Mike Ma, “Harassment Architecture” (2019) – It had been a while since I had a look at any far-right literary productions, so I downloaded this self-published novel (of sorts) that’s been making the rounds. I can’t really say it’s the “hot new thing” among the nazi set, however, for a few reasons. The first is out of the author’s or anyone’s control- the unmerciful pace of events. Back in 2019 or maybe late 2018 when Ma first opened Word Trump-fatigue was cool with younger extremely online reactionaries, “traditionalist” nihilism was in- accelerationism, abandonment of society and efforts to “red pill” others, blah blah. But in 2020 Trump is the door through which reactionaries can walk into their violence fantasies, as embodied in the person of Kyle Rittenhouse, a chubby-cheeked little Trump partisan and cop-lover who probably thinks Julius Evola is a brand of olive oil. He’s done a lot more than the Boogaloo Boys, the right-wing nihilists of the type to maybe read Mike Ma, who must feel a certain impotence and shame that this little dork gets all the acclaim while they stand around in their Hawaiian shirts, scared to do anything.
In a more direct and culpable sense we can’t really call “Harassment Architecture” new or interesting because it reads like nothing so much as certain portions of the edgy internet circa 2002. The racism is less coy here than it usually was back then, and some of the references are different, but otherwise, it’s all the same shit. The philosophical maunderings of a callow young man, characterized in this instance by cheap paradoxes. He’s insincere, but aware of his own insincerity and that abates things somehow. He knows he’s been sheltered, but rages against the conformity and security of mainstream society. There’s a lot of flights of violent fantasy- probably more here as a percentage of the text than was usual back in the old days, but it’s still the same shit. These, along with delighting in bigotry and slurs, are meant to show you that the man narrating is above your liberal pieties, a real badass, though even at this late date Ma indulges in the early oughts edgelord’s game of “do I reallllly mean it or am I just edgy??” They can never commit, even to their own inability to commit. At the core, you see the same dumb paradox born of insecurity: the world is shit, and I’m going to endlessly bitch and moan about it, but I’m still the big winner in all of the conventional senses- Ma goes out of his way to remind you of how much money he has, how many women want him, how much he can lift (pictures of the author show a rather pencil-necked little dipshit, but whatever).
All of which is to say, Ma and the online boys I knew in my long ago youth are/were ripping off the same people- chiefly Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. Two gay men, for whatever that’s worth. I always preferred Palahniuk out of the two — at least he came up with some entertaining high concept book ideas, more than can be said for Ellis — but with both of them you get the same tired Gen-X wrangle with irony and sincerity. I haven’t kept close track of where Palahniuk has gone with it, but can’t help but notice Ellis has basically gone the way of many edgelords of his generation- finger-wagging the younger generations about safe spaces and trigger warnings, blah blah. In any event, it’s a thin, dry vein for my entire life’s worth of supposedly innovative literary writers to have worked, and no amount of violent posturing from Mike Ma makes him any different from the stupid boys who were doing the same thing he was doing twenty years ago.
At bottom, all of these right-wing edgelords — Ellis, Ma, the ones I knew in the oughts — are prissy little bitches, too, for all their machismo and violence fantasizing. They all want a manager to complain to. Patrick Bateman wants his comped bellinis sent back and/or a God to take away his (completely contrived) pain, Ma whines about how New York smells and how he doesn’t get to live amongst “marble columns” and “great warriors.” I remember a boy who lived to make Jew jokes and show off early-oughts shock sites who was genuinely scandalized by public breast-feeding. They are not getting the consumer experience they were promised from life and raising hell on the yelp reviews. In this, only their self-consciousness separates them from the gormless suburban Kyles and Karens that make up the mainstream right, and mostly just serves to make them less sufferable.
Ma likes to fantasize about the 1990s as the last good time. Nothing really original there, either, the edgelords I knew twenty years ago idolized the eighties and seventies and sometimes even the early nineties too. Moreover, fascists always pine for a time that didn’t exist, and in typical navel-gazing, zero commitment style, Ma admits that his ideal nineties didn’t either, even as he insists people need to die because he didn’t get to experience it. His “traditionalism” is a matter of pining for some mix of the nineties and the ersatz classicism of boys raised with “Assassin’s Creed” and other video game versions of the distant past. I bring it up, out of all the unoriginal elements in this book, because I think it illustrates part of the reason we don’t get good reactionary literary writers anymore. There used to be a lot of them, but it seems the last one, Naipaul, died without an inheritor.
Ma’s pining for the nineties, and his “traditionalism” and that of his peers more generally, are the tell. The entire right, no matter how “intellectual” or “edgy,” certainly in America and possibly world-wide, has been sucked into the cheap nostalgic sentimentality that the likes of Reagan learned to weaponize for electoral purposes. You need some distance from what’s sold to the rubes to do literature, and no matter how hard they struggle to be different, the contemporary far right can no more pull it off than the most abject red state Fox News casualty. “Harassment Architecture” is supposed to be the ne plus ultra of contemporary far-right nihilism and this little shit is getting all weepy and nostalgic for nineties bike rides (never mind the nineties were an era of “stranger danger,” getting things right isn’t his strong suit). Nope, the right and toxic nostalgic sentimentality is stuck together, and good reactionary literature is just one of the many casualties of their union. ‘