The Bolsonarist scenario and its way of being

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By FERNÃO PESSOA RAMOS*

Digital numbers are the calculation of what is discarded in a world of brutalism

1.

Let's define that the images circulating on social networks are largely camera images, or images that are mediated by them. This implies that there is, or has been, a scene – in other words, a circumstance aimed at the composition of this image. Our objective here is to analyze three types of scenes, or enactments, of Bolsonarism as ways of being on social networks.

For our approach, we will isolate three ideal types of Bolsonarist staging composed by the establishment of particular figures: the narcissistic tasting of horror; the trance drives hijacked by the religious order and the exploration of the scene of guilt and bad conscience. Specifically, the figures we will analyze are: (i) the selfies taken after the barbaric actions during the events of January 8, with debris supporting the depth of the camera image (Image 1); (ii) trance images of religious ecstasy, specifically those of the event with glossolalia of First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro, during the celebrations of the appointment of Minister André Mendonça to the Federal Supreme Court (Image 2); (iii) Bolsonaro's portrait showing her body with scars from the stab wound she received in Juiz de Fora during the 2018 election campaign (Image 3).

Image 1 (selfie)

Selfies Event 08/01/2013

Image 2 (trance)

Trance with Glossolalia (Michelle Bolsonaro celebrating André Mendonça’s appointment – ​​01/12/2021) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk2C8q4HtSM&ab_channel=DCMTV)

Michelle Bolsonaro kneeling in a trance (Evangelical Parliamentary Front Event at the National Congress – 04/05/2022)
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql487a3_HTY&ab_channel=Poder360)

Image 3 (portrait/scar)

Portrait: Jair Bolsonaro showing scar (30/06/2023)

Jair Bolsonaro pointing out scar in interview Danilo Gentilli (30/05/2019)

The staging, in the camera-image, composes an individuation that has the characteristic of receiving the reflection of the world as external matter. It (the reflection) inhabits the staging as an “instauration”. The process of “instauration” makes up the technological individuality that we call subject-of-the-camera, the one who touches the world as a scene.

Reflection, or reflection, is its extension, its res extensive so to speak, a continuous external substance appearing in and through its agency, being there. We can then say that the staging in the shot (in the “take” of the image) is a particular mode of existence of what it reflects. The camera-machinery and the subject that supports it in the shot function as a point of gravity that, within its radius, processes the experience of acting as action-enactment.

In their way of staging, the images above promote three vital modalities of affection: narcissism (in selfies); ecstasy (in trance figurations); guilt and regret (in the portrait of the scar). Detailing the modes of affect in the establishment of the subject-of-the-camera as technological individuation we have:

(a) In Image 1, the narcissistic affect of the selfie is the experience of a camera-subject who admires himself and has as a backdrop the extensive landscape of horror; (b) In Image 2, the constriction of the trance through exultation transforms the free joy, subduing it to the straps of the authority of a superior entity (God); (c) In Image 3, Bolsonaro's bodily scars receive the cult of guilt and compassion as a supplement, subjecting the subject's autonomy to the bodily scourge suffered by others.

The images are, therefore, composed in circumstances in which a charge of affection brings together actions for the camera. An originally volatile center is displaced by idolatry and glued together by superimposition on the Bolsonarist figure. A fragmentary/shattered body receives the Bolsonarist subjectivity that the camera establishes in the modality of selfies in the devastated land of Planalto (Image 1); at the trance co-opted by exaltation in the ecstasy of the divine entity (Image 2); for the portrait of a bovine figure paralyzed in the bad conscience of the idol's scourge (Image 3).

The three functions of interiority as affection, or archetypal emotions, integrate domination and pleasure. The subject-of-the-camera opens himself up, through the scene, to the brutal figuration of matter in a world of violence and alienation that he himself configures in the ways necessary to process value.

2.

Let’s take a closer look at these figures from the Bolsonarist scenario. In religious trance, remembrance anchors and restricts the occurrence of free drives that would otherwise appear as virtual modes of will and power. For example, in the films of Jean Rouch (The Mad Masters/1955, among others); or in works by Glauber Rocha (earth in trance/ 1967, The Dragon of Evil against the Holy Warrior/1969 or The Age of Earth/1980), the subject-of-the-camera in trance appears liberated, in his power, beyond consciousness and memory. Thus, multiple free instinctual configurations are possible. The chains of domination through guilt and narcissism recede and the power of impulse increases, relating the will in an open virtuality.

The camera-image of Michelle Bolsonaro in ecstasy in the experience of glossolalia establishes the trance as the subject for the camera in a scene (or enactment) in an evangelical neo-Pentecostal ceremony. The trance emerges linked to an external being (God) who regulates and measures the free output of power. The trance experience is arranged through a structure of submission to a higher entity that grants and authorizes it.

In the Bolsonarist trance, free unconsciousness is channeled into praise, ready as a way to attach itself to the aggregating idol. The free drive that would release self-satisfaction and happiness becomes a form of debt for sadness or resentment. It establishes a double concentration between good and evil, on the one hand, and the power called God, or Bolsonaro, on the other. By limiting free energy, a sealed whole is established to unify the power impulse that, originally, in the open mode of being of trance, is dispersed in its virtuality.

In the portrait of Jair Bolsonaro, the display of the scar establishes guilt as mercy for others, strengthening the affections that tie free drives into a volatile, as it is empty, core. In the camera-images of the Bolsonarista scar, the circumstance that promotes pity for the suffering body dominates. The subject-of-the-camera “feels” guilty for the tearing apart of otherness. Remorse and bad conscience deny pleasure and constitute contrition as discharge.

There is an analogy with the Christian compunction on the cross. The auratic presence of Jair Bolsonaro's injured body in the scene allows guilt to become a general disposition of control. She, guilt, imprisons the power of the will in regret. Bodily suffering is the central element in the figuration of Bolsonarism, bringing together, in horror, the laceration of the flesh in the scar. Suffering cries out “may the experience of my wound be your compassion”: “First, we share the guilt in my flesh and then you are my body, suffering with me the multiple stabs.” The overlapping affects around pity and compassion are thus held captive in guilt – and responsibility retains free flow of will to the cathexis centered on the figure of Jair Bolsonaro.

We can find a similar movement in the image of Bolsonaro selfies. Their motive is the narcissistic display in the body's self-image, bringing as a complement (the background of the image that appears in depth) the destruction of matter caused by the events of January 8th. The function of individuation that we call ego, or consciousness, shows itself here as a mode of existence. It is the technological being of the 'I' open in its composition of self-image – or the reflection of the subject-of-the-camera “myself being on stage” as “my” figure. The photographic image of the selfie carries within it the narcissistic affect of the “image-of-my-body” that emerges in the scene. Satisfaction in the emergency is related to the narcissus affection (my beautiful self) superimposed on the brutal destruction of the beautiful material in the background (Planalto architecture, works of art, sculptures, glass, etc.).

The philosopher Achille Mbembe mentions that “narcissistic passion is the key to the new imaginary” (Mbembe, Achille. Brutalism. n-1 editions, p. 97) in the media society of social networks. In it, “the subject is a series of partial combinations in the middle of a field refractory to any unification” (idem, ibidem). In the narcissistic subject we find the recurring need for congregation, with a tenuous self oscillating in an empty social structure, exuding misery and agony. The narcissistic supplement activates a screen of satisfaction, but gathers nothing beyond its own self-inflation.

The Bolsonarist selfie is this inflation, made of destruction and chaos. It highlights the joy of a bodily presence that is staged by the overlapping of egoic wonder, blending into figures of horror. In the intense circumstance of the shot, it bears the scar of singularity and the subject-of-the-camera is the wasteland of destruction, the exterior extension of the selfie-me.

3.

The three typical figures of Bolsonarism therefore reveal structural functions of the camera-image. They compose technological forms of individuation in the machinic apparatus of the being-there that we call the subject-of-the-camera. The reflection is its opening to the outside in the establishment of the mise-en-scène, or staging. The particular circumstance of the 'take' is a “mode of existence”, a kind of technical fold rooted in the “theatricality of being”. The visibility of the reflection in the virtuality of its process is the event or, in other words, the event is the “taking” in its immanence.

Its reception forms a specific regime of technological individuation, as analyzed by Gilbert Simondon. The visibility of contact is its own articulation through the gap with the world, which is outside. Its individuation is the correspondence of existence with the camera mechanism. Coming from outside, it makes up what semiotics calls secondity, pointing to the surface-being that is affected in contact by the reaction or relationship. The outside is there, open in its virtuality for establishment, or existence in process.

Still in your book Brutalism, Mbembe develops a post-humanist discourse mentioning the surrender of vital forces to the order of capital, following brutal demands of energy and matter to realize value. The physical body, our human body, becomes the raw materiality, the meat of processing into value. The machination of subjectivity pumps the vital force of existence to accumulate as matter through the linear calculation of a technological agency.

The camera-image is composed of one of these calculations that bring to light, in our society, the predominance of the order of the algorithm. We find a kind of animistic reduction of the social whole that seems to inhabit everything with the same empty spirit and has its experience reduced to the demands and conformations of the digital number. The Bolsonarist camera-images on the networks bring a reduction in the modes of exacerbation through narcissistic dilution, trance and guilt.

The algorithm that covers the matter liquefies the hardness of the concrete and the brutality of the work that transforms it. Its reduction compresses the whole into a disposable object that encompasses dematerializing, as it is a digit, a kind of universal animated spirit. The animism of things makes accumulation linear and progressive, translating as an abstract and spiritual number what from matter value are very concrete extraction procedures. The scorched earth appears as a manipulable goo, even in the image of its reflection. The universal expansion of the debris makes uniform the proportion of the animated spiritual substance that flows, bubbling in leveling digits.

Digital numbers are the calculation of what is discarded in a world of brutalism. In other words, steel, concrete, plastic, ashes, composite bodies without organs, organic waste, chemical waste, feed the substance of formless matter, in the overwhelming order that implements the reason of capital and its reproduction. Waste reduction swallows everything, including biological structures.

The “logics of fracturing and fissuring”, “of exhaustion and depletion” make up the practice of demolition which “in effect, is a gigantic task” (Mbembe, op.cit. p. 14 and 16). The accumulation of raw material for “breaking, stoning, pillaging and crushing” (idem, p. 16), serves to ignite what is reduced to the “burning of the world” in the manufacture of value. Logic that is the engine of a “necropolitics” (another Mbembe concept), so well exemplified in the cruelty of the methods of Bolsonarist intervention in mass extermination and selection for life on the margins during the pandemic. A kind of higher stage of Foucauldian biopolitics, it now appears in the horizontal extension of the “worlds of death”, internalizing vital manipulation as an essential element of value production in the reproduction of capital.

In this sense, the external violent circumstance that inhabits the subject-of-the-camera when taking the image is not just an algorithm. Being gross, it is made by man in the exhausted substance of his work that devastates the process of value. It reflects the vast expanse of rubble, plastic, organic and concrete waste, which surrounds the circumstance of taking in its renewed virtuality in the devastated outside that imposes itself from the inside.

The 'seizure' by the machinery of the subject-of-the-camera is the circumstance of fracturing and its scene is the theatricality of the world. The horrible concreteness of raw matter is in what is exhausted, reflecting the scene of universal value. The co-opted 'trance' transforms the free impulse into the congregated unit ready for capture in the (social) network and the 'guilt' serves as the return of sadness into immobilizing compassion, a kind of guarantee to cradle the co-opted person in the religion's mode of existence.

The “narcissistic ego” is the glue that sews the Bolsonarist order, suturing the combinatorial consortium. They all prepare the way of being in the brutal extraction, physical space of waste and the exclusion of the miserable people surrounded to remain on the other side of the border. The substance of the images is the “pathos” of the demolition. It is the reign of capital in its reproduction in this stage of “destructive creation”. Trance, guilt and narcissism operate the technology designed to smoothly transform demolition waste into the desolate surfaces of value extraction. The residue is what we have left – the way to survive in the universal substance of debris.

However, an anthropological foundation could still release the brutal catalog of feelings and affections served by the value of the algorithm. The camera's mechanical hand would be one of the figures capable of making the technological gesture to found humanity. It is necessary here that the opposition to number can inhabit the reflection as the flesh inhabits the transformation of the body in empirical immanence.

In other words, piercing the matter and bursting the calculation (of the algorithm and its networks), releasing the virtuality of the event as that which reflects in the mode of radical empiricism. The event released in the process is the commitment to its immanence not as the scenography of a construction (to be revealed or deconstructed by the omniscient subject), but as a hiatus that founds the network of associations itself. Thus, the subject-of-the-camera becomes the hammer of the will in its power, beyond representation.

In other words, an agency that not only shares the substance reduced to digits as innocuous, but that also represents the denial of humanity in the form of a collectivity made for the reproduction of value in the logic of the fissure of the devastated earth.

*Fernao Pessoa Ramos He is a professor at the Institute of Arts at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The camera image (Papyrus).

Text originally presented at the symposium XXIX Visible Evidence/University of Udine, in September 2023.


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