Go on, consume!



The issue of iatrogenesis, then, is a suggestive way of looking at one of the means by which the narrativization of anxiety in our culture is produced. As such it allows us to see Dickinson's crop-circles as closely modelled on this process of co-dependence. As with the relationship between the hysteric and analyst, the condition (the phenomenon) is created out of the interaction between the doctor (artist) and the patient (believer). The artist recruits the 'true-believer' in providing a setting in which pre-existing expectations can be confirmed. These expectations then take the form of propositions and hypotheses which then produce the need for the crop-circles themselves. If this process, as I have said, is not ironic, neither is it cynical. Dickinson's interest is not in how easily people are duped, but in how far the irrational is embedded in modernity and therefore how normative these processes are in a culture whose claims to reason and enlightenment are held to be self-evident.
This places Dickinson's work self-consciously within a particular post-Freudian tradition of engagement with the irrational and ideology. Until Gramsci and later Adorno and Horkheimer, Marxist debates on ideology, derived largely from a very partial reading of Marx's and Engels' German Ideology, equated the irrational with 'false consciousness', with ideas that were insensible and opposed to the long-term interests of the subject. But by the 1930s, with developments in psychoanalysis and a greater social understanding of consciousness as conflictual and divided, the idea of ideology as an opaque veil became subject to widespread critique. Men and women are not subject to a life of illusion through dominant ideological forces but fight them out in the realm of ideas and representations. This is commonly refered to as the 'lived relations' or cultural model of ideology in which ideology is equated with the production and reproduction of everyday practices, forms and ideas. Largely silent on questions of epistemology it takes as axiomatic Freud's hypothesis that consciousness is opaque to its own workings and social effects, arguing that the ideological production and reproduction of everyday practices, forms and ideas is subject to a fundamental process of misrecognition. It is this 'open' approach to ideology that is found both in Althusser's reworking of Freud in the 60s and Adorno's reworking of Freud in the 40s and 50s. The workings of ideology should not be understood in terms of falsification, but of the encoding of suppressed needs, wants and desires. In this respect there is a significant shift in understanding the relationship between reason and rationality; although ideologies may contain or promote falsehoods, this is not not necessarily an irrational process. Such ideologies may express real needs and desires, and as such create and promote legitimate pleasures. It is this model that has now come to dominate current debates on ideology and the irrational, particularly in the work of Slavoj Zizek, where there is a conscious closing down of the gap between the ideological and reality itself. (6) If ideology is not an illusion neither is it simply the place where ideas get fought out, but a phantasmagoric support for reality itself. Ideology is co-extensive and co-present with the operations of fantasy. In effect this is Althusser driven into the arms of what Zizek calls the surplus of enjoyment played out in ideological investments (nationalism being his main empirical concern in his later writings).

Longwood Warren, Hampshire, Wheat 260ft diameter, 25th June 1995
If there are substantive problems with Zizek's model and the 'open' model generally - without the idea of false consciousness and the demands of epistemology we would not recognise the enjoyments of ideology in the first place - nevertheless the 'open' model of ideology allows us to think the irrational rationalistically. That is, it allows us to move, as Showalter does in her analysis of modern hysteria and Adorno does in his discussion of astrology in the 1950s, to a position where the discussion of the irrational is immanent to the everyday and not its aberrant other. As Adorno says in his analysis of the Los Angeles Times astrology column 'The Stars Down to Earth' (1952-3), irrational beliefs may "result from the processes of rational self-preservation". (7) Thus astrology, for Adorno, contains a pseudo-rational advocacy of human agency, despite its overarching subsumption of human behaviour under the benign influence of the planets. Indeed this is the success of astrology, for without this minimal "encouragement of people to take decisions" (8) for themselves, the readers would derive little narcissistic gratification from its entreaties. Hence under conditions of mass representative democracy people may feel that they have little power, but they certainly do not want to be told so. Cannily, then, astrology invokes the 'fates' whilst stepping back from a crude fatalism. This core of the 'rational' is of course the work of the astrologist, who carefully appeals to the every problems and disappointments of its readers, without demeaning them as victims. In this, Adorno argues, there is a deeper set of instincts at play which focus on how and why the irrational remains functional under modernity. The irrational, being what Freud calls a residue of pre-historical animalistic practices, releases a host of affective and emotional needs in a culture where such gratifications are held in check by the powerful social reinforcement of ego controls. But this dependency is never strictly what it seems, because it can only enact its disavowals of reason, science and materialism via an acknowledgement of the benefits (of at least some) of science's secular developments. The result is what Adorno calls a form of bi-phasic dissonance, in which the believer is forced to sustain a kind of intellectual retrogression which, before the rise of modern science and capitalism, was not required of the mystical and deeply religious. As such it is possible to distinguish modern forms of irrationalism as performative contradictions, in which the subject believes something in spite of overwhelming counter-evidence because there is good reason to believe it - because "it is good for me". Indeed it is possible to go one step further and note the development of what Peter Sloterdijk calls "enlightened false consciousness", openly cynical defences of contradiction. (9) "I may accept the advances of science, but I defend astrology, because it's a laugh". Adorno himself barely addresses this as a possibility in his analysis of the LA Times readership. This certainly has something to do with the limitations of his method - he assumes a homoegeneity of response to the LA Times column - but it also reflects the limited self-conscious expression of this cynicism during the period he was writing. Today "enlightened false consciousness", after the defeats of the left and the commodification of '60s counter-culture, is the dominant ideology of the new middle-class, Blairism incarnate. "I may believe in free education for all, but I will send my children to public school anyway".
Dickinson's crop-circles are product and response to these modern ideological conditions, and as such through the operations of iatrogenesis stages their primary forms of dependency. His work, therefore, goes to the heart of the bi-phasic tension between the irrational and rational within modernity. For what his work is also concerned to bring out is the huge intellectual and affective investment in the lore and mythologies of crop-circles on the part of crop-circle researchers through the work of science itself. For all the implausibity of their hypotheses, the Cerealogists use the procedures of scientific field work and analysis to verify their findings. The truth of the circles may be ultimately inexplicable to human reason, but nonetheless it is reason which will prove this. In this respect Dickinson's work only reveals its full implication with the presentation of the literature and photo-documentation of the crop-circles in the gallery - the articles are taken directly from the magazines, the photographs bought from professional crop-circle photographers. For with their sheer profusion of material the notice boards provide a visual fix on how extensive is the network of scientific analysts and helpers. Professional scientists and amateurs rub shoulders together. This maybe pseudo-science, or 'semi-erudition' as Adorno might put it, (10) but the extent to which it produces a culture of believers, is, as with the effects of astrology, evidence of that surplus of enjoyment which the mechanisms of ideology enacts. It would at the same time be foolish, therefore, to assume that Dickinson does not recognise the attractions of this enjoyment, for in producing crop-circles he also recognises his own pleasure in the production of the enjoyment of others. With this Dickinson is not out to shame his interlocuters - even if this might seem to be the inevitable outcome - but to show how the pleasures of the irrational produce their effects culturally, for Dickinson's work reveals a complicity with the irrational as the means by which its power can be made manifest.
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