From Catastrophic Messianism to Comic Fatalism – Part III

By Frank Ruda
Issue 1 September 24, 2020 Download PDF
Intro Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V Part VI


Part III. The Significance of the Grotesque: On Andrew Cutrofello’s “But Wait—It Gets Worse”

Andrew Cutrofello’s reply is so pointed that I will ruin its beauty by even commenting on it. So, let me do this as painlessly as possible (I will certainly make it worse now). Cutrofello’s idea not only of confronting comic fatalism with Schopenhauer’s pessimism, but also of testing it vis-à-vis the most problematic of all cases (Oedipus!) is impressive, and I have almost nothing to add to the argument, which Cutrofello makes better than I ever could have. His systematic elaboration of the distinction between pessimism and comic fatalism also highlights the very difference I sought to make here in another way by discussing Sorel’s pessimism and its implied potentially emancipatory politics. Unfortunately, I can only express my deep appreciation for the concise description of the contemporary situation, the beautiful point about the “Hic Wormis, hic status,”[1] and for precisely outlining that by accepting the worst as that which already happened one attempts to prevent the worst from happening without opting for any kind of optimism, as paradoxical and/or comic as this maneuver will appear. Cutrofello shows why comic fatalism is not an empty thought experiment; his rendering of the different logical outcomes of the Oedipus story is hilarious and brilliant, and, in addition, he incisively demonstrates—by revivifying the important lesson of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire—why the farce that we are experiencing today is certainly not funny, but why—and this has for a long time been Zupančič’s point—comedy might nonetheless be (part of) its remedy.[2]

When Cutrofello stresses that “farcical leaders are no laughing matter,”[3] he strikingly revivifies a point Michel Foucault once made and that, to the best of my knowledge, has rarely been developed systematically, or hardly been taken as seriously as it should be. The point is that the “grotesque character of someone like Mussolini was absolutely inherent to the mechanism of power. Power provided itself with an image in which power derived from someone who was theatrically got up and depicted as a clown or a buffoon.”[4] Power that presents itself in all its obscenity cannot be criticized in the way in which one would have criticized power that at least pretended to be civil or at least less obscene. If you elect someone because he claims that he can solve a garbage crisis in a mob-governed city because he has good mob-contacts, you cannot criticize him afterward for having mob contacts and being a corrupt politician—this was the reason you opted for him in the first place. If you elect someone because you want him to bring turmoil that will shake a system that you perceive as being wrecked by rich people and if the guy you elected brings turmoil, inter alia by lying and cheating, this is nothing you can criticize him for (which is why these criticisms then ultimately prove to be powerless and futile). If someone makes his political career by emphasizing that there is a kind of class struggle in politics and he wins, you cannot afterward be surprised that there are no neutral facts anymore, but that everything in politics has become part of the class struggle in which there are no neutral positions—and obviously, even the reference to class struggle can function in a reactionary and obscure way.[5]

This kind of paradoxical transparent opacity or opaque transparency of the corrupt element constitutive of many contemporary forms of political sovereignty then demands a new (or at least different) mode of the critique of ideology. A new mode that cannot center on pointing out the discrepancy between what is and what should have been or was promised. It rather must directly address, if one permits this Hegelian rendering, appearance as appearance and it must deal with the problem that we know what is the case (the situation appears transparent) and nonetheless this knowledge does not help in changing it (the practical effectivity of this knowledge is suspended and, again, it even blocks its own realization). Comic fatalism certainly does not provide an answer to how to do this, but it certainly provides a potential contribution to how one might conceive of this task of ideology critique today (contributing to the much needed active forgetting), by being able to conceive of transparency (or metaphorically of nudity) as just another disguise.[6]



[1] Cutrofello, “But Wait—It Gets Worse,” 14.

[2] Alenka Zupančič, The Odd One In: On Comedy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).

[3] Cutrofello, “But Wait—It Gets Worse,” 14.

[4] Michel Foucault, Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Picador, 2003), 13.

[5] I will develop the concept of the grotesque sovereign in a reading of Marx’s 18th Brumaire in the near future.

[6] See Alenka Zupančič “Power in the Closet (And Its Coming Out),” May 21, 2015, Kingston University London, mp3 recording; accessed April 2020.

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