Peroxide Subjectivity and the Love of (Knowing) The End
This article thinks about the politics of celebrating apocalypse via ambivalent comedy. It offers a theory of “peroxide subjectivity,” which riffs off of Lauren Berlant’s (2017) work on “combover subjectivity.” There, Berlant describes the universal condition of having to present to the world a cleaned-up version of the self, all proverbial baldness covered over: that is, all existential contradiction, such as the knowledge of death, concealed as if resolved. This condition is typically what Berlant calls a “humorless comedy,” humorless because our very recognition in the social relies on it, and because we are typically ashamed of what we cover. But this essay considers a version of combover subjectivity which has become funny because the subject in question has dropped her shame in an embrace of existential doom on personal, political, and planetary scales. Taking musician Phoebe Bridgers as a primary example, I dub this version peroxide subjectivity, bleach being corrosive and thus void-exposing, in contrast to the combover. The essay considers peroxide subjectivity chiefly as a mode of relating to apocalypse. I critique it as a mode common to a white millennial feminist suspended between a recognition of her complicity in world-ending structures and a lack of political language that is not premised on the kind of innocence named by the contemporary term 'virtue-signaling,' and which Wendy Brown captured in her 1993 work on “wounded attachments.” I argue that the peroxide subject responds to this problem by exposing her woundedness alongside her fault—experienced as a contradiction—and, by extension, welcoming apocalypse as past, present, and future unfoldings denied by her conservative milieu.