Dr Fred Durst and the Crisis of the Political

I owe my discovery of Dr Fred Durst’s philosophical work (which he has published mainly under the moniker The Limb Bizkits, often erroneously rendered as Limb Bizkit) to a seldom-cited theologian working in Montana, Bob N. Togethanau. While I appreciate Professor Togethanau’s scholarly interest in The Limb Bizkits, I feel that he’s missed the point on several crucial (and extremely subtle) matters. While Professor Togethanau deserves praise for opening up the field of Dr Fred Durst Studies, I believe a new direction is needed if this field is to progress.

I propose a different way of reading Dr Durst’s lyrics, one which is not bound up with religious interpretation. Through careful examination of Dr Durst’s songs “Nookie” and “Take a Look Around”, I have found that Dr Durst’s familiarity with central psychoanalytical and philosophical concepts shines through in almost every line; his fans have so far tried to change the world through his music, but the point, to paraphrase Marx, is to interpret the music. Only by deciphering the lyrics can we fully appreciate the intricacies of Durstian poetry.

While I don’t have the time at present to explore the entirety of Dr Durst’s prolific output, I want to lay out what I think is the most appropriate way to read his lyrics. I want, in particular, to prove that Dr Durst is dealing with highly abstract Lacanian, Mouffian, Hegelian, Kierkegaardian and Marxist concepts, which he cleverly hides under provocative profanity and sexual explicitness — no doubt this is his way of influencing what leftists have problematically called “the masses” without intimidating them.

Take, for example, the classic song-treatise, “Nookie”… Dr Durst’s purported aim here is to expose a former lover’s infidelities. Of course, this is only a pretext for engaging in extremely subtle micro-analyses of ideological “givens”.

“I came into this world as a reject,” Dr Durst proclaims in the song’s opening line. At once we are reminded of symbolic castration as formulated by Jacques Lacan. To enter the “world” — that is, to become a player in the intersubjective game the rules of which are inseparable from language as such — involves a rejection of jouissance, of primordial enjoyment which gives us our ontological substance. What Dr Durst is giving us here is a way into his philosophical system as a whole, acknowledging his debt to Heideggerian existentialism and structural psychoanalysis.

“Dwellin’ on the past / It’s burnin’ in my brain / Everyone that burns has to learn from the pain,” Dr Durst continues. Though this could be interpreted in almost infinite ways, I believe the most fruitful way to read this involves seeing it as an explanation of Dr Durst’s political stance. To dwell on the past causes “burning” in the brain — could there be a more obvious indictment of political conservatism, which forever looks to the past, and whose “hot-headed” American representatives (I am thinking in particular of Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck) always seem slightly brain-fried from all the yelling they do at the cameras? What Dr Durst seems to be saying is that it is time for conservative pundits to “learn from the pain” of having been defeated by the obvious Stalinist Barack Obama — they have to deal with it and find new ways to promote the conservative cause.

Nevertheless, Dr Durst introduces a layer of ambiguity in his political analysis. “Should i be feelin’ bad? / Should i be feelin’ good? / It’s kinda sad I’m the laughing stock of the neighbourhood,” he writes. So far he seems to be portraying the conservatives as clownishly as he can; it is not the “wishy-washy” liberals that he condemns for their lack of conviction, but the conservatives — they don’t know what they want, Dr Durst is saying — do Mexicans steal all available jobs in the United States, or are they lazy, jobless bums? Yet he goes on to write: “I’m a sucker like I said / fucked up in the head — not!” What is that “not” doing there? Is Dr Durst deliberately contradicting himself in order to mask his position on the issue of conservatism, or is he doing something sneakier, something of the most astonishing brilliance presented as childish humour — looking for redeeming qualities in the conservative party, adopting the liberal voice in “I’m a sucker like I said / fucked up in the head” only to counter this with the most universal signifier of negativity, “No(t)”? Is Dr Durst urging for a dialectical reversal here, by appealing to the human capacity for negativity in the search for something hidden in the fabric of conservative rhetoric which would both destroy and save conservatism itself — in other words, by having “I’m a sucker like I said” and “Not!” in the same line, is Dr Durst trying to show that only American leftism, with its power to take a stance only to reject it later (something conservatism has never been known to do) can allow for American conservatism to triumph and develop in unprecedented ways?

This is a complicated argument, and warrants an unknotting of ideas. What Dr Durst is implying is that up until this point in US politics, conservative pundits have drawn their strength from the denial of every single liberal proposition ever put forward. When gay marriage is “promoted” by the left, the right at once attacks the very idea as un-American, and so forth. That is the first meaning of the “Not!” in Dr Durst’s lyrics. If one party says “I’m a sucker” the other party immediately says “No!” But, of course, this is ridiculous; surely a conservative would actively hope for a distracted liberal to admit that she was a “sucker”. Yet such is the state of politics in America that the task of the politician is to contradict his opponent, not to defeat him. The second meaning of the “No(t)!” in Dr Durst’s line is a condemnation of this state of affairs. He is saying: “No, you are not a sucker! No, you do not need to have a urination contest with your political opponents.”

But the most important “No!” in Dr Durst’s line is, in fact, a solution to the deadlock of democratic politics. Just as he referred to Lacan’s idea of symbolic castration earlier, that is, the abandoning of jouissance as a precondition for entry into the intersubjective realm, Dr Durst is now asking for a new kind of castration: political castration, that is, the rejection of the enjoyable kick that politicians get from slandering their opponents. Where proposition X (e.g. “I’m a sucker”) would typically be countered with its negation in political discourse (“You are NOT a sucker”), the “No!” flowing from Dr Durst’s pen is, in fact, a rejection of the entire system we have been discussing. If the conservative pundit would only cease to oppose the liberal, and instead focus on finding original arguments for conservative causes, a new kind of agonistic pluralism might emerge in the political field, one which would allow for real clashes of opinion rather than simple negations of previously proclaimed statements.

Dr Durst, who is famously left-wing on most issues, is paradoxically asking the conservative mentality to strengthen itself so that the left may at last have a worthwhile enemy, and vice-versa. Earlier I wrote that Dr Durst is arguing that only leftism “can allow for American conservatism to triumph and develop in unprecedented ways”. This does not mean that Dr Durst is actively trying to get the conservatives to triumph; what it does mean is that Dr Durst longs for the day that conservatism might actually pose a serious threat to Obama’s communism, so that politics, itself, can be revived as a serious thing. This is the dialectical process necessary for the political field to be reborn: each party must accept that simply disagreeing with the enemy is not enough, and that there is a mutual interdependence in their relationship which cannot be eradicated through the balancing act created by “just saying no” to whatever your opponent says. Each party needs the other for its own identity, but that does not mean that the most fruitful way to individuality is by screaming “No! No! No!” to anything a liberal or conservative says. It would be much more productive for this system to be discarded altogether — we need a “return of the political”, as Chantal Mouffe puts it; that is, we need to accept that there are some disagreements which cannot be resolved, and a “centrification” of politics is not an acceptable remedy for this irremediable situation.

Dr Durst’s most famous line (“I did it all for the nookie! Come on! The nookie! Come on!”) points to a new kind of jouissance to be found in politics: the bliss of putting up with “constant shit” (this “shit”, of course, refers to the tribulations of having any kind of political presence) in order to arrive at a different conception of the role of politics, itself. To say that one is “in it for the nookie” is to be optimistic about the future of politics. Dr Durst is no gloom-and-doom prophet. He wants to see a shift in the way the social sphere operates; and for that, it is necessary to stop with all the shit and actively develop an original, idiosyncratic political stance which does not merely contradict another political stance.

I will return to this topic some other time; I do hope that I have at least partially shown the relevance of Dr Durst’s poetry to academic fields like politics and philosophy. The importance of the Limb Bizkits is easy to overlook in our current anti-intellectual climate; with some luck, I will prove myself competent enough to promote Dr Durst’s lyrical accomplishments as a new way of viewing the role of philosophy in the modern world.

Phil Jourdan is a graduate of the University of Warwick. He is the translator of Portuguese novelist José Luis Peixoto's first book, "Morreste-me", published in the Warwick Review in 2010, and co-founder of the cabaret rock band, Dawn of the Gecko. He has recently completed his first book. Read other articles by Phil, or visit Phil's website.