Arguably The Man in the High Castle is the TV series of a particular alternate moment in our history. It is as if the popularity this series enjoys is just one facet of a constant up-swell, not only a dilation of the Overton Window that now celebrates identity politics, but also a genuine ‘hyernormalization’ of nationalism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, HBD(so-called Human Biodiversity), xenophobia and masculinism. More than just fandom craze or award-winning qualities The Man in the High Castle joins the sudden scaling up of The Fringe – in the sense of what was considered as skewed, extremist, illiberal minority views jumps onto the world political and mainstream media stage on prime time, suffocating online threads & social networks. It also reverberates in a glass darkly with the current rise of alt-right, post-truth, Eli Pariser’s “Filter bubbles”, but also why the “F” word is not being whispered about, or the dim realization that it didn’t arise out of a vacuum.
I’ll try to show – why WHAT IF or alternate histories are not just a preoccupation of idle reactionary or narrow sci-fi enclaves. I am also just jotting some ideas triggered by the series, goes without saying that all being in a provisional and incipient state. I am not so much interested by the series per se, but of the ways it arches back on older concerns.
Alternate or alter- (the other, differing) has to do more with alteration, with decay than its initial exclusively “versus” or separate nature might suggest. Alternate allows for the bifurcations and is about deviance – about going rogue, of mutating and altering a perceived point of reference. Light gets altered, it changes trajectory as it passes trough gaseous or liquid states or prisms for that matter. Alternate endings bring more varieties around, they introduce the unexpected, the surprising and miraculous. There’s affect in altering – a sway or morphing. In fact, alter something – and what is altered should also alter and affect the perception or consciousnesses and prolonging consequences that might reverberate across various planes. Some of these consequences might be completely apposite or opposite, primary or secondary. They might even be somehow inimical to innermost certainties or depart radically from the current state or imperium of things. Some may deviate just a little from current hegemony and in the end some might show a certain collapse of realities, making us both suspect that the Alternate – as the alternative to the alternative tends towards convergence rather that divergence in the grander scheme of things. But this convergence is contrived. At a more close observation, alternate – or alternative – deals with fixating some form of WMI (Many World interpretation in quantum mechanics) as dependent and existing in close knit relations with an array of related (an imperfect, incompletely individualized alternative) parallel universes. Such accusations that WMI is in violation of Occam’s razor is moot to point, as it is about multiplication and not minimization of the number of hypothesized entities. Yes, it is unfalsifiable but at the same time to falsify you really need to rewind history and play it again and again, or compare many other outcomes and misplaced causalities. Alternate history capacity to envision both low probability change in the course of history or radically change probabilities while rewriting previous versions wasn’t always the preserve of neoreaction, it was also part of writing a Marxist history from the perspective of the proletariat, of the masses, of the downtrodden or the voiceles, not just of big battles and kings. That is, before the current counter-revolution.
Is history being mined exhaustively? Are those wild leibnizian permutations just ways to alternate, to multiply what is actually a single outcome, ways to combat the poverty of actual textbook histories written by the victors? In fact there might be some market incentive for mining and a strong revisionist zero sum approach to history. If everybody writes the same history, if every series, movie uses the same timeline, the same textbooks, enforced orthodoxy will starve and make it impossible to compete in such a tight territorialized and depleted narrative ground. One needs alternate universes in order to multiply and diversify the offer and this is nowhere more true than in gaming. But elsewhere the incentive is strong also. One could consider all the distorted denialist histories rising out of the ruins of WWII, both the alternate revisionist versions written by fans both alternative fringe, conspirationist, together with that of failed professors as well as uniquely gifted amateurs and outcasts that have been busy constructing various alternate history that wouldn’t immediately count as science-fiction.
In the current climate, postmodernist academia has been branded as a peculiar beast/escape goat. Just consider this WHAT IF. What if both analytical philosophy (science wars debate) and fascist alt-right troll army have been united into one? For various reasons and various starting points, in some non-alternate reality (our own) postmodernism and despotic neomarxist cultural critique have been ultimately accused of sapping positivism, truth, Western values and have been made responsible, also, for the rise of – and this is the catch – hyper-reality and extremist movements themselves. Is it possible to even combine such peculiar claims, won’t they implode like matter and anti-matter and self annihilate? Well, there is a curious alternative history quality to it. Remember how meta-narratives (the grandiose, value laden triumphalist versions of history) were declared (via postmodernism) not so long ago as dead & buried in favor of the local small and particular versions? Still somehow these quaint big versions got a second life, nourished and immediately searching fertile ground to grow when they got driven into a bottleneck & declared dead. Meta-narratives have been somehow hard to kill, and even maybe lingering (or lurking) in the backstage of media and Hollywood, gathering fans & support. It is again characteristically easy to ignore that so much of the most successful franchises have been drumming grand narratives (just think of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings). Again this example of newly isolated fringe reveals itself not to be so much about isolation or fringe but about gathering strength and making alternate copies of itself. Alternate universe/history also permits an uneasy admission of what was previously been considered the impossible, the unthinkable or improbable that is suddenly hard to ignored or consider just a ludicrous joke (think of Brexit or Trump) same as when you realise that monarchy or a caste of military priests (The Jedi Order) has gained such respect & appreciation with all-powerful tech gurus and startup circles. Between the progressive or regressive poles there’s always an admixtures of alternatives that tend to combine and recombine into new admixtures. At the same time as the late Mark Fisher out it in his capitalism realism – when There’s No Alternative in sight, some impossible hybridised choices come to the fore and ignite.
Man in The High Castle makes you uncomfortable with the straight forward, canonic positions of resistance vs the inhuman regime. I got a sense of the shiftiness, of s double bind, and the way one side might blend into the other (I guess it’s entirely but not exclusively Philip KD merit). There might been even a more subtle adjacent result of this series. While watching it i got the feeling that it is also about tipping points, how easily, in reality, one might veer into something else – it is like there is always some fading out and fading in between the various outcomes, although there are no intermediary positions different realities presented, there’s always somebody ready to take the US/allies role or the Soviet/US Cold war – mirrored by Japan and Nazi Germany sharing the US in an uneasy alliance. Or even the alternate world-within-a-alternate world Japanese/American anti-war rallies against nuclear experiments in the alternate SF.
Not saying that these lines or perspectives are not contrasted enough. It is something else at work. The transformation of Japan and Nazi Germany into a veritable Cold War binome, as authoritarian loosers turned into economic victors is very credible and this in turn changes and alters the perspective on the Russian/Soviet and American final victory. At the same times these two realities are not shades of the same hue, they are peculiar and particular varieties that morph back into each other exhibiting a sort of complementarity that never gets solved or dissolved into higher unity. There is an eerie feeling throughout the series that in fact the cinematic wholesomeness of the 60s or 50s suburbia reeks of implicit eugenic values (good breeding stock programs – leading to 1% situation now) and as the most prosperous and productive period in history has been also a strange outgrowth of the military-industrial control-command complex having its origins in a peculiar war economy, permitting incredible mobilization and human resource reformatting.
What made it uneasy even if I completly enjoyed watching Man in the High Castle is the Soviet/Russian side of the story and the fact that the Resistance in the movie is entirely isolated, pulverized, localized, as if the American century model has finally erased all the other grander, more internationalist visions. In fact we have an East Coast and West Coast Resistance and while the peculiar occupation (the split Japan/Nazi continent) might explain this I had trouble with the vision of a completely regional and narrowly confined fight against occupants. Guerrilla movements and insurgency are never that isolated and have been known throughout history to offer support (see Rote Armee – Palestine, Cuba in Africa or the brigades of Spanish Civil War or even ISIS today) but have been characterized by a wide variety alliances, nations, people with strong trans-national ties, communicating and actively seeking each other out.
So 1) either it is a particular blindness of the role played by the Soviets, the fact that under Cold War conditions the US completely denied & minimized the essential role in the outcome of the war, both as number of causalities and in the incredible push towards Berlin of the Red army. 2) Indeed it might be that Man in the High Castle TV series welcomes a new Monroe doctrine, the bland fact that imperialism has to be tempered by provincialism and that this characterizes the current trends of shrinking back with issues best cleared up in either SF or NY or 3) funny enough fact that the unoccupied -Neutral Zone between the two centers of power (Imperial JP and Nazi Germany) is located in the Rockies or roughly the heartland or back-country of the US which is also a kind of return to the roots of environmentalism & draining the ‘swamp’ of finance & Big government 4) the fact that Washington has disappeared altogether, the bomb was dropped, results in a fused seat of finance + the seat of government. Man in the High Castle is about as close as it gets to the new provincialism of Trumpism in the wake of neoliberalism epic fail. There’s also a lot about historical fakes and trafficking (a bit like the trade in nazi memorabilia) so that Americana nostalgia pieces (Lincoln, Native American) all fetch high prizes with the Japanese occupants for example. In fact nobody knows if the famous films everybody is running after are made-up by the Man in the High Castle, constructed or real, if they present possible futures or are just well-crafted propaganda pieces – and in the end it doesn’t matter as long as they attract & have effects in the world.
Final note on Man in the High Castle on the results of Lebensborn racial hygiene programs – an alt right baby boom of gilded youth on the outskirts of New Germania (that looks incredibly green & unpolluted somehow) the capital of Berlin under the Nazis. It is indeed a strange variant of a bizarre eco-fascist bohemia, the sort of hipster Nazi chosen ones. They are having free love and wild parties at chosen villas around the capital, while they use military-derived LSD (again an echo of actual tests done by the US army) to trip out in a sort of alt new age, alternative vegan animal-loving, neo-pagan Aryan counterculture. This gets a brief mention in the second season but I really found it extraordinary somehow. In contrast most of the highly homo-erotic and mystical & pacifist Nature Prophets and Lebensreform guru’s (Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, Gustav Nagel, Arthur Gustav Graser, Arnold Ehret, Adolf & Rudolf Just and August Engelhardt to name but a few) that became so influential overseas in the nascent Californian (and later Silicon Valley technoutopianist movement) counterculture had to go under. Most (excepting staunchly ariosophical varieties) became an embarrassment to Nazi Germany and in spite of state-supported animal rights activism & official ecological propaganda, they had to fade away during the Third Reich. Nevertheless, the eco-fascist youth in the Man in the High Castle stands in opposition to grandiose administrative anthropocenic projects of the Nazi state such as the Atlantropa, a huge dam at the Gibraltar, desalinization and settling of the Mediteranean, in tune with the accelerationist and fascist futurist approaches. This very loose opposition backed by Gaia Mother Earth beliefs actually hails the dark uncontrollable chtonian side of nature and predicts catastrophic planetary consequences as fallout from huge scale engineering projects. Nevertheless there is some bizarre family resemblance to the eco-friendly vegan yuppies of current Berlin (and elsewhere).