Group Fantasy Politics
America's Political Miraculum
January 6th, 2021, was nothing short of a miraculous day for American politics. It was a miracle in the sense of an impossibly produced event that can only be understood and explained with reference to the distortion between multiple shifting perspectives and group fantasy.
Contemporary political thought is stifled by stative interpretations of complex dynamic events, including acts of sovereignty. Approaches based on notions like eternal values, the ‘Rights of Man,’ and the constitutional state block thinking with respect to America the event, to America-ing.
The cacophony of American colonialism functions in this way to obscure the group fantasies that constitute it and the delirium of genocide, dispossession, slavery, and white supremacy from which it arises. Political parallax usefully describes movement along the delirious Möbius strip-like form of the American polis where “there at first appear to be two sides, but as one traverses it, there is only one side that feeds back into itself” (Byrd 2011: 29).
January 6th, 2021, ratifies American delirium. The event is ongoing. The idea of a spatialized political ‘field’ with determinate and consistent positions is undermined as the positions are shown to overlap and drift. The flexibility of the group fantasies that constitute political identity roles has been made visible through the inter-and intra-action of four significant groups: the protest, the police, Congress, and the audience.
In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari define delirium as the general matrix of every unconscious social investment and identify its reactionary and revolutionary poles:
First, a paranoiac fascisizing (fascisant) type or pole that invests the formation of central sovereignty; overinvests it by making it the final eternal cause for all the other social forms of history; counterinvests the enclaves or the periphery; and disinvests every free “figure” of desire - yes, I am your kind, and I belong to the superior race and class.
The ‘Stop the Steal’ protest operated at this reactionary pole of political delirium. The protest coalesced around the group fantasy of policing Congress, or becoming the police.
The protest became the police to enforce an impulse towards the centralization of sovereignty. The protest became the police to challenge Congress’s group fantasy of popular sovereignty via representation. The protest became the police to assert sovereign power held in the body and speech of the executive alone.
Once the protest established itself within the Capitol’s symbolic and functional spaces, it enacted a second spectacular phase of its group fantasy — becoming Congress.
Obviously, the police also operate at the reactionary pole of political delirium. In their day-to-day policing activities, they enact their group fantasy of becoming the police.
The Capitol police could not effectively police the protest because the two groups shared the same group fantasy. In close proximity and friction, the two undifferentiated group fantasies were superimposed and the Capitol police’s unified identity was fractured. Some police can be seen becoming the protest, others becoming the audience.
The police recognized in the protest a shared set of unconscious socio-psychological investments, specifically those that serve the interests of the ruling class. Any ideological or aesthetic similarities between the two groups (e.g. militarization, hypermasculinity, fraternity, nationalism) are downstream from an Oedipalizing infrastructure that channels desire to paranoid, segregative, fascist ends. On Oedipalization, Deleuze and Guattari explain:
When subjects, individuals, or groups act manifestly counter to their class interests - when they rally to the interests and ideals of a class that their own objective situation should lead them to combat - it is not enough to say: they were fooled, the masses have been fooled. It is not an ideological problem, a problem of failing to recognize, or of being subject to, an illusion. It is a problem of desire, and desire is part of the infrastructure.
All those subjectivities involved in the reactionary group fantasy of becoming the police are the by-products of this Oedipalizing socio-psychological infrastructure.
Congress coalesces around the group fantasy of popular sovereignty via representation, of representing the audience. Congress initially included the protest and was in the process of becoming the protest when it was interrupted by the protest’s process of becoming the police.
The typical relationship of mutual enablement between Congress and the police was broken with the miraculous superimposition of group fantasy between the protest and the Capitol police. Congress was forced into a process of becoming the audience as they took cover and then fled beneath the Capitol.
Congress’s group fantasy of representation now has a traumatized aspect that motivates it into the process of becoming Congress again. In the days since the event, this retributive process certainly already involves some amount of becoming the police.
The audience refers to the group of online viewers observing the event as it unfolded and continues to unfold. Livestreams and social media are the recording surfaces on which the event enregisters itself. The audience coalesced on this surface around the fantasies of being represented by Congress and being carried by the protest. The audience was abstractly engaged in the processes of becoming the protest and becoming Congress simultaneously.
Once the superimposition of police and protest fantasies occurred, the audience itself began a process of becoming the police. Millions of posts and comments were shared calling for police violence against the protest, often from people who would typically denounce police violence. At this point, the audience and Congress began to operate at the paranoiac, fascist, and reactionary pole of political delirium. Soon after, people sympathetic to the protest began posting that anti-fascists had actually instigated it.
On January 6th, 2021, there was no evidence of the revolutionary pole of political delirium in Washington, D.C., and very little in the online observational metaverse. This event demonstrates the reactionary, punitive, policing tendencies of every group that was involved. With a parallactic view through the lens of group fantasy, we can see that nearly everyone became the police.
As I write, unprecedented legislative, juridical, and corporate efforts to reassemble American political spaces’ symbolic impenetrability and enforce the homogeneity of political discourse are underway. This is what “healing” means to Congress, the police, and the ruling class. This attempted healing is also a set of reactionary policing efforts that invests in the formation of centralized sovereignty.
No engagement, political or otherwise, is left consistent in the wake of the miracle of betrayal. As Art historian Boris Goys explains, only through betrayal can we begin to understand that
the engagement with a certain position…is at the same time an engagement with the opposite of this position…The boundaries are always the same, but the positions are constantly rotating…The difference between difference and identity cannot be established.
We may very well need a new vocabulary and set of concepts to adequately understand American crises including, for example, January 6th, Covid-19, and 9/11. Here, let me pose a new concept and term.
The miraculum is the iterative process through which impossibly produced events occur in America and how they are used to justify paranoiac, segregative, fascist, and centralized acts of sovereignty. The miraculum addresses the problem of how supposedly fixed and consistent political positions remain inconsistent and interchangeable across time in America. The word carries intentional traces of the form and meaning of simulacrum, that famous ‘copy without an original,’ while emphasizing the distortive effects of viewing an event from multiple positions and the fantasies around which groups coalesce.
The miracle on January 6th, 2021 began with the superimposition of the police’s and the protest’s group fantasies. This set off a chain-shift of becomings that left no group with a consistent position. The protest, the audience, and later Congress, moved towards the position left vacant by the Capitol police. The immediate situation only resolved once different, more militarized police, who were probably earlier members of the audience, arrived to secure the building. Only once the police were able to begin becoming the police again was relative order reestablished.
This is an interpretation of the event articulated from the revolutionary pole of American political delirium in witness of the ongoing miraculum of American sovereignty. We need many more peripheral, minoritarian, anti-imperialist interpretations. On the danger of accepting imperial interpretation, Indigenous critical theorist Jodi Byrd writes:
That interpretation is an act of sovereignty is something well known and practiced by the imperial hegemon that uses juridicial, military, and ontological force to police interpretation and interpellate what is and is not seen, what can and cannot be said.