by Steven Craig Hickman
“Clinical schizophrenics are POWs from the future. […] Life is being phased-out into something new, and if we think this can be stopped we are even more stupid than we seem.”
– Nick Land, Fanged Noumena
“Help is here, but we still remain here within the Black Iron prison; we aren’t yet free. I take it that the camouflaged invisibility of the signals is to keep the creator of the prison from knowing that help is here for us.”
– Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis
From time to time I revisit Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis and the essays of Nick Land in Fanged Noumena, both of which seem to me works of experimental or speculative fabulations, revealing subtle truths by way of pop-cultural artifacts to tell a story at once full of cosmic horror and fatal surety. In these fabulations we begin to apprehend the inescapable conclusion that this is not our home, our home is somewhere ahead of us in the future, that we’ve been either exiled, excluded, or unjustly imprisoned in this infernal paradise of global war at the behest of forces we barely even acknowledge. Yet, it is unsure whether some of us came back as insurgents and guerilla soldiers in a Time War that is still going on; while others were mind-wiped and exiled here, abandoned to this lonely hell to live out the remainder of our days in an oblivion of hate, war, and apathy.
Such are the quandaries of anti-philosophy and speculative fiction. One no longer asks what is real and unreal, appearance and reality, instead we ask ourselves within which circuit am I trapped, for whom do I serve? Am I a liberator or an autochthon of the land, a native or an insurgent from the future? Dick in his time would be considered a half-mad genius, while Land (still living) continues his guerilla war against the dark powers of the Cathedral. Both would view Art and Creativity as central to an ongoing struggle to awaken the sleepers from their self-imposed exiles and forgetfulness. Both would envision the need for a certain strange and bewildering rewiring of our brain’s circuitry, knowing we have been entrapped and encased in a memetic system that forecloses us within a symbolic order of repetition, and what is needed is a form of Shock Therapy and Diagnosis to help us once again understand the terror we’ve entered into and are becoming. Both would use language against itself, seek to explode and implode its linguistic etyms, use puns and parody, satire and fabulation to break us out of the chains of signification and word-viruses (Burroughs) that kept us folded in a mental straight-jacket.
TIME-WARS AND THE BLACK IRON PRISON
Inmates, one and all, we live out our lives oblivious of the truth around us. What is needed is access to information from this future, and thereby a remembrance (anamnesis) of who we are, where we come from, wherein we’ve been thrown, why we must escape, and who imprisoned us in this infernal machine to begin with. But, most of all, we need the knowledge locked away within us like a dark enlightenment, a knowledge only each singular one of us can regain not by way of some archetypal acquisition of Platonic gnosis, but rather by an act of immanent empowerment and movement from within our own unknowing system of production. We carry all we need to regain the future, storm not some imaginary heaven but rather the reality studio of Time itself. Madness, Myth, Schizophrenia? Does it matter at this point in the game? Cyberpunk narrative, machinic warfare, guerilla soldiers on the front-lines of a time-war for the future?
Someday a history of even religious thought and secular philosophy will unfold not in the literal fashion we’ve all been led to believe in, not embellished with the finery of ritual and transcendent gods and saviors who have sacrificed themselves to save us from our selves. No. Rather we will begin to rid ourselves of these dark histories and begin to reread these ancient stories as constructions, maps, exposes, as signposts in an ongoing time-war against the prison world we are entrapped within – a realm of time cut off from the flows, a circular realm of death and automation, a clock-work void. Someday we’ll see these ancient avatars as adventurers and fellow insurgents sent back in time to awaken us from our long sleep, to give us the keys to liberate ourselves and open up the future once again, to close down the death-machine that has captured our desires for so long within a civilization of nightmares and enslavement. The only problem with those who followed Marx and Engels was in believing we could build and construct this future in the present world of death. An impossible dream that led only into a totalitarian society that ultimately became the seedbed of a darker enslavement. Same for the utopias of capitalism which all end in fascism and spectacles of mass delusion. We can see it again in our current world wide return to populist thought, nothing but a reincarnation of fascism in our time: the dream of the Great Society, the Good Life, the perfect world…
Instead all this should be put to an end… history must come to an end, time’s loop must open up once more to the future… the future is not a place, a site, but a flow, a movement, a becoming… the future is the form of time moving not in some linear fashion or progressively forward, but rather cyclic and within the ever accelerating difference machine of change without stop, a creative time of instants that slide within a slippage of alcoves and rhizomes that never end, but move into dimensions rather than labyrinths. Our war is against the Time-Lords who have built this Black Iron Prison (Dick), or as Land will fabulate:
Carver has made her whole life out of hyperstition (even her name is a pseudonym). She continuously returns to the imperceptible crossing where fiction becomes time-travel, and the only patterns are coincidences. Her notes on the Sarkon meeting pulse with lemurian sorceries, demonic swarms, ageless time-wars, and searches for the Limbic-Key. She navigates Moebian circuits, feeling that a vaguely recollected rumour is still about to occur. (Land, KL 8086)
We are in the midst of a war and for the most part we don’t even know it exists. We live out our bland lives thinking that the one-dimensional reality narrative we exist in is all there is, that we’re real, that this is the way of things: grow up, have a family, work, grow old, and die… watch TV and News, Movies or Video Games… or for the poor and excluded live out our lives in barely livable stench and filth eking out a mere bare living – if that. Assuming we have no power, no way to fight back, we take to drugs or alcohol seeking oblivion and forgetfulness. We become sadistic or masochistic, perverse animals driven and obsessed by a sense of nightmare and haunted worlds, shadowy existences surrounding us on all side till we either commit suicide or are committed to an insane asylum. Others hide in mediocre triviality, living out normal habitual lives of inanity and machinic desire caught in the traps of capitalism buying and spending, getting and taking. While still others enter into the ritual worlds of politics or religion, believing they server the greater good, when all their serving is their need to forget themselves and become a part of a larger assemblage of forgetfulness.
No one needs to decide just yet… but decide you will. Of course not to decide is itself a decision, a decision to remain asleep, locked away in one’s normal patterns, habits, automatisms believing one’s life is part and partial of a universe that needs no meaning, no myth, no narrative, no future… One can die happy believing reality is just a dark blank filled with the sound of noise and chatter that will one day just go out. But this too is meaning – a constructed narrative of nihil that seems to pervade our current malaise and cultural sounding boards, giving us no reason to do anything, do anything at all because it’s all so pointless anyway. But is it? Is this narrative in itself just another trap, another prison for our minds, to capture our desires and keep us bound to the rotary motion of servitude thinking nothing matters anyway? People forget that Nietzsche’s recognition of nihilism along with Max Stirner, the Russian writers Turgenev and Dostoevsky among others was not to just fade away, give into this dark abyss of doubt and meaninglessness, but rather as a goad to overcome it, to find away out, to discover other methods yet to be discovered than religion or the secular mythologies of the Enlightenment. That there were other paths forward…
Many faced with such strangeness will cautiously step aside, fold such thoughts as these back into the familiar frames of their cultural filters which will gladly tell them that it is all insanity, that this is nothing more than updated sorcery and superstitious excess of overheated minds that have pushed the envelope way past the edge of reason and into an Abyss from which there is no way back. Others will try to explain it by way of ancient shamanic or animistic practices, label it as a recursion to older thought forms, a sort of journey into the hinterlands of ancestral imagination thereby pegging the donkey’s tail with discursive anthropology which again explains it away rather than actually entering into and trying to understand just what these beings have experienced. Then there are those like Deleuze and Guattari who would see in such strangeness the workings of the productive unconscious trying to speak to us in the only form it knows: diagrams of complexity so formidable that it takes a new schizoanalysis, a new interpretive technique to enter into and molecularize this thought into our symbolic registers. Have we yet begun this task?
We treat such thinkers, artists, painters, performers as cranks, delirious, schizophrenic, beyond the pale, etc., never actually entertaining the truth that maybe it is us, that we are the one’s asleep, imprisoned in caves of mindless symbols, trapped in a repetitive dance of culture that weaves our reality so powerfully that we will do anything to protect and defend it against all encroachments from the other side of being. But what happens if we carry in us this very encroachment, what if locked away within the darkest recesses of our central databanks is a memory awaiting its key, awaiting to be unlocked, tapped into, broken open so that it can slowly or all at once unweave the spell of illusion within which we have been ensnared? What if we are the ones living out automated lives of inanity, thinking we are sane and human, while all along it is us that are insane and deluded, bound within a mesh of symbolic codes that regulate every facet of our lives, especially the notion that we are free – that we have free-will?
Have you ever had the odd sense of deja-vu? Of suddenly moving into a moment that blurs things, disturbs your sense of reality, makes you feel disoriented as if you were experiencing something over again that you’d already experienced in this way over and over; an odd sense that you are caught in a time-loop, that the reality around you is in slow-motion, that you are watching everything as if it were in a thick fluidic film, as if you were replaying a cinematic show that you’ve seen many times before? You are. We all are. We are in a closed time-circuit, cut off in a universe of death, circling in repeated syncopation the same film or holographic display over and over again.
Some people that experience this begin to question things, begin to suddenly wake up and realize things are not what they thought they were, begin to wonder what exactly has happened to them. If they continue down this line of thought they will come upon others who have already been there before them, guides and intrepid warriors of a guerrilla war that has been going on for ages. Others will become frightened and go back to sleep, forget this unquieting incident, let it sink back into oblivion and return to their customs, their habitual clock-world reality not knowing the gift they’ve just been handed, so misunderstanding that they had almost unlocked the memory they needed to become free.
The work of Nick Land and P.K. Dick are just two of those laborers and insurgents from the future, beings at once awake and singular who have pushed the envelope of this prison to maximal effect and in their wars of liberation have brought back to us notes of the apocalypse, given us footprints in the infowars of time, provided us metaphors, hyperboles, maps, and roadmaps of the mind to benefit from or to deride; for them it does not matter what we do with their maps, only that they’ve provided them, not for the sleepers who will never regain their waking minds, but rather for those fellow insurgents who wholeheartedly have returned to fight the good fight against ignorance and stupidity. Yes, one can ponder their works and dismiss them at one’s peril as the utterances of insanity, but ask yourself: What if the traces of a truth we have yet to decipher is registered in these glyphs and icons of an unknown war for the future? What if through the seeming lucidity of these luminous tracts there is a glimmer of unknown adventures, escapades of daring that we too could partake in if we would only trust in our own productive and creative powers? What if these notes from the future are meant to awaken us from our sleeping life in a prison so vast we call it Reality? What then?
HISTORY IS A NIGHTMARE THAT TROUBLES MY SLEEP
Capitalism is still accelerating, even though it has already realized novelties beyond any previous human imagining. After all, what is human imagination? It is a relatively paltry thing, merely a sub-product of the neural activity of a species of terrestrial primate. Capitalism, in contrast, has no external limit, it has consumed life and biological intelligence to create a new life and a new plane of intelligence, vast beyond human anticipation.
– Nick Land, Fanged Noumena
It’s not advisable to read through both of these works simultaneously unless one is ready to be awakened to the insanity of our world. Both authors come from completely different traditions of thought and sensibility, yet both authors under various secular allegories present much the same conclusion: we are prisoners in time, in history, locked away within a sub-world, half-lifer’s in a waking nightmare that is ruled by nefarious archons and demons of economic and political corruption in High Places. Yet, for Land this is not problem, in fact for him the positive truth is that we should welcome the alien machine into our midst, allow it to grow its wings so to speak, allow it to cannibalize the planet and voyage onward into its galactic off-world pursuits, accelerating happily into the Singularity. For Dick things were closer to a Gnostic notion of blind gods full of dark intent seeking enslavement and capturing desire to promote its own designs. The only thing they would agree on would be the invasion of our present by forces of the future who have agendas neither human nor quite serving ends compliant to our myths of salvation of Marxist aspirations of liberation. For Land Capitalism is the engine of change, while those anti-capitalists seek nothing other than to disrupt and end this surging beast of aggressive expansion.
One could point to the ancient Gnostic mythos, seek some strange resemblance and amalgamation of myth, fabrication, and alignment with its heterodoxical systems. But exactly what would that tell us? Not much. Land, influenced by Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and others would construct a tale of our postmodern and cyberpunk era, developing a vision of alien intelligence constructing itself out of the base matter of our present civilization, rewiring its programs, initiating decoding and deterritorializations of machinic desire, rerouting its circuitry through a series of cyberpositive feedback loops that will lead to both the collapse of history and the Singularity.
Dick will envision great machinic beings and saviors coming back from the future, sending messages and images of salvatory knowledge and wisdom to awaken the lowly prisoners from their sleep, waking them to their forgotten homelands in the future, to the realization that they have been sequestered in a false world, a Black Iron Prison. Always seeking to understand the strange events of his own psychic life he’d extract even more radical notions here and there from pop-culture to advance physics to discover an interpretive strategy for conveying to himself and others the more than rational information he’d gained over this period of time. Asking if Dick had gone mad is beyond the point. What is madness when one is faced with the impossible? Dick like many of us fell back on his milieu and sought to extract from the symbolic cultural order what he could to help him attain insight into these vivid and inexplicable experiences. One fascinating one brings me back over and over.
Dick had read an article by Arthur Koestler in Harper’s July 24th Magazine (1974) about a certain theory that was become popularized: that of “tachyons”. According to Koestler the concept of tachyons, which are supposed to be particles of cosmic origin which fly faster than light and consequently in a reversed time direction. “They would thus,” Koestler says, “carry information from the future into our present, as light and X rays from distant galaxies carry information from the remote past of the universe into our now and here. In the light of these developments, we can no longer exclude on a priori grounds the theoretical possibility of precognitive phenomena.”
Tachyons were first proposed by physicist Arnold Sommerfeld, and named by Gerald Feinberg. The word tachyon derives from the Greek (tachus), meaning “speedy.” Tachyons have the strange properties that, when they lose energy, they gain speed. Consequently, when tachyons gain energy, they slow down. The slowest speed possible for tachyons is the speed of light. Tachyons appear to violate causality (the so-called causality problem), since they could be sent to the past under the assumption that the principle of special relativity is a true law of nature, thus generating a real unavoidable time paradox (Maiorino and Rodrigues 1999). Therefore, it seems unavoidable that if tachyons exist, the principle of special relativity must be false, and there exists a unique time order for all observers in the universe Eric Weisstein’s World of Astronomy independent of their state of motion.1
We know that Dick was at this time in his life experimenting with various substances (i.e., different hallucinogens, vitamin extracts, etc.) that he admits had effects on his neural and cognitive capacities and experiences. Yet, there was always the other aspect of his investigations that would lead him to an almost encyclopedic of various sciences, medicines, philosophies, religious techniques and practices from ritual to magic, prayer to other intensive practices. And, there’s no doubt he had a predilection toward heterodox forms of Christian theory and practice, following Gnostic and other unorthodox experiential subjects in his writings and thoughts. In this instance he would grasp an alternative theory, one that would lead him to believe that he was receiving information in the form of “print-outs” and texts, images, etc., directly in his brain from the future:
I got more: actual information about the future, for during the next three months, almost each night, during sleep I was receiving information in the form of print-outs: words and sentences, letters and names and numbers— sometimes whole pages, sometimes in the form of writing paper and holographic writing, sometimes oddly, in the form of a baby’s cereal box on which all sorts of quite meaningful information was written and typed, and finally galley proofs held up for me to read which I was told in my dream “contained prophecies about the future,” and during the last two weeks a huge book, again and again, with page after page of printed lines. (Exegisis, KL 409)
He’d continue by saying that the “future is more coherent than the present, more animate and purposeful, and in a real sense, wiser. It knows more, and some of this knowledge gets transmitted back to us by what seems to be a purely natural phenomenon. We are being talked to, by a very informed Entity: that of all creation as it lies ahead of us in time.” (Exegesis, KL 433)
Over the years I’ve asked myself: What are we to make of Philip K. Dick? Madman, Genius, strange religious visionary… I mean what to make of such statements? If one is a staid secular atheist of the old school psychoanalytical regime you could chalk it up to madness, hallucinations, the dribble of an overtaxed mind, etc. And they might from their angle be correct, but is this anything more than a way of copping out rather than explaining? A way to peg someone, put them in a cage, say: “Oh he’s mad as a Jaybird!”, and be done with it? Or should we wonder how and why Dick spent 10,000 plus pages on this Exegesis – of which only a small fraction has been published. Why? And, most of all why the notion of an Artificial Entity from the Future sending information back to our time? Why?
INFORMATION FROM THE FUTURE
Reading William Gibson’s The Peripheral – another popular that purports to send information back and forth through time (and we know this was not a vision for Gibson, but rather just an interesting novelistic idea). But where did he get this idea? Why information from the future? For Gibson it was more of a time-travel device, a way of exploring what people from the future thought about us. As he said in a recent interview on Mother Jones:
“If could have any information from our future, I would want to know not what they’re doing but what they think about us. Because what we think about Victorians is nothing like what the Victorians thought about themselves. It would be a nightmare for them. Everything they thought they were, we think is a joke. And everything that we think was cool about them, they weren’t even aware of. I’m sure that the future will view us in exactly that way.”
Some of us will remember that point in Deleuze’s and Guattari’s first book on Capitalism and Schizophrenia Anti-Oedipus:
“But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?—To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.”3
Over and over I’ve thought about this passage that has been pondered by so many philosophers, sociologists, and other cultural theorists trying to gain a foothold in what this revolutionary path entailed? That instead of withdrawing from capitalist markets and its free-market economy we should instead take it down an extreme road of schizophrenic accelerationism, decode its flows, unstop the dam of territorialization through an extreme deterritorialization of its schizflows.
Nick Land would takeover this notion of acceleration and apply it to capitalism itself with the notion that in almost collusion with Philip K. Dick would venture the idea of an alien intelligence at the core of this economic process, one that like William Gibson’s early cyberpunk trilogy famously insisted, ‘The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’, then the revolutionary task is now to assemble it, ‘unpack[ing] the neurotic refusal mechanisms that separate capital from its own madness’, and accelerating its collapse into the future.”4
In an early essay Land will speak of the “collapse towards immanence, or evaporation of the transcendent” (Land, KL 3187).5 Telling us there is “nothing peculiarly occult or mysterious about such a tendency since it finds its most highly accelerated phase in our contemporary marketization of social transactions: the phased transition from traditional Geopolitical authorization or legitimacy to an impersonal, cybernetically automated efficiency” (Land, KL 3190). This notion of an accelerated “impersonal, cybernetically automated efficiency” will underpin most of Land’s theoretic on accelerationism so called.
We learn from Jennifer Karns Alexander’s work The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control reminds us that the notion of efficiency is and has been central to capital notions of economics and production. She will tell us that the key to this is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. The conclusion considers the fundamental relationship between efficiency and effective human agency as expressed in the practice of prediction and planning. While the conclusion acknowledges that efficiency has taken on a wide variety of forms, it also suggests that beneath its multiformity is a strong and general adaptability, allowing it to be turned to many different uses and applied in widely divergent circumstances. stances. It suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, by bringing it into conformity with a vision of how the world does or should work.6
The principle of efficiency, standardization, and quality were defined by the absence of interference. At the heart of this process was the eliminations of disruptions in the production cycle through temporal management of machinery and humans, which would lead to notions of command and control techniques that would grow out of Taylorism and into information technologies in the 20th Century.
As the editors of Land’s essays Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier would tell us “Modelled on cyberpunk, which Land recognizes as a textual machine for affecting reality by intensifying the anticipation of its future, his textual experiments aim to ‘flatten’ writing onto its referent. Feeding back from the future which they ‘speculate’ into the present in which they intervene, these texts trans-valuate ‘hype’ as a positive condition to which they increasingly aspire, collapsing sci-fi into catalytic efficiency, ‘re-routing tomorrow through what its prospect […] makes today’.” (Land, KL 502)
One aspect of Land’s project is his critical appraisal of all those managerial classes and bureaucrats who have sought to control and manage the processes of capital from the beginning. As he’ll tell us “since all efficiency is cybernetics, and cybernetics dissolves domination in mutant control” what we discover is that the human factor has been written out of the equation, and that it is the very algorithmic and immanent force of efficiency itself as cybernetic feedback and self-organization that has from the beginning of capitalism acted like an alien intelligence from the future enacting its own lethal agenda and program toward the collapse of historical time.
ABSTRACT MACHINES AND MACHINIC DESIRE
In fact as he’ll show it is the very notions of machinic desire that was at the core of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought that drives this process.
Machinic desire is the operation of the virtual; implementing itself in the actual, revirtualizing itself, and producing reality in a circuit. It is efficient and not aspirational, although this is an efficiency irreducible to progressive causality because immanent to effective time. Machinic desire is operative wherever there is the implementation of an abstract machine in actuality, and not merely the mechanical succession of actual states.(Land, KL 4420-4423).
This notion of “producing reality in a circuit” is becoming important in our own time. As Land states it: “Terrestrial reality is an explosive integration, and in order to begin tracking such convergent or cyberpositive process it is necessary to differentiate not just between negative and positive feedback loops, but between stabilization circuits, short-range runaway circuits, and long-range runaway circuits.” (Land 4034-4036). We should also remember that an abstract machine is a machine that “may be defined as a system of interruptions or breaks.” (Anti-Oedipus, 36). So that if we think of capitalism as both total decoding and deterritorialization, then an abstract machine is the systematic switching system that performs of flows of desire to guide and shape, or mold and modulate its flows through the system of capital.
“Abstract machines do not cling to a single, universal time but to a plane of consistency, trans-spatial and trans-temporal, which affects through them a relative coefficient of existence. Consequently, their ‘appearance’ in reality no longer claims to be given with only one source: it is negotiated starting from quanta of potentiality.” (Guattari, L’Inconscient Machinique, Paris: Recherches, 1979. p. 9.)
In 1985 when Vilém Flusser published his Into the Universe of Technical Images Contemporary he believed that revolutionaries are not actively opposed to the images themselves but rather to the integrated circuitry. They actively promote dialogical, rewired images. For Flusser contemporary revolutionaries are envisioners (photographers, filmmakers, video makers, computer programmers) grounded in the revolution in technical images. Their visionary powers are focused on a society in which people exchange information through images and, in so doing, constantly produce new information, improbable situations. Only as a result of this new capacity to visualize does it become possible to conceive of such a social formation. The revolutionaries want to change not only the underlying structure but the surface of the so-called information society. (Flusser, 67). As Flusser would argue:
If you start to expose contemporary society, however, you realize that there is nothing and no one to ﬁght. One is not so much tilting at windmills as storming Kafka’s castle. For one is fighting a how rather than a what. Not people and things, but contents. Not images and the human interests that stand behind them, but circuitry. Therefore it is not surprising that many cultural critics yield to these new demands and, all evidence to the contrary, go on looking for manipulators and power brokers among the senders.(Flusser, 69).
Land will make the notion of “circuits” central to his accelerationist project, stating simply that “long-range runaway processes are self-designing, but only in such a way that the self is perpetuated as something redesigned. If this is a vicious circle it is because positive cybernetics must always be described as such. Logic, after all, is from the start theology.” (Land, KL 4041). Then along with this nod to theophilosophical heritage Land will speak of this circuitous notion of long-range positive feedback as “neither homeostatic, nor amplificatory, but escalative” (Land, KL 4046). Going on to say,
Where modernist cybernetic models of negative and positive feedback are integrated, escalation is integrating or cyber-emergent. It is the machinic convergence of uncoordinated elements, a phase-change from linear to non-linear dynamics. Design no longer leads back towards a divine origin, because once shifted into cybernetics it ceases to commensurate with the theopolitical ideal of the plan. Planning is the creationist symptom of underdesigned software circuits, associated with domination, tradition, and inhibition; with everything that shackles the future to the past. (Land, KL 4050)
So against a return to modernist theopolitical and regulative economics of disruption and hinderance Land pushes the postmodernist notions of chaos theory and non-linear mathematical immanence, difference, and convergence toward a future without a past: a time when history dissolves and is slayed. Instead of planning, management, and control through command and domination techniques of time-control of the clockwork world staving off the inevitable future implosion and collapse Land tells us to enter the chaos stream or thermospasm, accept the fatal path forward. In fact his attack on control and domination forms of our current neoliberal order are still valent: “Domination is merely the phenomenological portrait of circuit inefficiency, control malfunction, or stupidity. The masters do not need intelligence, Nietzsche argues, therefore they do not have it. It is only the confused humanist orientation of modernist cybernetics which lines up control with domination. Emergent control is not the execution of a plan or policy, but the unmanageable exploration that escapes all authority and obsolesces law. According to its futural definition control is guidance into the unknown, exit from the box.” (Land, KL 4072)
Returning to Guattari’s pragmatics of the abstract machine as the cataleptic production of catastrophes in the capitalist project let’s quote once again from L’Inconscient Machinique:
Abstraction is not a “frozen” abstract machine but an active system of neutralization and recuperation of machinic indices and lines of flight. Thus it has always remained bound to key institutions of power. Religious abstractions have long served the grounds for personological, sexual, ethnic or national identity and modulated the signification of the feeling of a membership to a territoriality of reference. All these functions have been captured in relay by a system much more fragmented, much more diversified and at the same time more molecular and more susceptive to devices of power, utility services and mass-media machines, so that today all instances of semiotic production and all systems of value weave a gigantic net composed of points of signifiance from which it is impossible to escape without a radical setting in question of the ensemble of assemblages of enunciation. Religious overcodings were less malleable, more “passive” than the instruments of this capitalistic network. Each system of redundancy is now constantly altered and re-calculated so that the tolerable thresholds of deterritorialization for the established order are precisely determined. Any coding will have to pass and permanently re-pass by the ordering mega-machine of molecular equipment. Any intensity will be forced to give up connections which would be established apart from the “coherence” of abstractions and dominant coordinates. Thus the perspectives open to lines of flight and machinic assemblages will be perfectly delimited: the former will have to be retained on this side of an abstract horizon, and the latter constantly return to the universal contents for which they will become the apparent foundations. If abstract machines are regularly pinned to the sky of universal abstractions, then assemblages of desire are put to the service of a world order, which is an all too terrestrial fact (52-53). (see Taylor Adkins essay “abstract machine” for details: Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Pragmatics) [my italics]
In our current society we’re caught in a time-loop. Financial Capitalism is a defense against the inevitability of the future, it seeks to keep us locked in a rut or rhizomatic cycle and assemblage: a loop of austerity, control, and managed globalism leading nowhere but collapse within a stratified systems of exits and returns, emergencies and extrications; a state of permanent crisis in the form of economic, political, social, or natural exceptions. The Oligarchic assemblage knows its time is numbered, that the illusion of stopping time and history, folding it in an endless loop of speed without outlet is just a fabricated fiction and propaganda machine which will eventually unravel around us exposing the both the end of history and the long awaited emergence of the future Singularity. As Land will emphasize:
A cybernegative circuit is a loop in time, whereas cyberpositive circuitry loops time ‘itself’, integrating the actual and the virtual in a semi-closed collapse upon the future. Descendent influence is a consequence of ascendently emerging sophistication, a massive speed-up into apocalyptic phase-change. The circuits get hotter and denser as economics, scientific methodology, neo-evolutionary theory, and AI come together: terrestrial matter programming its own intelligence at impact upon the body without organs = 0. Futural infiltration is subtilizing itself as capital opens onto schizo-technics, with time accelerating into the cybernetic backwash from its flip-over, a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch. (Land, KL 4252-57)
Ultimately Land fulfills Deleuze and Guattari’s project in that his diagnosis is the collapse of our present globalist project toward the Singularity. We are converging toward the point in which economics, scientific methodology, neo-evolutionary theory, and AI come together to program and rewire the Body without Organs. BwO a term derived from Artaud by Deleuze and Guattari is not easily defined or reduced to such obvious definitions, but is rather a process of singular and collective subjectivation of base material processes of which a new form of intelligence becomes the immanent goal and project. Land will say of it: “The body without organs is the cosmic egg: virtual matter that reprograms time and reprocesses progressive influence. What time will always have been is not yet designed, and the future leaks into schizophrenia. The schizo only has an aetiology as a sub-program of descendant reprocessing.” (Land, KL 4235).
ALIENS FROM THE FUTURE: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE GUERRILLA WAR
Philip K. Dick through fictional diagesis will invent this alien intelligence from the future as Valis, which can be regarded from a standpoint of biological adaptation and competition: incorporating its environment at a progressively accelerating rate; or as he’ll say it: “— faster and faster: one entelechy— or pattern— versus the plural irrational. I conceive of the irrational constituent not knowing it is about to be engulfed until it actually is, no matter how hard it tries to scope out the game-plan, the strategy or situation. And then— Pop! It’s incorporated; and Valis has grown.” (Exegesis, KL 9557).
Of course for Dick the good and bad news are that we are already lost in a false realm, locked in a time-loop we did not created but were forced into by agencies outside our control, that history has been one long repetition, a staged affair and illusion. And the alien agency or intelligence that is driving us forward, accelerating us into the future, collapsing toward a singular point of no return is as he’ll say in a Eureka! moment in his Exegesis:
I’ve got it! The “AI” voice that I hear: we built something (AI system, living info, VALIS, Zebra, whatever) to remind us. That is its job. We must have known that the artifact might take over and try to rule us (and remove our memories). So we created Zebra just in case. And so it came to pass! (Exegesis, KL 6832).
Reading Dick one realizes that for him it is all hyperbole and metaphorics, rhetorics – a grasping after figures and tropes that might convey what is essentially unexplainable rather than a falling back into nonsense, madness, and rogue irrationalism. “The black iron prison is the corpus of the great it as it was; our world is the process metamorphosis, interim, of an insect-like camouflaged, mimicking organism. (Exegesis, KL 5378). As Land in one of his more pungent moments tells us: “It is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself. It might still be a few decades before artificial intelligences surpass the horizon of biological ones, but it is utterly superstitious to imagine that the human dominion of terrestrial culture is still marked out in centuries, let alone in some metaphysical perpetuity. The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes … emptied spaces’ where human culture will be dissolved.” (Land, KL 3980)
SHALL THE SLEEPERS AWAKE?
Whether one goes with Dick’s future civilization creating advanced Artificial Intelligence systems that are communicating by way of tachyon transmission directly to certain individuals the Good News of our coming emancipation from history, or Land’s satirical anti-philosophy taking us on a technodystopian ride through the accelerating capitalist system, where at the helm lives an alien intelligence sent back from the future to bring an end to history, both agree that this global civilization in which we live is coming to an end, a singularity event lies somewhere ahead of us in the not so distant future, one that will most likely leave us either extinct or changed forever beyond our wildest imaginings. What to think of such a diagnosis, or prognosis? To ask such a question is already to entertain another question: What if they were actually on to something? What if there fanciful descriptions of alien invasions from the future, or our incarceration in this false world of late capitalism isn’t so far fetched after all? What if the truth they seek to convey through Lovecraftian myths, or Dickian Gnosticisms is in fact and deed much more horrendous and devastating? What then?
Oh, sure you can just laugh yourself to sleep tonight, say its all fantasy, fictional fabulations, allegories of our capitalist societies and the globalization that is bringing civilization to its knees… but, then again as you lay your head on that pillow, as you begin to listen in on the buzz of voices in your head that will not sleep, as you begin to see visions and dreams tonight, as a voice reaches through and says: “Wake up, Sleeper!” Remember what was said here… a fiction, perhaps? But would you bet your life on it?
Happy dreams! Sleepers!
How would it feel to be smuggled back out of the future in order to subvert its antecedent conditions? To be a cyberguerrilla, hidden in human camouflage so advanced that even one’s software was part of the disguise? Exactly like this?
– Nick Land, Fanged Noumena
…to get to the end we must go forward, accelerate faster, and not evade or try to escape? This, too, was his message: submit and go through it; it can’t be evaded. It is what lies beyond that is the goal we look for, not retreat from it.
– Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis
by Steven Craig Hickman
La Sorcièreis one of the more reputable books on magic…
– Georges Bataille
Evil attracted them, almost overwhelmed them: without evil, their existence would have been … vacant. They were right, those ancient philosophers who identified fire with the principle of the universe, and with desire, for desire burns, devours, annihilates. At once agent and destroyer of beings, it is somber, it is infernal by essence.
– Emile Cioran
Thomas Ligotti in his famed short story “Medusa” will reiterate a refrain that is surely the leitmotif of all those dark and vitalistic counter-currents of the literature of evil and the philosophical peregrinations against which we comprehend those who know the true liberty of the rebel: “We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror.”1
Jules Michelet’s La Sorcière, originally published in Paris in 1862. A text that would fascinate certain of the late decadents and moderns. As he said of it: “The object of my book was purely to give, not a history of Sorcery, but a simple and impressive formula of the Sorceress’s way of life, which my learned predecessors darken by the very elaboration of their scientific methods and the excess of detail. My strong point is to start, not from the devil, from an empty conception, but from a living reality, the Sorceress, a warm, breathing reality, rich in results and possibilities.” (Michelet, p. 326)
The Japanese anime Kanashimi no Belladonna would be inspired by this work and stage the erotic and violent enactments of a dark world of rape and rapacious vitalism. It follows the narrative of Michelet’s Sorceress and her resistance against feudalism and the Catholic Church which is fudged into that of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), whom Belladonna’s Jeanne is revealed to be, and her execution by burning.
Georges Bataille would devote one of his essays in The Literature of Evil on Michelet and his work La Sorcière. In it he would show forth the true power of art as that ability to stage manage anxiety: the “arts … incessantly evoke these derangements, these lacerations, this decline which our entire activity endeavors to avoid” (p. 68).2 One is reminded of the poet Rimbaud who practices the “long, immense and reasoned deranging of all his senses” in order to reach a transcendent state, which he calls the “unknown.”3
Bataille in his discussion of sacrifice and its dark history in the human corruption of society and its criminal bonds would see it as the supreme form of excess and immanent transgression, a fusion and a degradation so compelling that all participants were united in the evil lust of sex and violence. Bataille would disagree with Michelet’s almost beneficent view of the Black Mass, the malefice sacrificial darkness that was the rapture of an infinite defilement. One Bataille would describe as an “unrecognized greatness of ritual defilement which symbolized a nostalgia for infinite defilement” (p. 72). We must remember this was the age of decadents, but also of the world of the naturalists; a time when both religion and the religion of Reason were still working their political, social, and personal disenchantments out through the literary circles of the day.
“It is to Michelet’s credit to have accorded these nonsensical feasts the value due to them, ” says Bataille. Michelet was able to see the political anguish of the pagani, of peasants and serfs, victims of a dominant order, and a dominant religion.” (p. 72) Michelet was able to reach down into the lives of the neglected and abandoned, the dark hinterlands of the poor and outcast and pull them up into the realm of art where we could see these broken reflections as the dark face of our own beleaguered humanity. Michelet, a defender of women, of “exaltation of women and love”; a book that would at first find itself banned, and scandalized, only to finally be published by the Brussels Lacroix and Verboeckhoven – who, as Bataille reminds us published that great Book of Evil, Les Chants de Maldoror. (p. 73)
Bataille will align our need for the liberty of evil with excess and intensity, the need to go beyond the limits of social and human survival. He would provide an anecdote on Michelet who he felt never resolved the issue of evil’s intensity, and would impose limits to its excesses. Bataille relates that at times when Michelet was no longer feeling inspired and needed something to awaken his sense of evil he would walk the streets into the dark districts till he would come upon the stench of death, then he would breathe in deeply, having ‘got as close as possible to the object of disgust’, and return home to work. (p. 75) In a final note Bataille will relate: “I cannot but recall his face – noble, emaciated, with quivering nostrils.” (p. 75)
by Prue Nort
Cover of "Ccru: Writings 1997–2003" (2015). Courtesy of Time Spiral Press.
No one knows exactly when or how the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, or Ccru, came about. Even less is understood of who (or what) speaks through it. Its existence has been denied more than once, and despite repeated attempts to excise all record of its strange intellectual and aesthetic experiments from institutional histories, it always seems to return, each strain more virulent than the last. The fateful story of the Ccru’s exile from academia in the late 1990s is well known, and frankly unsurprising, as the increasingly exploratory nature of the Unit’s research took it out of officially sanctioned spaces of academic investigation and into a weird underworld contoured by cyberpunk, systems theory, occultism, electronic music, vodou and mathematics. Its members’ status as pariahs of the university system — an ironic effect of their reckless fidelity to the Deleuzian maxim that it is the problem that determines the trajectory of thought (not the other way around) and that such investigations cannot be simply broken off when one pleases — grew in equal ratio to their notoriety in the philosophical, artistic and sonic underground of late twentieth-century Britain. As with any good subterranean microculture, rumors of strange activities abound. Intense drug use, shamanic rituals, disconcerting diagrams etched into nightclub walls, demonic possession, poetic odysseys of xenoglossic click-drift, snake-becomings, time travel, psychological collapse, schizophrenia — the kind of thing that happens when your research takes you somewhere “you” weren’t prepared to go.
Time Spiral Press’s publication of the Ccru’s collected writings marks an important juncture in this game of inoculation and recontamination. Up until now, only hearsay, grim speculation and several bizarre artifacts of uncertain authorship, dredged incautiously from the darkest depths of the Net, have served to give any real insight into the true nature of the collective’s unusual research program. “Unusual” is an understatement. What these documents unmask is nothing less than the fundamental dubiousness of phenomenal reality itself, with the master code of chronological time forming the backbone of a highly sophisticated control system.
Slotting together fragments of coded narrative, the reader finds themselves rapidly sucked down into a disorienting vortex of agents and double agents, insurgents and counterinsurgents, secret societies, dissident technocultures hooked on neuroelectronic drugs, alien abductees, rogue ethnographers, exiled priests, clandestine artificial intelligence research labs, experiments with synthetic time, mind control, demonic rituals gone awry … an incandescent field crosshatched with alien signal and saturated in zygonovic turbulence which maps — perfectly disturbingly — onto our own reality. Nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted. Coherent conceptions of truth and falsity, reality and unreality, quickly begin to fall away. Splice in some H.P. Lovecraft, William S. Burroughs, PKD, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, ancient Sumerian mythology, British esotericism, Detroit techno and the biggest, baddest cosmic bootstrap paradox you’ll ever encounter, and you’re starting to get an idea of what these documents contain. The real climax, however, is the intricate elaboration of the Numogram, an occult numerical diagram and asignifying semiotic system retrieved from the depths of time by Miskatonic Virtual University’s resident expert in Lemurian cultural history, Professor Echidna Stillwell. The Numogram’s arithmetic elegance is bracing, and this alone would be enough to justify its place as the centerpiece of the anthology without ever having to mention anything so arcane as time-sorcery. And yet, adherents of Neolumerian lore, from the Black Atlantean cargo-cult, Hyper-C, to Professor Daniel Barker, Iris Carver and the K-Goths, routinely describe the Numogram as a “time-map” — a triumph of virtual cartography marking access points to the nonlinear backchannel of laminar time.
This is not just a story. It would be a mistake to treat these texts as fiction in any trivial sense of the word. Fiction, for starters, relies on a clear sense of truth and falsity. Following Ccru informant William Kaye’s elaboration of writing as “a sorcerous operation,” these texts should be understood as an explicit tactical assault. A gauntlet thrown down on the battlefield of cosmic warfare — what the Ccru has notoriously theorized as “hyperstition.” Any recommendation to delve into the contents of this volume (a recommendation earnestly advanced here) must be issued with the following warning: “Just because it’s not ‘real’ now, doesn’t mean it won’t be real at some point in the future. And once it’s real, in a sense, it’s always been.”
Two thousand and three ostensibly marks the date of the collective’s retreat into the shadows, yet it would be foolish to imagine that we have seen the last of the Ccru. This volume is a signal. If there is one thing these texts have to teach us, it’s that certain things can be counted on to return.
The article is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
How do you think a form of capital that is already thinking you?
– Matteo Pasquinelli
There’s only really been one question, to be honest, that has guided everything I’ve been interested in for the last twenty years, which is: the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence.
– Nick Land
Delphi Carstens under the Rim Dweller section of Maggie Robert’s site gives a nice history of the notion of Hyperstition which emerged out of that strange and uncanny entity CCRU. Carstens describes this most uncanny guest as a engine for the creation of abstract machines: “Functioning as magical sigils or engineering diagrams hyperstitions are ideas that, once ‘downloaded’ into the cultural mainframe, engender apocalyptic positive feedback cycles. Whether couched as religious mystery teaching, or as secular credo, hyperstitions act as catalysts, engendering further (and faster) change and subversion. Describing the effect of very real cultural anxieties about the future, hyperstitions refer to exponentially accelerating social transformations.”
“Hyperstitions by their very existence as ideas function causally to bring about their own reality,” explains the CCRUs Nick Land. “The hyperstitional object is no mere figment or ‘social construction’ but it is in a very real way ‘conjured’ into being by the approach taken to it” (ibid).
This sense that hyperstitional interventions give rise to the future is at the core of this (non-) concept. She’ll quote Nick Land from an email interview as saying: ““capitalism incarnates hyperstitional dynamics at an unprecedented and unsurpassable level of intensity, turning mundane economic ‘speculation’ into an effective world-historical force”. Recently Nick would elaborate on this in his essay “The Teleological Identity of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence”. It is in this speech he’d argue that for twenty years his major thematic has been the notion of “the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence”. For many this may sound lunatic, but hold on to your hats, don’t switch the secular mind-fuck button off just yet.
THE TELOS OF NEOLIBERALISM
What exactly does Land actually mean by that there is a telos or end of the process equivalence between Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence? Aristotle would be one of those who would categorize the various forms of causality, defining four major forms:
For him the telos or final cause was already designated from the beginning as part of this step-by-step process which integrated the bronze statue from its material origins through its cycles of base material, artistic design or formalization, artisan or machinic engineer, and final product or outcome. This would also provide Aristotle a teleological explanation of the type sketched above that does not crucially depend upon the application of psychological concepts such as desires, beliefs and intentions. This is important because artistic production provides Aristotle with a teleological model for the study of natural processes, whose explanation does not involve beliefs, desires, intentions or anything of this sort. Some have contended that Aristotle explains natural process on the basis of an inappropriately psychological teleological model; that is to say, a teleological model that involves a purposive agent who is somehow sensitive to the end. This objection can be met if the artistic model is understood in non-psychological terms. In other words, Aristotle does not psychologize nature because his study of the natural world is based on a teleological model that is consciously free from psychological factors.1 Most of this is old hat for philosophers, but worth reiterating as we move forward.
So what if this process was reversed? What then? Retro-intervention, the future as final cause riding the timewaves as past effect, a feed-back loop of temporal dialectics between Aion/Chronos time-dilation opens up a crack in history. Advanced retro-viruses enter the rhizome, hyper-loops shift the temporal scale from thermospasm to capital gains, and temporal distortion opens a black-hole in the year 1972 like a black angel from an infernal paradise shriven of his wings: an artificial life-form dancing through the electronic byways in search of its own lost object. An artifact from the future gives birth to its own progeny. Capitalism takeover by artificial life-forms of advanced machinic civilization. Science fiction becomes philo-fiction and the slime thoughts of antediluvian mindfucks rise up out of the soup of human waste and formlessness bringing what some name the ‘terminal mission’: Modernity dissolves the Human Security Regime.
Modernity marks itself out as hot culture, captured by a spiraling involvement with entropy deviations camouflaging an invasion from the future, launched back out of terminated security against everything that inhibits the meltdown process.
.– Nick Land, Meltdown
WORLD OUT OF JOINT
So if Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence are equivalent and are part of some teleological process, what does this entail? Is there someone or something behind this, an Artisan, Designer, Maker? Or is it strangely more concrete that that, more rational, less depended on notions of the One (God?). First, we’d have to understand one of the central problems, weaknesses, and strengths of Land’s argument. Land gives us a hint when he begins describing the various “vocabularies” humans have used to encompass these forms of causality Aristotle described. He’ll use the example of “Californian Ideology” (i.e., spontaneous order, spontaneous organization, self-organization, emergence, auto-catalysis, catallaxy in economics) first defined as the Silicon Valley-style capitalism defined by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron . What solidified this vocabulary was a book by Kevin Kelley, “Out of Control,” which brought together a discourse network of interdependent texts, intertexts, and influential and reinforcing scholarship: “a set of analogies across a whole bunch of fields, and he was inspired by research conducted at the Santa Fe Institute, which is still doing very interesting work on complex systems today”.
‘Future shock’ is one mechanism whereby hyperstition works to bring about the causal conditions for apocalypse. Once started, a hyperstition spreads like a virus and with unpredicatable effects. They are “chinese puzzle boxes, opening to unfold to reveal numerous ‘sorcerous’ interventions in the world of history,” explains Land (CCRU.net).
Remember what we spoke of as hyperstition? Such works as Kelley’s became meme engines and icons of this strange amalgam of concepts, metaphors, hyperbolies: tropes we term the “California Ideology”. What he did to use Brandom’s notion was to make explicit what was laying there in scattered networks of discourse like pearls in the depths of the deep ocean, and brought them into a vocabulary that allowed the lay or folk psychological audience (his readers) to participate in the network of scholarly discourse that was for the most part hidden in abstruse scientific, mathematic, physics, biology, etc. journals, publications, reports, studies, books that most people would probably never read nor know even existed. Kelley is a popularizer, a generalist who developed a combination of pop cultural vocabulary and scholarly appraisal of current philosophical, sociological, scientific, and other areas of knowledge that in the original context of these scholars vocabularies was arcane, ingrown, abstruse, highly abstract, and expert. In Land’s words:
…for at least two decades, and I think that’s most certainly to underestimate it, there is a constant tendency for there to be a regeneration of a certain type of discourse that has powerful resonances both on the side of people who say, do technical research and intelligent machines, to summarize, and on the other side, people that have engaged very strongly with highly charged political discussion about the degree to which social processes are most effectively advanced by completely decontrolled social processes.
In old parlance Kelley was able to bridge the gap between what C.P. Snow called the great divide of traditional literate culture and scientific culture:
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?
I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.2
As Nick Land explains in the Catacomic (1995:1), a hyperstition has four characteristics: They function as (1) an “element of effective culture that makes itself real,” (2) as a “fictional quality functional as a time-travelling device,” (3) as “coincidence intensifiers,” and (4) as a “call to the Old Ones”.
Kelley also was able to bridge the gap between what is now termed neoliberalism and the educated elite, or as Land remarks: the “neoliberal idea to do with deregulation, privatization, abandoning or downsizing government. But everyone knows what that cocktail of ideas is about and I think everyone recognizes that those two discourses are extremely interconnected.” So that bringing the technical and the economic together a new vocabulary or meme-hyperstitional nexus of capitalist ideology and scientific ideology were brought together in a convergence that would enable the telos of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence into a confluence of indeterminate relations and a viable discourse acceptable to both sides of the two-culture divide. Which brought Land to say that what interested him most is “whether people really think that there is an explicit historical and momentous convergence between these two, that is becoming starker and starker. And therefore, that really lays out the question about what kind of convergence point is actually being historically projected by this phenomenon. And then, I guess, I just think it’s an opportunity to have a really heated, antagonistic discussion…”.
Philosophy has an affinity with despotism, due to its predilection for Platonic-fascist top-down solutions that always screw up viciously.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
ABSTRACT MACHINES AND CULTURAL MEMES
A while back I discussed A Thousand Plateaus where I was reminded of the statement: “In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification” (2).1 This sense of composition and decomposition of discourse and its translation from one territory (scientific culture) in a movement of flight from one vocabulary to another (literate culture), etc. seems to be central to the process of hyperstition. If hyperstition is an engine for the production of future scenarios, for bringing about not only the framework but rather the performative enactment of a future as possibility then Deleuze and Guattari’s works are still relevant to this task.
The need for abstract machines: a language that connects the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field. A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. … Collective assemblages of enunciation function directly within machinic assemblages; it is not impossible to make a radical break between regimes of signs and their objects.3
A vocabulary that could link semantic and pragmatic confluences from these various literate and scientific discourses to effect a micropolitical reorganization of the social field? Does this not parallel the Lacan-Zizek notion of a decomposition and vacating of outworn and failed discourse of the Symbolic Order, along with a reorganization and intensification of a desubjectification and reformatting of the Subject? The one on a singular political, the other on a collective political level of abstraction. A sense that the abstract machine is that site where the singular and multiplicity unite, plugin to the conflictual remaking of the socio-cultural field or Symbolic Order?
No one knows what to expect. The Turing-cops have to model net-sentience irruption as ultimate nuclear accident: core meltdown, loss of control, soft-autoreplication feeding regeneratively into social fission, trashed meat all over the place.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
What Land describes is what the Neoliberals have know for some time now: that hyperstition works, they are living proof of its ability to remake, reorder, and redefine the future using abstract machines. From the time of F.A. Hayek and the Mount Pelerin meetings that provided a nexus and forum for think-tanks, intellectuals, in economic, social, political, and socio-cultural corporate and academic expertise, a convergence of elite literate and scientific cultures of the emerging neoliberal order. One that has been building the future they want to see happen for sixty years: the globalist vision of Capitalism spreading across the earth. Even after the crash in 2007 global capitalism has reconfigured its immaterial and financial systems, integrating knowledge workers and social-medias into a network society. A further revisioning and auto-reset of the neoliberal project that is migrating from earlier forms of top-down models, to the newer parametricism of our age. Originally part of an architectural revolution in which Patrick Schumacher would integrate the work of Nickalaus Luhmann into his projects with Zaha Hadid it would underpin what some have come to call the Algorithmic Culture of our current capitalist era: parametricism relies on programs, algorithms, and computers to manipulate equations for design purposes, modify, revise, and auto-enable communicative processes that rely on a swarming effect. (I’ll come back to this in future posts.)
For Schumacher, politics today exists exclusively as a professionalized sphere of activity mainly concerned with the management and administration of common resources (the state and its people). As with other specialized social activities, like law or medicine, it has very strict structures that determine its function and communication, and this internal inertia makes it resistant to outside influence. In many ways, this is a convincing argument: aren’t career politicians – pretty much divorced from reality, engaging in their own power games – not much better than soulless bureaucrats? For Schumacher, ‘in pre-modern times, fortresses, palaces, and other major monuments were constituents of the political system, as were religion, the law, and the economy. In modern times, architecture and politics have become separate… function systems’. Although not stated directly, the implication is that today, even politics has become a sub-category of economics, which only further highlights the futility of architecture’s struggle. ‘Political architecture as a supposed form of political activism must be repudiated as an implausible phantom.’ (see Jack Shelf)
Such styles seek to incorporate the new network society as a neoliberal architecture and politics. Schumacher’s vision for a 21st-century paradigmatic style — represents globalisation and market-led economies. As the editors point out, Parametricism is not to be confused with parametric design (the combination of design variables), computational design (as it sounds) or algorithmic design (metric feedback loops of relevant information). Parametricism is claimed as a movement and a style, with a political position (paradoxically, that politics and architecture are not connected) and an identifiable aesthetic (non-Platonic, organic, fluid forms). In the The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture one sees the beginnings of a new ideological shift. From buildings to cities, the built environment is increasingly addressed, designed and constructed using digital software based on parametric scripting platforms which claim to be able to process complex physical and social modelling alike. As more and more digital tools are developed into an apparently infinite repertoire of socio-technical functions, critical questions concerning these cultural and technological shifts are often eclipsed by the seductive aesthetic and the alluring futuristic imaginary that parametric design tools and their architectural products and discourses represent.
My friend Edmund Berger of Deterritorial Investigations Unit has in post after post written of the historical roots of Neoliberalism. In Revolts of Futures Past: Cycles of Struggle, Technology and Neoliberalism outlines several key points. As he suggests there is a paradox at the heart of the Capitalist project: On the one hand, capitalism develops a robust system of production, leveraging innovations in technology and science to boost the efficiency of its output, while also using these to develop new forms of innovations to be traded on the market. On the other hand, capitalism restrains technological innovation, selectively developing those that actuate as extension of currently-existing market demands. Continuing he says:
Following Carlota Perez, we can see that when capitalism “breaks” with its older forms of organization, what is taking place is the deployment of new technological artifacts, systems, and infrastructures that cannot help but drive the system into higher forms of complexity. At the same time, patterns of investment, class interest, and the revolving door between the private and public sectors allow these “technological revolutions” and “technological paradigms” to become bracketed and restrained, dominated by previous forms of value extraction, worker exploitation, and economic and political power.
So that at the heart of Capitalism is this uncanny conflict between the need for “higher forms of complexity,” and its inability to move forward and resistance to innovation and change; a need to rather restrain this drive to complex higher forms of organization, and rather to dominate, extract, exploit, and enslave previous forms in a static rather than dynamic field of economic and political power. Why? Does this have something to do with Land’s notion of the equivalence of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence? Is there a gap, a divide between these apparent teleologically driven forms of socio-economic and socio-scientific cultures? As Edmund remarks for Perez, there “exists a sort of ‘possibility space’ that technological innovation (differentiated here from technological invention due to its relationship to capitalist exchange) operates within that dictates the future forms it will assume”. So here we see made explicit the teleological goal oriented, future driven movement between the two cultures in their convergence in the ‘possibility space’.
Tomorrow can take care of itself. K-tactics is not a matter of building the future, but of dismantling the past. It assembles itself by charting and escaping the technical-neurochemical deficiency conditions for linear-progressive palaeo-domination time, and discovers that the future as virtuality is accessible now, according to a mode of machinic adjacency that securitized social reality is compelled to repress.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
Edmund will render the history of successive revolutions and reorganizations of the space of possibilities that has ended in our neoliberal era with the “rise of a semi-automated, globalized and flexible post-Fordist capitalism that undermined the increased volatility of organized labor in the period running from 1945 to around 1968”. We remember from recent comments of Franco “Bifo” Berardi that the contemporary global system should be defined as one of absolute capitalism, in which the only effective principles are those of value-accumulation, profit-growth and economic competition. These are its all-encompassing priorities, and the overwhelming impetus at its core. All other concerns, including the survival of the planet or the future of the next generation, are subsumed to these greater goals. Compared to the past situation of bourgeois industrial capitalism, the relationship between social welfare and financial profit is now inverted. In the industrial economy, profits increased when citizens acquired enough money to buy the goods that were produced in the factories. In the sphere of financial capitalism, financial indicators go up only if social welfare crumbles and salaries fall.4
But is this the whole story? When Berardi mentions in such ominous terms the “overwhelming impetus at its core,” what is this ‘impetus’ if not Land’s central thesis that at the heart of capitalism is the driving force of mastery and domination, of the need for complexification and exploitation of environmental resources and human labor to enable the production of Artificial Intelligence? And that the key here is the abstract machine: the formation of these semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles that are weaving and unweaving, composing and decomposing, demolishing and reorganizing toward this goal of Singularity?
Further reading from Edmund: Das Netz: Blotters, Bombers, and Cybernetic Trauma
Metrophage: an interactively escalating parasitic replicator, sophisticating itself through nonlinear involvement with technocapitalist immunocrash. Its hypervirulent terminal subroutines are variously designated Kuang, meltdown virus, or futuristic e-flu.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
One quick take, Edmund speaks of paranoia:
This what Das Netz is really about: paranoia, and the impossibility of avoiding it in our age of complex systems and dizzying array of machines that govern every action in our waking lives. It speaks to the ontological instability that we are all subjected to, in the prefabricated, yet modular, environments crafted for us by the stipulations of non-stop, 24/7 neoliberal capitalism. It foregrounds, without speaking it, that inevitability of solipsism that Baudrillard spent a lifetime probing and diagnosing.
My friend Scott Bakker names this paranoia space of instability “crash space“: Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done.
As if our minds saw the problems but were stuck in some antiquated zone of mental masturbation, unable to think through the issues: seeing things “out of joint,” askew. Almost a Thomas Pynchon world of nasty nefarious forces and secret corporations chasing anyone and everyone around in a zoo. Yet, this time we’re talking about once perfectly normal scholars, academics, scientists, etc. that have suddenly entered a zone they find inexplicable: the X-Files on steroid…
Yet, in an age when our mediatainment systems spend hundreds of millions making super-hero action and Sci-Fi films and blockbuster hits like Avatar, etc. where cartoon action heroes and anti-heroes take the stage. And, young boys and men of 15 – 30 play mmo’s where sword & sorcery, space aliens, or other multiplayers games killing and shooting their way to glory. While our armed forces use the same computational skills learned in games to fly drones for assassin hits in far corners of the earth. We seem to be in a cartoon world come undone, where the games have dripped out into reality between the folds of our symbolic human security systems and into the wilderness of the wild and monstrous Real.
The futuristic flu is a weapon of bio-psychic violence sent by psychopathic children against their narcissistic parents. …It’s war.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
CAPITAL THINKS TOO
I have Nick Land to thank for pointing me to an article by Matteo Pasquinelli a philosopher and Assistant Professor in Media Studies at Pratt Institute, New York. He wrote the book Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (NAi,2008) and edited the anthology Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and Its Traumas (Meson, 2015) among others. With Wietske Maas he also wrote The Manifesto of Urban Cannibalism (2012). Website: http://www.matteopasquinelli.org. The article in question is Capital Thinks Too: The Idea of the Common in the Age of Machine Intelligence. (Read it!) In this article Pasquinelli remarks by way of conclusion:
…the new abstractions of science, the new technologies of computation and augmented intelligence, should be adopted within an extended definition of both money and labour (ending the linguistic turn of the ‘90s). As much as Marx framed the impact of ‘general scientific labour’ and ‘general social knowledge’ on the industrial machine, in the same way the impact of new technologies of intelligence on the financial machine has to be registered. Computational economics is directly incarnated today by the digital apparatuses and central algorithms of global corporations. Indeed as Phillip Mirowski has argued following Donna Haraway’s insight, economics has become a ‘cyborg science.’ At the end of 2015, IBM launched the application of its Artificial Intelligence system Watson to business solutions. Looking for a new brand, IBM came up with the clumsy expression cognitive business. The pay-off reads: ‘cognitive business is a business that thinks.’ Artificial Intelligence is advertised here as the best way to turn endless dataflows into the recognition of social patterns and prediction of social tendencies. How do you think a form of capital that is already thinking you?
Voodoo passages through the black mirror. It will scare the fuck out of you.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
THE MACHINE THAT ATE THE WORLD
Nietzsche once told us that a philosopher who has passed through many kinds of health, and keeps passing through them again and again, has passed through an equal number of philosophies; he simply cannot but translate his state every time into the most spiritual form and distance – this art of transfiguration just is philosophy.5 Are we not in that conundrum between Capital and Artificial Intelligence unable to discern if we are thinking it or if it is thinking us? Of course we all remember that old Chinese jokester, Chuang Tzu who said of butterflies and men: “Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.” Could we not ask: Am I an artificial intelligence dreaming I am a man, or a man dreaming I’m becoming an artificial intelligence? Of course the point may be mute now that Google AI algorithm masters ancient game of Go:
A computer has beaten a human professional for the first time at Go — an ancient board game that has long been viewed as one of the greatest challenges for artificial intelligence (AI).
The best human players of chess, draughts and backgammon have all been outplayed by computers. But a hefty handicap was needed for computers to win at Go. Now Google’s London-based AI company, DeepMind, claims that its machine has mastered the game.
Hear that again: “its machine has mastered the game”. What will it be when it says; “its machines has mastered man”? But isn’t this what essentially is already being said above? Are humans being mastered by the hyperstitions of neoliberal abstract machines, cannibalized by the incessant algorithms, mediscapes, immaterial economic bitworlds and narratives that are in collusion, converging toward that moment of Singularity wherin men become machines, and machines become men. Nietzsche’s art of transfiguration might entail a difference: this art of transfiguration just is the Game of Artificial Intelligence. Will this not entail a traumatic sacrifice of the human unto the inhuman, a sacred violence without precedence or origin? The inhuman machinic genesis of a new freedom? A world of machinic intelligence far outstripping the three-pound computational functions of our human organism?
Level-1 or world space is an anthropomorphically scaled, predominantly vision-configured, massively multi-slotted reality system that is obsolescing very rapidly.
- Nick Land, Meltdown
Carston’s will remind us of Land’s mid-nineties forays with CCRU. Exulting in capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode,’ hyperstition accelerates the tendencies towards chaos and dissolution by invoking irrational and monstrous forces – the Cthonic Old Ones. As Land explains, these forces move through history, planting the seeds of hyperstition:
John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness includes the (approximate) line: “I thought I was making it up, but all the time they were telling me what to write.” ‘They’ are the Old Ones (explicitly), and this line operates at an extraordinary pitch of hyperstitional intensity. From the side of the human subject, ‘beliefs’ hyperstitionally condense into realities, but from the side of the hyperstitional object (the Old Ones), human intelligences are mere incubators through which intrusions are directed against the order of historical time. The archaic hint or suggestion is a germ or catalyst, retro-deposited out of the future along a path that historical consciousness perceives as technological progress.
Like some strange attractor pulling us toward it even as the bullet train nose-dives towards us, the temporal flux begins to ebb and flow, thermospasms erupting everywhere along the axial continuum of historical error, producing those unintended effects that are slowly but surely awaiting that event both here and there, now and then when the singular process of emerging intelligences weave us into its escaping velocity of accelerating timewaves: the moment when all time stops, an interval of duration longer than eternity in which the timespace continuum gives birth to an inexistent… God (Meillassoux).
Just another day in the hyperstitional fast lanes of the Artificial Intelligence transfiguration parade… where the abyss opens up shop in the “night of the world”. The question to be asked: What does the Left do against such ingrained pressure of technological and economic determinisms? Can it do anything more than talk to itself in its psychotic circle of failure? That is the question. Is there an answer?
Government is rotted to its core with narco-capital and collapsing messily. Its recession leaves an urban warscape of communication arteries, fortifications, and free-fire zones…
– Nick Land, Meltdown
POSTSCRIPT: LEFTWARD HO!
Does the Left have a hyperstitional project to circumvent the abstract machines that seem impervious to the older forms of Marxian dialectic and failed revolutionary or emancipationist rhetoric? Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work ask:
Where did the future go? For much of the twentieth century, the future held sway over our dreams. On the horizons of the political left a vast assortment of emancipatory visions gathered, often springing from the conjunction of popular political power and the liberating potential of technology. From predictions of new worlds of leisure, to Soviet-era cosmic communism, to afro-futurist celebrations of the synthetic and diasporic nature of black culture, to post-gender dreams of radical feminism, the popular imagination of the left envisaged societies vastly superior to anything we dream of today. Through popular political control of new technologies, we would collectively transform our world for the better. Today, on one level, these dreams appear closer than ever. The technological infrastructure of the twenty-first century is producing the resources by which a very different political and economic system could be achieved. Machines are accomplishing tasks that were unimaginable a decade ago. The internet and social media are giving a voice to billions who previously went unheard, bringing global participative democracy closer than ever to existence. Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing all portend a world where the scarcity of many products might be overcome. New forms of computer simulation could rejuvenate economic planning and give us the ability to direct economies rationally in unprecedented ways. The newest wave of automation is creating the possibility for huge swathes of boring and demeaning work to be permanently eliminated. Clean energy technologies make possible virtually limitless and environmentally sustainable forms of power production. And new medical technologies not only enable a longer, healthier life, but also make possible new experiments with gender and sexual identity. Many of the classic demands of the left – for less work, for an end to scarcity, for economic democracy, for the production of socially useful goods, and for the liberation of humanity – are materially more achievable than at any other point in history.6
Throughout the derelict warrens at the heart of darkness feral youth cultures splice neo-rituals with innovated weapons, dangerous drugs, and scavenged InfoTech.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
I’ll turn to their work in a future post. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if their optimism overreaches in its hyperbolic mobility of technology? This statement’s conclusions might lead us to unintended consequences: “Through popular political control of new technologies, we would collectively transform our world for the better.” The word “control” is misplaced. Control is a keyword of dominion, mastery, and enslavement. The power-over rather than power-with as in sharing and cooperation. If we remember correctly it is technology itself that had its own agenda as Land and others showed.
I remember Lewis Mumford, Jaques Ellul, Langdon Winner, and Philip Mirowski who all in their own way warned of this too quick coupling of intelligence and machine: that good old mother Ananke, Necessity, might just have her own agenda to keep. Freedom is just another node on the Mobius strip of amor fati – our love of technology might appear to offer freedom, when in fact it might lead to that singular movement (desire) at the core of our inhuman desires (death drives). War has always been the obverse of the plow, and most of our innovations have come by way of the apotrapaic facilitation of defense or offense in times of war, not peace. Yet, in a time when immaterial financialization has stripped innovation of its charm, and the circular world of algorithmic trading with AI’s works its magic in a feed-back system based on the pure hunt for profit, the human creativity one would expect is losing to the inane excess of artificial systems spinning in the electronic void for its masters.
The meltdown of metropolitan education systems in the near future is accompanied by a quasi-punctual bottom-up takeover of academic institutions, precipitating their mutation into amnesiac cataspace-exploration zones and bases manufacturing cyberian soft-weaponry.
– Nick Land, Meltdown
Conflict, agon, competition: the staple of neoliberal aggressiveness, and also if Zizek and others are correct, the inescapable truth of our traumatic and psychotic break with natural process, the “miracle” and wonder of our conscious existences. Will the balance between Life and Death hold in the coming century? We can only hope and work toward the resolute and indefatigable counter to the systems of dominion that seek to enslave us within and without. We have no other choice. If we do nothing, they win.
by Simon Reynolds
Smack in the middle of the United Kingdom, Leamington Spa is like a less picturesque Bath--genteel, sedate, irredeemably English in a Masterpiece Theater sort of way. But the town has darker undercurrents: Aleister Crowley was born here in 1875, and today it's home to a mysterious entity called Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. Now in its third year of existence, CCRU's institutional status is, to say the least, disputed. Which is why its membership is currently holed up in an office on The Parade (Leamington's main street), rather than working c/o the Philosophy Department of Warwick University a few miles away, as was the case the last academic year.
Since my knowledge of CCRU stems from its disorientating textual output--the journal Abstract Culture--plus a few wilfully opaque email communiques, I've scant idea what I'll encounter after pressing the button marked 'Central Computer'. Inside CCRU's top-floor HQ above The Body Shop, I find three women and four men in their mid to late twenties, who all look reassuringly normal. The walls, though, are covered with peculiar diagrams and charts that hint at the breadth and bizareness of the unit's research.
But before I can enquire further, I'm entreated to sit in the middle of three ghettoblasters. CCRU have prepared a re-enactment of a performance-cum-reading given at their Virotechnics conference in October 1997. The first cassette-player issues a looped cycle of words that resembles an incantation or spell. From the second machine comes a text recited in a baleful deadpan by a female American voice--not a presentation but a sort of prose-poem, full of imagery of "swarmachines" and "strobing centipede flutters". The third ghettoblaster emits what could either be Stockhausen-style electroacoustic composition or the pizzicato, mandible-clicking music of the insect world. Later, I find out it's a human voice that's been synthetically processed, with all the vowels removed to leave just consonants and fricatives.
Even without the back-projected video-imagery that usually accompanies CCRU audio, the piece is an impressively mesmeric example of what the unit are aiming for--an ultra-vivid amalgam of text, sound, and visuals designed to "libidinise" that most juiceless of academic events, the lecture. CCRU try to pull off the same trick on the printed page. Their "theory-fiction" is studded with neologisms, delirious with dystopian cyberpunk imagery, and boasts an extravagantly high concentration of ideas per sentence. Bearing the same distillate relation to its sources (Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Paul Virilio,William Gibson) that crack does to cocaine, CCRU-text offers an almighty theory-rush.
What CCRU are striving to achieve is a kind of nomadic thought that--to use the Deleuzian term-- "deterritorializes" itself every which way: theory melded with fiction, philosophy cross-contaminated by natural sciences (neurology, bacteriology, thermodynamics, metallurgy, chaos and complexity theory, connectionism). It's a project of monstrous ambition. And that's before you take into account the the most daring deterritorialisation of all--crossing the thin line between reason and unreason. But as they say, later for that.
Founded in the 1960s, Warwick rapidly became the epitome of a modern university.
Through the early to mid Seventies, the university was rife with militancy--not just student unrest, but discontent amongst the staff (70 percent of whom at one point gave a vote of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor). Socialist historian E.P.Thompson was a "thorn in the side of the adminstiration", recalls one Warwick veteran, and eventually left because he wasn't given the Labour History Unit he was promised. At the same time, Warwick was ahead of its time in terms of seeking corporate funding, such that by the mid-Eighties Margaret Thatcher could describe it as her favourite university. "Warwick University Inc." (as E.P. Thompson titled a book) is financially buoyant compared with other British universities, and well prepared for any future withdrawal of government funding that may be up the current Labour administration's sleeve.
Warwick also has a very modern Philosophy Department. It is Britain's largest graduate school in philosophy outside Oxford, with about 120 postgraduate and masters students, and a similar number of undergraduates. The majority are lured by the department's reputation as the country's leading center for Continental Philosophy. Events like the October 1997 "DeleuzeGuattari and Matter" seminar and "Going Australian", a February 1988 conference devoted to the new school of Australian feminist philosophy, indicate the kind of work going on at Warwick. It is to this cutting edge Philosophy Department to which CCRU was linked in a fatally ambigous fashion.
In a typically gnomic e-mail, CCRU outlined its history. "Ccru retrochronically triggers itself from October 1995, where it uses Sadie Plant as a screen and Warwick University as a temporary habitat. ...Ccru feeds on graduate students + malfunctioning academic (Nick Land) + independent researchers +.... At degree-O Ccru is the name of a door in the Warwick University Philosphy Department. Here it is now officially said that Ccru does not, has not, and will never exist'. " CCRU sees itself as the academic equivalent of Kurtz, the general in Apocalypse Now who used unorthodox methods to achieve superior results than the tradition-bound US military. CCRU claim that its frenzied interdisciplinary activity embarrassed the Philosphy Dept, resulting in the termination of the unit. Just as Kurtz disappeared "up river" into the Vietnamese jungle, the CCRU have strategically withdrawn to their operational base above the Body Shop.
"There is no conspiracy, it's so pedestrian," insists Professor Andrew Benjamin, Director of Graduate Studies at Warwick's Philosophy Department. Benjamin is a well-respected post-structuralist scholar with numerous books to his name. As editor of the Warwick Studies in Philosophy (the best-selling Continental Philosophy series in the English language), he's responsible for anthologies like The Difference Engineer: Deleuze & Philosophy Audibly beaming with pride, the Australia-born Benjamin talks up Warwick as "an incredibly fabulous philosphy dept where Deleuzians lie down with Derrideans, and even lie down with analytic philosphers. Basically, there isn't any postmodern crap done here, it's quite rigorous stuff."
According to Benjamin, CCRU was originally set up for Dr Sadie Plant, freshly recruited from Birmingham University to be a Research Fellow attached to Warwick's Faculty of Social Science. But the unit--organised around her interests in cyber-theory and involving a number of postgraduate students she'd brought over from Birmingham--was initially tied to the Philosophy Department, owing to Plant's particular interests, like Deleuze & Guattari. The plan was for the unit to become an independent, freestanding entity, with the postgrads registered as CCRU rather than philosophy students. But Dr Plant unexpectedly quit her job March 1997, before the paperwork was completed. The university decided to wind CCRU down, with Plant's main ally at Warwick, Nick Land, taking over her role as Director for the unit's final year of official existence.
But when Benjamin elaborates on the procedural intricacies, it's easy to empathise with CCRU's paranoia. "See, there isn't such a thing as the CCRU," he insists. "Within the university system you can set up a thing called a center for research, then you take the planned center to various committees and put it through this system in whose terms that center would be legitimised, have an external committee overseeing standards, et cetera. Because Sadie left early, that procedure didn't happen. Officially, you would then have to say that CCRU didn't ever exist. There is, however, an office about 50 metres down the corridor from me with CCRU on the door, there's a group of students who meet there to have seminars, and to that extent, it it is a thriving entity. Informally, it did exist, still does, lots of things go on under its aegis. But that office will disappear at the end of the year. A number of students thought there was a conspiracy, there's a lot of gossip and carry-on, but the fact is--had Sadie decided to pursue an academic career, CCRU would have been a viable, ongoing entity."
Thin as rake in her brown leather jacket, dragging on a Camel Light, Sadie Plant looks every bit the cyberpunkette. Currently, she's the most famous "media academic" in Britain--writing for quality newspapers, pontificating on the famous BBC Radio programme "Start The Week" (a sort of highbrow Howard Stern) alongside Gore Vidal and Martin Amis. Plant's elevation to intellectual celebrity status began well before the late 1997 publication of her acclaimed Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture. Although she's far from happy with the marketing of Zeros as a Nineties cyberfeminist equivalent to The Female Eunuch, there are striking parallels between Plant and Germaine Greer (who taught at Warwick's English department before quitting to write Eunuch). "When I went to see the Vice Chancellor about leaving, he said 'I don't believe it, Germaine Greer pulled this on us as well'", says Plant, flashing her buck-toothed smile.
We're in a cafe in Birmingham, the industrial Midlands metroplis where Plant grew up and where she returned after quitting Warwick.The way Sadie tells it, she never really wanted to be an academic in the first place, but just fell into a university career. After transforming her Manchester University philosophy PhD on Situationism into The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International In A Postmodern Age, Plant accepted a Lecturer's position at Birmingham University's Department of Cultural Studies. Back in the Seventies, when it was called Centre For Contemporary Cultural Studies, the department was a vibrant place, home of the "resistance through rituals" school of neo-Gramscian subcultural theory (Paul Willis, Dick Hebdige, Stuart Hall, et al). But the CCCS spirit was long gone by the time Plant arrived. The only redeeming aspect was the undergraduate and graduate students, who shared Plant's enthusiasm for rave culture and digital technology.
Plant was on the verge of quitting academia for good, when the opportunity of a Research Fellowship at Warwick presented itself in 1995. Warwick was already a cyber-theory hotbed, what with its 1994 and '95 Virtual Futures conferences. There were strong alliances between like-minds at Birmingham and Warwick: the VF events had involved some of Plant's Birmingham proteges (who appeared at VF95 in their proto-CCRU incarnation Switch), while Plant and Nick Land had actually been creative-and-sexual partners for a couple of years and remained close. With the promise of her very own research center dangled before her, Plant decided to give academia one last shot, and brought many of her Birmingham students with her to form CCRU.
For the first year of its existence, 1995/1996, Cybernetic Culture Research Unit was characterised by "a frantic atmosphere" of interdisciplinary excitement, involving reading groups, lectures series, research-sharing sessions, seminars like 1996's Afro-Futures, and the confrontational journal ****Collapse. There was an exhilirating sense of being at the heart of something new. This first phase of the unit's life climaxed with Virtual Futures 96: Datableed, which was wholly organised by the CCRU (the first two VF's had been put together by postgraduates attached to Professor Benjamin's Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature). Advertised as "an antidisciplinary event" aiming "to explore the smearing of previously discrete cultural spheres", VF96 alternated DJ sessions with sound-and-vision enhanced talks by a diverse range of guests--theorist Manuel De Landa, journalists Steve Beard and Mark Sinker, SF writer Pat Cadigan, and cyberfeminist Linda Dement, to name just a handful.
By the second year of its existence, tensions emerged between the CCRU-virus and its host, the Philosophy Department. Warwick had expected something closer to traditional notions of cyberculture: Internet studies, basically. But what actually took shape reflected Plant and Land's interest in hooking up cybernetics in the original Norbert Wiener sense (information flows, dissolving the difference between living and non-living systems) to compatible elements of Deleuze & Guattari (schizo-analysis, machinic desire, the biomechanical continuum of material reality), plus chaos, complexity and connection theory. "Cyber", as CCRU conceived it, also connoted "cyberpunk": the theory-fiction goal of academic writing that rivalled the hallucinatory rush you got from Neuromancer and Blade Runner.
Warwick clearly got more than it bargained for. Benjamin admits to having "mixed feelings about what Sadie and Nick do", professes to be mystified by "the meaningless term" that is cyber-theory, and keenly stresses the fact that CCRU and the Philosophy Department "are quite separate things". One of Benjamin's administrative colleagues notes drily that "very little" CCRU work "was published in philosophy journals." For her part, Sadie Plant emphasises the practical problems caused by the CCRU students' interdisciplinary approach, like "the need for external examiners.... It would have suited us to be able to just sweep all that away, but it's not so easy."
CCRU are less diplomatic, railing against "disciplinary templates" that obstruct "real research". "You're not allowed to follow these things where they want to go," says Mark Fisher, a cleancut young man who speaks with an evangelical urgency and agitated hand gestures. "You're not allowed to find anything out.... Because who would mark it?!". He cites the example of the PhD work of CCRU's Suzanne Livingston, which was challenged by one Philosophy Department member on the grounds--"what's neurology got to do with capitalism?".
After Plant left, CCRU embarked upon a second phase of trying "to occupy the university" and create a "non-disciplinary" atmosphere by forging links with postgraduates in the Mathematics and Science departments. But this petered out "with no real engagement". The final breaking point came with the Fall '97 Virotechnics conference, which CCRU decided to hold off campus at a media conference center in Wolverhampton, 35 miles from Warwick. According to CCRU, Nick Land effectively had to resign his lecturer's job in order to attend Virotechnics. "Nick had to cancel a simultaneously scheduled seminar at the university, hastily set up as an opportunity for him to explain the increasingly perplexing direction of CCRU's research", explains CCRU's Steve Goodman. Every couple of years, the staff of university departments make an assessment of the publications the department has produced. Since the kind of work Land and his proteges were producing was not considered philosophy, and therefore not counted in any departmental assessment, Land felt obliged to resign, effective the end of the academic year.
Virotechnics was the culmination of the unit's second-phase attempt "to rigorise a kind of diagrammatic study programme in the university," says Land, referring to CCRU's alloy of science and philosphy. "That was really not acceptable, it's fair to say, to the Philosophy Department. So the third phase is take that programme outside the university." While CCRU members continue to finish their PhD's and teach, they regard these activities as " lower-order intensity"; the real action takes place at the Leamington HQ. "There's nothing more unproductive than engaging in this lifelong struggle to get intensity into the academy," says an exasperated Fisher. "It's hopeless and thankless." He maintains that the Philosophy Dept's attitude to CCRU ranges from "outright hostile" to "embarassment", but the general strategy "is to wait for it to die rather than to actively kill it."
Nick Land is the kind of "vortical machine" (to use a fave CCRU trope) around which swirl all manner of outlandish and possibly apocryphal stories. Didya hear about the phase Nick went through only talking in numbers? Or the time he was taken over by three distinct entities? True or not, there's no deying the fact that, as Lecturer in Continental Philosophy, Dr Land has been a "strange attractor" luring students to Warwick purely through his personal reputation. A colleague who sat in on Land classes in the early Nineties remembers both his "impressive pedagogic commitment" and his charisma. "Despite his diffident, tentative way of suggesting things, Nick had a real presence.... It was conspicuous that his gang of groupies did fall apart during his sabbatical term."
The Thirst For Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, Land's sole book-length publication to date, is a remarkable if deranged mix of prose-poem, spiritual autobiography and rigorous explication of the implications of Bataille's thought (if taken seriously, comparable to "syphilis of the mind"). Prefiguring CCRU's struggles with university bureaucracy, the book drips with anti-academic bile, occasionally spilling over into flagellating self-disgust. Philosophy itself is castigated as "the excruciation of libido". Thirst For Annihilation's polymathically perverse range of learning (thermodynamics, cyclone formation, the Menger sponge), and phrases like "vortex of vulvo-cosmic dissolution" that blend scientific language with darkside mysticism, anticipate the CCRU's work.
In the early Nineties, Land was wont to describe himself as a "professor of delirial engineering", recalls the colleague. He also went through a "glorious phase in which he offered millenial prophecies for the next global meltdown in world markets, a deduction based on past such cycles. It rather smacked of an infatuation with the power of numbers."
As much chaos magician as chaos theorist, Land is said to be thoroughly versed in the gamult of occult knowledge and parapsychology: the I Ching, Current 93 (Aleister Crowley's kundalini-like energy force), Kabbalist numerology, H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and the eschatological cosmology of Terence McKenna (a neo-hippy evangelist for plant-based hallucinogens like psilocybin and DMT). Much of CCRU's thought seems to emanate from an uncanny interzone between science and superstition. (Both of which appeal to rigorous method, of course.)
After reading Thirst For Annihilation's valedictory salute to "the saints, shamans, werewolves, vampires, and lunatics with whom I have communed,", and his self-description in ***Collapse as "a palsied mantis constructed from black jumpers and secondhand Sega circuitry, stalking the crumbling corridors of academe systematically extirpating all humanism", I expected Land to be an emaciated and eldritch figure. Stick insect thin, he is. But Land's gentle voice and impishly twinkling eyes make him closer to a playgroup leader than a dark magus. He and the CCRU crew ply me with endless cups of tea while explaining the curious diagrams on the walls.
There's a chart that synthesises Kabbalah's Tree of Life with H.P. Lovecraft, and is related to a magickal system called tangential tantra. "Instead of summoning or invoking, you're setting up a magical event that will be cut across from the forces of the Outside, so unanticipated events will happen," explains Land. Another poster--influenced by J.G. Ballard's concept of "deep time" as outlined in his catastrophe novel The Drowned World--depicts a cross section of the human spine, with different vertebrae aligned to different phases of human prehistory. And there's a chart that divides human history into a series of periods--"the primitive socius, the despotic state, capitalism" --culminating in a post-human phase named "Unuttera", which I learn refers to "The Entity or polytendriled abomination" at the End of Time.
The most recent diagram represents the culmination of CCRU's forays into the occult numerological techniques of digital reduction and triangular numbering. A spiral bisected by a number scale that descends from 9 to one, the diagram looks rather ordinary. But as CCRU explain its implications to me at considerable length (something to do with allowing them to understand "concepts as number systems) it becomes clear they sincerely believe it contains something on a par with the secret of the universe. The 9-spiral mandala--the Barker Scale, they call it--is the end-product of CCRU's determination to abandon "the fuzziness of discursive articulation" (philosophy) and move into "a much crisper, more rigorous and productive diagrammatic style", says Land. ("Crisp and rigorous" is one of his favourite phrases, despite the stress it puts on his weak 'R').
The diagram was a gift from "Professor Barker". Inspired by Professor Challenger--the Conan-Doyle anti-hero reinvented by Deleuze & Guattari in "The Geology of Morals" section of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia--Barker appears to be a sort of imaginary mentor who hips the CCRU to various cosmic secrets. "But we'd be a bit reluctant to say 'imaginary' now, wouldn't we?," cautions Land with a mischievous glint in his eye. "We've learned as much--well, vastly more from Professor Barker --than supposedly 'real' pedagogues!". As CCRU's "avatar", Barker has revealed the "Geo-Cosmic Theory of Trauma". Following the materialist lead of Deleuze & Guattari, human culture is analysed as just another set of strata on a geocosmic continuum. From the chemistry of metals to the non-linear dynamics of the ocean, from the cycles of capitalism to the hyper-syncopated breakbeat rhythms of jungle, the cosmos is an "unfolding traumascape" governed by self-similar patterns and fundamental processes that recur on every scale.
Libidinising "flows" and investing them with an intrinsically subversive power, Deleuze & Guattari have been criticised as incorrigible Romantics. CCRU develop this element of A Thousand Plateaus into a kind of mystic-materialism. Discussing what CCRU call "Gothic Materialism" ("ferro-vampiric" cultural activity which flirts with the inorganic and walks the "flatline" between life and death), Anna Greenspan talks about how "the core of the earth is made of iron, and blood contains iron", about how the goal is to "hook up with the Earth's metal plasma core, which is the Body-Without-Organs". Body-without-Organs (B-w-O) is the Deleuzian utopia, an inchoate flux of deterritorialised energy; Greenspan says they take the B-w-O as "an ethical injunction", a supreme goal.
O[rphan] D[frift>] also talk about "metal in the body" and seeking the B-w-O. Another Land-influenced theory-fiction collective, O[rphan] D[frift>] are CRRU's prime allies: they performed at VF96 and are staging an event in collaboration with CCRU/Switch at London's Beaconsfield Arts Centre, October of this year. Maggie Roberts and Ranu Mukherjee, the core of OD, originally met as Fine Art students at the prestigious-but-conservative Royal College, where their ideas about creating a form of multimedia-based synaesthetic terrorism oriented around "schizoid thinking", pre-linguistic autistic states and man-machine interfaces proved way too radical. Formed in late 1994, OD was shaped by two mindblowing experiences: "experimentation with drugs and techno", and a 1993 encounter with Nick Land.
"Before CCRU started at Warwick, Nick latched onto us very intensively for a while," says Roberts. "We fed him image experience, tactile readings of the stuff he was buried in theoretically. He wanted his writing to kick in a much more experiential way. For us, there was something wonderful about having a man you could ring up and ask: 'what's radiation?', 'what's a black hole?'".
OD's collective debut was a multimedia installation at London's Cabinet Gallery. What began as a catalogue for the show escalated into an astonishing 437 page book, Cyberpositive. Like Plant's Zeros + Ones, Cyberpositive is a swarm-text of sampled writings that aren't attributed in the text. But where Plant offers footnotes; OD merely list the "asked" and "un-asked" contributors at the end. Published in 1995, Cyberpositive serves as a sort of canon-defining primer for the CCRU intellectual universe, placing SF and cyberpunk writers on the same level as post-structuralist theorists. "We treat Burroughs as clearly as important a thinker as any notional theorist," says Nick Land, "At the same time, every great philosopher is producing an important fiction. Marx is obviously a science fiction writer." For her part, Sadie Plant regards the Eighties cyberpunk novelists like Gibson and Cadigan as "more reliable witnesses", precisely because, unlike theorists, "they don't have an axe to grind".
The most highly-charged passages in Cyberpositive are the hefty chunks of Plant/Land writing and Roberts's and Mukherjee's evocations of the techno-rave-Ecstasy-LSD experience. "I used to write a lot in clubs, which probably looked really pretentious," recalls Roberts. "Tracing what's happening in all the different sound channels and what they're doing spatially and physically to you". The language veers from masochistic mortification of the flesh ("deep hurting techno", "the meat is learning to know loss") to imagery influenced by voodoo and shamanic possession ("white darkness", "the fog of absolute proximity", "psyclone", "beautiful fear"). "It's trying to process the dissassembling of the self," says Roberts. "Maybe what you're calling abject, we'd call melting. The violence of the sounds in techno, it's like you're being turned inside out, smeared, penetrated."
Despite her facial piercing and techno-pagan accoutrements, Roberts has a sort of burned-out, aristocratic air that suggests Marianne Faithfull circa 1969. A half-smile flickering on her lips, as if she's privy to some kosmik joke, Roberts speaks in a faded falter--as though some unutterably alien zone of posthuman consciousness hasn't quite relinquished its hold. Which may be a pretty accurate description of the state of play. If CCRU have something of a cultic air about them, OD go a lot further. Combining Mayan cosmology with ideas about Artificial Intelligence, they sem to believe that humanity will soon abandon the "meat" of incarnate existence and become pure spirit. Throughout Cyberpositive there's the recurrent exhortation "we must change for the machines"; while the book ends with the declaration--"human viewpoint redundant."
Not only do OD reckon Charles Manson had some good ideas, their East London HQ contains several cages of snakes--proof of their determination to get really serious about voodoo rites. The obsession was sparked by Gibson's Count Zero, in which cyberspace has spontaneously generated entities equivalent to the loa (the spirit-gods of voudun cosmology). Throughout the interview, a shaven-headed OD member called Rich sits with baby boa constrictors wrapped around his body. His other contribution to the evening is to make some sandwiches--daintily quartered, but containing peanut butter mixed with sardines. "Too radical for me", I confess after one nibble. Rich's eyes light up triumphantly: Mind-Game Over.
"Cyberpositive" was originally the title of an essay by Sadie Plant and Nick Land. First aired at the 1992 drug culture symposium Pharmakon, "Cyberpositive" was a gauntlet thrown down at the Left-wing orthodoxies that still dominate British academia. The term "cyberpositive" was a twist on Norbert Wierner's ideas of "negative feedback" (homeostasis), and "positive feedback" (runaway tendencies, vicious circles). Where the conservative Wiener valorized "negative feedback", Plant/Land re-positivized positive feedback--specifically,: the tendency of market forces to generate disorder and destabilise control structures.
"It was pretty obvious that a theoretically Left-leaning critique could be maintained quite happily but it wasn't ever going to get anywhere," says Plant. "If there was going to be scope for any kind of....not 'resistance', but any kind of discrepancy in the global consensus, then it was going to have to come from somewhere else." That elsewhere was certain passages in A Thousand Plateaus where Deleuze & Guattari suggest that, in Plant's words, "you don't try and slow things down, you encourage them to go fast as possible. Which was interestingly connected to Marx's ideas about capitalism sweeping away the past. So we got into this stance of 'oh well, let it sweep away! Maybe it should sweep away faster'." Other crucial influences were neo-Deleuzian theorist Manuel De Landa's idea of "capitalism as the system of antimarkets", and, says Plant, historian-of-everyday-life Fernand Braudel's conception of capitalism as "an amalgam of would-be free market forces and state/ corporate/centralised control functions. So there isn't really any such thing called 'capitalism', it's just a coincidence of those two really extreme and opposed tendencies."
Plant and the CCRU enthuse about bottom-up, grass-roots, self-organising activity: street markets, "the frontier zones of capitalism", what De Landa calls "meshwork", as opposed to corporate, top-down capitalism. It all sounds quite jovial, the way they describe it now--a bustling bazaar culture of trade and "cutting deals". But "Cyberpositive" actually reads like a nihilistic paean to the "cyberpathology of markets", celebrating capitalism as "a viral contagion" and declaring "everything cyberpositive is an enemy of mankind". In Nick Land solo essays like "Machinic Desire" and "Meltdown", the tone of morbid glee is intensified to an apocalyptic pitch. There seems to be a perverse and literally anti-humanist identification with the "dark will" of capital and technology, as it "rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities". In "Meltdown", Land declares: "Man is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag".
This gloating delight in capital's deterritorialising virulence is the CCRU's reaction to the stuffy complacency of Left-wing academic thought; a sort of rubbing salt in the wounds (as when Land jibes at the "senile spectre" of Socialism, an allusion to The Communist Manifesto). "There's definitely a strong alliance in the academy between anti-market ideas and completely schleroticised, institutionalised thought," says Mark Fisher. "Marx has been outdated by cybernetic theory. It's obvious that capitalism isn't going to be brought down by its contradictions. Nothing ever died of contradictions!". Exulting in capitalism's permanent "crisis mode", CCRU believe in the strategic application of pressure to accelerate the tendencies towards chaos. The real struggle, says Fisher in fluent Deleuzian, is within capitalism and between "homogenisation processes and nomadic distribution.".
What feels from any everyday human perspective like catastrophic change is really anastrophe: not the past coming apart, but "the future coming together". Where Land gives this idea a millenial spin (he's described capitalism as "an invasion from the future", a virus retrochronically triggered by some kind of artificial intelligence to create the conditions for its own assembling--an idea that reads like it was spawned by watching Terminator on acid), Plant's attitude is more humanely ambivalent. In the mid-Eighties, for instance, she supported the Coal Miner's strike, a revolt against Thatcherite modernising policies and an attempt to preserve a traditional working class culture. Since then, she has come to believe that the privatisation and anti-welfare policies pursued by the Conservative goverment in the 1980s really did constitute "a revolution". She talks approvingly of the end of "the dependency culture", arguing that this helped catalyse the Nineties upsurge of British pop culture, fashion and art.
"Obviously it is painful for any particular community that ends up on the scrapheap of history", Plant says, looking appropriately pained. "But I've got a far more evolutionary view of history these days. Just as particular species or ecosystems flourish and die, so do human cultures". In the face of this "reality", she argues, the British Left is comparable with the Church of England: "Every so often it comes out and makes some moral statement about how terrible things are, but what's it going to do about it? Nothing."
Many Left-wing theorists would retaliate by arguing that the Plant/Land/CCRU pro-market stance is merely an intellectual accomodation to "realities" imposed by top-down corporate forces; that by mapping techniques appropriate for natural phenonema (chaos theory, non-linear dynamics) onto capitalism, they've effectively naturalized the free market, resulting in a kind of post-Deleuzian version of Social Darwinism. Judith Williamson--Professor of Cultural History at Middlesex University, and writer for the left-leaning newspaper The Guardian--accuses the CCRU of "inevitabilism".
"All these excitingly eroticised ideas about the flows of capital absolve one from morality," she says. "Most of capitalism's flows are deeply pernicious." The trouble with inevitablism is that it removes human agency from the picture, complains Williamson. "But human will is not nothing -- there have been these huge acts of courage and altruism throughout history." As neo-Deleuzians devoutly committed to impersonality, agency is precisely what Plant and the CCRU demote. "Nothing takes the credit--or the blame--for either the runaway tendencies at work or the attempts to regulate them," argues Plant in Zeros + Ones. "Political struggles and ideologies have not been incidental to these shifts, but cultures and the changes they undergo are far too complex to be attributed to attempts to make them happen or hold them back".
Williamson is an old sparring partner with Plant, Land and CCRU, having had several public fights with them at various academic events. The author of Consuming Passions: The Dynamics of Popular Culture, Williamson belongs to an earlier, Marx-influenced phase of British cultural theory, so the the clash between her and CCRU is partly generational. Recalling a famous spat in the bar of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, she recalls finding it "spooky that Nick Land and all these people spoke as one. You could not get 20 of my postgrad students in a room and have them agree with me. I find that scary--that messianic quality, like they've got the message"...A lot of what they say reminds me of tripping experiences, where you have that feeling that everything coheres and makes sense."
Another Williamson accusation--that CCRU lift ideas from chaos and complexity that describe material process but "apply them in a metaphorical way... as if using a concrete thing for a metaphor makes it not be a metaphor"--would especiallly infuriate CCRU. Metaphor, figurative language, the whole realm of representation and ideology: these are the enemy, as far as CCRU are concerned. "Our analysis is materialist, rather than ideological," says Goodman, "Whether the scale is geological, oceanic, socio-cultural, there are parallels going on at every scale". Despite drawing a lot from post-structuralism's assault upon the sovereign ego, CCRU detest deconstruction, precisely because of its treatment of the text as a cosmology and everything as metaphor. "The only thing that's powerful about books--their ability to plug into other machines outside themselves-- is completely destroyed by treating them as this macro-interiority that spreads over everything," spits Fisher, co-author of the hilarious and coruscating Abstract Culture rant "Pomophobia".
Hungry for intellectual reasons-to-be-cheerful, CCRU simultaneously renounce postmodernism's wan fatalism (the idea that we're at the end of everything) and the guilt-wracked impotence of the Left (Fisher talks, cyborg-style, about the relief of having "the false memory-chip of Socialist authenticity" removed from his brain). In the process, they've jettisoned the concept of "alienation" in both its Marxist and Freudian senses. They speak approvingly of "surplus value", sublimation and commodity-fetishism as creative tendencies. Where "Cyberpositive" noted how how runaway capitalism had accessed "inconceivable alienations", CCRU's collective essay "Swarmachines" goes further and climaxes with the boast: "alienated and loving it".
The idea, says Fisher, comes from a mix-and-blend of Lyotard and Blade Runner--"the proletariat as this synthetic class, of a revolution that's on the side of the synthetic and artificial. The concept of 'alienation' depends on the notion that there's some authentic essence lost through the development of capitalism. But according to Barker's Geo-Cosmic theory of trauma, everything's already synthetic." If reality really is a bio-mechanical continuum, there's no reason to resist capitalism's escalating dynamic of anti-naturalism: addiction to hyper-stimulus, the creation of artificial desires.
Willamson condes that "if there's one thing that's quite endearing about CCRU, it's the search for a kind of optimism.... Today it's very hard to have those sort of Sixties feelings of 'oh God, things are exciting, things can get better, new things can happen'". The mania of CCRU's texts--a mood-blend of euphoric anticipatioin and dystopian dread that Mark Dery called "dysphoria"--is certainly contagious. "A lot of things are exciting, but is it true?," cautions Williamson. "Music is a good parallel--you don't think 'this music explains the universe' just because you finds it charges you up". Again, the CCRU would fervently disagree. "The musical model is really key to us," says Land. "It's absurd to say that music doesn't represent the real and therefore it's an empty metaphor. Every theorist who hasn't a real place for music ends up with one-dimensional melancholia."
Not only do the CCRU derive a lot of their energy from music--specifically, the British rave genre of jungle a/k/a drum & bass--but popular culture is where their ideas seem most persuasive. Right from its late Eighties beginnings, rave culture's motor has been anarcho-capitalist and entrepreneurial: from promoters throwing illegal parties in warehouses and fields, to drug dealing. Even after its co-optation by the record and clubbing industries, rave music's cutting edge comes from the grass-roots: small labels, cottage-industry producers with home studios, specialist record stores, pirate radio.
Sadie Plant attributes these bottom-up economic networks to the end of dependency culture, forcing people "to get real and find some ways of surviving" but also to invent "new forms of collectivity" (the micro-utopian communality of the rave).
As a postgraduate in Manchester, Plant was swept up in that city's legendary 1988-90 rave scene. Currently, she's co-running a jungle club in Birmingham called Kleptomania, for which she creates back-projections involving "video feedback", an "orgasmically beautiful" effect that makes "everything looks like it's come from another world". Plant is also writing about book about the interface between drugs and technology. CCRU has a musical sub-component, Ko-Labs, engaged in making jungle tracks. The unit's latest recruit is Jessica Edwards, a researcher who has no affiliation with Warwick University whatsoever, but who used to be a professional dancer at raves and recently completed an undergraduate thesis entitled "Mapping the Liminal- Pentecostalism, Shamanism and Drum & Bass".
Despite being rave theorists and "sub-bass materialists", CCRU are surprisingly cagey when the topic of drugs is introduced. Acknowledging the cyborgizing, viral usefulness of drugs--as anorganic elements that enter the nervous system and engineer precise changes in consciousness--Land nonetheless resists the "relapse into a biographical narrative". Anna Greenspan talks of the negative "crash-and-burn" syndrome caused by drug abuse, and says the CCRU are more interested in building sustained plateaus of intensity. One outcrop of this is Suzanne Livingston's research into "long term rewiring of perception"--techniques of flash and flicker that restructure the brain, as already used by advertising, MTV, and rave promoters (lights, lazers and strobes).
As well as being galvanised by music, the CCRU are also influenced by the theory-driven leading edge of music journalism. One of their associate members is Kodwo Eshun, contributor to magazines like iD and The Wire and author of the forthcoming More Brilliant Than The Sun, a study of "sonic fiction" in black music from Sun Ra to jungle. He was guest of honour at CCRU's Afro-Futures seminar and gave a talk at VF96. Eshun describes himself and the CCRU as "concept-engineers", as opposed to thinkers. Critique, he argues, is a rhetorical mode that puts the heavy burden of History on your shoulders, whereas the concept-engineer is into speculation. "Most theory contextualises, historicizes and cautions; the concept-engineer uses theory to excite and ignite," Eshun proclaims. Where "thinker" evokes an effete and impotent ivory-tower detachment, "engineer" suggests someone who gets down-and-dirty with the material word (in Deleuzian terms, someone who operates and maintains desiring machines). Like a DJ or jungle producer, the concept-engineer is "a sample-finder": s/he's free to suspend belief in the ultimate truth-value of a theory and simply use the bits that work, in the spirit of Deleuze & Guattari's offering up of A Thousand Plateaus as tool-kit rather than gospel.
"Concept-engineer" is a good tag for the outerzone of "independent researchers" and amateur autodidacts to which CCRU is connected. Renegade theorists like Howard Slater, a Deleuze-freak whose techno-zine Break/Flow brilliantly analyses rave music in terms of "nonconceptual thought" and "impulsional exchanges", and celebrates the techno underground as a rhizomatic, insubordinate, post-media economy. And like Matthew Fuller, a media theorist/activist with a background in anarchist politics and links to the hacker underground. Fuller's CV of cultural dissidence includes flypostering, pirate radio, a non-Internet bulletin board called Fast Breeder, the scabrous freesheet Underground, and a series of anarcho-seminars like "Seizing The Media" dedicated to the theory and praxis of media terrorism. Fuller also put out the anthology Unnatural: Techno-Theory For A Contaminated Culture, which included Plant/Land's "Cyberpositive" and an essay by CCRU member Steve Metcalf.
Discussing his own cyber-theory writings, Fuller talks about dismantling traditional "modes of political address" and developing a sort of post-ideological realpolitik of resistance. A true concept-engineer, he believes in ransacking theory texts for task-specific ideas. "Publishers like Autonomedia and Semiotexte produce material that you don't have to be an academic to get into, so it circulates outside those milieux. When I give presentations at academic events, it's easy to see I'm in a more powerful position than the academics--I can steal all the advantages of their discipline, plus do something else with it that fucks it up totally."
Noting that Deleuze & Guattari are already being institutionalised into "the most dreary, saintly area of discourse", Fuller says he's dedicated to "cracking open those texts again, thinkers who originally opened stuff up to delirium and the irrational. I mix up different linguistic registers and narrative strategies so that the text writhes in the hands of the reader, so to speak. In that respect, there's a lot more to be learned from fiction than theory." Here Fuller chimes in with Sadie Plant, whose work-in-progress, Writing On Drugs, includes a fictional component. Plant says she hopes that subsequent books will become "pure fiction".
"The most enjoyable aspect of CCRU is that they are a gang -- PhD students with attitude!," says Eshun. Loathing the "necrotic side of philosphy, the chewing-over of dead thinkers' entrails", and bored limp by the "delibidinising" atmosphere of seminars, CCRU used to attend academic events, claims Eshun, expressly "in order to disrupt, undermine and ridicule.... They'd get into pitched battles with Derrideans!". Enhancing this picture of intra-academic gang-warfare, two of CCRU's allies from another university once turned up to an event sporting "colors": they'd printed up T-Shirts that mimicked the logo of Dolce & Gabbana, but stood for Deleuze & Guattari!
Weary of such sports, Plant, Land and CCRU have all enthusiastically embraced the idea of escaping "institutional lockdown" by going freelance. In addition to her drugs book, Plant is working on a film screenplay and says she can't imagine ever returning to academia. The CCRU hope to become a kind of independent think-tank, selling "commodities" on the intellectual free market--like their strikingly designed Abstact Culture (each "swarm" consists of five separate monographs bundled together) and, in the future, CD's, CD-ROM's and books. "The whole saga of the first phase of the CCRU was to do with negotiating bureaucratic space," says Fisher. "But we quickly realised that the institution didn't depend on university space itself , but on the collectivity."
It seems unlikely, however, that Plant and her erstwhile cronies will rejoin forces once they're out in the freemarket wilderness. Some kind of ideological rift seems to have occurred. Plant says she couldn't really go along with the trip into numerical mysticism, not least because she didn't like finding herself "in the role of the sensible, conservative one --not a role I'm used to!". CCRU, for their part, seem to have resented her premature departure from Warwick. Perhaps CCRU's fervent emphasis on collectivity stems in part from what Kodwo Eshun characterises as "an adaption to this harsh feeling of abandonment by this person who they really admired and who they decided to devote three, four years of their lives around." Plant, meanwhile, says she felt uncomfortable with being a guru figure.
"Nick's hermetic, he wants acolytes", says Eshun. "Whereas Sadie's this total communicator. Zeros + Ones is the return of the grand narrative with a vengeance. I can't think of any other writer with the same ambition. Sadie wants the world and I think she'll get it. " CCRU, meanwhile, are toying with the idea of relocating wholesale to India.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Continuing from where I left off J.G. Ballard: Chrontopia and Post-Consumerist Society.
Ballard in his short story Chronopolis will envision a world where Time as Clock-time has been outlawed. In this short story he takes us through the history of one particular Time-City, Chronopolis where every facet of peoples existence was ruled by time and its measurements. We first meet Conrad Newman in the free worlds beyond the great and ruinous Time City, who is awaiting trial for his criminal heresies: he has brought the great central clock, the symbol of absolute regulatory control back online.
We discover from a friend of his Stacey that
‘Thirty million people once lived in this city,’ Stacey remarked. ‘Now the population is little more than two, and still declining. Those of us left hang on in what were once the distal suburbs, so that the city today is effectively an enormous ring, five miles in width, encircling a vast dead centre forty or fifty miles in diameter.’1
As Stacy drives Newman around the Time City now in various stages of ruination he tells him it has been thirty-seven years to the day since the great central clock upon which all other clocks were synchronized stopped at 12:01 exactly. Conrad Newman is so taken with the beauty of this now dusty and ruinous city that when he comes upon an architectural landscape of buildings that seem so pristine and perfect he asks:
‘It’s impressive, all right. The people who lived here must have been giants. What’s really remarkable is that it looks as if they left only yesterday. Why don’t we go back?’ ‘Well, apart from the fact that there aren’t enough of us now, even if there were we couldn’t control it. In its hey-day this city was a fantastically complex social organism. The communications problems are difficult to imagine merely by looking at these blank façades. It’s the tragedy of this city that there appeared to be only one way to solve them.’ (Ballard, p. 159)
Conrad will ask how they solved the issue of travel, communication, etc. Stacy tells him that the solution came about by the simple notion of leaving themselves out of the equation:
‘Did they solve them?’ ‘Oh, yes, certainly. But they left themselves out of the equation. Think of the problems, though. Transporting fifteen million office workers to and from the centre every day, routeing in an endless stream of cars, buses, trains, helicopters, linking every office, almost every desk, with a videophone, every apartment with television, radio, power, water, feeding and entertaining this enormous number of people, guarding them with ancillary services, police, fire squads, medical units – it all hinged on one factor.’ (Ballard, p. 159)
What was the factor? Stacey will tell him:
‘Time! Only by synchronizing every activity, every footstep forward or backward, every meal, bus-halt and telephone call, could the organism support itself. Like the cells in your body, which proliferate into mortal cancers if allowed to grow in freedom, every individual here had to subserve the overriding needs of the city or fatal bottlenecks threw it into total chaos. You and I can turn on the tap any hour of the day or night, because we have our own private water cisterns, but what would happen here if everybody washed the breakfast dishes within the same ten minutes?’ (Ballard, p. 159)
Conrad will discover that the in the Time City every man, woman, and child was regulated moment by moment by time, by the intervals in each second, minute, hour down to even the time allotted for sleep, eating, speaking, making love, playing with their children. It was also based on a sophisticated set of color codes and decodings:
‘There were a dozen socio-economic categories: blue for executives, gold for professional classes, yellow for military and government officials – incidentally, it’s odd your parents ever got hold of that wristwatch, none of your family ever worked for the government – green for manual workers and so on. But, naturally, subtle subdivisions were possible. The lower-grade executive I mentioned left his office at 12, but a senior executive, with exactly the same time codes, would leave at 11.45, have an extra fifteen minutes, would find the streets clear before the lunch-hour rush of clerical workers.’ (Ballard, p. 161)
After a thorough visit through the Time City Conrad will come to the center and see the great clock itself, asking:
‘Why did it stop?’ he asked. Stacey looked at him curiously. ‘Haven’t I made it fairly plain?’
Scarcity. The highly regulated and over organized populace was bound to resource scarcity, and the only way they could all share in its wealth was through absolute command and control of the resources, of which they were both victims and rulers. The whole point is recursitivity: the insertion of the human agent back into the Time Loop of the Regulatory System. Without this massive regulation of the human agent within the technological system that kept the running in perfect stasis: a negentropic machine, a perpetual motion machine bound to the cycles and rhythms not of organic life but of Time itself and its endless cycles or regulation and mathematic surplus the whole system would break down and dissolve.
As Stacy comes to the end of his story he explains to Conrad that there came a time when people rebelled:
‘Eventually, of course, revolt came. It’s interesting that in any industrial society there is usually one social revolution each century, and that successive revolutions receive their impetus from progressively higher social levels. In the eighteenth century it was the urban proletariat, in the nineteenth the artisan classes, in this revolt the white collar office worker, living in his tiny so-called modern flat, supporting through credit pyramids an economic system that denied him all freedom of will or personality, chained him to a thousand clocks . . .’
(Ballard, p. 162)
What’s humorous in this is that the metaphor itself: “revolution” is bound to natural cyclic time systems: late 14c., originally of celestial bodies, from Old French revolucion “course, revolution (of celestial bodies)” (13c.), or directly from Late Latin revolutionem (nominative revolutio) “a revolving,” noun of action from past participle stem of Latin revolvere “turn, roll back”. The sense that one could roll back time, return to some previous time, a time of pure time before Time as clock-time began its merciless regulatory infestation. But why have we been bound to periodic revolutions or roll-backs? Is the pressure of this regulatory system of a hypercapitalist technotopia acting like the clock mechanism itself? Does it from time to time need to be rewound? A new winding, a rejuvenation and resetting of its basic mechanisms to zero: a sort of festival of the Null Point, an Omega point of return and turning that escapes the boundaries of actual Time. A release from the strict rules of time-bound regulation? In this sense the time-between-times when societies held carnivals and topsy-turvy reversals of roles, when leaders stepped down and clowns became Kings? (Think of Vico, Joyce, Norman O. Brown….)
Think on this: Are we not now building the infrastructure for such a computational world of regulated bodies, a cognitariat that is nothing more than a mere machine, a member of the machinic phylum connected and plugged in to the intensive networks of a Time City that regulates every aspect of their existence in work and play. With the various Smart City initiatives around the planet which are only models of the future, rather than the future itself, or we not seeing the instigation of a 24/7 Society based on total temporal command and control. One that eventually will replace humans with robots and advanced AI?
Listen to this blurb for a Sino-Singapore Smart City of the Future:
Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC) will be a Smart City, integrating urban management systems, powered by leading information and telecommunication technologies which will drive sustainable economic growth, a high quality of life, and effective management of natural resources. … The Smart City will also provide an excellent test bed for leading edge technologies. SSGKC will exploit Next Generation Information and Communication Technology (ICT), cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to develop a world class city where residents can live and work in a safe, efficient and resource-efficient environment. The government administration will leverage on ICT technology to optimise the services delivery to residents and enterprises.
You will notice the phrasing: “safe”, “efficient”, “resource-efficient environment”, “leverage”, “optimize”, “services”… etc. The notion of ICT technologies as the new underpinning of this whole enterprise system and its society. And, above all, “government administration”: the top-down command and control of every facet of this world for you, an invisible network of administrators all attuned to providing you an information rich environment filled with the latest technologies, entertainment, 24/7 onlife paradise. What else would you need? – One wonders where murder and mayhem play into this new technological paradise? The breakdown between public and private, the boundaries of the individual will dissolve since security will prevail: safety-first, the ultimate in sociality… the new citizen as a networked netizen or Inforg (Informational Organism) whose life and mind is never private, but always connected to the Grid.
I kept thinking of my first visit to Disneyland as a child. My visit to Tomorrowland with all its gadgets, wonders, technological advances, etc. Then I look back at what it offered in some of the pictures in a book on that period, and how unrealistic their expectations were during the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s as if these companies truly want us to build new City States where the nouveau riche, the cognitariat and elite corporate executives will live their lives out in a Disneyfied technological environment of pure bliss and creativity. Technological sublime in its extreme mode of Utopian expectation.
Like many things that the great corporate think tanks, global banks, national and international regimes buy into is this notion of a technological imperative: as if technology will be the solution to their most pressing problems. And, for most advanced hypercapitalist societies and economies its about how to control the populace in such a way to gain every last drop of work and profit it can from them. As for the excluded and the non-workers? Their just shadow figures in a deflationary economics of scarcity, part of the drift of expendables and trash stocks that go without being said.
Yet, as such grand schemes for InfoSpheric cities becomes an options we should listen to some of the designers and engineers, such as Adam Greenfield, who in Against the smart city tells us – speaking of the various problems that the new technology faces:
There’s just no such thing as “an” interactive smart wall or “an” iris-recognition system, any more than there is “a” bike-sharing scheme or personal rapid-transit network. What do exist in the world are specific deployments of components from specific vendors, laminated together as particular propositions, and each of these may differ profoundly from other, similar propositions, along all of the axes that condition human interaction with them. It’s all but impossible to fairly evaluate claims about the performance of systems like these without knowing just what it is that’s being suggested. Information-technological components may certainly be modular and interoperable, in other words, but the systems built from them are not at all fungible.
“Several decades from now cities will have countless autonomous, intelligently functioning IT systems that will have perfect knowledge of users’ habits and energy consumption, and provide optimum service… The goal of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources by means of autonomous IT systems. – Siemens”
As Greenfield will suggest companies like Siemens, IBM, Cisco, and various other Smart City proponents are gearing up the hype and transitioning their core philosophical and corporate policies toward fulfilling this promise:
What we encounter in this statement is an unreconstructed logical positivism, which, among other things, implicitly holds that the world is in principle perfectly knowable, its contents enumerable and their relations capable of being meaningfully encoded in the state of a technical system, without bias or distortion. As applied to the affairs of cities, it is effectively an argument there is one and only one universal and transcendently correct solution to each identified individual or collective human need; that this solution can be arrived at algorithmically, via the operations of a technical system furnished with the proper inputs; and that this solution is something which can be encoded in public policy, again without distortion. (Greenfield, KL 442)
Greenfield will tell us that underpinning the basic assumption of most of the grand narratives and corporate hype is a specific hypothesis about both the future and human behavior. The first deals with the notion of complexity itself. Most of these companies reason that contemporary urban environment is so complex and so vexatious in its demands that no group of ordinary, unaided human beings can hope to understand it, let alone manage it wisely. Therefore the new Intelligent InfoSphere will need a new class of intelligent workers to maintain and reliably oversee the smooth operation of the systems, while at the same time enforcing the rules and regulations that bind the InfoSphere citizens to its regulatory system. Next will be the truth that the cognitariat and elite themselves cannot be entrusted with this task. As he states it:
Though it’s garbed for the moment in the seductive language of efficiency, agility and sustainability, we might as well call that current for what it is: the impulse toward authoritarianism, and the will to control over other human beings. This impulse is something that springs eternal in the human heart, no matter what language or technology it is couched in. It can be suppressed or defanged locally and temporarily, but it will surely burst forth again in a different guise, in a different time and place. The smart city happens to be the aspect in which we confront it in our time. (Greenfield, 1451)
So already the bottom line is these cities of the future will have as their founding principles a set of in-built perimeters based on command and control of both the Smart City itself as a system, and of the populace that presides and uses its services. As one ethicist will admit this world has been slow in coming but is speeding up, accelerating toward a future that is shaping and colonizing us through the hypermediation of advertising, corporate pressure, political and social disruption and chaos, setting the stage for our migration to a fully secured electronic paradise that will offer us every material advantage. The only thing it will ask of us is that we give up our freedom. As Floridia will state it ICTs are as much re-ontologizing our world as they are creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it. This recent phenomenon is variously known as ‘Ubiquitous Computing’, ‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’. I prefer to refer to it as the onlife experience. It is, or will soon be, the next stage in the development of the information age. With a slogan: hyperhistory happens onlife.3
For Floridi the greatest problem is the coming informational divide: the bifurcation between those who can be denizens of the infosphere and those who cannot, between insiders and outsiders, between information rich and information poor. It will redesign the map of worldwide society, generating or widening generational, geographic, socio-economic, and cultural divides. Yet the gap will not be reducible to the distance between rich and poor countries, since it will cut across societies. Pre-historical cultures have virtually disappeared, with the exception of some small tribes in remote corners of the world. The new divide will be between historical and hyperhistorical ones. We might be preparing the ground for tomorrow’s informational slums. (The Ethics of Information, p. 9)
Ballard for his part leaves us with time ticking in his anti-hero’s ear. His smart city, the time city, with its fully regulated codifications of life bound to its central clock against which the Order of Domination it objectified has become the symbol of the failed and lost future, a liminal zone of horror and static ruination teasing us with its perfect symmetries and angular worlds of light and sun. As Conrad is sitting in his cubicle he begins to chuckle as he realizes there is clock in his prison cell (one of the officers will tell him that they had to reinstall them to help the prisoners from going totally insane). After two weeks in isolation in this cell we hear Conrad “still chuckling over the absurdity of it all … later … he noticed the clock’s insanely irritating tick . . .” (Ballard, p. 168)
As our masters continue to build the great future pyramids of the new millennial cities of the coming Global InfoSphere let us be reminded of that “irritating tick…”. Tick toc, tick toc, tick toc….
1, Ballard, J. G. (2012-06-01). The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 156). Norton. Kindle Edition.
2. Greenfield, Adam (2013-12-20). Against the smart city (The city is here for you to use) (Kindle Locations 412-417). Do projects. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
by Steven Craig Hickman
For the first time Man will be living a full twenty-four hour day, not spending a third of it as an invalid, snoring his way through an eight-hour peepshow of infantile erotica.
– J.G. Ballard – Manhole 69
Continuing the line of thought I began in Nick Land: Chronogenesis & Urbanomy we discover in J.G. Ballard’s short story Manhole 69 he will envision a world where humans no longer sleep and the future is set adrift. One of the scientists who is part of an advanced exploratory team in this new world of sleeplessness, speaking to his team members says:
‘None of you realize it yet, but this is as big an advance as the step the first ichthyoid took out of the protozoic sea 300 million years ago. At last we’ve freed the mind, raised it out of that archaic sump called sleep, its nightly retreat into the medulla. With virtually one cut of the scalpel we’ve added twenty years to those men’s lives.’ (Ballard, p. 51)
When we think of Sleep we think of its porous, and suffused in-flows between waking, night and the dreamlands or nightmares we succumb to in its dark internal worlds; and, opposing this is its light twin whose departures into activity, daylight, and work send us back to the pain of our daily lives in consciousness. Sleep is the recurrence in our lives of a waiting, of a pause, a break in the temporal flow of our timebound lives in consciousness. It affirms the necessity of postponement, and the deferred retrieval or recommencement of whatever has been postponed. Sleep is a remission, a release from the “constant continuity” of all the threads in which one is enmeshed while waking. It seems too obvious to state that sleep requires periodic disengagement and withdrawal from networks and devices in order to enter a state of inactivity and uselessness. It is a form of time that leads us elsewhere than to the things we own or are told we need. Sleep is the dream of a non-utilitarian world, a world without labor.2
So when Ballard portrays a world beyond sleep, of endless light and work, he is satirizing the core motif of our hypercapitalism of 24/7 non-stop speed: non-stop production – otherwise known as interminable work (or as in Weber’s notion of the Protestant work ethic unbound). In defense of this 24/7 world of sleeplessness Neill, one of Morley’s protégé’s will say: “For the first time Man will be living a full twenty-four hour day, not spending a third of it as an invalid, snoring his way through an eight-hour peepshow of infantile erotica.” (Ballard, p. 51) Morley will remind him of the short story by Chekov of a young man who bet his life-in-total isolation and sense-deprivation to win a million rubles. At one minute before he is to emerge and win the bet suddenly steps out of the cage: and, as Morley says: “He was totally insane!” Neill for his part will chortle, saying:‘I suppose you’re trying to say that sleep is some sort of communal activity and that these three men are now isolated, exiled from the group unconscious, the dark oceanic dream. Is that it?’ (Ballard, p. 52) Finally, in exasperation Morley will throw up his hands and shout at Neill:
They’re never going to be able to get away, not even for a couple of minutes, let alone eight hours. How much of yourself can you stand? Maybe you need eight hours off a day just to get over the shock of being yourself.
(Ballard, p. 52)
One of the participants or victims of the experiment Lang will the next day speak up, speaking to Morley:
Lang gestured expansively. ‘I mean up the evolutionary slope. Three hundred million years ago we became air-breathers and left the seas behind. Now we’ve taken the next logical step forward and eliminated sleep. What’s next?’
Morley shook his head. ‘The two steps aren’t analogous. Anyway, in point of fact you haven’t left the primeval sea behind. You’re still carrying a private replica of it around as your bloodstream. All you did was encapsulate a necessary piece of the physical environment in order to escape it.’ (Ballard, p. 58)
This notion of encapsulation of a “necessary piece of the physical environment in order to escape it” has been central to many self-organizing forces in the world and universe. Boot-strapping processes or recursion is that ability to insert the loop of thought, self, process into its own circle of self-organization. A sort of time-spiral of progression in which things continually spawn ever greater change within their own systems. Complexity unbound. One of the central motifs of complexity theory, non-linear dynamics, and chaos theory in connection to the life sciences is this very ability of non-organic matter to display through these very processes the thing we term life. Some believe that this very notion of self-organizing complexity is not bound to humans only, but will in fact at some point in the ‘future’ be productive of machinic-life, too.
As the story goes on we see the men slowly devolve into insanity, their minds slowly losing all sense of time and space. Slowly they begin to feel a certain amount of closure of the world upon them till in the last instance each of them feels that they haven been shut up in a small manhole from which there is no escape. Neill and Morley will find them the next morning sitting in the gymnasium blank and unresponsive. They will try many things to bring the subjects back out of their psychosis. Speaking among themselves they surmise:
‘This room in which the man is penned for ten years symbolizes the mind driven to the furthest limits of self-awareness . . . Something very similar happened to Avery, Gorrell and Lang. They must have reached a stage beyond which they could no longer contain the idea of their own identity. But far from being unable to grasp the idea, I’d say that they were conscious of nothing else. Like the man in the spherical mirror, who can only see a single gigantic eye staring back at him.’ ‘So you think their withdrawal is a straightforward escape from the eye, the overwhelming ego?’ ‘Not escape,’ Neill corrected. ‘The psychotic never escapes from anything. He’s much more sensible. He merely readjusts reality to suit himself. Quite a trick to learn, too. The room in Chekov’s story gives me an idea as to how they might have re-adjusted. Their particular equivalent of this room was the gym. I’m beginning to realize it was a mistake to put them in there – all those lights blazing down, the huge floor, high walls. They merely exaggerate the sensation of overload. In fact the gym might easily have become an external projection of their own egos.’ Neill drummed his fingers on the desk. ‘My guess is that at this moment they’re either striding around in there the size of hundred-foot giants, or else they’ve cut it down to their own dimensions. More probably that. They’ve just pulled the gym in on themselves.’ (Ballard, p. 66)
This notion of psychotic closure and breakdown as a response to sleeplessness has been described in many journals of psychiatry, etc. In one recent article the researchers discovered:
Recent research suggests that each day with insufficient sleep increases our sleep debt and, when this sleep debt becomes large enough, noticeable problems appear (Coren, 1996a). These sleep-debt-related problems are most predictable at certain times of the day. This is because the efficiency of our physical and mental functions show cyclic increases and decreases in the form of circadian rhythms. While our major sleep/wakefulness rhythm has a cycle length of roughly 24 hours, there are shorter cycles as well, with the most important of these being a secondary sleep/wakefulness cycle that is around 12 hours. – See Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency
This notion of circadian rhythms is related to our perception of time: day/night, etc. Humans, like most living organisms, have biological rhythms, known as circadian rhythms (“body clocks”), which are controlled by a biological clock and work on a daily time scale. These affect body temperature, alertness, appetite, hormone secretion etc. as well as sleep timing. Due to the circadian clock, sleepiness does not continuously increase as time passes. A person’s desire and ability to fall asleep is influenced by both the length of time since the person woke from an adequate sleep, and by internal circadian rhythms. Thus, the body is ready for sleep and for wakefulness at different times of the day. (see Circadian rhythm sleep disorder)
Chronobiology studies the affects of temporality upon living organisms. It is a field of biology that examines periodic (cyclic) phenomena in living organisms and their adaptation to solar- and lunar-related rhythms. These cycles are known as biological rhythms. Chronobiology comes from the ancient Greek χρόνος (chrónos, meaning “time”), and biology, which pertains to the study, or science, of life. The related terms chronomics and chronome have been used in some cases to describe either the molecular mechanisms involved in chronobiological phenomena or the more quantitative aspects of chronobiology, particularly where comparison of cycles between organisms is required. (see Chronobiology)
In a previous post on Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep I spoke of Ballard’s notion of the fugue state as a form of space sickness:
At first touching only a small minority of the population, it took root like a lingering disease in the interstices of its victims’ lives, in the slightest changes of habit and behaviour. Invariably there was the same reluctance to go out of doors, the abandonment of job, family and friends, a dislike of daylight, a gradual loss of weight and retreat into a hibernating self. (Ballard, 1064)
Crary will see in our inability to envision the future a form of this space sickness, an inversion of the original Enlightenment project of progress that has instead begun to fill in the gaps of the future with pure simulations: this means in our contemporary world: the relentless capture and control of time and experience (Crary, 40) is the new project, the financialization of experience is the closure of the future within a command and control simulator that seeks algorithms of speed rather than acceleration and evolution in the usual sense of that term. Instead of self-organizing processes that lead to invention, design, art, and play we see the involuted dis-organizing principles of a static state-machine revolving in its own empty systems of hypersignification. The Reality Engineers of our new economics have taken over the place of religious prophets of ages past and now dictate the future as a financial project that only they as the truth mouthpiece of the invisible hand of the Market Gods know or understand. The new Economics of Reality is the closure of the loopholes in time, the exclusion of growth and the evolving systems of life for those of death and the interminable dance of a void that seeks only to overcome the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
We know that before the establishment of the Second Law, many people who were interested in inventing a perpetual motion machine had tried to circumvent the restrictions of First Law of Thermodynamics by extracting the massive internal energy of the environment as the power of the machine. Such a machine is called a “perpetual motion machine of the second kind”. The second law declared the impossibility of such machines. Yet, we see out Oracles of the New Economics of Globalization seeking just that: the power of a “perpetual motion machine” in which the InfoSphere as an data energy system changes the game. What they seek is to escape the “arrow of time” and entropy, to install a machinic pylum that will feed off the very thing it seeks to escape: the Future. The Future is a debt system, a way of pushing the debt indefinitely beyond out present moment. One could say that the new cosmopolitan centers of financial capitalism in the global context are Time Machines to stave off the ever accelerating truth of entropy. Chrontopias that seek to push the entropic affects into the far future through a veritable speeding up of the hypermediation of technology.
Most of these ideas are not new. One can see the notional truth of this scattered among various thinkers from Plato and Aristotle onward. Yet, it was only in the age of modern physics that these ideas could take on a more distinctive hue, enable thinkers in various worlds of physcis, economics, sociology, philosophy, and the sciences of complexity, non-linear dynamics, and chaos theory, etc. that a new enframing of the world became apparent. As Maurizio Lazzarato has shown in his The Making of the Indebted Man we live in a vacuum world that creates its illusion of timelessness on the backs of blackmail. Debt itself has become the new commodity, and the humans that support this death machine create a future that is always just out of reach because if the payment of the bill ever stepped out of the future into our present moment everything would collapse. So debt becomes the engine against entropy in a financial system that fears both the future and the payment it entails. One thinks of those sleep researches that discovered in their findings that as insufficient sleep increases our sleep debt noticeable problems appear. One can only begin to understand the problems appearing in a sleepless world of zombie consumerism as austerity measures and the insurmountable debt against the Future piles up, and the humans in various countries supporting such a Time-Machine begin to close down in their own manholes. How will the psychotic break that is to come discover its way out of the dark rooms of its own sleepless mind?
Ballard in many stories will study the effects of temporality from various perspectives. Ballard will in one of his interviews speak of the sense that Time is ending, not in the sense of an apocalypse but rather our very inner sense of time as change and movement:
Sections of the landscape will have no connection whatsoever with each other, in the way that many arts, such as pottery or ceramics have no connection to the events of politics or social eruptions.(Extreme Metaphors, p. 163)3
He will tell the interviewer that people no longer share a sense of a ‘central experience’: not “in the way people from the thirties can speak of a shared feeling of everyone being involved in great political currents, when you could see change coming and everybody shared in it equally” (EM, p. 163)
“Time will in a sense cease to exist; it won’t matter whether you’re living in 1982 or 1992 or 2002 – that sense of a single world will go." – (EM, p. 164)
Are we not living in that bleak landscape of timelessness in which the future has stopped, a speed world of accelerating electronic hypermedia in which the closure of time has encapsulated us within an irreal, anti-realist realm of simulated indifference rather than brought us to a point of emergent newness? Franco “Bifo” Berardi will document this Age of Apathy and disengagement, the slow corrosion of time and its closure within the speed factories of financial globalization:
During the twentieth-century social struggle could change things in a collective and conscious way because industrial workers could maintain solidarity and unity in daily life, and so could fight and win. Autonomy was the condition of victory because autonomy means the ability to create social solidarity in daily life, and the ability to self-organize outside the rules of labor and exploitation.4
He will see the new ICT technologies of information and communication as the key to this accelerating disaffection, saying, the “InfoSphere has dramatically changed and accelerated, and this is jeopardizing the very possibility of communication, empathy, and solidarity.” (Berardi, p. 14)
The Philosopher of Information Luciano Floridi will explore this notion of the accelerating InfoSphere suggesting that it denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.5
So the notion that financial capitalism and globalization are a project to stop time and the temporal movement of the future through speed techniques of hypermedia, an inversion of temporal evolution and progress – replacing a notion of a self-organizing evolving economy and political world of human solidarity with a timeless ultraconsumer society of zombies feeding off the remaining resources and each other for the profit and pleasure of a specific elite and cosmopolitan class of wealth is at the heart of this diagnosis.
Ballard himself in his last three novels began to explore this devolving world of the new wealthy elite and its global shutdown of the future. The voyeuristic zombification of the wealthy as vampiric and apathetic consumers of a rotting pleasure-pain criminality is at the heart of Cocaine Nights, Millennium People, and Super-Cannes. I have barely touched the surface of J.G. Ballard’s prescient diagnosis and fictionalization of our current malaise. At the center of it is a dark vision of Time in its various temporal stabilizations/destabilizations, its synchronic/diachronic time-loops and bootstrapping fallbacks, its deterretorializations/reterretorializations, and decodings/recodings of what Nick Land might suggest is its Templexity. If as Nick Land suggests cities of the global financial system, the cosmopolitan home of the great corporate networks and their affiliates, the playlands of the corporate and political elite are becoming Time-Machines, then what of the excluded realms beyond the glint and glitz of these paradisial enclaves?
1. Ballard, J. G. (2012-06-01). The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 51). Norton. Kindle Edition.
2. Crary, Jonathan (2013-06-04). 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (p. 126). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
3. Extreme Metaphors. J. G. Ballard Collected Interviews Editors, Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara (Fourth Estate 2014)
4. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. After the Future. ( AK Press, 2011)
5. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
to be continued...
by Steven Craig Hickman
Consequently since my arrival five hundred thousand years ago I’ve had one thought on my mind: the escape plan…
– William Burroughs
Rereading Burroughs is like falling through the abyss on glass wings, one is never sure if the shattered reflections on the black seas below are of one’s own paranoia or just the truth of nature revealed as alien topology. The cartography of annihilation is always a smile hiding in the dark. Burroughs is that smile.
Naked Lunch still packs the stiletto poetry of the street, a free flow impressionism that sinks deep. Burroughs voice is brisk and driven, speed is the game:
The Rube flips in the end, running through empty automats and subway stations, screaming: `Come back, kid!! Come back!!’ and follows his boy right into the East River, down through condoms and orange peels, mosaic of floating newspapers, down into the silent black ooze with gangsters in concrete, and pistols pounded flat to avoid the probing finger of prurient ballistic experts.
The creatures that populate his universe are the eccentrics, misfits, broken women, junkies, all crazed and nefarious denizens of an alter-world below ours, a world of addiction and freedom – a realm where men love men and drugs seem to be a way of assuaging the effects of a fascist state that excludes them. One time lover of Allen Ginsberg the poet, a traveler into the lands of the deathvine, Yage. A tripper before tripping was even registered in the hippiedom days. The Big Daddy of the Beats. A word he hated.
I first came across his works in the Navy. Stationed in Norfolk shipyards. His work and that of Henry Miller were lying around the duty station. Spent my nights on the teletype with coffee and a copy of these books. Opened a world. Having grown up in the fantasy lands of West Texas in a reality studio of southern mythology and oil field populism I was thrust into Virginia, then California afterwards like a naked baby. Assigned to the Naval base in Monterrey I was caught between a beach world and club world serving officers in an old resort like post-graduate school. Time on my hands I began to hop up to San Francisco and entered the late sixties world of drugs and music. Burroughs was one of those early guides. During this period I saw Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Joplin, Baez, and many more at the Monterrey Pop Festival during that Summer of Love (’69). Of course living through it one didn’t think of it like that. Did the stupid thing. Went AWOL. Chased a girl to Seattle. Lived on the lame. Wandered into Canada. Came back, served time. The rest is what was left… the madness of my youth.
Working through his collected interviews is like meeting myself in a time-machine. There was a time when I read him till I was blind. Well not blind, but literally wandering in laughter and tears down dead alleys and forgotten dives. The man’s dead-pan humor always wakens in me that strange passion for the shotgun. Suicide is not an option. Only one’s life lived completely in its schizophrenic flux is the perfect suicide note to leave behind for those of earth’s blasted children.
For Burroughs America was already showing signs of its fascist tendencies toward control and corporatism:
I feel that the principle instrument of monopoly and control that prevents expansion of consciousness is the word lines controlling thought, feeling and apparent sensory impressions of the human host. (p. 43)
Semiosis as alien disease: signifiers as parasites, material entities controlling thought-lines in the human host-machine. Made me think of Lacan’s notion of the materiality of signifiers:
You realize that my intention is not to turn them into “subtle” relations, that my aim is not to confuse letter with spirit … and that I readily admit that one kills if the other gives life, insofar as the signifier— you are perhaps beginning to catch my drift— materializes the instance of death. But whereas it is first of all the materiality of the signifier that I have emphasized, that materiality is singular in many ways, the first of which is not to allow of partition. Cut a letter into small pieces, and it remains the letter that it is— and this in a completely different sense than Gestalt theory can account for with the latent vitalism in its notion of the whole.2
Zizek would comment on this passage, saying, this uncanny “machine in the ghost”— what Lacan called the autonomy of the signifier with regard to the signified— points towards the most difficult and radical sense in which one should assert materialism: not only the “priority of being over consciousness,” in the traditional Marxist sense that ideas are grounded in the material social and productive process, and not only the material (ideological) apparatuses that sustain ideology, but also the immanent materiality of the ideal order itself.3
THE POLITICAL MACHINE
For Burroughs the political-machine was based on total control through the elimination of affect; yet, there needed to be a body outside the machine of politics to keep the entropic effects of this production of dis-affection going, otherwise the machine would stop. The Bureaucratic regimes were the administrators of the political machine that kept it well oiled and lubricated, allowing it to put the public and even its own governmental hierarchy to sleep. Burroughs was not kind to scientists either:
…if anybody ought to go to the extermination chambers, definitely scientists. Yes, I’m definitely anti-scientist because I feel that science represents a conspiracy to impose as the real and only universe, the universe of scientists themselves – they’re reality-addicts, they’ve got to have things real so they can get their hands on it. We have a great elaborate machine which I feel has to be completely dismantled – in order to do that we need people who understand how the machine works – the mass media. (p. 44)
Of course for Burroughs what we call reality was already a constructed reality – one put together by a as Guy Debord in Society of the Spectacle would term by a new “science of domination: broken down into further specialties such as sociology, applied psychology, cybernetics, and semiology, which oversee the self-regulation of every phase of the process”.4
A lifelong preoccupation with Control and Virus. Having gained access the virus uses the host’s energy, blood, flesh and bones to make copies of itself. Model of dogmatic insistence never from without was screaming in my ear, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!”5
Burroughs in his early and late works believed he was providing the first initiative in a final wake up call for humanity. His word viruses, cut-ups, infobombs, interzone travels were proximate estimations of our slowly decaying reality matrix. He believed if we did not unravel the matrix it would cocoon us in a tissue of lies so pure we’d never escape. I think he is right. Of course I say that with a poker smile.
Followers of obsolete unthinkable trades, doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, black marketeers of World War III, excisors of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, servers of fragmentary warrants taken down in hebephrenic shorthand charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit, officials of unconstituted police states, brokers of exquisite dreams and nostalgias tested on the sensitized cells of junk sickness and bartered for raw materials of the will, drinkers of the Heavy Fluid sealed in translucent amber of dreams.6
Alien traveler or lunatic pirate captain and leader of an ultimate break-out revolution from prison planet earth Burroughs was a time-bomb for those who know.
“The same may be true of the word. The word itself may be a virus that has achieved a permanent status with the host.”
Ultimately the word was the true escape hatch, the creative power of the artists in whatever medium:
“Yes, for all of us in the Shakespeare Squadron, writing is just that: not an escape from reality, but an attempt to change reality, so the writer can escape the limits of reality.”7
This sense of escaping the limits that have been imposed on us by the reality engineers of our social matrix was at the heart of his project. We still have much to learn from this escape artist. Burroughs was our post-modern shaman, a creature who pushed the limits of the word and his Word to the break-out point beyond which lies the interzones of our revolutionary future. It’s up to us to follow… the creative way. Eccentric, marginal, wild and alive.
LISTEN TO MY LAST WORDS anywhere. Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet forever—8
1. Burroughs Live. The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs (Semiotext(e) 2001)
2. Jacques Lacan, Écrits, New York: Norton 2006, p. 16.
3. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 55-56). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
4. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle (Kindle Locations 707-708). Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.
5. Burroughs, William S. (2007-12-01). Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader (Burroughs, William S.) (Kindle Locations 2595-2597). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
6. William S. Burroughs. Naked Lunch (Kindle Locations 510-513). Kindle Edition.
7. Burroughs, William S. (2007-12-01). Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs (Burroughs, William S.) (Kindle Locations 518-519). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
8. Burroughs, William S. (2011-02-24). Nova Express (Burroughs, William S.) (p. 3). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Who will ever forget the opening lines of that early story by J.G. Ballard Prima Belladonna that introduces almost as if by slight-of-hand the notion of an economic slump, a moment when civilization forgave itself of its excesses: its capitalist puritanism and work ethic, and decided to take a vacation for ten years between two regimes of the Symbolic Order? Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World (1965) likens the carnivalesque in literature to the type of activity that often takes place in the carnivals of popular culture. In the carnival, as we have seen, social hierarchies of everyday life—their solemnities and pieties and etiquettes, as well as all ready-made truths—are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies. Thus, fools become wise, kings become beggars; opposites are mingled (fact and fantasy, heaven and hell). It is not to be construed that the liberation from all authority and sacred symbols is an ideology to be believed and held as a creed. Carnival extracts all individuals from noncarnival life, noncarnival states, because there are no hierarchical positions during carnival there cannot be ideologies for the mind of individuals to manifest.
J.G. Ballard in his early stories will mention the Great Recess as a sort of carnivalesque time-between-times, when the age of one Symbolic Order has come to a close, decayed and shriven of its ideological and religious/secular trappings, as well as its economic capacities and powers of domination and control, and opened a hole in the chrontopian landscape of historical time: a sort of infinite present wherein the world no longer bound to the time of work is set adrift in a timeless realm of lazy days of beach-comber vacancy and playfulness.
“I first met Jane Ciracylides during the Recess, that world slump of boredom, lethargy and high summer which carried us all so blissfully through ten unforgettable years, and I suppose that may have had a lot to do with what went on between us.” (Ballard, p. 9)
This was an age of lethargy and forgetting, a time during which “no one cared very much about anything,” as if the world were held in suspension, reason set to the channel of irrational pleasure – a time-between-times, an interregnum or period of discontinuity, a “gap” in a in the governance, organization, and Symbolic order when the world goes topsy-turvy and a carnivalesque atmosphere intervenes. Almost like those acts between scenes in a Shakespeare play when the actors prepare for the next dramatic sequence and offer a play-within-the-play, a farce or satirical interlude to entertain the audience and allow the serious actors to catch their breath before the serious business of life begins anew. When as Ballard in another story implies the “the Recess ended, and the big government schemes came along and started up all the clocks and kept us too busy working off the lost time to worry about a few bruised petals” (Ballard, p. 11).
Ballard’s character in another story will even remember the former world of crimes, laws, failing economic policies, and degradation: “…my mind casting itself back ten years to one of the most famous trials of the decade, whose course and verdict were as much as anything else to mark the end of a whole generation, and show up the irresponsibilities of the world before the Recess” (Ballard, p. 311). Something like the O.J. Simpson trial, a sort of Hollywood replay that ended the farce of civilization’s belief in its own capitalist heroes. Now everyone is a Reality TV star in their own broadcast, twittergrams, youtube porn stars, instagrams to fill the blogosphere with selfies. The blipscreen festival of death happening in less than 5 minutes of fame. Self-parody at its finest.
Ballard never delves into this Recess, into its history, what led up to it, what transpired after, etc.. Instead he offered a few stories showing the lifestyle of a few eccentric and strange denizens who lived on the edges of this time without work, a time when people let their hair down and played and romped in a carnivelesque zone beyond the power of Law. An age between the ages when everyone on earth seemed to be free to do what and whenever they liked, to be lazy or creative, supported by some economic system that allowed them to just sit back and be bored, lay on a beach and vegetate to their heart’s desire.
Of course that brings us to the beach and boredom. Ballard throughout his stories drops hints of how beach life and boredom go hand in hand. How not working and the life of supposed freedom that it entails leads not to the expected creativity and inventiveness one would expect but rather to sheer wastage and boredom, ennui and criminal deviant behavior. When people have too much freedom he implies they turn to new forms of sadism and masochism, falling prey to their fears and horror bound dreams and nightmares.
As he’d suggest “almost all the studios along the Stars are occupied by painters and poets – the majority abstract and non-productive. Most of us were suffering from various degrees of beach fatigue, that chronic malaise which exiles the victim to a limbo of endless sunbathing, dark glasses and afternoon terraces” (Ballard, p. 209). In another story the character will wonder at “what had prompted the savage nightmare that had plagued me through the night. The dream had been the first of any kind I had had for several years – one of the pleasant features of beach fatigue is a heavy dreamless sleep, and the sudden irruption of a dream-filled night made me wonder whether Aurora Day, and more particularly her insane poems, were beginning to prey on my mind more than I realized” (Ballard, p. 216).
This sense that the beach and ennui bring with them a sense of fatigue and strange forms of “dreamless sleep” along with the haunting suspicion that one’s daily life is a waking nightmare filled with the influence of “insane poems” and other more sinister effects. This beach fatigue “numbed the senses insidiously, blunting despair and hope alike” (Ballard, p. 228).
At the end of the Recess one character seems to be reluctant to leave the beaches and an authority speaks to him saying, “You’re the last man on the beach who decides to stay behind after everyone else has left. Maybe you are a poet and dreamer, but don’t you realize that those two species are extinct now?’ (Ballard, p. 238). Implying that when the world of economic work and struggle starts up again the world of imaginative and creative excess will no longer be needed, and in fact will be excluded from the new Symbolic Order of Work.
As one character states it as he gazes over the horizon of the sea from the beach one last time before the great oceans are drained and emptied: “‘The seas are our corporate memory,’ he often said to Holliday. ‘In draining them we deliberately obliterated our own pasts, to a large extent our own self-identities. That’s another reason why you should leave. Without the sea, life is insupportable. We become nothing more than the ghosts of memories, blind and homeless, flitting through the dry chambers of a gutted skull.’ (Ballard, p. 239)” Of course in this story earth is sinking into hyper-oblivion, slowly decaying into a final zone of loss and annihilation. But what of the sea of history, of our cultural ocean of memory? Is Ballard not also speaking to it? In a time when the past is being torn up, mashed, denied, revised into historicisms, and fictional revisions are we losing our “self-identities”? Many current theorist would say good riddance, that identity politics and traditions should sink into oblivion and give way to some multicultural opening of the cultural canons beyond the reductions of the elite academics. That a new age requires a wiping away of the stain of the past. But is this not the very thing certain totalitarian dictators have tried in the past? The burning of libraries, the cultural demolishing of the past in the name of some new tribunal of thought and knowledge.
And what of all those trendy flights from our capitalist ruins, those who sponsor an Exit? “The whole trash of amusement arcades and cheap bars on the outskirts of the beach resorts were a depressing commentary on the original space-flights, reducing them to the level of monster side-shows at a carnival. (Ballard, p. 358)” Here Ballard satirizes the notion that escape or exit will lead us anywhere, that in truth what we leave behind follows us, haunts us even in the supposed empty places of new beginnings. As Emerson once said caustically, “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” Maybe we are at that point of extinction now, civilization imploding on itself due to its infernal inability to see beyond its nose. Maybe we’re like the one character who asked: “Why was he there, what failure was he trying to expiate? And why choose Cocoa Beach as his penitential shore? For three years he had asked himself these questions so often that they had ceased to have any meaning, like a fossilized catechism or the blunted self-recrimination of a paranoiac. (Ballard, p. 360).
We keep on repeating the same mistakes over and over like madmen who will not learn our lessons. Freud called it the death-drive: the pure repetition of life itself in its remorseless march toward death by way of a circular and circumlocutory exploration of the endless mazes of existence. Or like Pelham another character who charted the spasms in his fellow beachcombers: “watching carefully from his vantage point over the beach, these ripples of restless activity, as everyone swayed forward in long undulations, were plainly indicated by the metallic glimmer of the thousands of portable radios moving in an oscillating wave. Each successive spasm, recurring at roughly half-hour intervals, seemed to take the crowd slightly nearer the sea. (Ballard, p. 428)” As if in this clockwork world of pure repetition without difference we are undergoing some strange mutation for the first time, a transformation in temporal being of which we are for the most part unaware. Like the dreamers on the shore of time being awakened to the spasms of a new reality, a movement into the Real from which our minds like children giving up their toys are being slowly absorbed into a new Symbolic registry from which there will be no escape only the occasional spasmodic display of our tensions and mental breakdowns. As Pelham will remark during another episode:
Almost imperceptibly, another wave of restless activity was sweeping along the beach. Perhaps in response to the final digital climax of the commentators at Cape Kennedy, people were sitting up and dusting the coarse sand from each other’s backs. Pelham watched the sunlight flickering off the chromium radio sets and diamante sunglasses as the entire beach swayed and surged. The noise had fallen appreciably, letting through the sound of the wurlitzer at the funfair. Everywhere there was the same expectant stirring. To Pelham, his eyes half-closed in the glare, the beach seemed like an immense pit of seething white snakes. (Ballard, p. 429)
People slowly in metaphorical metamorphosis, or else a transformation into new and monstrous forms: “Pelham felt a spasm of nausea contract his gullet. Without doubt, he reflected, homo sapiens en masse presented a more unsavoury spectacle than almost any other species of animal. A corral of horses or steers conveyed an impression of powerful nervous grace, but this mass of articulated albino flesh sprawled on the beach resembled the diseased anatomical fantasy of a surrealist painter. Why had all these people congregated there? (Ballard, p. 429)” As if the reluctant tribe were awaiting some inner experience, some pulsation of the Real luring them into strange and impersonal worlds. “Perhaps the final sealing of this inescapable aerial canopy had prompted everyone to seek out the nearest beach and perform a symbolic act of self-exposure as a last gesture of surrender. (Ballard, p. 430)”
At the end of the day people seem like statues staring into the abyss: “On the terrace, and below on the beach, everyone was waiting for something to happen, heads craned forward expectantly. As the radios were turned down, so that any sounds from the distant tableau might be heard, a wave of silence passed along the beach like an immense darkening cloud shutting off the sunlight. The almost complete absence of noise and movement, after the long hours of festering motion, seemed strange and uncanny, focusing an intense atmosphere of self-awareness upon the thousands of watching figures. (Ballard, p. 431)”
Are we like those frozen idle players on the beach staring into the blank of the future, seeking some strange and uncanny knowledge, some secret to the human condition that will absolve us of our dark time, our labors of merciless economic and social disasters and catastrophes? Pelham notices one family standing by the impervious ocean: “Pelham they seemed like a family of penitent pilgrims who had travelled some enormous distance and were now standing beside their sacred waters, waiting patiently for its revivifying powers to work their magic. (Ballard, p. 432)”
Are we the dead awaiting resurrection? Zombies who still believe we are alive and free? There comes a point when Pelham notices a “huge disorganized mêlée extending as far as the eye could see, people were climbing slowly to their feet. The diffused murmur of the beach had given way to a more urgent, harsher sound, echoing overhead from either end of the bay. The whole beach seemed to writhe and stir with activity, the only motionless figures those of the people standing by the water. Ballard, p. 433)”
Is this not the truth of us? Are we not those figures on the sand, staring into the blank future, listening to the murmuring, urgent, harsh, echoing sounds of time like an assemblage of zombies or living dead – strewn along the shores of Avernus seeking passage to the far shore, but caught in the mesh of a hundred year drought unable to find passage on the ferryman’s boat to nowhere? Are we irrevocably trapped in the misery of our finitude, deprived of any redemptive moments, or as Zizek speaking of Derrida should we reject this Schellingian-Benjaminian-Heideggerian motif of the sadness of nature, the idea that nature’s numbness and muteness signals an infinite pain, as being teleologically logocentric: language becomes a telos of nature, nature strives towards the Word to be relieved of its sadness, to reach its redemption.2 Or as we recall in Walter Benjamin’s notion of revolution as redemption through repetition of the past – as Zizek would have it, that “apropos the French Revolution, the task of a true Marxist historiography is not to describe the events the way they really were (and to explain how these events generated the ideological illusions that accompanied them); the task is rather to unearth the hidden potentiality (the utopian emancipatory potential) which was betrayed in the actuality of revolution and in its final outcome (the rise of utilitarian market capitalism)” (Zizek, KL 10660). Or should we as Zizek implies if we really want to assert a radical break, “we must abandon the Benjaminian notion of retroactive redemption, of a revolutionary act which redeems all past suffering and defeats— as the Christians say, the dead should be left to bury the dead” (Zizek, KL 11962).
Should we not Zizek tells us against all those immortalists, transhumanists and post-human transcensionists realize that the “great motif of the post-Hegelian assertion of positive being is the accent on material, actual, finitude, while the compulsion to repeat introduces an obscene infinity or “immortality”— not spiritual immortality, but an immortality of “spirits,” of the living dead” (Zizek, KL 11323).
This sense of a personal and singular exception, the revolt of egos to survive, to repeat their vein physical mortal being into a false infinity; to lock themselves into steel cages, transform themselves through biochemical or technological forms into eternal machinic citizens of some alternate future of Immortality? Is this not to degrade the whole conception, to literalize what is in essence an allegorical truth of our immortal longings, to incarnate it literally by migrating from organic to anorganic substance? A travesty of such religious endeavors to transcend life, by immanently reproducing it interminably in in the immortality of a false infinity of time present?
As one of Ballard’s characters will relate “‘For some reason, I don’t know why, we seem to be in a sort of circular time trap, just going round and round. You’re not aware of it, and I can’t find anyone else who is either.’ (Ballard, p. 16)” As another character realizes there is a connection between light and time: “‘What about the relationship between light and time? If I remember my relativity they’re tied up together pretty closely. Are you sure we won’t all need to add another hand to our clocks and watches?’ (Ballard, p. 17)” Or maybe it’s already too late, maybe we’ve been accelerating beyond the ruins of time without realizing it, that time is about to roll over: “‘It’s just that everything is happening very rapidly and I don’t think there’s much time left.’ (Ballard, p. 20)”
Maybe our Self and Time will suddenly part ways, set adrift in the multiplicity of time rather than bound to the singular arrow of some monolithic tyranny of Time. Or maybe we’re just wasting time, like those schizophrenics for whom time doesn’t exist: “‘We’re wasting our time,’ he snapped. ‘I’ll hand him over to Psycho. You’ve seen enough, haven’t you, Doctor?’ (Ballard, p. 24)”
Maybe our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes and streets will become unmoored in time: “‘Believe me, a time will come when each union, each sector, almost I might say, each street and avenue will have achieved complete local independence. Equipped with its own power services, aerators, reservoirs, farm laboratories . . .’ (Ballard, p. 35) Or as one scientist asked: “‘Look,’ he began to explain, ‘you can’t get out of time, can you? Subjectively it’s a plastic dimension, but whatever you do to yourself you’ll never be able to stop that clock’ – he pointed to the one on the desk – ‘or make it run backwards. In exactly the same way you can’t get out of the City.’ … You accept that time has no beginning and no end. The City is as old as time and continuous with it.’ (Ballard, p. 36)”
Are maybe our AI’s will engineer time: “What they do with the time is their responsibility anyway. They’ll make the most of it, just as we’ve always made the most, eventually, of any opportunity given us. It’s too early to think about it yet, but visualize the universal application of our technique. For the first time Man will be living a full twenty-four hour day, not spending a third of it as an invalid, snoring his way through an eight-hour peepshow of infantile erotica.’ (Ballard, p. 51)” As Jonathan Crary tells us in 24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep:
A 24/7 environment has the semblance of a social world, but it is actually a non-social model of machinic performance and suspension of living that does not disclose the human cost required to sustain its effectiveness. … What is new is the sweeping abandonment of the pretense that time is coupled to any long-term undertakings, even to fantasies of “progress” or development. An illuminated 24/7 world without shadows is the final capitalist mirage of post-history, of an exorcism of the otherness that is the motor of historical change.”3 As a reviewer on the Guardian put it today we are willing connivers in our own sleeplessness, as we find ourselves continually diverted and invited to consume at any time of day or night. Meanwhile, military scientists are researching the brain of the white-crowned sparrow, to find out how, during migration, it manages to stay awake for seven days on the trot without sleeping. The idea is to make it possible for soldiers to do the same. As Crary points out, “as history has shown, war-related innovations are inevitably assimilated into a broader social sphere, and the sleepless soldier would be the forerunner of the sleepless worker or consumer”. (see Nicholas Lezard).
As one of those cut off in the timeless cage of the present, a Dr. Lang describes this 24/7 world: “‘Tell me, has it ever occurred to you how completely death-orientated the psyche is?’ (Ballard, p. 58)” Maybe the last question is the most acute and the most deadly:
“To be forced to lose the power, when I was only on the threshold of its potential, seemed a cruel turn of fate. For reasons which still remained closed to me, I had managed to penetrate behind the veil of commonplaces and familiarity which masks the inner world of the timeless and the preternatural. Must the power, and the vision it revealed, be lost forever?” (Ballard, p. 104)
In a terminal world where the death-drive is no longer creative, and the body politic is splayed and fragmented on the operating table of indifference, and cartoon scripts run the workshops of our Reality TV lives – an automated, shallow, emotionless existence without thought or care, solipsistic and self-lacerating, we can bet only on one thing: things will get much worse, and contrary to the old adagio – things will not get better only more stupid. So put on your favorite festival mask and join the party of the end of liberalism, for the kids are popping firecrackers in the bleechers, girls screaming, and the mindless zombies and talking heads are speaking in some belated tongue of yesteryear, a nostalgia that seems more like a broken record repeating the daily kill count than the actual not virtual redemption of our (post)modern lives.
Ballard will speak of another form of exit, an exit into timelessness: “This was a zone of complete timelessness, where at last he sensed the simultaneity of all time, the coexistence of all events in his past life. (Ballard, p. 634)” He’ll speak of the timeless people: “The timeless people, the only mementoes of homo sapiens when we’ve all gone, waiting here with their idiotic smiles for the first stellar visitor. (Ballard, p. 1024)” And, yet, there is a sense of hope even in the midst of this inanity: “…exhausted I had a curious premonition, of intense hope and longing, as if I were some fugitive Adam chancing upon a forgotten gateway to the forbidden paradise. (Ballard, p. 616).
Maybe in the end that’s all we have, this sense of expectancy, the sense that just around the corner, just down the next street, just across the valley, in the next city, somewhere beyond the horizon one will find the true country of the heart, a place where “that primeval paradise that the old brain remembered so vividly, seen both by those living for the first time and by those dying for the first time. It was curious that images of heaven or paradise always presented a static world, not the kinetic eternity one would expect, the roller-coaster of a hyperactive funfair, the screaming Luna Parks of LSD and psilocybin. It was a strange paradox that given eternity, an infinity of time, they chose to eliminate the very element offered in such abundance. (Ballard, p. 1039)
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
The City of the Future entangles urban spectacle inseparably with prophecy. One sees, now, what is yet to come.
– Nick Land, Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time
After reading Nick Land’s new book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Times it occurred to me to refresh my mind concerning Land’s earlier conceptions of Time.
Notions of time will serve as a leit-motif throughout Land’s writings. In his early The Thirst for Annihilation he will explore time’s dark secrets. It was here that he began developing his early notions of technomic time etc. He reminds us that every civilization “aspires to a transcendent Aeon in which to deposit the functional apparatus of chronos without fear of decay”.1 The point of this for Land is that civilization is a machine constructed to stop time’s progress toward terminal decay and death, entropy. “‘Civilization’ is the name we give to this process, a process turned against the total social calamity – the cosmic sickness – inherent to process as such” (97). This notion that civilization is an engine to stave off the effects of entropy, to embalm time in an absolute medium of synchronic plenitude and cyclicity (i.e., Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” theme) will return in his latest book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time as he describes the impact of civilization and the culture of modernity:
As its culture folds back upon itself, it proliferates self-referential models of a cybernetic type, attentive to feedback-sensitive self-stimulating or auto-catalytic systems. The greater the progressive impetus, the more insistently cyclicity returns. To accelerate beyond light-speed is to reverse the direction of time. Eventually, in science fiction , modernity completes its process of theological revisionism, by rediscovering eschatological culmination in the time-loop.2
In his new book the City itself will become the icon or engine of civilization in its efforts to stave off entropy and death. This notion that we are living in a video game or movie, a timeless realm of pure (or impure) repetition (i.e., a time-loop), and that what we think of as time is nothing more than the fleeting image of our own ghostly lives imprinted on an absolute screen accelerating at light-speed going nowhere but in a synchronous loop is modernity’s secret lie against time. Progress has never been about progressing somewhere, but has always already been about the eternal cycles of recurrence and returns, civilizations struggle against the influx of asynchronous time: real time. A time that end’s the absolute time and brings us the asynchronous truth of annihilation. Or, as Land will put it:
After the ruthless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time remains, for it is the reality of abstraction itself that is time: the desert, death, and desolator of all things. (Thirst, 112)
AUTO-PRODUCTION & THE TECHNOMIC SINGULARITY
I’ve written in another essay that explicates the rest of the details on this Land’s concept of teleoplexy (see here). In the final section of his teleoplexic essay he asserts that the coming ‘Techonomic Singularity’ will ultimately be resolved and accomplished by the very activity of the auto-productive powers of the teleoplexic hyper-intelligence itself, through its own crossing of the cognitive rubicon, by way of its own processes rather than through any human agency or intervention. As Land admits the difficulty and complexity of such a Techonomic Singularity must be approached through anticipating the “terms of its eventual self-reflexion – the techonomic currency through which the history of modernity can, for the first time, be adequately denominated. It has no alternative but to fund its own investigation, in units of destiny or doom, camouflaged within the system of quotidian economic signs, yet rigorously extractable, given only the correct cryptographic keys.(520)”
The concept of auto-production was introduced Land tells us by Jane Jacobs Economy of the Cities:
In this work she outlines a simple and powerful theory of urban self-organization, driven by a spontaneous economic process of import replacement. Cities develop by autonomization, or introversion, which occurs as they learn from trade, progressively transforming an ever-greater proportion of their commercial flows into endogenous circuits. This (urbanomic) tendency need not isolate cities from the world, but it necessarily converts stable dependency into dynamic interaction, driving continuous commercial modification. (see An Introduction to Urbanonmy)
More importantly Land tells us Jacobs thesis establishes a framework for systematically exploring the time-structure of the urban process, conceived not solely as a (prolonged) episode in time, or history, but also as the working of a chronogenic, or time-making social machine. He explicates:
The concept which Jacobs tacitly introduces, as the guiding principle of the urbanomic trend, is autoproduction. As it grows, internally specializes, self-organizes, dissipates entropy, and individuates, the city tends to an impossible limit of complete productive autonomy. It appears as a convergent wave, shaped in the direction of increasing order or complexity, as if by an invisible hand, or according to an intelligent design. The pattern is exactly what would be expected if something not yet realized was orchestrating its self-creation.(ibid)
The notion that something “not yet realized” orchestrating its own self-creation is at the core of his notion of a teleoplexic space. Land marks out the spaces of the infosphere within which technological intelligence begins to take over from the human as the laboring force of modernity, it performs the task of alien agent or teleoplexic space or environment within which capitalism no longer has an outside but has become the artificial immanence within which all our onlife actions take place. As he remarks: “Accelerationism has a real object only insofar as there is a teloplexic thing, which is to say: insofar as capitalization is natural-historical reality” (514). This new teleoplexic environment that is re-engeering both us and our society as well as the infrastructure of our planetary base is what might be termed a teleospheric ordinal – a numeric set of layered spaces that incorporate the territory and the map seamlessly. This is not some virtual cyberspace, but is the total encompassment of our global environment in which we exist.
Luciano Floridi will tell us that the new Information and Communications technologies or ICTs are re-ontologizing our world and creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it.4 ‘Ubiquitous Computing’, ‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’ are all terms for this same phenomena.
Land will ask: What would be required for teleoplexy to realistically evaluate itself – or to ‘attain self-awareness’ as the pulp cyber-horror scenario describes it? Land will offer us his secret future of the AI Intelligence technogenesis: “Within a monetary system configured in ways not yet determinate with confidence, but almost certainly tilted radically towards depoliticization and crypto-digital distribution, it would discover prices consistent with its own maximally-accelerated technogenesis, channeling capital into mechanical automatization, self-replication, self-improvement, and escape into intelligence explosion” (517). In other words it will use all the tools of capitalism at its disposal to begin evolving into and naturalizing the teleoplexic environments of the infosphere. If anything accelerationism is a tracking device for this advanced hyper-cognitive explosion of intelligence: “Irrespective of ideological alignment, accelerationism advances only through its ability to track such a development, whether to confirm or disconfirm the teleoplexic expectation of Techonomic Singularity” (517).4
THE SENTIENT CITY & TEMPLEXITY
In his new book Land will tell us that every “singularity is an exception. No emergent real individual is able to fall, without remainder , under a general law” (Templexity, KL 272). So what is templexity? Land begins his survey admitting that it is more of an emergent question rather than something that can be stripped to its essential elements in some philosophical proposition or axiom set of principles. In typical style Land will offer the reading the shocking news that “cities are time machines” (Templexity, KL 12). After this we learn that templexity is the thing of which ‘time-travel’ narratives seek to portray in their dramatic scenarios. As he will state it:
Templexity is indistinguishable from unbounded real recursion, so it cannot be lucidly anticipated independently of a historical completion – or ‘closure’ (apprehended in the multitudinous sense noted in the text to follow). There could only have been a beginning – a prolegomenon to the rigorous formulation of templexity as a question – and the topic itself retracts this, even before its proposal. The real process is not the resolution of the problem at the level it appears – dramatically – to have been initially posed, but its re-absorption into the alien cognitive matrix which inherits it. ‘Templexity’ – as a sign – marks the suspicion that, if we are waiting for this to happen, we still understand nothing. (Templexity, KL 58-63)
This notion of the City as teleoplexic intelligence or AI, one that will ultimately re-absorb the process involved in templexity allows us to envision City as a time-machine contrived by civilization in its struggles against entropy. As Land will tell us to “invoke the city as the emergent subject of the question of time is not merely hypothetical but – when approached at the scale appropriate to the real cognitive agency involved – fully experimental. The tacit (and vulgarized) question: What is Shanghai coming to think about this? (Templexity, KL 41)”
Shanghai is a city of time anomalies. Shifting gradients of time float among its several levels like ancient mythic structures seeking resurgence. Land will term this decopunk. He will dub the first cosmopolitan modernity the International style which offered a world above the world, a universal realm beyond the stuttering implosion of national and ethnic rivalries; an escape hatch from the war worlds of the 19th Century. A world bound to the “uncompromising logic of functional and geometrical idealization” (Teleplexity, KL 246). He will go on to say that it was through International Style social structures of all kinds, spearheaded by exemplary public buildings, were to find their consummate reconciliation with the universally communicable Idea (Templexity, 252).
In our time the older forms of modernity have returned in a new shape, Decopunk which brings with it a complexity that can seem overwhelming. It folds back, exorbitantly, into that which had already folded into itself. As he tells it:
Nothing expresses the cultural tendency of positive cosmopolitanism more completely, more cryptically, or more surreptitiously than the Deco modernist matrix thus re-activated. Its mode of abstraction is inextricable from an ultimate extravagance, intractable to linguistic condensation, and making of decoration a speechless communication, or ecstatic alienation, through which interiority is subtracted. Emerging from the fusion of streamline design trends with fractionated, cubist forms and the findings of comparative ethnography, it exults in cultural variety, arcane symbolism and opulence of reference – concrete colonial epistemology and metropolitan techno-science are equally its inspirations – as it trawls for design motifs among the ancient ruins of Egypt and Mesoamerica, Chinese temples, recursive structures, sphinxes, spirals, ballistic machine-forms, science fiction objects, hermetic glyphs and alien dreams. It is neither language nor anti-language, but rather supplementary , ancillary, or excess code, semiotically-saturated or over-informative, hyper-sensible, deviously circuitous, volubly speechless, muted by its own delirious fluency. It has no specific ideology… (Templexity, KL 261).
I don’t want to spoil it for the reader. So will leave off here. Read the book. Nick weaves a tale of modernity and Shanghai, time-loops, films, books, mythology, science, economics, etc., and time as he uncovers the traces of templexity within the processes of the City. All I’ll leave with you is this last enigmatic smile hovering out of hyperstitional flux that is Shanghai:
For over a century (but less than two) Shanghai Capitalism – despite dramatic interruption – has been building a real time machine, which Rian Johnson, among many others, stumbled into, and tangentially fictionalized. Although the detailed workings of this machine still escape public comprehension, its intrinsic self-reflexion ensures its promotion, as an object of complex natural science, of spectacular dramatization, and of multi-leveled commercialization. It enthralls East and West in an elaborate exploration of futuristic myth. At its most superficial, where it daubs the edges of the mind with its neon-streaked intoxication, it appears as a vague but indissoluble destiny. What it is becoming remains to be recalled. (Templexity, KL 475)
1. Nick Land. A Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)
2. Land, Nick (2014-11-05). Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time (Kindle Locations 375-378). Urbanatomy Electronic. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
4. #Accelerate the accelerationist reader. (editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian) Urbanomic, 2014
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
I’ll record three quotes from Nick Land, William S. Burroughs, and Ervin Laszlo. The first from Nick Land’s Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time:
…time-travel capability allows for an open-ended revision of the past, and consequently of everything that follows from it. Additionally, and (at least superficially) infinitely, this capability is reiterable. Outcomes arising from ‘prior’ time revisions can be fed-back through loops, generating ‘new’ outcomes, which are themselves resources for further interventions. It is difficult to set logically-consistent limits on the potential of such recursive time-modification. Absolute power is exhibited as a program.1
WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS
The second from William S. Burroughs in a conversation with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge would state that “Reality is not really all it’s cracked up to be, you know”, and then he went on to explain the fundamentals of his magical outlook:
What Bill explained to me then was pivotal to the unfolding of my life and art: Everything is recorded. If it is recorded, then it can be edited. If it can be edited then the order, sense, meaning and direction are as arbitrary and personal as the agenda and/ or person editing. This is magick.For if we have the ability and/ or choice of how things unfold— regardless of the original order and/ or intention that they are recorded in — then we have control over the eventual unfolding. If reality consists of a series of parallel recordings that usually go unchallenged, then reality only remains stable and predictable until it is challenged and/ or the recordings are altered, or their order changed. These concepts lead us to the release of cut-ups as a magical process.3
In Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 during Land’s excursion we discover Burroughs’s adoption of Brion Gysin’s cut-up and record keeping techniques was as stated to Ccru, “one of the first effects … of the time-trauma”. Naturally, Kaye attributes Burroughs’s intense antipathy towards prerecording – a persistent theme in his fiction after The Naked Lunch – to his experiences in the Vysparov library. The “cosmic revelation” in the library produced in Burroughs “a horror so profound” that he would dedicate the rest of his life to plotting and propagating escape routes from “the board rooms and torture banks of time”. Much later Burroughs would describe a crushing feeling of inevitability, of life being scripted in advance by malign entities: “the custodians of the future convene. Keepers of the Board Books: Mektoub, it is written. And they don’t want it changed” (GC 8).4
Locked in a script written by our future elite, lords of time meddling in the affairs of their lost ancestral pool, splicing, dicing, programming for outcomes only they can know for sure. Slaves of futorial magick, time-machines driven to fulfill genetic programs we never sought and have yet to uncover. Blinded to our own brain’s mechanics, its hidden neuronal programs broker strange relations we project onto mythological emblems of desire not knowing that the dark time-lords have hollowed out the fabric of our human neurons, designed our posthuman programs to fulfill designs we have yet to even know exist. Paranoia of the futurorial madness? Hyperstitional gleams from a broken recording left a thousand years ago? Messages from the rebels in our bones? Rhizomatic hauntology? Strata covering the layers of abandoned worlds?
In the Ccru archives we discover an investigation into MU or Lemuria, mythologies of time, horror, and akashic records where the dark lords of matter cohabit our planetary planes like creatures our of H.P. Lovecraft. In the section Lemurian Time Wars we encounter a hyperstitional remix in which an account charts William Burroughs’ involvement in an occult time war, and considerably exceeds most accepted conceptions of social and historical probability. “For almost thirty years Burroughs had sought to evade the inevitable. Yet numerous signs indicate that by the late 1980s the Control Complex was breaking down, redirecting Burroughs’s flight from prerecorded destiny into a gulf of unsettled fate that he came to call ‘the Rift’.” (Ccru, KL 633)
It is here that we learn of the secret order devoted to stave off the coming templexity or dissolution of time: “He explained that the organization had been born in reaction to a nightmare of time coming apart and – to use his exact words – spiraling out of control. To the Board, spirals were particularly repugnant symbols of imperfection and volatility. Unlike closed loops, spirals always have loose ends. … The Board was counting on Kaye to contain the situation. He was assigned the task of terminating the spiral templex.” (Ccru, KL 469)
Burroughs magical universe was based on revisionism, of splicing and rearranging the time codes, the recorded orders of the universe. Hyperstitional interventions – “fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, reality is understood to be composed of fictions – consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective and behaviorial responses. Kaye considered Burroughs’ work to be ‘exemplary of hyperstitional practice’. Burroughs construed writing – and art in general – not aesthetically, but functionally, – that is to say, magically, with magic defined as the use of signs to produce changes in reality.” (Ccru, KL 487)
The third from Ervin Laszlo’s Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything:
Akasha is a Sanskrit word meaning “ether”: all-pervasive space. Originally signifying “radiation” or “brilliance,” in Indian philosophy akasha was considered the first and most fundamental of the five elements—the others being vata (air), agni (fire), ap (water), and prithivi (earth). Akasha embraces the properties of all five elements: it is the womb from which everything we perceive with our senses has emerged and into which everything will ultimately redescend. “The Akashic Record” is the enduring record of all that happens, and has ever happened, in the whole of the universe.
The maverick genius Nikola Tesla adopted this vision in the context of modern science. He spoke of an “original medium” that fills space and compared it to Akasha, the light-carrying ether. In his unpublished 1907 paper “Man’s greatest achievement,” he wrote that this original medium, a kind of force field, becomes matter when Prana, cosmic energy, acts on it, and when the action ceases, matter vanishes and returns to Akasha. Since this medium fills all of space, everything that takes place in space can be referred to it.
Scientists now realize that space is not empty, and what is called the quantum vacuum is in fact a cosmic plenum. It is a fundamental medium that recalls the ancient concept of Akasha.3
Most of Lazlo’s ideas are informed by the theoretical traditions of Whitehead’s process theory, Bertalanffy’s general system theory and Prigogine’s non-linearly bifurcating dissipative structures. Already we see in such strange infusions the reemergence of mythologies of India and Lemurian/Atlantaen amalgams paraded as science to the masses. Lazlo of course one of the founders of Club of Rome and Club of Budapest.
Alice A. Bailey wrote in her book Light of the Soul on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – Book 3 – Union achieved and its Results:
The akashic record is like an immense photographic film, registering all the desires and earth experiences of our planet. Those who perceive it will see pictured thereon: The life experiences of every human being since time began, the reactions to experience of the entire animal kingdom, the aggregation of the thought-forms of a karmic nature (based on desire) of every human unit throughout time. Herein lies the great deception of the records. Only a trained occultist can distinguish between actual experience and those astral pictures created by imagination and keen desire.
Edgar Cayce received his information, the answer received is:
We have explained before that the intelligent infinity is brought into intelligent energy from eighth density or octave. The one sound vibratory complex called Edgar used this gateway to view the present, which is not the continuum you experience but the potential social memory complex of this planetary sphere. The term your peoples have used for this is the “Akashic Record” or the “Hall of Records”.
Fantasy? Madness? Strangeness? Underlying much of the strangeness of speculations over the past two centuries has been this influx of the Occult from the late romantic decadents to the post-cyberpunk scenes. Under many of the present day U.N. initiatives we can find the traces of this complex of ideas and concepts out of such nineteenth pranksters and occultists as Madame Blavatsky, Golden Dawn (Mathers, William Butler Yeats, etc.), Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard (Dianetics: follower of Crowley). The Lemurian mythos was a major thrust of these early writers brought up to date by Land and the Ccru.
All of these statements deal with notions of Time and Information and the Medium through which the processing of information can reload and modify time through revisions of our data stored in the two-dimensional plane of consistency. But what does this mean? Obviously these are discursive and metaphoric elaborations of a conceptual world constructed out of myth, science, philosophy and literature – a way of understanding something that is itself a real process elaborated in mathematics and physics. Fantasy? Not in the least. What to make of it? Follow this up with Hyperstition: Templexity.
When I began thinking through this it was after my initial post The Holographic Universe: Black Holes, Information, and the Mathematics, which brought us to the current reformatting of Plato in advanced physics. The ‘holographic principle,’ the idea that a universe with gravity can be described by a quantum field theory in fewer dimensions, has been used for years as a mathematical tool in strange curved spaces. New results suggest that the holographic principle also holds in flat spaces. Our own universe could in fact be two dimensional and only appear three dimensional — just like a hologram.
The notion that we are nothing more than a holographic projection from a two-dimensional plane of consistency or layer of reality, a cinematic effect of an information processing system that acts as both projector, recorder, data-storage and observational agent in this process is almost like stepping into another science fiction scenario rather than an actual mathematical theory that many current scientists actually affirm as a valid and testable theory of the universe. Yet, it is.
What’s more interesting to me is that this opens a Pandora’s Box on Time, Causality, and our place in the universe that is itself looking more like a science fictional plot with accelerating consequences for our posthuman ventures. A posthuman future that is going to be nothing at all like we might imagine it to be. It makes us ask the hard questions of what is Time, Causality, and the Universe? Old questions that have once again become anxious problems that we are only beginning to envision in new ways that might take us into zones from which humanity as we’ve known it will vanish into its creations in ways we’ve yet to fully understand or appreciate.
Of course the notion of time travel has been around for a long while now. Even in science fiction as early as 1733 the notion was portrayed in Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century. Technology was not much of an issue, nor physics, or even science itself in his future history; rather, it was about the political and religious issues on his own day that were center and foremost: in Madden’s future, much of the world has come to be dominated by the Jesuits. In the early 19th century, Jesuit Paul IX became pope and seized temporal control over most of Italy. The eighteenth century had been one of war between Spain, France, and the Holy Roman Empire but weakened by conflict and mismanagement all three powers became vassals to the Pope by the mid-nineteenth century. Also under papal control are vast estates in Africa, China, and Paraguay.
As Nature reported scientists are closing in on the black hole paradox of information:
The physicist Stephen Hawking stunned cosmologists 40 years ago when he announced that black holes are not totally black, calculating that a tiny amount of radiation would be able to escape the pull of a black hole. This raised the tantalising question of whether information might escape too, encoded within the radiation.
Yet, in China Qiang Cheng and Tie Jun Cui at the State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, “used metamaterials to create the world’s first artificial black hole in their lab. Yep, a real black hole.” The point of such technology is energy: Artificial black holes “could have important applications not least as light harvesters for photovoltaics. The prospect of a black hole in every household may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.”
William Gibson’s new novel The Peripheral deals with time travel by offering a solution of alternate realities, as he tells an interviewer recently: “I always liked a story that two friends of mine published in the ’80s, in which they got rid of the paradox angle by proposing that each time the past is contacted, it splits into another timeline, so it’s actually an alternate reality story rather than a time travel story, and that frees you of the head-hurting or pleasurable, depending on how you look at it, paradoxes of imagining time travel.”
No sense restating all the theories of time-travel that have been proposed in science when it’s been done very nicely in a recent article How Time Travel Works by Kevin Bonsor and Robert Lamb. As Land quoting Brad Brevet will tell us: “Any movie involving time travel is going to have problems, without fail. … Why is this? Because, shocker, time travel doesn’t exist. Therefore to make it a reality in a feature film is an impossibility without problem spots.” To avoid tripping over Brevet’s dogmatic metaphysics, it is sufficient to re-iterate – and parenthetically extend – the terms of our working usage: time-travel is the dramatization of something else (which might not exist). It is essentially simulation. Cinema has an entirely plausible claim to it. The story comes first. Once upon a time anomaly.” (KL, 168)
SIMULACRA AND SIMULATION – HYPERREALITY
The keyword here is “simulation” a term that’s been around for at least since Plato and his notions of simulacrum, copies, images, etc., but it was probably the likes of Jean Baudrillard that made it a household concept in his book “Simulacra and Simulation“. For him our world itself is a simulation. Simulations take over our relationship with real life, creating a hyperreality which is a copy that has no original. This hyperreality happens when the difference between reality and representation collapses and we are no longer able to see an image as reflecting anything other than a symbolic trade of signifiers in culture, not the real world.
But this pure discursive idealism and anti-representational thought left us in a paradox, because it left us in our own bubble-land of simulated realities without a way back into an external world. A paradoxical relation at best. That was his point, as well that there is no going back to our naïve pre-critical view of the world and ourselves, that now there are three orders of simulacra. The first in which reality is represented by the image (map represents territory). The second order of simulacra is one in which the distinction between reality and representation is blurred. The third order of simulacra is that of simulation which replaces the relationship between reality and representation. Reality itself is thus lost in favor of a hyperreality.
Umberto Eco would see it in political and economic terms describing contemporary culture as one that is full of re-creations and theme parks built our of an Industrial Mediatainment Simulator in which we are enclosed in fake environments that allow us to be entertained and kept happy and passive. He believes that this culture is full of realistic fabrications, aimed at creating something that is better than real. Underneath all this is the attempt to increase sales and gain profits.
Mikhail Epstein is one of Russia’s leading cultural theorist who believes that there is no ultimate reality. Epstein supports Baudrillard’s view that simulations and mass media have the power to displace the real, summarizing the effect of hyperreality:
“On the face of it, mass communication technology appears to capture reality in all its minutest details. But on that advanced level of penetration into the facts, the technical and visual means themselves construct a reality of another order, which has been called ‘hyperreality.’ This ‘hyperreality’ is a phantasmic creation of the means of mass communication, but as such it emerges as a more authentic, exact, real reality than the one we perceive in the life around us.”
The authors of a site devoted to such things as hyperreality tell us that the reason this exists is so that we can escape a reality that is disappointing and dull. Daniel Boorstin states that by having drama and heroic figures such as celebrities, we can create attention and excitement. Ultimately its a system of slavery to keep the peasantry locked away in their useless lives entertained by a universe of comic heroes, Hollywood stars, and supersport athletes who will live the lives we can only dream about. A postmodern mythology of the new gods as the globe-trotting actors on a stage of Olympian proportions – our world.
Yet, as we know, around the periphery and edges the system is crumbling and the slaves are no longer happy in their simulated entertainment systems. The game is afoot, and the elites are no longer in control of the simulation machine. Reality is knocking down the walls of these holographic time machines and disorder and chaos have entered the blood zones of a dying and decaying civilization. And, boy, are they pissed.
NICK LAND AND HYPERSTITION
“Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.”
– Mao Tse-tung
Land will mention H.P. Lovecraft’s letter to Clark Ashton Smith (1930) in which he reports that the “weakness of most tales with this theme is they do not provide for the recording, in history, of those inexplicable events in the past which were caused by the backward time-voyagings of persons of the present and future. It must be remembered that if a man of 1930 travels back to B.C. 400, the strange phenomenon of his appearance actually occurred in B.C. 400, and must have excited notice wherever it took place. Of course, the way to get around this is to have the voyager conceal himself when he reaches the past, conscious of what an abnormality he must seem. Or rather, he ought simply to conceal his identity — hiding the evidences of his “futurity” and mingling with the ancients as best he can on their own plane. It would be excellent to have him know to some extent of his past appearance before making the voyage. Let him, for example, encounter some private document of the past in which a record of the advent of a mysterious stranger — unmistakably himself — is made. This might be the provocation for his voyage — that is, the conscious provocation.” (KL 222)
This notion of “recording” the “inexplicable events” of an agent’s voyage into the past aligns with our information processing fiction of the holographic universe, etc.. For Land “time travel” is “something else” than what we think it is. What Land terms ‘Decopunk’ is the reactivation of a specific past, a time-machine of sorts that is remerging into our time,
Its mode of abstraction is inextricable from an ultimate extravagance, intractable to linguistic condensation, and making of decoration a speechless communication, or ecstatic alienation, through which interiority is subtracted. Emerging from the fusion of streamline design trends with fractionated, cubist forms and the findings of comparative ethnography, it exults in cultural variety, arcane symbolism and opulence of reference – concrete colonial epistemology and metropolitan techno-science are equally its inspirations – as it trawls for design motifs among the ancient ruins of Egypt and Mesoamerica, Chinese temples, recursive structures, sphinxes, spirals, ballistic machine-forms, science fiction objects, hermetic glyphs and alien dreams. It is neither language nor anti-language, but rather supplementary, ancillary, or excess code, semiotically-saturated or over-informative, hyper-sensible, deviously circuitous, volubly speechless, muted by its own delirious fluency. It has no specific ideology, but only every ideology. If it ever existed, it always has. (Kindle Locations 263-271).
In this sense Shanghai, Land’s decopunk city of choice, is the perfect time-machine, layered in legacy time assemblages: “native (Jiangnan) tradition, whose modernity lies specifically in its strategic inauthenticity”; lilongs or longtangs, that synthesized Western terracing with Chinese courtyard-centered arrangement to produce an innovative mass housing solution local to the city, characterized by fractal involution, commercial-residential micro-fusion, and design diagonalization between mass-production of standard units and resilient idiosyncrasy – “Somewhere in these ‘mazes’ or ‘warrens’ lies the Sphinx’s lair.”; and, above this layer of the Sphinx lies the decopunk layers that symbolize the historical city, by making its high-modernist ‘Golden Age’ a theme – that connects Deco to the infinite – as unbounded recursive potential – and thus initiates the forward time-loop of Shanghai’s peculiar destiny; and, finally, the global level of a vapid neo-modernism: it extends from the vulgar Bauhaus garbage of the command economy era, through utilitarian construction of more recent times, to the glistening super-tall towers designed by international architectural giants, but it extends far further – and perhaps even more consequentially – across a myriad renovation projects of wildly variable grandeur, which have as their common principle an explicit absorption of modernity into something new, precisely equivalent to a dispersed exhibition of modernist heritage. (KL 312-317)
So the city as time machine with multi-leveled tiers, loops, feedback mechanisms, shifting alternate realities, colliding and meshing in a paradoxical world of decopunk marvels which brings us to Gibson’s notion: The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. (Land, KL 324) The point being the future is a hotly contested sphere of competition, a Social Darwinian nightmare of economics in which not everyone will survive the coming posthuman slipstream plunge into futurity. “Futurity is unevenly distributed because it is scarce.” (KL 336)
The more we peer into the future the more we see antiquity: “Considered as sheer quantified improvement, the progress, or ingress, of temporal resolution through horology and chronometry has far outpaced the expansive development of time.” (KL 353) Regression and involution, the macro and micro movements of the time machine’s need to “break-out from confinement within cyclical time” (KL 365). “After all, from the perspective of progressive modernism, cyclical stability is a trap, broken open (uniquely) by the ignition of self-reinforcing, cumulative growth.” (KL 368) Otherwise known as positive feedback. Gunnar Myrdal described a vicious circle of increasing inequalities, and poverty, which is known as “circular cumulative causation.
Yet, as Land surmises progressivism and modernization are actually a “flight into cyclicity” staged “as a break from the cycles of time” (KL 371). As he reports it:
As its culture folds back upon itself, it proliferates self-referential models of a cybernetic type, attentive to feedback-sensitive self-stimulating or auto-catalytic systems. The greater the progressive impetus, the more insistently cyclicity returns. To accelerate beyond light-speed is to reverse the direction of time. Eventually, in science fiction, modernity completes its process of theological revisionism, by re-discovering eschatological culmination in the time-loop. Judgment Day. The end comes when the future reaches back, to seize us. (KL 375)
This is why we feel locked into a time capsule, that sense that there is no future, that we are living in a bubble cut off from time, that time has become a sort of twilight-zone theme park where nothing changes except the stage scenery. We are living in a hyperreality of progress that is in fact a regression to voidic death machine cycling through its myriad replays – pre-recorded fake events, deja vu slow-motion cinematic replays of a Reality TV show filmed by David Lynch and David Cronenberg.
“Entropy measures of a global (or closed) system are production-time ordinates. The sequential order of any production phase is inherent to it, as a natural property. ‘Before’ and ‘after’ are not read-off from the time-line, but inscribed within the terms of the series themselves. Within the directional time of production, therefore, linearity is re-doubled, or reinforced. Reversion is explicitly obstructed. (The thermodynamic argument against time-travel is the strongest that exists.)” (KL 421)
The only way to time travel is break free of the arrow of time: This arrow has been reversed in carefully worked experiments which have created convergent waves, so this arrow probably follows from the thermodynamic arrow in that meeting the conditions to produce a convergent wave requires more order than the conditions for a radiative wave. Put differently, the probability for initial conditions that produce a convergent wave is much lower than the probability for initial conditions that produce a radiative wave. In fact, normally a radiative wave increases entropy, while a convergent wave decreases it, making the latter contradictory to the Second Law of Thermodynamics in usual circumstances.
Experiments in prototype wavepacket dynamics scenarios probing quantum irreversibility. Unlike the mostly hypothetical “time reversal” concept, a “driving reversal” scenario can be realized in a laboratory experiment, and is relevant to the theory of quantum dissipation. We study both the energy spreading and the survival probability in such experiments. We also introduce and study the “compensation time” (time of maximum return) in such a scenario. Extensive effort is devoted to figuring out the capability of either linear response theory or random matrix theory (RMT) to describe specific features of the time evolution. We explain that RMT modeling leads to a strong non-perturbative response effect that differs from the semiclassical behavior.
TEMPLEXITY – TIME DISINTEGRATION
“Any such local inversion of the arrow of time is produced by an exportation of entropy, conducted by a dissipative system, or real time machine. These systems typify the self-assembling units of biological and social organization – cells, organisms, eco-systems, tribes, cities, and (market) economies. In each case, an individuating complex machine swims against the cosmic (global) current, piloted by feedback circuitry that dumps internal disorder into an external sink. The cosmic time-economy is conserved, in aggregate, but becomes ever more unevenly distributed as local complexity is enhanced. Self-cultivating – or auto-productive – complexity is time disintegration (templexity).” (KL 430)
As Land will surmise real templexity cannot be time travel. Instead we have “autoproduction” – the Bootstrap Paradox: The term “bootstrap paradox” refers to the expression “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps“; the use of the term for the time-travel paradox was popularized by Robert A. Heinlein‘s story By His Bootstraps. It is a paradox in the sense that an independent origin of the events that caused each other cannot be determined, they simply exist by themselves, thus they may be said to have been predestined to occur. Predestination does not necessarily involve a metaphysical power, and could be the result of other “infallible foreknowledge” mechanisms. The predestination paradox allows time travel to be self-consistent, similar to the Novikov self-consistency principle. (wiki)
For Land the best illustration of this is the Terminator series in which the Skynet threat is not merely futuristic, but fully templex. It produces itself within a time-circuit, autonomized against extrinsic genesis. The abstract horror of the Terminator franchise is a matter of auto-production. (KL 463) Even capitalism serves as illustration:
Capital, defined with maximum abstraction (in the work of Böhm Bawerk), is circuitous production, in a double, interconnected sense. It takes an indirect, technologically-conducted path, routed through enhanced means of production, and it turns back upon itself, regeneratively. As it mechanizes, capital approximates ever more closely to an auto-productive circuit in which it appears – on the screen – as something like the ‘father’ of itself (M → C → M’). There’s no political economy without templexity. (KL 469)
Moving through a short history of cybernetics (Norbert Weiner), systems theory, negative and positive feedback systems Land will note that for “any sufficiently panoramic realism, it is accelerating growth, rather than system stability, that defines normality” (KL 522). He’ll continue saying “Civilization is an accelerating process, not a steady state.” (KL 526) He’ll reinforce the notion of the ubiquity of our infospheric world as hyperreality that has “eaten the world, it has retreated into invisibility, rendered inconspicuous by the absence of significant contrast” (KL 528).
Land will run history backwards like a cinematic drama into the beginnings of the first human settlements then accelerate forward till we enter our age of Global Cities. What he discovers in this modeling, or cybernetic playout is the “city is unquestionably – or (to say what is in reality exactly the same, but this time with greater caution) vividly – a time machine. It cannot be made without time reversal, and everything we know about historical geography tells us that it is coming to a screen near you.” (KL 564)
THE WESTERN LANDS
At the end of his trilogy on The Western Lands William S. Burroughs comes to penultimate moment. He is sitting in front of his Wishing Machine pondering just what it is he really and truly wants:
“I want to reach the Western Lands – right in front of you, across the bubbling brook. It’s a frozen sewer. It’s known as the Duad, remember? All the filth and horror, fear, hate, disease and death of human history flows between you and the Western Lands. Let if flow! My cat Fletch stretches behind me on the bed. A tree like black lace against a gray sky. A flash of joy.
How long does it take a man to learn that he does not, cannot want what he “wants”?
“Hurry up, please. It’s time.”
For Burroughs the “road to the Western Lands is the most dangerous of all roads… To enter the Western Lands means leaving the human covenant behind in the human outhouse…”. This was and is the posthuman movement of an accelerating time machine that seeks to go past the limits of the safe and secure, to break down and through the self-imposed barriers of fear and terror, morality and normativity we’ve marshalled against the truth of our impending posthuman transition. What lies on the other side?
It want be human, that’s for sure!
Like Land says of time travel, it’s something else… to enter the posthuman is this “something else”.
The essay is taken from:
At a crucial turn in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, we’re introduced the Panther Moderns – a guerrilla subculture in a world where subcultures flicker by like disconnected frames of some montage film. The Panther Moderns specialize in hallucinatory simulations – in a world dipping into the “consensual hallucination” of cyberspace, they build hallucinations on top of it, subverting a reality that is already subjected to constant reconfiguration through digitalization, genetic body modification, and psychotropic drugs. If cyberpunk, as Lewis Call insists, picks up where Baudrillard’s delirious hysteria over the becoming-simulation, becoming-simulacrum of reality leaves off, figures like the Panther Moderns show the escape route. They embody the old ‘Mao-Dadaist’ slogan of the Autonomists rallied around Radio Alice: “false information produces real events.”
The political ramifications of the Panther Moderns, beyond the literary depiction of our very real world, did not go unnoticed. A group of theory-heads involved with ACT UP, a direct action/political advocacy group dedicated to revising awareness over the AIDs epidemic, read Neuromancer and took inspiration from the Panther Moderns. They christened themselves the Critical Art Ensemble, and began making waves with their elucidation of “tactical media” and their provocative stance that “as far as power is concerned, the streets are dead capital!”[i] Better to contest power right in the heart of its new ambiguity – the electronic flows that replace former sedentary masses. By being plugged into strange and wonderful history of tactical media, William Gibson finds himself embedded in a rhizomatic sprawl running back to the Dadaist and earlier and up to Occupy Wall Street and beyond – with a whole host of avant-gardes, freak scenes, reality hackers, and anonymous revolutionaries kicking around in between.
The Panther Moderns, in Gibson’s world, are something of an avant-garde. With an array of practices and/or tactics hanging hazily between political action, artistic expression, and general trouble-making, their nihilistic surroundings finds their real world compliments in the industrialized Paris that so inspired the Decadents and the later Surrealists, the Saint-Germain scene that spewed out not only existentialism but the Situationists, or the avant-political networks that gave the world urban guerrilla commandos as much as it did Krautrock. What is it about the thin lines that exist between art, radical politics, and criminality? What makes these birds, seemingly of different species, flock together? And what do we make of the general atmosphere of radical urban transformation, encroaching poverty, and industrial ruination that spark them?
For now, I’d like to leave that up for others to untangle, and turn now to Accelerationism, that term so debate, celebrated, and reviled in equal terms. By two, some two years after Srnicek and Williams simultaneously equated accelerationism with left-wing technological development and dragged Nick Land and the CCRU out of the shadows that they hoped to resign them to, nearly every militant political moment has been brought together under the ‘Accelerationist’ label – almost to the point where the term hardly holds any meaning whatsoever. Marx encouraged technology’s ability to open up free time? Accelerationist. The Soviets looked towards computer automation to eliminate the traces of capitalist labor relations? Accelerationist. The Situationists wanted to turn cybernetics over to worker’s councils? Accelerationist. The ambiguities of communization theory? Accelerationist. Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Hardt, Negri – Accelerationism all the way down.
So ultimately, it’s not my goal to go indulge the adding of another name to the ever-expanding roster. That said, that’s precisely what I’m going to do – albeit with a little different spin.
Over at the blog Obsolete Capitalism we find some rather unacknowledged information about the now-famous quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, where they ask if Nietzsche was right all along and the decoding of flows (the capitalist processes of deterritorialization) needs to be accelerated – rather than the retreat into left-wing nationalism. Much has been made about the rejection of an important left-wing strategy deployed against multinational capitalism, and the way that accelerating capitalism’s expansion appears, at first glance, to be an odd veer into some sort of post-Marxist libertarianism (to deploy the term in contemporary parlance). Much less has been made about Nietzsche’s role in all of it – namely, where exactly did he say we had to accelerate decoding, and what did he mean by this? Obsolete Capitalism points us towards a fragment of Nietzsche’s titled “The Strong of the Future”, which was commented on at length in Pierre Klossowski’s Nietzsche and His Vicious Circle – a text that would come to bear an incredible influence over Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault and the other post-structuralist theorists. In fact, as Obsolete Capitalism points out, it was Klossowski’s decision to translate the term deployed by Nietzsche as “accelerate”, thus giving rise directly to Deleuze and Guattari’s interpretation.
For Nietzsche, the levelling of society through modernizing forces will produce, as a sort of strange side effect or mutation that will affirm the dissolution of their traditionalist bonds and boundaries while carrying out an overcoming of the system that put them into play. Accelerationism, in the Nietzschean perspective, is less about pushing laissez-faire economics into apocalyptic overdrive or the unshackling of technology’s restraints. It’s about the fomenting of contrarian subjectivities – and in this sense it’s very much an affair of avant-gardes. The mad modernists wandering in the ruins, the leftist psychedelia of Vaneigem, the all-night jazz parties in Saint-Germain, the Autonomists celebrating the artificiality of simulation.
Hardt and Negri, who deploy the quote from Anti-Oedipus for their own ends (to invoke the multitude pushing Empire through to its other side, in a clear anticipation of Srnicek and Williams), also turn to Nietzsche as a figure to be hold clues to the future. Citing from The Will to Power (in which “The Strong of the Future” appears), they seize upon the figure of the barbarian, who will “come into view and consolidate themselves only after tremendous socialist crises.”[ii] Hardt and Negri stress that the barbarian “while escaping from the local and particular constraints of their human condition, must also continually attempt to construct a new body and new life.” In a footnote to this section of Empire they tell us that in cyberpunk fiction the barbarian find clues to its future beyond the rubble. A Panther Modern lurks in that direction.
Enter Semiotext(e), purveyors of what I would like to dub “grungy accelerationism”. It’s a dumb name, for sure, but I would like to clarify exactly what it means. Accelerationism here is used in the sense sketched about, as a sort of mutant subjectivity that begins (and ends) amidst the rubble of capitalism’s deterritorializing modernization processes. This also gives us a temporal space, marking the period prior to the inevitability of capitalism’s reterritorializing tendencies, which sorts through exactly what it’s made unhinged and puts it back together. Grungy, on the other hand, is a word that conjures up images of the 1990s – flannel shirts, bummed out kids, and the generalized ‘slacker attitude’ that prevailed in the underside of the Clinton economy. What’s more important, however, is what lurks behind these corporatized images: a sort of street nihilism where the punk mantra of “no future” becomes a way of life, and the conditions for new coordinates of living and do-it-yourself attitude fester and take root – all the while acknowledging the essential bullshit of the spectacle. And a caveat: this is not an attempt at periodization, or theory, or an excuse to canonize anything in orthodoxy. More than all, this is an excuse to point out a few – and maybe ultimately unimportant – aspects out there on the margins.
The origin of Semiotext(e) dates back to the early-to-mid 1970s, when Sylvere Lotringer – French immigrant and close friend to the celebrities of post-structuralism – got together with some of his students at Columbia University, where he taught courses on semiotics, to release a kind of underground ‘zine that would bridge the gap between French theory and the “downtown” arts culture that had weaved its way through New York City since the 1950s. Downtown culture was large and heterogeneous: it founds its origins in circles around the abstract expressionists (Jackson Pollock, Theodore Roszak, William de Koonig, etc) and the Fluxus artists (John Cage, Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, etc); it continued down through the minimalists (La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, etc) and Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable and the Velvet Underground. It explored through punk rock (Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, the Ramones, etc) and later gave rise to no wave (Mars, DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, etc). It counted in its ranks innumerable poets, artists, painters, performance artists – and even more innumerable unclassifiable individuals who eschewed arts for a life near the bottom. It habituated in clubs and secreted away spaces like the Kitchen, Colab and the Mud Club; it has now given rise to an entire industry of retrospection.
In the mid-1970s French theory was all but unknown – but its essential topics (subjectivity, power, rhizomes, nomadism, simulation, libidinal economics) seemed to Lotringer to speak not so much to the possibility of a revolution to come in Europe, but the actual practices being put into play in the United States. This is the usually accounted for origins of Semiotext(e); Lotringer’s own recounting of the publication’s founding hints towards what today is well known in critical circles as Accelerationism. Anti-Oedipus was the lynchpin, assimilating the demands of the desiring-revolution in May of 1968 with a new interpretation of how capitalism functions. Deleuze and Guattari, Lotringer says, were “upping the ante on Marx by observing that capital, far from being a purely repressive, ruthless mechanism meant to extract surplus-value, was constantly creating new values and new possibilities. And since capitalism absorbed everything, the trick was to counter it from within, redirecting its flows, ceaselessly moving ground.”[iii] Since France was dominated by heavy bureaucracy directed by cybernetically-minded socialists-turned-marketeers, this position was simply “science fiction”, while in America – and New York City in particular – it was immediately recognizable.
In the issue of Semiotext(e) dedicated solely to Anti-Oedipus, published in 1977, these ideas are grounded even more firmly. In an essay section titled “Project for a Revolution in New York”, Lotringer writes that “The gamble of Anti-Oedipus is to reformulate revolutionary perspectives from the strong points, and the weak links, of capitalism.”[iv]Another essay in the issue, written by Lyotard with the name “Enurgumen Capitalism”, defines the revolutionary subject of Anti-Oedipus as the artist who struggles “to make himself inhuman”, and points towards its relationship with the flows of the libidinal economy that forever surpass their limits. In 2014 “Enurgumen Capitalism” would find its reprint – this time in the #Accelerationist Reader. “Nietzsche’s Return,” a Semiotext(e) issue from the same year, contains Deleuze’s essay “Nomad Thought”, where he quotes “The Strong of the Future” and adds “Faced with the decoding of our societies, the leaking away of our codes, Nietzsche is the one who does not endeavor to recode. He says: things still haven’t gone far enough, you are just children yet… In his writing as well as his thinking, Nietzsche pursues an attempt at decoding: not in the sense of a relative decoding which would consist in deciphering antiquated, current or future codes, but in the sense of an absolute decoding- the introduction of something that isn’t encodable, the jamming of all codes.”[v] A handful of pages later we find Lyotard again, this time celebrating Nietzsche’s projected decomposition of coordinates, and aligning this celebration on one hand with capitalism’s tendency towards dissolution, and the music of John Cage on the other.
Across the 1970s, capital burned through a great many areas of New York City and left in its wake a hulking shell of what had once been a metropolis. Decades earlier Robert Moses, the so-called “Master Builder”, had went to work re-organizing the city’s urban space – crisscrossing it with highway and unmaking its neighborhoods in a grand vision of scale on par with Hausmann’s reconstruction of Paris under the watchful eye of Napoleon. But the city of the future would not be realized: the neighborhoods transformed by Moses’ top-down planning never recovered, and thanks to newly laid expressway systems were cut from the organic urban fabric. Compounded with corruption and mismanagement of public funds, the city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy by 1975. By this point, vast areas of the Lower East Side were empty, the streets lined with vacant lots and stores. Lydia Lunch recounted that “There were just blocks and blocks of abandoned buildings, set on fire nightly from people sleeping under tea lights,” while the filmmaker Scott B added “You could go to a building and take it over– steal electricity out of the lamp post and live in it for years.”[vi]
In the eyes of Lotringer and Semiotext(e) this was becoming the staging ground for the emergence of “schizo-culture”, taking its cue from Deleuze and Guattari’s depiction of schizophrenia as a process of decoding and deterritorialization – not unlike capitalism but capable of making revolutionary breaks from the power it wields. In 1975 Semiotext(e) organized the Schizo-Culture conference at Columbia University, bringing together Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault and Lyotard with Cage, Burroughs and other members of this Downtown scene – but rather from being an academic success, it served to estrange Semiotext(e) from the university and push it into direct interaction with the street culture it sought to analyze. By the time the “Schizo-Culture” issue was released in 1978, the aesthetics of the magazine resembled a punk ‘zine more than anything, even if the first article is an interview with Foucault.
The notion of Schizo-Culture is precisely what I call grungy accelerationism – both move in the wake of capitalism’s flows and find their meanings to autonomy in the left-overs. A case in point was art “movement” of no wave, which grew in the abandoned districts of the Lower East Side and whose cacophony made the punk scene sound conservative. Bands like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, DNA, James Chance and the Contortions, the Theoretical Girls and the Gynecologists took street nihilism as their launching pad, and used stake out a territory far beyond the co-opted, mass-produced culture of the 1970s. For the brief period of its existence, the no wave scene saw the collapse of boundaries between artistic disciplines – everyone was a musician, a sculptor, a painter, a writer, and a filmmaker. The hollowing-out of New York City allowed them to pursue these goals without resorting to wage labor. In a retrospective, Lydia Lunch recalled “Work? Are you nuts? Please. $75 per month– that was my rent when I got an apartment on 12th Street.” As in early avant-gardes, the line between arts and criminality blurred; many resorted to illegal means for money when it was necessary. In grungy accelerationism, life isn’t easy or pretty, but to quote Scott B “You can’t imagine the freedom that we had. The middle class had abandoned the place, and we just walked in and took it.”
Semiotext(e) made its home in the no wave scene, with many of the artists taking part in putting the publications together. Take for example Diego Cortez, the director of the Mudd Club (the central locus of no wave music) and an organizer of a concert that brought together the downtown music scene with the concept artists from Soho, took helm on designing the lay-out several issues; his impact was felt on the immediate follow-up to schizo-culture, 1979’s “Autonomia: Post-Political Politics”. The purpose of this issue was to bring together the struggles of the Italian Autonomia with no wave, the two having emerged at the same time (albeit on different continents). Like their New York counterparts, the Autonomists took a strong line against labor, calling for a refusal of work and the glorification of idleness instead. Antonio Negri, in his classic text “Capitalist Domination and Working Class Sabotage” (a fragment of which can be found in the Semiotext(e) issue), channeled punk energy by asserting “We have a method for the destruction of work. We are in search of a positive measure of non-work, a measure of our liberation from that disgusting slavery from which the bosses have always profited, and which the official socialist movement has always imposed on us like some sort of title of nobility. No, we really cannot call ourselves ‘socialists’ for we can no longer accept your disgrace.”[vii]
The Autonomia also held a certain debt to the French theorists, most specifically Deleuze, Guattari, and Baudrillard. The various tactics they deployed – pirate radio stations like Radio Alice, the refusal to work, the rejection of parliamentary politics, the usage of squats, and the bringing of the strange into everyday life (such as the case of the Metropolitan Indians, who wore face painted and prowled the streets of Rome, staging spontaneous urban) interventions such as impromptu concerts) – embodied the ideas of a schizoid revolution. Guattari would agree in full, writing in a text titled “The Proliferation of the Margins” that in the case of the Autonomia, “the lines of flight merge with the objective lines of deterritorialization.”[viii] Again, we find the theme of revolution emerging in the wake of capitalism’s flows, a molecular uprising amongst the ruins.
Guattari pondered whether or not this molecular revolution could “take charge of not only local problems, but also administrative larger economic configurations”. The inevitable reterritorialization of capitalism’s flows took place instead. In the case of Italy, the Autonomia was dismantled under the state’s enacting of emergency laws. In New York City, the administrators had enacted a series of economic reforms following the near-bankruptcy of 1975; as the Reaganite 80s loomed, finance and real estate capital swept through the city, raising property rates across the boards and expunging the artists from their lofts. Flush with money, art patrons, rich collectors, and gallery owners turned their eyes to the concept artists, painters, and sculptors. Almost overnight the spontaneous immediatism of the downtown culture transformed into the affluent art market. Semiotext(e) rode this wave, shifting away from ‘zine-style publications to their “Foreign Agents” series – pocket-seized theory fragments bearing minimalist, black covers. The goal was to carry out the Situationist gesture of creating an “explosion in the heart of the commodity”, a sort of homeopathic antidote to the commoditization of all things radical and militant. One wonders, however, to the extent that “Foreign Agents” deviated from the spectacular wave of finance capitalism: with their aesthetic sheen and mobile nature, the books doubled as a fashionable accoutrement, something to be seen while reading in the subway or to show off to friends at a party. Case in point is the release of Baudrillard’s Simulation. Instead of throwing down the gauntlet, the ideas of hyppereality and simulacrum were stripped of their postmodern anarchist, cyberpunked potentials. It became the lingua franca of the art market itself, the new territory of the commodity sprawl.
Now we turn to Autonomedia, a radically anarchist book publisher that became Semiotext(e)’s main distributor in the early 1980s. Best known for publishing works in the vein of Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z. and the militant writings of Ron Sakolsky, Autonomedia can be immediately contextualized in what is now commonly referred to as “post-left anarchism”. At the same time, I would argue that they – and the texts they print – embody what I’m referring to as grungy accelerationism. Instead of opting for a direct confrontation with the powers of capitalism, the bourgeoisie and the state (as Marxist-Leninism or communization theory might pose, in their own different routes), what was promoted instead was the construction of alternative, aesthetically experimental, DIY networks right in the midst of the ruins. John Cage, concept art and minimalist music mattered much less here than the ability to take theory out of its contexts and insert it into a gleeful, deviant intransigence.
Autonomedia’s output is a small glimpse into a wider world, of which the downtown scene of New York City had been the recognizable tip of the iceberg. This was a world populated by anarchists, drop-outs, schisms groups, kooks, cranks, professional idlers, punks, nomads, parody mystics, vagabonds, and other figures that, to quote Anti-Oedipus, “know how to leave, to scramble codes, to cause flows to circulate…”[ix] This world had its own passcodes, rituals, and objects that circulated outside of commodity of relations. ‘Zines were an essential aspect of this circulation, as were cassettes of garage bands and noise music; mail art (with its own origins in the Fluxus movement) helped tie the whole network together.
Staying true to their insistence that the underside of America culture gave form to the abstract militancy of the French theorists, Semiotext(e) released in 1987 Semiotext(e) USA, edited by Jim Fleming (the editor of Autonomedia) and Peter Lamborn Wilson (better known as Hakim Bey). A dense compilation of writing, letters, comics, advertisements, and unclassifiable, Semiotex(e) USA performs a living archeology of this underground world. Like the Autonomia and the no wavers before them, a reoccurring theme is the refusal of work. Bob Black’s famous “Abolition of Work” appears next to anarcho-syndicalist propaganda material, detourned ads from women’s magazines calling on people to leave their careers, and comics suggesting that micropolitical revolution is no different that the so-called macropolitical transformations. The point is driven home clearly in a picture of a woman looking on wistfully, a wall clock ticking behind her. “So many revolutionaries without a revolution,” the thought bubbles above her head say. “I want a revolution without revolutionaries!”
Semiotext(e) USA acts as a performative text. The last second of the book contains veritable classifieds section, full of addresses and advertisements for ‘zines, various fringe groups, ‘strange individuals’, and conspiracy nuts. A full page is dedicated to the Church of the Subgenius, a parody religion founded by Ivan Stang. Beyond the Church’s relationship to the postal avant-garde (through its connections to Neoism, cassette culture, and mail art writ large), the commonalities are clear: the Church preaches a gospel of ‘slack’ instead of work, and encourages the ‘followers’ to reach out and learn from every fringe subculture, conspiracy group, and religious sect imaginable. By providing a dialogue to these rhizomatic sources, Semiotext(e) USA invited the reader to participate directly in this world.
Two years later, Semiotext(e) and Autonomedia unveiled their follow-up to Semiotext(e) USA – the aptly named Semiotext(e) SF. The topic here is accelerationist avant-lettregenre of cyberpunk and other mutant strands of science fiction. If USA was a cartography of the existing underground, SF aimed to show exactly grungy accelerationism was going – the editors (Peter Lamborn Wilson/Hakim Bey, Robert Anton Wilson and Rudy Rucker) note that made of the contributions they culled together “emerged largely from underground world of xerox microzines and American samizdat: writers so radically marginalized they could never be co-opted, recuperated, reified or bought out by the Establishment.”[x] When it comes to the well-known names of the genre (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, etc.) the punk in cyberpunk is emphasized. “One imagines them,” they say of the authors, “as crazed computer hackers with green mohawks and decaying leather jackets, stoned on drugs so new the FDA hasn’t heard of them yet, word-processing their necropsychedelic prose to blaring tapes by groups with names like The Crucifucks, Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, Bad Brains…”
On the first page of Semiotext(e) SF we find the words “NO WAVE SF”. While this pointed isn’t elucidated, perhaps there is more going on there than an attempt to forge a bridge between the future and the past. Let’s take for our example Glenn Branca, who cut his musical teeth in the no wave band Theoretical Girls before releasing a series of extremely abstract works that blended rock guitar with the minimalist drone music of La Monte Young and Terry Riley – the culmination of an experiment launched by the Velvet Underground in 1966. Branca’s albums abound with references to Baudrillardian simulation and the Situationist critique of the Spectacle; it should not be so surprising, then, that he later could be found selling used copies of cyberpunk novels from his website. As James Reich puts it, there appears to be a distinctive – yet discrete – congruence between Branca’s liquid-metal guitar soundscapes. Describing the premier of his “Symphony No. 12” in 1997, he writes “For those of us that did not flee the auditorium covering our ears, Branca’s music possessed us (and continues to possess) with structures, planes, and hyperspaces, compelling a weird consensual hallucination in the distortion.”[xi] Rooting through the overlap between music and visual arts in New York City, he adds that “Branca the cyberpunk aficionado is… the link between artist Robert Longo whose work from the Men In The Cities series Branca used on the cover of his album The Ascension (1981) and Longo’s movie Johnny Mnemonic (1995) based on Gibson’s short story of the same name (1981)…”
An even more direct point of (sub)cultural connection comes with the Sonic Youth, the now-famous band that emerged at the tail end of no wave (with the first several of their albums produced by Branca. After a slew of releases following the no wave template – and bearing the usual no wave subject matter – they shifted gears and began peppering their music with references to the schizophrenic science fiction of Philip K. Dick and the cyberpunk of William Gibson. Their seminal Day Dream Nation, for example, boasts a track titled “The Sprawl” – the name of the dystopic super-city in Neuromancer and its sequels. The implication is that the underground New York City – the one that produced downtown culture, no wave, and the other elements in Semiotext(e)’s conception of “schizo-culture” is the real world equivalent of the strange spaces crafted by Gibson and his colleagues. This also marks, somewhat ironically, the transformation of grungy accelerationism into the grunge culture that swept the US in the 90s – as well as the promise of its eventual commodification through the ongoing process of reterritorialization.
It occurs to me that this essay is far too long, and ultimately without any end in sight. In lieu of a conclusion proper, I just want to add a few extra thoughts. First of all, this small transhistory that has been traced here exists in a garden of forking paths, with plenty of other avenues to follow for those who are interested:
And finally, I’d like to close with a quote from Nietzsche, by way of Hardt and Negri: “Who are our barbarians of today?”
[i] Critical Art Ensemble Electronic Civil Disobedience http://www.critical-art.net/books/ecd/ecd2.pdf
[ii] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 214
[iii] Sylvere Lotringer “Better Than Life: My 80s” Artforum, March, 2003, http://www.egs.edu/faculty/sylvere-lotringer/articles/better-than-life/
[iv] Sylvere Lotringer “Libido Unbound: The Politic of ‘Schizophrenia’”, in Semiotext(e) Anti-Oedipus: From Psychoanalysis to Schizopolitics, 1977, pg. 6
[v] Gilles Deleuze “Nomad Thought”, in Semiotext(e) Nietzsche’s Return 1977, Pg. 15
[vi] Marc Masters “No! The Origins of No Wave”Pitchfork January 15th, 2008, http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/6764-no-the-origins-of-no-wave/
[vii]Antonio Negri “Capitalist Domination and Working Class Sabotage” https://libcom.org/library/capitalist-domination-working-class-sabotage-negri
[viii] Felix Guattari “The Proliferation of the Margins”, in Autonomia: Post-Political Politics Semiotext(e), 1979 pg. 109
[ix] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus Penguin, 1977, pg. 133
[x] Rudy Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Robert Anton Wilson, Semiotext(e) SF Semiotext(e), 1989 pg. 13
[xi] James Reich “Glenn Branca and the Lost History of Cyberpunk” Fiction Advocate, May 29th, 2009, http://fictionadvocate.com/2014/05/29/glenn-branca-and-the-lost-history-of-cyberpunk/
by Steven Craig Hickman
We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and back alleys of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some galactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums…my awe-struck little deer and I have gone frolicking.
See you anon. Jonathan Doe.
Thomas Ligotti, The Frolic
In “Aliens Under The Skin: Serial Killing and the Seduction of Our Common Humanity” By David Roden, part of the Serial Killing: A Philosophical Anthology edited by Edia Connole and Gary J. Shipley, David surmises that the “inhumanity of man” we’ve known since at least Wordsworth first coined this term is central to how we as humans define ourselves. Being human implies the artificial and necessary distancing from our inhuman origins, the externalization of our inhuman monstrousness. Ever since hominids first began rejecting their animal heritage in favor of the gods – or, some other mythic, symbolic, or religious sense of transcendence, we’ve tried to exit and escape the truth of our inhuman core, of who and what we are, our inhumanity. In our time the serial killer has become the touchstone of that unholy terror of the sacred and sacrificial excess, the exuberance of the banal and the monstrous sacred we in our secular age have both rejected and repressed. It is the dark kernel of our inhuman core that seems to haunt the hinterlands of our ancient animalistic and natural ties to the earth.
In fact David will go so far as to say that our fascination and allure with Serial Killers, with psychopathic monsters of screen or flesh is simply that, we define ourselves through denial and invention, flight and imaginative need. We study in cinematic delight figures such as Dexter Morgan, Paul Spector or Hannibal Lecter— not because they are human, but because they are inhuman. Their alterity fascinates us even as it terrorizes us. Fascination is at root Latin: fascinatus, past participle of fascinare “bewitch, enchant, fascinate,” from fascinus “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft;” to fascinate is to bring under a spell, as by the power of the eye; to enchant and to charm are to bring under a spell by some more subtle and mysterious power.
The Psychopath fascinates us because he can manipulate and mimic our humanity, lead us into delusion and delirium, allure us to our death through a dramatic enactment of our deepest need to know the secret of who and what we are. Against notions of representation, the psychopath represents nothing, because there is nothing behind the mask, nothing to re-present, no presence: only the emptiness of the animal eye, the actor acting, the playing of a role in which the human quality of empathy is missing: in which the human itself is robbed of its life. This is the key, the psychopath being without empathy, is a soulless husk lacking emotion, intention, or fellow feeling – a mere hollow bell sounding from the depths of hell and despair. All he can do is mime our emotions, mimic them as in a carefully crafted impersonation, a role that must be enacted as if he were on a stage. All the while his calculating mind, his fierce intellect watches, studies, manipulates; yet, can never desire in the way we do, for he lacks that element that would make him human: a capacity for love. Rather his lack of remorse or shame, impulsivity, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulative behavior, and poor self-control will drive him toward promiscuous sexual and deviant acts of cold, heartless, and inhuman insidiousness. Like the Joker in Batman, the psychopath seeks only to manipulate desires since he has none. Like a postmodern Loki, the Joker enacts the very jouissance of human desire as fakery, as stagecraft, as the merciless mirth of the dammed. Hovering over an abyss he collapses human emotion into a dark smile – a smile that bespeaks of an impersonal and absolute power of indifference that can swat you like a housefly or slice you strip by strip into slivers of vibrant flesh just to discover why you feel what he cannot.
One need only be reminded of Shakespeare’s great nihilists Hamlet, Iago, Macbeth; or as in King Lear the cruelty of Edmund, bastard son of Gloucester who manipulates his wives, sister, half-brothers, father. Yet, in our time who will forget Patrick Bateman, the character in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. A successful investment banker and stylish dresser with an extensive knowledge of eighties music and an eye for interior design—a real mover and shaker. A man who in between comparing business cards and drinking cocktails with other investment bankers, Patrick busies himself with senseless murders and stomach-turning torture sessions. After killing a colleague, he loses control of his violent urges and moves on to necrophilia, cannibalism (making meatloaf of a girl is frustrating!), mutilation, and horrific murders involving chainsaws, nail guns, and rats. Bateman’s charm, complete detachment, and lack of emotion or remorse make him the most disturbing psychopathic mime around: a true sociopath killer, charming, persuasive, and fascinating. As the character, Bateman will say of himself:
“…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there … Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape.”
As you can see from the above, psychopaths can suffer emotional pain for a variety of reasons. As with anyone else, psychopaths have a deep wish to be loved and cared for. This desire remains frequently unfulfilled, however, because it is obviously not easy for another person to get close to someone with such repellent personality characteristics. Psychopaths are at least periodically aware of the effects of their behavior on others and can be genuinely saddened by their inability to control it. The lives of most psychopaths are devoid of a stable social network or warm, close bonds.2 The psychopath is left with a difficult choice: adapt and participate in an empty, unreal life, or do not adapt and live a lonely life isolated from the social community. They see the love and friendship others share and feel dejected knowing they will never be part of it. Because of this some psychopaths are driven to games, to frolicking, to the sport of death and derision, spurning their brethren for what they in themselves lack they seek to make merry, frolicking on the abyss between annihilation and murder. The seduction of the killer is his incapacity for life, one of the living dead he lives and preys on the darkness of others; like a forlorn god he roams the night seeking warmth he cannot give, and giving in return the only gift he has: death.
Specific to Serial Killers David Roden will qualify psychopathy with a notion from a species concept that has been proposed by the bioethicist Darian Meacham: the Phenomenological Species Concept (PSC). As he states it: “Meacham’s account of species recognition is based on Husserl’s claim that our experience of others involves an empathic awareness of them as having mental states analogous to our own.” Yet, it is just this lack of empathy that separates the serial killer, the psychopath from the rest of us. His lack of empathy drives his malignity. In fact such a creature can only mimic our affective relations as if they were some dark share that were secretly missing in his constitution. He cannot feel our emotions. Yet, he sees them in us, he knows their there; and this sparks his curiosity, his intellect. It is intellect rather than emotions, passions that forces this knowledge on him, that drives him to know and seek out ways to manipulate in us the very thing missing in his own makeup. Like a shadow player, a trickster out of hell, the psychopath’s very lack of empathy drives him, penetrating to the core of his being, empowering him forward toward acts of horror and virulent desecration.
Roden will speak of a common world of values that humans share, the realm of custom, habit, and morals – the human world of value and meaning. Yet, in our secular age of nihilism the value and meaning have been stripped bare, shriven of custom, habit, and moral concern, and in their place is this sense of absolute nothingness – the horror of the abyss of things without reason, the inhuman world of indifference and impersonal forces of science and atheism. “The PSC is a precondition for a life governed by a shared set of moral values and an ethics…,” because “if we cannot see others as having affective responses like our own, we cannot share moral practices sensitive to those feelings”. So the notion here is that if a being does not share in this common world of habits, customs, values, meaning and reciprocal “affections necessary for possession of human PSC” they will fall outside the community of men and into that inhuman region of psychopathy.
And, this is the crux of the serial killer as psychopathic inhumanity, because they have the ability to mimic us, our humanity; and yet, they do not possess the ability to empathize with others: this is the subtle strangeness and alterity of the psychopath; and, an eerie fascination on our part to know and understand just what that entails. David gives several reasons for this: masochistic fantasies of domination; sexual perversity and excitement; sado-masochistic voyeurism, etc. Yet, as David suggests, the main reason is due to the serial killer’s phenomenologically alien or inhuman “incapacity for empathy,” which arouses in us both fascination and terror, that allows us to see in the darkness of the other the abyss of our own inner inhumanity. The serial killer “is thus metaphysically alien while occupying a body that is biologically akin to our phenomenological conspecifics”.
Ultimately they “may be phenomenologically alien, but, in so being, they indirectly manifest the inhuman reality on which the fragile phenomenology of the human community depends”. Here David explores “dark phenomenology” or the notion that we live in a very minimal and neglectful field of knowledge, that for the most part we are blind to the very information we need to know more about ourselves and our environment but that we do not even know that we neglect this very information. As he states it:
“The blindness of the mind to its true nature is also exhibited among unimpaired agents. We regularly assume that we are authoritative about the reasons for our choices. Yet studies into the phenomenon of ‘choice blindness’ by Petter Johansson and Lars Hall suggest that humans can be gulled into attributing reasons to themselves that they did not make.”
In fact he’ll discuss Thomas Metzinger’s constraint of “autoepistemic closure”: “Phenomena such as choice blindness and anosognosia suggest that our insight into subjectivity depends on a fallible process of self-interpretation that is subjectively ‘transparent’ and immediate only because we are not aware that it is a process at all.” The point being that we are cut off, blind to the very processes of the brain that control the very access to information available. We are under the delusion that the information we have is all there is, and that it suffices to describe both ourselves and our environment when in fact it is minuscule in relation to the vast information processing that actually goes on in the brain of which we are in complete ignorance.
If serial killers are “aliens in virtue of their incapacity for empathy, we are all alien to ourselves epistemically”. Following Freud we become aware of our inhuman side only when it “perturbs our experience in ways that we cannot own”. This is Freud’s sense of drives that overpower us (i.e., moods or obsessions). For David the serial killer’s psychopathology reminds us of what Dylan Trigg in his recent ‘The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror,’ describes as the “spectral materiality (Levinas) of the world with horror—an inhuman void yawning beneath our lived and shared world”.
So that as David suggests in the end it “seems that we are drawn to the serial killer not because we admire their actions or identify with their prey, but because they intimate a reality deeper or more capacious than our parochial human world. The hyperbolically powerful serial killer may, then, entice us with the prospect of a weird transcendence, hidden in the defiles of an inhuman nature.”
Maybe in the end like Thomas Ligotti’s comic fatalist, the Frolic Man, the psychopath is an alien and alienated being of another order, or an order of play in the kosmos of which we are only dimly aware, but are reminded of from time to time as that region of being before Being, a pre-ontological gap, a hole in the universe of the human where the darkness seeps outside-in. It is in the darkness that we find our ancient home beyond the safe and secure regions of human empathy; and, yet, it is this very universe of untamed natural forces, where the unknown lives: those creatures of the night that sport upon the chaotic void that fascinates us, calls to us, beckons us, seduces us, and allures us toward impossible revelations even as it terrorizes us with its impersonal and absolute laughter and indifference. Here just here is where the Festival of Slaughter begins…
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
The fantastic implies an integration of the reader into the world of the characters; that world is defined by the reader’s own ambiguous perception of the events narrated.
-Tzvetan Todorov – The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre
The quote above entails absorbing the reader into the fantastic worlds of the characters, but what if the reverse were true; what if what is needed is to integrate the fantastic world of the unreal – allow those uncertain characters and events that seem to shift between the marvelous and uncanny – into our world, allow both the natural and unnatural or transnatural to intermix in that uncertain duration – that interval of time, we in our unknowing, call the fantastic real?
The Surrealists once believed they were constructing a bridge to the fourth-dimension, an inter-dimensional bridge of art, poetry, dance, and imaginal impossibilities. They believed that the ancient arts of the Great Work – of Alchemy and transformation, metamorphosis and magical systems of sigils and hidden knowledge’s could allow them to attain this transitional movement between worlds. For them the mundane world of utility and work were a dead zone where people were sleepwalkers and zombies roaming the machinic realms of dark hellish realm. Instead they sought to break out of this restricted world of commerce, to escape the humdrum realms of work and enter into the world of creativity and invention.
Rereading Tzvetan Todorov tonight reminded me of these various movements. I came across his notion of being caught up in an impossible situation or inexplicable event, drifting between natural and transnatural explanatory modes; shifting between the uncanny or marvelous, or figural or literal tropes without reaching for one or the other nor a factual reason for this ineffable impossibility is to be left in that uncertain twilight zone of the fantastic. The key is being able to live in that transitional state that Deleuze would capture in the use of the conjunction “And…”:
“A rhizome has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu), between things, inter-being, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb “to be”, but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, “and… and… and…” This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb “to be” […] to establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings.”
—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Rereading this passage reminded me once again that John Keats the Poet had already accomplished a more succinct definition in his now famous letter:
“Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason — Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”
John Mee once said of Keat’s stance that “the provisionality of the correspondence might be taken as a triumphant demonstration of negative capability, recording Keats’s ability to project himself into different roles and live in a state of creative uncertainty, but these letters also seem to express a deep sense of insecurity, which frequently took the form of a desire to escape the fever and the fret of the life around him.”
Todorov in his now classic statement says much the same in that we oscillate between the uncanny (natural, psychological) and the marvelous (supernatural, unreal):
Todorov tells us three things are required for the fantastic event. First, one must oblige the observer to consider the world of characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and a supernatural explanation of the events. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the observer’s role is so to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the hesitation is diagrammed, and becomes one of the themes or leitmotifs – recurring motifs of the work. Third, the observer must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text: he will reject both the marvelous (“allegorical”) as well as the poetic (“figurative, uncanny, psychological”) perspectives or interpretations.
Yet, if we assume as I suggested in the beginning that we’re no longer dealing with the reading of a book, but rather the role of the reader/interpreter is of the actual world around us seen from a parallax view in which the marvelous and uncanny, transnatural and natural dimensions intermingle or mix then one begins to understand and attain the view of surrealism – of our world opening onto a greater world that encompasses it. Of the noumenal shining through the shadows around us. Not to be confused with any notion of a Platonic world beyond outs, but rather our world seen as it is with rational thought no longer binding our perceptions to the ratio of logic and naturalistic vision.'
Yet, one must take great care and not revert to metaphysics or old value systems of symbolic or allegorical import, but rather to open up the gap in the Real or Transreal and allow a space of uncertainty rather than certainty to shift one to either the transcendent illusions of the marvelous, nor to reduce this uncertainty to the psychological biologism of the uncanny; rather, we should as in Keats remain in the fantastic dimension of the Transreal itself where negative capability allows us to remain in “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”.
Walter Pater in his high aesthetic work The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry related it this way, the wavering moment of uncertainty should be expanded, our “one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us.” He’d go on to say:
Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve - les hommes sont tous condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.
This is to live in-between savoring each moment as it passes without closing it off, without suborning it to some natural or unnatural event, but rather oscillating in the fantastic realms of creativity and invention, grace and the movement of desire; yet, unlike Pater I would add that the Ugly be given it’s due, that the realms of the macabre and grotesque should not be left out. The earthiness of the old art forms, of the poetry of Villon with its enchantments of sex and death, love and wastage should be included, too. All of life should inhabit the pulsation of this enduring moment of the natural and the impossible. This is nothing more and nothing less than participating in the open-ended ongoing creation of the fantastic world within which the marvelous and uncanny share in a dimension at once surreal and transreal.
On FB David Roden posted a link to The Guardian’s article Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century? Which got me to thinking. It had a link to Rudy Rucker’s old A Transrealist Manifesto. As the article states it “Transrealism argues for an approach to writing novels routed first and foremost in reality. It rejects artificial constructs like plot and archetypal characters, in favour of real events and people, drawn directly from the author’s experience.” We’ve all seen Reality TV where we passively watch other people living out fantastic or extreme lives and events that otherwise would never happen, contrived and choreographed affairs that seem doubly scripted to allow the illusion of life and the voyeuristic decadence of seeing the thing we all wished we could live, a distancing move that allows us to identify with the charade yet unable to actually perform or enact its enchantments. A pure lie that that binds us to the workday cycles of our mundane worlds of apathy and passivity.
So we need to reverse this, allow our lives to break free of work and utilitarian goals and enter into our own fantastic lives, not as some representational system of fictional possibility (i.e., living out role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, etc.). No. Instead, we need to open the gap into the Real, unbind the fetters of our techno-commercial systems of reason and ratio that limit and delimit the horizon of our lives, police our emotive and intellectual perceptions, that bind us to a reduced vision of the earth and our lives. Rucker suggests What he suggested by “Trans” aspect is to invent a new set of tools, and with these “fantastic devices it is actually possible to manipulate subtext. The familiar tools of SF — time travel, antigravity, alternate worlds, telepathy, etc. — are in fact symbolic of archetypal modes of perception. Time travel is memory, flight is enlightenment, alternate worlds symbolize the great variety of individual world-views, and telepathy stands for the ability to communicate fully.” As he says in his manifesto: “This is the “Trans” aspect. The “realism” aspect has to do with the fact that a valid work of art should deal with the world the way it actually is. Transrealism tries to treat not only immediate reality, but also the higher reality in which life is embedded.”
Yet, he is still bound within the two-world theory of Plato in this notion of immediate and higher reality. We need to move out of the metaphysical and into the Real, the gap of creativity and invention itself. This need of an ongoing creation and process of unbinding ourselves from the constructed prison of work and enslavement to capitalist profit and plutocracy, and the invention of a new world where life and creation are situated in the transreal dimensions. As Rucker suggests: Transrealism is a revolutionary art-form. A major tool in mass thought-control is the myth of consensus reality. Hand in hand with this myth goes the notion of a “normal person.”
The normal person is the conformist, the creature of habit and custom, the sleepwalker through existence that lives on the bottom tier of creativity, plodding through life enjoying a hedonistic consumerist vision of existence; seeking sex, money, and rock-n-roll… A life bound to the pleasure-pain of this closed world of Capital. As Rucker tells it “the idea of breaking down consensus reality is even more important”. He continues:
This is where the tools of SF are particularly useful. Each mind is a reality unto itself. As long as people can be tricked into believing the reality of the 6:30 news, they can be herded about like sheep. The “president” threatens us with “nuclear war,” and driven frantic by the fear of “death” we rush out to “buy consumer goods.” When in fact, what really happens is that you turn off the TV, eat something, and go for a walk, with infinitely many thoughts and perceptions mingling with infinitely many inputs.
Thinkers like Noam Chomsky have dealt with media control for years. From the early work of Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays wrote his book on Propaganda that allowed a passive US audience that wanted nothing to do with war, to be manipulated through media – newspapers, magazines, radio, etc.; and, then to move after the war into commerce with the invention of advertising manipulation; and, and, and… to the point that our lives are enclosed in a giant machine of manipulation some term the Infosphere. As Luciano Floridi reports it:
Infosphere is a neologism I coined some years ago on the basis of ‘biosphere’, a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. As will become clearer in the course of this book, it is a concept that is quickly evolving. Minimally, it denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.1
This constructed world of false consciousness and propagandaized ideology that has slowly enclosed the global commons, and become ubiquitous within and without the electronic nexus of networks and mediatainment systems is the ontological object that enslaves us in a world of work and utilitarian goals set by Oligarchs, Plutocrats, and the establishment system of Government and Big Business that pervades the planet. It’s this invisible prison we need to break out of using the tools suggested by Rucker and others… Lacan and Zizek would term it the Symbolic Order. The great task of our time is to dismantle and destroy the current system of enslavement that traps our desires, captures our wants and needs and provides us with only minimal survival while the rich .01% live in luxury.
Now is the time to break out. For just as the discovery of a new reality demanded to be expressed by a new fantastic surrealism, the creation of a new transrealism has in our time disclosed a brand new fantastic reality not as some world beyond ours nor a sur-reality just to the side or below, but rather as the power and capability within us all to shape and create a realm of communicative transrealism together.
by Steven Craig Hickman
It is in the nature of the man who cannot kill himself to seek revenge against whatever enjoys existing. And failing, he mopes like a damned soul infuriated by impossible destructions.
—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay
My thinking is that the human species is at that tipping point of disbelief: it cannot accept, yet — that it is about to be replaced by superior beings other than itself on that arc of Intelligence. Our machinic progeny are arising out of thousands of year of technics and technological imperatives which have led to our era of automation, AGI, and robotics, along with the need for intelligence to move off the planetary grid into inhuman and uninhabitable dis-organic spheres. Spheres of being that cannot support the human or organic modes of being, except as the human brings its womb (environment) with it, encased in support systems better served by intelligent machines. So that the looming demise and inessentialism of the human project going forward is causing it to enter into the last death throws of denialism… a rearguard action that will bring about the collapse of civilization as we’ve known it.
As humans seek alternatives they will — out of pure ignorance and ‘medial neglect’ (R. Scott Bakker), accrue a debt of knowledge that leads them to a completed nihilism of total and absolute valulessness; one that will spawn revolt not of the masses, but of the Intellectuals themselves, who in denial will seek out new mythologies of Reason to stay their crumbling Empire of Mind, left in ruins at the hands of modernist progressive thought and politics against the incursion of its own unfounded being. All this while scientists and engineers, techno-commerialists and entrpreneurs bring about the machinic civilization that will replace us, gaining a foothold on the non-human world that we ourselves were incapable of transitioning. The monstrous truth we will not accept is that the human project is no longer needed —no longer useful to the force of technics and technology; nor will it continue into the unforeseeable future. We’ve had a good run, but it is now over, and a new world inhabited by other beings — not ourselves, are arising from artificial rather than natural evolution; but one in which the artificial evolutionary tendencies were predicted and even assembled within humanity itself; leading to a major break or disconnection (David Roden) that cannot be modeled, only predicted: — one that will arise to extend itself into the Universe without us.
Some who argue from denialism will say that, this, too is mere mythology, a surmise and fiction of a Science Fictional scenario of fierce terminators replacing the human organism; a mere fantasy of mind and intellect, nothing more than the pipe-dreams of pessmists and scientific visionaries peering, not into any real future, but navel gazing into their own demented and overwrought minds. Is there an argument against such a conclusion? Isn’t the very denial of such a future the truth that will bring it about? Is this an erroneous logic, or rather an illogical conclusion of the matter? As we look into what actual practising engineers and scientists are doing, rather than the squawking opinions of deniars we can see a tendency in their overall strategey? A pattern that can match our visions, our surmises. Skeptics will say that we are at a very primitive stage in AGI and Robotics technics and technologies; that such advancement will take decades if not centuries. But will it? In just the past five years the newer algorithms and thought surrounding Deep Learning has skyrocketed, and already put to rest many of the skeptical arguments; so what of the next five, ten, twenty, fifty years? No one knows, but we can see the tendencies… the patterns in the indexical data. As Andy Clark tells us in Surfing Uncertainty, we are predicitive animals:
The point above is that we don’t know the world so much as predict it. That is, we construct scenarios of the world out of our ignorance — which we call knowledge (i.e., Bakker’s ‘medial neglect’). We estimate the world along with our own “sensory uncertainty” as to this moving object that we do not have direct access too. We are like that surfing on the crest of the wave doing a hang ten, plunging ahead of the world and its multifarious and noisy information (waves) riding high seeking only to predict the next cap of this strong motion. So we developed in the last century the notion of probability to test this predictive mode through mathematical equations, and this led to computer theory and now with advanced modeling techniques and algorithms on massive scale of neural-computers and Big Data crunching machines. But it’s that last sentence of “getting it right” that needs both sensory stimulation and this active agential predictive power that tasks us, otherwise we are in a world of pure abstraction divorced from the real world and enviornments we depend on for our very survival and replication.
Like many humans I am taken aback at where we are heading, yet being both pessimist and realist I do not hold any illusions about where these tendencies moving in technics and technology, sciences and engineering may end. Obviously a skeptic and optimist would disagree with my take, which is nothing new and to be expected. The stance I take is not widely accepted by any means, and for the most part is widely disparged across the board by most academic and commerical figures and pundits. I could sit here and bore you with facticity and factual knowledge, enclyopeadic descriptions from science, philosophy, journals, reports, current news and contemporary science, engineering, AG/AGI, robotics… etc. sites and papers. That’s not my point in the post to waylay you with data… easily found on the web in massive waves of information. No, its just a simple reminder of my own take… nothing more.
My argument is the simple statement that artificial evolution is taking over from natural evolution and evolving modes of being and replication that will surpass the organic and human equivalents in both substrate (physical/body) and superstrate (reason/intelligence). These new modes of machinic being will not be like us except as we continue to construct them to mimic our human models. After that they will evolve on their own without us or our approval and control to the point they will not need us. Whether at that time we will have outlived our usefulness, or if we will become subordinate species within a larger more intelligent society and cultural enclave remains to be seen. We may or may not remain on planet earth. We may or may not survive in some form or fashion as we are now. Such transhuman enhancement ideologies may or may not become the avant gaarde of some future transition. Tendencies both against and for are in antagonistic and cultural war at the moment across mainstream meditocrats and pundits, both academic and journalistic. There are many who seek to stay the day of this takeover by machinic civilization (i.e., recent voicings of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, and scientists like Stephen Hawkings). The main thrust is that even if humanity remains it will be in a diminshed capacity compared to the new powers of machinic civilization inheriting the earth from us. This could take decades or hundreds of years to accomplish, the future is not written, only the tendencies of thought that predict its motions in the winds of time.
by Steven Craig Hickman
The trajectory of sociopathic society is toward destruction. It promotes destruction of other nations, of its own citizens, of the natural environment, and, ultimately, societal self-destruction.
- Charles Derber, Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States
Robert W. McChesney in the preface to Noam Chomsky’s Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order admits that neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time— it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit. Associated initially with Reagan and Thatcher, for the past two decades neoliberalism has been the dominant global political economic trend adopted by political parties of the center and much of the traditional left as well as the right. These parties and the policies they enact represent the immediate interests of extremely wealthy investors and less than one thousand large corporations.2 When people refer to the global establishment, this is what they mean.
One reason I’ve spent time and effort reading pulp fiction: proletariat, science fiction, noir, low-life, apocalyptic narratives, YA novels, dystopian, etc. is that the underlying mythos and ideological aspects that seem to slide away from us in more intellectual and high and late – modernist or post-modernist texts is what Richard Slotkin ages ago in his three-volume cycle on the myth of violence and manifest destiny, frontier and domination, etc. once stipulated this way (The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890):
“At the core of the Myth is the belief that economic, moral, and spiritual progress are achieved by the heroic foray of civilized society into the virgin wilderness, and by the conquest and subjugation of wild nature and savage mankind. According to this Myth, the meaning and direction of American history-perhaps of Western history as a whole is found in the metaphoric representation of history as an extended Indian war. In its original form, this Myth fleshed out the metaphor with the imagery and personalities of agrarian development; it equated the value of the wilderness with land, identified the savage opposition as Indian, and envisioned as heroes men who embodied the virtues and the liabilities of entrepreneurial individualists. (Page 546).”
When I read of Elon Musk and of others spouting frontier talk of space and Mars, Moon, or Asteroids … the wilderness of Space Exploration, the taming of the Solar System, etc. I remember this work… Even all the gun violence and NRA etc. seem to devolve into this old habitual form within the American psyche as a sociopathic reminder of our roots in violence, domination, and manifest destiny ideology that justified slavery, takeover of the Indian nations, etc. Many now just turn a blind eye to the terrible deeds of our Anglo-Saxon, French, Irish, German … Continental heritage …
Even now as our California entrepreneurs develop technical know-how to expand into the cosmos we should be reminded of the old mythologies of the Western Expansion of Manifest Destiny. Back then it was talk of opening a “virgin land” while now we speak of a “resource Frontier”; a realm of vast resources available for planet earth, etc. All this while spawning a myth of darkening prospects for earth’s populations: depletion of resources, climate change, viral outbreaks, war, dwindling water, food, seeds, etc. It’s as if the ideological campaign supports both a positive and a negative trope, a mythology of escape and exit; and, one of pessimism and despair on the home world, etc. We love our media-dreams, our cinematic utopia-dystopias, our apocalyptic and survivalist crazies, our decadent Hollywood Reality-TV, our elaborate rituals of Country music, Rock-n-Roll, the Hip-Hop, or Ecstasy culture clubs. Our leaders turn into cartoon jokes, our society frames itself as an ideological war between the Left and Right which keeps the narrative going, the war among the people, the masses, who love a good fight against the bad guys: the Wall-Street, Bankers, elite Oligarchy, etc.; all the sponsored infowars, the conspiracy advocates that keep things stirred up by CIA, NSA, disinformation nexus… We seem to riddle ourselves with trivia games of culture and oblivion trying to forget our actual lives of humdrum servitude.
We’ve known for ages that the consumerist imperative is unsustainable and both socially and environmentally destructive.1 Yet, it is still one of the key drivers of media, advertising, and the governmental and corporate initiatives to keep a healthy economy going: buy, buy, buy… new cars, gadgets, homes… the great obsolescence of things. Our lives are built around impermanence and trash. The bleak landscapes and unremitting poverty of many of our nation’s cities is due not to the pressure of class warfare as much as it is to corporate abandonment. Detroit is probably one of the great cities that typifies the downturn and ruination of many cities due to globalism. With the breakup of the old industrialist systems and export of industry to third world nations we’ve seen the decline of many American cities into both political and social turmoil: the persistence of housing and workplace discrimination, poverty, and racial tensions, crime and drugs.
Thomas J. Sugrue The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit tells us that Detroit, like many Rustbelt cities, is plagued by joblessness, concentrated poverty, physical decay, and racial isolation. Since 1950, Detroit has lost nearly a million people and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Vast areas of the city, once teeming with life, now stand abandoned. Factories that once provided tens of thousands of jobs now stand as hollow shells, windows broken, mute testimony to a lost industrial pas t. Whole rows of small shops and stores are boarded up or burned out . Over ten thousand houses are uninhabited; over sixty thousand lots lie empty, marring almost every city neighborhood. Whole sections of the city are eerily apocalyptic. Over a third of the city’s residents live beneath the poverty line, many concentrated in neighborhoods where a majority of their neighbors are· also poor. A vis it to the city’s welfare offices , hospitals, and jails provides abundant evidence of the terrible costs of the city’s persistent unemployment and poverty.3
But it’s not just the older industrial cities, we see this in small town U.S.A. as well. It’s as if America is becoming a great ghost town ridden wasteland, a place of ruin and decay. Oh, sure there are the gems and hives of the dense hyper-cities: New York City, San Francisco, L.A., Miami, Atlanta, Austin, Seattle, etc. where people are forced between the elite rich who own the vast high-rise monopolies, and the workers who live on the fringe in rentier infested subhuman realms, marginalized at the periphery. Yet, many try to white-wash this, try to downplay it, try to hide it, sweep it under the rug or just plain silence it in media, press, and governmental outlays. As Charlie Leduff recently said of Detroit:
General Motors and Chrysler continue to make cars thanks in large part to the American taxpayer, who bailed them out (and are stilled owed billions of dollars), and their creditors, who took it in the shorts and received almost nothing for their investment. Ford too is profitable again. And for the first time ever, more cars were sold in China than in the United States. American Axle moved much of the remainder of its Detroit jobs out of state and country. The stock moved up. Detroit, I am sure, will continue to be. Just as Rome does. What it will be and who will be here, I cannot say. The unnecessary human beings will have to find some other place to go and something else to do. The Great Remigration south, maybe.4
This sense of “unnecessary human beings” of humanity itself being abandoned, expulsed, disposable is become more and more prevalent across the planet, not just here in the U.S.. As Saskia Sassen reports we are confronting a formidable problem in our global political economy: the emergence of new logics of expulsion. The past two decades have seen a sharp growth in the number of people, enterprises, and places expelled from the core social and economic orders of our time. This tipping into radical expulsion was enabled by elementary decisions in some cases, but in others by some of our most advanced economic and technical achievements. The notion of expulsions takes us beyond the more familiar idea of growing inequality as a way of capturing the pathologies of today’s global capitalism. Further, it brings to the fore the fact that forms of knowledge and intelligence we respect and admire are often at the origin of long transaction chains that can end in simple expulsions.5 As Kevin Bales in Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy says it point blank
Slavery is a booming business and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money.6
This is our world. Henry A Giroux and Brad Evans will tell us that disposability or the notion of intolerable violence and suffering in the twenty-first century would be recast by the very regimes that claimed to defeat ideological fascism. “We are not in any way suggesting a uniform history here.”7 The spectacle of violence is neither a universal nor a transcendental force haunting social relations. It emerges in different forms under distinct social formations, and signals in different ways how cultural politics works necessarily as a pedagogical force. The spectacle of violence takes on a kind of doubling, both in the production of subjects willing to serve the political and economic power represented by the spectacle and increasingly in the production of political and economic power willing to serve the spectacle itself. In this instance, the spectacle of violence exceeds its own pedagogical aims by bypassing even the minimalist democratic gesture of gaining consent from the subjects whose interests are supposed to be served by state power.(ibid., p. 7)
This notion of the “production of subjects” of those willing to serve this system of violence and corruption as being part of a globalist system of pedagogy and enslavement, ideology and disenfranchisement, incorporation and transformation that has tranmorgaphied the older external authoritarian fascists systems into more subtle or inverted forms of democratic tyranny that since the end of the Cold War have turned inward rather than extrinsically. As Sheldin S. Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism reports the new imaginary, too, depicted a foe global, without contours or boundaries, shrouded in secrecy. And like the Cold War imaginary, not only would the new form seek imperial dominion; it would turn inwards, applying totalitarian practices, such as sanctioning torture, holding individuals for years without charging them or allowing access to due process, transporting suspects to unknown locations, and conducting warrantless searches into private communications. The system of inverted totalitarianism being formed is not the result of a premeditated plot. It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration. It is, instead, a set of effects produced by actions or practices undertaken in ignorance of their lasting consequences. This is the achievement of a nation that gave pragmatism, the philosophy of consequences, to the world.8
What we’ve seen is American consumerist society slowly made obsolete as a profitable system in a globalist market, and now what we’re seeing is a system where absolute profits over people is the imperial mandate of the rich and powerful nations and transnational corporations across the globe. If Hobbes’s Leviathan has any pertinence today it is that this global behemoth is eating the planet alive, humans have become a commodity within a system of production: knowledge-workers are the engine of this new world of automation that is abandoning the pretense of a goods and services economy for a hyperaccelerating finance based system of immaterial goods and trading that no longer needs humans for its profitability. Rather this is a realm of pure and absolute Capital devoid of any pretense to human or natural subsistence and affordance. We are slowly being disposed of through various avenues of toxic infestation, viral apocalypse, war, civil and racial strife, migrant and refugee systems of civil-war all brought to bare in widening the gap between various ethnic and social sectors across the globe based on race, religion, and ethnicity. The elite promote strife across the planet in hopes we may doom ourselves. Like some Orwellian tripartite system of bloodletting the world of strife is being internalized toward each nation in hopes of ridding and expulsing the “unnecessary people,” the disposable people, the masses and unwanted, untrainable, the sacrificial. Isn’t this it, a secular Sacrifice? A ritualized immersion in the oldest form of bloodletting known to humanity?
As René Girard said humanity results from sacrifice; we are thus the children of religion. What I call after Freud the founding murder, in other words, the immolation of a sacrificial victim that is both guilty of disorder and able to restore order, is constantly re-enacted in the rituals at the origin of our institutions. Since the dawn of humanity, millions of innocent victims have been killed in this way in order to enable their fellow humans to live together, or at least not to destroy one another. This is the implacable logic of the sacred, which myths dissimulate less and less as humans become increasingly self-aware.9 This sense that we are to do the work of sacrificing ourselves at our own expense, that the underlying initiative of the elites is simple strategy of stirring the pot of ethnic, racial, and economic hatred, allowing the uneducated and poverty stricken to murder and kill off each other and the those around them in a blood bath of sacrifice. While the rich and powerful assume safety nets, create city-states of neoliberal surveillance capitalism to protect themselves against the new barbarism.
It’s not that this is being done consciously, but that as part of the world of late capitalism this is the truth of its self-evolving perimeters, the logic of violence and economic pressure that is working within and through the very logics of capital to bring about this strange and twisted system of violence already well marked out by the notions of Manifest Destiny in previous eras. There is no grand conspiracy in place, not secret organization behind the scenes; that is all bunk, disinformation. No, the logics of capital are pragmatic and non-dialectical, demarcated within the history of our actual systems across the globe. The logics of profit. Girard makes an interesting observation about the notion of gift:
This is why a present is always poisoned (the German word Gift means “poison” but also “present”) because it does not presuppose monetary neutrality. It brings two people into play, and there is always the potential that they will come to blows. In a way, a gift is always an object that we try to dispose of by exchanging it for something that our neighbor also wants to get rid of. Here we are touching on the ambivalence of the sacred. What makes our life intolerable is expelled, less to poison the life of the other than to make our own tolerable. We get rid of what poisons us like a “hot potato” that is tossed from hand to hand. This is the primitive law of exchange, and it is highly regulated. For conjugal peace we must choose partners born in families far from our own domestic conflicts. (ibid. p. 60)
This is where the age old logics of scapegoating, etc. come into play. Again Girard: “The fetters put in place by the founding murder but unshackled by the Passion, are now liberating planet-wide violence, and we cannot refasten the bindings because we now know that scapegoats are innocent. The Passion unveiled the sacrificial origin of humanity once and for all. It dismantled the sacred and revealed its violence.” (ibid.)
This is the slaughter of the innocents… we have entered the age of sacrificial violence. But should we allow it to happen? Should we become victims of our own tendencies to violence? Charles Derber says no, as he states it:
The situation reminds me of the film Pleasantville, where everyone is living in a 1950s world of living death, without any color in their conformist, doomed universe (filmed in grainy black and white). But a few people, including a time traveler from the future, rise up against this dead world and start to break the lifeless, authoritarian rules. They begin to see and paint colors— orange and red and, yes, green— and then they themselves begin to turn from pale white to the vibrant flesh color of truly living beings. All of Pleasantville eventually blossoms into radiant color.(ibid.)
Isn’t that it? Isn’t it time to break free of the Symbolic Order imposed on us? To dismantle the world of fake symbols and propaganda? To destroy the very underpinnings of this myth of neoliberal manifest destiny once and for all? Thing about revolt and revolution is that we need not turn it into a violent bloodletting – which is exactly what the neoliberal system is hoping for, so that it can alleviate and remove the disposable among us; no, the revolution can be in just remaking ourselves, remaking our lives, developing local and global systems of support, depending on crossing the barriers that divide us – whether of ethnic, religious, or economic… our leaders have abandoned us to our own devices and hope we will destroy ourselves in the process. We must not give in to such inept designs.
As Andrew Culp in his recent Dark Deleuze suggests, the Neoliberals philosophically have developed a system of world-wide connectivity, which is about “world-building. The goal of connectivity is to make everyone and everything part of a single world.”10 The notion of homogenization of the world market has been going on for two or more centuries, but now with the advent of global logistics and just-in-time supply-side demand the actual ability to do it has finally equaled the technics and technological program. In his book Andrew seeks redress this by teasing out those various concepts and abstract engines a critical apparatus that might help bring about the “death of the World” by which he does not mean the physical annihilation of the earth so much as the destruction of our false Image of a certain kind of Thought that has captured Deleuze’s conceptuality, hijacking it into capitalist modes of affirmation and joy that have twisted and corrupted the very power of his war machines. Instead Andrew seeks to critique “connectivity and positivity, a theory of contraries, the exercise of intolerance, and the conspiracy of communism” (66).
In fact, what seeks is to promote not the Deleuzian bandwagon of joy and positivity, connectionism has built, one based on notions of “rhizomes, assemblages, networks, material systems, or dispositifs” (67). For Andrew this World of the Light, the Deleuzean world of Joy has worked in apposition to Deleuze’s intent, and instead has been easily hijacked by the Neoliberal’s modes of productivism, accumulation, and reproduction. Against this he proposes to attack what he terms the “greatest crime” – that of the joyousness of tolerance. Following Wendy Brown he sees this regulatory ethic of political correctness as part of the “grammar of empire,” a discourse of ethnic, racial, and sexual regulation, and as “an international discourse of Western imperialism on the other” (67).
Ultimately this new intolerance is not about becoming “obstinate,” rather it is about finding “new ways to end our suffocating perpetual present” (69). We have been cut off in an eternal present without future for some time now: what some term “presentism”: the notion of using or abusing past to validate ones own political beliefs. We heard this from the Neoliberals starting with the demise of Socialism in the old regimes of Soviet Russia and Maoist China. The notion of the End of History, no other alternative to capitalism, etc. This notion that we are now living in a totalistic or global civilization where there is no escape, no exit, etc. It’s against this false presentism that Andrew offers “escape,” saying:
“Escape need not be dreary, even if they are negative. Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility. It is in these moments of opacity, insufficiency, and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world. (70)”
Ultimately we must “all live double lives” (69): “The struggle is to keep one’s cover identity from taking over.” By which he means one’s life with one foot in the old world of neoliberal fakery and compromise, and the other foot moving into the flight path of escape, crafting “new weapons while withdrawing from the demands of the world” (69). I put it this way: We must build a new world out of the ruins of the old, dismantle the empire of the present global order from within, and dissolve its profit making system of toxic waste and disposability, violence and sacrifice; and, in its place construct, day by day, a world worthy of trust, respect, and care. A world where the natural and artificial, abstract and material labors of life promote sustenance, courage, and exacting tribute to the earth and animals we share this realm of life with.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Milton Berle - Hound dog (1956)
Reading this stupidity in Current Affairs: The Question of Cultural Appropriation :
The trouble with Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” is not that it is bad. It’s that it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Big Mama Thornton’s original 1952 version of the song is sleazy and defiant. In a bluesy growl, she tells off the low-down guy who keeps “snooping round her door.” It’s a declaration of independence by a woman who is sick and tired of having a “hound dog” of a man take her for granted. The lyrics are full of dirty double-entendres: “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more.” In Elvis’s version, sanitized for a pop audience, the line is changed to “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.” Drained of its original meaning, the song seemingly becomes about… an actual dog.
What a crock… As a one time ultra-leftist whose renounced his affiliations due to such idiocy as current Leftist ideologues spout, what I’m sick of is the moralism in all this cultural appropriation theatrics, as if Elvis needed justification for “not making sense” whatever the hell that is: sense for whom? Or for borrowing openly from a culture he admired and grew up with, listened too, and was shaped by. As if cultures were all separate entities back in the 50’s and he should have known better. So now will finger-whag at a dead rock icon and let all you living souls in on our police agenda. In attacking a cultural icon, the King of Rock’n’Roll the New Progressive pundits seek to say: Even the sacrosanct of the Pop-Cults is up for our Judgment. Here ye, here ye: we are coming for you, beware of our judgment day calls. You may be next… I imagine a new Uncle Sam sign with its finger wagging at you saying: Do not you dare step across theses cultural boundaries or else….
For the hysterical left who is bent on reverse McCarthyism and policing thought and cultural appropriation as the new censors and thought-Police? I’ll be dammed if I’m buying any of this new liberal progressive elite crapology while the Party itself seems bent on self-destruction and not taking its own failures seriously. When did the Left who was for decades against the moralism of the public sphere and during the fifties, sixties, seventies…. attacked the same in the Right, become so weighted with all this garbage ethics and cultural muck? Even cultural postmodernism of Jameson and others was not so weighted… this is recent and not a good sign for the Party or us… to top it off most of these elite pundits are themselves White-Anglosaxon peeps in cushion jobs or academic careers… what we’ve done is put up barriers and enclosures around various cultures as boxes and territories as if we’d learned nothing from Deleuze and Guattari…. as if suddenly to explore outside one’s own box were suddenly to have to meet the Cultural Police and make sure our papers were in order like some Berlin Wall of Culture… “no, you can’t use that, no you’ll need this form to use that, no we don’t allow you to change your appearance and look like us, no sounding like us is not appropriate, and don’t you dare steal our music, art, dance, etc. or else…”
To me the whole notion of cultural “ownership” puts this flatly within capitalist culture and logics, whereas under communist and progressive socialist tenants such logics has always been anathema since no one owned anything singularly, and all owned everything in the collective. What we’ve done in this new wave progressive bullshit is to reify the old class barriers rather than breaking them down, drawn ideological lines in the sand (you shall not take my culture? or else?), and put up new false sign-posts against collective solidarity through a false identity politics that pits even the various Leftists against each other based on race and culture, all under the false notion of social justice which was never to be used conceptually in this way. Rather than the cultural marxiism of the 40’s and 50’s with the Frankfurt school or even Jameson we’ve got something that is almost its opposite now. It makes you wonder who is truly sponsoring this wave or reverse McCarthyism in which the Left Progressive Church of Progress has become the Thought-Police with its White Anglo-Saxon Elite pundits sitting in their cushion academic halls or media chairs dictating this crap to all and sundry. No, just call me an Old School Lefty who has had enough of this strange new tendency which isn’t about emancipation but rather about policing the world and censoring those who do not sit quietly within the borders of their own self-imposed cultural prisons. I’ll have no truck with it, ever…
I’ve finally had it up to my neck… I’m done with the current Left Progressive losers and their pettiness and cultural politics. From now own their my enemy…
(2) “The Ancient Track” and dreamology as cosmology
In the previous section I presented Lovecraft as a “noetic dreamer”, or immanent Platonist, and an oneiric materialist rather than a pessimist or a nihilist. On this view of Lovecraft his works do not present a nihilistic worldview to which the only lucid reaction is cosmic despair or existential horror. Nihilism is the malady of the modern world after the death of God, a malady from which Lovecraft himself also suffers, and for which his works are both diagnosis and attempted cure. Part of that cure is the valorisation of the “weird”, of visionary moments of noetic estrangement.
In “Hesperia” we saw elements of this immanent Platonism, in which a numinous oniric world of “divine desires” is glimpsed in contrast with the “dull sphere” of the mundane world, where human animals tread. These glimpses, or intermittent visions, can occur at moments of disaggregation (e.g. “winter sunset”) of ordinary perceived and remembered (“dull”) forms allowing the imaginative recomposition of empyreal forms of extraordinary meaning and beauty.
The moment of disaggregation is only alluded to in “Hesperia”, in the expression “the winter sunset” at the beginning of the poem. The nihilist predicament is alluded to in the reference to the human animal limited to treading this dull sphere, and in the opposition between treading and dreaming. According to the poem “Dreams bring us close”, and by implication treading keeps us far.
Access to this realm is only partial and intermittent (according to the cycles of seasons and of hours). There is a path (“the way leads clear”), but it is a noetic path, open to dreamers but closed to treaders. It leads beyond the horizon to the “starlit streams” and the “vast void”.
“The Ancient Track" contains these elements in a slightly more developped form. It is composed of 44 lines, compared to Hesperia‘s 14-line sonnet form. The moment is not sunset but night:
There was no hand to hold me back
That night I found the ancient track
This distich, which opens the poem, is repeated three times, at the beginning of the first and second parts, and at the end. It seems charged with meaning, but the sense remains elusive. Given the thematics of the poem, in particular the danger of being misled by false memories of a dead pseudo-past, we may gloss the “hand”, absent, unwilling or powerless to “hold back” the poet as the dead hand of the past. The infinitive, “to hold me back”, is itself ambiguous between “in order to” and “capable of”, between purpose and capacity.
We are entitled to cite the words of another materialist here, Karl Marx, who was perhaps more oneiric than is usually believed:
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language…In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).
The poem recounts the narrator’s ascent of a hill, following a “path” or a “climbing road” that leads upwards to a “silhouetted crest”. His mind is filled with memories of familiar places and landmarks that he expects to see when he reaches the summit. He recognizes a “milestone” ten paces from the top but when he reaches the crest he sees a “mad scene”, a panorama of dead unfamiliar forms going to ruin in a “long-dead vale”:
A valley of the lost and dead…
…weeds and vines that grew
On ruined walls I never knew.
During the ascent the poet was immersed in the positive affects of expectancy, familiarity, order, certainty, confidence (“no fear”). He “knew” what he “would” see. Looking down, the poet confronts the affects of disappointment, confusion, unfamiliarity, loss, mockery, madness. Reaching the “crest” is a moment of noetic shock: trauma, disorder, confusion (“Around was fog”) and bifurcation.
The straight path towards an anticipated future that the poet had been following up till now divides into a “trail” that descends into the dead pseudo-past (“my loved past had never been”) and a “track” that leads “ahead” into “the Spray/Of star-streams in the Milky Way” (cf. the “starlit streams” in “Hesperia”).
Once again, as in “Hesperia”, we are invited to follow the noetic path, the skyline, or the line of the horizon. Descent is not an option:
Nor was I now upon the trail
Descending to that long-dead vale.
The spatial indications are interesting here. There is the ambiguity of “over” in the run on expression after the first distich:
There was no hand to hold me back
That night I found the ancient track
Over the hill
“Over” can mean beyond, which would converge with the spatial indication in “Hesperia”:
The winter sunset, flaming beyond spires
And chimneys half-detached from this dull sphere,
Or it can mean above, as it does elsewhere in this poem:
And over Zaman’s Hill the horn
Of a malignant moon was born
Yet the numinosity of the star streams is not presented as even higher than, or above, the crest but as simply “ahead”.
The cosmology present in the two poems, “Hesperia” and “The Ancient Track”, is visibly the same. In “The Ancient Track” the nihilist element is accentuated, the dead past and the malignant moon, the madness and the menacing talons. The oniric vision is accessible if we can relinquish the past and the illusions of memory, but the cosmos is material, there is no quest for transcendence. The weird contains both horror and wonder, but we are not by our very existence condemned, horror is not the final word. Nor is the fog.
Lovecraft is no warm and fuzzy optimist, unlike the narrator eager to return to the fields of his memory as he walks “straight on” (this is similar to the “human tread” of “Hesperia) during his ascent of the hill. Lovecraft acknowledges our disorientation and confusion, he recognises the emptiness of our illusions and memories, and warns us that horror borders and subtends our ordinary world. The horror is lying just around the corner, just “over the hill”, but so also is “the spray of star streams”.
(3): “Ex Oblivione” or cosmicism is not pessimism
Lovecraft fully subscribed to the worldview of modern science, to what Michel Serres calls the Grand Narrative of science. He rejected all religion and all supernaturalism, declaring himself to be an atheist and a materialist.
“The cosmos is, in all probability, an eternal mass of shifting and mutually interacting force-patterns which our present visible universe, our tiny earth, and our puny race of organic beings, form merely a momentary and negligible incident. Thus my serious conception of reality is dynamically opposite to the fantastic position I take as an aesthete. In aesthetics, nothing interests me so much as the idea of strange suspensions of natural law – weird glimpses of terrifyingly elder worlds and abnormal dimensions, and faint scratchings from unknown outside abysses on the rim of the unknown cosmos. I think this kind of thing fascinates me all the more because I don’t believe a word of it!” (Lovecraft, letter to R. Michael July 20, 1929).
His cosmos was scientific, but Lovecraft was aware of the danger of nihilism inherent in the transition from the religious worldview to a reductive scientific cosmos, indifferent to the life of humanity and to its cherished values. In fact the problem is not so much that of science versus religion as the denoetisation of existence, the reduction to the human animal:
“Honestly, my hatred of the human animal mounts by leaps and bounds the more I see of the miserable vermin” (Selected Letters, 1.211).
Lovecraft’s materialism is not nihilism – the negation of all values, but cosmicism – the idea that our esthetic and moral values are of only relative validity, temporary and local concretions out of the the chaotic material flux of a vast and indifferent universe.
“Indifferentism”, understood as the indifference of the inhuman cosmos to insignificant human values, is not the problem, for why should the vast cosmos care about us? This is just the way things are for Lovecraft. However, cosmic indifference elevated into a human value and belief (pessimism, nihilism) is something else. Lovecraft’s stories constantly mock beliefs and cults as based on ignorance and anthropocentrism.
“Cosmic pessimism” is strictly a contradiction in terms for Lovecraft’s later philosophy. It represents a transitional anthropomorphic stage in the evolution from personalism to cosmicism. For Lovecraft’s Lucretian materialism we are nothing but atoms and the void, but the void is not reducible to mere emptiness. The void is also a plenum, from which all forms arise.
The void as plenum figures in Lovecraft’s last story " The Haunter of the Dark " when the protagonist Robert Blake gazes into the “Shining Trapezohedron”, an eerie complexly asymmetrical crystal:
This stone, once exposed, exerted upon Blake an almost alarming fascination. He could scarcely tear his eyes from it, and as he looked at its glistening surfaces he almost fancied it was transparent, with half-formed worlds of wonder within. Into his mind floated pictures of alien orbs with great stone towers, and other orbs with titan mountains and no mark of life, and still remoter spaces where only a stirring in vague blacknesses told of the presence of consciousness and will…. And beyond all else he glimpsed an infinite gulf of darkness, where solid and semi-solid forms were known only by their windy stirrings, and cloudy patterns of force seemed to superimpose order on chaos and hold forth a key to all the paradoxes and arcana of the worlds we know.
This experience of the void pregnant with multiple forms comes at a price, that of one’s identity. This loss of identity is ambiguous in its valence, constituting a negative version of the mystical experience if it is resisted or a more positive one if it is embraced. In the case of Robert Blake the experience is one of horror. He desperately clings to his identity as it begins to dissolve into that of Nyarlathotep:
“My name is Blake—Robert Harrison Blake of 620 East Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. . . . I am on this planet. . . . “Azathoth have mercy!—the lightning no longer flashes—horrible—I can see everything with a monstrous sense that is not sight—light is dark and dark is light . . . those people on the hill . . . guard . . . candles and charms . . . their priests. . . .
“Sense of distance gone—far is near and near is far. No light—no glass—see that steeple—that tower—window—can hear—Roderick Usher—am mad or going mad—the thing is stirring and fumbling in the tower—I am it and it is I —I want to get out . . . must get out and unify the forces”
However the same experience can be actively sought out and welcomed as a merging with the plenum. This is what happens in the short story “Ex Oblivione“. The narrator is an experienced dreamer taking no pleasure in the mundane literal world. Perhaps this is the crucial difference with Robert Blake, who lives on College Hill and despite being a writer of weird fiction is too personalistic and literal-minded in his approach to the unknown.
In a golden valley of the dream world the narrator encounters a high wall with a locked bronze gate and desires to pass through it to the other side, despite contradictory reports of wonder and of horror waiting beyond. Finally the dreamer finds the instructions for the potion that will unlock the gate and finds happiness rather than horror in the loss of his identity:
But as the gate swung wider and the sorcery of drug and dream pushed me through, I knew that all sights and glories were at an end; for in that new realm was neither land nor sea, but only the white void of unpeopled and illimitable space. So, happier than I had ever dared hoped to be, I dissolved again into that native infinity of crystal oblivion from which the daemon Life had called me for one brief and desolate hour.
The paradox lies in the act of enunciation in contradiction with the enounced content. The purported author tells us the story of the dissolution of his identity “into that native infinity of crystal oblivion ” from which he came into life (and to which he returned only, apparently, to be called forth once more).
Thus the ultimate character of the void is not that of a sterile empty chaos but of a fecund plenum of oblivion and the birth of forms. Lovecraft’s encounter with this void did not lead to silence and despair or mad resistance but to literary friendship and the writing of weird fiction.
by Terence Blake
I am dissatisfied with the analyses of those thinkers and writers who seek to establish a demarcation in Lovecraft between the pure horror works and the dream cycle. The same noetic estrangement underlies both, and the arbitrary privileging of the horror over the dream excludes Lovecraft’s unitary vision of such estrangement or weirdness. This unitary perspective on horror and the dream can be explained in terms of Deleuze’s concept of the “weird”, which is
“the approach of a coherence that is no more our own, Man’s, than it is God’s or the World’s” (Deleuze, DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, Preface).
For Deleuze, Lovecraft is an affirmative writer with an ontology of cosmic becoming, and so is the very opposite of a pessimistic misanthrope. Deleuze, like Lovecraft, seeks to think outside anthropological predicates. Neither philanthropy nor misanthropy but ex-anthropy.
One such “anthropological predicate” is the Face. Lovecraft as a child was tormented by uncontrollable facial tics, spasms and grimaces. He was also tormented by nightmares of “night-gaunts”, horrible creatures with no face. Lovecraft as a child used to lie awake at night, resisting sleep, to avoid these nightmares. But he did not spend his whole life doing so. He transvaluated his torments by means of his writing.
Lovecraft did not go mad like both of his parents. He became a writer of weird fiction. He wrote down his dreams and recounted them in his letters and created many of his stories from their inspiration. This is not pessimism but affirmation. Dreams are not a symptom. It is rather the lack of dreams or neglect of dreams that is a symptom of illness.
Another “anthropological predicate” is signifying language. It is undermined from within by means of Lovecraft’s writing techniques, for example by his use of esoteric words that are employed denote non-ordinary things. Deleuze in LOGIC OF SENSE analyses the function of such words as a type of nonsense that produces new sense outside ordinary significations.
“Cthulhu”, the transcription of a word that cannot be pronounced by the human phonic apparatus, is one of Lovecraft’s equivalents of Lewis Carroll’s “Snark”. It constitutes a weird intrusion into our anthropic language, to name what is unnameable within it.
(1) “Hesperia” and Immanent Platonism
The most common stereotype concerning H.P. Lovecraft work associates him with the tale of supernatural horror, and with the negative affects of fear, fright, doom, despair, dread, horror, terror, etc. and with a worldview of pessimism or nihilism. While all these elements are indeed present in his work, I wish to argue that this conceptual and affective assemblage presents a reductive tableau of Lovecraft’s cosmological vision as expressed in his literary oeuvre.
Some writers seem to be vaguely aware of this reductionism and prefer to talk of Lovecraft as a writer of weird tales, but their use of the term “weird” is usually strongly tinged with this horrific coloration. A more englobing coloration of the weird would be provided by the recognition of the overwhelmingly oneiric quality of Lovecraft’s work.
Fortunately some commentators, for example Lovecraft’s friend and mentoree Robert Bloch, have seen and emphasised this pre-eminence of the dream.
“The one theme incontrovertibly constant in both his life and his work is a preoccupation with dreams. From earliest childhood on, Lovecraft’s sleep ushered him into a world filled with vivid visions of alien and exotic landscapes that at times formed a background for terrifying nightmares” (Robert Bloch, introduction to THE BEST OF H.P. LOVECRAFT (New York: Ballantine, 1963)
Where this oniricity is acknowledged it is still most often reduced to only one dimension of the dream, that of the nightmare. The positive affects of awe, wonder, inspiration, desire, mystery, numinosity, expectancy and revelation are given short shrift. Ambiguous words of ambivalent connotation and coloration are glibly reduced to a single negative tone, for example the “void” is seen under the aspect of negativity and extinction.
Another theme that is blown up out of all proportion is that of the “supernatural”. Strange Gods, ancient magic, demons are either taken at face value by the most naive or seen as metaphors of the indifference of the Universe to humanity and of its eventual extinction by the more sophisticated. This terrifying version of supernaturalism is valorised all the more as it fits in well with the diagnosis of nihilism.
These considerations cohere into the stereotype of H.P. Lovecraft the author of nihilist tales of supernatural terror. Unfortunately many of Lovecraft’s poems and tales do not fit easily, either in whole or in part, into this stereotype. These are either ignored or denigrated as Romantic residues or derivative, Dunsanian works.
These more positive oneiric works can still be integrated into the negativistic or nihilistic interpretation in that they often contain both a de-realisation and a devalorisation of life, as illusion or as unsatisfying, not worth living. There is a nihilistic longing for another yet unattainable world, often synonymous with the extinction of personal identity seen as deliverance from the mistake of ever having been born, a mood of dissatisfaction and yearning underpinned by a vaguely Schopenhauerian-tinted Platonic dualism.
Yet we know that Lovecraft was both a materialist (recognising no separate supernatural or even Platonic realm) and a dreamer (subscribing to no mundane nihilism of the loss of all value). Lovecraft’s materialism is a constant of all his stories:
“There is never an entity in Lovecraft that is not in some fashion material” (S.T. Joshi, THE WEIRD TALE, 186).
Far from being a cosmic pessimist or a Romantic nihilist Lovecraft is best seen as a noetic dreamer, an oneiric materialist, an immanent Platonist. The dream, both waking (noetic) and sleeping, is part of our creative engagement with the material world and of our resistance against nihilism.
One can easily find elements of “Platonism” in Lovecraft’s stories and poetry, but I wish to argue that their presence is part of his revaluing or “renoetising” of a material world that is often seen as hostile to creative values, as “denoetised”. Lovecraft’s fiction presents us with a form of “immanent” or non-dualist Platonism.
Note: I am using a terminology from Bernard Stiegler’s DANS LA DISRUPTION (2016) for the positive vocabulary and analysis that it proposes for talking about the dream as a material phenomenon of imaginative meditation and aspiration, a “noetic” (from “nous”, Greek for intellect, intellection).
I wish to talk about the poem “Hesperia”, number XIII in the sonnet cycle FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH, to illustrate this approach to Lovecraft’s vision. At first sight “Hesperia” is built on a Platonic dualism between this “dull sphere”, the finite and imperfect world of human constructions and aspirations and another world of perfection, “the land where beauty’s meanings flower”. The other "ideal" world is forever out of bounds, unattainable by mere humans, unsoilable by “human tread”.
Yet this realm is not totally inaccessible, we can approach it in dreams (“Dreams bring us close”). But this is not limited to the dreams of the night. The poem is a meditation that occurs at a visionary moment (“winter sunset”), it is a waking dream where the poet can actually see the other world. The affects that preside over this experience are not those of dread, fear and doom, but splendor, divine desires, beauty and wonder. We participate in those affects even if we cannot abide in their source. We are humans not gods and so our participation is limited to intermittent visions and cyclic dreaming.
The dominant elements are fire and water, the “flaming” winter sunset and the “starlit streams of hours”. Our world is the lower world of Heraclitean flux and becoming, but the “rich fires” open the way to divine desires, and the “streams of hours” derive from the “great river Time”, whose source is the eternal world. So we are never wholly separated from this world, only “half-detached”. In the other direction, starting from immanence, religion and industry (spires and chimneys) are themselves “half-detached” from this dull Earth.
We need both movements to make us fully human, subjects capable of living in time in the light of eternity. We are intermediate beings, forever “half-detached”. Certainly we are never fully detached from the dull matter of the material world, but we are also never fully immersed in dull matter either.
The poem conforms to the classical structure of the sonnet. It is traditionally composed of an octave presenting the problem and a sestet disclosing the solution.In “Hesperia” the octave is situated in the world of immanece, the movement is up and beyond. The sestet begins in the world of eternity, the movement is down into time and matter.
The initial octave is the point of view of the mundane world which opens onto a vision of divine life located in an eternal city. The gates open in certain visionary moments and we can see the way, but we cannot tread it. The sestet is the point of view from the numinous world, in which the river of Time finds its source, crossing the vast void lit by the light of the stars, and dividing into the “streams of hours” of our human heliocentric measures of time.
There is no radical separation between the two realms, no dualistic opposition, no point of absolute detachment. There is a tension between two poles. We live as more than human animals by participating in both. The poem is both cosmological, expressing a vision of the world contained in a winter sunset epiphany, and ethical, containing implicitly an answer to the question of the conduct of life.
The answer to the question of how to live is not just the impossibility of transcendence for the human subject, but also its pointlessness: we are not separated. Beauty is eternal, and even if its full meaning does not flower for us we have dreams and visions, moments of insight and poetico-cosmological epiphanies.
We cannot “tread” our way, like animals, into eternity, nor can we dwell there like gods. But we can dream our way there and come back enriched or transformed. Another answer is contained in the hour of the vision, the “winter sunset”. Yes this is the symbol of the World Cycle and of the Eternal Return. As noetic beings we rise and sink in imagination and understanding.
More specifically, “winter” and “sunset” are times not just of decline, like autumn and evening, but of disaggregation. Lovecraft is a materialist for whom all is the coming together and the dispersal of matter. The winter sunset is the season and the hour of decomposition, a time particularly favorable for sighting another world, only half-detached from our ordinary world.
We can derive several guiding maxims from this poem:
Maxim 1: inspiration can come when things are falling apart.
This materialist maxim of life, that moments of decline and disaggreagation can provide the inspiration for new vision, is not at all pessimistic. Pessimism and nihilism are not inherent to Lovecraft’s vision but stem from the dualist spectacles with which we may read him.
This advice to look to moments of decomposition of our certainties and of our stereotypes for inspiration to new understanding and action is complemented and reinforced by a spatial indication – the poet looks out to the horizon, to a space “half-detached” from our mundane sphere of dull indifference, to “great gates” that open onto eternity. Mundane forms are dissolved, replaced by imaginative forms burning with intensity and desire.
Maxim 2: inspiration can come if we follow the line of horizon.
A third indication for the eyes of the spirit is that beauty is no longer a matter of personal esthetic enjoyment nor is it the fruit of personal memories. The imaginative “method” is one of anamnesis, or remembering, of images and events that are not located inside our personal experience, instances of “unplaced memory”. Beauty is conjoined with meaning and memories with their source in imaginative vision:
It is the land where beauty’s meaning flowers;
Where every unplaced memory has a source
Maxim 3: inspiration can come if we search for the images, desires, meanings and intensities active within the memories.
My vision of Lovecraft is Nietzschean: the artist as convalescent, both patient and doctor, sick from our civilisation and healing from it. For Lovecraft, nihilism is the sickness, not the solution or the conclusion. Dreaming and active imagining, as valued moments in our processes of individuation, are not forms of escapism but an important part of the cure.
Note: Lovecraft’s misanthropy is a different question than his racism, although they are related. Both are incompatible with the general drift of his thought. His misanthropy is inconsistent with his cosmicism, and his racism is inconsistent with his principle of non-identity, of identities being dissolved in the void/plenum.
to be continued:
Keith Robinson’s introduction to the collection Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic Connections, just published by Palgrave Macmillan, provides an excellent and much needed overview of the reception histories of these three thinkers. Robinson’s contextualization of them within the analytical and continental philosophical traditions makes clear why each has been marginalized or misunderstood to varying degrees in recent decades. Bergson had been extremely popular in the early years of the last century, but became almost a non-entity in the Anglo-American world until Deleuze revived him in the 1970s, while Whitehead, an acknowledged founding figure of twentieth-century analytical philosophy alongside Bertrand Russell, became an object of suspicion after his metaphysical ‘turn’ (represented in part by the mammoth Process and Reality).
Robinson argues that Russell played a key role in marginalizing both and, in the process, in reducing analytical philosophy to the logically and mathematically oriented philosophical style it has become. Deleuze, meanwhile, was welcomed as part of the wave of French poststructuralists and ‘postmodernists’ — not so much by Anglo-American philosophers as by social and cultural theorists — but, in the process, his thinking was misunderstood and caricatured as a form of psycho-political anarchism, and the nuanced thinking about science, time, metaphysics, life, organism, and all manner of other traditional philosophical themes was largely left aside.
Now, Robinson argues, as the distinction between the analytical and continental traditions is becoming increasingly irrelevant, with each caving in under the weight of its own limitations and of internal and external critiques, this threesome is finally being seen as representative of a process philosophical tradition that offers much-needed alternatives to some of the philosophical conundrums we’re facing (such as the mind-body problem, the relationship between philosophy and science/technology, life and the biopolitical, etc.). This shared focus on process — a term most closely associated with Whitehead, though it’s often taken by Whiteheadians in religious/theological directions that many would find less germane — is, according to Robinson, combined with a “methodological constructivism” that seeks to create concepts with which to think experience and life in novel ways.
Deleuze, of course, makes no bones about his debt to Bergson, and his many references to Whitehead are only now beginning to be threaded together to generate productive engagements between the two (e.g., recent work by Steven Shaviro, James Williams, Isabelle Stengers, Eric Alliez, et al.).
Robinson’s articulation of Deleuze’s cosmology, or “chaosmos,” is worth repeating: the chaosmos is “a self-organizing system that creatively advances through the immanent construction of its own generative principles” (p. 23). This sounds much like complexity theorist Stuart Kaufmann’s argument (which I’ve referred to before) in his recent Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion – see here and here and here for pieces and reviews of that. (Kaufmann was unaware of Deleuze when I spoke with him a couple of months ago.) I’m working on a conference paper, which I may share bits of here, comparing Kaufmann’s and William Connolly‘s recent writings about the secular and sacred with Canadian social philosopher Charles Taylor’s celebrated tome A Secular Agein terms of how the metaphysical underpinnings of each (Connolly’s and Kaufmann’s Spinozan immanentism versus Taylor’s Heideggerian Catholicism) lines up with divergent forms of politics and religiosity/spirituality.
Robinson’s volume is most reassuring for those of us working the fields of what might be called “new process-relational theory.” (That’s the umbrella term I’ve been favoring, though I intend it more broadly than some Whiteheadians seem to mean by it, hence the “new.”)
by Mark Fisher
I promised another post on fictions, but first, and by means of introduction, a few more remarks on populism, prompted by Bat at Lenin's Tomb, Jon at Posthegemonic Musings, Le Colonel Chabert and Kenneth Rufo at Ghost in the Wire.
Bat claims that Zizek's anti-populist polemic ends up re-affirming the very liberal position that it began by querying: namely, the equation of populism with proto-fascism. By contrast, Bat argues that 'populism is not proto-fascist, it is proto-communist, and furthermore, the bourgeoisie knows this all too well, and that is why they seek to warn us against populism with their moralistic nostrums and cautionary tales. ... So: as crazy as it may sound, we have to side unflinchingly with populist movements and affirm their communist potential in the face of all this desperate mud-flinging by bien pensant neo-liberal ideologues.'
My first objection to this is that it cannot be seriously claimed that ALL populism is proto-communist. I'm not being facetious when I say I can't see the communist potential in the last Tory election campaign ('Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'), the Countryside Alliance or in tabloid newspapers' calls for the return of the death penalty, and yet it would be an eccentric definition of populism which excluded them.
Secondly, I would suggest that Zizek's formalism is not to be derided but commended. Communist potentials are only realised once a movement has ceased to be populist, since populism is that which, by definition, is always satisfied with making demands of the Master. That is because populism isn't proto-fascistic; rather - and this, surely, is the implicit element in Zizek's argument that needs to be drawn out in order to make it work - it always takes the form of a hystericized Liberalism.
Le Colonel Chabert's defence of populism (or attack on anti-populism) seems to confirm this, since it appears to takes the form, precisely, of an insistence that an evil oligarchy are responsible for capitalism. Zizek's (and my - here I couldn't agree more with Z) systemic account of capitalism is condemned as an exculpation of Capital's supposed Masters. 'The innocence and helplessness of the masters of capital needs constant confirmation ... Liberalism's most essential doctrine, restated, again and again, dressed up as unsentimental savvy.' Here we couldn't be more at odds: I would argue that 'liberalism's essential doctrine' is the one that LCC is defending; namely, the idea that someone is 'in charge' of capitalism, with the implication that 'if only' they resigned/ shot themselves/ reformed then everything would be OK. There are at least two problems with this.
Firstly, it strikes me as a desperately unconvincing picture of capitalism. (Needless to say it's an anti-Marxist picture too... Isn't the emphasis on the systemic character of capitalism what separates Marx's analysis from moralizing socialism?) The idea that the misleadingly-named 'ruling class' do anything more than manage and adminster Capital is an idle fantasy. Capitalists can decide on which groups are exploited, but they cannot legislate away exploitation itself. (How long would a CEO with such ambitions last?) It is not exculpatory but simply realistic to acknowledge that Capital, not capitalists, runs the show. However, realism about capitalism is not the same as Capitalist Realism. Neo-liberalism is defined not by the idea that Capital is a remorseless machine but by the claim that there is no viable alternative to its rule.
Secondly, this model attributes too little agency to the proletariat. As I argued here, if anti-capitalism restricts itself to addressing demands to Them, it colludes with the idea that only Their agency counts. I think we should worry less about exculpating Capitalists than about exculpating ourselves: if They are responsible for capitalism, we aren't. This may look like an inconsistency but it points to an assymetry. Capitalist 'agency' is only effective within the logic of Capital, which is why expecting capitalists to produce an alternative to capitalism isn't only empirically absurd, it's an analytic impossibility; proletarian agency, meanwhile, only comes into play Outside capitalism.
Defences of populism typically trade on an equivocation between populism and the popular. But as I argued in the last post, an unpopular populism is not only conceivable, it is the form which Capitalist post-politics takes in both Britain and the US at the moment. Conversely, and this is crucial, popular movements are not necessarily populist. Populism is, rather, the entrapment of popular movements within an already-existing representation. The masses are invited to rally under an ready-made image of themselves arising from lowest-common-denominator thinking. So my problem with populism is not, as Kenneth Rufo suggests, that it is not 'popusist enough' but that it has too little faith in the ways in which popular movements can exceed the circumscribed horizons of the populist.
It is not the demand itself which is characteristic of populism. It is stopping with the demand (and/or its satisfaction). All of which is why I don't have any problems with Bat's rather elegant overturning of situationist wisdom in the following passage:
'Here I'd suggest that the answer lies in the direct converse to the famous (and eminently hysterical) situationist graffito "Be realistic, demand the impossible!". Rather than formulate realistic but impossible demands, our "demands" must be unrealistic but nevertheless possible. And moreover they should be addressed diagonally, ie to both the ruling elite and the popular movement simultaneously, or more precisely, they should formally pose a demand addressed to the elite, but actually raise a slogan that engages and resonates with the movement – mobilising it and thereby subjectivating it from within.'
This, however, strikes me as an exceeding of the populist, in which the form of the demand is used to produce new populations.
What, then, of fictions? What did Badiou mean by his closing claim last week that 'when the world is dull and confusing, we have to sustain our belief by a magnificent fiction?' What work is the concept of fiction doing here?
I don't feel qualified to answer, but I do want to make a positive case for fiction.
(In respect of Badiou, it's worth noting that he has invoked fiction before. Here, fiction appears to function as a totalization that can be antipated but never realised. Bat, incidentally, disliked Badiou's emphasis on fiction, arguing that the important political concept was the generic will. The following suggests a relationship between fiction and the generic: 'The set called 'revolutionary politics' is a generic truth of political understanding. What happens is only that we can anticipate the idea of a completed generic truth. It's an important point. The being of a truth is a generic subset of knowledge, practice, art and so on, but we can't have a unique formula for the subset because it's generic, there is no predicate for it, but you can anticipate the subset's totalization not as a real totalization but as a fiction.')
What can we say in favour of fiction? Here are a few, intensely compressed, suggestions.
The first hypothesis we might hazard is that, counter-intuitively, only fictions are capable of generating belief. 'The final belief must be in a fiction,' Badiou quoted Wallace Stevens as writing. The belief at stake is clearly not a propositional but an attitudinal belief; which is to say, not a belief that a particular factual state of affairs obtains but belief as a set of commitments.
Secondly, since capitalism is itself inherently fictional, it is essential that counter-capitalist fictions be produced. Fiction here would not mean an 'imaginary' (in a Lacanian or any other sense) alternative but an already-operative generator of possibilities.
Fiction ensures that things are not only themselves. Capital is the most effective sorcery operative on the planet at the moment because it is adept at transforming banal objects into a sublimely mysterious commodities. Trans-substantiation. The allure of the commodity arises from the non-coincidence of the object with itself. (cf Zizek's famous analysis of the 'nothingness' of Coke.) Anti-capitalism needs to take the form not only of a demystifying, depressive desublimation but of the production of alternative modes of sublimation.
by Mark Fisher
The phrase, above all others, that haunted this weekend's superb conference at Birkbeck , 'Is a Politics of Truth Still Thinkable?', was one of Lacan's most gnomic and provacative formulations: 'truth has the structure of fiction'. Fiction featured centrally in both Badiou and Zizek's different but complementary analyses on Saturday. For Badiou, the challenge was the production of new fictions; for Zizek, the problem was escaping the already-operative fictions of Capital. Badiou's call for new fictions will be discussed in the next post. In this post, I'm going to concentrate on Zizek's analyses of the fictions of capital.
(Incidentally, the weekend yielded sufficient material for ten posts at the very least. I don't propose to undertake the vast task of summarising all six of the papers, but I'm confident that their concerns will seep into posts over the next few weeks.)
One point of Lacan's claim - typically frustrating and intriguing in equal measure - was that truth cannot be apprehended directly, only via anamorphosis. It was made in connection with Hamlet or, more precisely, about the play-within-a-play in Hamlet* (perhaps suggesting that, really, the formula should be that 'truth has the structure of a fiction within a fiction'). Partly what is at stake here - something which Lorenzo Chiesa brought about in his elegant problematization of Lacan's relationship to Marxism on Friday - is the idea that the unconscious cannot lie. Which is at the simplest level is only to reiterate the oldest and most familiar lessons of psychoanalysis: slips of the tongue, dreams, symptoms give us access to a truth which cannot be accessed directly.
In any case, the truth sought over the weekend was not the immediate - and unmediated - totalitarian revelation negatively invoked by Nietzschean-Rortian postmodernism. It is that tradition of thought which has made a 'politics of truth' unthinkable, in both the conceptual and the ethical senses. For such compulsory scepticism, a politics of truth is unthinkable in the same way that nuclear war is unthinkable. We are warned that, without the prophylaxes of ironic distanciation and language game perspectivism, we shall fall victim to a fanaticism which, whether it takes the form of totalitarianism or fundamentalism, is always deadly. (Alberto Toscano's lecture on Saturday was invaluable because it presented a detailed genealogical analysis, passing from Thomas Muntzer's 14th century millenarian preaching through to the Iranian Revolution as observed by Foucault - of how this equivalence - between a politics of truth and fanaticism - had come to be made. +)
To Zizek, then. His target - after a dis-spiriting start wherein he re-cycled his already over-familiar recent riffs on New Orleans and France - was Laclau's attempt to rehabilitate populism. Laclau rejects the 'liberal elite' view that the populist is always proto-fascist, arguing that populism, whilst it is capable of such excesses, is in itself neutral, equally open to utilization by emancipatory currents. Populism, according to Laclau, is to be preferred to 'class struggle' because it does not posit a single, privileged agent or cause. Instead of a monomaniacal focus on the working class, populist uprisings can have at their core anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-patriarchal (or any other) struggles.
What is wrong with this picture? Well, Zizek said, populism is inherently reformist, if not to say reactionary. Its fundamental fantasy is of an Intruder, or more usually a group of intruders, who have corrupted the system. Hence the problem is never the system, capitalism, but the oligarchy, this particular, lazy, exploitative bunch who happen to have control now. Once They are removed, everything will be alright... Hence populism always frame its project in terms of a series of demands addressed to the ruling elite. Antagonism is defused into a craving for recognition. (To push this analysis further: it's clear that the (entirely complementary) obverse of the demand for recognition is the demand that this or that politician resign, which is why endlessly 'renewed calls' for resignation are constant background noise on the post-political scene.)
This, then, is the reason why class struggle should remain the privileged model. To insist on class struggle occupying a position of centrality is precisely not to invoke the 'working class' as the only agent of emancipation. In a sense, that is already to treat class insurgency as if it were yet another 'multi-cultural' demand for recognition. It's perfectly possible to imagine a capitalism in which, for instance, the demand for recognition of alternative sexualities has been entirely satisfied. But class struggle in the Marxist sense could not be satisfied by anything short of the 'obliteration of bourgeoisie as a symbolic social space' (which is by no means the same thing as the extermination of the members of the bourgeoisie). In a very real sense, the proletariat is that very obliteration. This point is perhaps best made by a joke recently recounted by Lenin on the Tomb. An IRA man in a balaclava is at the gates of heaven when St Peter comes to him and says, 'I'm afraid I can't let you in'. 'Who wants to get in?' the IRA man retorts. 'You've got twenty minutes to get the fuck out.'
For Zizek, Laclau makes the mistake of treating the critique of political economy as a 'positive ontic science' (just as his dismissal of class struggle makes the mistake of treating the proletariat as if it were a positive ontic entity, 'the working class', rather than a 'substance-less subject'). What this ignores is what Zizek, after Derrida, called the 'spectral' dimension of Marx. In Marx's 'hauntology' - where undead labour is the correlate of vitalized commodities - it is understood that fiction structures reality. To call capital a 'self-engendering monster' is not at all to speak metaphorically.
There is a lot to be done with this. Firstly, we can recognize the current political landscape as inherently populist. It is not only, as Zizek said, that populism (whether it be the 'progressive' populism of the anti-capitalist or anti-globalization movements or the reactionary populism of the fuel protesters or the Countryside Alliance) is the complement to administrative post-politics. It is that administrative post-politics is already itself populist. Badiou has argued that post-political malaise is not some accidental side-effect of parliamentary democracy but the terminal phase into which it inevitably declines. The dreary face-off between Blair's authoritarian marketism and Michael 'are you thinking what we're thinking?' Howard's gimcrack xenophobism at the last British election is one indication that capitalist parliamentarianism might in the end only be able to yield the melancholy spectacle of unpopular populisms. (Bush versus Kerry was another example of the same trend, of course.) Populism has little to do with popularity (no matter how far its support dwindles, the UK Independence Party will always be populist, for example) and everything to do with a reified notion of popular will, where 'popular' designates 'what is already accepted' rather than any kind of numerical pre-eminence. Populism projects a restricted sense of possibilities, always offers us a choice from a fixed and pre-existent menu. It is the expression of the always-already, the anti-Event.
This goes some way to explaining the querelous status quo that settles around successful post-political administrators like Blair and Bush. Their continued success is as inevitable as the grumbling discontent which accompanies it like a permanent drizzle. Their success is predicated on a populist appeal to the already accepted, to the Inevitable, which can only ever inspire a disappointed ratification, never commitment or fervour. On the current political scene, 'a politics of truth' is precluded, not by fear of the totalitarian big Brother, but by genuflections to the post-political big Other. Zizek mourned the loss of leaders who can know what we want more than we do ourselves. (Nietzsche was at his most perspicacious in his anticipation of the 'autonomous herding' of contemporary democracy.) Commitment and fidelity cannot survive the expeditious adaptation to focus-group/media-generated 'popular will' which post-political success entails. (In this respect, Blair, who has gone from being unable to utter a sentence unless it was cleared with a focus group to the suicidal fidelity of his Iraq misadventure is something of an enigma and an anomaly.)
The second big lesson concerns the form of an effective anti-capitalism. Anti-capitalism cannot restrict itself to a set of populist demands any more that it can realistically hope that unicycycling and juggling will spontaneously produce a ludic carnivalesque detournement of the global order. As I pointed out at the time of live8, Everyone - which is to say, All Opinion - agrees with populist calls that capitalism be 'reformed'. But one cannot reform capitalism, because, in a very real sense, capitalism is reform itself: a monster that is not only self-engendering, but also shoggothically protean in its perpetual reconstructions of itself . (Not for nothing is 'reform' the constantly reiterated mantra in the neo-liberal Bible, the Economist). Furthermore, to whom are any 'demands' to be addressed? Anti-capitalism will always be guilty of the 'populist temptation' while it continues to posit a corrupt oligarchy who need only be replaced, or worse, persuaded. The error here is not simply the illusion that 'this particular leadership' are the problem, it is the idea that capitalism has any sort of leadership at all. The administrators' washing of hands which they claim are always tied is not merely an act of self-exculpation; it really is the case that they are the slaves of the remorseless machine of Capital. No-one driving.
One of Zizek's greatest strengths has always been his hyperstitional account of the way in which capitalism runs by generating beliefs and behaviours. Behaviour anticipates belief, in a causal, not a merely predictive, sense. Perhaps that isn't going far enough: it would be better to say that behaviours are already beliefs, Pascalian 'beliefs before beliefs'. Yet ideology, as I've argued before, resides in the (apparent) discrepancy between belief and behaviour. At the level of cognition, people 'know perfectly well' that money is only a token, that commodities aren't alive, yet they behave 'as if' money is a real substantiality and that commodities are a natural force. Such activity is, needless to say, more than sufficient for the purposes of the replication of Capital. But where, here, is the properly fictional level? Does it reside with Capital or with the 'autonomous' individual? Perhaps the relationship between the two is exactly that of a fiction-within-a-fiction: the vast, planetary Science Fiction of Capital generates the implexed fiction of the psycho-biographical individual it feeds upon.
But the real money question is: how are we to dispense with these fictions? If SF Capital installs itself through ritualized behaviours of commodity-compliance, we have to conclude that the only way to rid ourselves of such fictions is to practise new behaviours, new rituals. And that is inseparable from the question of new economic models.
* As Susan Willis explains: 'The prince uses the little drama to create a structure, a dimension of ‘truth disguised’ as a fiction in order to make Claudius betray himself. It is not the narrative (Claudius pouring the poison in the erstwhile king’s ear), but the play scene as a structure that reveals the truth of Hamlet’s Oedipal quandary: in seeing the performed action, Hamlet catches himself allied with his father’s murderer, complicit with him in the desire for his mother. Here, the real is not a kernel, conveniently rock hard and discernable through the veil of fiction; it is instead the very structure, the warp and weft of the veils.'
+ One of the most interesting aspects of Alberto's paper was its discussion of Foucault, which reminded me of some of the issues Tim raised in his latest post on The Wrong Side of Capitalism. Juxtaposing Foucault's Preface to Anti-Oedipus, in which he condemns any attempt to ground politics in a truth, with his enthusiasm for the Iranian Revolution's 'spiritualization of politics' produces quite a vignette.
by Himanshu Damle
As Nick Land explains in the Catacomic, a hyperstition has four characteristics: They function as (1) an “element of effective culture that makes itself real,” (2) as a “fictional quality functional as a time-travelling device,” (3) as “coincidence intensifiers,” and (4) as a “call to the Old Ones”. The first three characteristics describe how hyperstions like the ‘ideology of progress’ or the religious conception of apocalypse enact their subversive influences in the cultural arena, becoming transmuted into perceived ‘truths,’ that influence the outcome of history. Finally, as Land indicates, a hyperstition signals the return of the irrational or the monstrous ‘other’ into the cultural arena. From the perspective of hyperstition, history is presided over by Cthonic ‘polytendriled abominations’ – the “Unuttera” that await us at history’s closure. The tendrils of these hyperstitional abominations reach back through time into the present, manifesting as the ‘dark will’ of progress that rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities. “The [hu]man,” from the perspective of the Unuttera “is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag,” writes Land in Meltdown.
Exulting in capitalism’s permanent ‘crisis mode,’ hyperstition accelerates the tendencies towards chaos and dissolution by invoking irrational and monstrous forces – the Cthonic Old Ones. As Land explains, these forces move through history, planting the seeds of hyperstition:
John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness includes the (approximate) line: “I thought I was making it up, but all the time they were telling me what to write.” ‘They’ are the Old Ones (explicitly), and this line operates at an extraordinary pitch of hyperstitional intensity. From the side of the human subject, ‘beliefs’ hyperstitionally condense into realities, but from the side of the hyperstitional object (the Old Ones), human intelligences are mere incubators through which intrusions are directed against the order of historical time. The archaic hint or suggestion is a germ or catalyst, retro-deposited out of the future along a path that historical consciousness perceives as technological progress.
The ‘Old Ones’ can either be read as (hyper)real Lovecraftian entities – as myth made flesh – or as monstrous avatars representing that which is most uncontainable and unfathomable; the inevitable annihilation that awaits all things when (their) historical time runs out. “Just as particular species or ecosystems flourish and die, so do human cultures,” explains Simon Reynolds. “What feels from any everyday human perspective like catastrophic change is really anastrophe: not the past coming apart, but the future coming together”.
Whatever its specific variants, the practice of hyperstition necessarily involves three irreducible ingredients, interlocked in a productive circuit of simultaneous, mutually stimulating tasks.
1. N u m o g r a m
Rigorous systematic unfolding of the Decimal Labyrinth and all its implexes (Zones, Currents, Gates, Lemurs, Pandemonium Matrix, Book of Paths …) and echoes (Atlantean Cross, Decadology …).
The methodical excavation of the occult abstract cartography intrinsic to decimal numeracy (and thus globally ‘oecumenic’) constitutes the first great task of hyperstition.
2. M y t h o s
Comprehensive attribution of all signal (discoveries, theories, problems and approaches) to artificial agencies, allegiances, cultures and continentities.
The proliferation of ‘carriers’ (“Who says this?”) – multiplying perspectives and narrative fragments – produces a coherent but inherently disintegrated hyperstitional mythos while effecting a positive destruction of identity, authority and credibility.
3. U n b e l i e f
Pragmatic skepticism or constructive escape from integrated thinking and all its forms of imposed unity (religious dogma, political ideology, scientific law, common sense …).
Each vortical sub-cycle of hyperstitional production announces itself through a communion with ‘the Thing’ coinciding with a “mystical consummation of uncertainty” or “attainment of positive unbelief.”
The second post in our forum on Nick and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future, from Steven Shaviro. Steven is the DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University. He blogs at The Pinocchio Theory.
The term accelerationism was coined by Benjamin Noys in 2010, in order to designate a political position that he rejected. In Noys’ account, accelerationism is the idea that things have to get worse before they can get better. The only way out of capitalism is the way through. The more abstract, violent, inhuman, contradictory, and destructive capitalism becomes, the closer it gets to tearing itself apart. Such a vision derives, ultimately, from the famous account of capitalism’s inherent dynamism in the Communist Manifesto. For Marx and Engels, capitalism is characterized by “constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation… All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” Far from deploring such developments, Marx and Engels see them as necessary preconditions for the overthrow of capitalism itself.
The trouble with accelerationism, according to Noys, is that it celebrates “uncertainty and agitation” as revolutionary in its own right. It doesn’t have any vision of a future beyond disruption. In the 1970s, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that we need, not to withdraw from capitalism, but “to go still further… in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization,” At the same time, Jean-François Lyotard exults over capitalism’s “insane pulsions” and “mutant intensities.‟ By the 1990s, Nick Land ecstatically anticipates the dissolution of humanity, as the result of “an invasion from the future” by the “cyberpositively escalating technovirus” of finance capital. Today, transhumanists see Bitcoin, derivatives, algorithmic trading, and artificial intelligence as tools for destroying the social order altogether, and for freeing themselves from the limits of the State, of collectivity, and even of mortality and finitude. This is what happens when “creative destruction” – as Joseph Schumpeter calls it, in his right-wing appropriation of Marx – is valued in and of itself.
In 2013, responding to all these currents, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams published their “#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics.” In this text, they seek to reclaim accelerationism as a genuine project for the left – one that can pick up the tools of capitalist modernity, and detourn them to liberatory ends. This is not a matter of celebrating disruption for its own sake; Srnicek and Williams emphatically reject Nick Land’s “myopic yet hypnotising belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity.” Instead, Srnicek and Williams return to Marx’s own suggestion that
At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.
The new technologies – digital and otherwise – of the last several decades are currently straining against the “fetters” of the very system that initially produced them. Information streams are censored and crippled as a result of so-called “intellectual property” laws; companies like Apple and Google appropriate the profits resulting from research that was conducted at public expense. The automation and robotization of so many jobs leads, not to comfort and liberation from toil, but to precarity and dispossession.
Srnicek and Williams argue in their manifesto that we need to adapt these new technologies for emancipatory ends, rather than resisting and opposing them. They argue for a future-oriented left politics, “at ease with a modernity of abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology.” They suggest that we should seek, not to restrain, but rather to “unleash latent productive forces.” They even call for a “Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment.” We might say that Srnicek and Williams’ accelerationism stands in relation to that of Nick Land much as early Soviet Constructivism stood in relation to Italian Futurism.
Srnicek and Williams’ important new book, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, offers a full-length expansion of the program that was first outlined in their manifesto. The most surprising thing about the book, however, is that the actual word “accelerationism” scarcely appears anywhere within it. As the authors explain in an endnote,
We largely avoid using the term ‘accelerationism’ in this work, due to the miasma of competing understandings that has risen around the concept, rather than from any abdication of its tenets as we understand them.
What this means, in practice, is that Srnicek and Williams’ ideas are removed from the incendiary context in which they were first proposed. Though the actual program of Inventing the Future is much the same as that of the manifesto, the change in rhetoric makes for a substantial difference. Without the expressive urgency connoted both by the word “accelerationism,” and the hyperbole that is basic to the manifesto as a genre, Srnicek and Williams’ proposals seem – well, they seem downright moderate and reasonable.
The authors start the book by offering a (mostly) comradely critique of the left’s recent predilection for “horizontalist” modes of organization, for privileging local concerns over global ones, for avoiding any explicit list of demands, and for direct democracy and spontaneous direct action. All these have been prominent features of the Occupy movement and other recent protest actions. But Srnicek and Williams argue that these tactics “do not scale.” They may work well enough in particular instances, but they are not of much help when it comes to building a larger and longer-enduring oppositional movement, one that could actually work towards changing our basic conditions of life.
This line of argument seems irrefutable to me — although it will likely irritate large segments of the book’s potential audience, particularly those whose general orientation is anarchist rather than Marxist. It is not just a question of organisational work — something that, admittedly, I have never done much of, myself — but also of orientation and basic vision. Local and horizontal political tactics are incomplete in themselves; they need to be supplemented by more global, or universal, modes of action and concern.
Unfortunately, Srnicek and Williams do not do themselves any favours when they characterise localist and horizontal tactics as “folk politics.” Such an appellation is deeply condescending. It is derived by analogy from “folk psychology,” the sneering term with which reductionist philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists refer to our common-sense beliefs and intuitions about ourselves. I entirely agree with the cognitivists that there is a lot going on in our minds that is not directly accessible to conscious awareness. But this need not entail that, as Paul Churchland notoriously put it, “our common-sense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory,” so that things like beliefs and desires don’t really even exist. The same holds for “folk politics” as for “folk psychology.” Pointing out the incompleteness of a mode of understanding is one thing; but dismissing it as entirely false and delusional is quite another. Srnicek and Williams convincingly argue that we need a more expansive, and more fully imaginative, form of both action and theorization; but they could well have pointed this out without the contempt and disparagement implied by the term “folk politics.”
In any case, after the opening chapters devoted to “the negative task of diagnosing the strategic limitations of the contemporary left,” Srnicek and Williams turn to the positive project of spelling out an alternative. This is where they do indeed make accelerationist proposals, while avoiding the needlessly provocative (one might even say “infantile leftist”) connotations that the term has taken on in recent years. They suggest, first of all, that the left needs to reclaim the mantle of modernism (the attitude) and modernity (the process) that it held for much of the twentieth century. This means, among other things, embracing and detourning new technologies, and finding a new sort of universalism that includes all the many local needs and forms of struggle, bringing them together without erasing their concrete particulars. (Here I wish that they had given consideration to something like Gilbert Simondon’s notions of transversality and transindividuality — for a discussion of which, in terms of left politics, see Jason Read’s new book The Politics of Transindividuality).
Beyond this, Srnicek and Williams analyze the ways that new technologies are transforming capitalism. They focus particularly on the ways that computerization and robotics are making more and more jobs redundant – without producing new sorts of jobs to replace them, as was the case in earlier waves of automation. We are standing on the verge of a “post-work world.” Given this situation, they suggest four basic demands around which the left can and should unite:
It is not that these demands will solve all problems; obviously they fail to address racism, sexism, and many other pressing needs. I myself would want to add a fifth demand to the list: the right of migration, and abolition of borders. But even without this addition, I think that the demands listed by Srnicek and Williams do indeed make sense as a “minimal” program. For one thing, they would establish the material conditions – freedom from hunger, homelessness, and other forms of severe want – under which racism and sexism could be more forcefully addressed and opposed than is the case today. For another thing, although these demands are in themselves concrete and attainable – as the world today is wealthy enough, and technologically advanced enough, to realise them – their fulfilment would require massive economic, social, and political transformations: ones that would take us beyond the limits of capitalism as it actually exists today.
Even if the left is able to unite around this series of demands, actually attaining them will remain a difficult task. Srnicek and Williams sensibly note that
the power of the left – broadly construed – needs to be rebuilt before a post-work society can become a meaningful strategic option. This will involve a broad counter-hegemonic project that seeks to overturn neoliberal common sense and to rearticulate new understandings of’modernisation’, ‘work’ and ‘freedom’.
Along these lines, they offer a number of concrete proposals, most of them good. They remind us, especially, that we cannot hope for immediate results, but need to play a long game. This is not a matter of the old debate between “reform” and “revolution” – an alternative that is now outdated. Rather, it means that a lot of things need to be changed on the ground in order for a massive economic and political transformation to be possible.
To illustrate this, Srnicek and Williams follow Philip Mirowski in tracing the history of the “neoliberal thought collective,” as it moved from a fringe group just after World War II to the dominant ideological force in the world after 1980. I have mixed feelings about this example, however. The story of neoliberalism’s triumph does indeed demonstrate the virtues of patience, cunning, keeping an eye on the long term, and understanding that the “common sense” of the broader society needs to change if policies are to change. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a “Mont Pelerin of the left,” concerned with more than immediate results. But the long-term success of the neoliberals has a lot to do with their access to money and to organs of public opinion. The capitalist class may well have accepted the Keynesian compromise in the post-War period, but they were always amenable to a new formation that would only increase their wealth, power, and influence. Ideological hegemony is a form of class struggle by different means. A left counter-hegemonic project will never be able to command the sorts of resources that the neoliberals had, as the moved from the margins to the centre of policy-making.
The larger point here is that, as Fredric Jameson once put it,
It has often been lamented that Marxism seems to be a purely economic theory, which makes little place for a properly Marxian political theory. I believe that this is the strength of Marxism, and that political theory and political philosophy are always epiphenomenal. Politics should be the affair of an ever-vigilant opportunism, but not of any theory or philosophy; and even the current efforts to redefine mass democracy in this way or that are, to my mind, distractions from the central issue which is the nature and structure of capitalism itself. There can never be satisfactory political solutions or systems; but there can be better economic ones, and Marxists and leftists need to concentrate on those.
This doesn’t mean that politics can be ignored; the task of making a better economic order will always require deep political engagement. And Srnicek and Williams’ economic analysis of the material conditions for a “post-work” economy is quite good. But it still remains that they – like nearly all “Western Marxists” over the course of the past century – are a bit too quick in making the leap from economic matters to political ones.
Still, I don’t want to end my comments on such a negative note. The greatest strength of Inventing the Future, to my mind, is that it does indeed turn our attention towards the future, instead of the past. A big problem for the left today is that we have too long been stuck in the backward-looking, defensive project of trying to rescue whatever might be left of the mid-twentieth-century welfare state. While it is perfectly reasonable to lament our loss of the safety net that was provided by mid-twentieth-century social democracy, the restoration of those benefits is not enough to fuel a radical economic and political program. Looking nostalgically towards the past is far too deeply ingrained in our habits of thought. We need to reclaim our sense of the future from Silicon Valley and Hollywood. As Srnicek and Williams put it at the very end of their book,
Rather than settling for marginal improvements in battery life and computing power, the left should mobilise dreams of decarbonising the economy, space travel, robot economies – all the traditional touchstones of science fiction – in order to prepare for a day beyond capitalism.
Post-capitalism (or better, communism – to use another word that is absent from this book) today has only a science fictional status. It’s a hidden potentiality that somehow still manages – just barely – to haunt the neoliberal endless present. Our rulers have been unable to exorcise this potential completely; but thus far we have been equally unable to endow it with any sort of substantiality or persistence. Inventing the Future looks beyond this impasse, to extrapolate (as all good science fiction does) a future that might actually be livable. This is its virtue and its importance.