar as the potency of images is a means by which desire inscribes itself, propagating itself through the “writing machine” of the iterable mark, this collapse entails a libidinal freezing of the world, a terminal slow-down. Auden’s now famous poem “Stop all the clocks”, with its conclusion, “for nothing now can ever come to any good”, explicitly associates the loss of a desired object with the winding-down of the world.
An anecdote. Years ago, when I was at university, I was complaining to an older friend about the end of a relationship, one which had gone badly almost from the start and had finished in a particularly farcical and humiliating way. She suggested that I imagine myself in a picture frame, with my former lover standing beside me. The lover departs, exits stage left; I’m there in the frame alone. What do I do next? What happens in the frame? I couldn’t answer this question. I couldn’t see any reason to remain in the frame. Therefore: exit stage right, out of the picture. Whatever image I had had of myself before was no longer tenable. There was nothing left that could be done with it. Walk, just walk away.
I don’t know how common this is. It might be the most common thing in the world. Some people give you the impression that it’s never happened to them, but how would you know? It may be that it takes a lot of effort to give that impression, to maintain the social presentation of a self-confidence that has been painstakingly assembled out of the figments of a chaotic life history. In any case, it turns out in the long run that what makes you the same creature at 30 as you were at 15 is not the consistency of a self-image but something more instinctual and less brittle: when Keats talked about the truths of poetry being proved on our pulses, it was this submerged, resourceful, passionate animal beneath the skin he was addressing." -

"Although I had great hopes for Dominic Fox's pamphlet I was disappointed. All those who call themselves radicals of the left are estranged from mainstream society; they do not fit in, they are alienated. This is a given and does not need much explanation. Alienation can be enforced through circumstance or temperament but all 'militants' are displaced or dispossessed materially or mentally from the everyday environment of capitalist work and leisure. Displacement is their motivation to become politically active, to struggle against society so as to change it, rather then wallowing in gloomy 'existentialism' or a trendy type of middle-class adolescent angst. I include myself in this description of general alienation of course; furthermore I'm a solitary, shy, sometimes melancholy person, with a deep suspicion of 'happy-clappy' positivism and hippy New Ageism. A book like this should appeal to me.
But Cold World deals not with alienation as such or the importance of negativity, withdrawal or refusal in political action, but extreme states of depression or despair; a terrifying mental illness that precludes all hope in the mind of the sufferer, without any allevation through political action, merely suicide, a rejection of life. For those who do not suffer from deep depression, an embracing of an aestheticism of despair is merely a privileged life style choice for western teenagers, easily co-opted by consumerism. Also there is very little politics in Cold World and is mainly a close reading of dark aesthetics: the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Coleridge and the extreme misanthropy and bleakness of Black Metal. This in itself is interesting, especially the chapter on extreme Black Metal, a musical genre I'm getting into at the moment, but how this relates to leftist social struggle is so tenuous and obscure as to only create frustration in the average reader. When we do get to some 'political analysis' in the last chapter on Ulrike Meinhof and the Red Army Faction what we actually get is something even more obscure. Maybe I'm lacking understanding here, but is this chapter a critique of the 70's left wing terrorist group or an intellectual defence of Meinhof's Marxist-Leninist vanguardism and her disregard of 'ordinary' people as mere 'collateral damage'? Dominic Fox was too busy being clever to give a clear answer.
I fail to see what the concept of a 'cold world' has to offer the radical left. Negative emotions such as alienation, anger or boredom, even clear-headed hatred can lead to worldly engagement through resistance, but a freezing up in despair leads only in one direction, to misanthropy and nihilism and the logic of that is suicide, ultimately to the extinction of humanity, which is really the unconscious path of capitalism. Hope for a better world is the positive side of the dialectic of struggle and is as vital as negativity ; so is seeing the potential in technologies such as the Internet which have directly arisen out of capitalism. The message of the so-called urban guerrillas of the 70's was that the defeat or co-option of the popular movements of the 60's lead to the despair (the cold world) of some of its participants, resulting in pointless violence and utter contempt for the working class and eventually their own organisational collapse into lengthy prison sentences, or for some such as Ulrike Meinhof, suicide itself." -

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