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A Journal of the Plague Year: January 5, 2021: The politics of gesture


by David Ackley



The minimal ideologeme--the tiniest unit of ideological act and statement--is the gesture--the hand over the heart, the raised clenched fist, the salute or the palm-down, Roman-Nazi extended arm: mask refusal in the time of the pandemic.

Mask refusal as gesture and sign seems vacant of content, even contradictory: I proclaim my fealty to the cause of individuality, joining the faceless mass of all the others who so refuse, distinguishable only as a mass, mask refusal an ‘empty signifier,' if ever there was one.

And more, these “empty signifiers,” that indicate no more than a choice between covering or not covering half your face, are themselves a proclamation of facelessness in that the only signifier of individual identity is allegiance to one mass or the other.

At least wearing a mask has the separate excuse of function, of protection. While the other—the bare face—seems as devoid of purpose as of significance, a blank exposed face masking a bottomless emptiness--

A potential sacrifice to a cause that like fascism disappears into the empty abyss of myth, the miraculous, magic, cabals, and covens, superstition, the archaic, the forever-lost past and ineffably unattainable future of the absolute.


Update, Post January 6. Post-Mob.

A purely gestural politics ends with the gesture: it effectuates nothing but the performance of the gesture itself which disappears into the mystery of the symbolic. This is not to say that gestures, like the action of mobs can't have dire consequences, even be murderous as this one was.

It's just that this kind of politics, which Trump practises with some skill, dissolves on examination of motives or purposes, into the emptiness beyond the gesture itself: even its practisioners, and believers, can't say beyond the vaguest of propositions what their politics intends.

If there is a familiar sounding label for this form of ideology--in a way, it's too thin to be called politics--it might be Neo-fascism, in that it incorporates the practises of fascism, particularly that of  the gesture, performance (which in the form of spectacle, is simply gesture on a large scale--think Hitler's and Trump's rallies) and the inciting of mobs, without incorporating the mythology which gives Fascism its air of purpose.

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