As an art student, I learned very quickly that one person’s neutral vessel is another person’s politically freighted, irreducibly marked load.
Jeff Nagy on Ariana Reines’s translation of Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl.
New York Live Arts presents
After Tiqqun, a group of anonymous French authors behind a short-lived journal of the same name, dissolved in 2001, some members (allegedly) reformed as the Invisible Committee, source of The Coming Insurrection, much detested by Glenn Beck and beloved of Occupiers, direct actionists, and their glued-to-the-livestream fellow travelers. Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl is the latest volume in Semiotext(e)’s ongoing English-language archiving of Tiqqun, whose stock continues to rise despite the widespread collapse of OWS in the past months.
Us Americans might be said to know a thing or two about Young-Girls. En Jeune-Filles, on s’y connaît—pardon my French, I took a cours de civilisation, once. We might be said to know a thing or two, might even be said to have invented them. But despite our birthright expertise, as with so many other American exports, the Theory is Continental. Let’s pretend we didn’t already have it flat out and ask, obligingly, What Is The Young-Girl?
The Young-Girl is, according to Tiqqun, a subject position that late-stage global capitalism, aka “THEM,” aka “the Empire,” an enormous arachnoid thorax in which media and marketing are the lymph and for which workers are both the flies and the shat web that entraps them, enforces on its subjects. It is “not a gendered concept,” it is sub- or meta-ideological, it is commodity-stuffed while being one itself as well, the brand of all brands, Coca-cola remixed by Cantor.
If this all seems a bit nebulous (or absurd, in the case of its non-gender, given Tiqqun’s occasional tendency to ventriloquize homophobia and misogyny with a little or a lot too much conviction), the Internet has fortunately preserved a point-by-point Young-Girl primer.
Penetrating across national, racial, gender, cultural, and subcultural borders, replicating its forms across media and even into the fundamental media of the body, sociality, and sex (their copula)—as Empire becomes total, so does the dispensation proper to it. Of course, to treat the body as a medium is a trick the Empire plays on you, as it flattens all in its path, feminizing and youthanizing, euthanizing it. This is where, for Tiqqun, it all begins, at what is also an ending: the complete if imperceptibly fraught dominion over the known world of Empire under the sign of its beautiful conqueror: “Behind the hypnotic grimace of official pacification there is a war being waged. A war that can no longer merely be called economic, social, or humanitarian. It has become total [ … ] Paradoxically, it is the total nature of this war—total in its means no less than its ends—that has allowed it to remain invisible.” In its seamlessness, its ubiquitous simultaneity, the Young-Girl is less like a subject position than like the air that comes out of an impossibly silent window unit. Brooke Shields as Legionnaire’s Disease on permanent tour.
What’s wrong with being Calvinized? What the brackets in the preceding quote from Tiqqun’s preface mummed up: “Although everyone senses that their existence has become a battlefield upon which neuroses, phobias, somatizations, depression, and anxiety each sound a retreat, nobody has yet really grasped what is happening or what is at stake.” I have seven Calvins in my closet, and if only they could talk. They’re there in the closet like skeletons: the family romance incorporates, gets branded, goes global. And those Calvins really are skeletal, in a strange inversion of surface and support—what should clothe you is actually, introjected, the frame on which you drape yourself, and which can perfectly well frame you up should you prove resistant.
One further: “With the Young-Girl, it is not only that commodities themselves take hold of human subjectivity. It is human subjectivity that first reveals itself as the interiorization of commodities.” But the Young-girl is himself a commodity, and the exchange of himself in which he engages is probably his best worst quality.
He’s a social worker, like a good little bee. His “love affairs are work and like all work they have become precarious.” Sociality itself, even and especially at its most authentic, its most innocuous, its most apparently countercultural or even insurrectionary, is insidiously pornographic. This is a mercantilism of pleasure, a capital fuck, and the logical outcome of a Biopower that has become total: the body is expropriated in order to be temporarily owned—one takes out a new lease on life, literally, from “THEM.” His relation to his body is as to a capital good producing diminishing returns.
And so she’s always getting screwed, or thinks she is. “In love more than anywhere else, the Young-Girl behaves like an accountant, always suspecting that she loves more than she is loved, and that she gives more than she receives.” No less for that can she abstain from a market in which “sociality shall henceforth be the most precious, most prized commodity of all,” in which “reification has made added progress: human relations mask market relations which mask human relations.” The Young-Girl as desire for Facebook, as social media avant la lettre.
As for, after the letter, that ineluctably fantasmatic and increasingly obsolescent (as opposed to adolescent) fossil form of social media known as reading? What are you doing right now? How many tabs do you have open?
Check here. I have read and understand the Terms of Service. Check here. I have read them AND I understand them AND I agree to them.
This is what reading, or writing, or any semiological/hermeneutic act is under the hegemony of Empire: terms of service. To read them is to understand them is to agree to them. Check check check.
Brooke says that reading is to the mind what Calvins are to the body—reading clothes the naked mind as Calvins instruct the body. But this plausible diagnosis is really just the Young-Girl’s irony: the relation is the cross-product of the ratio given. Reading is to the body, penetrated thoroughly by advertising, what Calvins are to the mind, equally penetrated.
What is reading the Theory like? The short preface to the text calls this mélange “trash theory.” It can certainly feel trashy, with its mix of blank-eyed barbs, slogans in typographic lipstick, ad copy garbled or intact, a tweaky centrifuge-full of regurgitated Deleuze & Guattari, Klossowski, Baudrillard, Foucault, Marx, and Agamben. The combination of its constant nauseated tone and inverted self-help structure can make it feel like a succession of motivational posters for the use of bulimics.
Reading and translation are consumption, too, and they can make you sick. Ariana Reines, in the introduction to a selection from Preliminary Materials published at Triple Canopy: “[translating this book] gave me migraines, made me puke; I couldn’t sleep at night, regressed into totally out-of-character sexual behavior.” Generally throughout her translator’s introduction, not reprinted by Semiotext(e), Ariana presents herself in relation to the Theory the same way that the Young-Girl does in relation to Empire, accepting the terms of its service.
Servicing thereby this year’s model. This is not the Young-Girl’s first appearance in English. Since the text’s original publication in 1999 as a section in the first issue of Tiqqun’s self-titled journal, it has circulated on the web in various English versions, all serviceable. How then does the new translation by one of our most terrifying, seductive, reflective, repulsive, and best American poets, live up to the title of the “intervention series” in which it appears?
Ariana is always re-translating and never translating. To the skeptics who insist on the impossibility of translation, Google says, “Sir, I refute it, thus,” 200 million times a month. By Google’s estimate, most of the translation on the planet is now done by Google Translate. Anyone who can copy-and-paste can translate, after a fashion: but as the algorithm doesn’t vary between users, translations are newly impersonal—the path from the source- to the host-language is a closed circuit in the cloud no body violates. Now it takes a real translator to re-translate, to translate personally.
Or a poet. Having already ambivalently incarnated various aspects of the Young-Girl as a poetic persona that patterns itself on blog verité immediacy: that is, un-mediacy: that is, a medium functioning properly, Ariana in a sort of Manifest Destiny must also incarnate the Theory. For between the Young-Girl as incarnation and her theory there is nothing. You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins?
As Ariana satirically incarnates the Young-Girl in a making-flesh intended to embarrass the Idea laid bare, so she performs the Theory’s retranslation as an act of inverted mediumship, as a possession that abases not the host but its human rider. The difference that makes the difference takes place in Ariana’s body, or Ariana’s body is what intervenes, what makes the intervention.
Or, in light of the mortification she undergoes while translating this text to which she is affiliated or filiated (“like being made to vomit up my first two books”), Ariana retranslates passionately, as a Passion. The discovery of a post-capitalist sacred out of, but not in, this encounter with the Young-Girl is precisely the intervention the book makes for Ariana: it helps her realize that she is a “woman of faith,” a realization pre-echoed at the end of Mercury’s “Truth or Consequences”: “My secular life / If I ever had one is over.” Tiqqun calls the figure of the Young-Girl, in its critical potential, a “vision machine”—for Ariana, at the beginning of her entrance conceived as resistance into a divine socius, this is not a machine for making visible, but for the production of visions.
What if it’s not just your secular life that’s over, or, just how young is the Young-Girl? Tiqqun date her appearance to the end of WWI, but as early as 1712, Joseph Addison could attend the dissection of a “beau’s head and a coquette’s heart,” finding the first stuffed with lace, love-letters, good Spanish snuff and other “commodities of the same kind.” The latter, “extremely light, and consequently very hollow,” similarly houses “innumerable sorts of Trifles,” including designer clothing on display, which Addison and the rest appraise through a microscope. The Young-Girl always lies about her age, until it’s too late. If the Young-Girl is as old as the modern money-form itself, I have still the hope that the dispensation so named, so youthfully old, vieille fille, is largely passing, even in the decade-plus between us and the Theory, and that Ariana is one of the signs of it. Although what has arrived in its place is potentially no less insidious, it is at least different.
There is maybe still room now for other visions. Ariana, I’ve outlived myself on this borrowed soapbox. I am not a public person. I have never known how to address a public, Ariana, without Calvinizing myself inside a skin-tight wit. But maybe I can talk to you and let the others overhear some preliminary materials for a theory, to sketch out a vision as an end which is also a beginning.
A Brooke who wants to remember, and a Brooke who wants to forget. Last fall, at the end of my grandfather’s life secular or otherwise, a progressive dementia first shuffled the names and faces of his loved ones, then broke ties entirely. At this point, his position was: the objective correlative exists, but it had better not, and you can go about this in one or both of two ways: eliminate the object or eliminate the correlation. After he forgot the names and persons he forgot to be the poet-archivist elderly antiquarian of his own biographic minutiae. But forgot is not right; he disremembered. He dismembered his dead wife’s rosary to flush it down the toilet one Ave Maria, Paternoster, or Mystery at a time. This was very painful for my mother who caught him in the act. Photos, mementos, documents: anything that formed a historical material drag on the new thing he was becoming, the new and last task proper to him. Beyond memoir, a looter of his own archives, who carries his own Alexandria to a porcelain torch.
Part of what’s wrong with the Young-Girl is that he’s stuffed with all of these alienating things: ads, goods, evil memory, bad sociality, evil love. So he can’t, for instance, be political, because he doesn’t have a gap between himself and the target that any radicalism would operate on. He’s still suffering, like Dora, from the mob of zombie moments inside him. Chewed cud, friend. We all have all of this materia digested. Exhausted materia, materia of no FURTHER interest, of no FUTURE interest. The Old-Man understands without additional elucidation that the toilet is the right and proper disposal for the material in his own case and possibly ours as well. His refusal to “respect” this material, so painful to those around him, is not wrong. That which in the past was able to expand his concept and make it more beautiful must exist everlastingly, so as to be able to accomplish this everlastingly. As nothing now does, it is the right and just destruction of material substrates that do not let him forget what he must.
The less of a future you have absolutely the more harmful the sense of history is to the capacity to promise to undertake one last action. Or it’s like this: when you’ve got time, you’ve got money, just not necessarily at the same time, right? So, disinvesting so as for optimum flexibility. Money is like unbound libido in this way. MAXIMUM LIQUIDITY & MINIMUM QUIDDITY. A wonder, a practical philosophy.
The political valences of which are obvious: after trash theory, a guerilla war against an invisible colonization waged by an internal exile. More parable than subject position, the figure for a getting-trashed, a trashing the interior as well as the exterior, in a riot that leaves bare not only gallery walls and mom-and-pop shelves but a “life” the last acts of which, after having been voided like a check, will be the only possible place to write the apology of that violence.
Jeff Nagy is a poet and co-editor of The Cladius App: A journal of fast poetry.
As an art student, I learned very quickly that one person’s neutral vessel is another person’s politically freighted, irreducibly marked load.