Who Is Salome Bentham (part one)

Filed under:"Who is" series — posted by Schizostroller on April 2, 2018 @ 7:44 pm

WHO IS SALOME BENTHAM?

Berry shit, bury shit. Forbidden fruit. With wisdom there was understanding. Repression is supposed to be at the root of neurosis but what of psychosis? Who is Salome Bentham, the spirit of co-optation? Max Weber saw Verstehen as a way of interpreting the world but how do we change it? Wodin earned his reputation for wisdom because when challenged on that wisdom he knew something no-one else knew. This is often said to be something of one’s own, but not always. What is in my pocket? What issues does that hold for recognition? What for governance? Is part of the basis for empathy the ability to recognise another without having to truly know them – respecting their situation, an act that is the opposite of the cognitive bias known as a fundamental attribution error?

The point of Bentham’s Panopticon for Foucault was to designate a mechanism through which the functioning of disciplinary power was made more subtle and economic by means of presenting people an idea of excessive surveillance. When people internalize the presence of this surveillance there is no need for actual human gaze anymore: people act as if there is somebody watching. The question is not only who watches the watchers, that is Hermes Trismegistus in those of us who recognise the existence of a demiurge, but also how do we evade such surveillance. How do we hide in the harem, the joy division, the libidinal economy when we are all prostitutes? Do we just make noise? How do we bring it?
Marx wrote of Bentham’s utilitarianism that “the apparent stupidity of merging all the manifold relationships of people in the one relation of usefulness, this apparently metaphysical abstraction arises from the fact that, in modern bourgeois society, all relations are subordinated in practice to the one abstract monetary-commercial relation.” He continues later “When the sentimental and moral paraphrases, which for the French were the entire content of the utility theory, had been exhausted, all that remained for its further development was the question how individuals and relations were to be used, to be exploited… Hence no other field of speculative thought remained for the utility theory than the attitude of individuals to these important relations, the private exploitation of an already existing world by individuals.” The question remains what field of speculative thought is for those who have internalised Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” to the idea that there is a society or phenomenological world beyond individuals and family. Individuals and family governed by the market economy. There is an anonymous quote that goes “the best minds discuss ideas; the second ranking talks about things; while the third and lowest mentality — starved for ideas — gossips about people.” Gilles Deleuze discussed the control society, but before he wrote about that he stated “Stupidity is not animality. The animal is protected by specific forms which prevent it from being “stupid”. Formal correspondences between the human face and the heads of animals have often been composed… Such correspondences, however, take no account of stupidity as a specifically human form of bestiality” Giorgio Agamben talks of outlaws, of those exiled, whether criminals of fools, as being ‘wolf-heads’. Agamben writes “Rodolphe Jhering was… the first to approximate the figure of Homo Sacer to that of the wargus, the wolf-man, and of the Friedlos, the ‘man without peace’ of ancient Germanic law”. One can think of the imagery of Viking berserkers, úlfheðnar, who were Odin’s warriors, he ruled both the aristocracy and outsiders.

“Germanic and Anglo-Saxon sources underline the bandit’s liminal status by defining him as a wolf-man (wargus, werewolf, the Latin garulphus, from which the French loup garou, “werewolf”, is derived): thus Salic law and Ripuarian law use the formula wargus sit, hoc est expulsus in a sense that recalls the sacer esto that sanctioned the sacred man’s capacity to be killed, and the laws of Edward the Confessor (1030-35) define the bandit as a wulfesheud (a wolf’s head) and assimilate him to the werewolf (lupinum enim gerit caput a die utlagationis suae, quod ab anglis wulfesheud vocature, “He bears a wolf’s head from the day of his expulsion, and the English call this wulfesheud”). What had to remain in the collective unconscious as a monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the forest and the city – the werewolf – is, therefore, in its origin the figure of the man who has been banned from the city”
But returning to Deleuze again and a society of individuals before we reach a society of control he states “a tyrant institutionalises stupidity, but he is the first servant of his own system and the first to be installed within it. Slaves are always commanded by another slave. Here too, how could the concept of error account for this unity of stupidity and cruelty, of the grotesque and the terrifying, which doubles the way of the world?” However he then states that “Cowardice, cruelty, baseness and stupidity are not simply corporeal capacities or traits of character or society; they are the structures of thought as such.”

Wilfrid Bion argues that “the activity we know as ‘thinking’ was in origin a procedure for unburdening the psyche of accretions of stimuli… there [then] exists an omnipotent phantasy that it is possible to split off temporarily undesired, though sometimes valued, parts of the personality and put them into an object” having noted earlier that “the link between intolerance of frustration and the development of thought is central to an understanding of thought and its disturbances”.

But what of the Salome Bentham, the spirit of co-optation? Is she a spirit or a chorus? Laing talks of the paranoid nexus, “in the typical paranoid ideas of reference, the person feels that the murmurings and mutterings he hears as he walks past a cinema queue are about him; as he is alone in a pub, a burst of laughter behind his back is at some joke that has been cracked at his appearance;

everyone in the coffee bar where he is sitting is being careful not to look at him, etc. However, what is discovered when one gets to know such a person more than superficially is that what tortures him is not so much his delusions of reference, but his harrowing suspicion that he is of no importance in fact to anyone.
Thus what constantly preoccupies and torments the paranoid person is basically the precise opposite of what may at first be most apparent. He appears to be persecuted by being so much the centre of everyone else’s world, but he is preoccupied with the thought that he never occupies first place in anyone’s affections.” This is the situated position, the directly lived experience, from whence an activist stance can come. Whilst acknowledging the individual there is the issue of collusion, as Laing argues “the one person does not merely wish to have the other as a hook, or to induce the other to become, the very embodiment of that other whose co-operation is required as ‘complement’ of the particular identity he (p) feels impelled to sustain. The other, in such circumstances, can experience a peculiar feeling of guilt for not being the embodiment of the complement demanded by p’s self-adopted identity. However, if he does succumb, if he is seduced, he may become estranged from his own true possibilities, and is guilty thereby of betraying himself.

So we have met Bentham, utilitarian designer of the Panopticon, but who is Salome?

Salome is the daughter of Herod, she of the seven veils, she who asked for John the Baptist’s head on a plate. Is she an Anti-Gone or an Anti-Antigone? Where in relation to the cave is she? Where in relation to the back-lit cell? But to avert going down the path of condemnation of sexuality, an easy path to follow, we must first look at the relation between Bentham and repression and the denial of it. What is Salome’s relation to the coming insurrection?
With regards Salome’s treatment of John the Baptist, Freud observes “It can also be observed that the unpleasurable nature of an experience does not always unsuit it for play…” One should not assume Salome’s dance for Herod is entirely pleasurable for Salome “…we may be quite sure that these frightening experiences will be the subject of the next game; but we must not in that connection overlook the fact that there is a yield of pleasure from another source. As the child passes over from the passivity of the experience to the activity of the game, he hands on the disagreeable experience to one of his playmates and in this way revenges himself on a substitute.”

Recalling our wolf-heads we are reminded of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf and grandma, and of course the castrating wood-cutter who comes to chop off his head, or other parts. At least in Red Riding Hood she gets to speak, it is a story of the deep, dark forest. It is in Echo and Narcissus that the once great interlocutor, she whose intercourse could best the greatest debaters amongst the Gods. Who would we rather deal with here, Narcissus or the Werewolf, the loup gorou, Loop Guru, one of the subliminal kids. But remember Narcissus does not get past the mirror phase, something that at least Snow White’s wicked step-mother succeeds in doing. No, the wolf-head is an outsider, a bandit, a man of the wilderness, who can be killed at any time. Much like John the Baptist.

So where does this wilderness man or woman come from? We must turn to Leviticus 16:8-10, “He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be reserved as an offering to the LORD and which will carry the sins of the people to the wilderness of Azazel. Aaron will then present as a sin offering the goat chosen by lot for the LORD. The other goat, the scapegoat chosen by lot to be sent away, will be kept alive, standing before the LORD. When it is sent away to Azazel in the wilderness, the people will be purified and made right with the LORD.”

This is a slightly different turn of history to the criminal wolf-head, this is a scapegoat for a communal sin. And so we return to group theory, Freud makes a few comments on Le Bon’s theory of the group: “A group is impulsive, changeable irritable. It is led almost exclusively by the unconscious… nothing about it is premeditated. Though it may desire things passionately, yet this is never so for long, for it is incapable of perseverance. It cannot tolerate any delay between its desire and the fulfilment of what it desires. It has a sense of omnipotence; the notion of impossibility disappears for the individual in a group.
A group is extraordinarily credulous and open to influence, it has no critical faculty, and the improbable does not exist for it. It thinks in images, which call one another up by association (just as they arise with individuals in states of free imagination), and whose agreement with reality is never checked by any reasonable agency. The feelings of a group are always very simple and very exaggerated. So that the group knows neither doubt nor uncertainty… Since a group is in no doubt as to what constitutes truth or error, and is conscious, moreover, of its own strength, it is as intolerant as it is obedient to authority… It wants to be ruled and oppressed and to fear its masters. Fundamentally it is entirely conservative.”

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace