Art for Left-Wing Hypomania.
“No more Thumpers are needed, thank you.” | Disney
Ajay Singh Chaudhary,  December 7

Left-Wing Hypomania

Against the power of positive thinking

“No more Thumpers are needed, thank you.” | Disney
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There is perhaps no more American expression than “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The political versions of this aphorism range from the barbaric dictate that you should never criticize unless you have a prepackaged “solution” to a spectrum of more generalized affirmational delusions. The only negativity that is countenanced is fatalistic or conservative.

The origins of the phrase are somewhat murky, but its media proliferation begins with Disney’s Bambi in 1942. The movie is adapted from the novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods by the Jewish Austro-Hungarian author and critic Felix Salten. Disney transformed much of the book, adding Thumper’s little piece of advice, to wheedle out a silver lining. Salten’s book originally ends ambiguously, depicting a bleak life in the woods for its animal denizens and their enemy, humans. Bambi (1942) makes the story cough up the ubiquitous happy ending: the forest (somehow) grows back; there’s a baby to celebrate; a patriarchy is romantically restored. Hold back that criticism in your throat—if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

If there’s anything to learn from the 2020 presidential election, it’s that the only realities of American exceptionalism are our empire, the dollar, and enforced optimism. Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face. Back at the beginning of the “end of history,” former Soviet citizens subjected to economic “shock therapy” discovered that capital would not only dictate how, when, and where to work (already familiar terrain) but also that people actually feign being happy while doing so. “Emotional labor,” in its most formal sense, seemed an absurdity beyond belief. In post-Soviet Russia, you are forced to drink optimism, but in Capitalist America, optimism drinks you.  

Walter Benjamin, 1929: “Mistrust in the fate of literature, mistrust in the fate of freedom, mistrust in the fate of European humanity, but three times mistrust in all reconciliation: between classes, between nations, between individuals. And unlimited trust only in IG Farben and the peaceful perfecting of the air force.”

In post-Soviet Russia, you are forced to drink optimism, but in Capitalist America, optimism drinks you.

New York City, November 9, 2020: And just as cheers rose on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning, so too rose the markets—already remarkably detached from the “real economy” where depression conditions persist—to giddy heights. The eruption of Émile Durkheim’s “collective effervescence” on the left had a kind of manic, bipolar quality to it. Is this an undercurrent of Benjamin’s famous “left melancholia”? If so, why is it accompanied by simultaneous admonishments to not only claim a “win” but act and strategize as if that’s a case, as if the (assumed) incoming administration is promising anything other than what is heavily outlined in its prospective appointees and transition team advisers? From civic-minded liberal to hardened Marxist, one observes something closer to the power of positive thinking or the prosperity gospel. Even among those most intent on the downfall of the Trump regime, an edgy toggle persists. Kind of like the election itself, the celebration has been overcome by “secular” trends. In the cold language of economists, secular trends are those which stretch far beyond the immediate; they are not cyclical but reflect rather the long course we are already on.

Politically, there are left, right, and liberal versions of these sentiments—centered around themes of progress or decline, civility and indignation, transcendental or eternally recurring truths. There is nothing particularly American—nothing exceptionally American—about so many of our social and political pathologies, except that we have to say it with a smile.

Beyond the allegorical pages of Bambi, Salten had quite a lot of rather not nice things to say about Europe in his era. Anonymously, he authored a piece of erotic social satire, Josephine Mutzenbacher or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself, pillorying not only the sexual repression of Viennese society—in apparently vivid detail—but the hypocrisy of the ruling class and the misery of bourgeois society. Salten died in exile in 1945. The Disney fascists that bowdlerized his story would go on to become one of the largest media conglomerates in the world; the German fascists who forced his exile would be folded back into the European project. Turn that frown upside down.

It’s not that there’s nothing to celebrate. Donald Trump is leaving the White House, one way or another, come Inauguration Day 2021. His cavalcade clown car of cartoonishly caricatured villains will depart with him. At least for the moment. Some of his cruelest measures—family separation at the border, the Muslim Ban—will be reversed. Some form of DACA has already been reinstated, some kind of student debt relief has an outside chance of sliding through via administrative dictat. There is a genuine celebration in these changes for the human lives temporarily alleviated.

But these celebrations are sullied—they become apologia—in treating them as “wins” or “victories.” At their best, they help build collective feeling as well as nurture hatred for the society that makes such paltry measures seem gargantuan. For the left, the incoming Congress contains more avowed socialists than before, as do many state houses—these, particularly at the local and state level, have been definitively meaningful. If there is possibility in official institutions, this is where it lies at the moment. Insofar as immediate, organized, collective action was effective, it was ironically stalwart left politicians (despised by the Democratic Party) and increasingly popular far-left movements (many deeply skeptical of the electoral process altogether) that put Biden over the top in swing states like Minnesota and Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Even that is thin gruel, as the right’s grip on state houses is tighter than before. One of the most significant actual wins on election night was Proposition 22 in solid-blue California. Tech-capital finally put internal differences aside and successfully ensconced not the “future of work” of a million conference marquees, but work’s miserable present for desperate millions. Seth Harris, an Obama alumnus, wrote the foundations for the proposition back in 2015, arguing that tech platforms had created a new category of “independent worker” who fall outside labor laws like minimum wage or overtime and should “rarely, if ever, qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.”  Harris is already included in Biden’s transition team; the law serves as a model for national policy. This is just one aspect of the grim reality of what an American “national unity” government promises.   

Except for this last point, it’s all small potatoes. The presidential election was not a “repudiation” of “Trumpism” nor a landslide. The favorite talking points of 2016— “most votes ever!” and “look at that popular vote margin!”—remain as flat as they were before. It’s almost always the most votes ever; population does, well, increase. And, many will be shocked to learn, the U.S. constitution is acutely antimajoritarian. The U.S. constitution is functioning precisely as revered “founding fathers” like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton hoped: steadily shutting the door on possibilities outside of a narrow, narrow stream; setting up the building blocks for permanent minority rule. I’m laughing in the face of casualty and sorrow, for the first time I’m thinking past tomorrow.

Despite, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the now unavoidable need for radical, institutional transformation, a gander at the alternative models doesn’t give much cause for celebration: much more representative systems in say, the United Kingdom or even its baby settler-colony in Israel seem perfectly capable of producing similar politics. In many ways, the election itself tells us little at all. Once again, the polls were wrong: the “blue wave” failed to materialize; “Never Trump Republicans” were revealed to be the myth they always were; Trump increased his support among Republicans and overall. On the national, electoral plane, the United States slides into a recognizable pattern found in many places the world over. There’s the virulent, neofascist far-right. Or, there is a “national unity” government of the center-right incapable of much but policing their left and emulating their right.  

The presidential election was not a “repudiation” of “Trumpism” nor a landslide.

This is one of the reasons the debate around Trump’s “fascism” is so tiresome. People seem to want a cookie-cutter, Hollywood version or an exact historical carbon copy to finally answer the question. But Trump’s neofascism certainly has a family resemblance with all the wide variety of neofascisms the world over—from India to Brazil to all across Europe. The denial of this seems more like yet another, boring, inaccurate, fantastical American exceptionalism. There are plenty of alternatives, all bad. Fascism, like our more modern mode of capitalist-crisis government, neoliberalism, is mostly the stuff these politics are made of. Sometimes, as with the Nazis, it’s racial eliminationism that is the secret sauce. Sometimes, as with Franco, it’s Catholicism. Sometimes, it’s anticolonial writers noticing that fascism is just colonialism swung back around, or indigenous observers wondering how much of that is new in the first place. With Trumpism, as is becoming increasingly clear, it’s a heady brew of nativism, patriarchy, and Christian revivalism.

Fascism can begin with large numbers, or it can be imposed from above, as with Pinochet. I recently learned that Black Panthers and other American political prisoners called U.S. society “late fascism” to mirror “late capitalism.” Modi’s India seems closest to the classic model, but it arose not against a rising left but organic crises of capital and legitimation crises of governance. Trumpism is just an expression of this in the United States. And it’s not going away. Trump was not uniquely fascist; America already tended fascist. Why, in that context and within this global family, should I avoid the neofascist appellation? Do I have to count the exact rate of hysterectomies in camps, the number of Proud Boys and sympathetic police, or, for that matter, pre-Trump detention and extrajudicial murder, or the body count of the unending Global War on Terror? Do I have to demonstrate the uniquely similar economics? Almost all sides in this debate seem to miss that no matter the angle of approach—political economy, law, movements, ideology, aesthetics, culture—fascism is an ordinary state of affairs for modern capitalist societies: as latent possibility, as “preventive counter-revolution,” or as the exception that is always the rule. It’s baked in the cake and certainly as American as apple pie. Fascism and liberalism are not antinomies; they too can toggle back and forth. Capital, for the moment, seems content with either option.

The consolidated neofascists tend to stay in power; the unity governments manage to hold on by becoming—even by “lesser evil” standards—ever more difficult to meaningfully distinguish. The center, in its inability to govern conditions which require its own undoing, leaves the unvarnished reality, no matter how distorted in paranoiac projection, to the neofascists. Its primary political concern is the suppression of a possible radical realism to its left. The left is held—at least for the moment—in blackmail. The only contrary affective disposition that American optimism seems to countenance is apocalyptic fatalism. The reality is much more interesting: Trump was not so much beaten as he was overtaken by the same secular trends that increasingly diminished the election itself. 

It’s here we find the greatest hope that this election promised, at least for the broadest spectrum of the left. Perhaps, without the media spectacle that is Trump, the constant circulation of Trump, the Trump-induced cortisol pumping through veins, without the drip-drip dopamine hits of a thousand retweets and likes, without the insane self-narration of middlebrow heroics, without the desperate longing for grace from above, perhaps finally Americans could share a greater, mass recognition of the stark reality that lays all around us. This reality, its transparency, and its feeling, are, like most things, poorly distributed.

But, unquestionably, the distribution of maladies increases. The pandemic is already infecting over one hundred and sixty thousand more Americans and killing over one thousand each day. More than two hundred and fifty thousand lie dead in the United States alone. And millions more, who survived the disease, find that “long haul” symptoms are slow to relent and stretch on indefinitely. No matter what progress is made on vaccines, a long and deadly winter approaches. Its reality will be hard (but not impossible, as we are Americans, after all) to ignore. The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding economic trends towards a post-growth economy. The bizarre, K-shaped “recovery” finds the vast majority of Americans living through a depression and every social fact that entails. And, of course, the pandemic is not some one-off, freak occurrence, just like post-growth economics is not something to be reversed. Covid is a social fact as much as a biological and ecological one. Like other signs of climate change—hurricanes endlessly marching up the Atlantic coast, flooded and famished farmlands, and continual, uncontained wildfires—the pandemic is just another new normal in this ecological niche we all inhabit, unequally.

The end of the end of history is finally here. It’s not the apocalypse; it’s that awful thing, the future. Turns out, we’ve actually already been here for much longer than we realized. Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it neat?

The greatest hope of this election was not that the Biden administration would address these economic and ecological “trends”—but that there would be no more pathologies to probe; that they would finally all lay out on the surface. No more blaming Russians or shady data analytics companies. Nothing to see but the harsh light of day.  

Maybe, as party (the other kind of party) people of all stripes could tell you, there’s not much more one can feel than exhaustion when the dopamine well runs dry. Or, from a different angle, when there’s nothing more to cathect. So much had been invested in Trump; Trump has finally articulated the United States as is (and as a rather lot of Americans want it to be). All hope beyond this kind of consciousness, for this election, for American politics at a “national” level is complete fantasy.

It’s not simply that the incoming administration won’t deal with the economic and ecological. It’s not only that they’ve preemptively turned away from the most significant political expression of this period—this summer’s uprisings. (For some comrades more fatally afflicted with Thumper’s principle, it’s worth remembering that the Biden administration and Democrats more broadly have little incentive to go beyond the most modest concessions to their left—and perhaps not any at all.) Even the stated goals—for example, the much-vaunted climate plan—are an absolute, unremitting joke. Something is better than nothing! In some cases, it really, truly, isn’t. It’s not only that they won’t (where a more standard Marxian story—still true—might leave us), but that it they can’t. There is a politics that starts from this relentless pessimism, but it doesn’t build from the power of positive thinking.

At least with “competent governance,” the reasoning goes, we will muddle through something like the pandemic better. It turns out, though, that per capita Covid infections in supposedly reasonable Europe started to surpass even the United States sometime mid-October. It’s not that there are no possibilities: China, South Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, even the state of Kerala within the larger federal (and neofascist) India have all shown just how spectacularly well functional state capacity, mobilized social forces, and a real public health system can deal with a crisis of this magnitude. But Euro-American liberal “democracies” seem largely incapable of handling such secular trends. We’re in thrall to an economic-time that is out of sync with ecological-time, and a political-time that can keep up with neither of these, nor the pathologies of our long history that Trump made all too perfectly clear. Not a nice thing to say, I suppose. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.

The end of the end of history is finally here. It’s not the apocalypse; it’s that awful thing, the future.

For some, the first great disappointment of a Biden era will be the perfectly obvious observation that viruses don’t care one way or the other about elections. Without Covid, there would have been a Trump landslide. With Covid, Biden eked out a “win”—much smaller than Obama’s blowout in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and years of increasing discontent with the endless “Global War on Terror.” The second great disappointment of the Biden era will be the complete lack of accountability for even the most odious Trump-era officials. They will be welcomed—back or anew. Just as the crusaders, profiteers, apologists, sycophants, and sadists from the Bush-era are now permanent fixtures in our political and media worlds, we’ll have a whole new cast of characters from this season of politics in America. The officials, but also the new media personalities, pro- and con-, the Trump-mongers, the bourgeois illiterati, will all continue on in politics, in media, in the academy, in industry, in philanthropy, wherever they like. F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong about no second acts for these people in only one sense: the first act goes on and on; they forever fail upwards. Just like Donald Trump himself.

A genuine underpinning of the euphoria of this moment is in forestalling worse than what we’ve seen, in taking Trump far away from ICE, some of his favorite internal security services, and police forces where he is overwhelmingly popular. But Trump’s appeal increased in this election. These forces aren’t going anywhere yet, and neither are Trump’s Proud Boys and nativist nationalists who will be welcomed on the “respectable” American political stage without missing a beat. But these, like racism, like capitalism—the racialized form of which is the only one we’ve ever known—of course are not disturbed in the least. Perhaps—and perhaps I’m too hopeful—the hope lies not in the optimist’s wish-fulfillment that the aberration has been dodged, but in the pessimist’s realism that something like fascism was already here and bound to continue and worsen, unless things—everything—were radically different.

Before the election I asked several colleagues better-versed in psychoanalytic theory if there is a word for what comes after the last cathexis—for when there are no symptoms to diagnose (not cure, mind you), no more “internal” work to be done, and you are simply faced with a material reality that is unflinchingly awful? One possibility suggested was “depressive realism.” Growing out of Melanie Klein’s “depressive position,” in which the individual finally faces up to the reality principle, depressive realism is the opposite of enforced optimism. Depressive realism—itself coined by psychologists Lauren Alloy and Lyn Abramson in 1979—didn’t quite posit the kind of schizophrenic-as-seer-of-the-capitalist-universe one finds in, say, the work of Felix Guattari. In fact, its principal incipient observation, inspired by Klein but carried out in experimental studies, was not so much that the depressed had some kind of intuitive understanding of the real world, but rather that “non-depressed people succumb to cognitive illusions that enable them to see both themselves and their environment with a rosy glow.” Pace the preachers of optimism from every corner, they found, much to their surprise, that depression did not inhibit action or perception of capability of action. Rather, it was the “cognitive illusions” and “rosy” outlook of the non-depressed that constantly impaired decision making.

The political implication is obvious: seeing, feeling, and saying all the unnice things, against Thumper’s advice, as against those who fear any scrap of negative feeling not dutifully ensconced in a spoonful of sugar, is how we begin to find a way out of our impasse. Almost all the moments identifiable in the revival of the still-nascent left have emerged when the depressive realism seeped in: Occupy Wall Street, the Movement for Black Lives, the Sanders campaigns, NoDAPL, the growth of DSA, and proliferation of other activist organizations.

There’s no need to make a fetish of negative affect—that is a real form of “left melancholy”; all these movements generate true positive feeling, too. Benjamin, 1940: “They are alive in this struggle as confidence, courage, humor, cunning, and fortitude.” The celebrations on the streets of Bolivia are correctly far less vexed than our own. They not only overthrew a budding fascist takeover, but they join the ranks of the Vietcong and the People’s Army of Vietnam as those who have at least partially successfully repelled American empire. But these kinds of politics—the ones we should be looking to for guidance—don’t begin with the optimist’s cognitive illusions or manic admonitions to feel good about things. Even the Stoic affective posture in our politics partakes in a kind of optimism: if we just keep on keeping on, following the path forward, we march up the hill to progress.  

If we could dispense with Thumper’s pernicious advice, perhaps we would not rehearse the same tired arguments: the conservative side of the left (along with, well, conservatives) wags its finger that the “culture wars” have gone too far. There is, of course, not a shred of evidence in this. While the left side of the left (along with, well, liberals) fluctuates on a spectrum of “soon our turn” to “dreams really do come true” if you wish upon just the right star.

You can never out-right the right, and this nightmare is a wish our world made. Gramsci’s old “an optimist because of will” was a grim claim, not a cheery one. Whether you’re a nineties-style dismalist or an old-guard Marxist, we often cling to some modicum of the American optimistic poison, leached out of Christianity or Hegel, and turned into treacly sweet breakfast cereal by the culture industry. Spoon after spoon to tell me lies, sweet little lies: We can do some good with these people; they will at least fight our enemies; we’re moving in the right direction.

A glance at the world suggests otherwise. The flipside to all-too-ordinary neofascism is a state of general American decline, a bizarre situation where all we are is a central bank, the world’s largest military, and an increasingly ecologically exposed post-colony.

I am hardly the first to suggest that depression, and negative affect more broadly, might be a foundation of an emancipatory politics. Just in recent memory, Mark Fisher and Ann Cvetkovich have made similar claims. And, of course, the emancipatory possibilities of the relentlessly negative and critical were not only the foundation of Critical Theory but of Marx’s “ruthless criticism of everything existing” itself. I’ve been knee-deep in literature at the intersection of economy, ecology, psychology, and politics that suggests exhaustion—of which depression is only one component—is the connective tissue to political subjectification. Depressive realism hardly suffices on its own, but Americans (including the American left) hardly suffer from is a surfeit of it.

C.L.R. James—who saw no great difficulty in comparing eighteenth-century British liberals to twentieth-century Italian fascists—cited a version of what I would call exhaustive realism, even if in the face of horror, as one of the most pivotal aspects of the Haitian Revolution. No stranger to dramatic writing, the tragic flaw James accents in Toussaint L’Overture—who takes on mythic proportions in James’ writing—is a self-deluded faith in his enemies: “he could not admit to himself and to his people that it was easier to find decency, gratitude, justice, and humanity, in a cage of starving tigers than in the councils of imperialism.” Optimistically, he hoped for the best and, in a thought that resonates with this moment like a tuning fork, he wouldn’t tell the truth to the people already fighting in open revolution. “It was dangerous to explain but still more dangerous not to explain.” Not truth from some Archimedean point, disembodied truth, truth in contrast to emotion, or even truth to power; but truth in politics, as the gamble of politics on the capacity of the crowd, in the mass. Dessalines, who would go on to win the war, knew that he had to roll the dice. He told crowds who were coming through years of brutal war following years of even more brutal slavery the unflinching reality: “the war you have just won is a little war, but you have two more bigger ones.” This was the unvarnished reality; perhaps people would give up, but if that were the case, the cause was already lost. He did express confidence “we’ll win these wars,” but that was a realistic assessment of the possibility the forces had—actual optimism of the will—and he was unflinching about the stakes. Loss meant at best a return to slavery.

Better to roll the dice with everyone who knows how much the house is stacked against them than to give up the game.

Collective effervescence—collective feeling—is vital; feel all the manic euphoria perhaps you feel. But feel all the depressive realism and whatever else, too. Feel it about the Trump years with kids, and forced hysterectomies, in the cages that Obama and Biden built. Feel it as we, perhaps finally, begin to mourn the dead. Feel it all—grief, sadness, anger.  Pessimism: “. . . even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious.” Feel it not to internalize toward guilt or as another one-quick-trick-to-fix your life—“wrong life cannot be lived rightly” after all—but to open up to that depressive realist realization: it’s not you; it’s the world, and there is something you can do about it. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, Fannie Lou Hamer once quipped. I think you may discover a lot of people are, if only we don’t Disnefy our politics.  

The cynical left pessimist is a well-known quantity, perhaps most famously pilloried in Walter Benjamin’s 1931 “Left-Wing Melancholy.” In it, Benjamin castigates the left-wing melancholic as a kind of nihilistic fatalist, who has lost all touch with actual political movements and political action, who “gives rise, politically speaking, not to parties but to cliques; literarily speaking, not to schools but to fashions; economically speaking, not to producers but to agents.” That is to say, radicalism as merely a sales pitch.

Benjamin’s essay has been given prominent readings that are worthy as self-standing pieces on their own by Wendy Brown, Jodi Dean, and many others. Across them we discover all types of left melancholics—perhaps the adherent of an old Trotskyite group, or a modern-day anarchist who simply refuses action out of higher moral principle, or a neo-scholastic out to win departmental wars more than political ones; or people so unmoored from either politics or principle that all that is left is nihilism. What strikes me most about the bipolarity of the left in this concentrated particular moment is that it isn’t characterized by either of these affects. The “purity over reality” left is largely a media and party apparatus concoction; the contemporary left in the United States—the first even remotely mass left in a century—is almost insanely practical-minded and engaged. These types who pop up now and again in a meeting or, more likely, a social media thread, do exist but seem not particularly representative. And, in the twenty-first century United States, they seem less likely today to write sad, ironic poems than, to, well, be giddy, and even stupidly optimistic.

What is, I think, sometimes lost in left melancholy is that it’s not really about pessimism or optimism or even, really, melancholy at all. Benjamin puts it right there on the page: “Tortured stupidity; this is the latest of two millennia of metamorphoses of melancholy.” Tortured stupidity. This is the quality of Benjamin’s principle target—the hack opportunist—and they are found everywhere today, in cretinous, and quite often functionally illiterate apparatchiks, politicians, and media personalities, on the left to be sure, but far more in the “reasonable political mainstream” and indeed on the right.  

This doesn’t seem to explain the bipolarity of this moment—whether it runs in the streets or streams down screens. Left melancholia—which should hardly be confused with pessimism—doesn’t seem to be peaking through. Benjamin excoriated the social democrats of his day for a stupid fetish of optimism. Instead, 1929: “the organization of pessimism” is “the call of the hour.” “Pessimism all down the line. Absolutely.” This for him is not an austere asceticism but the actual political footing for recovering utopian “fantasies”—understanding their flaws—and wrenching the social-aesthetic possibility, wealth, and play for which he is better known out from the fetters that society holds it back in. We can never perfectly transpose the past onto the present, but there are bits and pieces that we can take hold of that speak to our time—and an organization of pessimism is one of them. A politics that is nurtured by, to paraphrase Benjamin again, the reality of enslaved ancestors rather than the (projection) of unborn children. One thing that was true of political-time in Benjamin’s day—James’s too—is almost infinitely intensified today in terms of ecological-time: Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, you’re always a day away.

Perhaps what we suffer from, then, is not left melancholy at all but a kind of left hypomania. From uncertain celebration to fluctuating fixation, it is our inner depressive realists, our exhaustive selves, speaking to our collective effervescence. This, though, is maybe my own cruel optimism. Too many of us are still too addicted to Trump the meme, Trump the drug, Trump an inescapable orbit, no matter what we believe. Or worse, with pure euphoric fantasy realistically impossible, many turn away from the depressive or exhaustive realism and cling all the more tightly to aspartame hegemony: unwilling to trust others, or themselves, with how bad it all actually is. It is, of course, an organized pessimism that we need—or institutions capable of organizing and extending political passions as Gramsci might say. And there’s very little time. Berlant proposes that the political itself is a cruel optimism; I always thought that was unconvincing. Neither optimism, nor pessimism, but an escape into the plane of the exclusively interpersonal, the moral, the ever so tantalizingly small and controllable. Better to roll the dice with everyone who knows how much the house is stacked against them than to give up the game.

Salten’s original Bambi ends with a realization. The old “Prince”—the stag—shows Bambi a dead man, demonstrating that humans bleed just like animals do. Finally, Bambi understands what it means to be equal, prefiguring the anticolonial argument of Fanon by several decades. Salten’s message may be more muddled than Fanon’s, but it’s a great time to say not-nice things that unpleasantly, pessimistically, happen to be true. No more Thumpers are needed, thank you. Pessimism all down the line. Trust only in IG Farben and the peaceful perfection of the air force. “Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt—its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all bodies of water—that they may turn to blood.” Finally, Hollywood helpfully simplifies: there will be blood.  

Ajay Singh Chaudhary is the executive director of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and a core faculty member specializing in social and political theory. Ajay is currently working on a book of political theory for the Anthropocene. He has written for the Guardian, n+1, Los Angeles Review of Books, among others.

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