signifying rapper

Why is there no Classism?

So, there are structures in place that preserve class. There are identities which are often termed in relation to structures of class. Class is articulated on a continual basis. Then why is there no such thing as classism? I can understand calling the notion of “classism” being incoherent a pedantic distinction, but I think explaining that there not only is a difference, but the nature of that difference (perhaps differance?) is important specifically because it allows for a development of why there cannot be a comprehensive structure of identity through class that will not eventually reinforce notions of capitalist violence.

There are so many examples wherein one finds affinity within struggle, identities that are defined both within and against their structural bounds, but to do so with class enters a series of implication about class that lead to the conclusion that class is the same kind of identity as any other. Articulations of gay pride, of black liberation, of national liberation struggles are all means by which one reacts to the violence of neocolonial, neoliberal hegemony. Conversely, these retain a danger of rearticulation like that described by Badiou in Black where he discusses the specific usage of black as a term of identity and the beauty of blackness as part of black liberatory aesthetics, and cautions about how this positive act can structure a larger acceptance of similar standards of hegemony within the articulatory act of creating this positive notion of black beauty. In effect, the notion of blackness as only worthy if beautiful, and only beautiful through a selective implementation of standards rooted in antiblackness, which are retained through this reversal. There are countless writings on this process and how it retains a great deal of complicated duplicity given the many levels of semiotics of beauty and the concept of beauty itself as a semiotic designator of goodness, and to repeat them would belabor the point. However, the predominant point here is that the retention of a violent structure in a process of naming it is entirely possible

Articulating “classism” as an idea implies that class has an identity of the same sort as any other, rather than one dependent on other structures of affinity. There are supporters’ groups in Europe with distinctly working class identities, and some teams even retain this in themselves. American sports, largely apolitical in aesthetics except for support of neocolonial armies, are even able to articulate some sort of working class identity around themselves. Both the Mets and the Yankees retain working class identities, and one sees an opposition between the cache of going to a Rangers game, and the way that many Islanders fans identify with a vanishing working class of Long Island. These identities are not formed in isolation: markers of class are often racialized such that a luxury brand can perceive a downturn in their image as they are taken on as a signifier of wealth by rappers as opposed to signifying a hegemonic articulation of luxury. Even within perceptions of the working class, one finds that there are racializations of identity, such as when Timberland responded to its popularity during the 90s as a result of hip-hop fashion by clinging to a notion of the working class structured by and identified with whiteness. When talking about notions of the “white working class” many have in fact accepted a subjectivity formed by white supremacy, such that one must first be white in order to realize or be situatioed within the working class.   

Even without a hegemonic structure that demarcates people as gay, some people will still engage in the same behaviors, in the same way. People will simply not be gay in the same sense because there is no such structure, there is no “being gay” to be. People will still love their friends, grow as they find those who share similar experiences of the body and of love, and those may mirror current gay communities, but it will not be by the necessity imposed externally by homophobia. The same is true of other identities specifically because while they are structured by external violence, there are communities within these repeated and continual structures of violence that have become meaningful themselves. While so many of them have been formed specifically due to the violence of antisemitism, this does not mean Jewish communities are only meaningful because of antisemitism. That liberation movements so often are built out of solidarity and community across structural affinities shows this persistence of culture in spite of outside pressure. We will not see a unilateral process where communities dissolve without these structures, although some indeed will because they are based in articulating themselves against these structures and their preservation would only lead to a rearticulation and reimposition of the structures in question. Class is an example of one specifically because of its relation to production and producing-production.

Saying something is “classist” because it exhibits preservation of class structure is simply noting it as a mechanism of class structure because class is defined by how mobility is only produced as an illusory aesthetic trapping of class, how expansion of the bourgeoisie is superficial and moreover is part of retaining the overall structure of violence necessary to continue the structuring of class, and that inroads made against class structure are overwhelmingly the result of attempts to resolve contradictions within late capitalism rather than create a meaningful process of transformation in regard to class. Creating an identity of class that one can then be “classist” against implies that there is more to class than one’s economic location within it, that the communities within must articulate themselves within class structure, and that there will be a loss of this without the violence of class.

Thus, it implies that there is a uniqueness to “working class” culture that must be preserved, or a “proletarian culture” that can only persist if those within it continue to be proletarian, that one can foster this culture of being a certain class. This additionally shows in notions of preserving a “middle class” that is alienated through structures of postmodernity from their labor, given relative luxury while in fact not understanding their connection to any structure of class, and moreover surviving thanks to the labor of both the proletariat in the first world and the proletariat within a more global, third-world structure of the proletariat. The notion of “classism” so often refers to imposed social immobility tied to other structures of violence rather than being any structure of violence itself, being part of preserving class through preserving that structure. Culture itself is in many ways a construction, and that the way in which working class identities are built around and through other constructions of culture itself relies on retaining notions of class as part of the culture at hand.

Effectively, as a term it obscures the way in which class society relies on an assemblage of violence fostered upon individuals through structures far greater than them, and thus functions to obscure the actual violence at hand.

For most of my college career I was a hard-core syntax wienie, a philosophy major with a specialization in math and logic. I was, to put it modestly, quite good at the stuff, mostly because I spent all my free time doing it. Wienieish or not, I was actually chasing a special sort of buzz, a special moment that comes sometimes. One teacher called these moments “mathematical experiences.” What I didn’t know then was that a mathematical experience was aesthetic in nature, an epiphany in Joyce’s original sense. These moments appeared in proof-completions, or maybe algorithms. Or like a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions. It was really an experience of what I think Yeats called “the click of a well-made box.” Something like that. The word I always think of it as is “click.”

Anyway, I was just awfully good at technical philosophy, and it was the first thing I’d ever really been good at, and so everybody, including me, anticipated I’d make it a career. But it sort of emptied out for me somewhere around age twenty. I just got tired of it, and panicked because I was suddenly not getting any joy from the one thing I was clearly supposed to do because I was good at it and people liked me for being good at it. Not a fun time. I think I had kind of a mid-life crisis at twenty, which probably doesn’t augur real well for my longevity.

So what I did, I went back home for a term, planning to play solitaire and stare out the window, whatever you do in a crisis. And all of a sudden I found myself writing fiction. My only real experience with fun writing had been on a campus magazine with Mark Costello, the guy I later wrote “Signifying Rappers” with. But I had had experience with chasing the click, from all the time spent with proofs. At some point in my reading and writing that fall I discovered the click in literature, too. It was real lucky that just when I stopped being able to get the click from math logic I started to be able to get it from fiction. The first fictional clicks I encountered were in Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon” and in parts of the first story I ever wrote, which has been in my trunk since I finished it. I don’t know whether I have that much natural talent going for me fiction wise, but I know I can hear the click, when there is a click. In Don DeLillo’s stuff, for example, almost line by line I can hear the click. It’s maybe the only way to describe writers I love. I hear the click in most Nabokov. In Donne, Hopkins, Larkin. In Puig and Cortázar. Puig clicks like a fucking Geiger counter. And none of these people write prose as pretty as Updike, and yet I don’t hear the click in Updike.

But so here I am at like twenty-one and I don’t know what to do. Do I go into math logic, which I’m good at and pretty much guaranteed an approved career in? Or do I try to keep on with this writing thing, this “artiste” thing? The idea of being a “writer” repelled me, mostly because of all the foppish aesthetes I knew at school who went around in berets stroking their chins calling themselves writers. I have a terror of seeming like those guys, still. Even today, when people I don’t know ask me what I do for a living, I usually tell them I’m “in English” or I “work free-lance.” I don’t seem to be able to call myself a writer. And terms like “postmodernist” or “surrealist” send me straight to the bathroom, I’ve got to tell you.

—  David Foster Wallace, in a conversation

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