“To Dissolve Man”

An Investigation into the Liquefactionist Party

In the 21st century, we will have to deal both with the odious Liquefactionists and with a confused and reactionary anti-Liquefactionism, which is far more apparent and obviously horrifying.

I borrow the term “Liquefactionist Party” from William S. Burroughs, who writes about the Liquefactionists in the “Parties of Interzone” section of Naked Lunch - which, as a political policy guide, is unmatched in its insight and accuracy.  He writes that, “The Liquefaction program involves the eventual merging of everyone into One Man by a process of protoplasmic absorption.”  He goes on: “It will be immediately clear that the Liquefaction Party is, except for one man, entirely composed of dupes, it not being clear until the final absorption who is whose dupe.”

Paradoxically, Burroughs goes on to tell us that “Liquefactionists in general know what the score is.”  If they know the score, how can they be dupes?  Perhaps this apparent paradox is resolved by his observation that “The Liquefactionists are much given to every form of perversion, especially sadomasochistic practices.”  Then again, maybe not.

I would add that those who wish to merge all of humanity into “One Man” are but a faction of the Liquefactionists.  There are also those who wish to render humanity into No One - that is, to dissolve humanity completely.  We’ll have to see, once we get down to just a few people, how this final political contest washes out - whether the Ones or the Zeroes will be triumphant.

We may dissect the Liquefactionist in many places, most obviously in the writings of Claude Levi-Strauss:

“...I believe the ultimate goal of the human sciences to be not to constitute, but to dissolve man....

“However, it would not be enough to reabsorb particular humanities into a general one. This first enterprise opens the way for others which Rousseau would not have been so ready to accept and which are incumbent on the exact natural sciences: the reintegration of culture in nature and finally of life within the whole of its physico-chemical conditions.

“However, in spite of the intentionally brutal turn given to my thesis, I am not blind to the fact that the verb ‘dissolve’ does not in any way imply (but even excludes) the destruction of the constituents of the body subjected to the action of another body. The solution of a solid into a liquid alters the disposition of its molecules. It also often provides an efficacious method of putting them by so that they can be recovered in case of need and their properties be better studied.”

This passage, in which Levi-Strauss clearly identifies himself as a Zeroist Liquefactionist, is from the justly celebrated final chapter of his most well-known book, The Savage Mind, [read it here] widely regarded as the opening salvo of the war in which the Structuralists deposed the Existentialists and briefly conquered some scattered territory in France and a larger swath of the United States.  Levi-Strauss wrote these words in 1961, in a direct assault on Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, completed in 1960 (a few months after the publication of Naked Lunch in 1959). Since Levi-Strauss is in this chapter dealing directly with the two charges against him, namely that he is a "transcendental materialist" and an "aesthete," his work is especially important to examine for the purposes of aesthetic materialism.  From structuralism came the post-structuralists, and from post-structuralism came deconstruction.


Image result for ecto-pudding

A typical Liquefactionist

Not all Liquefactionists are deconstructionists, but all deconstructionists are Liquefactionists, at least to a point.  Deconstruction was a tiny, rather insignificant (a wag would say “marginal”) movement within academia; Liquefactionism is a massive, worldwide and world-historic cultural force.  Deconstruction is merely Liquefactionism’s most visible aspect, or at least the aspect of Liquefactionism that is most visible to a certain academic type... a shimmering reflection on one face of the mostly-submerged iceberg of Liquefaction - a reflection that disappears as soon as the light changes.  Liquefactionism as a cultural force is so vast that it may be incomprehensible - we may never get to the bottom of it - but we could certainly start by investigating its economic and political undergirdings - an investigation of which this certain academic type is wholly incapable.

I repeat: at least to a point.  At least.  Derrida himself, of course, reserved some core group of “undeconstructibles,” which at least included justice, and may also have included forgiveness and other bountiful affirmations (perhaps “love”?).  Borrowing from Benjamin and Pascal, he does not hesitate to use the term “mystical” to describe just such a “foundation of authority”.  Except that these are exceptions that are no exceptions: nothing was reserved; we cannot so easily distinguish the core from the periphery.  For Derrida, justice is only undeconstructible precisely because, and to the extent that, deconstruction is justice.  There is no boundary: Derrida writes of the “infinite demand of justice,” a “responsibility without limits”, and jokingly-but-not-jokingly refers to the “sufferance” of deconstruction: “What makes it suffer and what makes those it torments suffer”: “the absence of rules, of norms, [of] definitive criteria.”  This is responsibility as infinite, inescapable torment, the total dissolution of the subject under the scrutiny of justice, the collapse of any sharp demarcation between the self and the other.

But we can trace the Liquefactionist movement far earlier than Derrida.  Perhaps the purest and clearest (and therefore least to be trusted) expression of the Liquefactionist agenda can be found in the writings of Levinas.  If Derrida is a-text-that-is-dissolving, Levinas is a-text-that-is-already-dissolved.  It is impossible even to isolate a Liquefactionist quotation from Levinas’s writings - the Liquefactionism is everywhere and nowhere.  In his luminous clarity, Levinas is scarcely distinguishable from water.

And the 20th century abounds in other Liquefactionist texts.  What is Deleuze’s “body without organs” if not a body whose super-abundant inner difference has multiplied itself so endlessly as to insubstantiate difference altogether?  Then there is Lacan, who helpfully reminds us that “Les non-dupes errent,” giving us the courage to be the dupes we are destined to be.

Alas!  Even my love, Guy Debord, cannot resist indulging in a little bit of Liquefaction (and what’s a little Liquefaction among friends?), for instance when he tells us that the Proletariat is “the class totally opposed to all congealed externalization” or when he says that “The essential movement of the spectacle [...] consists of taking up all that existed in human activity in a fluid state so as to possess it in a congealed state....”  Perhaps this was his fundamental blunder: sometimes being solid is a good thing.

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There exists a kind of crude, low-level Liquefactionism which consists in the belief that the human subject, or the human ego, should be dissolved - "erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea," as Foucault would have it.  The strong, sullen, vulgar type of Liquefactionist stands opposed to all binary opposition, all “dualism”.  When one points out that being opposed to dualism is itself a kind of dualism, this Liquefactionist grunt will mutter something under his breath about the importance of the third term, or multiplicity.

But far more extensive, thoroughgoing, sophisticated forms of Liquefactionism exist.  One step above this crude Liquefactionism is the belief that even to assert that the human subject should be dissolved is too much of an assertion, too solid.  More sophisticated Liquefactionists do not even contest the traditional oppositions such as they exist.  Try to picture “sentences” that do not assert anything, but merely exist as objet d’art.  But, though the imagination strains to countenance it, one wonders if it may be possible to dream of subtler subtleties still - liquefactions that do not express anything, that are not even beautiful, which cannot even be appreciated as grotesqueries.... vast, labyrinthian whirling nebulae of bureaucratic language-production... leering cascades of exceptions... metaphysical red tape.

What unites all of these Liquefactionists is an aesthetic of fluidity, of flow.  Of course the point of reference that they share is Karl Marx, who famously told us that “All that is solid melts into air”.  But what the dupes miss is that Marx here is speaking of the bourgeoisie, which “cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.”  He goes on: “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.”  Liquefactionism is not a proletarian movement, least of all a revolutionary movement, but rather a liberal movement, in the service of capital.  Money, the universal equivalent, also acts as the universal solvent, eroding all traditional boundaries, institutions, traditions and customs.  By contrast, revolutionary institutions, and revolutionaries themselves, need to be strong, not to melt away.

 Let's sing it all together now, one "infantile" baby to another

Psychologists speak of “day-residues” of our lived experience, which reappear in dreams.  Just as I once dreamed of my girlfriend pointing accusingly into my bed, in which lay a “narco-guerrilla” - a giant manta-ray, flapping around - we can say that Liquefactionism is the dream-like “day-residue” of what Lenin called Liquidationism (Ликвидаторство).  Lenin distinguished between two kinds: left-Liquidationism and right-Liquidationism - only to blur this distinction and to assert, in essence, that left-Liquidationism and right-Liquidationism were two names for the same thing.  In both cases, the Liquidationists seek to dissolve the institution of the vanguard party program.  (This is an apt description of Derrida’s deconstruction, which awaits “the unforeseeable other, the structure of an event beyond” any “program”.)  Lenin tells us that left-Liquidationists tend toward anarchism, while right-Liquidationists tend toward liberalism - but that in fact both are objectively reactionary, serving the interests of the bourgeoisie against the fledgling proletarian movement.  Essentially, anyone who is not a follower of Lenin gets schlupped into the mass of Liquidationists. Burroughs’ coinage deftly merges the concept of “Liquidationism” with “factionalism” and the Bolshevik “ban on factions”.  Difference must be eradicated.

Indeed, the aesthetic of the early Bolsheviks was the very opposite of Liquefactionism.  They preferred to be thought of as solid, unbreakable, willful.  Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili called himself “Stalin” - literally, the man of steel - and he wasn’t the only one who indulged this kind of silliness.  Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Skryabin called himself "Molotov" - the hammer.  Rolf Hellebust, in his entertaining book Flesh to Metal, describes the Bolshevik fascination with solidity and metal imagery.  Lenin's favorite spatial metaphor is the line.  He is constantly saying things like "we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation."  This aesthetic spilled over into the art world, with Russian Futurists and Suprematists constantly creating their austere, geometric shapes, their solid blocks of color and precise, angular, mathematical spaces, and in the world of theory, where the Constructivists saw structure in everything, eschewing autonomy in favor of discipline and planning.

Lenin, in Burroughs’ vocabulary, would be the opposite of a Liquefactionist, and the only thing worse than a Liquefactionist - a Sender.  Where Liquefactionists are lax and relativistic, Senders are dogmatic, moralistic, and controlling.  Senders have only one goal - spreading their ideology, in its purest form, unadulterated by any impurities: the language virus.  In Lenin’s case, the signal that he serves is Marxism (and since then there have arisen even more extreme Senders, Bordigists, for instance, who demand fealty to an even purer form of the Marxist signal) but it doesn’t really matter: a Sender could just as easily be a member of the Catholic Church, a Scientologist (Burroughs was a member for a while), or even an advocate of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema.  Senderism is at least as old as the Mayan civilization.  The goal is always the same: control, by any means necessary.  (Incidentally, and perhaps ironically, there is another meaning of the term "Liquidationism," put forward by the Austrian School of Economics, which is even more dogmatic and moralistic - much, much more "Senderist" - than Lenin.  According to this rather Social Darwinist definition, no government assistance should be given to corporations during the recovery from a recession - they should be allowed to be liquidated, so that only the strong survive.)  As Burroughs puts it, “‘Couldn't there be more than one Sender?’ ‘Oh yes, many of them at first. But not for long. [...] Scientists will say: 'Sending is like atomic power.... If properly harnessed.' [...] Philosophers will bat around the ends and means hassle not knowing that sending can never be a means to anything but more sending, like Junk. Try using junk as a means to something else.... [...] But no one will talk about anything very long. The Sender, he don't like talking."  Then again, Burroughs also tells us, accurately, that “the parties are not in practice separate but blend in all combinations.”

Burroughs often seems to be making references to future events.  He’s so ahead of the curve that he’s satirizing cultural phenomena before they’ve even occurred.  In Naked Lunch, he writes about “Islam, Incorporated” five years before Malcolm X (Malik Shabazz) founded MMI, the Muslim Mosque, Inc..  And Burroughs wrote about the Senderists 10 years before the founding of the Senderistas of Peru (also known as the Shining Path).  Sometimes, objects of satire have to spend years catching up to their satirists before they exist to be satirized.

Anywho, back to the Liquefactionists: they are everywhere.  And one cannot fight against the Liquefactionists without a trace of their goo becoming permanently stuck to one’s edges, gumming up the works.  As Dälek puts it, all the words we speak is mad tarnished.  They’ll win, probably, by a mix of default, attrition, and plain-old entropy.

Like Burroughs, Nietzsche, too, had his moments of clairvoyance.  I believe this is why he, again and again, and seemingly somewhat out of character for a Dionysian, stressed the importance of intellectual “cleanliness”: because he foresaw Liquefactionism and didn’t want to get any of it on himself.

But not only did Burroughs identify and satirize the Liquefactionists, he also offered a pretty good response to them (“anti-Liquefactionist, anti-Divisionist, and above all anti-Sender”):

T.B.-- Tentative Bulletin-Liquefaction: "We must not reject or deny our protoplasmic core,
striving at all time to maintain a maximum of flexibility without falling into the morass of

The way to fight against the Liquefactionists is not to strive for some kind of rigidity or brittleness, but to become as flexible as possible. But notice that this is only a Tentative Bulletin: even here, he is flexible, and ready to change.

Although I identify as both an aesthete and a materialist, I'd like to try to carve out a aesthetic materialism that is different from the "transcendental materialism" and "aestheticism" with which Levi-Strauss identifies.  In my conception, aesthetic materialists are not opposed to fluidity; we merely appreciate and assert that other things exist in addition to the fluid.


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