The Smirk Seen Around the World, Part 2: Identity, Faciality and Mass Political Neurosis.

In the first installment of this mini-series of articles, we explored the various issues surrounding the Covington confrontation, and the manufactured cathedral-media outrage behind it. This article will attempt to bring more of a philosophically abstract analysis to the incident, epically the near gut-level and instantaneous reaction from the woke urbanite blue-tick crowd towards these white, MAGA-clad catholic teen males. Specifically I will attempt to re-tool or invert in a way, a concept from the kings of Postmodern contemporary philosophy, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. The concept I am referring to is found in a chapter from their Magnum Opus “A Thousand Plateaus”, an inventive and open-ended concept (like all Deleuzian concepts) known as Faciality. This analysis will by no means be an exhaustive one, and there is a lot of aspects of Deleuze and Guattari (D and G for short) that is downright confusing and all together too much to handle without years of exposure to their style and feel for concept-creation. I will then try to frame the concept of Faciality and its political implications with our present situation in the Covington incident.

What is a Face?

To begin with a rundown of Faciality, the face is of vital importance to D and G in terms of subjectification and the possibilities of a radical, deterritorialized and de-centralized politics. D and G are all about “lines of flight”, the production of desires and flows of desires, and unique ways of slipping through the cracks and escaping the dominant political and identity arrangements of the day, and the orthodox social orders and power-structures that reinforces a model, a graph, or system of stratifications and arrangements upon various actual and virtual elements. Deterritorialization refers to the weakening of ties in a space between a location and a cultural entity, identity, social practise etc. D and G often think of things in terms of references to territorial geography and biological mechanisms. For example, a branch has a function as a part of a tree, and services it in that capacity until it was deterritorialized in the hands of early hominids as a club[1] (like in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Deterritorialization and lines of flight are the expansion of possibilities from a set of pre-established rigid orthodoxies, hence why D and G inspired a whole series of “alternative” practises of lifestyles, aesthetics and ways of being (often taken up by the cultural left). The face is already the site of a deterritorialization from prehistoric man whom relied on masks which were often related to the animal body, the head and body are one until the advent of civilization, and specifically what D and G have in mind, white European civilization[2].

For D and G, the subject does not come with a face but is given a face, or rather, develops a face from previous cultural, religious and social happenings and taboos. The face is not a rigid constraint but is a metaphoric seat of possibilities. The face to D and G is what they call an “abstract machine”, (and without getting too bogged down in Deleuzian terminology) a virtual mechanism that combines the virtual, or realm of possibility with the real, the actual, a demarcation of forces, intensities and channels within an assemblage, in this case a face[3]. The abstract machine arranges elements in a virtual plane and stands upon flows of elements and intensities. For D and G there is no such thing as the western philosophic tradition’s obsession with resemblance and telos since the days of Plato. There is no fixed form or ideal that everything resembles and participates in to varying degrees, everything is open-ended, an infinite chain of connections crossing into one another, like a Pollock painting. So, the face itself arranges fascial elements based upon cultural and virtual imputes. We say a solider has a “face of a solider”, a journalist has a certain physiognomy, we know their phenotype because the elements of the face are signified in a certain way. The face is an abstract machine because it arranges virtual elements within what D and G calls the interplay between the “white wall” and “black hole” of the face.

The white wall simply refers to the elements of signification and subjectification, a surface that emits signifiers, for example, we know the face of a woman, a rich person, a coastal journalist, etc. based upon certain facial signifiers. The black hole is the face itself that absorbs certain signifiers. The black hole has a gravitational pull, it pulls in certain elements and repels others. To have a face is to have a (metaphoric) black hole that can entrap you into certain arrangements of power[4]. Power (like in the works of Foucault) is deeply represented by the face to D and G. The white wall and black hole of the face is an imagio, and image- affection, we know certain faces by the various non-linguistic affects to them (hint: like the smirk of a young white male).

(This is a lot to take in, it can be difficult to think through Deleuzian concepts, but to make things a bit clearer, a good video to watch which is a very short and to the point review of Faciality can be found here[5]) What is pertinent to our analysis is what D and G make of the face, in particular, the dominant face of western civilization since the dawn of Christianity, that being the face of what they call “majoritarian” rule, as opposed to “minoritarian” politics, that of the white male. This face is represented by the signification and signifiers of the face of Christ, often depicted as a white man staring and gazing into your being. The face of the white male is the default, the black hole of western society (or well, up until recently), and as suck, every other face formed by elements of the white wall either conforms in degrees or diverges in degrees from this dominant face. Keep in mind that no construct of power stays in place for very long in D and G’s system of assemblages, deterritorializations and abstract machines. Very specific regimes of signification and subjectification are imposed by the dominant face, for the face is a map, a grid of power that is driven by what D and G refers to as the dictatorial authoritarian regime, which casts aside other divergent forms of signification in the face that does not conform to majoritarian rule, in this case the face of the white male[6]. The whole body becomes the site of faciality, and the subjectification of the face based on certain social formations becomes the whole of your being, you become the face, either as conforming with the majoritarian picture, or as an outcast, and herein lines the origins of racism for D and G, since the face relies on exclusion and reterritorializing fascial elements in order to conform to an authoritarian ideal[7].

To quote D and G:

“Racism operates by the determination of degrees of deviance to the White man’s face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given place under given conditions, in a ghetto, or sometimes erasing them from the wall, which never abides alterity”[8]

The Smirking Majoritarian Face.

Now a lot of people on the Right would baulk at this flagrant SJWism going on with D and G, but remember this one (unfortunately lost to many readers of D and G) lesson to be learned in this creative way of thinking through concepts. D and G are not simply shallow moralists. As Foucault famously said, “where there is power, there is resistance”, similarly in this work, there is no simple or cut-and-dry hierarchy or polar dichotomy between opposites. D and G does not simply say “lines of flight are good, the state model, stratification, molarity, reterritorialization” etc. is “bad”. Even lines of flight can have potentially negative outcomes or can lead to greater systems of oppression then what is going on currently. For D and G, expression over rigidity is what counts, and in every rigid or molar system is a collapsing of hierarchy, and a series of phase-shifts or fissures from which greater virtual potentialities can become actualized. D and G wish to get at what they call a state of “post-signifying” regimes.

keep these things in mind while asking (as I am sure by now you are), how does this all relate to the Covington smirk? What is more telling is not the actuality of events that transpired, but the immediate and visceral reaction to these teenagers, and Sandmann in particular, by the Cathedral media machine and its various blue-tick operatives; what one notices is a pattern or chain of signifiers that are within real-time, deconstructed and graphed unto the face of Sandmann (made literal by this atrocious Jim Carry drawing[9]). It is the obsession with the face of Sandmann that had provoked a visceral hatred from the media class, and what I would term an act of mass manufactured political neurosis.

There are so many tweets one could find about the incident, such as Jessica Valenti’s screed about the “smug white face of a MAGA teen” being an iconic image for the next 50 years (it wont by the way)[10]. One immediate take from a member of the usual cobble of faceless editors at large on Twitter, this time working at Gizmodo, had a particularly meme-worthy take on the incident. If we are to define neurosis as mild to severe spectrum-mental illness, usually characterized by irrational fears, anxiety, and the strange need to repeat thoughts and behaviours[11], then this one fits the bill:

“From elementary school through college I went to school with sheltered upper middle class white boys who could DEVASTATE with a smirk. A facial guesture that weaponized their privilege. Infuriatingly you can’t fight that fucking smirk with a punch or words.(sic)”[12].

The irony is of course she was privileged enough to attend such private schools filled with (again, pay attention to the signifiers inscribed on Sandmann’s facial black hole) “white, upper-middle class males”. Obviously, in the age where the “personal is the political”, it goes without saying that one’s continuity of experiences informs the perception of political events. Say you are of the media class demographic, you project into political events the way your memory recollects things as happening in some 80s teen flick reality. From this view, it is natural that these Catholic students (as many of these types have pointed out) are “future Brett Kavanaugh’s”, because of course in the reality tunnel of a woke left blue checkmark, Kavanagh was without a doubt a vicious rapist, and these boys are shielded by the privilege of the majoritarian face, untouchable, sadistic, willing to mock an indigenous elder. “Facts” are no longer a determining factor in this picture-perfect narrative construction (one journalist at The Guardian even plainly stated that new and incoming facts gets in the way of the narrative[13]).

A more illuminating twitter rant came from an actual Ivy League level academic. Prof. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas wrote with a brazen immediacy about the Covington Smirk specifically, stating repeatedly that “whiteness endlessly forgives its own transgressions”, and that it is not the job of POCs to really educate the dominant (or so they think) socio-political group of white men[14]. She goes on to further state that (despite Sandmann stating that he does not ask for any forgiveness because he did nothing wrong) that Whiteness always asks for forgiveness from “wounded and bleeding” POCs, brining up the history of African and Indigenous American slavery and genocide, and that Whiteness “always comes smirking with a knife behind its back”.

To Dismantle the Face with A Hammer.

The latter analysis by Prof. Thomas is the more revealing and prescient in its clarity, it is where the mask is fully revealed. At this point one may simply conclude that it is the bitter and resentment-laden rant of another culturally-privileged ivory tower activist academic, filled with righteous fury without the full facts, with the full force of modern “identity-politics” rearing its ugly head. This may be the case, but to be frank, this is the same old boring right-of-center liberal/ “culturally libertarian” analysis we have been hearing since Gamer-Gate. I for one try to avoid anything to do with race for a variety of reasons (but I suppose even that statement is an admission of a certain privilege, and this may be true). I cannot understand this ears-closed hostility towards contemplating upon these issues from the normie conservative media, the E-celeb youtubers and so on. Not because of the usual charges from the bourgeois woke Left, that everyone in these circles are all racists blinded by privilege (perhaps some of them are to be fair), but because it essentially negates a chance to seriously understand the current cultural discourse going on. For this matter, I shall touch upon race, and Lord knows it unfortunately won’t be the last time….

What Prof. Thomas and others in the various sociology/critical race theory/post-colonial studies departments are touching upon is the creation of a dominant social narrative, some with a basis in history and fact, but the more extreme fringes of this line of thinking, more often than not, is based upon histrionics and this same mass political neurosis. For instance, the word “privilege” in academia denotes a group or category of identity that possesses the statues of a main normative idea of what constitutes a society. For instance, the main repository for learning about privilege, the site “Teaching Tolerance” describes it as the bias towards a certain demographic, in this case whites, in European and North American societies, a build-up of unconscious assumptions that do not necessarily denote personal moral responsibility, for even (as I was shocked to learn that they would include this) certain groups of white people are denied social standing and access to basic necessities in majority-white countries[15]. Furthermore, the article goes on to admit that the term itself, both in white people responding to it with defensiveness, and by fire-brand activists themselves, suffers from a misapplication of academic categorizations. It had gone from the halls of academia to become vulgarized by activists and media types to mean a kind of mass original sin, a way of affirming one’s social status via greater degrees of victimhood on the progressive stack.

Andrew Sullivan of all people came to the defence of the Covington boys, stating that while there is a serious problem with race-relations in America, the simplistic equation of “power-plus-privilege” (again, another vulgarized academic concept utilized by a minority of unscrupulous activists) can lead to this type of witch-hunt mentality, and the denial of greater chances to educate people[16]. This is why terms like “emotional labour” itself is problematic in this sense. For woke academics and POCs, I sympathize with the exhaustion of debate and trying to educate people, but what is the point of activism and the raising of awareness around racial and cultural issues if there is a denial of open discourse? Apart from trying to talk to stubborn or willfully malicious people, it seems like bad praxis to simply say “it is not my job to educate you ignorant people”.

Even /our guy/ Slavoj Zizek comments upon this current cultural disposition of white people affirming their identity being labelled fascistic[17]. Zizek offers a fresher perspective, unlike the usual lazy responses produced by Conservatism™ media people and the “Intellectual” Dark Web liberals. He states that this is not some conspiracy by post-modernists and Marxists to subvert western society. Instead this widely enforced cultural orthodoxy is enforced by liberalism, it is liberalism’s last attempt to legitimize the flattening of all cultures. There is (in actuality) a sophisticated patronization and control of minority subaltern groups by liberalism. It is the dream of a global liberal order that smashed cultures together, destroyed cultural identities among diverse people, and flattened the diverse cultural norms of societies to begin with. In the current politically correct regime, it is not the celebration of difference, but rather a celebration of homogenization in modern liberal societies.

The Western face In Absentia.

This all leads us back to Deleuze and Guattari. Notice the word I used, a word that is the basis of arguably all Deleuzian concepts and ways of thinking, the celebration and promotion of molecular “Difference”. Unlike a mono-hierarchy of signs and signifiers that predicates significance upon a dominant regime of signs, for example the singular image of society in the middle ages centered around the Church, Deleuze and Guattari want to proliferate a fluidity and intensity of identity creation and cultural diversification, increasing with speed and flux; it is true that the basis of modern academic orthodoxies regarding “ID-POL” was in no small part inspired directly by the chapter on faciality. Look at the way in which the white face is moralized and denounced in Prof. Thomas’ analysis of the Sandmann smirk. There is a legitimate claim to be had about the historical dominance of the white male face in western society, and there is a source of racial trauma that still has embers which burn even today, in America especially, and to outright deny this would be imprudent (although historical trauma has a metaphysical component to its formulation ,but that is another essay entirely).

It is convenient that Sandmann fits into an archetypal picture of the Majoritarian white face, the gaze of Christ as depicted by Renaissance artists. A conservative, private school, catholic male, all attributes that embody the facial black hole of the dominant signifier-face in western society. The only other thing that would make this picture complete is if he were a Protestant, but Christianity is equally oppressive and Majoritarian to the woke leftist activist. But the main point with which this essay is leading up to is that there is a basic problem with this equation, several problems in fact.

We have seen that the reaction to the Covington smirk is a misapplication of anger towards a historically legitimate problem, and that racialized trauma is carried on through the centuries and decades, and to ignore this is imprudence. We have also covered an albeit rough and incomplete sketch of what Faciality is to Deleuze and Guattari. However, what is lost in translation is this very status of the white male, upper class religious face as still embodying the face of the majoritarian in this very modern (or Post-modern) cultural moment. We have within minutes of the video, the supposed hostile and careless dawning of whiteness, the smirking and callous face of the male oppressive majority, form which deviations are cast aside, etc. We know this not to be true now, but this did not matter. What happened was a near instant union of media outlets, blue ticks, celebrities, academics, and those that occupy the Cathedral organs of media and culture industry institutions banding together to denounce, deconstruct, and ridicule (even utter death threats against) the black hole of the majoritarian white face.

There may be some residue of the white face still holding privilege and favor (even woke liberalism is largely a pastiche by middle- and upper-class white people) but this is overshadowed by a near constant and incessant dismantling of the white male face. Any mention of the perspective of the white male is ridiculed, policed, and utterly shunned from popular discourse, as with the case of the recent Esquire piece on the life of a white teenager[18]. The teenage white face of Sandmann was a site of dismantling, of dissolving and collective hatred. It is no coincidence that such diverse halls of genuine social and cultural power legitimized the site of attack upon the white male majoritarian face.

What is to be said for D and G’s analysis of the majoritarian face in western society? Well there are complications to their analysis, but the interesting part is in the latter end of the chapter on how to dismantle the face, or rather, a more appropriate word would be the dissolution of the face; D and G point to an artistic approach to identity, not in the exact same way ID-POL is taken up by the woke set or by their anti-SJW counterparts. In art there is refuge to D and G, by this they mean in the Foucauldian sense, to “make one’s life a work of art”. They state that it is easy, even tempting to put yourself within the blackhole of a single face, to play the role, to commit to “bad faith” in the Sartrean sense, but this must be resisted in order to dissolve the Majoritarian face, then proliferate difference, lines of flight and deterritorializations[19]. The problem is this talk of Whiteness and Blackness, the activism taken up by woke college liberals, the reification of identity into stacked and hierarchical categories of victimhood, this is all just molarity[20] and stratification repackaged.

What is the current dominant discourse of encultured and reified faciality is no longer the white male face as such, and its policing of degrees of resemblance; what the Covington Smirk event demonstrates is the vacuity, the act of absence and deconstruction of the patriarchal white face itself has become a new molar and stratified arrangement of hegemony. The policing against the promotion of the white male face constitutes the dominant social orthodoxy among cathedral institutions. As D and G state “dismantling the face is no mean affair”, there is always the danger of reterritorialization and capture, or even a line of flight into an entirely different, but equally hegemonic and domineering set of discourses that predicate value upon new facial signifiers[21].

We do not have what D and G envisions as an artistic proliferation of various identities that escape the faciality of the white male, instead we have a cultural orthodoxy of pure dissolution, the absence of creation, the molarity of the deconstructive act. The facelessness, the effacing-act is what constitutes current cultural and institutional orthodoxy, even the political expressions of the woke left is merely fighting for recognition from the grand-other. Revolutionary sentiment is subdued within liberal bourgeois contemporary politics. Genuine identitarianism and self-creation of all stripes should be predicated upon this existential-artistic creation, not merely folding oneself into another rigid and molar identity that must tear down the other, such as “I am a POC, I am white, I am Trans, I am” etc. To quote D and G:

cutting edges of deterritorialization become operative and lines of deterritorialization positive and absolute, forming strange new becomings, new polyvocalities. Become Clandestine[22].

To become clandestine, or “becoming-imperceptible” (notice how D and G always uses the phrase “becomings”, to be in constant flux, never “being” as a complete whole) is to take on a mission of Zen-like fluidity and clarity, to experiment, create strange new post-human identities, not simply to render yourself into a singular whole. There have been whole essays written on this, but for now, I shall conclude part 2 of the article with this basic observation; we live in a cultural epistemic moment of dismantling without creation, a reconstitution of power by essentializing differences among the races, and micro-physics of power in modern liberal western society becoming more sophisticated. No longer is social control of whole peoples achieved by white racism and sexism as such, but by racial resentment and antagonism. Modern western Liberalism has found various ways of flattening different expressions of culture and identity world-wide, while demoralizing western populations via racial antagonism. Negation is our current zeitgeist, not affirmation. Both POCs and White people suffer under this current regime, and so far, there seems to be no way around coming to terms with past racial injustices while creating and affirming unique identities, liberalism simply does not allow for this, we must all either be enemies, or we all must be smashed into a singular reified mold of the homogeneous end of history non-subject.

[1] https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/deterritorialization/

[2] Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari Felix. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. (London: University of Minnesota Press, 1887): 167.

[3] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a86f/8de74b0a03e0ece0842a877d2968892f2867.pdf pg.25.

[4] https://www.reddit.com/r/Deleuze/comments/82t0wn/white_wallblack_hole/

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9TqzekTG24&t=307s

[6] A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 180.

[7] https://danieltutt.com/2012/01/26/whats-a-face-why-dismantle-it/

[8] A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 178.

[9] https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2019/01/24/jim-carrey-goes-after-covington-catholic-students/2665664002/

[10] https://twitchy.com/sarahd-313035/2019/01/21/absolute-lunacy-does-feminist-shrew-jessica-valenti-still-stand-by-this-unhinged-take-on-covington-kids/

[11] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/neurosis

[12] https://twitter.com/alexhcranz/status/1086717790558609408?lang=en

[13] https://hurryupharry.org/2019/01/24/guardian-doubles-down-on-covington-lies/

[14] https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-01-23/prof-goes-after-covington-kid-and-smiling-face-whiteness

[15] https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/what-is-white-privilege-really

[16] http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/01/andrew-sullivan-the-abyss-of-hate-versus-hate.html

[17] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_N_vesQigY&list=WL&index=62&t=0s

[18] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/16/opinion/esquire-american-boy-cancel-culture.html

[19] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 186-187.

[20] “molar” vs. the “molecular” in D and G is like the territorial and the deterritorial. Molecular movement is fluid, like molecules, molar is the rigidity of striated space, it channels intensities and flows of energy, desire, movement, etc. You can move freely in smooth spaces, like a Bedouin nomad in the desert, but in straited or molar spaces, one’s metaphoric or physical movement is restricted and channeled into certain directions. For example, in a metaphoric sense, liberal society channels deep-seated expressions of political desires into selective channels that subdues various unconscious energies that manifest in potentially extreme politics and ways of life. You shall only vote or live in certain ways, etc.

[21] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 188-189.

[22] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pg.191.

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