Now that Joe Biden has clearly won the presidential election, the GOP wants to make two things stick on the forehead of the popular mind: "legal votes" and déjà vu.
I explain the former in a previous post. In this post, I want to explain what this déjà vu business is about. The cleverer of the two main explanations for Trump's refusal to concede is that we're in the same situation as the 2000 election. This is not a clever explanation in itself. It just happens to be far more clever than the second explanation (the election was rigged, mail-in votes can't be trusted), which is just plain dumb.
Here is a use of déjà vu in the context of the present Trump-induced election crisis:
The idea that what's happening in 2020 has already happened in 2000 is a way of normalizing what is in fact exceptional. Listen to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Jabba-smug response to a reporter's question about Biden's obvious victory during a November 10 press conference. Pompous Pompeo wants the public to believe that Trump's refusal to step down is not alarming because something like it (déjà vu) happened in the past, 2000, in Florida. Of course, there are almost no similarities between that sequence and the one unfolding now. The past has not become the present. And besides, déjà vu is not about the return of the past. It is about the present that has the appearance (but not the substance) of a memory. It is what the sadly forgotten great French philosopher Henri Bergson called "fausse reconnaissance," a false recognition.
If President Donald Trump follows through on ambitions to have the Supreme Court ultimately decide who wins the presidential election, it would be a case of deja vu, 20 years later.
In one of the closest elections in U.S. history, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the 2000 race for the White House, earning 271 electoral votes to 266 for Gore.
On Sunday, I had a phone conversation with an old friend of mine in Vancouver B.C.. I brought up that I was looking for a book that would help me bring together and articulate ideas in a chapter, "On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress," of Walter Benjamin's Arcade Project (this chapter provides the materials for two of his late masterpieces, "Central Park" and “Theses on the Philosophy of History”), and Moishe Postone's theory of time and labor in Time, Labor, and Social Domination (I use the imagined production of Wakanda spears to explain Postone's theory in a recent e-flux essay). From the impression made by these works, I concluded that the future as we understand it might not have existed in the past. Or, at least, under conditions of what is called in Marxist political economy "simple reproduction."
The society we live is defined not by reproduction of the same (simple reproduction), but reproduction with more than before (expanded reproduction). Rosa Luxemburg, the most underrated economist of the 20th century, described expanded production as "production with capital accumulation." Meaning, production with not just reproduction but with growth included. The motive force of this growth is, of course, profit. The question I presented to my friend in Canada is this: Is the future in expanded reproduction the same as the future in simple reproduction, a form of economy that has dominated all but a tiny part of historical time and a small number of humans.
My friend thought I might find some answers in a 2015 book, Déjà Vu and the End of History, by the Italian philosopher Paolo Virno. I quickly read this book, and it turned out not to have the answers I was looking for, but it did have answers to questions I had not thought of asking. I will deal with these answers in another post, but for now I want to describe the book's point of departure, which is a clarification of what déjà vu is.
The typical symptom of déjà vu – namely, the re-evocation of what is happening right now – is also the condition of possibility of memory in general. There would be no memory at all, if it were not, first of all, memory of the present.
This concept, which is inspired by Bergson, sees the present as composed of two parts. One is perception and the other memory. We experience the now as being there presently and being remembered at the same time. But for the most part, we are more aware of the present-perception than the active remembering. But when we experience déjà vu, perception—the being there for what is present—collapses, and suddenly we sense the memory of the present. There is nothing, in short, that we experience that is not already a memory. In déjà vu, the truth of this is revealed. Memory is there from the beginning to the end of experience. I leave you with this to think about.