Dystopian Despair, Fascism, and a Modern Geoglyph in Rural Ohio
Ohio State Route 48 runs north and south for about 80 miles through a swath of Southwest Ohio. It cuts through the city of Dayton going north and heads into the rural parts of this side of Ohio. As I drive along Route 48 toward the small towns of Union and Inglewood, on the east side of the road there is a wide expanse of field that is typical for much of Ohio. It is an enormous corn field that is barren after the harvest...

The letters spell “TRUMP FARM.” Whoever owns this land has made a declaration of allegiance to former President Donald Trump on the ground. Like a tattoo carved into the land, this declaration is presented for all to see, and it is larger enough to be seen by passing aircraft. I do not know how large the field is, but the average size of an Ohio farm is 176 acres. This is about the size of 32 city blocks. Support for Trump is obviously everywhere in this region of Ohio. The signs are in yards all around, as are the “Let’s Go Brandon Signs” and “Fuck Biden” signs. There are a few confederate flags to be found. Then there are the flags and signs that depict a muscle-bound superhero Trump standing in front of an American flag. These are usually accompanied with images of assault rifles. All of this can be unsettling if it were not for the childishness that attends these kinds of displays. The cartoonish bravado that conceals a general impotence and thwarted immature masculinity is too schematically evident to be worthy of mention. Still, the massive letters carved into a corn field with the instrument of modern industrial agriculture stands out. To maneuver the plow so perfectly to carve the letters with such precision on such a scale required serious planning and skill, and the fact that these letters are carved into the earth makes this display unique. As I said, there is a primitiveness to this that exceeds other forms of histrionics.
           There are fields all around this region of Ohio. This is part of the corn belt. Farmers also grow soybeans and wheat, and these operations are not the family farms of times gone by. These fields are massive industrial farms that produce millions of tons of grain that provide more than just food for humans and livestock. Corn from Ohio finds its way into almost anything you pull off a grocery shelf these days. You need to try hard to buy food that does not contain some type of corn product. Corn is used in pharmaceuticals and even building materials. Corn is also refined into fuel that can be used in automobiles. E85 is the corn-derived ethanol available at most major gas stations (gas stations that sell innumerable junk foods that contain corn products). One can also see subdivisions growing out of the corn fields. Massive developments stand out in every direction from the Trump farm. The historical division between town and country is becoming lost as the logic of suburban development rises amid the corn itself to do away with whatever made areas like this rural. With the housing developments come the consumer capitalism that is embedded in everything that attends contemporary American life. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, multiple Dollar Generals and Dollar Trees, along with every conceivable franchise of fast food and big chain restaurants line every road in every direction. The subdivisions and the centers of consumption exist in a state of total interdependence. The subdivisions cannot exist without the centers of consumption, and the centers of consumption cannot exist without the subdivisions.
           The rural population cannot support the scale of contemporary consumer culture. As these forms of suburban life and culture take hold in the rural farming areas and small towns, the rural areas and small towns are either converted into spaces of consumer culture or they simply die. You can see this death all around the Trump farm as readily as you can see the subdivisions in the corn fields.
           At the same time, the growth of the subdivisions and centers of consumption are themselves dead spaces, spaces of nothing. They produce nothing but consumption and waste. This is what the Invisible Committee means when they explain:

We’ve heard enough about the “city” and the “country,” and particularly about the supposed ancient opposition between the two. From up close or from afar, what surrounds us looks nothing like that: it is one single urban cloth, without form or order, a bleak zone, endless and undefined, a global continuum of museum-like hypercenters and natural parks, of enormous suburban housing developments and massive agricultural projects, industrial zones and subdivisions, country inns and trendy bars: the metropolis.1

This metropolis is nothing but pure form that can be endlessly backfilled with an ever-revolving circulation of the same content. No longer the rural regions where family farms fill the breadbasket of America; these are commercial zones where you drive from the subdivision, past the 175-acre industrial corn production to a Cracker Barrel that is decorated with factory produced images of family farmers who once filled the breadbasket of America. And amid this metropolis, you will also drive by the hypercenters occupied by computer shops, vape shops, crap Chinese restaurants, and wig stores. You will also drive past a massive logistics corporation surrounded by a parking lot that rivals the corn fields for size and makes possible the infinite flow of consumer goods that are at the center of this form of life and are the economic basis of all that is. In this metropolis, “there is no such thing as a metropolitan city. Everything occupies the same space, if not geographically then through the intermeshing of its networks.”2 All of this makes up the very thing that people like the Trump farmer would profess to prevent. The primitive scarring of the land that would provide signs of a fierce determination to resist just about anything that would destroy the traditional ways of life that once defined regions like this part of Ohio, these are empty gestures against something that has already overtaken the land. The dystopia they fear is their lives.
           The hypercenters and subdivisions, the dying or dead small towns characterized by decaying buildings occupied by salons, tattoo shops, and junk shops (if they are occupied at all), the four and six lane boulevards that exist purely as void space to be overcome by automobiles traveling from subdivision to hypercenter to interstate—all of this is dead life. The space that remains as the division between town and country is destroyed by consumer capitalism is the necropolis of 21st Century life. Even the land cultivated for corn on the Trump farm and all the others is dead land; it cannot yield crops without industrial interventions in the forms of genetically modified seed-corn and anhydrous ammonia that replenishes the nitrogen necessary for the ground to support plants. It is all dead, and the lives that occupy this land are dead lives. All of this describes what Bifo called “American normality, the normality of a humanity that has lost all relation with what used to be human and that stumbles along looking for some impossible reassurance, searching for a substitute for emotions which it no longer knows.”3 Such a state of everyday life can produce nothing but despair, a despair of having nothing that can replace what is lost even as the histrionics of something like the Trump farm would insist that a firm persuasion, to paraphrase William Blake, is all that is needed to shore up the values and traditions that make America great. These histrionics betray the social investments behind them, social investments that are entirely buried in consumerism and the debt necessary to support consumerism.
           What the Trump farm displays is a blank and unassuageable despair, a form of unrelenting nihilism of the times that leads to either despair or fascism, according to Amy Ireland. The conditions of the contemporary necropolis that is Ohio can only produce despair or fascism. Whether or not the carving of TRUMP FARM in a corn field is a direct symbol of fascism is not the point. Nor is my point to digress into whether or not Trump and the MAGA movement are manifestations of fascism. Rather, the point is that this kind of display demonstrates the ways the necropolis of Ohio has left people with nothing but feeble attempts at resurrecting a past that never existed and this is a condition that leads to our contemporary forms of fascism.4 Carving letters into a field is a primitive gesture, one that speaks to a lack of power more than a show of strength. Ireland explains in the “Afterword: The Asymmetry of Love” that ends Revolutionary Demonology: “With the future grasped from the perspective of what it cannot contain, and the past accessible only through a nostalgia that is as realistic about the impossibility of a return to former ways of being as it is ardent for them, all that remains is perpetual immobilization in an unfulfilling present. The temporality of despair is characterised by this inertia—a feeling of paralysis.”5 The alternative to this despair is the fascism that seeks to recreate from nostalgia a world and life that never existed: “Fascism is more complex… it sublimates this horror, burying what it cannot bear to acknowledge beneath a mythology of power that reinstates the lost transcendent structure, only in a far more convoluted form. Fascism’s deep sense of betrayal by the present is nursed by an inflated attachment to the past, often accompanied by theories of time and history that valorise eternity, cyclicality, or return.”6 By carving the letters into the ground itself, the Trump farmer displays an almost atavistic attachment to the past, to the land, and to the ways of life that are already long gone or never existed. What is more, the methods of industrial farming have done as much to destroy any semblance of these traditional ways of life as the rise of the subdivisions and the spread of the hypercenters. Industrial farms are not “family farms” in any conventional sense, although families do depend on them for their lives and livelihoods. These are factories that produce crops; they are forms of industrial production that are connected to a global network of industrial and post-industrial capital. The signifiers carved in the earth—the geoglyph—would stand as signs of a primitive socius if they were not already signifiers of industrial mechanisms that foreclose the possibility of a primitive socius. The primitive socius, according to Deleuze and Guattari exists as “the only territorial machine in the strict sense of the term” because all social arrangements take place on the full body of the earth without segmentation.7 More specifically, the primitive socius may well consists of subdivided people, “but” it “does so on an indivisible earth.”8 The land where the Trump farm exists is subdivided and deterritorialized in every possible way. While the land may nominally belong to a single individual, its use, its legal status, its status in relation to all the other land that surrounds it—all the land is thoroughly and completely overcoded and deterritorialized by the despot in the form of the state “which now takes charge of the fertility of the soil as well as the rain from the sky and the general appropriation of productive forces.”9 That the crops this farm produces are the substrate for an economy that ranges from food to fossil fuel alternatives to building material to drugs renders the land and all it produces subject to virtually every strand of state and global power and authority.10 When the farmer carves his primitive symbols in the land, he temporarily forestalls the despair that is membranously attached to his histrionic displays of fascist nostalgia. The Trump farm is not a geoglyph that taps into a primitive socius. It is a pathetic display of fascist nostalgia.
           Carving signifiers into the earth as a totem of tribal belief resembles the kinds of things that still mark the landscape of the United Kingdom. I am thinking of the massive chalk carvings such as the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire that is more than 3000 years old. These are geoglyphs from a time that precedes recorded history. As much as archaeologists may speculate on the purposes and origins of these geoglyphs, they remain mysterious. Archaeologists can speculate that things such as the Nazca lines in Peru were definitely used for ritual purposes, but the exact nature of these rituals and their meanings for the cultures that created the geoglyphs remains unknown and perhaps unknowable.11 What we are certain of is that these kinds of signifiers were important to prehistoric human civilizations and that signifiance and the forms of meanings that can be made known through and in language systems have been abstracted with the coming of modernity and no longer function as they did in prehistoric civilizations. The expression of a primitive geoglyph amid the despair of contemporary consumer capital and the necropolis is not far from the rootlessness that gave way to tribalism and racism that defines pan-nationalism in The Origins of Totalitarianism.12 A crucial difference is that this tribalism is solitary and fragmented. As much as the MAGA movement would profess to represent “the people,” only about 17 percent of registered Republicans identify as supporters of Trump’s MAGA movement.13 They are loud, visible, and even violent, but the MAGA movement is a small segment of America. The Trump farm geoglyphs speaks from and to an audience of a few fragmented and powerless people. It is ultimately as impotent as the despair that lies behind it.
           Not far from the Trump farm is the town of Trotwood. This is the casualty of the mechanisms of the global capitalist Empire that drives everything I have described. Trotwood is a town left behind as the road systems steered away toward the interstate and left behind the shells of the subdivisions and hypercenters. Driving into Trotwood you will be struck by an enormous shopping plaza that is completely empty. The parking lot, nearly as large as the corn field on the Trump farm, is nothing but a desert of concrete. Here is another geoglyph carved into the earth by 21st Century Capital and far more permanent than the Trump farm.  It is a dystopian ruin and relic, the tombstone that shows everyone what the necropolis that is Ohio will become the moment things become economically expedient. This is the dystopia the people wanted, and this is the dystopia they got. The abandoned mall in the town of Trotwood offers the essence of the world the Trump farm tries to refuse even as the presence of both are expressions of the same vacuous world, the same void at the center of everyday life that has no meaning at all. Contemporary forms of fascism present real dangers. Perhaps it is most dangerous precisely because it is founded on a state of despair that is as unrelenting as it is total.

           ENDNOTES

1 Tiqqun. The Coming Insurrection. Cambridge: Semiotext(e) Intervention Series No. 7. 52.  
            2 52.
            3 Franco “Bifo” Berardi. After the Future. Oakland: AK Press, 2011. 50.
           4 Panayota Gounari explains that Trump operates in the manner of “an authoritarian leader” who utilizes “a propaganda machine that distorts reality and historical facts” and relies on nativist and white supremacist claims to re-invigorate American exceptionalism. All of this is consistent with historical definitions of fascism. “Authoritarianism, Discourse and Social Media: Trump as the ‘American Agitator.’” Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism, edited by Jeremiah Morelock, vol. 9, University of Westminster Press, 2018, pp. 207-28.
           5 Gruppo di Nun. Revolutionary Demonology. Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2020. 281.
           6 Revolutionary Demonology, 281.
           7 Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. New York: Penguin, 2009. 146.
           8 145.
           9 145.
           10 Contemporary industrial farms are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture, to name just the most obvious sources of overcoding. The business of corn production enters into another panoply of codes, regulations, and laws. There is little in contemporary agriculture that is “of the earth.”
           11 Curry, Andrew. “Rituals of the Nasca Lines.” Archaeology, vol. 62, no. 3, 2009, pp. 34–39.
           12 Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Accessed February 7, 2023.
           13 Health of American Democracy, Economy, Abortion Leading Factors Heading into 2022 Election


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