Left Adjacent

Alfie Bown

August 23, 2022

In a recent article, Alex Hochuli comments on the zeitgeist of a culture in which every piece of popular culture must be analyzed and dissected to reveal its secret political agenda. Today, every “musical artist or cooking show is now a vanguard of actual fascism or cultural Marxism — of which you must be made acutely aware and which you must, consequently, denounce and expunge from your life.” Squid Game would be a case in point, endlessly discussed and debated — especially in liberal circles — in a battle to decide whether its politics are on our side or not. And this is seen as the only possible concern respecting a work of art. Once identified as being on the wrong side (the most common conclusion to draw), we are encouraged to be cautious of our own enjoyment of the work in question, lest we are ourselves seen as adjacent to its political biases. The work of art — if we can call it art when it strives to escape the judgment and survive the scrutiny of its audience — lives in the age of purification. If we are seen as being adjacent to the wrong things, we need to be exposed, but what if being adjacent to things was a point of potential rather than a problem?

The backdrop for the emergence of this culture is an assumption that politics is everywhere. Gone are the days when people considered cultural products of any kind — no matter how mundane and vapid — as separate from the political domain. From football to video games, everything has been welcomed into a discourse of political tension. All cultural products are now seen as containing politics within themselves. This is a move that has been initiated by liberal culture, largely by those who identify as leftists. In 2014 the “GamerGate Saga” represented a battle between those on the liberal-left who wanted to reveal and rout out the politics of videogames — their misogyny, their racism, etc. — and those who tended toward the conservative side and wanted to retain the apolitical status of games (“games are just fun”, etc). Of course, games were political, whether they liked it or not, and it appeared to many — including myself — that politicizing phenomena like games was a necessary step towards understanding the way in which culture becomes politicized and goes to work on its subjects.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, this position makes theoretical sense. After all, it was central to Freud that the unconscious be seen as political. Politics happens where we don’t see it. Jacques Lacan would write in “The Logic of Fantasy” that “the unconscious is politics,” meaning that politics contaminate the unconscious, affecting us through desires, impulses, and, perhaps most importantly, enjoyment. From this perspective, it made sense to argue for recognizing the secret politics at work in every piece of art — themselves each a sublimated manifestation of the political unconscious. But what if psychoanalysis led us down a dangerous path here? What if by making everything “political” we obscured the real sites of political contestation and created instead a culture of apolitics, endlessly debating whether or not Nyan Cat is a capitalist while we became more and more removed from politics itself?

Apolitical Politics

Coining the term “hyperpolitics” to describe this contemporary moment, Anton Jager writes:

Today, everything is politics. And yet, despite people being intensely politicised in all of these dimensions, very few are involved in the kind of organised conflict of interests that we might once have described as politics in the classical, twentieth-century sense.