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Surviving Identification in the Postmodern Confessional

Posted by Regrette Etcetera on July 8, 2010

Surviving Identification in the Postmodern Confessional:

Television, Schizoanalysis, PSYWAR, Torture-Interrogation & the Pop-Spectacle

Regrette Etcetera, 2009

Though its privileged territory- its discovery and willful property- psychology’s unconscious is proving to be less and less of a wilderness, but rather a ‘dense void’ of simulacra and space junk. Where has the unconscious gone? Is there anything there but television jingles now? It is as if there are no more individual secrets: they seem to have all melted into one huge secret, now in the keeping of the military-industrial-entertainment complex, instead of the oedipal one. Torture- and specifically media/noise/music  torture seeks to bring this full-circle.

Psychology has been filling the gap left by the death of the Catholic confession, and military interrogation is the privileged testing and proving ground for contemporary theories of mind, identity, regression and potential access to the mythic psychic tabula rasa. Schizoanalysis, a theory first advocated by Deleuze and Guattari in the 70’s, has found its home there. The Interrogation- whether soft or hard- and its concomitant Confession, has become an increasingly central cultural focus, and the Foucauldian production of discourse now flowers in the ‘mainstream bizarre’ of reality and talk show television, as the underpinnings of identity, and pop-musings on the ever-weird unconscious are collaged and consumed.

Trends in such recent pop-cultural ‘theatre’ have as their main appeal the confessional or self-revelatory monologue. Unified by confessional performance as its central response to post-1980s American postmodern culture, this recent trend in confessional culture, primarily suggests a cultural condition in which identity or self-definition has become a problem of performance. Feminist performance art of the 1970s initiated the act of self-revelation as theatricalized protest, directing the tradition of the confessional toward overt survivalism. Combining dramatic confession, themed associations, pathology as spectacle, and solo theatricality, post-80’s confessional culture and spectacle purposely confuses conventional distinctions between dramatic fiction and theatrical event, between character and actor, but especially between “true self” and identity. The interviewee/subject as performer either transforms through confessions of multiple characters (life histories and ‘comings to terms’) and/or confesses through a manipulation of autobiographical personae that refer back to the liberal citizen. In so doing, the traditional focus in American cultural production on the isolated individual is simultaneously exaggerated and subverted in this contemporary pop-cultural meme.

In typically postmodern fashion, confessional documents, genres and performances are highly self-reflexive: confessing form as content. They are as much about the act and reception of identity performance (especially in television) as they are about contemporary issues or autobiographical revelation. They are about surviving identification. We need only mention the swathe of reality/talk television shows, with their vox pop in extremis, a kind of leveling of affect and abjection-trends self-reported…

Suffering for the largely optimistic mythology of American individualism which supports the act of confession-as-liberation, in the Mainstream bizarre identity consumer-Tourists act as the civilian inspectors (an electronic panopticon)- to ensure the proper passing of the symbolic-spectacular order through the confessional mode into artifact and category making, of ritual into entertainment, of experience and trauma into identity and affect. Similarly, the maintenance of the subterranean border confessional in the torture camps (from one subterranean realm to another, the Abu Ghraib images are reenacted in fetish sex websites) uses a torture regime of racialized gender violence to initiate New Citizens (those who can’t/won’t populate a Reality series) into the global-imperial image order. Thus the consumer-tourists do the metaphysical job, whilst, outside the spotlight, the armies do the physical job.

In PSY-torture scenarios, confession-as-liberation finds its apogee, and the products of the Western Mainstream Bizarre cannot be turned down or off. The burgeoning databases of phobic content and associational discourse, the tabulations of psychic tricks and jabs, the ever-finer calibrations of resistance levels and regression levers tailored by race, religion, age, sex etc. etc. using the latest theories and lenses left and right, are shamelessly mobilized to elicit the whimper of admission, letting raw ‘information’ stand in for the therapist, and expanding Freud’s reification of the sexual as backdrop to all trauma and friction by adding racialized gender.


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