Stoner Deductions, Part I

I’ve been writing a lot recently about stoner neo-noir movies, and the ways in which they seem to me to crystallize a certain kind of desire that I see circulating in trans community. I’m going to be serializing some of that work on here. This is the first part. (To those who follow my memoir-work in this space, I would just like to confirm that yes, I’m still sober; no, I don’t smoke weed. It’s a genre thing…)

Sexuality is the area where the homogeneity of the new world manifests itself most clearly. Significantly the hero’s erotic instincts are themselves all but extinguished by his epistemological confusion.

–Larry Gross, “Film Après Noir” (1976). 

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ORDELL ROBBIE: You know you smoke too much of that shit, that shit’s gonna rob you of your ambition.

MELANIE: Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV…

––Quentin Tarantino, dir., Jackie Brown (1997).


         Everyone I speak to these days seems to say that they’re tired of talking about transness, and only want to notice trans people and bodies––lives as they are lived. The authors collected in the recent volume Trap Door all seem to echo a point made succinctly by Morgan Page: that trans visibility entrenches trans inequity, by drawing attention and prestige to a minority of trans celebrities, while directing state and public violence to the less prestigious majority. A central mechanism of biopolitical governance, “visibility” functions through a logic of racial selection. Jules Gill-Peterson argues that the historical construction of the cis body in the early twentieth century served to rationalize the eugenic science of racial plasticity. Eva Hayward and Che Gossett have argued that the generalization of trans modes of analysis outside the remit of the transsexual has led to the catastrophic neglect of, especially, those subjects whose subjection by cisness is most violently enforced: Black trans women living with HIV/Aids. In so far as there is a trans everywhere, it screams to stop the theorizing and attend instead to the mechanical reproduction of death by racial capitalism and the global transnational state. 

         As a result, there is not one but many cisnesses to be against. There is the cis-normative movement in social policy, which is not so much a designation as a project of social cleansing; there is that thinking, which attempts, for example, to make a firm distinction between “reversible” and “irreversible” spots of time; there is, perhaps most basically, the cisness of ontic legibility, that names a body or mind “cis” if it is uncontaminated by the touch of conscious design, and “trans” the moment that a motive is traceable. There is the voice in a head, which and endows each value system with a currency––which distinguishes between natural and synthetic hormones (or breasts, whose growth may be catalyzed but is never caused by hormones) or between the true and the false transsexual. To lay these resistances out for analysis, then, would be to reveal that “cis” and “trans” are hardly ontologized concepts––they are felt limits encountered at the edge of every project of self-knowing or world-building. “Leave us alone” is the cry of trans feminism against cisness; a mode of collective conjuration that demands its own closure to contradict the sequence of medico-political re-openings, re-phrasings of old demands, re-enforcements of stale injunctions.

         As if to produce a psychic equilibrium with this demand for non-visibility, non-conceptualizability emerges as a co-eval power of scrambled knowledge, a sequence of mythologemes flitting back and forth between minute and gigantic scales. Conspiratorial thinking runs through trans knowledge for much the reason gossip does: they both feel fun, and the particular kind of fun they feel is an especially effective compensation against the otherwise depressive effects of non-conceptualizabilty––loneliness, confusion, feeling stupid. The meme would be an effective vehicle of compensation if it bypassed interpretation and landed on the mutually-presencing nodes of feeling-togetherness, which otherwise may as well have been abolished along with the concept. A meme becomes, one hopes, a mood; a mood might freeze into a meme––which, if it does, it does by sloughing off every possible trace of historical specificity. Benjamin writes that the dialectical image is that “wherein what has been comes together with the now to form a constellation.” A meme, by contrast, is that image wherein the conceptualizability of history as a dialectical particular recedes entirely, and the limitless negativity of space capacitates the co-being of a you and a me, not as positively-related subjects in a historically-determined configuration, but as objects thrown into the same slipstream of cosmic indifference.

         Memes are, among other things, instruments of conspiratorial knowing.

They evoke knowingness in the absence of knowledge, the negative imprint of a dialectical image. The art historian Michael Fried referred to this condition as “deductive structure”: the minimalist notion that the content of an art object should derive, as literally as possible, from its form––that the dimensions of a canvas determine the marks one puts on it. Memes refuse to stipulate whether there is one mood or many moods, instead they repair the schizoid split between singular and plural, bypassing theory and conceptualization and returning knowledge to the presencing zone of affect. The process reverses what Stephen Colbert used to call “truthiness”––the self-satisfied structure of knowledge that vibes out on the purported credibility of a given ideologeme, rather returning us to the vacuity of knowledge claims in untheorizable space, the essential untruthiness of the mood. Yet there is a certain dogged optimism, too: an effort to show one’s working, to draw lines and scratch lines over them, to build architectural palimpsests from one’s cognitive labor, to build a house from one’s own delusion. 

         Although, again, is Charlie Day deluded? Is this space he has furnished propositional––does it make a claim?––or is it purely the negative architecture of non-propositional, non-conceptual, non-abstract deductiveness? Would deductiveness shorn of proposition, indeed, be in any way distinct from delusion? This question approaches the condition of the cultist who awaits the apocalypse on a particular day, and when the day passes, decides that his calculations, but not his premises, were misguided. Interminable deduction––the work of the day (the working day) as the labor of fitting in the latest drop (for QAnon) or root (for queer Twitter) with the schematically absented non-theory towards which one is moving.  The rationale, to adopt the form of R. D. Laing’s formulae in Knots, would be something like:

         ––I know that I was gay when I was a child, because I am gay, and when I was a child I liked Space Jam, and Space Jam is gay. 

         ––I know Space Jam is gay because I am gay, and I liked it when I was a child. 

         ––When I was a child, I did not know Space Jam was gay, but I should have known I was gay, because I enjoyed Space Jam.

And the conspirator reappears as the absented subject who knows only what she does not know (but should have known), and who suspects that the shared condition of “should have known”––of belated non-knowledge––is the negative condition of the mood. And if that subject appear narcissistic (which of course it does), it is a narcissism of the primary kind, rather than the secondary: developmentally dashed, the primary narcissist is the infantile type who simply has not had cause to differentiate between the negative space of mind and the negative space of world. Different to the pathological secondary narcissist, the mature subject who self-replicates by investing objects with her own ego-libido, and who loves only the parts of herself she finds in the world.

         Deductiveness, on the other hand, was stoner logic––this much seemed obvious...