Cultural Discourse looks at a broad range of cultural issues.
10th October 2019

Joker: A Review by John David Ebert

An anthropological type, according to Greek theoretician Cornelius Castoriadis, is a figure which typifies a world age. The Greek thinker of fifth century BC Athens, for instance, or the Hebrew prophet of the Old Testament are such figures. But in the age of Hypermodernity—which began in the middle of the 1990s—one of the primary anthropological types is that of the Dangerous Loner. The figure has its origins as a Precedental Event, however, back in 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed the Texas Tower at the University of Texas and, using a 6mm Remington rifle with a 4 power scope, proceeded to shoot and kill 13 people, while wounding 45 others.

From May of 1978 to April of 1995, Theodore J. Kaczynski sent out a total of sixteen bombs to various individuals who were all affiliated in one way or another with big science. The bombs killed three people and injured 23 others.

In 1980, Mark David Chapman put five bullets into the back of John Lennon, killing him in front of his own New York mansion. The following year, in 1981, John Hinckley, emulating Chapman in order to impress Jodie Foster, attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. In 1997, Andrew Cunanan, in a more successful imitation of Chapman’s deed, shot Gianni Versace dead in front of his Miami mansion.

Each of these figures—with the exception of Whitman—was essentially declaring war against the phantoms, avatars and image ghosts generated by the electronic celebrity apparatus. In the case of Whitman, however, the target was the social order itself, and his Precedental Event was then “normalized” in April of 1999 when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed thirteen people and wounded twenty-three others at Columbine High School. This was followed by Virginia Tech in 2007, Sandy Hook in 2012 and the Las Vegas shootings of 2017, each event echoing and normalizing Columbine, as well as surpassing it in the number of dead bodies and scale of horror.

No mere economic narrative of “class warfare” will suffice to explain these atrocities, since many of the shooters, such as the Columbine kids, came from wealthy backgrounds. Indeed, the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, was a wealthy real estate businessman. So these deeds were not motivated by economic inequality. Something else entirely is going on here. Something having to do with signs, significance and the absence of meaningful narratives.

Which is precisely what Todd Phillips’ brilliant film Joker attempts to excavate through the semiotics of comic book mythology. The character of the Joker was invented in 1940 by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson, and made his debut as Batman’s primary nemesis in issue #1 of Batman. Heath Ledger’s performance as Joker in the 2009 Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight is legendary. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal, however, is in another category altogether.

Ignoring the conventions of the superhero genre entirely, Phillips centers his narrative—for the first time in the history of cinematic superheroes—on a super villain, and attempts to deepen and enrich the two-dimensional signifier of the Joker as a mere comic book character by giving him his own life story.

As the film opens, Joker is an individual named Arthur Fleck who is making his living as a clown, working for a small New York company which rents them out for birthdays, children’s hospitals, etc. A gang of youths steals his sign and then beats him up, leaving him squirming in agony in an alleyway. Fleck is the proverbial schlemihl for whom nothing goes right: he lives with his ailing mother in a tiny apartment. His social worker does not take him seriously and speaks condescendingly to him as he attempts to recount the emotional pain he is in. He is on a battery of six or seven psycho-pharmaceuticals which are doing him no good, as he explains to the social worker that he is never happy. Inevitably, funding for his social welfare program is cut and he is simply turned away, out on his own.

Fleck suffers from a mysterious condition—akin to Tourrettes syndrome—of laughing randomly, maniacally, and at inappropriate moments. He is socially awkward and no one wants to be around him. A fellow co-worker, after hearing about the beating that he took on the streets, gives him a .38 caliber revolver to protect himself. Fleck then makes the mistake of taking the gun with him to a gig at a children’s hospital, and while performing it falls out of his clown suit to the floor. He is fired immediately.

While riding the subway home, Fleck witnesses three well-dressed—and presumably drunken—men harassing a young girl. When he begins to laugh maniacally, their attention shifts to him and they begin beating him up. Fleck then pulls out his revolver and shoots two of them. The train stops and when the third man gets out, Fleck pursues him and slays him on the platform of the station. The violence, needless to say, is very satisfying to him.

The three men, as it turns out, were employees of Wayne Enterprises, and when the news of their slaying by a vigilante clown gets out, it inspires a wave of people donning clown masks and throwing protest rallies against big greedy businessmen like Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father (who is only a child at this point).

Joker tries to make it as a stand up comedian, but when he gets on stage, all he can do is laugh. His favorite late night talk show, The Murray Franklin Show—modeled upon Johnny Carson, of course—gets hold of a clip of Arthur’s debacle and makes fun of him on live television. Arthur, watching the clip from the bedside of his dying mother at the hospital, is simultaneously thrilled and chagrined. When he receives a telephone call from The Murray Franklin Show to come on—for the sole purpose of humiliating him—he is excited, but also nervous. He decides that he is going to shoot himself on live television and sits practicing with the revolver.

He then sits down to reinvent himself. He dies his hair green and paints his face white like a clown’s. He dresses in a smart suit with a vest and tie. And then—in a scene that will most assuredly become as iconic as the wind blowing Marilyn Monroe’s dress or the face of Jack Nicholson leering through the chopped open doorway in The Shining—he emerges from his apartment and, descending the steps that lead to the street, erupts into a full blown dance of lunatic joy. It is impossible to watch the scene without feeling goosebumps. Joker has been born. Arthur Fleck is gone. Forever.

In the green room while preparing for the show, Murray Franklin comes back to check in on him with network standards and practices. Fleck insists that since Murray called him a “joker,” that he be introduced as “Joker.” Murray agrees. He does not quite yet realize the situation he has gotten himself into.

On live television, Murray then introduces him and Joker comes out dancing, then seats himself in the primary guest chair beside Murray. He confesses to Murray that it was he who killed those three employees of Wayne Enterprises. Murray is shocked. The audience is shocked. Joker wants to tell a knock-knock joke, but Murray doesn’t want to hear it. However, Joker insists. Murray shrugs. Joker then pulls out the gun and instead of shooting himself, puts a bullet through Murray’s head on live television. Pandemonium ensues.

On the streets of the city of Gotham, protesters wearing clown masks are rioting and destroying the neighborhood. After retrieving him from the wrecked police car, the crowd of clowns raise Joker up and he climbs to his feet standing on the hood of the car, worshipped and apotheosized by his minions, a schlemihl no more.

Phillips’ film is a Hypermodern masterpiece that hones in on the aforementioned anthropological type of the Dangerous Loner. The postmodern forerunners—schlemihls like Charles Whitman, Marc David Chapman or John Hinckley—were anomalous exceptions to an anthropological type that has now, under the conditions of Hypermodernity, become the norm. Hypermodernity routinely produces what I would call “deontologized individuals,” that is to say, individuals who feel invisible and unrecognized within the digital meshwork of the electronic megamachine that surrounds them. Such individuals have come unplugged from all social formations whatsoever, and do not feel that they belong to part of a larger World Picture that takes them into account by giving them a satisfactory life narrative. They have no narratives–most of which were dismantled by postmodern deconstruction–and when there are no narratives to situate the human individual within a life that has meaning and purpose, nihilism follows. And nihilism inevitably attracts Violence as an attempt to try and fill the semiotic vacancy left by the absence of meaningful narratives. The Columbine kids were looking for a narrative and so, not finding one provided for them, resorted to an Act of Violence as a means of creating one for themselves that gave them a place of importance by scaling their self-images up to giant-sized proportions as figures of menacing Terror. This is also clearly evident in the Precedental Event of Charles Whitman ascending the Texas Tower—shaped like a huge letter “I”—in order to gigantify himself over all others down on the green below. Now he could no longer be ignored.

Violence, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, is a quest for identity. It is no accident that most of the great world religions have come into being through founding acts of violence, whether we think of the Crucifixion of Christ, or Mohammad’s initial war against the Arabs of Mecca or the Hebrews’ violent conquest of Palestine after the Exodus.

On the microcosmic scale, individuals who commit such atrocities are attempting to render themselves visible within the context of a world order from which they feel excluded, even if it means ending their own lives in order to do so. Killing a celebrity—as Joker does—is one means of inscribing oneself into history. When Andrew Cunanan shot and killed Gianni Versace, he knew, just as well as Marc David Chapman knew when he shot John Lennon, that he would enter the history books in the role of a Judas, at least, if not that of a Christ.

The spree killer, though—and Joker brilliantly combines both semiotics—is looking to impact the social order by introducing into it a zone of what the German theoretician Heiner Muhlmann calls “maximal stress.” Maximal stress events, Muhlmann argues—such as the attempt of the Persians to conquer the Greeks—create and found a culture that is united through “maximal stress cooperation.” If successful, there follows a period of “rule formation” and normalization of the culture in which the initial acute stress is stored up as latent stress in cultural media such as books and rituals. The reenactment of the event as ritual has the effect of reactivating the somatic memory of the initial acute stress, which is then stored up and handed down through the generations. The Gospels are an example of this.

But the idea is that the zone of maximal stress—which is equivalent to Giorgio Agamben’s zoe or “bare naked life”—lies “out there” beyond the walls of the city which provide a protective membrane by creating a “zone of cooperation” for the community living together within its walls.

What Joker does—and since he signifies by extension the spree killer—is to introduce the zone of maximal stress on the inside of the zone of cooperation, or body social, where it does not belong. The realm of “bare naked life”—i.e. the zoological struggle for power—irrupts into the civilized order in an attempt to dismantle and scramble its codes. This reminds one of Jean Baudrillard’s definition of Evil, which was not based on the Christian distinction between good and evil, but rather, Evil for him was that which disrupts the smooth functioning of a given system. AIDS, for example, disrupts the smooth flow of the immune system; terrorism disrupts the flows of global capitalism; natural disasters disrupt the flows of civilization, etc. etc.

In origin, the function of Joker as a comic book supervillain and nemesis to Batman was to disrupt the smooth functioning of the social order of Gotham City. But this is precisely what the spree killer is attempting to do, and so the hinge between the anthropological type of the Dangerous Loner and the two-dimensional playing card character of the Joker fuses seamlessly together in Phillips’ narrative, since they both perform the same function within their respective milieus.

Arthur Fleck finds his narrative through dissolving his own three dimensional waking daylight personality into the two-dimensional mask of the mythical Joker. In doing so, in putting on the mask of Joker, Fleck gigantifies himself to epic proportions. Now all that he needs to do is commit foundational acts of violence that announce his existence as part of a new internal proletariat which the social order cannot afford to ignore.

A social order simply isn’t working when a significant number of its population feel “deontologized,” or rendered invisible. An internal proletariat, disillusioned with the dominant minority, begins to form, a proletariat that is in a society but no longer of it, since it has seceded from the body social and its rule by the dominant minority. Such proletariats, over time, grow larger and become ever more and more dangerous. The Spartacus slave revolts of 71 BC, for example, were an early warning of the coming of a religion of slaves—i.e. Christianity—which would eventually overcode Roman society from within. The early Christians, too, were invisible and hence deontologized to the Romans. But their secessionist discontent was already pregnant with the end of Rome as a pagan empire.

Today, too, there is a growing internal proletariat that feels deworlded, unrecognized and disempowered within the global ecumene of neoliberal Hypermodern capitalism. When one thinks of events like that of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of a Germanwings airline who was so fed up with his status as a deontologized individual that in 2015 he crashed a plane full of 150 people into the French alps in order to register his existence upon the body social, it begins to become clear that the discontent is spreading even into the industry of professionals.

The fact of Todd Phillips’s film being so popular—especially among millennials who also feel “deworlded” and shorn of any meaningful narratives by which to live their lives—should give one pause for thought.

All is not well in Hypermodernity. And the Joker as a modern updating of the Medieval iconotype of the Dancing Fool is leading a long procession behind him.

posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

1st August 2018

Support John David Ebert on Patreon

Hello, my name is John David Ebert and I am a cultural critic and the author of 26 books, including Art After Metaphysics, The New Media Invasion, The Age of Catastrophe and Dead Celebrities, Living Icons.

For three decades now, I have been studying the morphogenetic dynamics of cultures, societies and civilizations. I am fascinated with the ways in which civilizations come into being, transform into long term stable entities, and then wither, disintegrate and die. All civilizations are mortal. And they die in all kinds of strange and interesting ways. The Byzantine Civilization, for instance, was gobbled up entire by The Ottoman Empire. The Mesoamerican Civilization was dismantled by brigands, plunderers and nomads armed with a few guns and some viruses. Classical Greco-Roman Civilization was torn apart from within by endless civil wars and barbarian hordes.

What holds a society together and actually brings it into being is ritual, symbol and myth. Metaphysics is the spinal marrow of a society, and when a society’s metaphysical immune system–what I am calling its archai–is tampered with, then the society in question will most likely go to pieces. Our current planetary civilization is going to pieces. But when something falls apart, the thing is, you never know what it’s going to become, what winged-thing may crawl forth out of its ashes to spread leathery wings and fly. Societies give birth to each other all the time. And micro-molecular societies are often in process of hidden formation within larger civilizational macro-systems.

An internal proletariat, as Toynbee said, is a social formation that is in a society, but not of it. And internal proletariats often announce themselves through the creation of what I term “Boundary Events,” in which an act of violence is often committed to signify the boundaries of a newly arising social formation. The AUM Shinrikyo cult that assaulted the Tokyo subways with sarin nerve gas in the mid 1990s was an example of a Japanese internal proletariat. Christianity itself began as a religion among the Roman slave internal proletariat, but in that case, it actually emerged out of the chrysalis of an older civilization to replace it with a whole new macro-scale Society.

A sign regime, as defined by Deleuze & Guattari, is a system that emits signs in the form of flashing signifiers that are constantly beaming out: the tattoos of a Russian mafia man are signifying that he is part of a different social formation from you; the complicated hand gestures of a Los Angeles street gang member are also signifiers meant to denote his apartness from the decaying social order that surrounds him; the guns held by a proud member of the NRA aren’t so much meant to shoot at people, as to signify that he isn’t part of your world.

So this is what I study. These are the kinds of issues that all of my 26 books of essays, fiction and poetry examine. In becoming a John David Ebert patron, you will help him to find and discover the internal anatomies and hidden sign regimes of cultures, societies and civilizations that are in various processes of flux and decay all around us today. And the things that he finds out as a result of your patronage will light up previously darkened regions of the Being that now calls itself a Planetary scale Society. This light, in turn, will help us to navigate our way through a world that is undergoing disintegrative transformation into something Other.

Thank you.

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

20th April 2018

On the Post-Metaphysical Art of Santa Fe Artist Blair Vaughn-Gruler

Blue Shingle, 2017

In her artist statement, “Occlude, Penetrate, Resolve: Paint in Relation to the Body,” the Santa Fe artist Blair Vaughn-Gruler likens the act of painting to creating an epidermal layer of skin that is designed to heal a Wound: as she specifies it, the Wound is that inflicted upon us by Modernity, in which a crisis of meaning of signifiers that have come unglued from their signifieds has resulted.

I think the art of Blair Vaughn-Gruler can best be approached from the standpoint of its evolution over time as she seeks, through the process of epidermal layering, to find new signifiers to occupy the semiotic vacancies left behind by the Dark Age of postmodernity.

To begin with her paintings from 2012, Blair Vaughn-Gruler’s surface of inscription is that, perhaps, of an old abandoned city wall upon which, after a Dark Age, an obscure memory of some formal vocabulary still exists–an echo of Euclid’s Elements, let’s say–and which is scrawled crudely upon the surface as rectangular boxes:

Recess, 2011









Or, as in Climbing Tower of 2011, in which the memory of the vertical-axial arche-form begins to resurface as a quest for depth:


Climbing Tower, 2011









In the 2012 painting Aperiodic Tesselations, a new epidermal surface begins to emerge into the Clearing which she is creating, in the form of tiny raised-relief rectangles that now begin to compose the form language of the Vocabulary she is searching for:

Aperiodic Tesselations, 2012










With Geometry Angel of 2012, the geometric forms now begin to burn and glow with a faint self-luminous aura that indicates their numinosity as forms glowing out of the dim recesses of collective memory:

Geometry Angel, 2012








And in Architectural Geometry II, the Euclidean graffiti shapes begin to resolve themselves into the possibility for the formation of houses and rectangles that could be reinhabited by this human Remnant:

Architectural Geometry II, 2012











In 2013, the epidermal surface of inscription explodes into a series of rectangular units in raised relief, reiterated across a topological infinity, as in Shingle Painting 45:

Shingle Painting 45, 2013










The semiotic vacancies of the Dark Age after Modernity are now being filled in with a new form language of discrete iterations of abstract modularity, floating in hyperspace, as in Diablo, which suggests the view of a complex city from satellized orbit:







By 2015, the solution to the problem posed by her post-metaphysical semiotic vacancies is in process of resolving itself. The squares become organized, not random, and form a complex topology of striated space, as in Compulsion:

Compulsion, 2015










Soon, a post-metaphysical rhizome begins to unfold that integrates all the elements into a complex form language of geometric micro-conversations as dense and complex as an Islamic arabesque:

Articulated Scribbling, 2015








And the rhizome that emerges is a symbiosis of forms creating a carpet of interwoven geometries that have now been remembered, recaptured and interleaved to form a higher, more fractally complicated geometry that exists on a plane of consistency beyond the ancient, dying Euclidean plane of organization:

Infinite Loop, 2015










By 2017, a new space has opened up and dropped downward into the Infinite, a sort of visual equivalent of a Cantorian mathematical infinity as layer upon layer of geometric iteration builds one atop the next:

Logicism, 2017








By 2018, these paintings have become worlds unto themselves, each one a microcosm of complexity and fractal energy with its own form world, its own figurative vocabulary and its own internal rhizomatic metaphysic:

Wiggle-Room, 2018








In short, the art of Blair Vaughn-Gruler is that of a contemporary master whose work you cannot afford to overlook and which is currently available in Santa Fe at the GVG gallery.

Blair Vaughn-Gruler’s website:








posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

4th April 2018

On Nasim Aghdam, You Tube and the Hypersubject

Nasim Aghdam YouTube Video

David Cronenberg, in his 1999 Hypermodern masterpiece, Existenz, saw it coming. At the film’s conclusion, a virtual reality game designer named Yevgeny Nourish, together with his female assistant, are confronted by a pair of test subjects–played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law–who have just participated in his game. The character known as Ted Pikul (Law) confronts Yevgeny with these words:

“Don’t you think that the world’s greatest game artist ought to be punished for the most effective deforming of reality?”

Then both he and the character named Allegra Geller (Leigh) withdraw handguns from their hiding place in the coat of the mangy dog they carry between them and shout:

“Death to the demon Yevgeny Nourish!”

“Death to Pilgrimage! Death to Transcendenz!”

Then they shoot both the virtual reality game designer and his assistant to death.

In other words, the creation of virtual phantoms and ghosts will eventually lead to thymotic reactions of anger and frustration from the limbic brain as the confused and tricked frontal lobes are manipulated by phantoms triggering energetic responses that are evolutionarily programmed into human / hominid biology. If these phantoms confuse the neocortex, the emotionally-charged thymotic centers of the mammalian brain will respond with violence, whether the objects of that violence are real or not.

And so now, the case of one Nasim Aghdam, an Iranian-born woman living in San Diego, aged 39, who has spent the past few years creating her own Hypersubject as an avataric extension of herself into cyberspace. She was a militant vegan and body-builder who created a series of YouTube videos projecting herself as a bizarre dancing entity against multi-colored backdrops and accompanied on occasion by dancing human figures wearing animal-headed masks, all in protest of the killing and eating of animals.

Ms. Aghdam claimed in her videos and on her website that YouTube had recently demonetized her and restricted some of her videos–in which she is shown doing stretching exercises–as age restricted so that she got fewer views. Apparently, demonetizing her videos, she claimed, cut off the only income she had.

So she armed herself with a Smith & Wesson 9mm. handgun and drove from San Diego to the offices of in San Bernardino, and on April 3 at 12:46 pm got out of her car and walked to a patio area in front of the building where some YouTube workers were having lunch, and opened fire, injuring three people before turning the gun on herself and committing suicide.

In his commentary on the ontological characteristics of the subject in the digital age, the Korean born German theoretician Byung-chul Han writes in his essay on the culture of the “outraged” which is being produced under the conditions of complete digitization:

“The outraged do not form a stable we who are displaying concern for society as a whole. Enraged citizens, even though they are citizens, do not demonstrate concern for the social body so much as for themselves…Today’s fits of outrage are extremely fleeting and scattered. Outrage lacks the mass–the gravitation–that is necessary for action. It generates no future.”

Which is the point I made exactly in my essay “On Hypermodernity.” The Hypermodern Subject, perfectly illustrated here in the actions of Nasim Aghdam, is a deworlded subjectivity, carved out from all social formations and projected and amplified into the avataric conditions of hyperspace as a lone subjectivity with his / her own private sign regime and its preferential concerns. The concerns of “society,” “ideology,” or social utopias need not apply. Under the conditions of Hypermodernity, all ideologies are dead. We are instead dealing with a new universe of excessive individualities running rampant across social media. (Donald Trump is the first Hypermodern president: neither Left nor truly Right, he is a pure phantom of raging Tweets and personal preferences connected to no particular ideology who Tweeted his way into the presidency).

These Hypersubjects–a.k.a. avatars–we are now discovering, can be hurt, deformed, warped or otherwise mangled as pain is inflicted upon them. When YouTube demonetized Nasim Aghdam’s account, it actually mangled her avatar and sent pain waves rippling backward through hyperspace to their point of origin in the very loose and liquid subjectivity known as Nasim Aghdam located in physical space in a suburban home in San Diego. In order to cause harm and do battle with YouTube, however, today’s hapless individual has recourse only to resort to a handgun attack on real, physical individuals working at YouTube headquarters in San Bernadino. Individuals there can be shot, hurt or otherwise maimed at the point of origin of their attacks on Ms. Aghdam’s avatar.

In other words, today’s warriors are not ideologically driven Marxists who are members of underground groups organizing themselves for assault on Capitalist society. Those days are gone. Today’s warriors are lone Hypersubjects who exist in cyberspace where they come equipped with their own suits of light and their own private sign regimes of personal preferences. These are deworlded individuals who have come unglued from any local horizons and are let loose in hypermodern cyberspace, where they are unstable, liquid, morphing, shifting entities who appear harmless on the surface.

But that is the realm of the hypercapitalist imaginary. On the plane of the Real, these subjectivities can, and will, do physical harm to the originators of other avatars and other sign regimes which come into conflict with their own.

In my own case, YouTube demonetized my Channel a long time ago, for no clearly given reason. Then, in 2016, they locked me out of access to my John David Channel, where I have over 500 videos, that are extremely popular, with tens of thousands of views. I do not make a cent from any of those videos which YouTube is using to make money from. They simply went in and changed my password without notifying me and now there’s no way in, as I discovered after talking over the phone to a YouTube representative who explained to me, “there no way back way in.”

Really? I kinda find that hard to believe. YouTube has over 1700 hundred employees at its offices in San Bernardino, and you’re telling me not one of those “geniuses” knows of a back way for me to get back into my account? I simply don’t believe that. They just have no motivation to help me out. After all, who am I but just another avatar in their digital apparatus of capture?

So I’ve had to create a new channel and have been trying to build an audience for that back up. Meanwhile, I cannot monetize my new channel until it has over 4000 hours of continuous watching over the last 12 months.

So I know exactly what Nasim Aghdam was feeling when she got into the car and made the drive, together with her 9 mm. handgun, to the offices of YouTube.

YouTube, apparently, can do as they please, with no accountability and no consequences for whatever arbitrary decisions they want to make, completely heedless of their effects on other peoples’ lives. After all, those people aren’t even real, are they?

I think I see more weapons glinting in the sunlight coming over the horizon.



posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

31st March 2018

On the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Group

I. The New Social Formation as a Hypersubject

On April 2, 1968, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin–the granddaughter of the granddaughter of Hegel–Thorwald Proll and Horst Sohnlein created what became known as the Red Army Faction when they exploded bombs on the shelves of two department stores in West Germany: the Kaufhaus Schneider and the Kaufhoff store.  Nobody was injured but that same night the four were arrested as a result of materials the police found that linked them to the bombs.

The power interests  of big business and the American government was viewed by the group as merely placating shoppers with material contentment that left them too narcotized to even bother realizing they were being subjugated by capitalism. Galvanized by the police brutality which had occurred a year earlier when the Shah of Iran had visited Germany on June 2, 1967 and one of the pacifist protestors, Benno Ohnesorg, had been shot and killed by police, the group began to form a year later. The night after the shooting, Gudrun Ensslin had remarked: “It’s the generation of Auschwitz–you cannot argue with them!”

West Germany had thus generated a new internal proletariat, the Red Army Faction, which now proceeded to invent itself by going to war against the capitalist imaginary and its various anthropological types.

On October 31, 1968, the four defendants were sentenced to three years in prison, and it was while in prison that Ulrike Meinhof, an editor and writer at the leftist periodical konkret, met and first had discussions with Ensslin. On June 13, 1969, they were released from prison, having served only 14 months of their 3 year sentence.

Ulrike Meinhof

But in April of 1970, Baader was arrested and sent back to jail to serve out the rest of his sentence. Gudrun and Ulrike then devised a plan to rescue him: they developed the idea of Baader and Ulrike collaborating on a book together, a plan that would get him transferred from prison and moved into a research facility, the Institute for Social Issues. Ulrike arrived and pretended to work on the book with him at a desk, but then four members of the RAF entered the institute, fought with the guards, fired teargas and shot one of them, Georg Linke. Baader, meanwhile, together with a disguised Ensslin jumped out the window. Hesitating for only a moment, Ulrike Meinhof then jumped out the window after them, effectively ending her career as a journalist.

The RAF had declared war on the World Interior of Capital, but once they fled out the window of that research institute, their ontological status shifted from what Giorgio Agamben has termed “bios,” or the realm of inscriptions in the social order, to “zoe,” or “bare naked life,” unprotected by socially coded flows inscribed into one’s subjectivity.

Once they are on the Outside of the World Interior of Capital, their physical somatic bodies must now be taken up by mediatized place holders in the semiotic vacancies left behind by their vanishing. These become the Wanted posters of the Baader-Meinhof group that are found immediately hanging up all over Germany.

The terrorist, in going underground, is determined to unplug him/herself from the realm of bios, or cultural representation, which is essentially the realm of the state apparatus’s ability to code the flows.

The terrorist miniaturizes the state apparatus’s ability to code, decode and uncode the flows, and this is why the terrorist must be immunologically targeted by the state, since the state reserves for itself the right to code all social flows, especially identity flows. It cannot have its citizens usurping its ability to code the flows and create new assemblages at will, especially unprecedented assemblages such as those created by the terrorist.

The terrorist is always creating new assemblages between himself and machinery: man-weapon-transport assemblages, for instance. The terrorist removes himself from the coded flows that the state apparatus imposes precisely by severing and rupturing all Synaptic Identity Connections so that the terrorist is able to move through the state machinery with increased mobility.

The terrorist captures the state’s ability to code all flows, removes it from the monopoly of the state and uses it to maximize his freedom of movement–i.e. appropriating assemblages with helicopters, planes, weapons–by autonomizing the ability to form new identities and new assemblages with machinery and apparatuses at will.

Thus, the terrorist as a disruptive social formation is a miniature version of the state itself, and the only way to stop the terrorist is to capture him and put him on the inside of a system–i.e. prison–that freezes all his motions by servering all his Synaptic Identity Connections with assemblages. Thus, frozen in place, his identity is now fixed and locked into immobility, because in prison the terrorist can no longer form man-weapon-transport assemblages that maximize his motion through the system.

If the terrorist can no longer sprout assemblages like new organs out of his body at random, then he is no longer a threat to the state, for his movement can then be carefully tracked. No new flows can be coded by him.

Indeed, the terrorist identity is an unstable one that is part of a larger Hypersubject that captures and collects identities, using them as so many masks to hide itself. The terrorist Hypersubject is composed of members who have very morphically unstable identities that can slip, slide and disintegrate and reform at a moment’s notice so that his identity cannot be coded and locked into a fixed assemblage.

There is thus a direct relationship between fixity of identity and coded flows: with a stable identity, the subject can be tracked with social security numbers, birth dates, health records, etc. that capture and code all flows emanating from him and leading back to him.

Terrorism can only emerge in an age of Hypersubjects with liquefying identities that are constantly morphing and dissolving. The terrorist must be able to sever himself from all assemblage points imposed by the state and become a modular unit unto himself. He must be capable of plugging into and unplugging himself from any and all assemblages with state functions. He becomes a Modular Subject which sprouts identities at will, for his subjectivity can be broken down into units which can be moved about and unplugged or replugged into novel flows with new entities.

II. Icons

The first person to die by the Baader-Meinhof group was a police officer who was shot by Gerhard Muller during a nighttime shootout. It was at this point that authorities began to regard the organization as “criminal” rather than just “political.”

On May 11, 1972, in reprisal for a fresh wave of US bombings in Vietnam, the group began a wave of bombings that spread throughout Germany, in Karlsruhe, Munich, Hamburg. In Frankfurt am Main they set off three pipe bombs at the Fifth US Army Corps stationed at the IG Farben buildings. Thirteen people were injured and one man was killed.

But then on June 1, 1972, Andreas Baader and Holger Meins were both arrested–while TV cameras rolled–and taken into custody at the siege of Hofeckweg. Holger Meins would later die by fasting in prison, and his death would become the first RAF martyr that would inspire a whole new, Second Generation of increasingly more and more violent killings, bombings and kidnappings of various government and civic officials.

On June 7, 1972, Gudrun Ensslin was arrested at a boutique as she was looking for new clothes with which to disguise herelf, and on June 15, they arrested Ulrike Meinhof.

But inside prison, the group became more powerful than ever as their mediatized icons began casting ever larger and larger shadows into the mediascape, icons which began to inspire further imitators. Before their imprisonment, the police had been looking for some 30 people, but after the death of Holger Meins, they were after 300 people, and the Criminal Investigation Office estimated that their sympathizers now numbered over 10,000.

The Arrest of Holger Meins

Thus, the immobilization of their physical bodies now begins to shift to the sphere of effectualities of images and icons–via the gigantifying effect of TV and newspapers–across the West German landscape. While in prison, the members of the RAF become works of art, transformed by the powers of the media into action-generating icons that radiate out across the socius.

In the metaphysical age, it was the artist who had the power of creating icons out of martyrs by painting images of saints or Christ as larger than life characters across their tesserae. But in the post-metaphysical age, it is the media which have taken over the martyr-machine function: for simply by casting their images via the transmission of electrons at light speed (instead of tesserae), their image icons are a creation not of the artist who, in contemporary art, is no longer given the power or legitimacy of doing this (Andy Warhol did not create icons out of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley; he came upon them as phenomena that had already been created by the amplifying power of electronic media). So, as Russian theoretician Boris Groys has pointed out, it is the media themselves which have now taken over the icon-generating power of the traditional artist simply by projecting the images of terrorists and martyrs whose acts become inscribed in our mind’s eye by beaming them through the electronic landscape.

III. Second Generation

With the First Generation all now locked up in Stammheim prison, the Second Generation of the RAF, inspired by the death of Holger Meins, proceeded with ever more violent and reckless deeds: first, on February 27, 1975, they captured and kidnapped the political lawyer Peter Lorenz and demanded the release of Horst Mahler, Verne Becker, Gabriele Krocher-Tiedemann, Ingrid Siepmann, Rolf Heissler and Rolf Pohle. None of this group were accused of murder and so the demands, which were reasonable, were acceded to. The group then released Peter Lorenz in a park. Ensslin, Baader and Meinhof watched all of this unfold on television and decided that the success of it would inspire them to try something bigger.

For their next act, the Second Generation of the RAF stormed the German Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden armed with pistols. Six RAF members took eleven hostages up to the third floor of the embassy and laid them on the floor. They called themselves “the Holger Mein Commando” and they said that if the police approached the building they would blow it up. When there was no response, they shot the German attache and the police dragged his dying body down the stairs. They then demanded the release of the original Icons: Ensslin, Meinhof and Baader. State Chancellor Helmut Schmidt denied them. They then insisted that they would kill a hostage every hour if their demands were not met and proceeded to shoot and kill another hostage, Dr. Hillegaart.

Then, at 13 minutes to midnight, a bomb went off in the building and blew out the front windows, from which several hostages escaped and most of the terrorists as well, who surrendered.

The group was put on trial on May 21, 1975, but on May 8 of 1976, Ulrike Meinhof was found dead in her cell. She had committed suicide without leaving any note, by tearing blue and white prison towels into strips and then tying them together. Then she pushed her bed away from the window, laid the mattress on the floor and put a stool on it. She tied the rope around her neck, climbed onto the stool and put the other end of the rope through the close mesh over the window grating and jumped.

On April 7, 1977, the Second Generation murdered the Federal Prosecutor General Siegfried Buback as his car pulled up to a stoplight: a man on a motorcycle armed with an automatic rifle pulled up beside his Mercedes and filled it with bullets, killing both him and his driver.

Brigitte Mohnhaupt was now in charge of operations, and she wrote a letter claiming responsibility for the murder at the hands of “the Ulrike Meinhof Commando…”

The verdict for Baader, Ensslin and Raspe was read out on April 28, 1977: life imprisonment for each.

In retaliation, on July 30 of that year, Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christian Klar visited the residence of the banker Jurgen Ponto with his family. When Klar pulled out his pistol and aimed it at the banker, he told him it was a kidnapping and when Jurgen protested, both Klar and Brigitte shot him to death.

In creating a history of violence for the group, they are inscribing themselves into the socius. In his essay on “Art in the Age of Biopolitics,” Boris Groys suggests that it is only narrative documentation that enables one to discern the difference between a natural and an artificial object. Like the replicants in Blade Runner, of whom one cannot tell by looking at them whether they are natural or artificial, it is only the photographs that give them a fake subjectivity that inscribes them into life and history. There is no objective way of determining the difference between a GMO and the real thing except by showing the documents or the blueprints which enabled the product to be produced.

Likewise, with the RAF, in exiting from the World Interior of Capital, they have entered into the realm of Agamben’s “bare naked life” in which they have no political or cultural representation (bios, in other words) that would inscribe them into history and give them political rights. Part of what drives the anxiety and violence of the group is that, in exiting from the World Interior, they are in an ontologically perilous situation in which they have no valid documentation to prove their existence as a social formation. Therefore, the violence is meant to inscribe their existence onto the body social of the host culture in lieu of works of art or other narrative documentation that would confer upon them the right to exist as a separate political entity.

Hence, the original importance of Ulrike Meinhof to the group: she was their only valid means of contact with the world of narrative documentation that they possess, despite their scorn of her fear of violence. In reality, they needed her to inscribe them upon the body social of the GDR, but ultimately, it turns out not to be enough, for violence must be used as narrative documentation, an alternative means of giving them the right to exist. The media, in reporting on these violent acts, does not give them political legitimacy (“the right to exist”), but it does confer upon them the ontological status of actually existing entities. In other words, their existence is “recognized” by the media, but not legitimized.

IV. Final Act

The Second Generation of the RAF continue with their attempts to get Baader, Ensslin and Raspe liberated from Stammheim. To this end, they decide to kidnap Hanns Martin Schleyer, head of the Federation of German Industries and the Confederation of Employers’ Associations, and a member of the board of Daimler-Benz. This was all organized by the brilliant strategist Brigitte Mohnhaupt, who herself was not allowed to participate in the acts so that a surplus remainder of the group would always exist if the others failed.

On Monday, September 5, 1977, the RAF kidnapped Schleyer at his cortege of cars. They intercepted it, shot all his police escorts and pulled him into the VW minibus and made off with him.

But the GDR dragged their heels and would not accede to their various demands, so they turned for help to the PFLP, who hired four people to hijack an airplane, forging for them fake identities as Iranians.

The entire thing was a huge debacle, with the plane landing at various locations throughout the Middle East until finally, at Aden, the plane was stormed by GSG 9 commandos, who killed the four hijackers.

In Stammheim, when Baader, Ensslin, Raspe and Irmgard Moller heard about the failure of the plan, they all agreed–as one version of the story goes–on a suicide pact. In his cell, Baader supposedly faked a violent struggle by first shooting a bullet into his mattress and another into the cell wall and then he picked up his gun and held it, awkwardly it seems, to point at the back of his head, whereupon he shot himself. But many are skeptical of this, and Irmgard Moller, who stabbed herself but survived, said there was no such suicide pact.

“The Murder of Andreas Baader” by Odd Nerdrum (1978)

Gudrun Ensslin hung herself in her cell with a piece of loudspeaker wire cable and Jan-Carl Raspe sat on his bed and put his 9-mm Heckler & Koch pistol to his temple and fired.

The RAF’s response was to shoot and kill Hans Martin Schleyer. They took him out to the woods and shot him. On the afternoon of October 19,1977, the French newspaper Liberation received this communique: “After 43 days, we have ended Hans Martin Schleyer’s miserable and corrupt existence.”

In the end, 28 people had lost their lives in assaults mounted by the RAF, while 17 RAF members were killed. A Third Generation of RAF members, however, continued for the next twenty years assassinating heads of corporations and US military personnel all the way down to 1998, when they called it quits.

In targeting heads of state–i.e. lawyers, judges, bankers, military men–the RAF were essentially performing acts of erasure, like the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten’s crossing out of the icons of the previous order and installing his own name or the name of his sun god in their places. The RAF likewise, were crossing out the icons of the global world order and installing icons of themselves as urban guerillas in the semiotic vacancies left behind by the destruction of these previous icons.

The various bombings are the equivalent of a Samson-like attempt to pull out the pillars of the World Order of Capital. It is an art war in disguise as a war of political representation: one order of signifiers is pulled down while another is installed in their place.Through their various assassinations and bombings, they were attempting to install a new set of signifiers inside the capitalist imaginary: thus the Anthropological Type of the urban guerilla replaces the type of the CEO or the banker or politician. It is a war that proceeds by destroying an order of icons and replacing them with the new. One sign regime of a disaffected internal proletariat attempts to recode the older regime with its own semiotics.

“Hanged” by Gerhard Richter (1998)

German art was doing something similar at this time with the art of Gerhard Richter and Josef Beuys: both artists were busy erasing images and constructing new signifiers to overcode the old Modernist iconotypes. Richter erases the photograph with his photo-realist paintings and recodes them as theorized images. Beuys erases the ready mades of Modernism and reterritorializes them with his own private semiotics. The RAF were essentially performing something similar at about the same time in the sphere of political representation.

For the postmodern age that is now fading off over the horizon behind us was an age of liquefactions, dismantlings and deconstructions of all previous narratives that had their roots in the metaphysical age. Derrida with deconstruction in philosophy was busy dismantling the logocentric age, while the political Left was busy, all over the world, launching terrorist operations aimed at dismantling all narratives whatsoever.

The postmodern age was an era of assault on all previous narratives. But that age, with its ideologically motivated terrorists, is disappearing now. New disaffected social formations have come along to replace them, but they aren’t ideologically motivated: they are motivated by White Power on the one hand, or Islamic extremism on the other.

Terrorists guided by Marxist narratives have now become an artifact to be studied by the collector of ideas.






posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    For more John Ebert books and lectures...Get it on Google Play






    Giant-Humans-Tiny-Worlds book cover




    Catastrophe book cover






    Ebert books
  • Archives

    For more John Ebert books and lectures...Get it on Google Play

  • Archives

    For more John Ebert books and lectures…Get it on Google Play






    Giant-Humans-Tiny-Worlds book cover




    Catastrophe book cover






    Ebert books