THE SWERVE OF DESIRE
EPICURUS, ECONOMICS AND VIOLENCE
ANTHONY W. BARTLETT
[Relazione tenuta al convegno girardiano di Antwerp - maggio 2001]
But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, . . . illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.
(L. Feuerbach, preface to second edition of The Essence of Christianity)
We know that all material production enters into this sphere. We know that it is at the level of reproduction (fashion, media, publicity, information and communication networks) on the level of what Marx negligently called the non-essential sectors of capital . . . that is to say in the sphere of the simulacra and the code, that the global process of capital is founded.
(Jean Baudrillard, Simulations)
The cross is the battleground of the real . . .
I begin this paper, ostensibly and formally within the disciplines of philosophy and economics, by an immediate appeal to a theological starting-point, and one declared polemically as impacting those disciplines with progressive urgency. The cross as an intellectual principle for philosophy and economics. A scandal for academia and the principles of Enlightenment, but one that also gives life to academics and light to the Enlightenment. The cross is the battleground of the real . . . .
The method of this study thus changes frame from philosophical rationality to that of theology. It proposes the true radicalization of theory in the subversive anthropology of the cross. Theology gains a new sense of dynamic and role as it sees its traditional intellectual partners losing orientation, becoming mad, declaring themselves to be without logic or human truth. Theology is plunged deeper into its own logic, and thereby also recognizes that this deep logic has helped provoke a certain madness of both philosophy and history by its destabilizing of the sacred. It has, therefore, a responsibility, which belongs to the "signs of the times," to announce its internal logic with both increasing humility and commitment. The intense spiritual crisis announced in postmodernism—a world and a history without end, made up of objects without end, demands this response. Postmodernism’s false eternity, without peace, without subjects, without love, the desert of the real, the infinitization of the self on the plane of the diverse, all of this requires an urgent re-proclamation of and by theology precisely because the demystification of the cross—the subversion of sacred order, in Girardian terms—has helped bring it about.
So I will take a pathway through ancient philosophy and modern and postmodern theory in order to arrive at the figure of the cross as the scene of crisis for contemporary consciousness, one that becomes more and more insistent the more sophisticated the means proposed to avoid it. Epicurus is presented as the ancient paradigm of atomized events of desire, events which break the chain of determined causality but which are nevertheless mediated by rarefied simulacra of the real both giving rise to and betraying the desire they mediate. The Epicurean universe supplies a compelling model for a postmodern world of infinitized events of desire. It is more apt than the classic Platonic scheme of an eternal idea or set of ideas controlling or authenticating material reality, including desire, toward a perfect self-outcome of those same ideas. Thus, rather than Hegelianism and its Marxist inversion, behind which stands in turn Platonic ideality, there is an endless rain or precipitation of material atoms in which the swerve, or clinamen, undecidably constitutes moments of desiring freedom or choice. Here is the architecture of the postmodern universe, but in a cultural-economic realization rather than one of physical nature. Jean Baudrillard has given theoretical description to this cultural universe in an increasingly relentless account of the tyranny of simulation and surface, a kind of irresistible fascism of the sign. But it can indeed be resisted on a very different register by means of the Girardian analysis of mimetic desire and its corollary of human violence. Girard may be seen to radicalize the remaining ideality of the Epicurean vision which in fact seeks an intellectual truth regarding the universe as the frame for a life of maximized temporal pleasure. Baudrillard also succumbs to this ideality, but in a much more desperate sense and final gesture of nihilism. In contrast Girard releases a biblical logic which lifts to the surface the human relational structure of desire and conflictive violence, and its continuum of victims in the course of history, and ends with the startling claim that the term of this logic, the cross, is also its absolute reversal. By means of this anthropological radicalism we see that behind, within and beneath the fragmented pluralism of atomized desire stands the suffering of the victim. For again and again it makes coalesce before us the face of the expropriated, the oppressed, the poor, the murdered, a dramatic alternative to an empire of simulacra. It is the cross that endlessly repeats the face of the victim and is thus ineluctably the signal of the real.
The Epicurean version of atomism seems to have advanced the notion of the swerve or clinamen in order to give space for voluntary, undetermined motion, both animal and human. According to Walter Englert the Aristotelian critique of atomism—that it does not allow for the possibility of active, unforced motion--led to this new and dramatic advance. Generally speaking Epicureanism is the unity of the speculative and practical objects of philosophy as naturalism. It seeks to ground an ethics of prudent freedom or restrained hedonism in a description of the physical universe. Deleuze reads the swerve more as a particular characteristic within all atomic motion, the original determination of the direction of the movement of the atom, though unassignable or inaccessible in its actual taking place. It is thus the undecidable meaning of any causal series, a lex atomi that acts as guarantee of an "irreducible plurality of causes" and exclusion of any totalized understanding of causality producing some universal destiny. Here voluntary action, animal and human is subsumed in a theme of universal pluralism.
Philosophically the atom and its swerve are the true object of thought. This is determined also by Epicurean method. By means of an analogy with a minimum sensible object the atom is conceived as of a minimum that can only be thought. It cannot be perceived by the senses, not as a consequence of the defect of the senses, but because it is available only to thought. An infinity of such atoms collide in the infinite void, bringing into being the objects of sense. The clinamen takes place in terms of the minimum of thought, now as a determination of time. It occurs within the incredibly swift movement of the atom which moves "as swiftly as thought." According to Deleuze "it has already happened within the smallest time that can be thought."
Out of this speculative physics grows the practice of ethics. Epicurus distinguished a false infinite from the true. There is an illusion, arising in relation to the body, of infinite pleasure, and an illusion, arising in the mind, of an infinite duration of the soul producing the possibility of infinite sufferings following death. Greed, ambition and debauchery are evil because in their infinitization they deliver us up to a reciprocal sense of everlasting punishment. It is here that atomism forcefully rejoins issues of the will and choice, and the question of the good life to be deliberately chosen. It is clearly also allied to the damning Epicurean critique of religion seen as positively promoting the illusions of an infinite capacity for pleasure and infinite possibilities of pain. These conjunctions are made systematic when the Epicurean theory of simulacra is introduced. Simulacra are subtle, tenuous particles emitted in constant streams both from the depth and surface of objects, and apprehended by the observer as yet belonging to the object. This again is a function of the minimum of time typical of the atom. They too move with immense speed, swifter than the minimum of sensible time, such that they still seem to be within the object after they have reached us. Thus objects communicate with us by means of the steady emission of minute simulations or simulacra of their atomic reality. But there is a class of these simulations that become detached from their sources, exhibiting a high degree of independence and mobility. They are literally the stuff of dreams. Some of them intersect spontaneously in the sky, forming images out of the clouds and creating the phantasms proper to religious imagination, gods, giants etc. Others penetrate the soul, forming fantastic creatures like centaurs, dream-visions and ghosts. They correspond to human desire and are close in nature to the third group, the objects of conscious erotic longing and displacement of self in desire. In all of these instances the image or effect of dissociated simulacra stands for the object itself and it is clear we are in the region here of objects of desire that are indeed metaphysical, that have lost connection to the reality they originally tokened. They are image alone and as such are the source of inherent frustration, " a mirage that no longer signals a consistent reality."
The frustration derives from mediation, but not, however, that set up by the human model/obstacle of desire as in mimetic analysis. It is that rather of the image itself in its nature as pure or empty communication divorced from the reality it portrays and betrays. It seems the very speed of the simulacra produce the illusion that an infinite communication of the object is possible and with that an infinity of pleasure. But soon the inherent divorce overwhelms the first impression. From this derives the ethical imperative of resisting all the false objects of fantasy and desire, in order to preserve the true, much more modest object of earthly pleasure. As Deleuze concludes, emphasizing the critique of religion rather than that of desire: "The speculative object and the practical object of philosophy as Naturalism, science and pleasure, coincide on this point: it is always a matter of denouncing the illusion, the false infinite, the infinity of religion and all the . . . myths in which it is expressed."
Where does this brief excursus into ancient philosophy bring us? We are clearly not in the perennial philosophical discussion of the one and the many, the true and the copy, or of necessity and contingency. In contrast the methodological principle here is that all the apparatus of Greek reason is subverted according to the biblical logic illuminated by Girard. So we may at once detect the possibility of thinking through Epicurean atomism in this other register. But before we pursue this point we can illustrate further that the speculative materialism of the Epicurean universe and its appeal to a universal diversity—a world made up of this and that, of parataxis, rather than a single derivation of truth, of subordination—provides the ideal Greek background to the contemporary scene, its disruption of traditional unities and its vast series of commodity products, all the same, all different. Thus the Epicurean universe can act as a parable of our own, and its crucial differences moreover help illustrate the drama of our contemporary situation. Most immediately Epicurean thought is a philosophy of the limitation of desire. It is a theory of the mythical distortions of desire and of its intellectual-practical restriction. This contrasts at once to the culture of commodities which releases desire as an unlimited possibility of consumption of manufactured simulacra, and thereby seems to promise an infinity of pleasure. On the other hand, this very world of manufactured simulacra is also a very clearly a sophisticated system of power and control, in which the dangers of unleashed desire are also somehow kept in check. I turn now to a theorist who helps explain both the infinitization of objects provided to human consumption by contemporary technological and information culture, and the built-in control and suppression of the subject that helps order such a potentially chaotic scenario.
Baudrillard has provided analyses of culture that are provocative, astringent and deeply pessimistic in their outlook on human meaning and its future realization. [Baudrillard, A Critical Reader, ed. Douglas Kellner (Blackwell: Oxford UK & Cambridge USA, 1994); see articles by Douglas Kellner, "Jean Baudrillard in the Fin-de-Millennium," 5, and Steven Best, "The Commodification of Reality and the Reality of Commodification: Baudrillard, Debord and Postmodern Theory,"41, 51. Baudrillard’s early writings from this viewpoint include Le système des objects(Paris: Denoel-Gonthier, 1968), La société de consommation (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe (Paris: Gallimard, 1972).] They provide the reverse view of pluralism, from the perspective of a Marxist tradition of rational social critique. Marxist thought seeks liberation through political power, the attainment of a real relationship to the world on the part of human beings, rather than the anonymous domination of an alienated economic and political system. But Baudrillard emerging in this tradition finishes in a place utterly unrecognizable to his starting point. He describes late capitalist economy as a system where the sign or simulacrum has completely replaced the structural role once held by forces of production and exchange. The rationalization or abstraction of the world by capitalist political economy was already a semiological revolution, a transformation of symbolic meaning and value on the plane of the real. But subsequently he recognized that the sign system at the heart of political economy and commodities had grown to autonomy and a new, non-material society of signs, images and codes had emerged, a world of "radical semiurgy." Here the form of the commodity loses any reference to need, to use or labor. It becomes its own referent and ultimately "bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum." All value passes into the exchange of signs, into the hegemony of the code they together generate. This produces "a structure of control and of power much more subtle and more totalitarian than that of exploitation."
This is the case because society itself has been displaced and liquidated by the autonomous structure of codes and signs. Traditional social identity and differentiation have undergone a radical implosion in which social classes, genders, political differences, structured autonomous areas of society and culture once the source of radical opposition, progressively collapse before the world of pure sign, erasing all previously defined boundaries and differences. Reality is itself obliterated and substituted by the "hyperreal," the world of media, Disney, amusement and consumer fantasylands, shopping malls, food supermarkets, computers, internet, virtual reality, and so on, on an on. This is an artificial reality "more real" than the real, where the sum of images or signs has become self-referential, free-floating, and impacts the individual as a transcendent epiphany of itself, including a shifting flux of models and codes any of which may shape thought and behavior day by day. Simulation itself is reality, which is not dissimulation, but the infinite self-repeating fugue of a triumphant sign-system. Finally the classic binary of subject and object is also abolished, because individuals are now overwhelmed by the object, by its acceleration and proliferation, and surrender to it in the code of reification, and the reification of the code, in the catastrophe of "cool" and the translation of self into the mode of the thing. The object is indeed the subject’s fatality, and she is summoned to imitate it in what Baudrillard calls "fatal strategies" that recognize that the object is smarter, more successful, more historically final than the subject. [Here Baudrillard is close to Guy Debord’s theory of the fabrication of a world of spectacle that is consumed by all, and includes not just the media, but education, institutions, technology, politics itself, in a generalized equivalence of all things in image and spectacle: "The affirmation of all human life . . . as mere appearance" (Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle [Detroit: Black and Red Press, 1970]), #10.] This apocalypse of contemporary history and culture, of a world at once transparent and hard, multiple and final, endless and ended, is a very recognizable if despairing version of what we see around us. It is itself simulation, parallel to and re-iterative of the world it describes, of the multiplexes, websites, shelf displays in superstores, animal and human cloning, jet travel, twenty four hour electronic communication to and from anywhere on the planet. Global or internet time is synchronic, similar to the apparent infinity of products available in technology and the stores. And just like events and experiences in global or internet time all the goods on display in a magazine or mall appear entirely divorced from whatever material conditions have actually produced them or in which they might function. They have taken on their own reality or hyperreality, in a post-human world
But what after all is missing from this terrifying picture of the hyperreal? Does not the victory it describes, the impossibility of escaping its occlusion of the human on both the theoretical and practical level, does not this strike one as too-close-for-comfort to the power of the sacred, its built-in capacity to misrecognize the reality of human suffering which is its foundation? In other words, a Girardian reflection on the Baudrillard universe might immediately lead one to suspect that here too, for all its sophistication, there is just one further instance of sacred order erecting its necessary scheme of mystification to obscure human suffering and so maintain its domination. We now, therefore, arrive at the point where another logic can begin to subvert the closed system of signs or simulacra. However, in this present instance it is also evident that we are dealing with a highly complex social formation, not with the paradigm of the primary unanimous group and its single victim. It seems, therefore, that the function of violence and its occluding lie is spread and maintained throughout the whole system, so that, for example, even those most visibly successful through information and media economy, the music, movie, and fashion stars, they are also the ones most rendered into image-objects themselves, the "coolest," the most dispossessed of their autonomy and subjectivity. On this model all of the rest of humanity that is assimilated by commodity culture and hyperreality is subject to a violence disseminated throughout society. This is not so much a moral observation as one of contemporary anthropology, and it is also evidenced by the real difficulty and anguish many individuals have in constructing meaningful, enduring relationships. Within an accelerated, commodified culture the experience of rejection and abandonment become a key marker of human experience. Here is "enriched privation" and it is at once parallel to and yet abstracted from worldwide physical privation. We will return to these relationships of displacement shortly.
To do so we must first follow this other logic deeper, analyzing more cohesively the function of violence in the system. This will again be done by returning to the template of Epicureanism, in particular to its apparent validation of irreducible diversity. According to Englert Lucretius stresses the random nature of the swerve in time and space, precisely to underpin the possibility of individual motion, the possibility of "declining." This is not simply irreducible diversity, it is freedom of choice, and when connected to the simulacra deals unmistakably with the issue of desire giving rise to human motion in which the issue of choice then becomes paramount. Epicurean ethics are in fact seeking precisely a freedom from the disturbances brought by unrealizable desires, postulating a personal break in the chain of causation. But what is completely missing from its physics of desire is the mediation of desire by another human desire. This is the revolutionary insight of mimetic anthropology and it must radically condition the meaning of the simulacra. Leaving aside purely material issues of sensation and perception, we would see that the images that excite our desire are of objects that are given to us as desirable by the desire of another.
Conversely the power of others to take away from us what we desire exercises a control over the pleasure of life that no pure philosophy can repel. Epicurus is absolutely aware of the latter, and ultimately Epicurus is engaged in programmatic rivalry against other humans. For him the guarantee of pleasure is the concrete means to procure complete immunity from your neighbor which is "secured . . . by a certain force of expulsion" (dunamei exoristike) and "retirement from the world." Friendship itself is guaranteed by this kind of immunity, presumably a select group of friends protected from the rest of humanity. But despite this awareness of the power of others to deny our pleasure he never arrives at the positive, anthropological thesis: that others are able to do this because they act pre-reflectively to model our desires. If he had he would have been able to deduce that simulacra are not the scarcely-real provocations of real bodies but are the truly fantastic objects of intradividual desire, mediated by the non-natural powers of human reciprocity and scapegoating, and this explains why they can assume such enormous, metaphysical dimensions that they can appear as gods. It also explains more satisfactorily why the simulacra provocative of desire can enter the mind of the subject while still appearing to reside in the object. The triangle of mimesis shows how it is the field of relationship between the model and subject that constructs the character of the object. In this structure of forces the object is simultaneously inside and outside the subject, possessed and alienated. The function of speed, of minimal time, in Epicurean physics may be generally understood as this simultaneity of desire, both in and out of us undecidably, experienced apparently in respect of the object but organized in truth by the astonishing, hypnotic identity of two conflicting desires. Thus we may hypothesize in respect of psychology as a crucial source of the swerve that its characteristic of immense speed, "as swift as thought," has as hidden model the immeasurable speed of desire. Epicurus’ psychology is seen, therefore, to be seriously deficient, reading desire physically and then moralistically. Indeed it needs to be so read if he is to construct a physical universe able to bring ethico-philosophic calm to the troubled spirit. It is only the biblical tradition, that has the nerve to begin with the dysfunctions of mimetic rivalry and insist that human happiness is a matter of transformed relationships, a long way from the Greek vision, the hermetic sovereignty of the individual mind. Moreover the biblical tradition acts to disclose the violence and oppression of this desire in a way that Epicurus never began to consider.
If we were then to compare this mimeticized Epicurean cosmos to the world of Baurdrillardian hyperreality, where would that lead us? It seems that commodification is both philosophy and illusion, philosophy of infinite plurality, and illusion of infinite pleasure. It does not have the naturalist demystification of the Epicurean approach, and as such it is an illusion doomed in the end to frustrate and betray, even as it seeks to create misrecognition of this violence in the manner of the sacred. The insight of mimetic anthropology would also suggest that the swerve of desire is again more subtle and complex than Epicurus presented it, because it is really a mutual swerve, a swerve of doubles. Paul Dumouchel has shown that the commodified market place is the modern possibility of an infinity of doubles, achieved by the "exterior" nature of each double to the rest. There is a host of doubles, and we could say, therefore, an infinity of desiring swerves at play in commodified universe. Baudrillard consistently omits the theme of desire as a structuring factor in the phenomena of money, commodities, their sign value, implosion and hyperreality. He does what all theorists do, which is rediscover the world in pure ideation, in something conformed to knowledge as such, and therefore finally available to intellectual control. The remains of Marxist historical materialism, the struggle of workers on whom Marx based his hopes, dissolves into fatalism about contemporary hyper-capitalism, the dehumanizing tyranny of the sign.
In contrast, Dumouchel in his analysis [ Paul Dumouchel et Jean-Pierre Dupuy, L’Enfer des choses, René Girard et la logique de l’ économie(Ėditions Du Seuil: Paris, 1979)] demonstrates that desiring doubles co-exist in an infinite series but without polarizing into violence because the economic principle or institution of "rarity" ensures that all are rendered exterior to all others in the systemic isolation of the market place. Each pair of rivals is displaced from the whole, and yet the sum becomes more and more composed of thematic rivalry even as all are distanced from each other. In turn the distance has the effect of aggravating the interior dimension of individual rivalries. Yet again this does not resolve into overt violence because in a sense each set of rivals is also external to their rivalry, they dissimulate their very condition of rivalry. At the same time all this amounts to the same character as sacred order because it is the co-incidence of violence and stable order. And it has the same inevitable effect, now generalized throughout the whole. "The exteriority of members of society transforms each individual into a sacrificeable victim." The internal content of violence "does not disappear, but is displaced and metamorphosed. . . . Incapable of expressing itself directly, violence transforms itself into envy, jealousy, powerless hate, it returns as resentment. It destroys its rivals in silence, from within." It also finds discharge in the abandonment of the weak to their fate, a covert or bad faith act of scapegoating.
Now, while this expresses very well what we noted above, the identifiable features of sacred violence in modern and postmodern political economy, it fails perhaps to examine to the fullest the constitutive action of mimesis, and therewith the full extent of the violence. Just as Epicurus neglects the formative power of the desire of the other, so exteriority seems to neglect the crucial role of the frustrated desire of those who lose in the endless sequences of rivalry. The repulsed swerve of the other’s desire serves itself to constitute the value of the object. It is a variation of the potlatch principle where display of goods through conspicuous destruction only makes sense when it commands the desire of the guest, demonstrated subsequently in a reciprocal gesture of destruction by the rival. Not to be able to make the reciprocal gesture is to remain forever in a debt of desire to the initial "consumer." In modern political economy there is no immediately visible act of destruction by consumers that signals into being the desire of the other, but payment of desire is first suggested by the intense visibility of the system, but no less than that by the sacrifice of so many individuals and environmental resources in order to produce goods for consumption. These individuals and resources and the worldwide impoverished communities from which they derive supply the "hidden" quotient of crushed desire that renders the empire of the commodity, precisely, desirable. This is an essential feature of hyperreality ignored by Baudrillard. Semiurgy or the nature of commodities as pure simulacra depends on the vast quotient of desire on the part of the dispossessed giving commodities their ghostly being, their uncanny disembodied power. The poor are physically or humanly deferred in the hyperreal in order that it be spiritually autonomous, false real and simulated presence. The commodity as sign or code attains its powerful force of signification from the violated lives of the poor. It is nothing other than the misread semiotic alibi for dispossesed humanity.
This gives meaning to the more traditional concept of exploitation or expropriation. It is not to be understood primarily or simply as removal of the goods of the earth and their value from groups of individuals, but as essential alienation of the self-as-desire in and through the system of commodities an individual has served in producing and now passes on as autonomous sign value in which she/he is deferred. Neither is it, therefore, a master-slave dialectic, achieving classic expression in the binary of bourgeois and working classes, but a business and media driven system of generalized desire itself, constituted by an infinity of doubled swerves. The mutuality of swerves, the undecidable swerve of doubles, is multiplied indefinitely within the fathomless depths of an unequal universe, and it is this that makes the whole fantastic system work. We may return here to the Epicurean vision of a rain of atoms travelling vertically through the void, even as they also intersect infinitely with each other via swerves. By means of this paradigm we may justly picture a chain of transfers of signs that are also, at the same time, real economic transfers from the poorest to the richest, so there is indeed a physical expropriation. A shirt from El Salvador miraculously multiplies in value once it is transported into the USA, from the cost of its production to its sale price. Its sign value, its code as and for desire, pulls with it the actual physical resources of the powerless. This extra value can only be gathered by the dominant power of the rich world, and these worldwide economic transfers can only retain a basic rationality and stability by the steady state, controlled differential signification between supplies of raw material and cheap labor continually extracted and the wealthy, powerful world of finance, management, technology, shops and retail that extracts them. It is finally the differential signification—the quality of the sign to multiply in value and then continue to pull the stream of further materials behind it, that makes everything work. If it simply multiplied in value through a single instance of deferred desire then it would quickly collapse in upon itself. The rich would become anthropologically equal to the poor, and progressively so economically, and they would need to redistribute differentials between themselves. But if one instance continues to pull behind it the stream of further similar signs, signs that are also goods, then the whole procession of transfers retains its all-powerful significance.
Finally this differential signification is rightly associated with the violent sacred because it self-hypnotically denies the reality of the victims on which it depends. It acts as if all this happens by eternal nature, by an "invisible hand," cycles of the market, the mystique of finance and investment, the mysterious autonomy of the stockmarket. It believes in itself, the autonomy of the sign; it is exactly postmodern. The poor of the world, the dispossessed, are more effectively hidden perhaps than the workers of 19th century industrialized states, and this abets the mystique and the denial. Then the vast material success of the system, flooding the rich nations of the world with an infinity of goods, this also contributes to its apparent inevitability. The hyperreal, the empire of commodities, indeed becomes self-referential, convinced of itself that it is transcendent, and if images of the poor do appear on the TV screen they take their place undecidably as other atomized instances in the limitless stream of commodity-signs that have independent, non-referential life. But most fundamentally it is the huge charge of desire itself in the totalized system that hypnotizes everyone concerned, the infinite sequence of transfers of desire on which the whole thing depends. It has the power once held by ritual, the setting in which all the desires of the community are polarized. It is itself the ritual of commodities, bathed in the invisible blood of the poor, polarizing the whole world by its global electrical magnetism. This accounts for the reification of the citizens of consumer societies, on which Baudrillard comments. They are polarized or transfixed by the very immensity of the field of force they have helped generate.
In many ways the phenomenon of contemporary hi-tech consumer humanity is a paradoxical return of "primitive" society in which individuals participate without remainder, in which mimesis is so completely controlled by ritual and prohibitions. Now mimesis is apparently allowed to operate without restraint but it is immediately recaptured by the worldwide system of objects and signifiers it has produced. It is the difference perhaps between an original number of minor densities, subsequently exploded into a cloud of particles, but then re-condensing into a new, universal density, greater and greater as it reaches its point of maximum vortex; or, in this case, of the maximum concentration of the infinity of swerves of desire. The result is a hypnotized, co-dependent, colluding infinity of desire, that affects rich and poor alike, and appears overall as a wealthy, triumphant, complacent sacred order. It is necessarily pluralistic rather than dialectic, both in the infinity of sign-commodities and the infinity of subjects, as opposed to the classic dual protagonists of production and capital. It has depth without dialectic, function without alternative, multiplicity without essence. It is the rain of atoms and the void, nothing else. It promises no historical resolution, exactly as Baudrillard concluded.
But this is without the witness of and by the cross, the testimony of the New Testament message of the Crucified, the radical advocacy for the suffering of the victims. The cross is the profoundly alternative sign system that references the reality of the victim. The cross is the semiotics of the shanty towns, of AIDS in Africa, of the massive displacements through poverty of populations throughout the world, of crises of insensate violence, and the exposure of the lie that would deny them. This amounts to a profound secularism of the cross, of its historical meaning and travail that increase the more absolutely the hyperreal proclaims itself and the swerve of desire concentrates in a vortex of reification and violence. The paper must conclude at this point, where the internal analysis of political economy has reached a terminal point, a point of impossibility of further movement. At such a point something truly new must begin, and here it is the sign of the cross as the testimony of the real emerging in, through and against an Epicurean universe of falsified human desire.