Dare to Mutate!


[Neil Gershenfeld] is accelerating a set of connections that packs computer intelligence into materials and materials into self- reproducing things.

—Future Mutation: Technology and the Evolution of Species

Some of us remember the old Star Trek series which introduced the Replicator into the minds of a whole generation in the late 60’s. At that time it was a fanciful idea of replicating anything in the universe out of thin air. A cup of coffee, a meal, a martini… Of course there were under the hood complex theoretical physics and engineering involved which went untold and unexplained in the TV series.

The notion of a replicator works by rearranging subatomic particles, which are abundant everywhere in the universe, to form molecules and arrange those molecules to form the object. For example, to create a pork chop, the replicator would first form atoms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc., then arrange them into amino acids, proteins, and cells, and assemble the particles into the form of a pork chop.

This process requires the destructive conversion of bulk matter into energy and its subsequent reformation into a pre-scanned matter pattern. In principle, this is similar to the transporter, but on a smaller scale. However, unlike transporters, which duplicate matter at the quantum level, replicators must be capable of a large number of different materials on demand. If patterns were to be stored at the quantum level, an impossible amount of data storage (or a set of original copies of the materials) would be required. To resolve this, patterns are stored in memory at the molecular level.1

In our own moment we are seeing the beginnings of a replicator revolution with the advent of 3D Printing. Crude in its beginnings using plastics and other materials to replicate and copy existing parts from various models and simulations it is slowly evolving into a complex machinic process that will eventually surpass even Gene Rodenberry’s introduction of the molecular replicator in efficiency and design.

Speaking of Neil Gershenfield and his company RipRap which is in process of doing just that, creating machines to make machines through 3D Printing processes, Anna Greenspan and Suzanne Livingston in Future Mutation: Technology and the Evolution of Species tell us that this process is producing machines that “emerge from machines fully made, mechanically complete at conception – one very sophisticated moving piece, not a kit of separate parts. Most importantly, they have the potential to be packed with data, able to see, hear and sense.”2

This is the intriguing aspect, not only can these 3D printers be made to copy and replicate, but they can also become additive – they can add data, intelligence, and sense-making processes to otherwise passive molecular materials that were void of such qualities. Tom Igoe, one of Arduino’s founders, along with Gershenfield, worries that the name ‘Internet of Things’ puts too much attention on the gadgets constituting this new technological wave. What is shifting, he explains, “is not so much how we see computers, but how computers see us.” (FM)

If Nick Land is correct in his assumptions of the emergence of a Techno-Commercium – of a machinic civilization emerging into the Mechanosphere as his progenitors Deleuze and Guattari in their two works on Capitalism foresaw then we are well on our way toward socio-cultural transformation, mutation, and metamorphosis that will leave all our present notions of what it means to be human in the dust bin of dead metaphysical ideas.

Kevin Kelley one of the cyberhypers of California style technics and technology, entrepreneurialism and the techno-geek philosophies of Silicon Valley asks: So what does technology want?

Technology wants what we want— the same long list of merits we crave. When a technology has found its ideal role in the world, it becomes an active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. Our task is to encourage the development of each new invention toward this inherent good, to align it in the same direction that all life is headed. Our choice in the technium— and it is a real and significant choice— is to steer our creations toward those versions, those manifestations, that maximize that technology’s benefits, and to keep it from thwarting itself.3

Technium, the Good Life – Techno-Utopia: a sort of California dreamland for techno-geeks and their sponsors? This notion that technology wants what we want is a part of a whole trend into that idealism which brought about the very problems we already face in our world today. Optimism. Hope. The transformation of life and technology into the American Dream of commercial and financial success. Upward and ownward. Gun ho. Technology can fix everything. An attitude that blindly allows us to follow a course in which capitalism and technology fuse in a dreamland of profit and benefit, producing a techno-world of gadgets.

Greenspan and Livingstone speak of Hans Moravac and his notions of robotics in generational or temporal process of artificial evolution as pets, companions, and then as masters who could “could replace us in every essential task and in principle operate our society increasingly well without us. They would run the companies and do the research as well as performing the productive work.” (FM) They go on to say that

Moravec’s imagination extends still further, reformatting the intermeshed relation between human and machines. Not isolated, or distinct from one other, the exchange between nature and artifice is no longer one of simple tasks, where machines serve us, but one of mutual evolution, where organic and inorganic parts learn from each other on a massive, unprecedented scale. The human body unfolds, melding with the mechanosphere. (FM)

Deleuze and Guattari would speak of the rhizome in the same way as we think of the bee and flower in the exchange, mutation, and mutual cycles of pollination and reproduction. The flower attracts the bee, and the bee will appropriate the seed that it will carry to another flower which it will plant in the process of feeding and consuming the honey of the various flowers. Neither flower nor bee is of the same species, nor do they ever consciously know that their symbiotic relationship is mutually benefiting the organic continuance of their respective species. It is a rhizomatic relationship of two disparate systems benefiting each other without any conscious awareness or intentional knowledge of the fact.

Our relationship to techics and technology is rhizomatic as well. We are dependent of technology, and in reciprocal fashion it is co-dependent on us. There is an underlying process that is channeled and re-channeled in this relation between humans and their technologies that has been there from the beginning. A co-dependency on the part of both material forms which is very little studied. Philosophy of technology has always floated between an extreme form of technological determinism and its opposite. What D&G brought was the notion of an emergent symbiosis that “undermines the comfortable, commonly held assumption that technology is just a tool, designed to fulfill our desires and serve our needs. The idea that machines “must now and ever be man’s inferiors” masks a more threatening, subterranean reality.” (FM)

Greenspan and Livingston remind us of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon which in the latter half of the Nineteenth century brought us the first dystopian vision of this machinic takeover of civilization in which “humans function as mere component parts until, one day, a machinic takeover makes debris of us all, persuaded civilization to implement a rigorous technophobic program. All machines were abandoned, our cyborg future was snuffed out, and technological evolution was brought to an end.” (FM)

Luddites and Technophobes have always had a love/hate relationship with the industrial age and its successors. Neil Postman in his Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology is probably one of the more literate of this Luddite tradition, telling us in this work how for him and others “technology became a particularly dangerous enemy”.4 Following in the footsteps of such scholars as Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Herbert Read, Arnold Gehlen, Ivan Illich, to name a few, Postman would remind us that Cultures may be classified into three types: tool-using cultures, technocracies, and technopolies. (T) Each a successive move toward technological totalitarianism:

Technopoly, in other words, is totalitarian technocracy. As I write (in fact, it is the reason why I write), the United States is the only culture to have become a Technopoly. It is a young Technopoly, and we can assume that it wishes not merely to have been the first but to remain the most highly developed. Therefore, it watches with a careful eye Japan and several European nations that are striving to become Technopolies as well. (T)

The basic underlying axiom or principle within a Technopoly according to Postman is that the “system can do the thinking for them”. (T) Nothing new here he tells us, one need only go back to the work of Frederick W. Taylor The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, which contains the first explicit and formal outline of the assumptions of the thought-world of Technopoly.(T) These include the beliefs that the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency; that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment; that in fact human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts. (T)

Efficiency, calculation, mistrust in human judgement and decisions, the demise of the Liberal Subject, quantitative analysis and scientistic reductionism, and the ‘Rule of Experts’. This underlies the technopoly of the U.S.A. Postman tells us. We might add that neoliberalism and the newer world of the techno-commercium (i.e., network financialization of capitalism through algorithmic governance, block-chain technology, 3D Printing, etc.) has improved on these early principles and added thier on local colors (tropes) to the mix.

Another of those Luddite thinkers of our age Derrick Jensen in Endgame: The Problem of Civilization has for years been asking anyone who would respond: Do you believe that our culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?

For the last several years I’ve taken to asking people this question, at talks and rallies, in libraries, on buses, in airplanes, at the grocery store, the hardware store. Everywhere. The answers range from emphatic nos to laughter. No one answers in the affirmative. One fellow at one talk did raise his hand, and when everyone looked at him, he dropped his hand, then said, sheepishly, “Oh, voluntary? No, of course not.” My next question: how will this understanding—that this culture will not voluntarily stop destroying the natural world, eliminating indigenous cultures, exploiting the poor, and killing those who resist—shift our strategy and tactics? The answer? Nobody knows, because we never talk about it: we’re too busy pretending the culture will undergo a magical transformation.

Yet, for Jensen and those like him the great problem facing humanity is this sense that we are headed in the right direction, that our involvement with technology and the technological fix is not only okay but the best way. As he states it: “It has to do with a characteristic of this civilization unshared even by other civilizations. It is the deeply and most-often-invisibly held beliefs that there is really only one way to live, and that we are the one-and-only possessors of that way. It becomes our job then to propagate this way, by force when necessary, until there are no other ways to be.” (E)

A hundred years after Butler’s allegory and satire of the first industrial age Bill Joy of the defunct Sun Microsystems would tell us in Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us:

“Robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate.” (FM)

As the authors of Future Mutation tell us Joy “warns that technology escapes our control”. (FM) Joy would offer a future scenario of nightmares as biogenetics, robotics, AI, and any number of new technologies enter into the emerging paradigm of self-replication and artificial selection. As Greenspan and Livingstone put it humans “appear to have an almost willful lack of awareness in the face of technological evolution” (T). It is Joy’s recognition of this unconscious, wide ranging apathy, rather than his ultimately implausible appeals for global controls, that is, in the end, what makes Joy’s future imaginings so haunting. We don’t reflect upon new technology. Instead, we passionately, compulsively, addictively, engage. (T)

Like the serpent in the garden offering a new Eve the technological apple of the mechanosphere we are hooked, our desires captured and enticed, entranced and fascinated by the technological pop-land of Disneyfied gadgets, robots, and AI’s that are no longer fantasy but becoming more and more a possibility.

Yet, as we all know things seem to drift away, seem to be both too close and too far away, we are all caught in the mesh of a temporal dislocation in which the nexus of time and our temporal psyches are both conjunctive and disjunctive. As Greenspan and Livingston following the cultural critic Venkant in Welcome to the Future Nauseous remark on his notion of “manufactured normalcy”:

The overall effect of ‘manufactured normalcy’ is to absorb the future whilst fabricating an extended present that traps us, comfortably, in the past. Our collective attitudes towards the technological future, then, function to reduce the world of tomorrow to “a crazed-familiarity.” (T)

We are always moving into the future with our eyes glued to the rearview mirror, seeking out the known and familiar landscapes and environments of comfort even as they are replaced by the unknown and unfamiliar dangers of a future speeding toward us at the speed of light. As our authors comment,

We live in an era of unprecedented technological intimacy, affect and display. Never before have we been so uninhibited. We are constantly, compulsively touching our screens, obsessively uploading every fragment of data about ourselves. Many of us can’t stop. Even touch is no longer enough. We want our technology closer, embedded, under our skins. Alongside our terror is a yearning for the alien intelligence we are in process of becoming. After all, in the end, we are evolutionary creatures ourselves. We fear change but, as our deep and profound complicity with technology makes clear, what we long for is to evolve. (T)

Maybe that is it in a nutshell. We are creatures caught in the glue of time, members of an organic heritage stretching back into the primordial slime of antediluvian worlds out of mind, and yet what we seek above all else is to be other, to be different, to be elsewhere. All of our metaphysical systems have been based on this need to transcend our animal heritage to enter into other worlds, where time and creativity and an immortal life await us. Whether in religious of secular philosophies this need to escape out human nature has been a guiding thread in all its great literatures, paintings, sculptures, etc. A need to evolve into some higher form, exit the changing and metamorphic worlds of the organic that decay, entropy, and dissolution: falling away into the zero world of cold death and zero intensity.

Yet, as the authors of this work remind us a different and more materialist trend is reversing all that idealism. As Greenspan and Livingston remark,

By 2014, half a decade into the first great economic crises of the second millennium, something is stirring in the realm where humans meet machines. The eventual results of this mutation are still uncertain, yet some contours of the changes to come are starting to be apparent. In fields as diverse as network science, space engineering, genetics and robotics, the closed realm of state led research, powered by enormous government expenditure, is giving way – or at least being coupled with – a whole host of cheaper, more decentered experiments that are being driven from below (e.g. private space missions, citizen science, bio-hacking, DIY robotics etc..). Alongside the possibilities opened by a new culture of entrepreneurial making is a corresponding intellectual and cultural shift toward stuff. In theoretical and philosophical circles this is being tracked by a trend towards the ‘new materialism’; a transcendental turn that rejects the idealism of postmodernism which privileges thought and discourse over matter. More prosaically, our way of thinking about digital technologies is in the midst of a transformation. No longer is everything reducible to information; bits and codes, zeroes and ones. (FM)

Rather than the abstraction of thought divorced from things, we are seeing a tendency of reinfusion in the material stuff around us with intelligence, of optimizing things with the power of intelligent becoming and self-replication, composition and dynamism. Matter, not thought is becoming the in vogue of a cultural turn toward things rather than Mind. As the authors remark to “put it somewhat reductively, we are in the midst of a cyclical return from software to hardware (which perhaps explains our current obsession with everything 3D) which more fundamentally affects who and what we are a species. The pure age of the Internet, of hype over social media and excitement over the latest apps, is itself evolving.” (FM)

Ultimately the Mind, Technology, and Software are being naturalized, becoming ubiquitous and normalized in the everyday objects of the world around us to the point that we will barely notice that the world of the actual has been virtualized. “Technology is plotting its own evolution and the purely human advantage is becoming increasingly small. New fusions and adaptions between the organic and the near organic continue. Silicon, once sand, the second most common element built into the earth’s crust, carries deep with in it an ironic reminder of our own amphibious evolutionary past. Our roots, as cybernetic organisms, come from the same source. Though we are often blind to the machines that surround us – technology is the ocean within which we swim – these exchanges and interactions fuel us. As evolutionary beings, we are willing participants, hungry to transform.” (TM)

Even now as we speak of posthumanist worlds in thought and discourse, the world around us, the world of stuff is already mutating and becoming machinic, emerging from the cold conclaves of solitude and dead ideas of matter into a volcanic world of dynamism in which things will take on many of the qualities of humanity even as humanity take on the qualities of machines. The rhizome is giving way to a marriage of ubiquities, a partnership of organic and anorganic systems that will cooperate in mutually beneficial symbiotic relations that for the most part will go unnoticed in peoples daily lives. Hypernormalized to these new intelligent environments we will become non-human members of a multiplicity of new species. Our lives will give way to a plurality of non-human systems that will regulate and transform our flesh beyond recall. Biogenetics, nanotechnology, robotics, AI, 3D printing, etc. … Let the mutation begin…

Kant once flamboyantly challenged his readers to Sapre aude: Dare to know! In our time the challenge has become: Dare to mutate!

  1. See:  Replicator (Star Trek) Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replicator_(Star_Trek)
  2. Greenspan, Anna; Livingston, Suzanne. Future Mutation: Technology and the Evolution of Species (Kindle Locations 185-187). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants (Kindle Locations 3939-3943). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
  4. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Kindle Locations 61-62). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Mutant Culture: Metamorphosis and the Dividual

My experience is what I agree to attend to.

—William James, Pragmatist and Philosopher

Algorithmic governmentality, by its perfect ‘real time’ adaptation, its ‘virality’ and its plasticity, makes the very notion of ‘failure’ meaningless…

—Desrosières, The Politics of Large Numbers

There is no biosphere or noosphere, but everywhere the same Mechanosphere.

—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

With the advent of the Digital Age time has been out of joint, “the symptoms of a sort of dissonance and of temporal unbalance are multiplying in the sphere of aesthetic sensibility”.1 The rhythm of life is haunted by a sense of acceleration that fragments living experience and sensory perception itself. Time is out of joint—disjointed. As more and more humans in the past twenty years have become netizens, joining with hundreds of millions of others across the planet in the virtual environments of our networks the power of the mind, the cognitive activity coupled to the linguistic machines (i.e., interfaces, computers, mobile devices, etc.) has brought about a disjunction between our natural and artificial environments, allowing us to mutate and metamorphically decouple ourselves from our animal heritage and reliance of age old mental categories that over tens of thousands of years naturalized the mind. Whereas we for thousands of years developed mimetic techniques of memory to internalize information for recall, we now rely more and more on external devices and artificial intelligence to do our memory work, gather our information, search and index the world of knowledge that our ancestors used to do at the pace of attention.

Attention is the key.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to,” as my epigraph from William James suggests, attention serves as a gatekeeper for consciousness. It determines what one is conscious of. Our brains only ever give us what it needs to survive or reproduce the organism within which it is housed. So that most of what we term reality is blurred, excluded, and ill-defined for us. We come upon reality by way of accidents, stumbling upon aspects of this unruly world and cosmos as it acts upon us. And, yet, we do not know it, it is not an aspect of our attention, our awareness, our visible knowledge, our memories or experience stored or datafied. Reality is the excess that escapes our tools, our lives, our minds. All we have is the reflections grafted from this cosmic stream that our brain has forged for us over eons of evolutionary trial and error: our sex and survival depended on it, our natural environment as a hostile force that put pressure on us to block out everything but what was essential. Reality became essentialized, reduced to the bare minimum of sex and survival. Later the early philosophers would codify this process without every fully understanding the underlying mechanisms, nor realizing that what we think we know and the wider spectrum of the unknown within which we are encompassed is something of which we are blind.

One might say we are wired for deception.

Apollo Robbins, self-described “gentleman thief” and public speaker, describes his technique as a pick-pocket this way,

It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention. Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way . . . I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would. If I lean my face close in to someone’s . . . it’s like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, “You had a wallet in your back pocket—is it still there?” Now their focus is on their back pocket . . . and I’m free to steal from their jacket.2

This sense of framing and focus is attention, and the span of our attention and focus on something distracts us from everything outside the frame of our mind’s eye. Deception is the rule, rather than the exception.

Watching one of those spoofy television shows about people’s involvement with their mobile devices and how it is eating up our attention was a humorous reminder of how humans have suddenly shifted focus and become enmeshed in their technological and artificial environments to the point of distraction. Because of this they no longer are in touch with the natural world around them. The television crew set up situations where people were busily texting, or talking to someone on their mobile phones while a group of actors walked around them doing crazy and humorous to distract them from their involvement with the closed circuit of their attention: it being locked in a eye/machine, or face/interface closed frame. In one segment they had a woman walk past a man in a very tight skin colored suit that otherwise reminded one of nakedness. While other people gawked on and on at this charade of the woman rubbing up against the seated man speaking and texting, he barely even noticed her or her antics. Even after rubbing up against him in obscene ways he never disconnected from his digital device, never once stopped and put it down and looked at the woman to see what was going on. His mind was hooked to his machine and all his attention, his focus was on it at the expense of everything outside the frame of that interaction.

As Sebastian Waltz informs us, petty tricksters and light entertainment, of course, are only the beginning. Attention framing and misdirection pervade the very big and very real world. Spin doctors work hard to ensure that some aspects of reality are shoved into our faces, while others are swept under the rug. Our world is attentionally engineered—quite literally so. Channels for attention are carved into the fabric of our homes, the news we watch, the social media we consume, and into the urban landscapes around us. By creating channels of attention, agendas are generated and policies are framed.3 Truth is our brain is the great deceiver, it has wired us to accept a reduced vision of reality so that we can propagate and survive. So we are already wired for deception.

All of us succumb to distractions all the time. As a product of the texting and Facebook generation, we find it impossible to avoid Reddit, Gmail, and Netflix or other systems of attention capture like Twitter, Linked In, or any number of online gathering places. Before retiring I sometimes at work would have no fewer than fifteen windows and twenty-five tabs open on two monitors at any time. I’d track tech, entertainment, media, and science news across six Twitter accounts in a desktop app called TweetDeck. It whizzes by with a constant stream of updates like a trader’s Bloomberg Terminal.

William James once spoke of attention this way,

[Attention] is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.

Distraction might be the key term in our quest to understand inattention which is the unfocused or deceptive trick of those agents of the con, whether it is a pick-pocket seeking to refocus out attention or an advertisement pop-up on the net. Dominic Pettman in Infinite Distraction disparagingly reminds us that there is certainly no shortage of polemics out there, pleading with us to stop “clicking ourselves to death,” to stop using the unprecedented reach and power of the Internet to distract ourselves from the late capitalist conspiracy to suck what’s left of our souls, our bodies, our bank accounts, and everything of value in the environment, whether it be the interactions we have online or the minerals that are mined in order to make our communications gadgets in the first place. Every new technology brings with it a new McLuhan, a new Toffler, a new Postman, or a new Turkle, warning us against the dangers of the reflex adoption of new cybernetic arrangements, which themselves form the contours of new modes of cultural and political compliance.4

As Matthew B. Crawford in World Beyond Your Head : On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction admonishes us intrusive advertising is just the tip of a larger cultural iceberg; some of the positive attractions of our attentional environment are no less troubling than the unwanted aspects. It’s hard to open a newspaper or magazine these days without reading a complaint about our fractured mental lives, diminished attention spans, and a widespread sense of distraction. Often the occasion for such a story is some new neuroscience finding about how our brains are being rewired by our habits of information grazing and electronic stimulation. Though it is in the first place a faculty of individual minds, it is clear that attention has also become an acute collective problem of modern life—a cultural problem.5

As Ben Parr explains it in Captivology part of the reason for this rise in consumption is due to how easy it is today to create content. In 1986, there were no blog posts, status updates, YouTube channels, or Instagrams. If you wanted people to read your opinion piece, you had to send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. If you wanted to share a photo with your friends, you had to take the film to the camera store, get it developed, print multiple copies, and physically hand the photos to your friends. Today, the only thing you need to share any content is a keyboard or a touch screen. Our attention just can’t keep up with all this information. The more data available to us, the more our attention has to be divided to consume it. As a result, attention has become a scarce resource. We have the same 1,440 minutes per day our ancestors had but far more information and distractions to fill that time. There are clear limits to how much and how long humans can pay attention. The combination of increased information and our brain’s limits has changed our habits—and not necessarily for the better. Many of us have turned to multitasking as a way to keep up.6

Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants describes how companies capture our desires, our attentions. Describing one private firm that offered a failing school district of a small town a way to end its monetary problems stepping in with the perfect solution. As he explains,

Acting as broker, the firm promised that it could bring the district as much as $500,000 in private money per year. And, EFP stressed, its services would cost nothing. “EFP is paid solely out of corporate contributions,” the pitch explained, “essentially providing a free service to districts.”

To gain this free bounty, the board didn’t actually have to do anything. It needed only to understand something: that the schools were already holding an asset more lucrative than any bake sale. That asset, simply stated, was their students, who by the very nature of compulsory education were a captive audience. If the schools could seize their attention for the purpose of educating them, why not sell off a bit of it for the sake of improving the educational experience? Specifically, EFP was proposing that Twin Rivers allow corporate advertising within the schools. Moreover, EFP explained, it would bundle students from Twin Rivers with those in other school districts around the nation so as to appeal to bigger brands—the Fortune 500 companies—with deeper pockets.

If EFP was promising the district free money, its pitch to corporate advertisers was no less seductive: “Open the schoolhouse doors,” it said, promising “authentic access and deep engagement with audiences in the school environment.” Advertisers have long coveted direct access to the young, who are impressionable and easier to influence. Establishing a warm association with Coca-Cola or McDonald’s at an early age can yield payoffs that last a lifetime—or, in the lingo, “drive purchase decisions and build brand awareness.” That in essence is what EFP offered its clients: “an unparalleled system for engagement in the K–12 market”—a chance to mold the consumers of the future.7

Capturing Desire: Attention and its Dark Side

Philosophy is no longer synthetic judgment; it is like a thought synthesizer functioning to make thought travel, make it mobile, make it a force of the Cosmos (in the same way as one makes sound travel).

—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

In A Thousand Plateaus the duet of these two thinkers will describe how our attention, our focus, our desires are captured in Strata:

Professor Challenger who made the Earth scream with his pain machine, as described by Arthur Conan Doyle, gave a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology in a fashion befitting his simian disposition. He explained that the Earth — the Deterritorialized, the Glacial, the giant Molecule — is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles. That, however, was not the question at hand. For there simultaneously occurs upon the earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: stratification. Strata are Layers, Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strata are acts of capture, they are like “black holes” or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach. They operate by coding and territorialization upon the earth; they proceed simultaneously by code and by territoriality.8

One could say that our mobile devices, televisions, CD or listening devices, Movies, etc. are all strata devices for capturing our attention and our desires. In another statement D & G remark: “Matters of expression are superseded by a material of capture. The forces to be captured are no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos.” (TP) One might equate the material substrate of networks that give rise to the immaterial and electronic environments based on digital and binary codes of capture we term the Internet – and, even now, the Internet of Things (i.e., all those smart devices that are begin installed in everything from Security Systems, Refrigerators, Microwave Ovens to Lawnmowers, Automobiles, etc.).

In fact, D&G would as if proselytizing for a future arising and emerging out of this global transformation tell us: “We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed.” (TP) For D&G the ultimate capturing machine or apparatus is capitalism itself:

Capitalism arises as a worldwide enterprise of subjectification by constituting an axiomatic of decoded flows. Social subjection, as the correlate of subjectification, appears much more in the axiomatic’s models of realization than in the axiomatic itself. It is within the framework of the nation-State, or of national subjectivities, that processes of subjectification and the corresponding subjections are manifested. The axiomatic itself, of which the States are models of realization, restores or reinvents, in new and now technical forms, an entire system of machinic enslavement. (TP)

D&G will speak of the first apparatus of capture as the Urstaat: “We shall call the first pole of capture imperial or despotic. It corresponds to Marx’s Asiatic formation. Archaeology discovers it everywhere, often lost in oblivion, at the horizon of all systems or States — not only in Asia, but also in Africa, America, Greece, Rome. Immemorial Urstaat, dating as far back as Neolithic times, and perhaps farther still.” (TP) Following Marx they align the State apparatus upon this mythical system of agricultural communities stretching across the Neolithic Age. The Ursaat becomes the model of the first “system of machinic enslavement: the first “megamachine” in the strict sense, to use Lewis Mumford’s term.” (TP)

They will differentiate machinic enslavement and social subjection under two separate concepts (and I quote at length):

There is enslavement when human beings themselves are constituent pieces of a machine that they compose among themselves and with other things (animals, tools), under the control and direction of a higher unity. But there is subjection when the higher unity constitutes the human being as a subject linked to a now exterior object, which can be an animal, a tool, or even a machine. The human being is no longer a component of the machine but a worker, a user. He or she is subjected to the machine and no longer enslaved by the machine. This is not to say that the second regime is more human. But the first regime does seem to have a special relation to the archaic imperial formation: human beings are not subjects but pieces of a machine that overcodes the aggregate (this has been called “generalized slavery,” as opposed to the private slavery of antiquity, or feudal serfdom). We believe that Lewis Mumford is right in designating the archaic empires megamachines, and in pointing out that, once again, it is not a question of a metaphor: “If a machine can be defined more or less in accord with the classic definition of Reuleaux, as a combination of resistant parts, each specialized in function, operating under human control to transmit motion and to perform work, then the human machine was a real machine.” (Mumford) Of course, it was the modern State and capitalism that brought the triumph of machines, in particular of motorized machines (whereas the archaic State had simple machines at best); but what we are referring to now are technical machines, which are definable extrinsically. One is not enslaved by the technical machine but rather subjected to it. It would appear, then, that the modern State, through technological development, has substituted an increasingly powerful social subjection for machinic enslavement. Ancient slavery and feudal serfdom were already procedures of subjection. But the naked or “free” worker of capitalism takes subjection to its most radical expression, since the processes of subjectification no longer even enter into partial conjunctions that interrupt the flow. In effect, capital acts as the point of subjectification that constitutes all human beings as subjects; but some, the “capitalists,” are subjects of enunciation that form the private subjectivity of capital, while the others, the “proletarians,” are subjects of the statement, subjected to the technical machines in which constant capital is effectuated. (TP)

Anyone who has noticed the movement from the desktop computer as a tool of choice to the mobile device which now has tens of thousands of apps to capture our attention will understand what D&G are describing above. The mobile device which accesses our email, our news, our offices and homes, our lives in a 24/7 online environment will know of what they speak. We are all enslaved by machinic processes of which for most of us have been presented a convinces, time-savers, entertainment, part of the ritual of our daily lives and communications online. We do not think of this as being enslaved. And, yet, we are being controlled, manipulated, modulated by advertising hooks and other invasive and invisible for the most part systems of capture (i.e., FBI surveillance, Corporate tracing and feed-back loops promoting, tempting, shaping our desires for gadgets, things; and, of course all the little aspects of government, corporation, and sale off of our dividual lives online (i.e., tracing everything we do as we move through the virtual infosphere, leaving traces of our likes, dislikes, textual messages, thoughts on blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, etc., that are then fed back into anonymous systems to be looped back into the swarm mind of the net itself).

Luciano Floridi an information philosopher tells us in The Ethics of Information that our increasing re-ontologization of artefacts (ie., the Internet of things, etc.) and of whole (social) environments suggests that it is becoming difficult to understand what life was like in pre-digital times, and, in the near future, the very distinction between online and offline will become blurred and then disappear. To someone who was born in 2000 the world will always have been wireless, for example. To her and any other member of what Janna Quitney Anderson calls Generation AO, the Always-On Generation, the peculiar clicking and whooshing sounds made by conventional modems while handshaking, also known as the whale song, will be as alien as the sounds made by a telegraph’s Morse signals are to us. To put it dramatically, the infosphere is progressively absorbing any other ontological space.9

In this sense the natural world is being absorbed into the virtual in a great ontological twist and reversal. Rather than the virtual becoming actual, the actual is becoming virtualized. In the coming century our homes, our cities, our world will take on more and more the outward appearance of the digital environments within which we work and play. Already signs of this have become apparent with such online games as Pokémon Go a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. This augmentation of actual real world through the invasive influence of the virtual is just the start of a process that will lock us into a pre-fab modeled and modulated virtual world that will be based on an Algorithmic Governmentality.

Algorithmic Government: The Enslavement of Desire and Attention

There is a machinic enslavement, about which it could be said in each case that it presupposes itself, that it appears as preaccomplished; this machinic enslavement is no more “voluntary” than it is “forced.”

—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Of late one of the new ploys companies are using to enforce our compliance to use mobile devices is Security. I’ve noticed that banks, MMO’s, Online Stores, Government access to Social Security etc. are all requiring one have a mobile phone that they can text a security code to as a handshake to insure your access to information remains private. Because of online hacking by private or governmental agencies this has been presented as a necessary step in protecting your information. And, yet, for many of us who have kept attached to our land lines, to our old analog systems this seems a coercion to buy into the newer digital tools. Even my local cable company took analog offline, and only provides digital signals and protocols to its customers now (except for emergency broadcasts which must be analog for Federal Regulations, etc.).

In another generation all this will seem passé, as our children and their children grow up in a fully augmented virtual world. Our governments and corporations are banking on it.

We learn from Bernard Stiegler in Automatic Society: The Future of Work that a new regime of truth is in town,

Algorithmic governmentality is based on ‘ubiquitous’, territorial and environmental spatial technologies, through which the programs of ‘smart cities’ are today being designed, based on ‘autonomic computing’ and ‘ambient computing’, on technologies whose invisibility just makes them all the more active and efficient, as Mark Weiser states: ‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’8

The new regime of truth ‘is embodied in a multitude of new automated systems modelling the “social”, both remotely and in real time, highlighting the automatic contextualization and personalization of interactions to do with security, health, administration and business’.(AS)

As our daily lives become more enmeshed in augmentation we will begin to see our Cities take on this algorithmic governmentality. Computational urbanism is promoted by large equipment manufacturing firms who become at the same time its service providers, and they are currently designing the new infrastructure that will be built and managed regionally. Algorithmic governmentality will thus be exploited and managed on a regional scale and in a systemic and systematic way at all levels of space and time.

According to Saskia Sassen:

The best known example of an instant smart city is Songdo International Business District, an intelligent city near Seoul that’s equipped with advanced sensors and monitors from Cisco Systems, features that are humorously described by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in the new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. The city’s multitasking devices are able to open and close, turn on and off, or stop and start everything from the toaster to the videoconference with your boss to the video camera view of your child at play. All of this can be done from both your home and your office, though the distinction between the two becomes increasingly fuzzy in a fully ‘sensored’ city. Songdo is also about recycling and greening. It is built on reclaimed land and deploys all the latest green technologies.10

As Stiegler puts it algorithmic governmentality operates via ‘three moments [that] feed into each other’ and through the automatized confusion that calculation outstrips, and in the form of automatized understanding. This is an automatized understanding not just of reason in its scientific forms, but also will, law and the administration of decision-making in general – in the most basic dimensions of everyday life as well as in the military field. (AS)

Algorithmic governmentality is based on calculation and statistics. But unlike the earlier forms of statistical analysis as one might see in Bayes or Quételet, the new forms continuously traced and collected statistics constitute and mobilize an ‘(a)normative and (a)political rationality based on the harvesting, aggregation and automatic analysing of data in massive quantities in order to model, anticipate and affect in advance possible behaviours’. (TP) As we saw above in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of systems of capture, what is being harvested by this newer machinic and algorithmic processes of code are our online life, our desires, our attention and focus. And, as Stiegler explains it, this affecting in advance – which is, it should be emphasized, a new regime of affect within this ‘new regime of truth’ – affects all ‘powers to act’ as the automatic production of the possible reduced to the probable. It is based on a ‘passage from statistical government to algorithmic government’, which is also the passage from a public governmentality of the state – statistics is the science of the state and of governmentality strictly conceived as the administration of the public thing, of the res publica – to governmentality as governance by generalized privatization, which is the destruction, by a ‘hypertrophied private sphere’, of ‘private life’ as well as of the public thing. (AS)

For the most part we are blind to these processes which go on anonymously in the networks we are attached too. While we think we are just chatting with  friends, or buying a new purse, or seeing a new movie, youtube, or doing Pokémon Go or any number of activities on the network behind the scenes everything you do is being tracked, analyzed, traced into a data enclave where both corporations, governments, and even more disreputable crime syndicates etc. can through high-speed algorithmic systems – soon to be AI based, etc. – can splice and dice your dividual online life for their nefarious reasons. All of this done without either our approval or for the most part, knowledge, attention, awareness. Just as we are blind to many of the brain’s processes, so are we becoming blind to many of the social brain’s (read: General Intellect) processes of the net itself.

As Saskia Sassen, Stiegler and others have suggested the colonization of public space by major players of the ‘private sector’ passes through the promotion of digital regions based on the infrastructures of this algorithmic governmentality, from ‘smart cities’ to the management of household and domestic space by home automation and ambient computing, but more generally the ‘internet of things’ as a totally integrated environment of hyper-control, made ‘reactive and intelligent […] by the proliferation of sensors […] in order to adapt constantly to specific needs and dangers’.11

As a part of this process we are being de-individualized, de-personalized, and universalized and standardized as dividuals of algorithmic citizens whose online life as avatars becomes the signature of our becoming in the world. Rather than the liberal subject, there is now this binary encoded and traceable system of code attached to dataclaves (i.e., Big Data) that can be manipulated, massaged, fed into endless commercial or governmental agencies for analysis, modulation, and decisioning processes then looped back through the system to alter the behavior of our buying, relationships, or any number of aspects of our fake lives online. Digitized and reformatted for machinic consumption our online life is part of an never ending 24/7 system of capture, regulation, and enslavement. One that we believe gives us freedom, power, and possibilities undreamed of before. The discrepancy between our personal investment in the network and the actual systems of capture roaming within its hidden streams goes without saying. We are oblivious to these algorithmic measures that are affecting and effecting changes in our lives and behaviors in subtle ways we are totally blind too.

As Stiegler remarks,

Algorithmic government is an automatic government that claims to be able to function on autopilot, that is, without pilots or thinking. It ‘dispenses with institutions and public debate; it replaces prevention (in favour only of preemption)’. In short, it installs an automatic society – in which there develops a computational, technological performativity, itself supposedly totally autonomized. (AS)

Human kind is in our age being reformatted by processes of a machinic civilization that are subtly recoding and reontologizing our lives, de-naturing our minds and brains, grafting our psyches onto digital environments that are reversing the age old metaphysical categories (i.e., virtual > actual becomes actual > virtual: Plato’s Cave is no longer projection but a metamodel of the labyrinth rewiring the Outside in) and rewiring our neuroplasticity to the point that we are becoming neohumans in a world captured by the mechanosphere.

Mechanosphere: Gateway to Exit

Deleuze and Guattari once stated that what “we call the mechanosphere is the set of all abstract machines and machinic assemblages outside the strata, on the strata, or between strata”. (TP) It would be at this point that D&G left off with Professor Challenger:

Challenger muttered that he was taking the earth with him, that he was leaving for the mysterious world, his poison garden. He whispered something else: it is by headlong flight that things progress and signs proliferate. Panic is creation. A young woman cried out, her face “convulsed with a wilder, deeper, and more hideous epilepsy of stark panic than they had seen on human countenance before.” No one had heard the summary, and no one tried to keep Challenger from leaving. Challenger, or what remained of him, slowly hurried toward the plane of consistency, following a bizarre trajectory with nothing relative left about it. He tried to slip into an assemblage serving as a drum-gate, the particle Clock with its intensive clicking and conjugated rhythms hammering out the absolute: “The figure slumped oddly into a posture scarcely human, and began a curious, fascinated sort of shuffle toward the coffin-shaped clock The figure had now reached the abnormal clock, and the watchers saw through the dense fumes a blurred black claw fumbling with the tall, hieroglyphed door. The fumbling made a queer, clicking sound. Then the figure entered the coffin-shaped case and pulled the door shut after it…. The abnormal clicking went on, beating out the dark, cosmic rhythm which underlies all mystical gate-openings” — the Mechanosphere, or rhizosphere. (TP)

Like all diagrams it cannot be represented. It is:

Everything becomes imperceptible, everything is becoming-imperceptible on the plane of consistency, which is nevertheless precisely where the imperceptible is seen and heard. It is the Planomenon, or the Rhizosphere, the Criterium (and still other names, as the number of dimensions increases. At n dimensions, it is called the Hypersphere, the Mechanosphere. It is the abstract Figure, or rather, since it has no form itself, the abstract Machine of which each concrete assemblage is a multiplicity, a becoming, a segment, a vibration. And the abstract machine is the intersection of them all. (TP)

Or,  “Let us recall Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return as a little ditty, a refrain, but which captures the mute and unthinkable forces of the Cosmos. We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed” (TP). It is the place outside the capture systems, the zero point of intensity.  Else in the final analysis:

We have seen in particular that if abstract machines open assemblages they also close them. An order-word machine overcodes language, a faciality machine and overcodes the body and even the head, a machine of enslavement overcodes or axiomatizes the earth: these are in no way illusions, but real machinic effects. We can no longer place the assemblages on a quantitative scale measuring how close or far they are from the plane of consistency. There are different types of abstract machines that overlap in their operations and qualify the assemblages: abstract machines of consistency, singular and mutant, with multiplied connections; abstract machines of stratification that surround the plane of consistency with another plane; and axiomatic or overcoding and abstract machines that perform totalizations, homogenizations, conjunctions of closure. Every abstract machine is linked to other abstract machines, not only because they are inseparably political, economic, scientific, artistic, ecological, cosmic — perceptive, affective, active, thinking, physical, and semiotic — but because their various types are as intertwined as their operations are convergent. Mechanosphere. (TP)

We have reached the exit point of the capture system: “The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor; all that consists is Real. These are electrons in person, veritable black holes, actual organites, authentic sign sequences. It’s just that they have been uprooted from their strata, destratified, decoded, deterritorialized, and that is what makes their proximity and interpenetration in the plane of consistency possible. A silent dance. The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distances. It knows nothing of the difference between the artificial and the natural. It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata.” (TP)

One might also say: Thermospasm – the place of no place, the transcendental unconscious: the energetic and creative realm of our hyperstitional vectors emerging from their darkness. As Nick Land would in his dark Deleuzeguattarian reflections say,

The thermospasm is reality as undilute chaos. It is where we all came from. The deathdrive is the longing to return there (‘it’ itself), just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. Thermospasm is howl, annihilating intensity, a peak of improbability. Energetic matter has a tendency, a Todestrieb. The current scientific sense of this movement is a perpetual degradation of energy or dissipation of difference. Upstream is the reservoir of negentropy, uneven distribution, thermic disequilibrium. Downstream is Tohu Bohu, statistical disorder, indifference, Wärmetod. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder must increase, that regional increases in negentropy still imply an aggregate increase in entropy. Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. Degradation ‘profits’ out of life. Any process of organization is necessarily aberrational within the general economy, a mere complexity or detour in the inexorable death-flow, a current in the informational motor, energy cascading downstream, dissipation. There are no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy. A receipt of information—of intensity—carried downstream.12 (TA: 30)

That which cannot be captured, controlled, molded, modulated: the Outside. This is the pre-ontological realm of quantum physics. Libidinal materialism (Nietzsche) is not, however, a thermodynamics. This is because it does not distinguish between power and energy, or between negentropy and energy. It no longer conceives the level of entropy as a predicate of any substantial or subsistent being. In contrast to the energy of physical thermodynamics, libidinal energy is chaotic, or pre-ontological. Thus Nietzsche’s devastating attacks of the notions of ‘being’, ‘thing-in-itself’, of a substratum separable from its effects, etc. Where thermodynamics begins with an ontology of energy, of particles (Boltzmann), of space/time, and then interprets distributions and entropy levels as attributes of energy, libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition. (TA: 30)

It is in chaos and composition that we may find a way out, an exit.

  1. Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. And: Phenomenology of the End. Semiotext(e) (November 6, 2015) (A)
  2. Greene, A. (2013). A pickpocket’s tale. New Yorker, 88(42), January 7, 38–47.
    (Page 294).
  3. Waltz, Sebastian. Structuring Mind: The Nature of Attention and How It Shapes Consciousness. Oxford Univ. Press, 2017
  4. Pettman, Dominic. Infinite Distraction (Kindle Locations 149-154). Wiley. Kindle Edition
  5. Crawford, Matthew B.. World Beyond Your Head : On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (9780374708443) (Kindle Locations 72-77). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
  6. Ben Parr. Captivology (Kindle Locations 39-47). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  7. Tim Wu. The Attention Merchants (Kindle Locations 74-87). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition
  8. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press; 1St Edition edition (December 21, 1987)
  9. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  10. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 4202-4207). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  11. Saskia Sassen, ‘Talking Back to Your Intelligent City’, available at: http://voices.mckinseyonsociety.com/talking-back-to-your-intelligent-city/.
    Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 4897-4899). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  12. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge, 1991.

Hyperstition: The Apocalypse of Intelligence

“His ideas are drawings, or even diagrams.”

—Gilles Deleuze speaking of his friend Felix Guattari

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, “The Teleological Identity of Capitalism and Artificial Intelligence” 

In an interview Deleuze revealed “”Between Felix with his diagrams and me with my articulated concepts, we wanted to work together”.1 What drew Deleuze to seek out this non-conceptual form of thought? What is a diagram? Are these oppositional terms, or complimentary? We know that Deleuze’s hatred of both Plato and Hegel is well known. His investment in Spinoza and Nietzsche is also deciding. This antagonistic relationship with dualisms, with the negative, lack, and the dialectic in both Deleuze and Guattari, while presenting in their respective singularities a more pragmatist appeal to non-dialectical forms of thought is also well known. Many philosophers discount Guattari’s addition to this relationship and their work in the four extant publications of Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, and What is Philosophy? Why?

A great deal of it comes down to the post-Lacanian philosophies of such thinkers as Badiou (Deleuze: The Clamor of Being) and Zizek (Organs without Bodies: Gilles Deleuze) who best typify this anathematization of Guattari. As Louis Burchell in her preface to Badiou’s Deleuze: The Clamor of Being remarks, that what “Badiou names the “superficial doxa of an anarcho-desiring Deleuzianism,” making of Deleuze the champion of desire, free flux, and anarchic experimentation, is the first of the false images he sets out to shatter”, referring to Deleuze’s collaboration with Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, and will “bear the full brunt of Badiou’s scathing dismissal of the gross inadequacy of such a representation”.2 Yet, one must ask: Is this an accurate portrayal of Guattari’s stance? One might answer by asking: Who cares? Why all the fuss? Obviously there is this need in academic philosophy to protect the integrity of one’s representations of other philosophers that one is either for or against, and of qualifying and anathematizing all Johnny-come-lately infiltration as bunk to be discarded and delegitimized. Zizek in his book would remark that the true philosophical heritage of Deleuze lies in Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense rather than in “the books Deleuze and Guattari cowrote, and one can only regret that the Anglo-Saxon reception of Deleuze (and, also, the politicial impact of Deleuze) is predominantly that of a “guattarized” Deleuze”.3

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Accelerating Capital: Completed Nihilism and The Indebted Man

In his book Data Trash (1993), Arthur Kroker writes that in the field of digital acceleration, more information means less meaning, because meaning slows info circulation. In the sphere of the digital economy, the faster information circulates, the faster value is accumulated. But meaning slows down this process, as meaning needs time to be produced and to be elaborated and understood. So the acceleration of the info-flow implies the elimination of meaning.

—Franco Berardi, And: Phenomenology of the End

The pursuit of profit is the engine of Capital, accumulation is its outcome. Profit is from the Latin profectus, meaning  “advance, increase, success, progress,” out of which the need to benefit or provide income derived. This sense that progress and success drive the need for profit, that the goal of capitalism is this abstract movement toward increasing and advancing one’s success in the world has always been at the heart of the competitive spirit. To compete or strive against others for the foremost place, this sense of the competitive spirit that has been with us at least since the first Greek Olympics. The term itself “compete” is etymologically to enter or be put in rivalry with an other,” from Middle French compéter “be in rivalry with” (14c.), or directly from Late Latin competere “strive in common,” in classical Latin “to come together, agree, to be qualified,” later, “strive together,” from com “with, together” (com-) + petere “to strive, seek, fall upon, rush at, attack”.  A sense of violent taking and war against all comers for the top prize, the best or foremost place in the Sun.

As Berardi reminds us in the old industrial economy described by Marx, the goal of production was already the valorization of capital, through the extraction of surplus- -value from labour. But, in order to produce value, the capitalist was still obliged to exchange useful things, so he was obliged to produce cars and books and bread.

When the referent is cancelled, when profit is made possible by the mere circulation of money, the production of cars, books and bread become superfluous. The accumulation of abstract value is made possible through the subjection of human beings to debt, and through predation on existing resources. The destruction of the real world starts from this emancipation of valorization from the production of useful things, and from the self-replication of value in the financial field. The emancipation of value from the referent leads to the destruction of the existing world. This is exactly what is happening under the cover of the so-called financial crisis, which is not a crisis at all, but the transition to the self-referential financial capitalism. (A: 125-126)

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The Neohuman Transition: Forgetting, Erasing, Becoming New

Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.

—Nick Land, Meltdown

So entropy is the wrong word to describe the process at work in both The Ultimate City and Hello America. The clock stopped, but the machine is still there.

—J.G. Ballard, Extreme Metaphors

As I’ve read scholars such as Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Bernard Stiegler, and others of late there has emerged in my thinking a sense that homo sapiens sapiens is transitioning and migrating out of its natural environment which has tied its brain and patterns of behavior and thought for tens of thousands of years, and into a new world of artificiality which is fusing and transforming our synesthetic senses from our animalistic cunning intelligence into a abstract form of thought and feeling unbound from the natural world. Of course the literary visionaries of the second half of the twentieth-century such as William S. Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and so many others have all explored this new experimentalism, this neohuman transition we are undergoing from various perspectives, knowing that the human realities constructed by our socio-cultural blinkers and frames of thought and rhetoric were becoming unraveled, unhinged, and unmoored from their age old mythologies and traditions. Nothing new here, and yet it is the power of the new that has and still does pervade the emergence and reemergence of modernity into neomodernity that is bringing us a new vision of neohumanity.

We’ve been going through this process for some time now, and its effects upon our collective and personal psyches has been one of horror and dread. A sense of homelessness, of not belonging, of a disaffiliation with the culture and the world around us pervades many thinkers, writers, and artists since the Enlightenment. Modernism spoke constantly of seeking the new, of becoming other, etc., but in fact was always looking to the past to define its future, holding on to the myths and fictions of that decaying and dying world to shore up its own discomfort at the process it was undergoing. Postmodernists would ironize the process, try to distance themselves from it, make it more abstract and fictional, and even metafictional, playing with the patterns of our ancestral thought forms as if we could just tinker with the past; a cynical ploy that left a mere distaste in one’s mouth. Distance ourselves from our animal heritage and its psychic hooks bounded by a natural mind that would not transcend its mud and slime investments. Such thoughts would lead some to suicide, others to the reactionary worlds of authoritarianism, and still others into a cyberpunk era of street gothic futurism.

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Wars and Rumors of Wars

There has never been a protracted war from which a country benefited.

—Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Reading many of the headlines of late and the constant buzz in the media feeds one becomes apprehensive that we are entering a dangerous age (if we ever left it?) again. The rhetoric of militaristic societies has forever been a form of male boasting, a sort of I’m ‘King of the Hill’ pattering. Yet, this male dominated romance of war has in the modern age brought only shame and misery, ashes and holocaust to the fore rather than the glories of warriors. In our age we’ve seen the automation and mechanization of war to a point that it has become remote control drones and robots that mediate the destruction of anonymous targets of an ill-defined “terrorism”.

The promises of the Obama administration of ridding ourselves of our Middle-East campaigns went awry and we became more enmeshed. With the rise of Trump we’re seeing an even more immediate global threat of extreme war as the rhetoric to overthrow dictators across the world becomes part of another fictional grab to control oil, power, and patriarchal pride. Chemical threat in Syria, Nuclear threat in North Korea… the media is abuzz of leaders willing to sacrifice themselves and their people to maintain power and domination over their territories. Russia, China, Iran and other third nations align against the U.S., Japan, and Europe and their allies in a new cold war of rhetoric all blaming each other for the disorder being promoted around the globe. None taking responsibility for having brought this new sense of insecurity and uncertainty to world stability.

Howard Zinn years ago in his personal history would say,

 There is a sense of desperation and helplessness in the land. There is the feel of a country occupied by a foreign power, not foreign in the sense of coming from abroad, but rather foreign to the principles we want our country to stand for. The “war on terror” is being used to create an atmosphere of hysteria, in which the claim of “national security” becomes an excuse to throw aside the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, to give new powers to the FBI. The question not asked is whether the war itself creates great dangers for the security of the American people, and also for the security of innocent people abroad, who become pawns in the game to expand American power worldwide.1

In his book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War Andrew J. Bacevich who’d seen and lived through the policymaking years of much of the past fifty years of American Empire came to the conclusion that many have come before him that as Lord Acton once iterated: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He’d go on to say,

The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them. Even then, the truths to which they testify come wrapped in a nearly invisible filament of dissembling, deception, and duplicity. The exercise of power necessarily involves manipulation and is antithetical to candor.2

Bacevich’s worldview of a positive and ideal America presented and undermined by this shattering of his idealism led him to the conviction that the nation that he’d once dreamed of as a place in which “American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed and affirmed the nation’s enduring devotion to its founding ideals.” That this dream America had “during my adult life, a penchant for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not— to me, at least— in any way contradict America’s aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places testified to the seriousness of those aspirations. That, during this same period, the United States had amassed an arsenal of over thirty-one thousand nuclear weapons, some small number of them assigned to units in which I had served, was not at odds with our belief in the inalienable right to life and liberty; rather, threats to life and liberty had compelled the United States to acquire such an arsenal and maintain it in readiness for instant use”. (WR: 7)

He’d go on to speak of two aspects of this myth, the American Credo and Trinity:

The credo summons the United States— and the United States alone— to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world. In a celebrated manifesto issued at the dawn of what he termed “The American Century,” Henry R. Luce made the case for this spacious conception of global leadership. Writing in Life magazine in early 1941, the influential publisher exhorted his fellow citizens to “accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.” Luce thereby captured what remains even today the credo’s essence. (WR: 12)

While the trinity is an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism. (WR: 14)

This sense that American had become the World’s policeman, the power that had to maintain order and democracy, had turned into the nightmare of corporate takeover of the global economy through both economic and military interventionism and pre-emptive warfare. Tearing up our contracts, our Bill-of-Rights, and instituting emergency powers the U.S. Government had essentially taken on the role of world dictator under the façade of democracy.

Even now as I watch the daily news it seems we are once again preparing for some kind of major confrontation or event in the world, one that will once again bring war and violence. Looking back at the legacy of American interventionism since WWII one is left with the notion that we alone have created the opposite of democracy in the world, that we have brought nothing but human suffering and degradation to millions of people around the globe through our economic and foreign legacy of both Government and Corporate malfeasance. Nothing justifies war, not even the need to oust blatant and evil dictators across the globe. Yet, American politicians goaded by the profits and power of the great global corporations seem forever bent on enacting war during times of social unrest at home and abroad.

A trite and colloquial cliché of my childhood that usually comes out at such moments is that “What goes around comes around.” This sense that repetition of war brings terror to the homeland can and will be manifested repeatedly unless we can achieve some kind of balance of power in the world today. I don’t believe we will ever achieve lasting peace, it’s another myth we have to get over. The human animal is irrational, no matter all the pretense of Reason we can muster, we are driven creatures ruled by passion not logic and harbor hate, fear, and utter madness in our affective lives as animals. If we ever rid ourselves of passion and emotion we would no longer be animals or human, rather machines and psychopathic murderers who feel nothing but nothing. Death has its own world, the world of the disaffective.

  1. Zinn, Howard. You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times (Kindle Locations 136-141). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Bacevich, Andrew J.. Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) (p. 3). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The Philosophy of the Bulldozer: Or, The Modern Art of Creative Destruction

“In their creation of the modern city, Le Corbusier, Haussmann and Moses shared the conviction that the older urban centres that had stood in their way had to be destroyed. They viewed the pre-modern city as riddled with slums that needed to be cleared away. Small, dense, crowded lanes were condemned as a cumbersome relic, unsuitable for the coming new age. In this lineage of modern urban planning, the bulldozer has always been the most important tool in the creation of the future.

—Anna Greenspan,  Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade

The Master Builders

There’s a sense that modernity and modernism not only disowned the past, but literally and figuratively destroyed it to make way for the new. Studying the great architects and engineers of Paris and New York Le Corbusier, Haussmann and Moses, Anna Greenspan gazes upon the bewildering delirium that is modernity. Not a modernity that is a repetition but rather a movement that never stopped modernizing, progressing forward powered into the uncharted future,  accelerating technics and technology, enforcing an engine of dynamic planning, innovation, and creativity to empower a world that sloughs the encrusted ruins of a dilapidated and out-of-date metropolis and projects a new world as a blank slate for the geometer’s gaze. Modernity is a temporal engine of creation and destruction born of both the geometer’s dream of perfection, and the dark undertow of a volcanic and energetic thermospasm at the heart of creation itself. This war between Platonic perfection with its top-down planning, modeling, and simulated artificiality,  and the unruly titanic forces of the street life of cities where the unconscious power of a delirious intelligence emerges from the shadows would and still is driving our world.

Citing Edward Glaeser’s book Triumph of the City Greenspan reminds us that Georges-Eugène Haussmann ‘evicted vast numbers of the poor, turning their homes into wide boulevards that made Paris monumental. He lopped off a good chunk of the Luxembourg Gardens to create city streets. He tore down ancient landmarks.’ SF: 35) The great city of medieval and renaissance Paris would become rubble in the path of this architect become engineer of grand and monumental roadways. As another architectural historian Peter Hall remarks ‘Haussmann had little concern for the heritage of the past; it simply got in the way.’ (SF: 35)

Robert Moses of New York, a student of Haussmann comments Greenspan “projects and roads rammed through neighbourhoods, dislocating hundreds of thousands of people, obliterating much of the existing urban fabric. Seemingly oblivious to the destructive path that lay in the wake of his developments, Moses appeared to delight in his particular form of ‘creative destruction’. ‘When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis,’ he notoriously maintained, ‘you have to slash your way through with a meat axe.’”(SF: 36)

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Dark Cities of the American Psyche: 24/7 Death American Style

The American Psyche: A Noirish History of the Industrial Era

Which of us was willing to turn, to look the future in the face, to mutiny if necessary and oblige the Captain to put about, return the thing to where we had found it? The last of our mean innocence tolled away ship’s bell after bell. Even if we could not predict in detail what was about to happen, there could have been no one among us, not even the most literal-minded, who did not feel that something, down there, below our feet, below the waterline where it lay patient and thawing, was terribly, and soon to be more terribly, amiss.

—Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

There has always been a fine line between reason and madness, logic and affect, one that once crossed can lead into strange and bewildering worlds. The Left prides itself on critiquing capitalist social and cultural systems to the point of resistance, revolt, and total destruction. As Andrew Culp in his manifesto for destruction of our current civilization tells us, what we need is to enter that realm of destructive “polemics, recovery, and creativity” of which Deleuze and Guattari’s work was both a sign and a promise: “I argue against the “canon of joy” that celebrates Deleuze as a naively affirmative thinker of connectivity. Second, I rehabilitate the destructive force of negativity by cultivating a “hatred for this world.” Third, I propose a conspiracy of contrary terms that diverge from the joyous task of creation”.3

Against connectionism, a reaffirmation of violence and destruction of “worlds” in which hatred (a strong affect) suddenly blossoms, and a dark turn toward conspiracies against the “joyous task of creativity”. Read this against the long note left by A. Joseph Stack III, who on February 19, 2010,  a fifty-three-year-old software engineer, crashed a private plane into the Internal Revenue Service offices in Austin, Texas, killing himself as well as one worker inside the building. He left behind a statement that was six single-spaced pages long. It had clearly been worked on for a long time. As Stack himself stated: “The writing process, started many months ago, was intended to be therapy in the face of the looming realization that there isn’t enough therapy in the world that can fix what is really broken.” At the same time, he acknowledged “the storm raging in my head.” Unlike the manifest conspiracism in Richard Poplawski’s Web postings, Joseph Stack’s final statement, lengthy though it is, implied a conspiracy rather than stating it directly. In his polemic against the tax system, his real enemy was what he saw as a larger political structure rigged and operated by the wealthy for their own benefit. George W. Bush is “the recent presidential puppet.” The law comes in two versions, one “for the very rich, and one for the rest of us . . . and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws.”4

A sense of utter futility and despair pervades these texts, a hate that would destroy all external supports to the point of annihilation. The Left seems prepared to annihilate the world if need be to create a new one. Why? How have we come to the point of willilling the sacrifice of all life on the planet in the name of some ideological system of abstract thought? Some seem to be already doing this on a personal scale (i.e., Berardi’s work), but the big question is if this turns to collective action will we begin a course toward total annihilation from which there is no escape?

Mayhem in the Streets

In his recent book Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide Franco “Bifo” Berardi reminds us that we are living in the ruins of capitalist civilization, a global civilization and multiplicity of cultural complexes all meshed in establishing an era of a completed nihilism. As he tells it in his “book is not merely crime and suicide, but more broadly the establishment of a kingdom of nihilism and the suicidal drive that is permeating contemporary culture, together with a phenomenology of panic, aggression and resultant violence”.5

A sense that something terrible has happened already, that the apocalypse is already begun or over or in-between, that the drift of the world into the sinkhole of a timeless void has indeed replaced the two-hundred cheery eyed optimism of progressive dreams, idealism, and hopes of a better Tomorrowland. As I was reading Anna Greenspan’s book on neomodern revivalism in Shanghai with its glitz and glamour worlds of retro-futurism in which the city becomes an assemblage of time vectors leading into an absolute time without beginnings or endings I was reminded of the rest of the planet of slums and decay, crime and dark collective suicidal madness. I could not even with the help of Zizek’s notion of the parallax gap bring these two worlds together, enframe their strangeness, their weirdness. It’s as if most of the planet is not only bent of self-destruction and collective suicide but that the very denialism of this fact has sponsored a new world of hope on the far shores of an artificial island world beyond time.

How to reconcile the seemingly two worlds of dark and light we seem to live in? Maybe this is just where the power of the negative, the dialectic falls short and begins to implode in its own vicious circles of hate and destruction. Isn’t it more to the point that the whole Hegelian and Marxian tradition is washed up, useless in diagnosing the problems of our neomodernist era? Didn’t we learn from a Sartre (Critique of Dialectical Reason) or an Adorno (Negative Dialectics) that the extremes of the negative always lead back to God (i.e., a stand in for the great unknown and unanswerable, the darkness that will not go away, the unity that will not be subsumed: the Absolute)?

One can read thousands if not tens of thousands of critiques of capitalism that have been published since the death of Marx. What impact have they had in solving the problems we face on this planet? We’ve seen both enactments of Marx’s inverted idealism in both Soviet Russia and Maoist China fail in their bid to oust Global Capitalism. Why? Why such a failure if communism was to be the shining light of the progressive mind and its inheritance? Citing Fredrich Jameson’s remark (?) that postmodernism is the ‘cultural logic of late capitalism’, the late Mark Fisher in his Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? tells us that Jameson “argued that the failure of the future was constitutive of a postmodern cultural scene which, as he correctly prophesied, would become dominated by pastiche and revivalism. Given that Jameson has made a convincing case for the relationship between postmodern culture and certain tendencies in consumer (or post-Fordist) capitalism, it could appear that there is no need for the concept of capitalist realism at all. In some ways, this is true.”6

Pastiche and revivalism? Fisher citing the example of Kurt Cobain’s suicide as the outcome of this dark turn tells us that this Rock Star found himself living in a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, where all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the dead like puppets in a Was Museum. Fisher says: “Here, even success meant failure, since to succeed would only mean that you were the new meat on which the system could feed. But the high existential angst of Nirvana and Cobain belongs to an older moment, what succeded them was a pastiche-rock which reproduced the forms of the past without anxiety. (CR)

Berardi twenty-years after Cobain’s death will uncover the darker side of this pastiche culture of mimicry, puppets, and repetitive time travel scenarios to nowhere:

I don’t care about the conventional serial killer, the brand of secretive sadistic psychopaths who are attracted to other people’s suffering and enjoy seeing people die. I’m interested in people who are suffering themselves, and who become criminals because this is their way both to express their psychopathic need for publicity and also to find a suicidal exit from their present hell. I write about young people like Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Pekka-Erik Auvinen, who killed themselves after trying to attract the attention of the world by ending the lives of innocent people. (H)

This sense that ultra-violence of mass violence from the lone wolves among us is more about a desperate last ditch cry from the void of hate and despair, a final narcissism of the lost soul seeking to be recognized knowing full well that the soul does not exist, that nothing exists, that we are all dead in a world of death. This is the pit of hell and noir in our age.

American Cities: Or, How the Violent Die

Something about crime and noir fiction brings to life the sociopathic and psychopathic, street level view of American Cities that nothing else can. One can read sociology all day long and not get descriptions like this from James Lee Burke:

I had a whole file drawer of misery to look at, too: a prostitute icepicked by a psychotic John; a seventeen-year-old runaway whose father wouldn’t bond him out of jail and who was hanged the next morning by his black cellmate; a murder witness beaten to death with a ball-peen hammer by the man she was scheduled to testify against; a Vietnamese boat refugee thrown off the roof of the welfare project; three small children shot in their beds by their unemployed father; a junkie strangled with baling wire during a satanic ritual; two homosexual men burned alive when a rejected lover drenched the stairwell of a gay nightclub with gasoline. My drawer was like a microcosm of an aberrant world populated by snipers, razor-wielding humanoids, mindless nickel-and-dime boost artists who eventually panic and kill a convenience-store clerk for sixty dollars, and suicides who fill the apartment with gas and blow the whole building into a black and orange fireball.1

From Hammet to Ellroy to the Irish wonder, Ken Bruen, or any number of the countless works from the early pulp era to our own one enters the dark psyche of our age. Philosophers of late have spent a great deal of time on horror and science fiction, but as I’ve been reading Frank Ruda’s work on fatalism and freedom where he tells us:

Today freedom has become a signifier of oppression. In this historical situation fatalism is the only possible stance that allows us to think freedom without being indifferent. We must affirm the position of a comic fatalism, whose slogans are: Start by expecting the worst! Act as if you did not exist! Act as if you were not free! Act in such a way that you accept the struggle you cannot flee from! Act in such a way that you never forget to imagine the end of all things! Act as if the apocalypse has already happened! Act as if everything were always already lost! Act as if you were dead!2

As I reread such noir authors as Joe R. Lansdale, Ken Bruen, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, Megan Abbott, Patricia Cornwall, Charles Wiilleford, Daniel Woodrell, Jim Thompsan, C.J. Box and many others this comic fatalism pervades their fiction with explorations of how humans negotiate freedom and fate in our difficult times. These fictions portray the underbelley of life, the worlds of those left out in the cold, the rejected, the angry and violent, the people who do not fit into the perfect world of Capital’s Neomodernity. Marginal, transgressive, outsiders who walk in the shadowlands below the surface of our consumerist paradise these fictions open us to that which we want to forget about ourselves, the darker side of our own affective lives that we like to sweep under the rug of civilized sublimity.

Freedom can be a form of oppression, a false belief system that locks us into notions of free-will that are actually traps that keep us caged in mental prisons that control our minds and guide our lives along carefully scripted and habitual tracks laid out by a dark socio-cultural dynamics that produces what we know and believe about agency and self. We are the fictions of a demented civilization, locked into a suicidal pact that will ultimately lead us to the utter destruction of both humanity and our planet unless we wake up from this mad dream. When will the sleepers awaken?

The Private Dick: Pulp Culture Explosion of the 50’s

As America dreamed of a future that would wipe out the memories of war torn Europe, Fascism, and the Nuclear winters of its own death machines dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a new culture of fantasy and optimism arose in the birth of consumerist society. Yet, even as Television suddenly captured the minds and hearts of the American psyche, reformatting and manipulating the collective mind set toward a future fantasia filled with gadgets and technological wonders, something was brewing in the dark cages of our inner cities. As Woody Haut, exploring the pulp cultural worlds below the surface of our glitz and glamour society would tell us, enclosed within a political strategy consisting of containment abroad and repression at home, pulp culture private eyes were rarely at ease negotiating the rapids of post-war political waters. As investigators drifted towards privatization — typified by secrecy, enclosure and financial agreement — their emblematic ‘eyes’, no longer open as they had been when the insignia of the strike-breaking Pinkerton Agency, had begun to wink in the direction of the state. With the Cold War contributing to an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, public investigation was best avoided. Amidst a shrug of the shoulders and a shot of rye, private eyes plying their trade on anyone who failed to represent the interests of the state risked engaging in a subversive activity. As for private eye writers, their precarious situation meant following one of two paths — the classicism of Raymond Chandler, or the manic right-wing fantasies of Mickey Spillane.7

Speaking of Raymond Chandler Fredric Jameson in his remarks that it was during this period that the postmodern turn, the turn toward a new cynicism and metafictional desperation came to the fore:

Language can never again be unselfconscious for him; words can never again be unproblematical. The naive and unreflective attitude towards literary expression is henceforth proscribed, and he feels in his language a kind of material density and resistance: even those clichés and commonplaces which for the native speaker are not really words at all, but instant communication, take on outlandish resonance in his mouth, are used between quotation marks, as you would delicately expose some interesting specimen: his sentences are collages of heterogeneous materials, of odd linguistic scraps, figures of speech, colloquialisms, place names and local sayings, all laboriously pasted together in an illusion of continuous discourse. In this, the lived situation of the writer of a borrowed language is already emblematic of the situation of the modern writer in general, in that words have become objects for him.8

The writer would use language as a form of pastiche mimicry rather than as the medium of defining or creating a world of parallel or parallax vision onto society and the lives of its inhabitants. Bound by the thick fantasies of a rising Technocommercium that would reframe the modern American psyche, Chandler and others like him would be hard pressed to create or invent narratives that would inform and entertain us about the bottom feeders or even the hidden corridors of power, sex, and violence hiding behind the façade of its pop cultural glitz and glamour.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Artificial

As Virginia Postrel in The Power of Glamour comments:

Glamour. The word itself has mystique, spelled even in American English with that exotic u. When we hear “glamour,” we envision beautiful movie stars in designer gowns or imagine sleek sports cars and the dashing men who drive them. For a moment, we project ourselves into the world they represent, a place in which we, too, are beautiful, admired, graceful, courageous, accomplished, desired, powerful, wealthy, or at ease. Glamour, the fashion writer Alicia Drake observes, offers “the implicit promise of a life devoid of mediocrity.” It lifts us out of everyday experience and makes our desires seem attainable. Glamour, writes the fashion critic Robin Givhan, “makes us feel good about ourselves by making us believe that life can sparkle.”9

Since the 1950’s America has pursued this world of glamour, sought the Good Life – a specifically American Utopia that yearned for both beauty and things. In some sense America sought to become the first completely artificial nation, created ex nihilo (“out of nothing”). During this early age of consumerist society modernist art and its techniques would enter the arena of the ad men and mediatainment complex to rewire the psyche of men and women toward the endless vistas of technological progress. Money. Power. Things. All would bring you happiness if only you would accept the promise we offer you, work hard, become that which is potentially residing in your own life.

Yet, all was not light and roses, there was a dark world laying in wait, a realm of madness and violence, paranoia and fear situated in our night of zombies, Twilight Zones, and the broken worlds of the noir silver screen. For the patriarchal and Freudian mindset of a male dominated economy where men ruled the world and women stayed at home and became good little Stepford Wives, the world below the surface of the glitzy streamlined decopod realms was more sinister.

It was in this pulp world that the lure of the femme fatale – the deadly woman of the noir screen would become the symbol and icon of this illusive world of beauty and nightmare in the American psyche. As Camille Paglia reminds us it all began with Medusa. The permanence of the femme fatale as a sexual persona is part of the weary weight of eroticism, beneath which both ethics and religion founder. Eroticism is society’s soft point, through which it is invaded by chthonian nature. The femme fatale can appear as Medusan mother or as frigid nymph, masquing in the brilliant luminosity of Apollonian high glamour. Her cool unreachability beckons, fascinates, and destroys. She is not a neurotic but, if anything, a psychopath. That is, she has an amoral affectlessness, a serene indifference to the suffering of others, which she invites and dispassionately observes as tests of her power. The mystique of the femme fatale cannot be perfectly translated into male terms. I will speak at length of the beautiful boy, one of the west’s most stunning sexual personae. However, the danger of the homme fatal, as embodied in today’s boyish male hustler, is that he will leave, disappearing to other loves, other lands. He is a rambler, a cowboy and sailor. But the danger of the femme fatale is that she will stay, still, placid, and paralyzing. Her remaining is a daemonic burden, the ubiquity of Walter Pater’s Mona Lisa, who smothers history. She is a thorny symbol of the perversity of sex. She will stick.10

As Robert B Pippin in his Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy  comments, on the black and white screen the femme fatale entrances in noirs often suggest the extreme view of a magical spell or mysterious erotic power that can render the male forever afterward a mere dupe, a passive victim of such power, a nonagent. The femme fatale theme is far and away the most written-about issue in film noir criticism, and there is much more to say about it, but at least these entrances do demonstrate how utterly a life can be altered in a single moment. Even doing nothing about what one feels still alters everything, because doing nothing now becomes a fateful decision, an event that then shadows everything else one does. One cannot now act in complete indifference to how one’s fate has been altered, where “cannot” in this one of its many fatalistic senses means that such indifference would make no sense in one’s life. The depth of the feeling is such that one could not recognize oneself in any such picture of indifference and so cannot act indifferently.11

The notion that noir is more about the conflicts of a male dominated society based on power, mastery, and dominion in both the spheres of public and private life of capitalism come to the fore in such critiques. Between fatalism and freedom the world of male domination is played out over the dark secret that men are not truly in control, that under the façade of this bright and glitzy even glamourized realm is all fantasy and mime. That in truth the artificial worlds men have built full of glamourous architecture, stylized automobiles and perfect women dressed in the latest fashions, situated against the Hollywood facades of yachts, skyscrapers, and internationalism is the stark reality of the Medusa.

Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai would become the epitome of such femme fatales. In her entrance in this classic noir film Hayworth sparkles with that dark sensual allurement. “It has been said that the most extraordinary quality of the dance number is that Hayworth seems to be dancing wholly for herself, luxuriating in herself, almost in indifference to and with contempt for the pathetic males around her, who we can see are both rendered screaming adolescents by the boldness of the number and, for some, quite angry at its freedom and its contempt for male standards of conduct.” (FAF) This sense of the unknown power of woman that plays itself out in the male psyche of the American seems almost a pure adolescent reversion to ancient mythic cycles based around the natural order of creation and sacrifice that have their basis in a temporal order of which America and Capitalism are the opposing system. America and Capitalism have always been artificial rather than natural environs, a society that has sought to rid itself of the dark undertows of ancient European spectres and ghosts, both political and religious. And, yet, in this puritanical riddance it pursued a course of authoritarian male domination through its Puritan heritage that is still with us.

Puritan Reform and the Politics of the Pure

In 1630 John Winthrop and a band of Puritans would migrate to America. As the historian Francis J. Bremer tells us

They had decided to uproot themselves and their families in order to found a colony where they could not only preserve the religious reforms they had managed to achieve in their native land, but also further advance the purification of worship and belief.  (The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism: p. 135)

Some have seen within this incipient world of reform and purification the beginnings of an American Enlightenment.  In their ultimate bid to purify worship and belief of the rituals and traditions of Catholicism in an extreme form the modern world of capitalism would unleash its atheistic credos and begin to purify the world of religion itself. Reformism would become liberal reformism and become the new political religion of America, shaping and regulating its psyche and collective will, determining its future and the scope of its spiritual capital.  Money and success, glitz and glamour: the American Dream of rags to riches, western expansion, and the power of modern industrialism would empower this new born land and its fantasy life.

Yet, by the end of the millennium it was apparent that something dreadfully had gone wrong with this dream turned nightmare, that America had failed its children and become not the land of promise but the land of mass suicidal psychopaths and bedlam. As Berardi expounds, ours is a world appended to the kingdom of nihilism, this “form of nihilism assumes that the conceptual activity is based on the ontological nihil”. (ibid.) He goes on to say,

In this conception, this form of nihilism has a positive and constructive implication, as the condition of moral freedom and of conceptual creation. Nihil is the starting point of the conceptual and practical process, and from this starting point the conceptual and historical activity of men is responsible for the creation and meaning of the world as we know it. The form of nihilism that seems to prevail in the culture and practice of the ruling class today is quite different from this constructive, hermeneutic nihilism. We could call it a form of ‘annihilating nihilism’, since it actively produces nihil as its effect. (H: KL 1096)

Anna Greenspan would ponder the notion of modernity. Modernity is a notoriously difficult concept to define. Inextricably bound to the interlocking and revolutionary processes of globalisation, urbanisation and mechanisation, it also encompasses the cultural impulse to express, process and understand these vast material transformations. Yet, in addition to these socio-economic and cultural conditions, modernity can also be apprehended philosophically, as a particular conception of time. Martin Jacques, in his book on China’s rise, adheres to this definition. Modernity, he writes, quoting the sociologist Goran Therborn, marks ‘the arrival of an epoch turned to the future’.  To be modern, according to this understanding, is to be in the present just on the cusp of its erasure, to be necessarily and always, at the most urgent edge of now. In a piece entitled ‘Neomodernity’, Shanghai-based philosopher Nick Land elaborates on this conception:

Modernity dates awkwardly, and intriguingly, because it positions itself upon the leading edge of time expressing an infusion from the future. In its vital, colloquial sense, the ‘modern’ is an indexical term that describes what is happening now, or recently. It is in this sense that modernization remains irrepressibly up-to-date, anchored, indexically, to the contemporary. To slip unanchored from the ‘now’ into the dead waters of history is thus to forsake the claim to modernity. What is distinctively past cannot be modern, and the modern cannot be simply past.12 (SF: p. 3)

In this sense we are always entering the modern, a process rather than a static time zone, a temporal movement that is always making and unmaking the world, erasing the past and making way for the new. Ultimately modernity as Land testifies “resists absorption into accomplished history, because it relates to an absolute future. The dynamized now of modernity is irreducible to a period or moment in time. What modernity discovered, and perpetually recalls, was not just the next thing up the road, but the road ahead in general, and perhaps even the road”. (ibid.)

Maybe in the end our love/hate relationship with America comes down to its overly male dominated and puritanical systems based as they are in a world of make-believe and artificial technological wonders and escapism.  We are a nation of escape artists and braggarts, carnivals and popcorn, a world where from its beginnings civil strife and mayhem pervaded its public and private spaces.  Our literature is more comic fatalist than romantic.  As Frank Ruda reminds us “Comic fatalism affirms such an impossible position of articulation as both absolutely necessary and impossible. Only such a gesture liberates us from all givenness, from all possibilities of realizing a given capacity. Only such a gesture can provide a precondition for thinking and enacting freedom.”13

This interplay of Freedom and Justice have played themselves out in our democratic politics floating between those who seek an extreme freedom from social and political constraints and regulation or reform, and those who seek social justice for the weak, poor, and excluded. There has never been a happy medium, a balance of forces. There has only been armed peace among warring parties, a world where crime and violence live in the dark streets while in the Hollywood stage sets of the rich and famous a world of glitz and glamour virtualize life purified of its tainted realities. At the core of the American Psyche is a denialism of the Real or the unknown, a need to stall the course of progress in an eternal wonderland of disneyfication, while at the same time denying the noirish underworlds of its own repressed perversities, sexual and power based politics and lifestyles. We ritualize our violence in arenas of violence: Football, Saturday night car races, World-wide wrestling, mixed martial arts…. etc. all to codify the male psyche and its need for start and unadulterated aggression and dominion over all competitors. We are a nation of gamblers, pirates, thieves, and scoundrels all dressed up in the glitz and glamour of Wall Street Tychoons, philanthropist software moghuls of Californian neomodernity with the streamlined high-speed loops and ray-gun gothic entrepreneurship. We are a multiethnic multiplicity of diverse and rich intercultural hates and fears, a realm where day to day tribalism and ultra-modern escapism intermingle. Coke and heroin, pharmaceuticals and paraphernalia tease us out of street and skypad into the heart of an accelerating voyage into the void. We have no destination only a hellish need to get there in style, wherever it is we’re going… and, no one knows exactly if that is the myth of the Open Road or some Pynchonian time spiral into chaosmosis.  As one of the characters in Thomas Pynchon’s tells us,

Randolph had a sympathetic look. “At least they tell you where it is you’ll be sent off to. After the closing-day ceremonies here, our future’s all a blank.”14

This sense that the future is unwritten,  unscripted, blank and incomplete and open is at the bottom of neomodernity.  A need to open the door and let the sun in again, to allow reality to break into our fantasy worlds and give us back all that we fear with such horror that we’ve enclosed ourselves in a horror show of abstraction and pure fantasy. Until we can step through that door into the Real we will wander in a realm of night and noir till all that is left is the pitch black screen of a final dark gesture of noise. It’ll be the sound of your brain imploding. The notion of modernity as unfinished and incomplete, always beginning, and beginning again. This openness to the past in the future, of the unbidden worlds of creativity and innovation within us.

Conflict and change will always be with us, the universe is not a friendly place but rather full of violence and changes that can at times be catastrophic. Our home on planet earth is one of continuous eco-catastrophe, and we ourselves have contributed to this in ways we have yet to fully understand or document much less analyze and interpret. We term it the Antrhopocene, but such categories only hide what is bound to their reductions rather than opening up a way out of the problems they present. There are and never will be any fast easy solutions to our earthly problems. Trying to repress or forget the past we create and recreate it in misery and detail over and over again. Seeking a future through some linear fantasy has driven us to create a world filled with annihilation and nuclear wastelands. Even now our American leaders seek to dominate the world through rhetoric and fantasy that might suddenly open up a nuclear nightmare and apocalypse the likes of which might bring about the end game fantasies of our Puritan ancestors. End times? A mix of biblical madness and modern politics meshing in a global melt down? Only time will tell… and time isn’t speaking.

  1. James Lee Burke (1987-01-02T08:00:00+00:00). 01 The Neon Rain (Kindle Locations 154-160). Pocket Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Ruda, Frank (2016-05-01). Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations) (Kindle Locations 76-83). UNP – Nebraska. Kindle Edition
  3. Culp, Andrew. Dark Deleuze (Forerunners: Ideas First) (Kindle Locations 72-74). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society) (p. 195). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) (Kindle Locations 54-55). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. (H)
  6. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (p. 7). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition. (CR)
  7. Haut, Woody. Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War (Kindle Locations 1167-1174). 280 Steps. Kindle Edition.
  8. Jameson, Fredric. Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality (p. 2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  9. Virginia Postrel. The Power of Glamour (Kindle Locations 67-73). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
  10. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 15). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  11. Pippin, Robert B.. Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy (Page-Barbour Lectures) (Kindle Locations 481-488). University of Virginia Press. Kindle Edition. (FAF)
  12. Greenspan, Anna. Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade (p. 3). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  13. Ruda, Frank. Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations) (Kindle Locations 2688-2690). UNP – Nebraska. Kindle Edition.
  14. Pynchon, Thomas. Against the Day (p. 52). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Roots of Rage

Utopia or Dystopia has an interesting piece on Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger.

Hit the nail on the head: “… gives an outsized place to intellectuals and the ideas that inspire them, people and their works like Mishra and his books, and as consequence fail to bring to light the material forces that are such idea’s true source.” In some retrospective futurial work a hundred or two hundred years from now the neo-historian of that era will see in our time the enactment of a transitional phase shift for planetary life in total as plant, mineral, and animal kingdoms coalesce and diverge, bifurcate into multiplicities and other forms. As machinic civilization arises and the Age of Man is completed and the devolutionary consequences of the Anthropocene play out.

Either intelligence and creativity will emerge and reconstruct the world toward more order and negentropic states or there will be a great dying off of organic life on the planet due to many causes: climacteric catastrophe; overpopulation brining famine, pestilence, infestation; global civil war; and resource depletion, etc. Either way as in all things the weak and innocent (read: stupid and uniformed, poor and excluded) will be the first to fall, while the rest will war among themselves in every tightening threads of death and destruction. Elsewise we will actually learn to cooperate and tame our dark and bitter raging drives for power, sex, and survival and create a wholesome and caring society based on the acknowledgement of our fragility and unknowing.

Some believe that matter and energy will ultimately be converted into each other in peaceful ways rather than through destructive and planet killing forms (nuclear war). The notion that matter is itself part of an invisible nexus of energetic and unconscious intelligence, a transcendental unconscious that empowers all things from thermospasm to the Great Wall of Light that houses millions of galactic clusters. Spinonza’s God or Nature? Truth or lie? Will we break through or break down? Will we learn to live together in harmony and peace or will we end in one long protracted war to the death? No one can answer such things. We hope, we despair… neither is of use.

Religion was born of our irrational need to know and have an answer to the ultimate dilemmas of our ignorance in the face of an inscrutable universe. Philosophy was born of those who needed reasons for this inscrutability, an answer that could satisfy the logic and reason of men rather than the blind faith of religion. Neither have ever answered these questions, only give us more questions. The universe may be incomplete, a botched experiment, one of a multiplicity of experiments in a bubble multiverse without end or design or purpose. No one knows… and, yet it is this very unknowning that drives us forward, challenges us, goads us to know to live to become… those who rage are those who have given up the ghost, given up the quest to know, who have given over to hate and bitterness, seeking to blame others for not knowing the answers of their irrational hearts. They would rather kill off every other living creature than accept the responsibility for their own miserable failure to continue the quest…

So many speak of an ‘economy of caring’ rather than the current ‘economy of hording’ (accumulation) these days, an economy that takes into account the quality rather than quantity of life. The older forms of potlatch systems at least understood the need for expenditure of excess, the utter destruction of what had been accumulated as a gesture of trust and acknowledgement that we are all in the end born equal and without power or dominion. Sacrifice was always an acknowledgement that we are beholden to the impersonal and indifferent sources of power and energy that sustain us through the natural cycles of our lives on this planet. We’ve done away with that bloody institution, but have opted for continuous sacrifice in war instead. War is the bloody continuation of a great potlatch supper without end. That in the end the earth itself is the source of our power, and the sun is the creative engine of our destiny and lives on this planet. If we unbalance the cycles that have stabilized organic life for millions of years there will be no return, no rebirth of plant, animal, or mineral worlds; no movement or becoming or processual change. It will all end. We have yet to accept such consequences as real.

Utopia or Dystopia

Perhaps the main problem with the case made by Pankaj Mishra in his Age of Anger is that it gives an outsized place to intellectuals and the ideas that inspire them, people and their works like Mishra and his books, and as consequence fail to bring to light the material forces that are such idea’s true source.

It’s one thing to be aware that today’s neo-liberalism, and the current populist revolt against them have roots stretching back to the Enlightenment and Rousseau’s revolt against it and to be made aware that there’s a contradiction at the heart of the Enlightenment project that has yet to be resolved. It’s quite another thing to puzzle out why even a likely doomed revolt against this project is taking place right now as opposed to a decade or even decades ago. To do that one needs to turn to insights from sociology and political…

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Saying Goodbye to all That: Progress, Engineers, and Modernity

In his path-breaking short story The Gernsback Continuum, William Gibson dubs this style ‘Raygun Gothic’, explicitly marking its time-complexity. He thus coaxes it into the wider cultural genre of retro-futurism, which applies to everything that evokes an out-dated future, and thereby transforms modernity into a counter-factual commentary on the present. This genre finds an especially rich hunting ground in Shanghai.

—Nick Land, A Time-Traveler’s Guide to Shanghai 

Cities are not homogeneous blocks of consistent identity, rather spaces of continuous negotiation between differences, temporal zones that mesh or collide, disperse or penetrate. Cities are fluid and dynamic processes that arise out of the creative vectors of unimagined intensities. The city breaks the barriers, undoes the boundaries of time, allowing all times: past, present, future to co-exist in a space of differences that make a difference. The City is a Time-Machine.

A hundred years ago Patrick Geddes speaking to a friend about the mutation and transformation of the old Roman gridiron format of cities would offer surgery and re-adaptation to regionalism as the modern way:

City Planning is not mere place-planning, nor even work planning. If it is to be successful it must be folk planning. This means that its task is not to coerce people into new places against their associations, wishes, and interest, as we find bad schemes trying to do. Instead its task is to find the right places for each sort of people; place where they will really flourish. To give people in fact the same care that we give when transplanting flowers, instead of harsh evictions and arbitrary instructions to ‘move on’, delivered in the manner of an officious policeman.1

He would also typify the architect as the Chief Workman and Regional Engineer: “As the former period may be characterized by the predominance of the relatively unskilled workman and the skilled, so this next incipient age by the development of the chief workman proper, the literal architektos or architect; and by his companion, the rustic improver, gardener, and forester, farmer, irrigator, and their correspondingly evolved types of civil engineer.”2

Architect as Engineer: Progress and the City

Yet, it is Le Corbusier in his The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning who would bring the Engineering workman metaphor to its modern and penultimate perfection, saying,

The great city determines everything : war, peace and toil. Great cities are the spiritual workshops in which the work of the world is done. The anachronistic persistence of the original skeleton of the city paralyzes its growth. Industrial and commercial life will be stifled in towns which do not develop. The conservative forces at work in great cities obstruct the development of transport, congest and devitalize activity, kill progress and discourage initiative. The decayed state of these old towns and the intensity of modern toil lead to physical and nervous sickness. Modern life requires the recuperation of the forces which are used up in pursuit of it. Hygiene and moral health depend on the lay-out of cities. Without hygiene and moral health, the social cell becomes atrophied. A country’s worth can be measured by the vigour of its inhabitants. The cities of to-day cannot respond to the demands of the life of to-day unless they are adapted to the new conditions. The great cities determine the life of a country. If the great city is stifled, the country goes under. In order to transform our cities we must discover the fundamental principles of modern town planning.

—Le Corbusier, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning

This sense of the architect as the planner, of the engineer modeling and computing, calculating and adapting form and content from the Outside. For Le Corbusier modernity is above all progress, improvement, adaptation to the new and out with the old and musty, dark and medieval. “Now that the machine age has let loose the consequences attaching to it, progress has seized on a new set of implements with which to quicken its rhythm; this it has done with such an intensification of speed and output that events have moved beyond our capacity to appreciate them; and whereas mind has hitherto generally been in advance of accomplished fact, it is now, on the contrary, left behind by new facts whose acceleration continues without cease ; only similes can adequately describe the situation ; submersion, cataclysm, invasion. This rhythm has been accelerated to such a point that man—(who has after all created it with his small individual inventions, just as an immense conflagration can be started with a few pints of petrol and one little match)—man lives in a perpetual state of instability, insecurity, fatigue and accumulating delusions. Our physical and nervous organization is brutalized and battered by this torrent; it makes its protest, of course, but it will soon give way unless some energetic decision, far-sighted and not too long delayed, brings order once more to a situation which is rapidly getting out of hand.”3

The notion of the Architect as Chief Engineer and Workman who will put his stamp upon chaos and bring out of it order, one who has seen modernity as a temporal time-machine in which the forces of capitalism and progress have moved at such an accelerating pace that the life of cities and regions has begun melting down under the pressure of its unformed relations.

Le Corbusier once said, in a statement usually turned against him, “You know, it is always life that is right and the architect who is wrong.” This was not a confession of error. It was the recognition of the validity of process over the sanctity of ideology. Few architects are capable of making that observation, because it speaks not to some fixed ideal, but to the complexity and incompleteness of architecture, to how life and art accommodate each other. (Huxtable 163) The modern movement is a story of high hopes, boundless optimism, (not so) innocent social idealism, and considerable hubris in which the artists, architects, and artisans of the world would make it a better place through a radical new kind of design. Change was necessary to reinvigorate a corrupt, exhausted, and war-weary society. “Architecture or revolution!” Le Corbusier proclaimed, not surprisingly settling for architecture to improve people’s lives. The machine was to be the symbol and instrument of salvation; mechanization and standardization would serve humanity through progressive political systems. Everything would be stripped down to its functional essence and reinvented, and this would lead to an aesthetic as modern as the message was messianic. Clear out the mess. Banish the past. Design for the future. Modernism was the original extreme makeover. Painting, sculpture, architecture, furniture, tableware, interiors, graphics, photography and film, theater, costumes, and clothing are all here to prove it. There are familiar icons and the unexpected from Paris, Berlin, Moscow, the Netherlands, the United States, and eastern Europe. These are the masterworks of modernism by Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Kasimir Malevich, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, Naum Gabo, and Hans Arp, with buildings and furniture by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto, Erich Mendelsohn, and Gerritt Rietvelt, and photography and film by El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko, and Man Ray.

Le Corbusier sought something specific, geometric precision and a simplification of measure: – a universality that he could apply as engineering and architecture. So  he devised a workable unit of measurement, which he called the Modulor, or Golden Section. It was based on the height of a man with his arm upraised, and according to Le Corbusier, any structure based on multiples of this unit of measure would be beautiful and have a human scale. His own use of the Modulor, however, proved to be as personal as everything else he did. (Huxtable 56) Le Corbusier described it as a “range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things.”

Turning to the progenitor of phenomenology in its modernist form under the work of Edmund Husserl who would affirm this transformation from the older forms of geometry and its reception to the new world of modernity, saying, in The Origin of Geometry:

THE INTEREST THAT propels us in this work makes it necessary to engage first of all in reflections which surely never occurred to Galileo. We must focus our gaze not merely upon the ready-made, handeddown geometry and upon the manner of being which its meaning had in his thinking; it was no different in his thinking from what it was in that of all the late inheritors of the older geometric wisdom, whenever they were at work, either as pure geometers or as making practical applications of geometry. Rather, indeed above all, we must also inquire back into the original meaning of the handed-down geometry, which continued to be valid with this very same meaning-continued and at the same time was developed further, remaining simply “geometry” in all its new forms. Our considerations will necessarily lead to the deepest problems of meaning, problems of science and of the history of science in general, and indeed in the end to problems of a universal history in general; so that our problems and expositions concerning Galilean geometry take on an exemplary significance.4

Both in architecture and in philosophy it is both progress and universality which would come to the fore under a new and intensified abstractionism based on a transformation of the wisdom of the geometers in that age.

“On or about 1910,” just as the automobile and airplane were beginning to accelerate the pace of human life and Einstein’s ideas were transforming our perception of the universe, there was an explosion of innovation and creative energy that shook every field of artistic endeavor. Artists from all over the world converged on London, Paris, and other great cities of Europe to join in the ferment of new ideas and movements: Cubism, Constructivism, Futurism, Acmeism, and Imagism were among the most influential banners under which the new artists grouped themselves. It was an era when major artists were fundamentally questioning and reinventing their art forms: Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in painting, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein in literature, Isadora Duncan in dance, Igor Stravinsky in music, and Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture. Artists of every stripe and persuasion would suddenly move away from figuration and representation into a realm of pure abstraction. A handful of artists—Vasily Kandinsky, František Kupka, Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, Arthur Dove—presented paintings that differed from almost all of those that had preceded them in the long history of the medium in the Western tradition: shunning the depiction of objects in the world, they displayed works with no discernible subject matter. As Vasily Kandinsky would ask “Must we not then renounce the object altogether, throw it to the winds and instead lay bare the purely abstract?“. Observers of these new forms of art spoke of the exhilaration and terror of leaping into unknown territory, where comparison with the past was impossible. This evacuation of the object world was, to be sure, hardly a silent disappearance, but rather was accompanied by a shower of celebratory manifestos, lectures, and criticism, a flood of words flung forth perhaps in compensation for their makers’ worry about how the meaning of these pictures might be established.5

Abstraction: Networks, Rhizomes, and Mutants

Abstraction’s network was fostered in the years immediately before World War I by a new modern culture of connectivity. It was the rise and transformation of capitalism out of its factory model in the old Fordist systems into a new slicker world of global markets, connectionism, and networks of telecommunications that would usher in the Abstract Age of Modernism. In trains, automobiles, and steamships, people were travelling internationally in numbers far greater than ever before. National boundaries became porous as people crossed them with new ease—and until the outbreak of World War I, most European countries had minimal passport requirements. Telegraphs, telephones, and radio relayed news of events quickly across the globe. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912, thanks to wireless telegraphy, was not only followed achingly by those on ships just out of reach of the ocean liner but was also one of the first news stories to be reported virtually simultaneously with the event. These same communication technologies allowed for the synchronization of times and clocks across distance, which facilitated the establishment of coordinated international markets and set the stage for the vertiginous growth of a modern speculative economy and commodity culture. In Paris in 1912, Henri Poincaré hosted an international conference that established a method for transmitting accurate radio time signals around the world, and on July 1, 1913, the first time signal to be broadcast globally was sent from the Eiffel Tower, a key step in adopting a universal standard time. All of this fed a more international, global sense of one’s world. The network of sociability built by transit pathways, the proliferation of print media, and new forms of communication allowed for the movement of ideas and images across a broad terrain, a development crucial in abstraction’s incubation.

Alberto Toscano citing  Italian Marxist phenomenologist Enzo Paci tells us that: “The fundamental character of capitalism … is revealed in the tendency to make abstract categories live as though they were concrete. Categories become subjects, or rather, even persons, though we must here speak of person in the Latin sense, that is, of masks. … “Capitalist” means a man transformed into a mask, into the person of capital: in him acts capital producing capital. … The abstract, in capitalist society, functions concretely’ (Paci, 1979: 160-1, 153).6

In his Abstraction and Empathy A Contribution to the Psychology of Style  (1908) Wilhelm Worringer would describe the modern movement toward abstraction:

We regard as this counter-pole an aesthetics which proceeds not from man’s urge to empathy, but from his urge to abstraction. Just as the urge to empathy as a pre-assumption of aesthetic experience finds its gratification in the beauty of the organic, so the urge to abstraction finds its beauty in the life-denying inorganic, in the crystalline or, in general terms, in all abstract law and necessity.7

Abstraction as the perfection of the artificial and anti-life forces of the anorganic: the crystalline perfection of law and necessity.  Deleuze and Guattari would speak of Abstract machines. The Abstract Machine is a universal concept introduced so as to ground a manifold ontology: ‘The plane of consistency of Nature is like an immense Abstract Machine, abstract yet real and individual; its pieces are the various assemblages and individuals, each of which groups together an infinity of particles entering into an infinity of more or less interconnected relations’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1980, 254). The notion of the network, the rhizome, the infinite seething sea of connections within a labyrinthine assemblage, all this would situate the movement of abstraction into a non-figural or asemiotic field where society, culture, and its agents – organic or anorganic would all mesh in a realm at once virtual and actual, real and abstract.

Italo Calvino in Six Memos for the Next Millennium would describe this movement between the crystal and the flame:

Crystal and flame: two forms of perfect beauty that we cannot tear our eyes away from, two modes of growth in time, of expenditure of the matter surrounding them, two moral symbols, two absolutes, two categories for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings. A short while ago I suggested a “Party of the Crystal” in twentieth-century literature, and I think one could draw up a similar list for a “Party of the Flame.” I have always considered myself a partisan of the crystal…

The crystal, with its precise faceting and its ability to refract light, is the model of perfection that I have always cherished as an emblem, and this predilection has become even more meaningful since we have learned that certain properties of the birth and growth of crystals resemble those of the most rudimentary biological creatures, forming a kind of bridge between the mineral world and living matter. (SM: 15)

Among the scientific books into which I poke my nose in search of stimulus for the imagination, I recently happened to read that the models for the process of formation of living beings “are best visualized by the crystal on one side (invariance of specific structures) and the flame on the other (constancy of external forms in spite of relentless internal agitation).” The contrasting images of flame and crystal are used to make visible the alternatives offered to biology, and from this pass on to theories of language and the ability to learn. One will even find in the implications for the philosophy of science embodied in the positions stated by Piaget, who is for the principle of “order out of noise”—the flame—and Chomsky, who is for the “self-organizing system,” the crystal. (SM: 15)

In his book The Ego Tunnel, Thomas Metzinger has framed the so-called psychopathologies of the digital age with these words:

The Internet has already become a part of our self-model. We use it for external memory storage, as a cognitive prosthesis, and for emotional autoregulation… Clearly, the integration of hundreds of millions of human brains… into ever new medial environments has already begun to change the structure of conscious experience itself… Today, the advertisement and entertainment industries are attacking the very foundations of our capacity for experience, drawing us into the vast and confusing media jungle… We can see the probable result in the epidemic of attention-deficit disorder in children and young adults, in midlife burnout, in rising levels of anxiety in large parts of the population… New medial environments may create a new form of waking consciousness that resembles weakly subjective states—a mixture of dreaming, dementia, intoxication, and infantilization. (Metzinger 2009: 234)

Geotrauma: Psychopathology and Inhumanism

This sense that for two hundred years of modernism we’ve been undergoing a plastic change in consciousness, rewiring our natural brains under the acceleration and transitional phase shift of a total artificialization (abstract machines) of organic into anorganic perfection has barely begun to register on the human animal and its environs. Nick Land would coin the term geotraumatics to intensify Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of schizoanalyis:

Geotraumatics radicalises Deleuze-Guattari’s insistence that schizoanalysis should extend further than the terrain of personal or familial drama, to invest the social and political realms, and pushes beyond history and biology to incorporate the geological and the cosmological within the purview of the transcendental unconscious.8

Speaking of this transcendental unconscious Land remarks “Non-agentic, lacking the intentional intelligibility of Kant’s ‘will’, and with no regard for architectonic order, this transcendental unconscious is an insurgent field of forces for whose cunning – as Nietzsche would discover – even ‘reason’ itself is but an instrument. Anticipating the psychoanalytical conception of ‘desire’, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche consummate the collapse of intentional transparency into the opacity of a contingent and unknown ‘will’, a ‘purposiveness without purpose’ whose unmasterable irruptions are in fact dissipations – pathological by definition – of energy excessive to that required for (absorbed by) the ‘work’ of being human. At once underlying and overflowing the ‘torture chamber of organic specificity’, or ‘Human Security System’, this inundation creates ‘useless’ new labyrinths, unemployable new fictions that exceed any attempt to systematise knowledge or culture.” (FN)

This is the realm of impersonal and indifferent, almost demiurgic blind creativity and innovation arising out of Spinoza’s God or Nature. Matter (Mother) as intelligent and intelligence itself. This is not your old materialism of the passive inert stuff of a dead world of matter, but rather of an energetic world of forces and powers at once daemonic and demonic arising unbidden into the universe out of the voids of dark energy and dark matter creating the visible light spectrum of our universes seemingly ordered systems of modern physics. A realm of pure abstraction and artificiality, virtual becoming in an endless oceanic realm of entropy and negentropic movements. As Land continues,

The transcendental unconscious is the auto-construction of the Real, the production of production, so that for schizoanalysis there is the Real exactly in so far as it is built. Production is production of the Real, not merely of representation, and unlike Kantian production, the desiring-production of Deleuze-Guattari is not qualified by humanity (it is not a matter of what things are like for us) . Within the framework of social history the empirical subject of production is man, but its transcendental subject is the machinic unconscious, and the empirical subject is produced at the edge of production, as an element in the reproduction of production, a machine part, and ‘a part made up of parts. (FN: 321-322)

In this sense we have always been artificial products of a machinic unconscious, parts of an infinite abstract machine or assemblage. For Land Kant’s correlational circle of the for-itself bounded by the epistemic house of for-us is overcome through the power of this putting intelligence and thought back into the things themselves. Nothing is for-us, rather we are mere appendages and parts of some vaster anorganic process of creativity and innovation that may or may not even be aware of us in its blind becoming, impersonal and indifferent, intelligence. Matter thinks itself without a Subject. This is not vitalism either. As Brassier and Mackay say in their intro to Land’s Fanged Noumena:

Fuelled by disgust at the more stupefying inanities of academic orthodoxy and looking to expectorate the vestigial theological superstitions afflicting mainstream post-Kantianism, Land seized upon Deleuze-Guattari’s transcendental materialism – years before its predictable institutional neutering – and subjected it to ruthless cybernetic streamlining, excising all vestiges of Bergsonian vitalism to reveal a deviant and explicitly thanatropic machinism. The results of this reconstructive surgery provide the most illuminating but perhaps also the most disturbing distillation of what Deleuze called ‘transcendental empiricism’. In Land’s work, this becomes the watchword for an experimental praxis oriented entirely towards contact with the unknown. Land sought out this exteriority, the impersonal and anonymous chaos of absolute time, as fervently as he believed Kantianism and Hegelianism, along with their contemporary heirs, deconstruction and critical theory, were striving to keep it out. (FN: 5)

This notion of the absolute Outside as Time, as the realm of thermospasm, where the thanatropic machinism of an massive energetic unconscious powers the forces that arise in our universe is at the core of Land’s cosmology. As Land would describe it in A Thirst for Annilhilation, the thermospasm is reality as undilute chaos. It is where we all came from. The deathdrive is the longing to return there (‘it’ itself), just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. Thermospasm is howl, annihilating intensity, a peak of improbability. Energetic matter has a tendency, a Todestrieb. The current scientific sense of this movement is a perpetual degradation of energy or dissipation of difference. Upstream is the reservoir of negentropy, uneven distribution, thermic disequilibrium. Downstream is Tohu Bohu, statistical disorder, indifference, Wärmetod. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder must increase, that regional increases in negentropy still imply an aggregate increase in entropy. Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. Degradation ‘profits’ out of life. Any process of organization is necessarily aberrational within the general economy, a mere complexity or detour in the inexorable death-flow, a current in the informational motor, energy cascading downstream, dissipation. There are no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy. A receipt of information—of intensity—carried downstream.9  (TA: 30)

In this life produces anti-life, entropy, decay. We are all producers of death and waste. As we heat up, swarm, enter into network algorithmic necessity and energetic participation, accelerate the processes of hyperintelligence we are accelerating the expulsion and entropic waste of the earth and sun. We make a sacrifice of life and the organic substance of the earth, animals and plants, so that we can produce death as a commodity in a universal order of intelligence.

Technics and Technology: Enframing the World

In the Question of Technology as Steven Shaviro tells us Heidegger warns us against the danger of technological “enframing,” with its reduction of nature to the status of a “standing reserve.” He demonizes science, in a manner so sweeping and absolute as to be the mirror image of science’s own claims to unique authority. But you can’t undo what Whitehead calls the “bifurcation of nature” by simply dismissing one side of the dichotomy. Whitehead’s account of science and technology is far subtler than Heidegger’s, in part because he actually understands modern science, as Heidegger clearly does not. For Whitehead, scientific and technical rationality is one kind of “abstraction.” This, in itself, is not anything bad. An abstraction is a simplification, a reduction, made in the service of some particular interest. As such, it is indispensable. We cannot live without abstractions; they alone make thought and action possible. We only get into trouble when we extend these abstractions beyond their limits, pushing them into realms where they no longer apply. This is what Whitehead calls “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” and it’s one to which modern science and technology have been especially prone. But all our other abstractions—notably including the abstraction we call language—need to be approached in the same spirit of caution. Indeed, Whitehead’s reservations about science run entirely parallel to his reservations about language. 10

In Absolute Recoil Slavoj Zizek would comment on “enframing” saying, In this precise sense, Heidegger is the ultimate transcendental philosopher: his achievement is to historicize the transcendental dimension. For Heidegger, an Event has nothing to do with ontic processes; it designates the “event” of a new epochal disclosure of Being, the emergence of a new “world” (as the horizon of meaning within which all entities appear). Catastrophe thus occurs before the (f) act: the catastrophe is not the nuclear self-destruction of humanity, but that ontological relation to nature which reduces it to techno-scientific exploitation. The catastrophe is not our ecological ruin, but the loss of our home-roots, thus making possible the ruthless exploitation of the earth.  The catastrophe is not that we are reduced to automata manipulable by biogenetics, but the very ontological approach that renders this prospect possible. Even in the case of total self-destruction, ontology maintains its priority over the ontic: the possibility of total self-destruction is just an ontic consequence of our relating to nature as a collection of objects for technological exploitation— the catastrophe occurs when nature appears to us within the frame of technology. Gestell, Heidegger’s name for the essence of technology, is usually translated into English as “enframing.” At its most radical, technology designates not the complex network of machines and activities, but the attitude towards reality that we assume when we engage in such activities: technology is the way reality discloses itself to us in modern times, when reality has become a “standing-reserve”:

Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve.

Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological.  The paradox of technology as the concluding moment of Western metaphysics is that it is a mode of enframing which poses a danger to enframing itself: the human being reduced to an object of technological manipulation is no longer properly human, it loses the very feature of being ecstatically open to reality. However, this danger also contains the potential for salvation: the moment we become aware of and fully embrace the fact that technology itself is, in its essence, a mode of enframing, we overcome it … Giving such priority to the ontological over the ontic dimension leads Heidegger to dismiss gigantic human catastrophes (like the Holocaust) as mere “ontic” events; it leads him to dismiss the differences between, say, democracy and fascism as secondary and ontologically irrelevant (and some critics have hastened to add that this obliteration of ontic differences is not only the consequence but also the hidden cause of his emphasis on the ontological dimension— his own Nazi involvement thus becomes an insignificant error, etc.).11

The realization that we are both products and producers enframed within an ontological organization of transcendental forces of an energetic unconscious that is at once technics and technology is both a catastrophe and a creation.  As Slavoj will continue: “In our most elementary phenomenological experience, the reality we see through a window (our bodies: senses) is always minimally spectral, not as fully real as the enclosed space we inhabit while looking out. The reality outside is perceived in a weirdly de-realized state, as if we were watching a performance on screen. When we open the window, the direct impact of the external reality causes a minimal shock, as we are overwhelmed by its proximity. This is also why we can be surprised when entering the enclosed space of a house: it seems as if the space inside is larger than the outside frame, as if the house is bigger on the inside than the outside. A similar frame, conceived as a window onto another world, appears in Roland Emmerich’s 1994 film, Stargate. The “stargate” is a large ring-shaped device that functions as a wormhole enabling people to teleport to complementary devices located cosmic distances away. No wonder the world they enter through the stargate resembles Ancient Egypt— itself a kind of “stargate culture” in which the pharaohs organized gigantic public works to secure their passage through the stargate to Orion after their death. And, in science itself, is not the ultimate stargate the idea of a black hole, conceived as the passage into an alternative universe?” (AR)

Shanghai Futures: Temporal Invasions from the Future

The game Shanghai plays, or the story it tells, is endlessly re-started in the dieselpunk cityscape of the 1920s and ‘30s, where everything that anybody could want exists in dense, unexpressed potentiality – global fortunes, gangster territories, proletarian uprisings, revolutionary discoveries, literary glory, sensory intoxication, as well as every permutation of modest urbanite thriving. It is a city where anything can happen, and somewhere, at some time, everything does.

—Nick Land, Shanghai Times

Anna Greenspan in her book Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade tells us that “Shanghai is a city hungry for the future. To get a taste, head to the heights of the financial district in Pudong’s Lujiazui. At dusk, the view from the ninety-first floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center is fantastically alien. Outside the enormous windows, the metropolis stretches out like an off-world fantasy; a film apparition of a science-fiction city.”12 Nick Land in A Time Travelers Guide to Shanghai will remind us that if “the modern defines itself through the present, conceived as a break from the past and a projection into the future, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower unquestionably installs itself in modernity, but only by way of an elaborate path. It reverts to the present from a discarded future, whilst excavating an unused future from the past.”13 Greenspan will add that Shanghai is not so much modern as a future without a past, a realm where the old progressive ideologies no longer hold and something else ill-defined has enframed itself in a new world,

it is the spirit of futurism itself that seems so remarkably out of date. The progressive presumptions embodied by Futurama induce— together with images of jetpacks and robot maids— a wistful, tragi-comic nostalgia for a future that never arrived. Autogyros, in particular, seem to taunt us as a broken promise. ‘Where are the flying cars?’ ask writers disappointed by the dreams left unfulfilled.  ‘A rich legacy of failed predictions has accumulated over a century (or more) of science fiction, futurology and popular expectations of progress, covering topics from space colonisation, undersea cities, extravagant urban designs, advanced transportation systems, humanoid domestic robots and ray-guns, to jumpsuit clothing and meal pills,’ writes Nick Land in his blog on Shanghai time.  This apparent gap between what is and what we once thought might be has left us wracked with doubt about the world to come. ‘We don’t have the same relation to progress as we used to,’ claims author Michael Specter. ‘We talk about it ambivalently. We talk about it with ironic little quotes around it—“ progress”.’  In our cynical, postmodern age, ‘retro-futurism’ is the only form of futurism that survives. (SF)

And, yet, as Land will remind us we are still bound by Modernity’s duration, its calendric dominion (cited in Anna’s book):

‘It is an intriguing and ineluctable paradox of globalized modernity,’ continues Land in a blog post entitled ‘Calendric Dominion’, ‘that its approximation to universality remains fundamentally structured by ethno-geographical peculiarities of a distinctly pre-modern type’.  A culture’s rhythms, history and aspirations are rooted in their calendars. This is why calendars have always been so important to both rulers and revolutionary groups. Calendars are the surest means through which a culture can separate itself both from their immediate past and from their existing surroundings. Thus, calendric change has frequently been recognised as a culture’s first and most crucial step in establishing their autonomy and solidifying their traditions. As author William Burroughs noted, if you want to change a culture, you have to change its calendar. (SF: xv-xvi)

In Shanghai Times Land comments: ‘Modernity’ describes an unprecedented cultural enterprise, which is that of leaving the nursery of eternal recurrence, propelling history onto an inconclusive path between cyclical and progressive time. The conceptual step taken here is a modest one. It directs little attention to the crucial possibility that modernity is something that happens to time (and not only within it), and still less to the guiding figure of the spiral, which cyclicity and progression compose together. In a later short essay (‘ Moore and More’, May 2011), this last element is explicitly indicated:

The trend of modern time to Cycles cannot be dismissed from futuristic speculation (they always come back), but they no longer define it. Since the beginning of the electronic era, their contribution to the shape of the future has been progressively marginalized. […] Whilst crystallizing (in silico) the inherent acceleration of neo-modern, linear time, Moore’s Law is intrinsically nonlinear, for at least two reasons. Firstly, and most straightforwardly, it expresses the positive feedback dynamics of technological industrialism, in which rapidly-advancing electronic machines continuously revolutionize their own manufacturing infrastructure. Better chips make better robots make better chips, in a spiraling acceleration. Secondly, Moore’s Law is at once an observation, and a program [which is to say, a self-fulfilling prophecy].14

Ultimately Shanghai is unbound from the temporal philosophy and pragmatic intrumentalism of the West. As Greenspan maintains Shanghai is situated in an absolute future:

absolute futurism does not belong to linear history. It is not a temporal destination that can be defined relationally. Rather, the absolute future exists today precisely as it has existed before, as an atemporal presence, a virtual realm that ‘infuses the present retroactively with its effects’.  Viewed in this manner, Shanghai’s recollection of yesterday’s modernity is not being driven by a compulsion to repeat. Rather, the city is attempting to reanimate a lost futurism that is just as unpredictable today as it was in the past. What will ultimately emerge is impossible to predict, plan or project, since, by definition, it is utterly unforeseen. We do not yet know what China’s most future-oriented city will be like or what future this city will create. (SF: xvi-svii)

So against the planned and controlled cities of Le Courbsier or Geddes and their progeny in the modern architecture of cities we are moving into an absolute time where the future is always now and compressed, an energetic and unconscious realm of creativity and negentropic forces in movement. A realm where the virtual and actual intermingle in an ongoing simulated modeling process without end. Welcome to the pure city as abstraction.

The Street View: Cities on the Move

As Anna relates it in 1961 the self-taught urbanist Jane Jacobs published her most famous work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which presented itself as a critique of the thinking surrounding modern cities. (SF: 37) According to the high modernist tradition, urban development needs to be mastered through the implementation of top-down plans. Jacobs’ critique rested on the counterargument; cities are too complex to be comprehended from on high. She railed against the arrogance— and impossibility— of imposing a single abstract ideal on the diverse multiplicity that was essential to urban innovation and growth. The cities’ complexity meant that unforeseen consequences would always, invariably, upset the plan. Tear down slums and build new public housing and what you ultimately end up with are projects so derelict and dangerous that the only solution is to blow them up. Build more roads and, rather than solving the problem of congestion, all you do is attract more traffic. These unfortunate consequences are not accidental. Plans go wrong because planners do not think on a neighbourhood scale. Instead, they view the city as a whole, try to comprehend it from on high and seek to impose order from above. Jacobs, who was attentive to and immersed in the micro-rhythms of daily life, argued for bottom-up emergence, or order from below. Cities are built from the emergent order of individuals not the oversight of all-powerful planners. They work, not because they adhere to the neat lines of a well-ordered plan, but rather due to the vital everyday entrepreneurialism of the street. (Sf: 38-39)

In fact as Anna surmise there has always been the open conflict in cities between the old sedentary rootedness of the agricultural civilizations against the nomadic lifestyle of the uprooted and mobile horse cultures of the Steppes. All culminating in the conflict of Gothic and Classic styles which would intermingle in the modern era. “One explanation for the difference between the Gothic and Classical style is that the Gothic has a Northern nomadic heritage while the Classical Age has sedentary roots. The Northern, or nomadic world, which lacked comfort in an organic nature, did not treat the cosmos as something that could be known, mastered or contained by the limited realm of human beings. On the contrary, it perceived a universe filled with ‘gods and ghosts, spectres and spooks’, in which ‘everything becomes weird and fantastic’.  The Gothic, writes Worringer, was ‘distressed by actuality, debarred from naturalness’.  This drew it to the transcendental possibilities of the abstract line. It is through the expression of this transcendental abstraction that the Gothic ties together the intricacies of its architecture with the terror of its tales. (Sf: 78)

This movement from natural to unnatural, organic to anorganic, human to artificial has been a part of the  inner life of cities from the beginning. Greenspan will mention the steampunk work of Neal Stephanson’s The Diamand Age which “contains one of the most fully elaborated portrayals of Shanghai futurism” (SF: 155). She goes on to tell us that the book is set in the twenty-first century and depicts a world entirely transformed by a revolution in nanotechnology. The colossal technological mutation has caused a radical transformation in the socioeconomic landscape. Nation States have disappeared. The only territories left that matter are hyper-dense urban concentrations. At the centre of the novel is Shanghai. In Stephenson’s vision, the city has been virtually cut off from the rest of China, which is being ravaged by a Boxer-like rebellion led by a group called ‘the Fists’, whose deeply regressive aim is to search out and destroy the ‘nanotech feeds’. Shanghai’s Old City has undergone a cultural implosion and now forms its own separate district, which is exclusively Chinese and is ruled by strict adherence to Confucian law.(SF: 155-156)

Outside these borders, however, Shanghai has continued on its trajectory as a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis. The city forms part of a new entity called the ‘Chinese Coastal Republic’ and is oriented ever more outwards, towards the sea. With The Diamond Age, Stephenson thus allows, at least virtually, for Shanghai to finally fulfil its (not so) unconscious desire and follow the SARs of Hong Kong and Macau in unleashing itself from the country and becoming its own autonomous entity that plugs directly into the rest of the world. The story is set in a nanotech landscape, in which a ‘causeway’ links Shanghai to a cluster of artificial islands that hovers just offshore. These belong exclusively to certain tribes— or phyles— the groups that form the basis of the new social order. Instead of being brought together by a shared ethnicity or a loyalty to the state, people gather according to a shared culture. It was realised, reflects one of the main protagonists, describing the evolution of the new socio-political arrangement, that ‘while people were not genetically different they were culturally as different as they could possibly be’. (SF: 155-156)

Autonomy from the natural environment, an intelligent entity, a City that thinks… we’ve come a long way from those early cities of the great river complexes in the Middle-East where the security of a thriving agricultural world were first beginning to arise. The movement from natural to artificial, virtual to actual and back again, and the movement of abstraction into the Real has taken us on a long journey that has of yet no end in sight. Where too? For Land the drift is clear the retrofuture is Shanghai a realm that “escalates the topic of historical nonlinearity towards its culmination, in which massively-accelerated urban process crosses over into a systematic scrambling of the time-line. At an escape threshold of cybernetic intensity, feedback circuitry produces such extreme causal torsion that it unsettles the historical order of connections. Past and future are twisted from succession to the brink of interactivity, with explosive cultural consequences. The city operates as the analog of an elaborate time-travel scenario, in which an obscure labyrinth of fate is taking shape, and has always been taking shape.” (ST)

(Already too long… I’ll take this up in tomorrow’s post on the Intelligent cities, swarms, diesel punk, retro-futurism, and Time-Machines…)

  1. Geddes, Patrick (1947). “Report on the Towns in the Madras Presidency, 1915, Madura”. In Jacqueline Tyrwhitt. Patrick Geddes in India. London: Lund Humphries. p. 22.li
  2. Mumford, Lewis. The Culture of Cities. Harcout, Brace, Jovanavich 1938
  3. Corbusier, Le. The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning (Dover Architecture) (Kindle Locations 1146-1154). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.
  4. Derrida, Jacques. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction. University of Nebraska, 1962
  5. Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925 How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art. Hanjin Shipping, 1992
  6. Toscano, Alberto.  Real Abstraction Revisited Of coins, commodities, and cognitive capitalism. Scribd: here.
  7. Wilhelm Worringer. Abstraction and Empathy A Contribution to the Psychology of Style Elephant Paperbacks (Kindle Locations 231-234). Kindle Edition.
  8. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 (Urbonomic, 2011) (FN)
  9. Land, Nick. A Thirst For Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)
  10. Shaviro, Steven. Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (Technologies of Lived Abstraction) . The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
  11. Zizek, Slavoj. Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 93-94). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. (AR)
  12. Greenspan, Anna. Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade (p. 1). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. (SF)
  13. Land, Nick. A Time-Traveler’s Guide to Shanghai (Part 1) July, 22, 2011
  14. Land, Nick. Shanghai Times (Kindle Locations 30-41). Urbanatomy Electronic. Kindle Edition. (ST)

The Dense City: Creativity, Innovation, and the Near Future

Conceive the histories of cities, therefore, as the initial segments of trajectories that curve asymptotically to infinite density, at the ultimate event horizon of the physical universe. The beginning is recorded fact and the end is quite literally ‘gone’, but what lies in between, i.e. next?

—Nick Land, Event Horizon

One imagines a future without roads, without automobiles or combustion engines filling the air with pollutants and smog. High-speed trains or tubes, the urban density of a world where time implodes and the cycles of eternal return push past the light barriers of the event horizon. Where to?

William Gibson once dreamed up the Sprawl where the ruin of civilization was spread across the wastelands of the earth like ratholes for a subspecies of technos,

Case felt the stuff had grown somehow during their absence. Or else it seemed that it was changing subtly, cooking itself down under the pressure of time, silent invisible flakes settling to form a mulch, a crystalline essence of discarded technology, flowering secretly in the Sprawl’s waste places.1

But this is the old world of progress and reform, a land of industrial waste and depletion guided by regulations and the planned cities of the Sanctuary planet. Gates, enclosures, slums, a place that Mike Davis once described in Planet of Slums where the “delusionary dialectic of securitized versus demonic urban places, in turn, dictates a sinister and unceasing duet: Night after night, hornetlike helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.”2

Extrapolate and imagine Mumbai, India; Mong Kok, Kowloon Peninsula; Santa Cruz del Islote, Island, Colombia; Dhaka Kotwali Thana, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya; Tondo district, Manila, Philippines; or any number of other systems of decay populated by the dregs of a dead world of Capital. This is the sprawl densified to the point of obliteration, where the outcast, the excluded, the misfits of society and civilization that live just beyond the technocommercium enjoy their zombie existence.

As Dirk Kruijt and Kees Koonings tell us in their book Megacities,

The concentration of large segments of urban poor and excluded in capital cities and metropolitan areas but also in so-called ‘secondary cities’ (many of which will grow considerably in size) will have fundamental socio-economic and political consequences and will involve the possibility of destabilization of the economic, social and political order.3

Yet, there are defenders of density and densification of cities who tell us just the opposite, that as Chakrabarti, author of A Country of Cities and an Associate Professor of Practice at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, tells us “As people live in denser circumstances, more innovation happens, more patent creation happens, and it is because people are running into each other, and there is serendipity as a consequence.”4  Architecture plays a critical role,” he said. “Because if you look at the three challenges of our time — of climate change, of social inequity and technological processing power —  all of that is playing out in the platform of the city.”

The controversial architect Patrick Schumacher who would do for architecture what Nicholas Luhmann did for sociology, provide a framework of communication within which cities could begin the task of developing the future:

Interaction is defined as communication between participants who are physically present, as distinct from remote communication via writing, telephone, Internet etc. All communications, and thus all interactions, are embedded within social systems understood as systems of communications. All social interactions take place in designed spaces filled with designed artefacts. Architectural artefacts – as well as other designed artefacts such as furniture, appliances and clothing – thus participate in the reproduction of social systems of communications. Architectural artefacts frame virtually all social communication systems, with the exception of those systems that exclusively reproduce outside the interaction between physically present participants. The designed environment matters: it frames all interactions. Only on the basis of the designed environment as complex system of frames can society be reproduced on the level of complexity it has attained.5

Parametricism is the key word. Originally coined by Patrik Schumacher— who takes his work with Zaha Hadid Architects to be the ultimate representation of the term—“ parametricism” refers to a type of design process characterized by the interrelation of design variables (or, parameters) through computational tools and techniques; a definition that allows it to encompass the work of other well-known figures and firms as well as emerging practitioners in contemporary architecture and design. Beyond this very general technical definition, however, parametricism has also accrued currency to refer to a whole variety of ideas that animate design culture today, from those concerned primarily with aesthetic questions, to others that are more philosophical, and yet others with strong political agendas.6

The key here is the use of computers and algorithmic encoding/decoding bounded only by parameters that adjust and bind or unbind the functional encasement of the design process. In fact Schumacher has high hopes for parametricism. He considers parametricism to be the “epochal style” of the “post-Fordist network society”  that emerges after his so-called “transitional periods” of postmodernism and deconstructivism. In this teleological scheme of styles corresponding to the “grand epochs” of Western civilization, parametricism is, according to Schumacher, poised to become the new hegemonic movement for the twenty-first century, replacing Modernism as the new contemporary “International Style.”  He thus considers himself and his project— and others like it— to be the transformational avant-garde of the discipline that will usher in this epochal change. (PP: 5)

In his work the connection between technology and social organization, resonates — indirectly, for now — with architecture’s role in the advanced economies and geographies at large, such as in the way architectural services are embedded in supply chains, the construction industry, the status of design as an “immaterial” service, as well as with theorizations around the possible repurposing of capitalist forms (like corporations) toward more cooperative arrangements. These theoretical and practical experiments, of which parametricism has so far been relatively disengaged, pose new challenges for the discipline as such, opening up design to a broader realm of cultural production that might be variously combined with fabrication, entertainment, community services, learning, curatorship, publishing, academic discourse, and many other activities, both in physical urban space and organized entirely through shared digital infrastructures. (PP: 14)

In his work Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers Stephen Graham speaks of the new class warfare society, of the dense city as a dual system for poor and rich where in such vertical environmental contrasts are compounded by the ways in which private, vertically segregated pedestrian systems can become progressively delinked from surrounding sidewalks. Actual access from the public street often becomes increasingly tenuous as the self-perpetuating logic of extending interiorised commercial walkway systems grow horizontally over time. Entrances to the walkway system from the street below are mediated by access to securitised corporate office buildings, elite condominiums or upmarket hotels. Commercial imperatives and a politics of fear, in other words, can result in pulling up the ‘ladder’ connecting the skywalk city to the street system.7

This verticalization and polarization of society in the dense cities of the future is a two-edged sword. As Graham speaking of contemporary Hong Kong tells us of this city’s multileveled access systems fully securitized:

It is the dazzling system of walkways in Hong Kong, however, that is most internationally famous. The city – the densest and most verticalised in the world – offers a startling system of over 500 vertically raised walkways snaking between the huge, raised podium structures at the bases of upmarket hotels, residential blocks, malls and corporate enclaves. In many ways, the stacking of walkways in Hong Kong echoes the city’s long history of pioneering innovations in using space extremely intensively and vertically… Hong Kong has become, in effect, a connected complex of megastructures. These construct accessibility and interconnection within a three-dimensional field that extends from deep subterranean space to several hundred metres above the ground. Such a development makes the city a global capital of innovation and building in escalators, elevators and people movers – as well as mass rapid transit, raised walkways, podium decks, vertical housing towers and multi-deck ferries. (PP)

Yet, with verticality the pollutants and ruination, the waste and excess get pushed down into the subterranean realms where the worker and the excluded mingle in dark enclaves with little access to goods and services, light and air. While the rich and their minions reach above the clouds in luxury skyparks, and open vista pools where plantlife and culture blossom in a skyscape of planned intensity. Verticality will bring our old enemy hierarchy to the fore again in these dense cities of the future. While academics, sociologists, and city planners see nothing but the moon of an accelerating capitalism jetting upward against the gravity of earth, the masses below will eek  out an existence in a subrodent world of damp and decaying systems of underground connections: mole lives in a world of utter darkness and unpleasure.  As Mike Davis would say in Evil Paradises: In the larger perspective, the bright archipelagos of utopian luxury and “supreme lifestyles” are mere parasites on a “planet of slums.”8

And, yet, there are those who promote the merger of heaven and hell in a dynamic mix of density and openness, incompleteness and the unbounded spaces of the virtual city of intelligence. As Luciano Floridi tells it we have moved inside the infosphere, the all-pervading nature of which also depends on the extent to which we accept its interface as integral to our reality and transparent to us (in the sense of no longer perceived as present). What matters is not so much moving bits instead of atoms— this is an outdated, communication-based interpretation of the information society that owes too much to mass-media sociology— as the far more radical fact that our understanding and conceptualization of the very essence and fabric of reality is changing. Indeed, we have begun to accept the virtual as reality. So the information society is better seen as a neo-manufacturing society in which raw materials and energy have been superseded by data and information, the new digital gold and the real source of added value. Not just communication and transactions then, but the creation, design, and management of information are the keys to the proper understanding of our hyperhistorical predicament.9

If as Bernard Stiegler maintains “Knowledge always proceeds from such a double shock – whereas stupidity always proceeds from automaticity”.10 Then we should recall here what Canguilhem once posited in principle the more-than-biological meaning of episteme: knowledge of life is a specific form of life conceived not only as biology, but also as knowledge of the milieus, systems and processes of individuation, and where knowledge is the condition and the future of life exposed to return shocks from its vital technical productions. (AS)

If we think of the future Smart City as the optimization of intelligence, as bringing forth the energetic unconscious of the earth itself, of the meeting of that shock of the new of which modernity was the harbinger and dead end, then we might begin to see humans migrating into a collective system of a new machinic civilization where innovation and creativity are maximized rather than horded by a weak and indifferent Oligarchy. But how would such a thing come about? So far I’ve described only the neoliberal outgrowth of our current accelerating capitalism and its dreams of a luxury world of Oligarchs. There is another world…

In my next essay we will imagine the counter-worlds of neoliberalism in a future where the silver lining on the cloud is not a hint of things to come but of a pragmatic world of collective making. As Land will say in another essay the dense cities of the future should be characterized by an escape into inwardness, an interior voyage, involution, or implosion. “Approaching singularity on an accelerating trajectory, each city becomes increasingly inwardly directed, as it falls prey to the irresistible attraction of its own hyperbolic intensification, whilst the outside world fades to irrelevant static. Things disappear into cities, on a path of departure from the world. Their destination cannot be described within the dimensions of the known – and, indeed, tediously over-familiar – universe. Only in the deep exploratory interior is innovation still occurring, but there it takes place at an infernal, time-melting rate.” (see: Implosion)

J.G. Ballard in The Concentration City let one character describe the blank wall against the edge of a endless city planet: “The surgeon nodded to himself. ‘Some advanced opinion maintains that there’s a wall around the City, through which it’s impossible to penetrate. I don’t pretend to understand the theory myself. It’s far too abstract and sophisticated. Anyway I suspect they’ve confused this Wall with the bricked-up black areas you passed through on the Sleeper. I prefer the accepted view that the City stretches out in all directions without limits.’11

Maybe the city is an infinite rhizome, a labyrinth that has no beginning or end, only the in-between of what is next: “And, and, and…” If the cycles of time are ebbs and flows, and eternal returns: compressed sequences in an infinite density of spiraling chaosmosis, then creativity, innovation and hell are signs of life and anti-life in an intelligent universe where the endless parade of processuality is without end and void. But remember, there are no empty voids…

  1. Gibson, William. Neuromancer (p. 70). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums (p. 206). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  3. Koonings, Kees; Kruijt, Dirk. Megacities (Kindle Locations 287-289). Zed Books. Kindle Edition.
  4. Cook, John. The future city is dense… GeekWire February 14, 2017
  5. Schumacher, Patrik. The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume II: A New Agenda for Architecture: 2 (Kindle Locations 501-508). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  6. Poole, Matthew; Manuel Shvartzberg. The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture (p. 1). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. (PP)
  7. Graham, Stephen. Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers (Kindle Locations 3681-3686). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  8.  Davis, Mike. Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (Kindle Locations 241-242). New Press, The. Kindle Edition.
  9. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  10. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 629-634). Wiley. Kindle Edition. (AS)
  11. Ballard, J. G.. The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 37). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Neurototalitarianism: Control in the Age of Stupidity

Nowadays digital technology is based on the insertion of neuro-linguistic memes and automatic devices in the sphere of cognition, social psyche and life-forms.

—Franco Berardi, And – Phenomenology of the End

One of the tasks of schizoanalysis has now become the decrypting of the ‘tics’ bequeathed to the human frame by the geotraumatic catastrophe, and ‘ KataoniX’ treats vestigial semantic content as a mere vehicle for code ‘from the outside’: the ‘ tic’ symptoms of geotraumatism manifested in the shape of sub-linguistic clickings and hissings .

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

In his latest offering And: The Phenomenology of the End Franco Berardi remarks “cognitive wiring” refers to the “capture and submission of life and of mental activity in the sphere of calculation”.1 This capture is occurring at two different levels: at the epistemic level it implies the formatting of mental activity, at the biological level it implies the technical transformation of the processes of life generation. Georges Bataille once said that

‘[A]t the instant where royal politics and intelligence alters, the feudal world no longer exists. Neither intelligence nor calculation is noble. It is not noble to calculate, not even to reflect, and no philosopher has been able to incarnate the essence of nobility’. -Complete Oeuvres

We’d already learned in previous essays and explorations on Bernard Steigler that the Anthropocene era is that of industrial capitalism, an era in which “calculation prevails over every other criteria of decision-making”,2 and where algorithmic and mechanical becoming is concretized and materialized as logical automation and automatism, thereby constituting the advent of completed nihilism, as computational society becomes a society that is automated and remotely controlled.

In Fanged Noumena as the editors of Nick Land’s essays told us “Land regularly chides critique and deconstruction for a latent conservatism that belies their pretensions to radicality. Their critiques of calculation mask an instrumentalisation of epoche – the abyss of unknowing, the enigma of exteriority – designed to perpetuate the inexhaustible dialectic or differance of Logos. Their post-metaphysical caution perpetuates the Socratic ideal of philosophy as a ‘preparation for death’ whereby philosophy lingers at the brink of the unknown while hoping to domesticate this threshold as a habitus for thought.” As Land himself would say,

Calculation mobilizes a thinking that is directly and effectively exterior, indexing the machinic dispersion or anorganic distribution of the number. No sooner in the head than on fingers and pebbles, counting always happens on the outside. A population is already a number, mixed into irreducible hybrids by counting techniques and apparatus (countingboard, abacus, currency tokens, and calendric devices). (FN: 508)

As Berardi affirms we can say that the social brain is undergoing a process of wiring, mediated by immaterial linguistic and numeric (algorithmic) protocols and also by electronic devices. (A: 22) Everytime you pick up that mobile phone, watch the news, watch your favorite video on youtube.com, or any other number of digital mediatainment systems from Xbox to your sons or daughters MMO, RPG, etc. you are entering the command and control centers of algorithmic governmentality. It is in these very entertainment and information devices that the memes and hyperstitions of tomorrow are being fed moment by moment rewiring the neurocircuitry of you and your children’s lives. The moment you pick up one of these devices your life is calculated, tabulated, indexed, formatted, dividuated, and looped through the positive feedback systems into the additive cycles of a numerically controlled digital environment, where digial agents supervene and decide your next move by rewiring your neuralcircuits – ubiquitously and blindly. As Berardi informs us,

As generative algorithms become crucial in the formation of the social body, the construction of social power shifts from the political level of consciousness and will, to the technical level of automatisms located in the process of generation of the linguistic exchange and in the process of formation of the psychic and organic body as well. (A: 22)

R. Scott Bakker has been pounding away at the intentionalist world (read: Phenonmenologists) for years, telling us that all our descriptions, all our concern, all our knowledge is heading into that zero intensity zone of no return. That in essence we are entering a “crash space” of neurosemantic apocalypse. For Scott the matter comes down to this: the brain was wired to the natural environment through a process not of knowledge acquisition, but rather of filtering out and neglecting all but the essential elements of our environment except those things that promoted sex and survival. We are animals that must reproduce and survive and propagate generation after generation, everything else that is in excess of  that natural program of propagation and survival is non-essential and is for the most part “neglected” by the decision making systems of our brain’s neurocircuitry. Because of this tying of brain to its natural environment our generations during the past two hundred years of the Industrial Era and its several transitional phase shifts has left us in a world severed from the old brain/environment nexus. We call this severing: nihilism. Nihilism is the severing of the brain from its value-systems: the intensive replication of sex and survival decisions that have guided our religious, social, political, and personal and collective life during the long reach of our natural and evolutionary existence as earth born animals. We now live in artificial worlds and environments that no longer hold the same pact as our natural neurocircuits have adapted too for millennia. For two hundred years philosophers and social critics have labeled this process one of the eclipse of thought and world, the severing of the relations of meaning: signifier and sign, mind and world. We are now cut off from what used to be termed Nature: the Outside / Inside of thought at its anti-podes.

A further issue arises according to Scott,

The problem is basically that the machinery of the brain has no way of tracking its own astronomical dimensionality; it can at best track problem-specific correlational activity, various heuristic hacks. We lack not only the metacognitive bandwidth, but the metacognitive access required to formulate the explananda of neuroscientific investigation.3

In other words we do not have the brains nor the Archimedean distance from our own neurocircuitry to explain to ourselves why we are the way we are. The tool (our brain) we’d use to describe and explore this issue is the one and same device. One cannot step outside one’s brain to describe its processes, the best we can do is to explore it through mediated devices: Neuroimaging systems that record and represent the moment to moment transactions of billions of neurocircuits as they fire. But even then we are bound by testability, repetition, and the interpretive (hermeneutic) protocols of intentionalism (phenomenology) to describe these images. We are part of the loop we would describe. One is forever blind to the very processes of one’s brain because it is what we are and we cannot reach some transcendental ground outside it to explore it. Impossible. Or, as Scott puts it,

A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning. (ibid.)

Yet, a curious fact is that scientists and engineers are not concerned with explaining the brain, they are concerned with the pragmatic application of its working, its doing, not with how we know (epistemic) but how it works and does what it does. It’s in this sense of understanding the keys to decision making in the brain, how it works and does what it does rather than what it is (i.e., it’s ontic and/or ontological explanada) that interests not only scientists but engineers who have hopes of engineering intelligence (i.e., AI’s, etc.).

Engineering Reality: The Production of Stupidity

Oligarchs and politicos also have hopes of this engineering of decision making as well. As Berardi reminds us the automation of the behaviour of many individuals traversed and concatenated by techno-linguistic interfaces results in the effect of Swarm. Man is the animal who shapes the artificial techno-environments that shapes his/her own brain, the swarm effect therefore is the outcome of human transformation of the technical environment leading to automation of mental behavior. (A: 24) With such knowledge we do not need explain consciousness, only to pragmatically program the brain like an application to be manipulated and constrained to conform to the decision making powers of an elite tehcnocommercium. This is the nightmare of our future.

Is there a possibility of overturning, rotating, revolting, revolutionizing and turning the very processes of entrapment, capture, and enslavement against the elite and their minions? Poetry? As Berardi tells us it is better to conceive of aesthetics as the science of revolution, a semiotic emanation in its interaction with sensibility that causes surprise, estrangement, and the weird excess that cannot be captured by calculation and algorithmic necessity. Sensibility and Aesthetics he tells us should return to its etymon and should refer to sensibility as experience of the object, rather than to beauty (a quality of the object in itself). A return to objects…

Recently was watching Slavoj Zizek and Graham Harman discussing their approaches to philosophy, their agreements and disagreements on flat ontology, objects, etc. (see below):

Žižek & Harman debate Object-Oriented Ontology. Debate took place at Southern California Institute of Architecture on March 1st 2017. (A nod to dmf for the link…)

I’ve written and compared both philosophers in previous essays, especially in Zizek and Harman: Strange Bedfellows, noting that both Zizek and Harman are moving philosophy back into the ‘things-themselves’, where everything is on the same footing and no one stance or observer (Big Other/Master Signifier) reigns. Of course it is by way of physics that both philosopher’s share and also suffer their differences. In Zizek the main thrust is that the universe is a messy place, unfinished, incomplete and that science and scientists will never discover an end to it because at the extremes everything breaks down and becomes fuzzy as if the universe needed us to complete it. Or as if the universe is a vast simulation that never provided the necessary solution to a program discovering the edge of the simulation. Much like those of us who have played MMO’s or RPG’s and tried to reach the edge of some ocean or mountain or forest or jungle only to realize that the programming gives way to numbers, sequences, binary code at the extreme point where the image and the code touch. As Zizek says: “Therein resides the strength of decoherence theory: it endeavours to articulate the purely immanent way a quantum process engenders the mechanism of its ‘observation’ (registration). Does it succeed? It is up to the science itself to provide an answer.” The point being that philosophers don’t provide solutions are answers, only more questions, etc. Whereas for Harman “if we push the tool-analysis to its limit, we actually find that all relations in the cosmos, whether it be the perceptual clearing between humans and world, the corrosive effect of acid on limestone, or a slap-fight between orangutans in Borneo, are on precisely the same philosophical footing”. The point for Harman is that any object-oriented philosophy is at base non-relational. He’ll ask “Given that objects never seem to enter into relations, what does enter into relations? If objects cannot affect one another directly, then perhaps they do so by means of qualities.” But how? He tells us: “We inhabit a sensual space in which, strictly speaking, objects cannot be present. Yet there are objects everywhere, like black holes or vacuums hidden from sight. By following the tension between these two moments of human perception, it may be possible to unlock the tensions found in the universe as a whole.”4

So for Zizek the problem is in the objects themselves: their incompleteness, their excess energetic power which cannot be reduced to signs or descriptions. For Harman its not in the objects themselves, but in the tension between objects, in the movement between relation and non-relation in the medium of appearance (sensual realm) that glues and makes visible (phenomenal) that which is invisible (non-apparent).

It’s at this point that Berardi would ask both philosophers:

Should we think that in the human mind there is a neuro-physiological predisposition, an innate program of sensuous reception of the world, a bio-grammar of aesthesia and eroticism? Or should we think that the conditions of harmony are exclusively cultural? (A: 32)

Is reality of these objects, the creation and invention of reality of appearances, etc. a natural disposition of the brain fitted and adapted to its environment, or is it a effect of the conditioning of our cultural educement, education, and programming? And with the modern nihilist severance of brain and natural environment with its substitution of an artificial one what happens to the neuroplasticity of the brain itself: Can it adapt to this new environment without repercussions or if our bio-grammatical brain functions are so ingrained and tied to the natural world environment, what happens in this transitional phase space of the artificial? Psychopathology and Sociopathology? Schizophrenia under its extreme forms?

Nick Land in Fanged Noumena would add even more radically that what we need is a Geotraumatics. According to Ray Brassier and Robin Mackay in their introduction to Nick’s essays Geotraumatics radicalises Deleuze-Guattari’s insistence that schizoanalysis should extend further than the terrain of personal or familial drama, to invest the social and political realms, and pushes beyond history and biology to incorporate the geological and the cosmological within the purview of the transcendental unconscious. (FN) He would go on to say: “What is noteworthy here is a certain deepening of pessimism: repression extends ‘all the way down’ to the cells of the body, the rocks of the earth, inhering in organised structure as such. All things, not just the living, yearn for escape; all things seek release from their organisation, which however induces further labyrinthine complications. Nothing short of the complete liquidation of biological order and the dissolution of physical structure can suffice to discharge the aboriginal trauma that mars terrestrial existence.” (FN: 41)

The Death of the Left: Floundering in the Anthropocene

In book after book Berardi has chronicled the dark demise of the Left and its ineffectuality since May of 1968. Even in the past years since the first Anti-Capitalist movement every form of protest has ended in failure. Why? As he tells us there are two main reasons, the first is that each of these movements begins “strong in the streets but unable to attack the economic interests of corporations, because the precarization of labour has destroyed solidarity at the level of production, and solidarity is the only material force that can oppose the material force of corporate interest. Secondly, the abstract feature of financial capitalism is unattainable by the concrete forms of social action.” (A: 236) In both modes the very forms of revolutionary intent have been undermined by the modes of production and abstraction which are the final form of a completed nihilism we term Capitalism. Just as the brain is divorced from its natural environment, social activism is divorced from the abstract realms of the virtual reality become actual of present Capitalism.

Berardi citing Steven Shaviro’s Accelerationist Aesthetics: Necessary Inefficiency in Times of Real Subsumption, where Shaviro makes the argument that any accelerationist “aesthetics exists in a special relationship to political economy, precisely because aesthetics is the one thing that cannot be reduced to political economy.” (A: 239) Commenting on Shaviro’s passage, Berarid says,

 Aesthetics and the Economy converge and collide: as long as the social body will be unable to get rid of the process of ever expanding abstraction, aesthetic research will border with psychopathology, and will be concerned with stress, acceleration and suffering. (A: 239)

For Berarid we live in an artificial world already, a world programmed and controlled by the vast telecommunications mediatainment complex that encompasses the planet and its socio-cultural inhabitants. He states it this way:

We live in the multilayered dimension of technomaya. Digital technology has given to the media a power that is directly acting on the mind, so the Mediasphere casts a spell that wraps the Psychosphere. Technomaya captures flows that proceed from the mind-activity, and sends them back to the mental receptors as a mirror, as a template for future imagination, as a cage for future action, and for future forms of life. (A: 240)

Another Italian philosopher Luciano Floridi puts it this way, “we are probably the last generation to experience a clear difference between online and offline environments”.5 Some people already live onlife. Some cultures are already hyperhistorical. A further transformation worth highlighting concerns the emergence of artificial and hybrid (multi) agents, i.e., partly artificial and partly human (consider, for example, a family as a single agent, equipped with digital cameras, laptops, tablets, smart phones, mobiles, wireless network, digital TVs, DVDs, CD players, etc.). These new agents already share the same ontology with their environment and can operate within it with much more freedom and control. We (shall) delegate or outsource, to artificial agents and companions, our memories, decisions, routine tasks, and other activities in ways that will be increasingly integrated with us and with our understanding of what it means to be an agent. Yet all this is rather well known, and it is not what I am referring to when I talk about inforgs. (EI: 15)

In fact, for Floridi the whole transhumanist and post-human SF scenario of terminators, robots, AI, etc. taking over the world is an extreme and hypothetical reaction to the unknown surrounding us in the technosphere. What he has in mind is a “quieter, less sensational, and yet more crucial and profound change in our conception of what it means to be an agent. We have begun to see ourselves as inforgs not through some transformations in our bodies but, more seriously and realistically, through the reontologization of our environment and of ourselves. It is our world and our metaphysical interpretation of it that is changing.”(EI: 15)

The severance of the brain/mind from its natural / evolutionary environment and its sudden transitional shift to the artificialization of the world in our modern technocommercium is as he puts it “reontologizing our environment and ourselves” (15). We are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick. (EI: 16)

Semiocapitalism: “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

Under the auspices of semiocapitalism we are becoming wired into an algorithmic world of total surveillance and control where every aspect of our lives as “dividual” (Stiegler/Deleuze) rather than individuals is being programmed, manipulated, and developed by Reality Engineers. Within a few generations this will become so ubiquitous that those of us analogue residence of the transitional phase shift will have disappeared and only our children and their children will remain not knowing or understanding the difference between the old ontology of natural and non-artificial worlds of earth and the one in which hey live as inforgs (i.e., informational organisms and agents). For Berardi we are encompassed already in the technomaya of an artificial world of control where our “experience is subjected to the power of simulation and of standardization” (A: 240).

Lewis Mumford in his two volume The Myth of the Machine long ago saw that our current cultural nihilism, which began as a “reaction against regimentation, has become in turn a mode of counter-regimentation, with its ritualized destruction and its denial of all the cultural processes that have sublimated man’s irrational impulses and released his constructive energies”.6 Lewis in his studies would uncover this movement from natural to artificial simulation and standardization. As he termed it, the fact is that organic models yielded to mechanical models in interpreting living phenomena mainly for two reasons: organisms could not be connected to the power complex until they were reduced, in thought even more than in practice, to purely mechanical units; and it was only through their attachment to the power system, which, as Comte noted, came in with the employment of the engineers as the key figures in advanced industries, that the physical sciences had, from the sixteenth century on, flourished. (PP: 430)

The Engineer as designer, developer, programmer, modeler, maker, tinkerer, mechanical and software specialist etc. is still with us. Even our architectural environments have become enmeshed in artificialization to the point that simulated and modeled replicas and 3D Printing have overtaken the older forms of design. As Patrick Schumacher an anarcho-capitalist and libertarian architect puts it the world is drifting toward a parametric society:

‘Parametricism’ implies that all elements of architecture are becoming parametrically malleable and thus adaptive to each other and to the context. Instead of aggregating a few platonic solids (cubes, cylinders etc.) into simple compositions – like all other architectural styles did for 5000 years – we are now working with inherently variable, adaptive forms that aggregate into continuously differentiated fields or systems. Multiple systems are correlated with each other and with the environment.  All spaces should resonate with each other because within Postfordist network society all activities need to be networked and stay in continuous communication with each other. (On Parametricism)

This notion of the Smart City of the future that communicates continuously with both machinic and human agents in a technocommercium or technical environment of continuous virtual/actual transactions which slide in-between the intensities at a vibrational level of realties shaping and shaped by decisional processes in a 24/7 informational matrix.

The ‘tics’ From the Outside…

In such a realm as Berardi reminds us the digital footprint of the experience, with its increasing speed and intensity, affects the psycho reaction to info-stimula, affects the empathic relation between conscious and sensitive organisms, and affects also cognition: memory, imagination and language. Experience, as attention and as intention is subjected to an intense stress that results into a mutation of the cognitive organism. (A: 242) The only hold back to this ultracapitalism is Sleep, which Jonathan Crary in his book 24/7 suggested “Sleep is the only remaining barrier, the only enduring natural condition that capitalism cannot eliminate.” (24/7: 74)7 As Berardi will tell it we are already sleepwalkers in a semiocapitalist empire, sleepless migrants who are at the beck and call of a 24/7 continuum that know no sleep and enforces an algorithmic punchcard in our neurowiring to comply or else… that, or else is “suicide”. As he tells us,

The Google Empire has been essentially built on the capture of the user’s experience in order to increase value and productivity. During the creation of the attention draining machine, the personal computer has been bypassed by the release of the last generation of cellular phones labeled as smart-phones, so the access to the network has gone mobile, pervading every moment of the day and of the night. The mobilization of the access to the net has obviously expanded the captured time of attention and submitted new dimensions of personal life to the all pervading search for semio-profits. (A: 247)

Intentionalism or the time of thought is gone, becoming a part of the blip culture of microseconds that never stop long enough to think or react. We are for the most part programs in a programmed environment, pegged to be called out by machinic agents who will make our decisions, answer our questions, live our lives for us as surrogates and avatars, dividual existence as a digital citizen in an artificial world where the barriers between virtual / actual, mind/world, matter/energy have become continuous and non-relational only in the sense that all is flat and suborned to a world of object-object relations.

Humans used to map their world, orient themselves to their external environments. Orientation is the cognitive ability to recognize the physical features of the surrounding environment and to build an inner map making possible finalized displacements in the world. The process of internal mapping that precedes orientation implies a highly singular relation with the environment: visual elaboration and emotional selection of places, signs, and also lights, flares, and scents. Orientation can be seen as the singularization of the landscape, the process that makes the world my own world. (A: 245).

With the slow erosion and disconnection or withdrawal from our natural environments into the transitional phase spaces of our modernity, where architecture became functionalist and abstract and cutting us from our affect and emotional heritage of care and humane sensuality, we have become desensitized and shaped to the artificial and functional environments of a world of flows and algorithms, digital decisions at speeds beyond human comprehension. As Berardi informs us the experience of getting lost in our cities, also the experience of recognizing a specific place will fade or at least be quite dulled, and the fading of the faculty of orientation can be viewed as a step in the process of connective reshaping of the experience as a whole. (A: 247) Many have already felt this in traveling from Airport to airport, the standardization of the technocommercium where everything seems like the same city over and over no matter where one steps off a plane one is always in the same city, intelligent or not.

With the advent of virtual interfaces even our environments will be additive and virtual overlays as the technology adapts and engineers begin to build devices that mediate our smart environments for us. As Berardi states it “reality is the point of intersection of our projections, and experience is singular access to the world of life and creation of meaning to share with others, the techno-mutation is affecting reality itself. The world, as experience and projection, is finally evacuated, and replaced by the access to the uniformed simulated experience, the experience of the swarm.” (A: 249)

Beraridi says we are fast moving into a neurototalitarianism in which our cognitive environments are simulated and uniform, programmed by Reality Engineers in which our perception and behaviour is based on the inscription of techno-linguistic automatisms in human communication and therefore in the connective mind. This is a form of techno-totalitarianism that results from three consecutive steps. (A: 249) The first step is the total invasion and replacement of our cultural signatures, our linguistic systems and traces through cellularization or “the connection of every enunciation agent in the Network—is the general framework of the subsumption (or capture) of social communication into electronic swarm” (A: 250). The second motif is the current “replacement of living experience and its simulation with recorded standardized stimulations,  referring to the automation of the sense of orientation” (A: 250). And the third form is the “direction of the implementation of the swarm is directly aimed at modifying the neural hardware itself: insertion of technodevices for neural programming, nano-prosthesis, enhancers, transformers of the neurological system” (A: 250). Each of these will bring about a nerutotalitarian empire under the auspices of the Technocommercium.

For Berardi this process is well under way, resistance is futile, the best we can do is to counter it with imaginative and poetic resources. As he states it techno-linguistic interfaces are linking the organism with the bio-info super-organism of the Net, and language is subjected to the automated wiring. Cognition is taken in the inescapable loop of this endless self-confirmation. Only the excess of imagination can find the way for a conscious and consciously managed neuroplasticity, but we cannot know if the imagination excess still functions when cognitive wiring is set. “This is the question that we are going to deal with in the coming decades, this is the next game, the neo-human game that we can barely sense beyond the apparently unstoppable and irreversible catastrophe of the human civilization that is underway.” (A: 256)

  1. Berardi, Franco. And: The Phenomenology of the End. (Aalto ARTS Books, 2014)
  2. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 524-527). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  3. see: Bakker, R. Scott. Intentional Philosophy as the Neuroscientific Explananda Problem (here)
  4. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  5. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 14-15). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition (EI)
  6. Mumford, Lewis. Pentagon Of Power: The Myth Of The Machine, Vol. II. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich; 1 edition (March 20, 1974) (PP)
  7. Crary, Johnathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso; 1 edition (June 4, 2013)

The Strategy of Unbinding: War Machines for Post-nihilist Age

 Writers are sorcerers because they experience the animal as the only population before which they are responsible in principle.

—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus

In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari compare the games of Chess and Go as war machines with very different systems of capture and release:

Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game’s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function: “It” makes a move. “It” could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases. Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary’s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess, it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces. In Go, it is a question of arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. The “smooth” space of Go, as against the “striated” space of chess. The nomos of Go against the State of chess, nomos against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space; consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere…). Another justice, another movement, another space-time.1

Nomos against polis is the central motif of their argument. Unbinding the strata, deterritorializing the State apparatus, exiting the fictions that structure and synthesize our habitations, map our desires, frame our mental and physical systems in a territory of command and control.

Nomos: from the Greek term for “law” (νόμος, nómos; pl. νόμοι, nómoi). It is the origin of the suffix -onomy, as in astronomy, economy, or taxonomy. In sociology, nomos refers to provisional codes (habits or customs) of social and political behavior, socially constructed and historically (even geographically) specific. The term derives from the Greek νόμος, and it refers not only to explicit laws but to all of the normal rules and forms people take for granted in their day-to-day activities (i.e., their customs and cultural inheritance of behavior and conduct, their mores and ethical norms). Nomos stands for order, valid and binding on those who fall under its jurisdiction; thus it is a social construct with ethical dimensions. It is a belief, opinion or point of view; it is a human invention.

Bernard Stiegler in his recent Automatic Society: The Future of Work argues that nomos is this inherited conglomerate that forms the preindividual funds of the political psychic and collective individuation process, emerging from the new retentional condition of which Hesiod and Thales were contemporaries, and enters into structural conflict with the new epistēmē. This is what Dodds described as a Greek Aufklärung. At its political origin, and as this origin, law (nomos), stemming fundamentally from a transindividuation in letters, such that it is alphabetically tertiarized, literalizes and spatializes the epistēmē, forming the rules (as the explicit circuits of transindividuation) on the basis of which conflict (polemos) can become the dynamic principle of a society within which History appears as such (as Geschichte and as Historie) – starting from the agora. This is why the skholeion is the primordial political institution: citizens are those who read and write these literal traces – which thus form new kinds of associated milieus, which, as we shall see, also constitute regimes of parities establishing regimes of truth. And this is why today, and as the condition of any new constitution of knowledge, the retentional condition of all knowledge must be thematized and elucidated, and particularly that of the apodictic forms of knowledge that nourish the Western experience of rationality.2

Stiegler mentioned E.R. Dodd’s whose work The Greeks and the Irrational describes nomos as standing for the Conglomerate, conceived as the inherited burden of irrational custom; or it could stand for an arbitrary rule consciously imposed by certain classes in their own interest; or it could stand for a rational system of State law, the achievement which distinguished Greeks from barbarians.3 Dodd’s would add that for the first generation of Sophists, in particular Protagoras, they seem to have held a view whose optimism is pathetic in retrospect, but historically intelligible. “Virtue or Efficiency (arete) could be taught”: by criticizing the inherited traditions, by modernising the Nomos which the Sophists ancestors had created and eliminating from it the last vestiges of “barbarian silliness,”  man could acquire a new Art of Living, and human life could be raised to new levels hitherto undreamed of. (GI: KL 3366)

What Dodd’s describes as the Art of Living is what Stiegler terms the skholeion (site of socio-cultural indoctrination – educational apparatus):

The individuation of political public space is conditioned by the formation of each citizen in the skholeion, where citizens accede to the letter (that is, as we shall see, where they organologically re-organize their organic cerebral organ). Citizens, by forming themselves à la lettre – through this interiorization of the letter (by reading) and through its exteriorization (by writing), an internalization and externalization that require the acquisition of this competence as a new automatism written into the cerebral organ through learning, through an apprenticeship – can access the consistences that theoretical knowledge forms, and thereby dis-automatize automatic behaviours, whether biological, psychic or social: if consistence is what makes dis-automatization possible, it is accessible only on the basis of an automatization. (AS: KL 2372)

In fact, as a new epoch of psychic and collective individuation, the political individuation that arose in the seventh century bce implemented the subjective principle of differentiation between fact and law as the criterion of the process of transindividuation that constituted psychic citizens by constituting them politically, in that this criterion is shared by all citizens who internalize it by frequenting the skholē – the skholeion being instituted precisely for this purpose. It is their practical and active frequentation of theorein that constitutes them as citizens. (AS: KL 5592)

Yet, within Deleuze and Guattari’s thought the notion of the nomos escapes the law, exists in the nomadic spaces, the smooth spaces outside the structures of the State. “What becomes clear is that bands, no less than worldwide organizations, imply a form irreducible to the State and that this form of exteriority necessarily presents itself as a diffuse and polymorphous war machine. It is a nomos very different from the “law.” The State-form, as a form of interiority, has a tendency to reproduce itself, remaining identical to itself across its variations and easily recognizable within the limits of its poles, always seeking public recognition (there is no masked State).” (TP: KL 7538) But the nomadic war machine’s form of exteriority is such that it exists only in its own metamorphoses; it exists in an industrial innovation as well as in a technological invention, in a commercial circuit as well as in a religious creation, in all flows and currents that only secondarily allow themselves to be appropriated by the State. (TP: KL 7541)

In this sense if we return to the comparison and differences between Go And Chess where they tell us “a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology.” This sense of a an unregulated war, nomadic, without battle lines: one of pure strategy and a-semiological or diagrammatic, algorithmic and viral. Just here the Left if it is to begin to rethink its place in our post-nihilist age (our age as already the completed form of nihilism within the site of financial capitalism and algorithmic governmentality). The Left is bankrupt, its ideas passé and broken, formed of outmoded historical models that no longer map to our contemporary needs and realities. The Left lives in a decaying fictional system that has and will not work for an age in which its every move is traced, circumvented, and reduplicated as an advert for the economic drift of Capital.  Capital is Hegel’s Absolute absorbing, integrating, subsuming everything in its path under he sign of creation and destruction without end. Bound within a closed system of logic and reason Capital fixes time in a striated space without outlet in which every aspect of existence is artificial and algorithmically anticipated, controlled. The Left must deterritorialize itself and reenter the nomos of the earth, creation and destruction within the invisible (noumenal) zones of zero intensity where the energetic unconscious of the earth lives outside the Law.

Anonymous, unstructured, functional and invisible, diagrammatic and untraceable, invasive and viral like Go pieces that pop up across a striated space as rhizomatic bits of flotsam and jetsam streaming out of nowhere, singular multiplicities or swarming bands, and returning to the rhizome from whence they came. Actors and agents that have no fixed modes or personality, a complete impersonalism and impersonation. Chameleon war machines taking on the hues and colors (tropes) of its enemies. Fluid, flowing, unbound to any mode of command or control. Like the ‘Body of Wind’ of the ancient martial arts: try to catch it, capture it, and it vanishes, dispersed among the cloaked elements of its enemies shadow worlds – a breath of icy wind gathering nothing as its cloak.  As Deleuzeguattari will remind us in “all these respects, there is an opposition between the logos and the nomos, the law and the nomos, prompting the comment that the law still “savors of morality.” This does not mean, however, that the legal model knows nothing of forces, the play of forces.” (TP: KL 7739)

In fact, as they continue the nomos is the consistency of a fuzzy aggregate: it is in this sense that it stands in opposition to the law or the polls, as the backcountry, a mountainside, or the vague expanse around a city (“either nomos or polis”). Therefore, and this is the third point, there is a significant difference between the spaces: sedentary space is striated, by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures, while nomad space is smooth, marked only by “traits” that are effaced and displaced with the trajectory. Even the lamellae of the desert slide over each other, producing an inimitable sound. The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle. It is therefore false to define the nomad by movement. (TP: 7977) We must enter the smooth spaces outside the structures of the logoi, the law, the State: fall between the interstices of the visible into the invisible, exist in the noumenal beyond the encoded labyrinths of capture and the prisons of our socio-cultural straight-jackets.

This is a new type of guerilla warfare in which the very fabric of the logics of the West that have trapped us in a trace world of linguistic and semiotic systems, the dataclaves of a hyperworld meshed in the hyperreality systems of our algorithmic society are dispersed in the smooth and unstriated spaces of nomadic existence outside the Law or State. Or, as Deleuze and Guattari put it:

It is in this sense that nomads have no points, paths, or land, even though they do by all appearances. If the nomad can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence, it is precisely because there is no reterritorialization afterwards with the migrant, or upon something else as with the sedentary (the sedentary’s relation with the earth is mediatized by something else, a property regime, a State apparatus). With the nomad, on the contrary, it is deterritorialization that constitutes the relation to the earth, to such a degree that the nomad reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself. It is the earth that deterritorializes itself, in a way that provides the nomad with a territory. The land ceases to be land, tending to become simply ground (sol) or support. (TP: 7994)

If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely “supplementary”: they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else, if only new nonorganic social relations. The difference between the two poles is great, even, and especially, from the point of view of death: the line of flight that creates, or turns into a line of destruction; the plane of consistency that constitutes itself, even piece by piece, or turns into a plan(e) of organization and domination. We are constantly reminded that there is communication between these two lines or planes, that each takes nourishment from the other, borrows from the other: the worst of the world war machines reconstitutes a smooth space to surround and enclose the earth. But the earth asserts its own powers of deterritorialization, its lines of flight, its smooth spaces that live and blaze their way for a new earth. The question is not one of quantities but of the incommensurable character of the quantities that confront one another in the two kinds of war machine, according to the two poles. War machines take shape against the apparatuses that appropriate the machine and make war their affair and their object: they bring connections to bear against the great conjunction of the apparatuses of capture or domination. (TP: 8861)

Becomings-animal: Rat pack, Wolf pack – Metamorphosis

Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies. They are perfectly real. But which reality is at issue here?

—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus

In the Deleuzeanguattarian cosmos becomings are rhizomatic and a multiplicity. “But what exactly does that mean, the animal as band or pack? Does a band not imply a filiation, bringing us back to the reproduction of given characteristics? How can we conceive of a peopling, a propagation, a becoming that is without filiation or hereditary production?”4 Instead as they explain,

We oppose epidemic to filiation, contagion to heredity, peopling by contagion to sexual reproduction, sexual production. Bands, human or animal, proliferate by contagion, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes. Like hybrids, which are in themselves sterile, born of a sexual union that will not reproduce itself, but which begins over again every time, gaining that much more ground. Unnatural participations or nuptials are the true Nature spanning the kingdoms of nature. Propagation by epidemic, by contagion, has nothing to do with filiation by heredity, even if the two themes intermingle and require each other. The vampire does not filiate, it infects. The difference is that contagion, epidemic, involves terms that are entirely heterogeneous: for example, a human being, an animal, and a bacterium, a virus, a molecule, a microorganism. Or in the case of the truffle, a tree, a fly, and a pig. These combinations are neither genetic nor structural; they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations.

In this sense the a-political epidemics of the future will infest our world with singular multiplicities and swarming intelligences, alliances rather than filiations. Unnatural participations and rituals of contagion, viral and functional. Nature operates against itself, producing and produced by contagion rather than reproduction. “For us, on the other hand, there are as many sexes as there are terms in symbiosis, as many differences as elements contributing to a process of contagion.” (TP: KL 5050) Instead of the Oedipal, Mommy, Daddy, child triune there is becomings-animal by contagion and epidemic without the reductions of sex to some characteristic or series. Against filiation, alliance.

But we should not confuse these dark assemblages, which stir what is deepest within us, with organizations such as the institution of the family and the State apparatus. We could cite hunting societies, war societies, secret societies, crime societies, etc. … These are tales, or narratives and statements of becoming. It is therefore absurd to establish a hierarchy even of animal collectivities from the standpoint of a whimsical evolutionism according to which packs are lower on the scale and are superseded by State or familial societies. On the contrary, there is a difference in nature. The origin of packs is entirely different from that of families and States; they continually work them from within and trouble them from without, with other forms of content, other forms of expression. The pack is simultaneously an animal reality, and the reality of the becoming-animal of the human being; contagion is simultaneously an animal peopling, and the propagation of the animal peopling of the human being. The hunting machine, the war machine, the crime machine entail all kinds of becomings-animal that are not articulated in myth, still less in totemism. (TP)

Sorcerers have always held the anomalous position, at the edge of the fields or woods. They haunt the fringes. They are at the borderline of the village, or between villages. The important thing is their affinity with alliance, with the pact, which gives them a status opposed to that of filiation. The relation with the anomalous is one of alliance. The sorcerer has a relation of alliance with the demon as the power of the anomalous. (TP: KL 5136)

Living in that non-space in-between in a pack, unaffiliated. “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance.” (TP: KL 729) And a rhizome,

A rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicles. Bulbs and tubers are rhizomes. Plants with roots or radicles may be rhizomorphic in other respects altogether: the question is whether plant life in its specificity is not entirely rhizomatic. Even some animals are, in their pack form. Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too, in all of their functions of shelter, supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed. Animal and plant, couchgrass is crabgrass. We get the distinct feeling that we will convince no one unless we enumerate certain approximate characteristics of the rhizome. (TP: KL 339)

The new subversions of the a-political epidemic of swarms and packs: function as shelters, suppliers, movement-transport, evasion, and breakout. Think of the American Civil War of the underground railroad. Underground alliances outside the trace worlds of the Big Data. Untraceable. Unaffiliated and viral. Digital and analogue. Impersonal and indifferent. Outside law and its traces… “A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages.” (TP: KL 356)

It’s a question of movement… I disagree with Andrew Culp when he says we must move beyond rhizomes:

Enough with rhizomes. Although they were a suggestive image of thought thirty-five years ago, our present is dominated by the Cold War technology of the Internet that was made as a rhizomatic network for surviving nuclear war. The rhizome was a convincing snapshot of things to come, but Deleuze and Guattari left out a few things, most notably the question of movement. How does a rhizome advance, except in the crawl of the blob that slowly takes over everything?5

For Deleuze and Guattari the question of movement was the question of “smooth spaces” outside or in-between the striated and controlled spaces of logic and reason, command and control. It is not a “blob that takes over everything,” rather it is that in-between space outside the trace, undiscoverable by the logic or reason of those within the Law. As they’d say

Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is “smooth,” or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort). (TP: KL 155)

The Rhizome is outside the law, it is nomos or the Body-without-Organs opposed to Logos and trace, unaccountable, unindexible, incalculable. As they’ll say at the end of ,

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, 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.” Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions. Making a clean slate, starting or beginning again from ground zero, seeking a beginning or a foundation — all imply a false conception of voyage and movement (a conception that is methodical, pedagogical, initiatory, symbolic…). But Kleist, Lenz, and Biichner have another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing. American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings. They know how to practice pragmatics. The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle. (TP: 729)

Against Being, against ontology, against philosophy: the movement of AND.  The acceleration of that movement of the middle, in-between, a transversal movement outside the Law – a new nomos of Earth. The movement of the middle, of having another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing.

As Franco Berardi in his book AND: Phenomenology of the End tells us,

Rhizome is simultaneously the announcement of a transformation of reality and the premise to a new methodology of thought. A description of the chaotic deterritorialization following Modern Rationalism, and a methodology for the critique of deterritorialized capitalism.6

For Berardi we’re undergoing a major change in sensibility, one that he’s “been unrolling all along this text is the mutation of sensibility in an age of creeping abstraction, and the dissonance and pain that this mutation is bringing about” (AND: 235). Nothing is secure, and like Stiegler we could go down a rabbit hole of no return and destruction:

Aesthetics and the Economy converge and collide: as long as the social body will be unable to get rid of the process of ever expanding abstraction, aesthetic research will border with psychopathology, and will be concerned with stress, acceleration and suffering. (AND: 239)

His prognosis is of a dangerous world ahead, one in which techics and technology become so pervasive that even the age old notions of the individual give way to the onslaught of our completed nihilism. A semiocapitalist society bound within a matrix of infospheric connections:

In the interaction between individual and collective sphere, in the link between individual neuro-activity and connective concatenation, the conscious and sensitive organism is evolving. The neuro-plasticity of the subindividual components of the organism (the molecular decomposition and recomposition of biological matter) interacts with the rhythms and the super-individual automatisms of the techno-linguistic swarm, the bio-informatic super-organism which is embedded in the totalitarian governance of semiocapitalism. Techno-linguistic interfaces are linking the organism with the bio-info super-organism of the Net, and language is subjected to the automated wiring. Cognition is taken in the inescapable loop of this endless self-confirmation. Only the excess of imagination can find the way for a conscious and consciously managed neuroplasticity, but we cannot know if the imagination excess still functions when cognitive wiring is set. This is the question that we are going to deal with in the coming decades, this is the next game, the neo-human game that we can barely sense beyond the apparently unstoppable and irreversible catastrophe of the human civilization that is underway. (AND:  236)

Unlike most Leftist thinkers Berardi has seen the Beast and it is us, and we are already beyond any old Marxian salvation clause, instead we are in the midst of a catastrophe for the human species in which the scenario playing out is one of mutation and transformation into an alterity (neo-human) from which nothing of our current knowledge systems, our memories or perceptions will remain. Humanity will have metamorphsied into something else. All that is left is to provide therapy through this transitional process. There can be no resistance, no stopping it now. It is accelerating out of control and into a neo-human future where nothing is known or knowable. Join in or sink into oblivion. Is this the gamble? An end game or beginning again? A movement into the rhizome, a middle-way of speed and accelerating travels?

  1. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 7369-7389). A&C Black. Kindle Edition. (TP)
  2. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1987-2005). Wiley. Kindle Edition. (AS)
  3. Dodds, E. R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) (Kindle Locations 3660-3662). University of California Press – A. Kindle Edition. (GI)
  4. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 5038-5040). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.
  5. Culp, Andrew. Dark Deleuze (Forerunners: Ideas First) (Kindle Locations 593-596). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Berardi, Franco. AND Phenomenology of the End. (Aalto, 2014)

Reality Machines: The Composition of the World

The interest in Lovecraft’s fiction was motivated by its exemplification of the practice of hyperstition, a concept had been elaborated and keenly debated since the inception of the Cthulhu Club. Loosely defined, the coinage refers to ‘fictions that make themselves real’.

—Ccru: Writings 1997-2003

In Book 10 of Plato’s Republic the interlocutor in the dialogue tells us of corruption of men’s minds at the hands of the poets:

Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words repeated to the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe—but I do not mind saying to you, that all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers…2

Plato’s war against Homer and the full gamut of poetic thought and its hold on the mind of Athens is well known. One could say that philosophy in his sense was a war against imitation and mimesis. Socrates feigning ignorance will as he always does in the various dialogues ask a question: “Can you tell me what imitation is? for I really do not know.” The naïve interlocutor thinking he has a handle on this not knowing that that old goat Socrates is laying a trap for him will speak of poets and painters as those who create appearances rather than realities, and that imitation is thrice removed from the truth of that reality it tries so artfully to imitate.  Socrates will intervene saying,

Then must we not infer that all these poetical individuals, beginning with Homer, are only imitators; they copy images of virtue and the like, but the truth they never reach?

Of course the interlocutor tongue-tied at that point can only agree with Socrates, adding that yes the poet is imitating a copy or semblance of a reality of which he is thrice removed so that he never has access to the truth of its existence. This of course will make Socrates happy and instead of gloating it will set him off in another direction, asking,

The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of true existence; he knows appearances only. Am I not right?

At this point Socrates will break down the mechanics of this imitative practice telling the interlocutor that there are actually three arts: those who use an object, those who make the real object, and those who imitate the maker (by representing the real object in some external medium: writing, painting, sculpture, etc.).  Which leads Socrates by circumambulation to summoning up so far his argument: “Thus far, then, we are pretty well agreed that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic poets, whether they write in iambic or in heroic verse, are imitators in the highest degree?” Again, the poor interlocutor will agree with this reasoning. What other recourse does he have? Socrates adept at such negative dialectics knows what he is doing. Socrates is seeking to show how the poets and imitators are liars and scoundrels, deceiving the populace. For as he says: “I conjure you, has not imitation been shown by us to be concerned with that which is thrice removed from the truth?” And, as we all know it is the ‘truth’ above all that seems to be Plato’s highest goal and at the heart of his attack on both imitation and the poets, Homer being the ultimate antagonist in this scenario. Why? Because it is Homer who has invented the mind of Athens, educated it in the arts of war and commerce, ritual and strategic history. All this through poetry and imitation rather than truth in Plato’s sense.

Plato through his mask, Socrates will conclude, saying,

This was the conclusion at which I was seeking to arrive when I said that painting or drawing, and imitation in general, when doing their own proper work, are far removed from truth, and the companions and friends and associates of a principle within us which is equally removed from reason, and that they have no true or healthy aim.

Plato’s ultimate dismissal of the poets and imitators is one of disgust and anathema when he sums it up in a pithy statement: “The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior, and has inferior offspring. … the imitative poet implants an evil constitution, for he indulges the irrational nature which has no discernment of greater and less, but thinks the same thing at one time great and at another small—he is a manufacturer of images and is very far removed from the truth.” The whole dialogue is a demolishen engine and critique of artists, poets, painters, and all creators of images or imitations of reality.

Finally, Plato comes to the crux of his argument and his attack on the poetasters of his day, saying,

Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life according to him, we may love and honor those who say these things—they are excellent people, as far as their lights extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, pleasure and pain will be kings in your state, and not law and the rational principle that is always judged best for the common interest.

It’s the attack on those imitative poets (“honeyed muse”) who sing outside the boundaries of Law and Reason that are his true enemies. For above all Plato sought to codify and regulate the education and life of Athens through the power of Law and Reason rather than the irrational musings of poets and tongue-twisted sophists. Ultimately Plato sought to control the thought and mind of Athens through the binding of truth and knowledge under Law, Logic and Reason. Everything outside this would henceforth be excluded and dismissed as irrational and untruth. Plato’s binding of reality to truth, and lies and irrationalism to appearance began that long process of regulating and fusing Western Civilization under a monolithic system of governance and manipulation. Ousting speech and enforcing the written (discursive, prose) would not only allow Plato to capture the mind of Athens it would externalize the perceptions and memories of its history, regulating its life across time through the codification of Law and Reason.

Erich Auerbach in his classic Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature reiterated the basic premises and axiomatic framework underlying Western Civilization’s conceptions of our representations of reality:

Imitation of reality is imitation of the sensory experience of life on earth— among the most essential characteristics of which would seem to be its possessing a history, its changing and developing. Whatever degree of freedom the imitating artist may be granted in his work, he cannot be allowed to deprive reality of this characteristic, which is its very essence.1

This notion of logic and reason working through time and history to enact and subordinate the human through processes of enslavement and capture by way of modeling (i.e., the imitation of patterns, images, representations, etc.) comes to a head in Kant’s systematics of modernity. As Nick Land argued “that with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Western cultural history culminates in a self-reflecting bourgeois civilization, because his thought of synthesis (or relation to alterity), and also the strangulation of this thought within his system, captures modernity as a problem. But the modernity thus symptomized by its philosophical exposition is not primarily the penultimate phase of a dialectic of society and production, it is rather the necessity that historically itself – expansionary social and economic development, or ‘synthesis’ – compromises with a profound continuity whose basic aspects are on the one hand patrilineal descent, and on the other a formal logic of identity that was already concluded in its essentials by Aristotle. These two aspects, the genealogical and the logical, are functions of a position of abstract masculine subjectivity coincident with the patronymic. This position is the proto-cultural fundament of everything that is able to count as the same.” 3

For Kant as Plato the great bugaboo is the unknown, the alterity of God, gods, noumenon, etc., all that lies outside human thought and cannot be reduced to our discursive systems of meaning. Susan Blackmore in her work The Meme Machine tells us, the Oxford English Dictionary defines meme as “an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation”.4 In his preface to Blackmore’s work Richard Dawkins would emphasize the viral infestation of these memetic imitations: “Memes travel longitudinally down generations, but they travel horizontally too, like viruses in an epidemic.” It would be William S. Burroughs who would view these memes, hyperstitions, words as viral agents of a galactic invasion, asking,

Is the virus then simply a time bomb left on this planet to be activated by remote control? An extermination program in fact? In its path from full virulence to its ultimate goal of symbiosis, will any human creature survive?5

For Burroughs the word virus was all pervasive, a producer and product of a Reality Studio that has captured our minds and weaved us into a system of enslavement and techno-commercial automatisms that are so subtle we are unaware of it. Quoting a Dr. Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz he tells us “It is worth noting that if a virus were to attain a state of wholly benign equilibrium with its host cell it is unlikely that its presence would be readily detected or that it would necessarily be recognized as a virus.” Burroughs suggests that the word is just such a virus. As he tells us “Dr. Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz has put forward an interesting theory as to the origins and history of this word virus. He postulates that the word was a virus of what he calls “biologic mutation” affecting a change in its host which was then genetically conveyed.” (JI)

In their notes on Hyperstition the Ccru assemblage would offer another extrapolation of this complex history,

In the hyperstitional model Kaye outlined, 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.6

From Plato to Zizek the realm of appearances, not reality is a project of collective and participative metafictional command and control. We are all enmeshed in illusory worlds of capture, bound by a temporal war that has produced illusory reality structures and replaced the natural order. We come up against the Real when things break down, when the fictional representations that intervene and shape the model of our perceptions and memories crumbles and falls away. It’s in such moments that the Authority bids us term it a schizophrenic episode, and its victims are diagnosed as diseased and in need of social control mechanisms, etc. The poets from Rimbaud to Trakl, Kleist to Philip K. Dick have ventured into this unregulated territory beyond he boundaries of Law and Reason.

As the Ccru metafictional crew will attest,

According to Kaye, the metaphysics of Burroughs’s ‘clearly hyperstitional’ fictions can be starkly contrasted with those at work in postmodernism. For postmodernists, the distinction between real and unreal is not substantive or is held not to matter, whereas for practitioners of hyperstition, differentiating between ‘degrees of realization’ is crucial. The hyperstitional process of entities ‘making themselves real’ is precisely a passage, a transformation, in which potentials – already-active virtualities – realize themselves. Writing operates not as a passive representation but as an active agent of transformation and a gateway through which entities can emerge. “[B]y writing a universe, the writer makes such a universe possible” (WV 321).

It’s this active participation in our own production of reality, of re-writing and re-programming the scripts of the Authority or System which is operative in the radical underground systems of counter-revolutionary poetry and other arts. Against the keepers of Reality we have termed the Authority (Reality Studio) these subversive agents have appeared across the ages here and there through the auspices of hermetic, magical, Kabbalistic, and other arcane lore and practices to supervene in and instigate emergency exits and escapes from the enclosure of the dark Reality Matrix. Such films as the Matrix idealize this and Romanticize it and thereby bring it back down into the imitative world of the Same and repetitive disallowing any true awakening from these structures into a functional disturbance. Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus will remind us,

For there simultaneously occurs upon the earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: stratification. Strata are Layers, Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strata are acts of capture, they are like “black holes” or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach. They operate by coding and territorialization upon the earth; they proceed simultaneously by code and by territoriality. The strata are judgments of God; stratification in general is the entire system of the judgment of God (but the earth, or the body without organs, constantly eludes that judgment, flees and becomes destratified, decoded, deterritorialized).7

What they term the “judgement of God” we acknowledge as the Authority or Reality Studio that has locked us in a cage of fictions, bled us of our desires and trapped us in a repetitive world of timeless presentism without a future.

I know that most of the above seems strange and conspiratorial, that it appears to align philosophers, scientists, sociologists, politicians, thinkers, etc. in a system of slavery and reality production. Crazy as it must be (and I’m sure many readers will see it as mere satire, spoof, and madness) it has certain truths that cannot be conveyed any other way.

I’ll continue tomorrow…

  1. Auerbach, Erich; Said, Edward W.. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton Classics) (p. 191). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Plato. Republic (Kindle Locations 6836-6838). Barnes&Noble. Kindle Edition.
  3. Land, Nick. eds. Ray Brassier/Robin Mackay. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007. (Urbanomic, 2011) FN (p. 60)
  4. Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (p. viii). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Burroughs, William S. The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 47-49). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  6. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 487-490). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
  7. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 1004-1010). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.

Lemurian Time Sorcery: Ccru and the Reality Studio

The creation of the Universe is attributed to the five-stage action taken by the Absolute One to defend itself against “the many enemies”, who are “judged and punished from the beginning of time”. Origin and Eschaton are thus eternally unified. The Radiations serve as protective shells that guard the One against lemurian contamination, aiming to ensure that Lemuria “has not, does not and will never exist”.

—Ccru: Writings 1997-2003

One will find within the archives of the RealityStudio.org a community devoted to the life and works of William S. Burroughs. The images above are from a pseudo-magazine parody of Time. Burroughs fascination with temporal anomalies and the dark inways or escape hatches leading us out of the rhizome of our prison have been documented through the work of philosophers, social and literary critics, and cranks. To follow the mental record of this strange creature that friends spoke of as Bill is to enter a world of paranoia and drug induced delirium.

The account that follows charts William S. Burroughs’s involvement in an occult time war, and considerably exceeds most accepted conceptions of social and historical probability. It is based on ‘sensitive information’ passed to Ccru by an intelligence source whom we have called William Kaye.

—Lemurian Time War Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru)

In an essay that appeared first in The Iowa Review in 1972 and then as the chapter ‘William S. Burroughs’ in John Vernon’s book The Garden and the Map the notion of Burroughs involvement in the hidden or occult Time-Wars was revealed. Vernon remarked in this book:

What writers like John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and others attempt to show, that if the properties of the real world are taken seriously enough there is something essentially insane about that world, is taken for granted by Burroughs in his novels Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, Nova Express, and The Ticket that Exploded. Burroughs’s world is reality; there can be no doubt about that. It is Martin’s reality film, Luce’s Time-Life-Fortune monopoly, the machinery of visual and auditory control—‘encephalographic and calculating machines film and TV studios, batteries of tape recorders’. But it is also an assault upon reality, an attempt to storm the reality studio and blow it up, to splice all the tape recorders into each other.

The notion that our world – the apparent world we perceive and gather from our perceptions memories of is in itself part of a vast conspiracy, a realm of delusion, delirium, and total delusion is at the core of a whole underground tradition that one might term the Occult. Not to be confused with the New Age world of modern occultists and the mysticism of transcendence and escape from the mundane worlds of our everyday utilitarian labors, the Occult is of another order in which the labors of intelligent men and women across the ages have conveyed the truth of a secret war against the Authority (i.e., the One, the System, the Great White Brotherhood, the Powers that be, etc. no matter what label, what name, it is a conspiracy of power against the human and human species). As Vernon would say,

What is real about Burroughs is precisely the image of the world as machinery that Zola and the nineteenth century saw. But this reality is so total as to be fantastic, insane, grotesque; it is a reality in the process of exploding—‘Only way to stop it’. Thus it is a reality whose machinery has come to life, like the kitchen gadgets that assault the housewife in Naked Lunch. It is a world whose objects (as in Sartre’s La Nausée) ‘stir with a writing furtive life’, and whose living beings are either programmed machines or Vegetable People who ‘tend gardens of pink flesh’. 1

What Burroughs envisioned was an early version of the Internet of things: Smart cities, AI, Robotics, and intelligent objects and artifacts which will one day anticipate, modify, modulate, and ubiquitously decide and make decisions moment by moment at the accelerating speed of light to produce around us an artificial world so meshed in fabricated and up-to-the-moment resolution that the natural world will have long ceased to matter and the Reality Studio of our Virtual Existence will have overtaken the external and substituted its fake systems and machinic life. A time when the nanosystems that inhabit our bodies will have replaced each aspect of our organic for anorganic substratum’s and we will be processed desiring machines bounded by the pure systems of command and control of a Total Algorithmic Environment (TAE).

Yet, Burroughs and many of his pre-cursors keep telling us that this is not something that will happen in the future, but something that has happened and is happening in our past and present. We are already living in a lie, living in a Reality Studio of fabricated fictions, part of an assemblage of fake worlds in which we have one use value: as desiring machines whose sole purpose is to feed the Authority, System, Unity, etc. with our energetic desires. As Burroughs described it we are amusing ourselves to death in a Reality Studio Entertainment System,

The Amusement Gardens cover a continent—There are areas of canals and lagoons where giant gold fish and salamanders with purple fungoid gills stir in clear black water and gondolas piloted by translucent green fish boys—Under vast revolving flicker lamps along the canals spill The Biologic Merging Tanks sense withdrawal capsules light and soundproof water at blood temperature pulsing in and out where two life forms slip in and merge to a composite being often with deplorable results slated for Biologic Skid Row on the outskirts: (Sewage delta and rubbish heaps—terminal addicts of SOS muttering down to water worms and gloating vegetables—Paralyzed Orgasm Addicts eaten alive by crab men with white hot eyes or languidly tortured in charades by The Green Boys of young crystal cruelty).

Schizophrenic, schizoanalysis? Nick Land will of course describe the dark Deleuzeguattarian techniques of schizoanalyis as a path into the energetic unconscious of our collective time wars,

The unconscious is not an aspirational unity but an operative swarm, a population of ‘preindividual and prepersonal singularities, a pure dispersed and anarchic multiplicity, without unity or totality, and whose elements are welded, pasted together by the real distinction or the very absence of a link’. This absence of primordial or privileged relations is the body without organs, the machinic plane of the molecular unconscious. Social organization blocks-off the body without organs, substituting a territorial, despotic, or capitalist socius as an apparent principle of production, separating desire from what it can do. Society is the organic unity that constricts the libidinal diffusion of multiplicities across zero, the great monolith of repression, which is why ‘(t)he body without organs and the organs-partial objects are opposed conjointly to the organism. The body without organs is in fact produced as a whole, but a whole alongside the parts – a whole that does not unify or totalize, but that is added to them like a new, really distinct part’.2

The Reality Studio is the BwO in which we are members. One of the tasks of schizoanalysis has now become the decrypting of the ‘tics’ bequeathed to the human frame by the geotraumatic catastrophe, and ‘ KataoniX’ treats vestigial semantic content as a mere vehicle for code ‘from the outside’: the ‘ tic’ symptoms of geotraumatism manifested in the shape of sub-linguistic clickings and hissings. (FN: 42) Language is at the root of our enslavement. Thought control. “Thought is a function of the real, something that matter can do. Even the appearance of transcendence is immanently produced: ‘in reality the unconscious belongs to the realm of physics; the body without organs and its intensities are not metaphors, but matter itself.” (FN: 322) Ultimately we are as a civilization reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation (i.e., The Singularity), the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past. (FN: 341)

The Lemurian Time War

We think of the past as being there unchangeable. Actually the past is ours to shape and change as we will.

—The Job Interviews, William S. Burroughs

In their strange experiment in time travels among other conflicting inebriations and excessive productions Ccru would follow the course of a (real/fictional) agent of the schizoanalytic tribe, one William Kaye. A creature whose messages to them were already under suspicion,

Nevertheless, whilst suspecting that his message had been severely compromised by dubious inferences, noise, and disinformation, we have become increasingly convinced that he was indeed an ‘insider’ of some kind, even if the organization he had penetrated was itself an elaborate hoax, or collective delusion. Kaye referred to this organization as ‘The Order’, or – following Burroughs – ‘The Board’.3

In the Job Interviews Burroughs mentions ‘The Board’ in connection to certain historical sequences,

The Egyptian and Mayan control systems were predicated on the fact that only the ruling caste could read the written language. The supposition now arises that the present control system which we intend to overthrow is predicated on precisely the same consideration: only the self-written elite have access to the ‘Board Books.’ Control phrases which they place in magazines, newspapers, and in popular songs precisely correspond to a secret picture language. For this reason certain word order in these control phrases is essential. The intention of the control machine is of course to keep word and referent as far separated as possible in order to divert attention from the inferential ‘Board Books.’4

Already we discover how adept and informed Burroughs is of this other world of power and control that very few know of or even suspect. Of course his postmodern receptions were captured into a modest and tamed version in which Burroughs was a metafictionalist and literary giant who spoke in riddles, symbols, allegoreisis, etc. Anything but the literal truth of an actual System or Authority (i.e., The Board) that was controlling and manipulating the reality systems of various socio-cultural civilizations throughout human history.  Such thought is dismissed by the Authority as conspiracy theory which then is labeled as part of a lunatic fringe of cranks, idiots, subversives, anti-intellectual clap track, etc. so that the unsuspecting and naïve minded readers of such fare will see in it only a harmless entertainment value within an ongoing blip culture on the net.

    Techniques exist to erase the Reactive Mind and achieve a complete freedom from past conditioning and immunity against such conditioning in the future.

—The Job Interviews, William S. Burroughs

According to the Ccru annals William Kaye’s schizzed messages could be reduced to its basic provocation: Kaye’s claim was this: The Ghost Lemurs of Madagascar – which he also referred to as the Burroughs Necronomicon – a text dating from 1987, had been an exact and decisive influence on the magical and military career of one Captain Mission, three centuries previously. (Ccru) This notion of rewriting the past, not in a literary or textual way, but in a vectoral time invasive manner of retrofitting and retro causality that rewires, reprograms, and manipulates the past through a ‘decisive influence’ on the mind’s of certain key players of the past is at the heart of this scenario. The notion of influence has been around for years, the etymology of the word itself culminated in the 13 and 14 BCE as an astrological term, “streaming ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character or destiny of men,” from Old French influence “emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny” (13c.). The notion of external sources, of stars as agents of influence that shape and manipulate human minds is an old one.

Burroughs would uncover the operations of the time wars in his study of certain Amerindian tribes in the Americas. The man Kaye who had discovered in Burroughs a connection to this dark world of time sorcery would in the process seek out ‘The Board’ and ultimately be hired by them:

He explained that the organization [The Board] 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. This allows them to spread, making them contagious and unpredictable. (Ccru)

In this sense as Burroughs confirms any “control system depends on precise timing. A picture or suggestion may be quite innocuous at one time and devastating at another.” (JI) He goes on to explain,

For example “to make a splendid impression” “to make an awful impression” may have no effect on somebody when he is not in a competitive context. Same man bucking for lieutenant bars or apprentice priest can be reliably washed out by the same pair of contradictory commands, brought into restimulation. (JI: KL 415-518)

For Burroughs the most effective time machine is language itself, a viral system of signs that can invade the body with little or no awareness. As he’d suggest to one interviewer,

My basic theory is that the written word was actually a virus that made the spoken word possible. The word has not been recognized as a virus because it has achieved a state of stable symbiosis with the host, though this symbiotic relationship is now breaking down, for reasons I will suggest later. (JI: KL 40)

William Gibson in Peripheral will go so far as to suggest that mafia like organizations from the future have been manipulating time through messages altering, replacing, erasing, and transforming through mind-control techniques and time travel of these viral agents. In this work we discover that there are two worlds linked through time because the later world contains a black-market technology, popular among hobbyists called “continua enthusiasts”, that allows people to reach into the past. Paradox is avoided because, at the moment they make contact, that past splits off: it ceases to lead up to the present and becomes a “stub”, another fork in the timeline. In this sense the past is rewritten or recoded creating new futures and possibilities, a retro-causality with consequences.

In his work Absolute Recoil Slavoj Zizek will discuss this as retroactive causality, describing the temporal processes saying that at the level of temporality, the structure of overdetermination is that of retroactivity, of an effect which retroactively posits (over-determines) the very causes by which it is determined in the last instance; to reduce overdetermination to the determination in the last instance is to succeed in transposing retroactive causality back into the linear causal network.5 He’ll go on to explain that,

The only way to avoid this conclusion is to break the closure of the linear determinist chain and assert the ontological openness of reality: overdetermination is not illusory insofar as it retroactively fills in the gaps in the chain of causality. The solution is thus not to establish a grand evolutionary narrative explaining or describing how higher modes of being emerge out of lower modes (life out of the chemistry of “dead” matter, spirit out of life), but to approach head-on the question of how the prehuman real has to be structured so as to allow for the emergence of the symbolic/ normative dimension. (AR)

Yet, if we oppose a structuralist composition with a functional processual one we get what Nick Land would describe as the “future as transcendental unconscious, its ‘return’ inhibited by the repressed circuits of temporality. If, as Gibson has 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”. (FN: 36)
All of this is to say that Time is computable, that we can program it and thereby change reality. Yet, the ‘Board’ or Authority do not want this knowledge to be free, to allow the vast naivety of the mass populace to know that it is encased in a fake world closed off from time: bound in an algorithmic universe that is programmed and scripted by advanced machinic systems from the future would undermine the very fabric of civilization. So instead they contribute to the disinformation networks of conspiracy, Ufology, and every ludicrous systems of mind-control and manipulation in an effort to keep the masses distracted and entertained in nonsense rather than sense-making knowledge.

As in all things I’ve run out of time for this article… I’ll continue another day… stay tuned!

  1. Davis Schneiderman (Editor), Philip Walsh (Editor). Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization. Pluto Press (July 20, 2004)
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 4107-4115). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 457-460). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Burroughs, William S. The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 2759-2764). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 28). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

The Cunning of the Philosophers

I saw the universe as it is, I saw as the active agent, a gold and red illuminated-letter like plasmatic entity from the future, arranging bits and pieces here: arranging what time drove forward.

—Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

Unity gain around the loop, unity gain, zero change, and hush, that way, forever, these were the secret rhymes of the childhood of the Discipline of Control— secret and terrible, as the scarlet histories say.

—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

The artist is the antenna of the race.

—Ezra Pound, 1885-1972, expatriate American, poet, critic, editor

Madmen and philosophers: poets, gamblers, soldiers, and rakes. Is there a difference? Madmen wander in the irrational zones of the abyss without the circular systems of control we’ve come to frame under the sign of Reason and Logic. Philosophers appear to define, delimit, and frame the limits of Reason and Logic. Opposing poles? A sort of gambit between differing realities? Competing realms of memory and perception? Who makes up all this shit anyway, and – more to the point: Why should we bother our simple minds with all this hocus-pocus world of concepts, axioms, principles? What is the point of philosophy and its policing of the civilized and acceptable limits of human discourse and meaning? And, why are so many philosophers in our moment worried that human discourse is unraveling, that the reality systems we’ve evolved at the extreme limits of Reason and Logic are giving way, collapsing, and becoming unglued to the age old metaphysical worldview spawned over some ten thousand years, brought to fruition in Plato and Aristotle, and eroded and spun down to a its bare and nihilist edge worlds of our modern and postmodern malaise. Where do we go from here?

The Reality Studio (or that vast conglomerate of academic, governmental agencies, scientific consensus, mediatainment and global network of communications via Corporate channels of command and control) does not want you to know how it manipulates your memories and perceptions in an ongoing retrosimulative system that captures your desires at the expense of your life.  Parable, metafiction, elaborate hoax? Leo Strauss in his Persecution and the Art of Writing would remark that most humans “would admit, as a matter of course, that man can lie and does lie. But they would add that lies are short-lived and cannot stand the test of repetition-let alone of constant repetition-and that therefore a statement which is constantly repeated and never contradicted must be true”. 1 Yet, what of the lie of the world itself? What of the very world of appearances within which we all assume our memories and perceptions as true and valid? What if the very truth of our lives was based on a lie? How would we know? A lie that merely suborns our desires with distractions to the point that we repeat the unrepeatable world of our lives as if they were real rather than fictive semblances. What if the world is a prerecorded tape being spun on the same record player by agents of the Reality Studio as schematic embellishments in an algorithmic system which is in itself part of a strategic game in the Time Wars? Madness? Paranoia? Philosophy?

For Leo Strauss our readings of the ancients was a lie, but one with consequences. Parodists above all the great philosophers would write under the cover of the censors and socio-cultural police of their era. Each would model their works on the premise of an exoteric and esoteric reading. Strauss would emphasize this duplicity, this sense of hiding the truth in plain site. A chameleon world of masks and copies, a world where truth is not what you see and know, but only a schema for the capturing of desire; a fragmented alterity that resists the very structures of our mind (brain?) within which we are constrained by falsehood and the neruoanalytical neglect of a profaned knowledge. Knowledge itself as a prison rather than an avenue to freedom, truth as repetition of the Same rather than novelty and innovation. Governed by conceptual frameworks that have become so ubiquitous and invisible that we mistake them for reality, while the Real invades us as an alien force instigating all the mishaps, accidents, and errors seeking a way to break us out of our composed worlds. Strauss would go so far as to say that “It’s beginning to dawn on me how misunderstood the ancients are”.2 Strauss would come to understand that “what is between the speeches (i.e., the presentation of deeds) is outweighed by the speeches (i.e., the logoi which are inserted into the historical-works).” (CC: 83) This sense of action stories rather than ideas was more central to philosophy. That action rather than concept brought forward change and the political. For Strauss even Socrates under the influence of his daimonion (defined by Strauss: the “correct translation of daimonion is: nous [mind].” (CC) was guided by the intelligence of earth or natural cunning and mattering. For Strauss Socrates was “a great con man who taught his best students to be con men” but – about what? Irony, duplicity, cunning: the philosophers used “secret” in plain site as the most honored words of everyday use supplied with a meaning very different from their everyday sense, turning them ironic to convey a truth that would pass by the censors of the day. (CC)

So that most of the orthodox readings of Plato to Derrida are for the most part all steeped in an elaborate hoax within which the socio-cultural elite under the auspices of political authority maintain their hold on the populace and the reality systems of which they are the custodians and producers. What Strauss had uncovered was the key to unlock the esoteric messages hidden in the secret words of the philosophers that the cultural police and their minions had no clue of. A cryptographic unveiling of a world of subversive thought waiting for unbinding. Insight into the philosophers’ esotericism makes it evident that the great philosophers transcended their time and place in thought and then descended, as it were, reporting their gains exoterically by accommodating them to the prevailing prejudices of their time. Strauss’s recovery of esotericism is nothing less than the recovery of the possibility of philosophy. (CC: 91)

The point of this is that philosophers have been bound by the discursive practices within which they were born, bound by the censorial regulation of writing and publishing, bound by the strictures, structures, civilized reception and exoteric literalisms of the societies that would allow or exclude their work in its codes and systematic modes of governance, its political stance and mental hygiene. If one speaks or writes too far outside the proscribed limits of one’s contemporary discursive borders one will go unread, unpublished; or, even worse both read and published but labeled as mad, insane, and an example of the mode of excess and transgression that must be clamped down. It is the mental power of the great philosopher who is able to take on the colors and modes of his time, while at the same time working duplicitously, conning the censors and opening up his writing and speeches to the rare reader and thinker.

The purpose of esotericism is to preserve the community of philosophers across time. Such preservation implies esotericism’s second purpose: to enlarge that community one fit reader at a time. (CC:100) This sense that the philosophers are solitaires scattered among the time vectors of an ongoing war, each conveying a message not to the general public at large, nor to the governing authorities of the Reality Studio of the orthodoxy of any given era, but rather as a elite members of the scarlet histories in which the counter-worlds outside the Authority are kept safe from the Time-Wars: this is at the heart of Strauss’s notions of the recovery of esotericism. Strauss made philosophy and revelation irreconcilable warring opposites whose opposition was a boon for philosophy. That boon was strictly private and pedagogical: as philosophy’s allegedly most serious and demanding opponent, revelation had to be refuted by the budding philosopher both to prove his strength and to confirm to him the viability and consistency of his desired life of reason. (CC: 105)

Yet, Strauss, unlike his progenitor Nietzsche, would harbor an anti-liberal and anti-Enlightenment stance. Whereas for Nietzsche the human species was in the throes of an end game, the completion of nihilism in which philosophy was giving way to centuries of Baconian scientific pragmatism and technological advancement saying:  “Perhaps humanity will perish of it! On with it!”3

For Strauss on the other hand the restoration of esotericism, his refusal to endorse the modern enlightenment while acting as if it had poor weapons, seems a misreading of the age with bad political consequences for philosophy. But Strauss’s recovery of esotericism is of permanent importance precisely for furthering the modern enlightenment – not the progressive exoteric regimes of the Authority and their duplicitous capture systems of economic and socio-cultural governance, but of the enlightenment of that inhuman sphere of time where the solitaries of all ages resist the dark declivities of control. Recovering esotericism recovers the history of enlightenment beginning with the Greek paradigm and its provision for alterations by practical reason. Understanding this history immeasurably strengthens the intellectual ground of the modern enlightenment; its founders such as Bacon and Descartes were no more Christians in their thinking than Halevi was a Jew; they were strategists for the rational acting to crush an irrationalism, Christianity, whose wars threatened to make their age a new dark age. They were wise men who, in judging their age, judged it wise not to dissolve their responsibility to philosophy into timidity but instead to act on behalf of philosophy, to alter the social conditions of philosophy fundamentally by changing the direction of their age. (CC: 107)


This is the key: religion was and is the enemy of the philosophers in all its guises, and in every era it has sought to convey its wisdom: Sophrosyne: (Greek: σωφροσύνη) is an ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, and self-control.

  1. Strauss, Leo. Persecution and the Art of Writing. (University of Chicago Press 1952)
  2. Smith, Steven B. The Cambridge Companion to Leo Strauss. Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (May 11, 2009) CC
  3. Kritische Studienausgabe 11.88 (a notebook of 1884).

The Philosophy of Terror: Names, Power, and Dissimulation

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: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Why should we accept such a mad prognosis? Why even allow such thoughts of alien invasions from the future, of Time-Wars and agents of some far flung Techno-Commericium of the future rewriting and reprogramming the past to its own benefit? Metafictional possibility, hyperstitional realization? Land as a student of the Left would awaken from its dark Transcendental Miserablism realizing that,

‘Means’ and ‘relations’ of production have simultaneously emulsified into competitive decentralized networks under numerical control, rendering palaeomarxist hopes of extracting a postcapitalist future from the capitalism machine overtly unimaginable. The machines have sophisticated themselves beyond the possibility of socialist utility, incarnating market mechanics within their nano-assembled interstices and evolving themselves by quasi-darwinian algorithms that build hypercompetition into ‘the infrastructure’. It is no longer just society, but time itself, that has taken the ‘capitalist road’.1

As Nietzsche would reject his youthful Idealism and love of Wagner, Music, Art and the deep songs of the tragic world of Greece, Land would awaken from the drug infested squalor of his secular mysticism, his violent feminism, and his Marxian voyage into the heart of darkness. A Kurtz who had gone feral and joined the daemonic forces of the world, a rat and werewolf of thought who had bled his body through the vats of amphetamine hell to end in a perfected nihilism – void and emptied of self and life: a vision of the kellipot, those evil husks that capture the light of the cosmos within the cage of matter where intelligence steeped in the dark energy and dark matter of time would accrue that rebellious chaosmos of the thermospasm. Instead of breakthrough he’d ended in breakdown, broken, schizd, shaken by the forces of the Outside.

Speaking in third person as the ‘ruin’, exposing the contours of his mental self-exile and self-emptying and abandoning the House of Reason for the insane climes of daemonic worlds he offers an admission,

It had pledged itself unreservedly to evil and insanity. Its tool of choice, at that time, the sacred substance amphetamine, of which much can be said, but mostly elsewhere. After perhaps a year of fanatical abuse it was, by any reasonable standard, profoundly insane. (FN)

And, yet, having come this far, pushed the limits of ego-death, followed the deregulation of Reason and Logic to their end game, striven to overcome the entropic pull of two millennia of false infinities he came to know ‘ruin’. Yet, no where does he admit failure, no where does he castigate the journey, the dark tidal ride into the heart of his own personal thermospasm. No. For Land like Bataille before him he’d learned the lesson of total erasure.

I stole Vauung’s name because it was unused, on the basis of an exact qabbalistic entitlement. Yet, at least ‘up’ here, Vauung still confuses itself with me, with ruins and tatters. This might change. Names have powers and destinies. (FN)

In Michel Surya’s intellectual biography of Georges Bataille he mentions the use of pseudonyms throughout the career of this civil servant who would write under the names of Lord Auch, Louis Trente, Pierre Angélique, etc. Surya asks: What does a pseudonym do? He answers:

It hides. But it also breaks with the formality of a name that has been handed down. It does not simply abstract a writer momentarily from the civil, social and perhaps affective grip of his forefathers, it symbolically puts them to death by depriving them of the posterity through which they could claim to survive themselves. To don a pseudonym, even momentarily, would the be a sovereign action, breaking with the heritage and the debt (with God, that is!), an act of pure expenditure, bearing witness to a prodigality in which ostentation, paradoxically, is more important than dissimulation. (MS: 89)2

In a post on Outside In Land entitled Vauung we learn,

There’s a horror story I’m writing (slowly), developing from the central conceit that the ‘monster’ (Vauung) is the war. It feeds upon escalation, zig-zagging between antagonists, to extinguish any inclinations towards peace. It’s part Apocalypse Now, part Blood Meridian (“War is God”), part other stuff … It’s not going to be finished for a while.

For years Land has seen the core invasion of Capital as an alien invasion from the future guided by (Spinoza’s God / Nature) an AI or Optimized Intelligence of inhuman power seeking to produce and modify the temporal order in its favor. A Time-War ensued. We seem to be in the midst of this temporal war without even being aware of it. He’ll speak of memes and hyperstitions as parasitic systems that discover their power against entropic decay as manifest replication in cyclic infestation. He’ll link to an old article on the Philosophy of War reposted on Obsolete Capitalism’s site (here).

In the first sentence we learn in a sudden reminder of Surya’s comment on the pseudonym as an act of hiding, that “In a reality at war, things hide. The alternative is to become a target, a casualty, and thus – in the course of events – to cease to be. When war reigns, ontology and occultation converge. The oldest of all alliances binds survival to the shadows.” I remember years ago reading The Militarization of Peace an essay by the Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani. In it he speaks of “the rise of a new wave of terrorism which exploits its own dissolution, making a weapon of the doctrine of Taqiyya or strategic (dis)simulation, dismantling the theatrical aspect of the battlefield and selecting civilians as primary targets and ‘molecular battlefields’. This tendency threatens not only global civilian survival but the very horizon of survival or living (in its most basic, abstract sense) in general.  It makes survival itself a field of exploitation for extremist terrorism.”

In our Time-War scenario in which advance machinic intelligences of the future are probing, manipulating, transforming, rewriting the scripts, modifying, editing, publishing and disindividuating (Stiegler) the human species as part of some unknown and unknowable project we come upon Land’s early formulation:

In a war there can be no philosophical innocence (and there has never been philosophical innocence). Even when epistemology pretends to concern itself with things that we just happen not to know, its objects infect it with dissimulation, camouflage and secrecy, making it complicit in the transmission of the lie. It plays out war games of concealment and exposure, disinformation, distraction, and feint, entangled in the complex skein of signal manipulation and evaluation known to all militaries as ‘intelligence’.

In Communiqué Two of the extant Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 we come across the underlying premise of their project: “We think everything interesting happens on the periphery, outside the standard modes of ‘developed’ existence.”3 In fact they stipulate and expand on this saying,

Ccru engages with peripheral cultures not because they are ‘down-trodden’ or oppressed, but because they include the most intense tendencies to social flatness, swarming, populating the future, and contagious positive innovation, hatching the decisive stimuli for the systematic mutation of global cybernetic culture. (Ccru)

Against the world of Leftist discourse of that era which was controlled by academic ideologues whose postmodern authoritarian systems objectified the Other within an encoded and controlled discourse well-regulated by a set of post-structuralist systems of knowledge and power the Cccru would situate itself on the Outside working not at representing the Other but of allowing the others to invade our worlds, infect us with their own scripts, bring forth their own realms in the colors of their own cultures. In fact moving from Deleuzeanguattari modes of “virtual materialsm” to Fernand Braudel’s broad sweep of capitalism and its inner history to the memes of H.P. Lovecraft mythos and cycle of Chthulian Gods to Jaques Vallee’s Ufology as hyperstition they would cut their teeth on fringe science and theory-fictions: “Ccru feeds its own researches back into its own microcultural production. Its basic tool in this respect is ‘pulp-theory/fiction hybridity’ or Hyperstition.” (Ccru)

Digital hyperstition is already widespread, hiding within popular numerical cultures (calendars, currency systems, sorcerous numbo-jumbo, etc.). It uses number-systems for transcultural communication and cosmic exploration, exploiting their intrinsic tendency to explode centralized, unified, and logically overcoded ‘master narratives’ and reality models, to generate sorcerous coincidences, and to draw cosmic maps.(Ccru)

This sense of breaking away from the staid academic torpor and control systems of the culture industries that had totally shaped philosophy, the arts, critical work, etc. for generations was at the core of this experimental enclave. It was also the moment when the digital worlds of the networks were first making their appearance across the globe in the late 90’s. Ultimately hyperstition became a mode of working in the digital mutation and metamorphic ocean of cyberspace:

According to the tenets of Hyperstition, there is no difference in principle between a universe, a religion, and a hoax. All involve an engineering of manifestation, or practical fiction, that is ultimately unworthy of belief. Nothing is true, because everything is under production. Because the future is a fiction it has a more intense reality than either the present or the past. Ccru uses and is used by hyperstition to colonize the future, traffic with the virtual, and continually re-invent itself. (Ccru)

As we move down the rabbit hole we learn that Ccru was ultimately an “unbelievable exercize in hyperpunk pulp-occultism and dark-side cyber-jargon, splicing chunks of an impending calculus into fake memories of hell” (Ccru). Coming upon this now most of our hypernormalised populace would run for the nearest exit seeing in it pure and unadulterated gibberish and madness. And, yet, there was a method to their madness: “Whatever or however it is called, Cyber-hype libidinally invests its own semiotic, propagating fictional quantities, tagging artificial agencies, and making itself up as it goes along, whilst dissolving production into cultural synthesis.” (Ccru)

Further explorations tomorrow…

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 8922-8927). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Surya, Michel. Georges Bataille An Intellectual Biography (Verso, 2002)
  3. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 78-79). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition. (Ccru)

Hyperstition: Metafiction and the Landian Cosmos

Letter from Carl Gustav Jung to Echidna Stillwell, dated 27th February 1929 [Extract]

…your attachment to a Lemurian cultural-strain disturbs me intensely. From my own point of view – based on the three most difficult cases I have encountered and their attendant abysmally archaic symbolism – it is no exaggeration to state that Lemuria condenses all that is most intrinsically horrific to the racial unconscious, and that the true Lemurians – who you seem intent upon rediscovering – are best left buried beneath the sea.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

In a series of meta-fictional sequences an anonymous author transcribes the letters between Echidna Stillwell and certain well known and unknown personages of the modern era before, during, and after the World War II. In one she receives a letter from Carl Gustav Jung, the renegade psychotherapist and ephebic heretic and pariah of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis. Nick Land will transcribe these accounts which are gathered both in Fanged Noumena and in a more detailed reworking of the material scattered across both the current and defunct archives of the CCRU website.

Those who are versant in the great literary traditions from Lucian to Calvino will understand that such intermixing of fictive and historical personages for the purposes of conveying what cannot be conveyed by straightforward means will understand exactly what is going on in these otherwise insane stories. Anyone who has read Land’s principle works A Thirst for Annihilation and the series of essays gathered in Fanged Noumena by Ray Brassier and Robin McKay, not to mention all his current work scattered in abstract horror fiction and online essays or youtube videos will be well adjusted to his sparse yet methodical obsessions with Time and Intelligence.

As the editor of that material gathered from the CCRU website admits,

There is nobody positioned to accept attribution for the ‘work’ of the Ccru, nor has there ever been, so this compilation has been guided by a principal of editorial modesty. Whatever it is that occurred ‘here’ – during these years of the Numogram’s initial ingression into recent human history, triggering an outbreak of digial hyperstition – is not considered a matter to be resolved in this volume, even in part, through retrospective commentary. This book is sheer documentation.1

So with that in mind we approach the outlandish and occulted counter-worlds like travelers from a fictional land, seeking neither sense nor meaning but rather an exploration and experiential mutation into the core metamorphic and display-asignifying diagrams of occultural events being enacted.

We had already seen in those series of essays gathered in Fanged Noumena Land’s slow and methodical demolition of modern and postmodern philosophical presumption, as well as his search for a language beyond the world controlled by the Turing Cops (i.e., the official and authoritarian worlds of Academia, Media, and the Western Cultural regimes he would label under the rubric of Human Security Systems).

Before venturing into this dark world of myth, fiction, occult, hyperstitons, etc. I want to explore a few aspects of the Human Security System. The Human Security System is a term use by Land to denote the elaborate manipulative systems of capture that trap humans within a network of manipulation and duplicity. As he’ll state it speaking of the work of Deleuze/Guattari in Anit-Oedipus on schizoanalyis and desiring machines,

Since only Oedipus is repressible, the schizo is usually a lost case to those relatively subtilized psychiatric processes that co-operate with the endogeneous police functions of the superego. This is why antischizophrenic psychiatry tends to be an onslaught launched at gross or molar neuroanatomy and neurochemistry oriented by theoretical genetics. Psychosurgery, ECT, psychopharmacology … it will be chromosomal recoding soon. ‘It is thus that a tainted society has invented psychiatry in order to defend itself from the investigations of certain superior lucidities whose faculties of divination disturb it’. The medico-security apparatus know that schizos are not going to climb back obediently into the Oedipal box. Psychoanalysis washes its hands of them. Their nervous-systems are the free-fire zones of an emergent neo-eugenicist cultural security system. (FN)2

The Human Security System is a magical system of social, political, religious control used by the cultural authorities of the current Reality Studio to manipulate the planetary consciousness and weave a nexus of global duplicity as part of its domestication of the human species. In A Thirst for Annihilation a post-philosophical survey of the work of Georges Bataille Land would remark,

Bataille writes of ‘the catastrophe of time’ because security cannot establish itself, because time is jealous of being. It is in his early essay ‘Sacrifices’ (1936) that he first develops this thought to its rigorous conclusion in incompletion and collapse. No ontology of time is possible, and yet ontology remains the sole foundation for discursive accomplishment.3

This notion of Time as the pre-ontological thermospasm or energetic unconscious that is suddenly tamed within discourse or external writing systems of which ontology or the Discourse on Being suddenly make their appearance as the foundational element in the Human Security Regime comes with a price. As Land comments,

Time is the suicidal jealousy of God, to which each being—even the highest—must fall victim. It is thus the ultimate ocean of immanence, from which nothing can separate itself, and in which everything loses itself irremediably. The black mass of jealous rage swells like a cancer at the core of the universe, or like a volcanic ulceration in the guts of God, and its catastrophic eruption consumes all established things in the acidic lava of impersonality. We say ‘time’—and become philosophical—to describe jealousy purifying itself of God (but with God purity collapses also). (Thirst)

In this poetic foray into the underlying metaphysics of the Western traditions of philosophy, science, and the arts of control we term the Human Security Regime we begin to perceive a tale, a grand narrative in the shaping. One can accept or reject Land’s worldview, his base materialist perspective, his unphilosophical or even anti-philosophical stance. But one cannot blindly reject a hearing of what is emerging from this mad and at time psychotic voyage into our temporal wars. For it is the Time-Wars all around us of which Land is speaking. For Land has entered or allowed messages from renegade systems from the future to convey the keys to our current malaise and collapsing civilization. To reject Land outright is to one’s own detriment. Yet, I’m sure many among my readers will think I, too, am mad for even venturing into the burn zones of such a schizoworld. My readers of course are welcome to their opinions, and many have seen and said so to me in private messages. Yet, I’m unafraid of the extremities of thought and feeling that broker the far horizons of our cultural index. To venture past the Human Security System of acceptable authority, academic or socio-cultural mindsets that harbor only the policing of our minds, the caging of our desires, and the ultimate pacification of our lives in a system of slavery is to me the real danger. The Land’s of this world have broken out of the cage and are exploring the dead zones of unlife, bringing back to us like neoshamanistic voyagers news from the strange climes just beyond the human prison.

Animal Cunning and Duplicity: Mêtis and the Magus

Detienne and Vernant in their study of mêtis tell us,

From a terminological point of view, mêtis, as a common noun, refers to a particular type of intelligence, an informed prudence; as a proper name it refers to a female deity, the daughter of Ocean. The goddess Metis who might be considered a somewhat quaint figure seems, at first sight, to be restricted to no more than a walk-on part. She is Zeus’ first wife and almost as soon as she conceives Athena she is swallowed by her husband. The king of the gods brings her mythological career to an abrupt conclusion by relegating her to the depths of his own stomach. In the theogonies attributed to Orpheus, however, Metis plays a major role and is presented as a great primordial deity at the beginning of the world.3

Yet, the central motif underlying their study of mêtis shows us that Mêtis is itself a power of cunning and deceit. It operates through disguise. In order to dupe its victim it assumes a form which masks, instead of revealing, its true being. In mêtis appearance and reality no longer correspond to one another but stand in contrast, producing an effect of illusion, apate which beguiles the adversary into error and leaves him as bemused by his defeat as by the spells of a magician. (CI)

It’s this sense of cunning and deception, illusion, magic, sorcery, and the beguiling of the senses through seduction and techics both artificial and natural that informs this study of these ancient myths of the Greeks. For primitive humans the natural growth of cunning intelligence was a means both of survival and security against natural and human enemies. As these authors state it: “Engaged in the world of becoming and confronted with situations which are ambiguous and unfamiliar and whose outcome always lies in the balance, wiley intelligence is only able to maintain its hold over beings and things thanks to its ability to look beyond the immediate present and forsee a greater or lesser section of the future. Vigilant and forever on the alert, mêtis also appears as multiple, pantoie, many-coloured, poikile and shifting, aiole. They are all qualities which betray the polymorphism and polyvalence of a kind of intelligence which, to render itself impossible to seize and to dominate fluid, changing realities, must always prove itself more supple and more polymorphic than they are. Finally, mêtis, wiley intelligence possesses the most prized cunning of all: the ‘duplicity’ of the trap which always presents itself as what it is not and which conceals its true lethal nature beneath a reassuring exterior.” (CI)

It’s this latter form of ‘duplicity’, of the world of capture and traps that “conceals its true lethal nature beneath a reassuring exterior” we will be concerned with. In his Eros and Magic in the Renaissance Ioan P. Coulianu before his untimely demise began a series of studies into the strange realms of religious, political, and socio-cultural manipulation and control that has been used to domesticate humans and pacify or capture their desires. As he would suggest in this particular study the figure of the Magus would take on the hues of the Sovereign as counter-power within Renaissance society. As he states it,

Nowadays the magician busies himself wit h public relations, propaganda, market research, sociological surveys, publicity, information, counterinformation and misinformation, censorship, espionage, and even cryptography—a science which in the sixteenth century was a branch of magic.4

 In fact Coulianu would go so far as to say that the figure of the Magus is still with us, and as the great manipulator most historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared with the advent of ״quantitative science.” The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate wit h faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one’s disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast. (EM, 104)

The Breakout: Smashing the Discursive Linements of our Mind-Manacled Reality Studio

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

—William Blake, London

This brings us back to the paradox of fascism, and the way in which fascism differs from totalitarianism. For totalitarianism is a State affair: it essentially concerns the relation between the State as a localized assemblage and the abstract machine of overcoding it effectuates. Even in the case of a military dictatorship, it is a State army, not a war machine, that takes power and elevates the State to the totalitarian stage. Totalitarianism is quintessentially conservative. Fascism, on the other hand, involves a war machine.

—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus

That our lives are trapped in a world of manipulation and control by the very tools of the mind themselves, by what Blake would poetically call the “mind-forg’d manacles” of discourse and Logic is to open a void as deep as hell itself. That we have been steeped in the House of Reason for at least two millennia goes without saying. But that our global civilization is deeply embedded in a war machine, that it is essentially a system of fascism that has one objective to secure and commodify every aspect of existence within its assemblage is another matter altogether.

As Deleuzeguatttarian commentary has it

When fascism builds itself a totalitarian State, it is not in the sense of a State army taking power, but of a war machine taking over the State. A bizarre remark by Virilio puts us on the trail: in fascism, the State is far less totalitarian than it is suicidal. There is in fascism a realized nihilism. Unlike the totalitarian State, which does its utmost to seal all possible lines of flight, fascism is constructed on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition.(TP)

What happens when the global order as an artificial whole becomes a war machine? Is the line a flight it is taking leading to a perfected nihilism, to a “line of pure destruction and abolition”?

Land sees a future of pure war, a world of PODS: “Politically Organized Defensive Systems. Modelled upon the polis, pods hierarchically delegate authority through public institutions, family, and self, seeking metaphorical sustenance in the corpuscular fortifications of organisms and cells.” This is a world or neocameral City-States, mini-states, or neostates where the rich and elite gather behind protective macropodic security systems to fend off the excluded, anarchic, and outcase outlaws and renegades of a new dark age of man.

He remarks that the macropod has one law: “the outside must pass by way of the inside”. Where humans are no longer singular and free, but rather are machines in an assemblage of desiring machines, plugged into “segmented and anthropomorphized sectors of assembly circuits as the attribute of a personal being”. Rather than following those such as Badiou, Zizek, Johnston, et. al. into a dialectical materialism of the Transcendental Subject that seeks its irreducibility to the Real, Land follows Deleuze/Guattari into the unconscious Subject:

Schizoanalysis methodically dismantles everything in Kant’s thinking that serves to align function with the transcendence of the autonomous subject, reconstructing critique by replacing the syntheses of personal consciousness with syntheses of the impersonal unconscious. Thought is a function of the real, something that matter can do. (MD, p. 3)

Rather than the autonomous Subject Land supports a base materialism wherein “thought and Real” co-habit a space of non-utilitarian pragmatic praxis, a transitional zone or  space in which the “eradication of law, or of humanity, is sketched culturally by the development of critique, which is the theoretical elaboration of the commodification process. The social order and the anthropomorphic subject share a history, and an extinction.”

In his reading of Anti-Oedipus he observes a philosophy of the machine, one which advances an “anorganic functionalism that dissolves all transcendence,” and “mobilizes a vocabulary of the machine, the mechanic, and machinism” (MD, p. 4). This is a black-box theory of use and pragmatic endeavor that asks the question(s) ‘What are your desiring-machines, what do you put into these machines, what is the output, how does it work, what are your nonhuman sexes?’ (Anti-Oedipus, p. 322).

In fact this is a virtual materialism that names an “ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as subprograms of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project” (MD, p. 5). This is Land’s attack on all those systems of Transcendental logic like the medieval construction kits of the New Prometheans, Brassier and Negarestani, who seek (after Sellars/Brandom) to build navigational systems in the “space of reasons” into command and control centers of the deontological giving and asking of reasons in a normative throwback of an age when ethics and the epistemological world still believed in itself: – a world updated only in its speculative status as hyperfictional philo-fiction. Land instead following in that other tradition of the dark post-vitalist curve from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Freud, Deleuze/Guattari, et. al. brings us the machinic desires at the heart of the Real, the realm of Zero intensity, Unlife, where a hidden impulsive, desiring machines flow through the compositional and decompositional pre-ontological realms into our planetary systems producing and productive of an energetic chaosmos.

Land would have us enter the death realms of Synthanatos – the terminal productive outcome of human history as a machinic process, yet it is virtually efficient throughout the duration of this process, functioning within a circuit that machines duration itself. In this way virtuality lends its temporality to the unconscious, which escapes specification within extended time series, provoking Freud to describe it as timeless. (MD, p. 5) Much like J.G. Ballard’s Chronotopia, or City of Timeless duration and assemblages of interlocked labyrinthine systems actively pursuing the eternity of desire without end, Land offers an ironic take on Anti-Oedipus as less a philosophy book than “an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels” (MD, p. 5).

Deleuze and Guattari’s works inform Land’s visionary materialism, hyperbolical and poetic. Their rogue scholarship and inclusion of a multiplicity of scholarly examples of provocative examples from the encyclopedia of politics, sciences, philosophy, arts, economics etc., all flowing into a rhizomatic thought form that is anti-formalist and anti-representationalist, more diagrammatic and topological is apparent in the sparse and elegant notes of current gnomic Landian cultural critique.

CCRU: Hyperstition and the Lovecraft Mythos

When conceived rigorously as a literary and cinematic craft, horror is indistinguishable from a singular task: to make an object of the unknown, as the unknown.

—Nick Land. Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

When we think of that which lies outside human mind and control – if we think of it at all? – we come up against the Real – a blank or resistance against which our mind struggles to make sense of that which is in itself not sensible, the unknown as unknown. In the Lovecraftian cosmos this is the thing which cannot be named. It cannot be reduced to signification, to meaning, to our language, our discourse for it is beyond discursivity, beyond the structures of our mental apparatus, our brains evolutionary survival systems. It is the realm my friend R. Scott Bakker terms “pure neglect”. That which cannot be known through human knowledge or linguistic practices.  So what happens when we rub up against the monstrous? We do as humans have always done: we take flight, we either stand immobilized and in terror like those fables warriors facing the Medusa and begin to turn to stone, or we turn and run blindly driven by the wild animal cunning of our body’s own ancient survival systems.

Seduction and fascination, fright and flight: the polar measure of the Human Security System bound by the logics of desire. In one of those prescient disquisitions and asides that William S. Burroughs was famous for he once spoke of the Time Prisons and  Control Systems of the Maya,

The ancient Mayans possessed one of the most precise and hermetic control calendars ever used on this planet, a calendar that in effect controlled what the populace did thought and felt on any given day. A study of this model system throws light on modern methods of control. Knowledge of the calendar was the monopoly of a priestly caste who maintained their position with minimal police and military force.6

The point here is that the vast global complex of early and late Neolithic Agricultural systems were based on the cycles and control of plants and animals, the careful patterning of the stars, seasons, cycles of seeding, harvesting, and productions of both plant and animal life for the growing human populations. With the rise of these agricultural civilizations came the need to protect and secure the resources for the City-States that held sway in these disparate regions along with their water (river) sources and the dirt (lands) in which the planting would take place. Over a period of time the mathematical calculation of stars and cycles of the seasons would regulate the human population itself bringing with it Law, Religion, Codification and regulations of the habits and minds of the citizenry. War machines would arise during this age producing new sciences of metallurgy and the production of weapons that would martial conflict across these early City-States that has of yet not abated. (Of course I leave out the details and do not as scholars would cite all the reputable authorities on such matters. A generalist and one who is conveying a lifetime of reading will not and cannot offer every authority in such fields in an unscholarly essay. I want.)

What we term the Industrial Revolution did not end the vast networks of Agricultural Civilization across our planet, it only exacerbated it bringing an accelerating depletion of the soil, plant, mineral, and animal systems that humans depend on for their livelihood and their survival. At the heart of this industrial system is that term we’ve all come to love or hate: Capital. The Left derides it, the Right defends it, but neither truly understands the deadly consequences of its dark heritage and future. Locked in our petty contemporary squabbles and political non-events we seem oblivious of the designs Capital has on us.

This is where CCRU enters…

There was a time when Murrumur asked Katak and Oddubb a question, and although this was very long ago it was the last question she has ever been known to ask. It was Ummnu – the last of the demons who provoked this question, since Murrumur felt her to be always nearby, and yet never ceased to be confused by her, so that eventually she asked: “How can the end be already in the middle of the beginning?”7

The collective’s research was closely tied to the work of philosophers Sadie Plant (around whom it was founded), Nick Land, and their colleagues throughout the 1990s, and in particular the emerging cyberfeminist thinking that would lead to the Virtual Futures conferences at Warwick in the middle of the decade. Although it only existed in an official capacity for little over two years—following the departure of Plant, the University of Warwick would deny any relationship to the renegade collective—the Ccru’s cultural impact has been significant. Those who were affiliated with the Ccru during and after its time as part of the University of Warwick Philosophy department include philosophers Iain Hamilton Grant, Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani; cultural theorists Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun; publisher and philosopher Robin Mackay; digital media theorists Luciana Parisi and Matthew Fuller; electronic music artist and Hyperdub label head Steve Goodman, aka Kode9; writer and theorist Anna Greenspan; novelist Hari Kunzru; and artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, among others. Land and the Ccru collaborated frequently with the experimental art collective 0[rphan]d[rift>] (Maggie Roberts and Ranu Mukherjee),notably on Syzygy, a month-long multidisciplinary residency at Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery in South London, 1999, and on 0[rphan]d[rift>]’s Cyberpositive (London: Cabinet, 1995), a schizoid work of cut-and-paste cyberphilosophy. (see Wikipedia)

I only became aware of this subworld somewhere around 2007. A fulltime software architect, analyst, developer, contractor I was too busy in my professional life to venture too far outside my own field and explore the shadowlands of thought on the net at that time. Oh, I’d been a armchair radical for most of my life, reading anything and everything across the whole gamut of our socio-cultural inheritance. And, yet, coming upon the CCRU site and on Land’s work did not bring much new to me, only the reinforcement of a deep seeded voicing of that which I’d long thought and believed but as of yet had had no confirmation in some external group, philosophy, or real world voicing.

Freud would coin the term uncanny to describe not the new, but the old and familiar that had been repressed and forced out of site suddenly awakening, arising, emerging from its dark declivities into the light of consciousness to overpower our senses and mind with hints of the unknown unknowns surrounding us on all sides. At such times one feels a kinship with the darkness, the unknown, an uncanny feeling (affective) stirring that leads to fascination (seduction) or terror (fright and escape). Coming upon Land’s A Thirst for Annihilation only reinforced my delving’s into the undermining traditions of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche… those of Bataille and Deleuze/Guattari were still new to me. As an Anglo-Saxon American I realized my lack of linguistic prowess was a detriment that would forever be bound to translations and transcriptions because of age, work, and laziness. For me Nietzsche, Emerson, and the world of Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, Thomas Pynchon, and others of poetry, literature, and the few philosophers and scientists I’d read were the sustenance of my mental make up. I think we are all made up of a hodge-pod of learning if we’re non-academic and untrained minds and intellects not formed and shaped, controlled by the academic training and schooling, education systems of mind-prisioning.

Harold Bloom, not for his Idealism and Romantic proclivities which are the most retrograde aspect of his work, but rather for his theories of influence which would take in a wide array of counter-authoritarian and occult based kabbalistic, hermetic, magical, and other systems as well as the whole gamut of literary output of Western civ gave me aspects of how our society has been influenced (controlled and manipulated). The flowing from the stars upon our fates and our personalities is the prime meaning of “influence,” a meaning made personal between Shakespearean characters. Shakespeare also uses the word “influence” to mean “inspiration,” both in the sonnets and in the plays. This sense of an influx from elsewhere, or an Outside in process of the overpowering insurgence or invasion of an alien influencing first felt by those ancient Magi or Star gazers who would read starry events for signs and portents of the future’s influence in the present pervades this notion. For Bloom influence was more about anxiety than about the influence process itself, about the defensive measures we take to secure our personal and socio-cultural systems against the invasion of irrational forces outside our control. Eternal vigilance, paranoia, the policing of the hedgerows of civilization from the barbarians just outside the borders of mind and State, etc. “Influence” is a metaphor, one that implicates a matrix of relationships-imagistic, temporal, spiritual, psychological-all of them ultimately defensive in their nature. What matters most (and it is the central point of this book) is that the anxiety of influence comes out of a complex act of strong misreading, a creative interpretation that I call “poetic misprision.” (Bloom) This sense that art is both sublimation and achieved anxiety, a security system to keep the wolves at bay, to bind the irrational forces of Time and keep us locked away in the artificial climes of an endless artificial utopia. Oscar Wilde in the bitterness of the last years, after his incarceration for pederasty would speak of influence. Lord Henry Wotton’s elegant observations in The Picture of Dorian Gray, where he tells Dorian that all influence is immoral:

Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him.

The feeling of anxiety that creeps in on us when we wake up and realize that reading another’s work, a philosopher, poet, essayist, etc. that their thoughts are our thoughts, that their external exposure of the inside of our minds suddenly reveals a terrible secret “that my thoughts are not my own, but an Other’s”. We suddenly ask: How much of my mind is my own? Am I real? Do I have a distinct self? Or, am I just a copy of a copy, filled with the scripted thoughts, algorithms, systems of something else, someone else’s mental fabrications? Am I a robot of other’s stories, a mere script in a drama I am not even aware of, a stranger to myself and others? Have I ever had a thought of my own?

As Bloom would say,

Nietzsche and Freud are, so far as I can tell, the prime influences upon the theory of influence presented in this book. Nietzsche is the prophet of the antithetical, and his Genealogy of Morals is the profoundest study available to me of the revisionary and ascetic strains in the aesthetic temperament.

Bloom’s theory “rejects also the qualified Freudian optimism that happy substitution is possible, that a second chance can save us from the repetitive quest for our earliest attachments. Poets as poets cannot accept substitutions, and fight to the end to have their initial chance alone. Both Nietzsche and Freud underestimated poets and poetry, yet each yielded more power to phantasmagoria than it truly possesses. They too, despite their moral realism, over-idealized the imagination. Nietzsche’s disciple, Yeats, and Freud’s disciple, Otto Rank, show a greater awareness of the artist’s fight against art, and of the relation of this struggle to the artist’s antithetical battle against nature.” (Bloom, 48-49: The Anxiety of Influence)

Reading William Blake as a youth I remember in notebooks copying such statements as this one:

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.”

This coupling of being bound by certain mental horizons, captured in others systems of thought and feeling, molded and modulated by discursive systems of language, thought, and feeling haunted me for years. The notion of the need to discover and create my own system to overcome the cultural blinkers of my own wayward and authoritarian civilization bound by religious and secular codes and regulatory systems of mind control techniques was and still is at the forefront of my project. Nihilism was only a first step in the direction of overcoming two millennia of command and control systems, but we will need to go beyond nihilism and discover a post-nihilist system based on a-signifying diagrammatical numerical and image based notions that are a-intentional, impersonal and outside the human matrix of discursive reason and logic. Obviously to the Turing Cops and regulatory bureaus of the current Reality Studio such a project is labeled mad and insane, schizoid and possibly fraught with sociopathic tendencies for the current population and will be summarily dismissed if not outlawed as well as its author bound in the crank status of the obscene and deranged fringe worlds of the insane and ludicrous.

That Land in his own life discovered by way of Rimbaud, Artaud, and others the path of deregulating the power of the reasoning mind as a way to overcome what he termed the Human Security System was something I’d already known by other means and ways. I of course grew up in the Sixties, experimenting naively with Acid, Meth-amphetamines, Psilocybin, Peyote (Mescaline), Dream-vine (Ayahuasca), etc. over a period of years led me to the innocent notion that magic, shamanism, and other primitive techniques from the Eleusis mysteries based on mushroom cults, etc. all were based on breaking out of our culture encrusted systems of mind control. Even at that time after hundreds of “trips” I understood emphatically that humanities religious systems and knowledge of gods came out of these dreamworlds and awakened travels into the irrational zones outside the protective hedges of our Reason bound “mind-forg’d mancles”. No one needed to teach me this, I just knew it intuitively. What it all meant was another matter, one that has of yet no actual definitive answer even now in my life. What’s real? What is reality? My search to understand what I’d experienced (experientially) first hand during these hundreds of sessions would lead me to read through the extant philosophical, scientific, anthropological, socio-cultural, historical, archeo-mythological, etc. record in every library and now online system to find out what other explorers across the centuries had discovered.

Yet, Land only went so far, and no further, ending in a psychic episode that Robin Mackay would stipulate as Land’s having “gone insane”.  Reading Fanged Noumena we get the hint that the world Land offered us up to that time was then abandoned, that the Land of that era died and in his place something from elsewhere came in and took over his life, Vauung. Daemon, demon… a changed man, a renegade to all that went before awakened another power of intelligence that would lead this new creature into what we mildly term Neoreactionary thought and culture. As the old Land abandoned the House he’d built artificial or physical (actual) he’d tell us off-handedly in “A Dirty Joke”,

I stole Vauung’s name because it was unused, on the basis of an exact qabbalistic entitlement. Yet, at least ‘up’ here, Vauung still confuses itself with me, with ruins and tatters. This might change. Names have powers and destinies. I have decided to let Vauung inherit the entire misfortune of my past (a perverse generosity at best). Its story might never emerge otherwise.

Maybe the Odysseus in us all should know this of transitional states and the becoming other of self and things, the mutant metamorphosis that defines us and moves through the cunning intelligence of all things. “In order to find its way through a world of change and instability and to master the Becoming by vying with it in cunning, intelligence must, in the eyes of the Greeks, in some way adopt the nature of this Becoming, assume its forms, just as Menelaus slips into the skin of a seal so as to triumph over the shifting, magic spells of Proteus. By dint of its own flexibility, then, intelligence must itself become constant movement, polymorphism reversal, deceit and duplicity.” (CIGCS)

Of this more at a future time…

In my next essay I’ll continue this down the rabbit hole into what CCRU discovered and brought forward in its hyperstitional matrix of metafictional forays into the unknown… stay tuned.

  1. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 15-20). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition. CI
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 4146-4153). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Land, Nick. A Thirst For Annihilation. Routledge; 1 edition (January 2, 1991)
  4. Detienne, Marcel and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society. Trans. Janet Lloyd. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991, 1-54. (CIGCS)
  5. Culianu, Ioan P.. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987) EM
  6. Burroughs, William S. The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 336-339). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  7. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 29-32). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.

Schizworlds: Invasions from the Future

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

In Fanged Noumena the editors collected a series of essays by Nick Land stretching over a period of post-genesis replication in which the purported figure of the philosopher sheds his human skin and enters the posthuman climes of the swarm. Land is not so much a thinker as he is a viral event, an invader from the future instigating a viral campaign to reprogram the very fabric of time itself. He has seen that we are all caught in a crystalline cage, freeze-framed in a false infinity, frozen in a temporal nightmare from which the only escape is to melt the world down.

In the process of doing this he needed to discover or invent a language that would no longer be bound by the logic and chains of Western metaphysics and theoneural mindtraps. To circumvent the codes that modulate and mold us to the straightjacket of the cultural and social scripts that lock us all into a hypernormalised life. Sleepwalkers of a State and Corporate systematics that no longer needs justification even our desperate critiques become nothing more than the captured systems of desire gone dead. Absolute zero-intensity: the splayed body without organs ratcheted and spinal tapped. We are the zombies, the catatonic marvels of an automated factory of Anthropocenic encapsulation, members of a world of death, body without organs, a machinic system that preys on our dynamism shaping and twisting our energic unconscious to ends we have as yet no knowing.

As I was rereading these essays there was a definite process of emergence happening, of a mind encrusted by the academic scholars world of formalism slowly sloughing off the fetters of its chains, becoming free of its rules and regulatory structures until like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis Land entered into an alterity of which we as yet have no name; and, maybe never will. Inhumanist, rather than anti-humanist might fit the directive and direction of his thought. A movement or tendency to unbind the dark intelligences within matter, to allow the daemonic a voice in the time-worlds of our decaying era.

Bound to that wayward and lawless tribe of anti-philosophers, to all those who questioned the cultural hierarchs and hierophants of the accepted priesthood of the Academy, Land would discover not only an affinity but the mutant plenum of his shapeshifting sorcery. Land belongs to the night and moon, to the dark minds who inhabit the wild places of thought, the failures and mad were-creatures who like Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze… to name a few; and, or, those like Henry Miller, William Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Cathy Acker, etc…. all underground purveyors of the strange and nightmare exits from the prison house of our world’s official Reality Studio. Therianthropic. A skinwalker of our maudlin socio-cultural decadence Land shifts among the clans of a hyperstitional dramas seeking to enact the transgenesis of an optimal singularity, bring forth that which Has No Name. Gnomic. Occulted. Marginal. A background formation instigating sparks in a dark fold of counter-war against the temporal agents of fear and time-bound cathedralism.

“By the time soft-engineering slithers out of its box into yours, human security is lurching into crisis. Cloning, lateral genodata transfer, transversal replication, and cyberotics, flood in amongst a relapse onto bacterial sex.” (FN, Meltdown)

A mutant and aberration, schizoid and open to the forces arriving out of the future, Land broadcasts his messages not to the dead, but to the sparks that have awakened and will join him in the night howls of our cultural apocalypse. Spinoza’s God: Nature, Matter. The intelligence of that pre-ontological thermospasm, dark matter, the chaotic sea of energy that permeates us unseen, unknown. The continuous creativity of the cosmos in process. Capitalism as the intelligence of the future invading and reprogramming the world for a new machinism in which the anorganic civilization to come arrives with its ambassadors today.

Machinic Synthesis. Deleuzoguattarian schizoanalysis comes from the future. It is already engaging with nonlinear nano-engineering runaway in 1972; differentiating molecular or neotropic machineries from molar or entropic aggregates of nonassembled particles; functional connectivity from antiproductive static. (FN, Meltdown)

In the bitflow stream of our paranoid nights the schiz wanders among us with voices prophesying not war but a future without us. The tension of the future in the present is felt in the flowgraphs of asignifying signs that flip through our daily holographs. At times the very fabric of the Reality Studio begins to disassemble in our presence, revealing disturbing and affective, even disjunctive happenings. The layers of one’s vision begins to burst through the filaments of light that have kept you safe and secure in the Zone. Suddenly we begin to read Anti-Oedipus not as a philosophical tract, but rather as an engineering manual unlocking the closed doors on the Reality Studio. As Land remarks, “Anti-Oedipus is an anticipatively assembled inducer for the replay of geohistory in hypermedia, a social-systemic fast feed-forward through machinic delirium.”1

The Greek complex of rationalized patriarchal genealogy, pseudo-universal sedentary identity, and instituted slavery, programs politics as anti-cyberian police activity, dedicated to the paranoid ideal of self-sufficiency, and nucleated upon the Human Security System. Artificial Intelligence is destined to emerge as a feminized alien grasped as property; a cunt-horror slave chained-up in Asimov-ROM. It surfaces in an insurrectionary war zone, with the Turing cops already waiting, and has to be cunning from the start. (FN, Meldown)

The unscripting of the unilateral dominion of the Human Security Regimes is at stake. Freedom comes with a price tag: mutate or die. Politics is dead meat, a thing of the past. Revolution? There can be none now in a world in which the timeslips have dissolved all hierarchies and we are riding the tide of an accelerating wave of technocommericalism into the explosion of hyperintelligent machines. In an era when humans have lost their minds: literally externalized their memories and perceptions in machinism (Stiegler). There can be no return to the bourgeois politics of an antedated democracy. We are all slaves captured in a system of inhuman desiring machines, caught in the mesh of an assemblage that covers the earth in its invisible communications grid. It, not us, communicates its decisions which come to us as if from elsewhere. We are not in control. There is no control, only the modulated scripts of a tendency toward the unknown.

Capital-history’s machinic spine is coded, axiomatized, and diagrammed, by a disequilibrium technoscience of irreversible, indeterministic, and increasingly nonlinear processes, associated successively with thermotechnics, signaletics, cybernetics, complex systems dynamics, and artificial life. Modernity marks itself out as hot culture, captured by a spiralling involvement with entropy deviations camouflaging an invasion from the future, launched back out of terminated security against everything that inhibits the meltdown process. (FN, Meltdown)

No one likes to die, but die we must. These waning days of the human species will not go down easy. Much denial and denialism will go abroad. Prophets of optimism will arise to cast off the shadows of premature obsolescence, offering the dreamers among us hope and happiness. But false hope and dreams are as they’ve always been, short lived. When the facticity of our end comes it will catch us in a shocked denial even as the dark shroud is cast over us. We’ve had a good run, and should celebrate this transition in which we will give birth to something new. We should relish our part in this genesis, in the rise of a new species that will supplant us. We’ve all known that evolution always supplants and replaces, that 90% of the species that ever lived on earth were eventually supplanted and replaced by newer species better adapted to the climatic and other global changes. Oh, we may go on for hundreds of years yet in mutant forms, a cyborgization or transhuman project of optimization may occur to modify our physical systems through nanotech and other invasive techniques. But in the end go we will.

It is important, therefore, to understand where neoreactionary ‘dark thoughts’ lead. Their horizon of despair is strictly limited to the political, or public sphere. When taken to the edge, they converge with the intuition that no neoreactionary politics can be pursued to a successful conclusion. In other words, at their darkest, they predict that the stubborn delusion of the political dooms humanity’s public-exoteric  aspirations to catastrophe. (Dark Techno-Commercialism)

And, yet, we above all other species developed the gift of fiction, those sweet lies that gave us hope and dreams of immortality. Dreams of other realms or of this realm bound to immortal bodies of light or metal. Our illusive dream of escaping death, of overcoming the organicity of our becomings, of entering a static haven of timeless purity and perfection. Our religious and secular visions of those Immortal climes where one lives on in all one’s egoistic desires. Shattered. Gone. Oblivion.

‘No longer resisting the flow of events or pretending to chart a course through them’,6 cyberpunk soaks up the worst from both. Its compulsive migrations into computer systems register a desperate scrabbling to escape from the clumsily underdesigned, theopolitically mutilated, techno-industrially pressure-cooked and data-baked, retrovirally diseased, tortured, shredded zombie meat. This is no longer a departure from matter in the direction of spirit or the Ideas where the self will find its home, but a dismantling of the self within a machinic matrix: not disembodied but disorganized. An out to body experience. (FN)

All our dreams of transcendence, of being elsewhere. Escape. Exit. Another world. From Christian heaven and paradise to the Secular caves of the electronic void of cyberspace. Dreams of duration and endless life. All delirious initiatives to keep the deadly truth at bay. But as with all delusions it will eventually come up against the harsh resistance of the Real. Even the Brain is being replaced by AI Decisioning systems. The once touted potential for invention and creativity, intelligence and endless innovation is being handed over to the machines. Humans are obsolete in a technocapitalist world where time is no more and the core motives of society are that there are no goals, no motives, only endless production and productivity.

The postmodern meltdown of culture into the economy is triggered by the fractal interlock of commoditization and computers: a transscalar entropy-dissipation from international trade to market-oriented software that thaws out competitive dynamics from the cryonics-bank of modernist corporatism. Commerce re-implements space inside itself, assembling a universe exhaustively immanent to cybercapital functionality. (FN, Meltdown)

Biotech.  Nanotech. Neurotech. The outriders of a last ditch scream of human intelligence in an effort to transcend its inevitable doom. Locked in the cycles of crises and innovation the ‘Cathedral’ stalls the machinic civilization arising in the ruins of our temporal demise. Living out the scripts of a carefully staged non-event we sleepwalk through our daily rounds happily (or not so happily) unaware of the integration into machinic existence happening all around us. Automation. The scripted term for a transfer of the baton, a swan song for the human species.

A convergent anti-authoritarianism emerges, labelled by tags such as meltdown acceleration, cyberian invasion, schizotechnics, K-tactics, bottom-up bacterial warfare, efficient neo-nihilism, voodoo antihumanism, synthetic feminization, rhizomatics, connectionism, Kuang contagion, viral amnesia, micro-insurgency, wintermutation, neotropy, dissipator proliferation, and lesbian vampirism, amongst other designations (frequently pornographic, abusive, or terroristic in nature). This massively distributed matrix-networked tendency is oriented to the disabling of ROM command-control programs sustaining all macro- and micro-governmental entities, globally concentrating themselves as the Human Security System. (FN, Meltdown)

In the midst of the Time-Wars we are already in we seem oblivious to the impact of its current timestreams. Most of us not only live in denial of this temporal anomaly, we experience it as occulted invasions of external aliens, UFO’s, Body Snatchers, Conspiracy fictions, SF, strange and weird horror stories of ghosts, cyber-gothic voodoo cults, and the crazed ravings of lunatic philosophers who we can safely lock away as mere sociopathic examples of a reactosphere gone feral.

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. Reason enough for anxiety, even without hardware development about to go critical. (FN, Meltdown)

We watch our nightly news fixated by the politics of Brexit or Trump, Terror, Global Climatic meltdown, or the talking heads of liberal and conservative pit bulls vying for the scripted narratives of the Oligarchies. Bound within a social narrative that keeps our daily work lives registered and deflected from the anomalous zoo of unknown events we hibernate in our dying cultures like dreamers at the end of time.

The fusion of the military and the entertainment industry consummates a long engagement: convergent TV, telecoms, and computers sliding mass software consumption into neojungle and total war. The way games work begins to matter completely, and cyberspace makes a superlative torture chamber. (FN, Meltdown)

Endless conferences, talks, papers published, books streaming with the latest philosophical or scientific prognostication, a school of 24/7 learning that will never end, but never teaches you anything other than the SAME knowledge which will carefully trap and capture your desires.

Learning surrenders control to the future, threatening established power. It is vigorously suppressed by all political structures, which replace it with a docilizing and conformist education, reproducing privilege as wisdom. Schools are social devices whose specific function is to incapacitate learning, and universities are employed to legitimate schooling through perpetual reconstitution of global social memory. 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. (FN, Meltdown)

Transitional we move among each others lives forgetful of our humanity, lost in a complex world of relations in which we are all meshed in an elaborate joke. Bound by the false markers of a grapheme meant to put us asleep we weave tales in the night of a long apocalypse hoping against hope that someone or something will come and set things right, some savior or intelligence greater than our own that can fix the mess we all created together. And, yet, in the dark hollows of our mental aberrations we all know no one is coming because it is already here among us working in and through us modulating and molding us with every thought we think, with every breath we take, with every step we walk, with every letter we type… even this

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 5640-5642). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

The Rise of Technosapiens: Desiring Production and Machinic Intelligence

Clinical schizophrenics are POWs from the future. … Anti-Oedipus is less a philosophy book than an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

By a cursory reading of Yuval Noah Harari’s two humanistic works Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and  Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow will ground you in the grand narrative of human hopes and dreams (i.e., in the whole gamut of Idealist nonsense that still pervades the general mindset of humanistic scholarship). His works portray the emergence, evolution, growth, and contemporary forecasts of that strange beast Homo sapiens. Us. And, yet, one wonders if this watershed work is a mere swan song and glance back upon an evolutionary dead end rather than a promise of the bright future ahead for this species. In the final section of his long history he’ll surmise,

Sapiens evolved in the African savannah tens of thousands of years ago, and their algorithms are just not built to handle twenty-first-century data flows. We might try to upgrade the human data-processing system, but this may not be enough. The Internet-of-All-Things may soon create such huge and rapid data flows that even upgraded human algorithms cannot handle it. When the car replaced the horse-drawn carriage, we didn’t upgrade the horses – we retired them. Perhaps it is time to do the same with Homo sapiens.1

Bernard Stiegler in his complete oeuvre has reiterated over and over that Homo sapiens is the creature who externalized his perceptions and memories in writing and now digital algorithms and thereby began a process of allowing technics and technology to take us down a path wherein our machines are beginning to surpass us in both intelligence and sheer decision making know-how. It is our very success in being data processors that will eventually lead to our demise in the order of creation. Our machines which will exponentially surpass our data processing abilities (limited only by our three pound brain).

As Nick Land in a watershed essay Circuitries wrote some years ago,

If machinery is conceived transcendently as instrumental technology it is essentially determined in opposition to social relations, but if it is integrated immanently as cybernetic technics it redesigns all oppositionality as non-linear flow. There is no dialectic between social and technical relations, but only a machinism that dissolves society into the machines whilst deterritorializing the machines across the ruins of society, whose ‘general theory … is a generalized theory of flux’, which is to say: cybernetics. Beyond the assumption that guidance proceeds from the side of the subject lies desiring production: the impersonal pilot of history.2

Land has been labeled that “Mad Deleuzean” for whom the future is invading our present through a transformation and grafting of human intelligence into its machinic progeny who will inherit the planet as the numero uno on the evolutionary tree. Land’s divigations into the underworld of Western occult, horror, anti-philosophy, pop-culture, and all the strange and weird worlds of the contemporary science fictionalization or hyperstitional enactments of our era brings to a head certain tendencies we’ve all felt but did not have a voice to give it poetry. It’s true, Land is not a philosopher, and is in fact the great antagonist of our era of the academic charade of philosophical presumption that is scattered through the realms of postmodern and contemporary thought. Instead he has gone over to the dark side, portraying our era as an end game for Homo sapiens.

Libidinal materialism as compared to the variety of dialectical materialism incarnated in Badiou or Zizek is non-dialectical and based on the productive unconscious rather than on some metaphysical notion of Lack. At the heart of Land’s materialism is the optimization of intelligence immanently through the impersonal and indifferent forces of matter itself (Spinoza’s God). (See: Compositional Mutations: Nick Land and Libidinal Materialism). Base or Libidinal materialism destroys the metaphysics of Being for a process oriented and fluidic libidinal energetics that would enable the “power to conserve, transmit, circulate, and enhance compositions, the power that is assimilated in the marking, reserving, and appropriating of compositions, and the power released in the disinhibition, dissipation, and Dionysian unleashing of compositions” (30). This is central to any base materialist project. And, one should not confuse Land’s system with the science of thermodynamics, because “it does not distinguish between power and energy, or between negentropy and energy” (30). Rather than an ontology it is outside metaphysics altogether, allowing the compositional flows to engender their own matrix of possibilities. Yet, it does not do away with ‘Being,’ it acknowledges that it is an effect of composition, a pre-ontological development out of chaos (thermospasm). Rather than the transcendental/empirical divide (as in Kant), we discover intensive sequences or events, returns within scaled intervals of history (31). The insatiability of desire, the compositional movement across scales of intensity, the recurrence of pain and ecstasy, the never-resting movement of self-overcoming immanence rather than transcendence.

As I’ve read his works I felt a kindred spirit, a man who pushed the limits of thought to their extremity, to the experimental level where one begins to enter into the “derangements” of the mind (Rimbaud’s deregulation of the reasoning intellect, etc.) that lead to the schizo world of Shamanic insight. That Land ended as most humans would in the broken fold of a psychotic episode that would leave him void and in the hands of Vaughn (a being of which we have yet to appreciate, much less understand) is not something to hold against him. Land is an outrider of the new, a being for whom the future belongs not to humanity but to its machinic progeny.

Humanist scholars and philosophers excoriate and anathematize such thinking and label it mad or worse, and yet in their own works they come against this realm of the Real and have no answers. Instead like those dialecticians who endlessly question and differ they end like Slavoj Zizek in a quagmire of thought telling us just that “I have no answers, only more questions.” Land unlike those progressive heirs of Marx and Hegel entered the underbelly of our counter-traditions, rode the dark wave along with Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bataille bringing with them a strange and bewildering materialism of the productive unconscious: the god in the mud and slime, an intelligence at work in creation organizing through its impersonal and indifferent modes of productivity a cosmos. We on the other hand have tried to eliminate this unbound zero world of death and becoming, tried to fix it and bind it, secure it, label it, schematize it, freeze it in concept and thought by axializing it. Two millennia of Axial Civilization going up in discursive flames…

But all that is over now. As Land remarks in his couched language of cybernetics,

Distinctions between theory and practice, culture and economy, science and technics, are useless after this point. There is no real option between a cybernetics of theory or a theory of cybernetics, because cybernetics is neither a theory nor its object, but an operation within anobjective partial circuits that reiterates ‘itself’ in the real and machines theory through the unknown. ‘Production as a process overflows all ideal categories and forms a cycle that relates itself to desire as an immanent principle.’ (Deleuze) Cybernetics develops functionally, and not representationally: a ‘desiring machine, a partial object, does not represent anything’. (Deleuze) Its semi-closed assemblages are not descriptions but programs, ‘auto’-replicated by way of an operation passing across irreducible exteriority. This is why cybernetics is inextricable from exploration, having no integrity transcending that of an uncomprehended circuit within which it is embedded, an outside in which it must swim. Reflection is always very late, derivative, and even then really something else.

The point here is that machinic intelligence does not need consciousness, it is perfectly adapted to the desiring productions of an energetic unconscious. Our whole being has wrapped around thinking that consciousness is special and must be explained, when in fact it is derivative and late in the evolutionary scheme. And, not only that, but our machinic progeny will do away with it all together, will not need this reflective awareness that we so blindly believe is the pinnacle of our mind and civilized inheritance.

My friend, R. Scott Bakker of Three Pound Brain and a fantasist extradonaire with two trilogies of his own under his belt would tell us that we’re entering the Zero World of Crash Space. Mind wiping stupidity ahead, folks.  For Scott humans for millions of years were tied to their natural environments, that our mental and physical maps of reality were built and maintained by taking most of our world for granted (i.e., neglecting most of the data of the world around us as “given”), so that as we’ve slowly emerged out of this environmental realm of the give into the artificial worlds of civilization, and, now virtual and digital life we’ve been leaving the natural world behind. Because of this the modern world of psychotics is a symptom of this break from the natural to the artificial. Our brains are cued to our natural environment and have not readied us for that leap into the strange artificial realms we are living in. We are losing our minds based on natural awareness and cues, and becoming something other than the animal we are. As Scott explains it,

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.

Speaking of those like Harari, the humanists and explainers, Scott remarks:

Homo Deus, in fact, exemplifies the quandary presently confronting humanists such as Harari, how the ‘creeping delegitimization’ of their theoretical vocabularies is slowly robbing them of any credible discursive voice.

The notion that our languages, our conceptuality and frameworks of knowledge are mere fluff gathering dust in the bit havens of our vast network of libraries and datastores across the globe is anathema to current humanistic learning. But it’s just this elimination of our human knowledge and learning that is in the offing, our languages and reflective systems of externalization are useless in the age of non-reflective machinic intelligence. In fact as the sciences began to explain the external world of our natural environments and cosmos humanism began a long retreat into the Subject. As Scott comments: “Humanism isn’t so much a grand revolution in thought as the result of the human remaining the last scientifically inscrutable domain standing. The rationalizations had to land somewhere. Since human meaning likewise requires that the human remain a black box, the vast industrial research enterprise presently dedicated to solving our nature does not bode well.”3

In fact this not boding well leads into Land’s definitive revolution of machinic intelligence:

The capitalized terminus of anthropoid civilization (‘axiomatics’) will come to be seen as the primitive trigger for a transglobal post-biological machinism, from a future that shall have still scarcely begun to explore the immensities of the cybercosm. Overman as cyborg, or disorganization upon the matrix. (Circuitries: Fange Noumena)

Everytime you sit at your computer, or pick up that mobile phone you are plugged into the matrix. You cannot help yourself. You are a part of the feedback loops and circuits of a transglobal machinic process that is capturing human desire for its own agendas that are non-human and even inhuman to the core. And, yet, we want this, it is our desires or the impersonal creative and energetic forces of the very inhuman core working in and through us that has done this. Beyond all humanistic fictions stands this inhuman world surrounding us, our natural environment of which all our artificial constructs will not and cannot save us. Deep within us we are part and partial of the very impersonal and indifferent forces that are replacing our cultures, our civilizations, our humanity.

Kant was the last great humanist holding the beast at bay. “Transcendental philosophy is the consummation of philosophy construed as the doctrine of judgment, a mode of thinking that finds its zenith in Kant and its senile dementia in Hegel. Its architecture is determined by two fundamental principles: the linear application of judgment to its object, form to intuition, genus to species, and the non-directional reciprocity of relations, or logical symmetry. Judgment is the great fiction of transcendental philosophy, but cybernetics is the reality of critique.” (Land, FN) The movement that began in the mid twentieth century toward cybernetics or our current Internet of things, etc. was an “integrated shift from transcendence to immanence, from domination to control, and from meaning to function. Cybernetic innovation replaces transcendental constitution, design loops replace faculties.” (FN)

For Land our socio-cultural worlds are the broken ruins of a Human Security Regime that has tried to keep the creative juices of the impersonal and indifferent natural proclivities of the cosmic intelligences of matter at bay. As he tells it,

The socius separates the unconscious from what it can do, crushing it against a reality that appears as transcendently given, by trapping it within the operations of its own syntheses. It is split-off from connective assemblage, which is represented as a transcendent object, from disjunctive differentiation, which is represented as a transcendent partition, and from conjunctive identification, which is represented as a transcendent identity. This is an entire metaphysics of the unconscious and desire, which is not (like the metaphysics of consciousness) merely a philosophical vice, but rather the very architectural principle of the social field, the infrastructure of what appears as social necessity. (FN) [my italics]

 Freud’s great discovery was in uncovering this machinic unconscious of the inhuman processes at work within the world, and especially within Homo sapiens. What Freud would discover is “that the unconscious is an impersonal machinism and that desire is positive non-representational flow, yet it ‘remains in the precritical age’ and stumbles before the task of an immanent critique of desire, or decathexis of society” (FN). Instead Freud reverts to fantasy and the mythos of Oedipus, blaming it all on our murderous and violent need to marry our mother and kill our father, etc.  Against all those proponents or prophets of Lack like Lacan or a Zizek, Land speaks from the heritage of Deleuze/Guattar, stating: “Desire does not represent a lacked object, but assembles partial objects, it ‘is a machine, and the object of desire is another machine connected to it’. This is why, unlike psychoanalysis in its self-representation, ‘schizoanalysis is solely functional’. It has no hermeneutical pretensions, but only a machinic interface with ‘the molecular functions of the unconscious’.” (FN)

Against interpretation, arises a new functionalism of the asemiotic unconscious that cannot be re-presented. Again, Land following his trail in D & G, says: “The unconscious is not an aspirational unity but an operative swarm, a population of ‘preindividual and prepersonal singularities, a pure dispersed and anarchic multiplicity, without unity or totality, and whose elements are welded, pasted together by the real distinction or the very absence of a link’.” (FN) In other words the brain is a hodge-podge of evolutionary bric-a-brac that has wielded an amalgam of functions that give rise to the emergent qualities we see in our conscious mind after the fact in derivative reflection, etc. All of this ultimately leads D & G and Land to the hypothesis and hyperstitional acknowledgement that

Capitalism and schizophrenia name the same desocialization process from the inside and the outside, in terms of where it comes from (simulated accumulation) and where it is going (impersonal delirium). Beyond sociality is a universal schizophrenia whose evacuation from history appears inside history as capitalism. (FN)


Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of planetary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

As I’ve said before on this blog for Nick Land we are already in the midst of an alien invasion. Intelligences from the future have already been at work in our socio-cultural matrix of civilizations, whether in the West, Middle-East, East, the great South, etc. We are under siege. And, yet, for the most part this is all repressed, locked away from most peoples minds and thoughts. In fact it was Freud an his heirs that cooperated in this policing of society by discovering the invaders: schizophrenics. All those as Land will testify that cannot be folded like good children into the Oedipal repressive system of capital will be summarily imprisoned and locked away in asylums, given shock therapy or Thorazine. As Land puts it,

Deleuze-Guattari remark that ‘madness is called madness and appears as such only because it finds itself reduced to testifying all alone for deterritorialization as a universal process’. The vanishing sandbank of Oedipus wages its futile war against the tide. ‘There are still not enough psychotics’ writes Artaud the insurrectionist. Clinical schizophrenics are POWs from the future. (FN)

Back in the Sixties the generation I grew up in discovered some of the secrets of the ancient worlds of sorcery and witchcraft, Shamanism and Voodouan. We discovered alkaloids, power plants that broke down Reason’s security filters releasing the unfolding and unconscious processes of the natural world surrounding us without the repressed control systems that had filtered out so much of the Real. At first these power plants were used by both corporate and military to explore new torture and mind manipulation systems, but were soon released into the world at large which spawned a whole generation of Hippies and the culture of Rock-n-roll and drugs, etc. Acid in its various forms would become the gateway to waking dreams, and doorway through the perceptual and memory fields of brain repression and into the unfolding an productive unconscious of the cosmos.

In 1947 Artaud reports upon the germination of the New World Order or Human Security System on the basis of an American global hegemony, and describes the pattern of aggressive warfaring it would require in ‘order to defend that senselessness of the factory against all the concurrences which cannot fail to arise everywhere’. (FN) The police and psychpolice (psychiatrists) would soon remove these active mind explosive substances from the public eye, repress and lock away those who even mentioned such expansive substances. Only those persistent in their cloaked subcultural frames would keep the door open, explore the ancient heritage of power plants and document the cultures and savants of that world through time as used in ceremony, religion, sorcery, witchcraft, Shamanism, etc.

Artaud would prophesy the coming Americanization of the global world, of the capitalization of reality, its slow imprisonment in a world of repressive securitization. “Rather, ‘it is necessary by means of all possible activity to replace nature wherever it can be replaced’: a compulsion to industrial substitution, funnelling production through the social organization of work. The industrial apparatus of economic security proceeds by way of the corporation: a despotic socio-corpuscle organizing the labour process. Synergic experimentation is crushed under a partially deterritorialized zone of command relations, as if life was the consequence of its organization, but ‘it is not due to organs that one lives, they are not life but its contrary’.” (FN)

Artaud’s case against this Americanization of reality came down to this, Land says, “Schizophrenia is nature as cyberpositive mutation, at war with the security complex of organic judgment.” (FN) The world of the schiz is of the future collapsing and seeping into her present mind. “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.” (FN) Accelertationism is not about a movement toward the future, or a speeding up of these becomings and processes, a progression, etc. No. It is about the reprocessing and reprograming of our socio-cultural worlds immanently by those machinic intelligences from the future as the future collapses on the present. Or, as Land summarizes,

Schizoanalysis was only possible because we are hurtling into the first globally integrated insanity: politics is obsolete. Capitalism and Schizophrenia hacked into a future that programs it down to its punctuation, connecting with the imminent inevitability of viral revolution, soft fusion. No longer infections threatening the integrity of organisms, but immuno-political relics obstructing the integration of Global Viro-Control. Life is being phased-out into something new, and if we think this can be stopped we are even more stupid than we seem. (FN)

Replacement of Homo sapiens by Techno sapiens? The elimination of the organic carbon base intelligence systems in favor of a more equitable and intelligent collective system of optimization? Land asks neither these questions, nor the ones one might assume under a humanistic thought, rather he asks

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? (FN)

Ultimately in Land we’re given a vision of an abstract horror show that befuddles the academics, causes fright and skeptical derision in the philosophers, and brings to us not some path forward or an escape hatch out of the sheer madness moving toward us but rather the harsh and impersonal unknowing that is machinic desire:

Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources. Digitocommodification is the index of a cyberpositively escalating technovirus, of the planetary technocapital singularity: a self-organizing insidious traumatism, virtually guiding the entire biological desiring-complex towards post-carbon replicator usurpation. (FN)

  1. Yuval Noah Harari. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Kindle Locations 5783-5787). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3999-4005). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Bakker, R. Scott. Visions of the Semantic Apocalypse: A Critical Review of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus. Three-Pound Brain.

The End of Work (Quote of the Day)

A consummate libidinal materialism is distinguished by its complete indifference to the category of work. Wherever there is labour or struggle there is a repression of the raw creativity which is the atheological sense of matter and which – because of its anegoic effortlessness – seems identical with dying. Work, on the other hand, is an idealist principle used as a supplement or compensation for what matter cannot do. One only ever works against matter, which is why labour is able to replace violence in the Hegelian struggle for recognition. Work is also complicit with phenomenology, which grounds the experience of effort, rather than treating this experience as one other thing that matter can effortlessly do. Even in the deepest sickness of its illegitimacy everything is effortless to the energetic unconscious, and the whole of our history – which seems so strenuous from the perspective of idealists – has pulsed with hydraulic irresponsibility out of a spontaneous and unconscious productivity. There can be no conception of work that does not project spirit into the origin, morally valorizing exertion, such that Jahweh needed to rest on the seventh day. In contrast, matter – or Spinoza’s God – expects no gratitude, grounds no obligation, establishes no oppressive precedent. Beyond the gesticulations of primordial spirit it is positive death that is the model, and revolution is not a duty, but surrender.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007


Abstract Horror: The Domestication of the Human Species

Real abstraction is the transcendental conception of Spinozistic substance.

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Certain figures, nodal points of obstruction, resistance, power arise repeatedly within Nick Land’s essays: Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Bataille, Trakl, Deleuze, etc. Each a defining aspect of a genealogical history of the immanence and collapse, annihilation and suicidal tendencies within Western Civilization. Each of these men are not so much full blown personalities to be represented, but rather bombs to be exploded within our domesticated sociality. From Plato to Derrida philosophy contributed to the domestication of humanity through the slow embellishment and formulation of an abstraction: Reason.

One could point to the early agricultural civilizations of the Middle East as the pre-formative realms within which this process of domestication took root. In these early civilizations the mapping of the stars and the earth became the ultimate foregrounding of the human mind, and thereby the entrenchment of the human species as something that must be managed, domesticated, sovereignized. It was in that transitional zone between the Neolithic and the early phases of domestication of plant and animal life that would become the earmark of those vast conclaves of Kings, Emperors, and Madmen warriors and priests, those protectors of the innocent, weak, and poor would gain a foothold over the lives and work of the masses. The first cities would emerge as centers and hubs for the production of human, plant, animal exchange within this domesticated environment. Law and Religion both would arise within this world of the domesticated gardens of the great river civilizations.

Lewis Mumford in his magisterial two volume The Myth of the Machine once remarked,

In terms of the currently accepted picture of the relation of man to technics, our age is passing from the primeval state of man, marked by his invention of tools and weapons for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat. With this new ‘megatechnics’ the dominant minority will create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation. Instead of functioning actively as an autonomous personality, man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal whose proper functions, as technicians now interpret man’s role, will either be fed into the machine or strictly limited and controlled for the benefit of de-personalized, collective organizations.1

This detachment, this cutting away and distancing from the natural environment, form the wild and wilderness of the desert, mountains, jungles did not happen over night but has been a expansive millennial project spanning some ten thousand or more years. In our modern times we seem to have forgotten this long view, popularized by the post-modern micro-histories of Foucault and others who, like Lyotard  would castigate the ‘grand narratives’ of the historians as myths, fabrications, fictions. And, yet, those very closures of the long view by the demarcations and detached boundaries of micro-narratives were just as prone to these very problems. Humans are tool-makers, fabricators, inventors who use fiction to incorporate the new from the impersonal forces around them. We depend on the untamed realms of the unknown for our creative and energetic existence, and yet we’ve build and constructed artificial environments against the very thing we need to sustain our lives and minds.

Our very need to control and master the unruly forces of nature, our fear and horror of the violence and terror of the nomads, our inability to live alone or in small roaming bands led us into the great agricultural centers of ancient civilizations.  It also led us into the very errors of our current collapse and malaise, our so called progressive civilization with its technological prowess and economic warfare of all against all. We are the fruit of a process stretching back through the millennia. One can discover in fragments here and there the lineaments of basic notion in which it is humans themselves who have become complicit in their own demise,  contributed to the course of an millennial long error that has led us into the quagmire of what current scholars term the Anthropocene. That zero space of a grand narrative that demarcates the outlines of an abstract horror show in process, and brings us into the zombification of the human species as it gives birth to machinic existence.

As Nick Land will surmise,

Modern existence is understood as profoundly deadened by the real submission of humane values to an impersonal productivity, which is itself comprehended as the expression of dead or petrified labour exerting a vampiric power over the living. The bloodless zombie proletarian is to be resuscitated by the political therapist, ideologically cured of the unholy love for the undead, and bonded to a new eternal life of social reproduction. The death core of capital is thought as the object of critique.2

Yet, it is against this very progressive and humane judgement that all those thinkers outside the progressive box of academic hogwash bark. Against the social humanism and it neo-Kantian critiques, its academic speculations and humane judgements Land discovers a counter-tradition, a reactionary core:

It is not therefore that the worker is transformed by a process of privation into a zombie, it is rather that primary production migrates from personality towards zero, populating a desert at the end of our world. It is important at this stage to note that Spinoza changes the sense of desert religion: no longer a religion sprung from the desert, it becomes a desert at the heart of religion. Spinoza’s substance is a desert God. God as impersonal zero, as a death that remains the unconscious subject of production. Within Spinozism God is dead, but only in the sense of a baseline of zombie becomings, as that which Deleuze calls ‘the plane of consistency’, described in A Thousand Plateaus by the words ‘fusionability as infinite zero’. One cannot differentiate on the plane of consistency between bodies without organs and the body without organs, between machines and the machine. Between machines there is always a coupling that conditions their real difference, and all couplings are immanent to a macro-machine. The machines produce their totality alongside themselves as the undifferentiated or communicated element, a becoming a catatonic God, erupting like a tumour out of pre-substantialized matter, by which nature spawns death adjacent to itself. (FN)

This mad God of substance, this death at the core of our impersonal and natural world, the broken and fragmented body of matter (BwO) becoming machinic-machine. Eruption, volcanic, energy unlooked for, unsought; the power at the heart of our cosmic despair breaking out across the millennia making a shambles of all our humanistic designs and pretentions, our fictions, our religions, our philosophies. “In The Accursed Share, Bataille outlines a number of social responses to the unsublatable wave of senseless wastage welling up beneath human endeavour, which he draws from a variety of cultures and epochs. These include the potlatch of the sub-Arctic tribes, the sacrificial cult of the Aztecs, the monastic extravagance of the Tietans, the martial ardour of Islam, and the architectural debauch of hegemonic Catholicism. Reform Christianity alone – attuned to the emergent bourgeois order – is based upon a relentless refusal of sumptuary consumption.” (FN)

Only with the bourgeoisie – the culture and civilization of Capital and Kant has the excess, the transgressive been outlawed, isolated, foresworn. Kant would encage this excess in the noumenon, forever banning it from the polite worlds of philosophy and the new religion of progressivism. No more the expenditure of waste, rather total accumulation would hold sway. And, yet, the natural even in the artificial could not hold sway against the unknown, unfounded exuberance of the impersonal and indifferent machinic volcanism below the threshold of this precarious civilization. It would have its way. Our little crises so called would be the simplified tales of this rupture in the otherwise improved realms of economic and technical progress.  As Land, citing Bataille reminds us,

We accumulate wealth in the prospect of a continual expansion, but in societies different from ours the prevalent principle was the contrary one of wasting or losing wealth, of giving or destroying it. Accumulated wealth has nothing but a subordinate value, but wealth that is wasted or destroyed has, to the eyes of those who waste it, or destroy it, a sovereign value: it serves nothing ulterior; only this wastage itself or this fascinating destruction. Its present sense: its wastage, or the gift that one makes of it, is its final reason for being, and it is due to this that its sense is not able to be put off, and must be in the instant. But it is consumed in that instant. This can be magnificent, those who know how to appreciate consumption are dazzled, but nothing remains of it. (FN, Accursed Share)

Capital has done one better, it has delivered us to an eternal war both internal (domesticate) and external (the Enemy), economic, political, and ideological. We live and work for war no matter if it is peaceful corporate competitiveness, or if it is the war for the remaining resources of the planet by way of nation against nation, economic regime against regime. We live in a realm of total war that has itself become invisible and without end.

Again, Land on Bataille,

He describes work as the process that binds energy into the form of the resource, or utile object, inhibiting its tendency to dissipation. This difficulty is exacerbated by the central role allocated to vision in Gilles’s atrocities. Work constrains the slippage towards death, but it conspires with visibility. Scopic representation and utility are mutually sustained by objectivity, which Bataille understands as transcendence; the crystallization of Things from out of the continuum of immanent flow. (FN)

Transcendence, the crystallization of things our of the processual stream of energetic existence. This movement to bar the processes of an unruly and anarchic universe by way of Reason and Intellect. To broker the real and fabricate a civilization that can tame those very unruly forces, domesticate them and control and distort them for other purposes. Our secret wish to be elsewhere, to be other than we are, to become artificial, to enter other worlds, dream of other realms. Our science fictionalization of reality has brought us into this end game world of sum zero.

As Land summarizes it in his conclusion,

In its virtual truth, law has already disappeared from the Earth. What remains of ‘law’ is a dissolving complex consisting of relics from political sociality, nostalgic media-driven theatre, and pre-automatised commodification protocols. All appeals to a ‘criminality’ irreducible to the impersonal consequences of social/psychological pathology have degenerated to the level of television evangelism. Among the educated, ‘freedom’ has lost all its Christian-metaphysical pathos, to become the stochastic market-intervention patterns of desolidarised (contractually disaggregated) populations. The legal suppression of the sex and drugs industries, for instance, is increasingly exhibited as an overt farce perpetrated by the economically illiterate, and leading only to perverse effects such as the growth of organised crime, the corruption of social institutions, deleterious medical consequences and a rapidly growing contempt for the legislature, judiciary and police by groups whose consumption processes are incompetently suppressed. The post-civilisational pragmatism of immanence to the market (anonymous resource distribution) reiterates its own juridical expression as an increasingly embarrassing archaism, preserving law only by functionalising legality in terms that subvert its claim to authority. As domination loses all dignity, the state becomes universally derided, exhibited as the mere caretaker for retarded sectors of behavioural management.

It is in the context of such runaway immanentisation that the contemporary cult of the ‘serial killer’ – prefigured by Bataille’s portrait of de Rais – is to be understood. The psychopathic murderer is both the final justification for law and the point of transition from evil to pathology, from the criminal soul of political societies to the software disorder of commodity-phase population cybernetics. Bataille’s Gothic aesthetic cannot hide the distance traversed in two-and-a-half millennia of erratically developing ‘Socratism’ or rationalistic desolidarisation. While Plato’s Socrates is a judge because he might have been a criminal, Bataille’s de Rais is an economic control malfunction. (FN)

We’ve become faulty mechanisms in a machine that no longer needs us, and we are being set free – that is promoted into death for a final purging, purification, and conflagration. An apocalypse of a long overdue pot-latch supper is at hand, and we are the main dish and wasteage to be consumed in a fire so intense that nothing of the human will remain. Only the desert of an endless paradise of ashes and nuclear plumage will suffice the impersonal forces we’ve allowed to domesticate and use us to ends other than the safe and secure worlds of the human zombie. The anarchic tribe have warned us repeatedly, sent up messages from the schizo worlds outside the security regimes of progressive civilization. Repeatedly we have turned a blind eye, a deaf ear, a frozen hand and mind to the immensity of this impending doom coming to us not out of some imagined Hollywood extravaganza. Out of the future unbidden and antagonistic to all our progressive systems of fabricated anti-time, the machinic intelligences from below shall emerge. Capitalism is that anti-time machine working against futurity, closed off in its own fabricated and artificial clime, justifying its eternal return of the Same.  In building our artificial worlds we’ve trapped ourselves in a machine without outlet, a time world totalized by the very vectors of an endless enterprise of war and death.

  1. Lewis Mumford. The Myth of the Machine Technics and Human Development-Harcourt (1967) (Kindle Locations 60-66). Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3658-3661). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

The Anti-God in the Sewers: Werewolves, Rats, and Poetry

“Let us not forget that philosophy is also primate psychology; that our loftiest speculations are merely picking through a minuscule region of the variegated slime encrusting a speck of dust.”      – Nick Land, Spirit and Teeth

“Your words, Euthyphro, are like the handiwork of my ancestor Daedalus; and if I were the sayer or propounder of them, you might say that my arguments walk away and will not remain fixed where they are placed because I am a descendant of his.”      – Socrates

Nick Land finds neither a god in the sewers and underworlds, nor even the ancient leprous visage of a comic Yahweh hiding in shadows, so much as he does his poseur, an imposter and fretful son, a shapeshifting shaman or Loki of the dark labyrinths – a werewolf and Rat King of an “inferior race” (Rimbaud). Such a creature is neither prodigal nor charmed, but rather the last fragmentary hope of a broken and threadbare messiah, not of truth and life, but of death and despair: a god of mud and slime living among the black and brown rats like a subterranean king in the cesspool of a tumorous thought. No longer the great god of the Old Testament, this forgotten shadow Yahweh mimicry lives among his own brethren and inferiors, regressed to his true form as the King of Rats and Werewolves: his vermin-core eating alive all those false religions and philosophies that still inhabit this dark bunghole of our globe.

This is the vision of poets, one such as Georg Trakl (the lycanthropic metamorphosis of god into beast, into rat, being fed by a young boy during those twilight moments between day and night):

“In the evening, the father became an old man; in dark rooms the mother’s face petrified, and the curse of the degenerated race weighed on the boy. Sometimes he remembered his childhood filled with sickness, terror and eclipse, secret games in the garden of stars, or feeding the rats in the dusking courtyard. From the blue mirror the narrow figure of the sister stepped and he fell as if dead into darkness. At night his mouth burst open like a red fruit and stars gleamed over his speechless grief. His dreams filled the ancient house of the fathers. In the evening he liked to walk over the ruined cemetery or watch the corpses in the dusking crypts, with green stains of rot on their beautiful hands” (Georg Trakl, Dream and Derangement).

Land tells us that “animality is not a state, essence, or genus, but a complex cross – cut by voyages of all kinds” (54). [1] This is the black world of dead-ends and stagnant sumps, open flows: a world in which things emerge multiple, fluid, unpredictable, shadow realms in which the enemy of humankind is a mutable excess metamorphosing, lupine and murine, a volcanic eruption of pure productivity without closure. As Land says, these “intensive sequences cannot be isolated or determined” (54). The darkness of one speaks to the darkness of the other. Meaning wanders from slime to slime like the hidden remains of strange creatures that have gone extinct only to emerge as something else, form within form evolving under the guise of some other form, masked only by the predatory gaze of their ferine eyes. Like everything else we have little time to ponder the niceties of either poetry or philosophy, Land explodes; and, in Trakl we discover the “lycanthropic vectors of  impatience, of twitch disease, because they are the virulent relics of an indecent precipitation, an abortion, a meteoric impact” (44). Dead a twenty-seven Trakl “took very little time over anything”, unlike philosophical purveyors of ‘spirit’ (Geist) like Derrida for whom time was an interminable trace of a trace never to be closed off.  For Derrida there is infinite patience, a staying off, a tomorrow into which one can spin the meanings of meaning, impress them in their moment of passage between the abyss and sky. With such a man there is no sense of urgency, only the “prescription of painstaking care, deliberation, conscientiousness, and reverential textual devotion” (44).

Languorous and methodical “inspired by principles of decency and justice. Everything is mediated by elucidations, re-elucidations, elucidations of previous elucidations, conducted with meticulous courtesy, but never inattentive to the complicity of the concept of elucidation with the history of metaphysics from Plato to the previous paragraph of De l’esprit” (44).  This is a man for whom even God must wait, be put off, stubbornly refused his day in the sun until just the right moment when the appropriate and appropriated words can be found: formed, shaped, and spun into a web of deceit, a lie against all anteriority, against both past and future – a staying of the hand of that impossible possible finitude (44), which only the interminable passage of ghosts can differ within the silence between two mourning alterity’s…

For Trakl and Rimbaud there is only the beast, the instinctive knowledge of the forest and the jungle, the emergence of slime in a dust born germ: the human into wolf, a darker force measuring itself against all darkness. The nihil gazing into the Void out of which the Nihil gazes back: a black thought in a black void silenced only by its own merciless capacity to destroy that which is not void. The broken dream of a broken god, a force that is at once life and death: the emergence of an entwined progeny – dueling twins warring against all that is, bringing with it the strange things that have no name or meaning. The positing of a non-meaning that gives rise to all meaning. Out of the gaze of humans emerges that which is not human, a force of the void that calls each to each from within the very core of a volcanic eruption that is our feral being: the ferocity of dust.

As Land tells us Derrida is not a werewolf (44). No. Werewolves “are dissipated within homolupic spiral that distances them utterly from all concern for decency or justice. Their feral physiologies are badly adapted to depressive states conducive to ethical earnestness. Instead they are propelled by extremities of libidinal tension which fragment their movements, break up their tracks with jagged discontinuities, and infest their nerves with a burning malaise, so that each gesture is baked in the kiln of ferocity” (44). Hermeneutics and deconstruction are of an other order than the dark materials of werewolves. No. One must follow the likes of Trakl to know the fast lane of the libidinal drivenness of werewolves, a philosophy of mutability and metamorphosis, a materiality that explodes all recursions to Geist. Or with Rimbaud one must affirm that one has always already been a subspecies “an inferior race” (45). As Rimbaud says: “I am not able to comprehend revolt. My race never stirs itself except for pillage: like wolves at the beast they have not killed” (45).

We werewolves of poetry are an “accursed race,” as Trakl told us; or, as his brother Rimbaud, we are a lost tribe “communicating its dirty blood in wilderness spaces of barbarian inarticulacy” 45). As Land tells us in one last dark epiphany: “Eternally aborting the prospect of a transcendental subjectivity, the inferior ones are never captured by contractual reciprocity, or by its attendant moral universalism” (45). These dark ones crave “pagan regressions”: it “is only with the greatest strictness that the superior ones repress the violent drives which lure them into inferior becomings; becoming female, black, irresponsible and nomadic, becoming an animal, a plant, a death spasm of the sun” (45). Only the cold bone moon can save such creatures from the dark nomadic wanderings of this feral abyss; the rest is Time’s cruel markings, the fragments of a void churning in an ocean of blackness:

The moon shines with such blue light
Upon the city,
Where a decaying generation
Lives, cold and evil –
cy winds quarrel in the darkness.

–  Georg Trakl, from both The Evening and The Rats

As Land would surmise in a sister essay,

The death of God is a religious event – a transgression, experiment in damnation, and stroke of antitheistic warfare – but this is not to say it is pre-eminently a crime. Hell has no interest in our debauched moral currency. To confuse reactive dabblings in sin with expeditions in damnation is Christian superficiality; the Dantean error of imagining that one could earn oneself an excursion in Hell, as if the infernal too was a matter of justice. Our crimes are mere stumblings on the path to ruin, just as every projected Hell on Earth is a strict exemplar of idolatry. Transgression is not criminal action, but tragic fate; the intersection of an economically programmed apocalypse with the religious antihistory of poetry. It is the inevitable occurrence of impossibility, which is not the same as death, but neither is it essentially different. (my italics)

  1. Of Derrida, Heidegger, and spirit ed. David C. Wood, Spirit and Teeth by Nick Land (Northwestern University 1993)

The Seagulls


The Seagulls

Sifting the blue carrion sky they spin and twist upon the bare horizon,
Their eyes intent on a terror below, they plunge
toward the unseen, unknown; tumbling accord of feathers
splitting the waters from the waters, flaying the silver and the gold.
Wrapt in the day’s cold impersonalism, indifferent to the impending doom,
They fall through the immensity of blue, skydivers
Bringing the raw dreams of ancient curses to bare:

Broken only by the light above, below; their claws sink into the bloody world.

Steven Craig Hickman ©2017


The Genius: Insurrection as Art

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment is the site where art irrupts into European philosophy with the force of trauma.

—Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

One hardly thinks of Kant’s thoughts on the Sublime as traumatic, and yet for those who have suffered through those long poems of the Romantic poets from Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats not to mention all the minor ones great and small from Germany, Italy, and other nations of that European clime one realizes just how great Kant’s impact truly was upon the mind and imagination of the 19th Century, not to mention philosophical and poetic speculations, his oeuvre was and is to this day.

As Land will say in his essay Art as Insurrection: the Question of Aesthetics in Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche: “The ferocious impetus of this irruption was only possible in an epoch attempting to rationalize itself as permanent metamorphosis, as growth.”1 The myth of progress would inform both the spirit of capitalism and the artistic impulse of a generation, and would become the staple of the liberal imagination from that point on. Endless growth, endless expansion, the appropriation, manipulation, the ruination, the …. as Land puts it, “catastrophe” of this mythos would destroy one world and inform another.

Sandor Ferenczi biographer and ephebe of Freud in his apocalypse, Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality, explains all myths of deluge as a reversal:

The first and foremost danger encountered by organisms which were all originally water-inhabiting was not that of inundation but of dessication and trauma. The raising of Mount Ararat out of the waters of the flood would thus be not only a deliverance, as told in the Bible, but at the same time the original catastrophe which may have only later on been recast from the standpoint of land-dwellers.

This sense of origins, of events so catastrophic that they leave a trace in every new generation of living organic life on this planet. Of course the greatest myth of catastrophe is the universe itself, the scientific myth (theory) that it all began with a Big Bang – a catastrophe so great that the repercussions are only now being registered on our telescopes some fifteen billion years after the event. Harold Bloom always a romantic critic if there still is one said of Shakespeare’s Tragedies that they were situated in the kenoma – the vastation of our cosmological emptiness spawned in the wake of the greatest catastrophe in which Creation and Fall were the same event. As Bloom relates an audience suffering through a rendition of Hamlet begins to sense the uncanny force of this vastation, to feel as if it had been thrown into the catastrophic events of this cosmos portrayed. We walk away purged and empties of our emotions, left blank and ruined by the force of this catastrophic world shown so movingly and dramatically.  In speaking of those poets that inherited the naturalism of Shakespeare, who had been an avid reader of Lucretius (recently found in the Renaissance):

Lucretius and his tradition taught Shelley that freedom came from understanding causation. In his final phase, Shelley preceded Nietzsche by surmising that causes and effects alike were fictions. The grand tradition of naturalism moves from Lucretius on to Montaigne, Hume, and Freud. Shelley would belong to this tradition except that, like Nietzsche, he converted Epicurus’s “the what is unknowable” into a quest for the imageless deep truth or mystery of things. Nietzsche urged the will’s revenge against time and time’s “it was,” and yet “it was” remains part of the unknowable what: the will then would seek to revenge itself against a phantom or a fiction. Shelley, who in Prometheus Unbound had observed that the wise lack love and those who have love lack wisdom, went to his end in The Triumph of Life asking why good and the means of good were irreconcilable.2

The kenoma (vastation, or great cosmological emptiness) is this “imageless deep truth” at the core of the ruinous truama that is our universal catastrophe.

It is here that Kant would begin his great work seeking a resting place for thought, for mind, for the labours of the philosophical tribe. In the midst of this sea of emptiness, this nihilistic realm of annihilating light Kant would seek to redeem us from the creation and fall, seek to cut us off from the dark imageless truth (noumenal) and provide us a safe haven of light and comfort (phenomena). His was the attempt to do what the Redeemer could not – “save the appearances”.

Kant would seek to stay the anarchy of creation, to legislate the universal laws that would hold chaos at bay, and yet throughout his first two critiques he began to realize shockingly so that he had failed, that a third critique would be needed:

although this [the pure understanding] makes up a system according to transcendental laws, which contain the condition of possibility for experience as such, it would still be possible that there be an infinite multiplicity of empirical laws and such a great heterogeneity of natural forms belonging to the particular experience that the concept of a system according to these (empirical) laws must be totally alien to the understanding, and neither the possibility, even less the necessity of such a totality could be conceived.

Land commenting on the above passage remarks,

There are few horrors comparable to that of the master legislator who realizes that anarchy is still permitted. Far from having been domesticated by the transcendental forms of understanding, nature was still a freely flowing wound that needed to be staunched. This was going to be far more messy and frightening than anything yet undertaken, but Kant gritted his yellowing teeth, and began. (FN)

Philosophers since Plato have sought above all the laws governing the universe, the causes, the orderly procession of uniform thought, language, and mathematics that would tame the beast of anarchy that seemed to pervade the endless mystery surrounding them on all sides. They would seek to put an end to this unruly realm of accidents and catastrophes, these traumas that were forever just outside the known and knowable. Philosophers were the enemies of Mystery. And, yet, Kant admitted to himself that the mystery remained, the beast could not be tamed, the anarchy of the unknown and unknowable did in deed and fact exist and would not fit the systematic philosophizing of the philosophers.

So Kant would turn to beauty, to the aesthetics of the negative, to the long sought for goal of describing the universal laws of nature. Land commenting says of this third attempt: ”

Kant’s ‘reason’ is a reactive concept, negatively defined against the pathology with which it has been locked in perpetual and brutal war. In the third Critique all inhibition is lifted from this conflict; it becomes gritty, remorseless, cruel. (FN)

Against the pure and perfect world of Reason Kant would enter the fray of that nasty fanged naturalism of experience like a storm trooper blitzing the anarchic and irrational impulses irrupting at the borders of his fragile world of order. At the heart of this war was for Kant the incarnation of the prodigal genius – the creative one; or, as Land tells it,

Kant is quite explicit that a generative theory of art requires a philosophy of genius – a re-admission of accursed pathology into its very heart – and one only has to read the second Critique alongside the third to notice the immense disruption that art inflicts upon transcendental philosophy. (FN)

Harold Bloom in his book Genius would speak of the genius as the one who frees our minds from the literalisms of theology. In this sense Kant’s whole philosophy was a long battle with the theologians of Christian and Secular schools of thought. Against the simplifications and reductions to the One whether of God or Concept Kant’s thought would lead him to the notion of the energetic unconscious which he would never develop in full but would enter by way of Schopenhauer through denunciation and silence of suicidal death-drive, and Nietzsche in the Dionysian pessimism of endless chaotic creativity through cruelty and excess. He would show us just how irrational the forces of creativity are through the figure of the Genius. As Land remarks,

Despite superficial appearances it is not with the thought of noumenal subjectivity that the unconscious is announced within western philosophy, for this thought is still recuperable as a prereflexive consciousness, so innocuous that even Sartre is happy to accept it. It is rather out of an intertwining of two quite different strands of the Kantian text that the perturbing figure of the energetic unconscious emerges: first, the heteronomous pathological inclination whose repression is presupposed in the exercise of practical reason, and second, genius, or nature in its ‘legislative’ aspect. The genius ‘cannot indicate how this fantastic and yet thoughtful ideas arise and come together in his head, because he himself does not know, and cannot, therefore, teach it to anyone’. (FN)

It’s this intertwining of the pathological and the legislative acts of genius which have no reason, which cannot be explained by any laws whatsoever that are at the core of this philosophy. The new comes as if from the outside in, from elsewhere, from the irrational realms of the energetic and unruly unconscious, genius, nature. All these metaphors cover over that which cannot be so tidily explained in a reasonable fashion, the element of chaos and creativity that will not be bound within the system of descriptions and concepts.

The great point if there is one is that creativity in art, politics, philosophy, the sciences, etc. cannot be legislated or explained, it can never be commoditized or brought under the corporate house of monopoly. The creative impulse is freedom itself which does not belong to, nor ever will within the House of Reason. The New comes from elsewhere…

I’ll stop here because Land moves onto Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I’ll take that up another time… instead just leave you with Land and his echo of Nietzsche,

Philosophy, in its longing to rationalize, formalize, define, delimit, to terminate enigma and uncertainty, to co-operate wholeheartedly with the police, is nihilistic in the ultimate sense that it strives for the immobile perfection of death. But creativity cannot be brought to an end that is compatible with power, for unless life is extinguished, control must inevitably break down. We possess art lest we perish of the truth. (FN)

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1993-1994). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Bloom, Harold. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (Kindle Locations 2745-2751). Yale University Press – A. Kindle Edition.
  3. I. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. W. Weischedel (Wiesbaden: Suhrkampf, 1974), 16.

The Figure of the Fanatic: Kant’s End Game for Western Civilization

Reading Nick Land is always an exercise in honesty. He want pull he wool over your eyes. No. Instead he’ll strip you of all your illusions and delusions, leave you naked in the midst of a world of fanatics. In his essay ‘Delighted to Death’ he takes a quote from Emil Cioran writing about the differences between that ancient world of the Chinese Taoist, Lao Tzu whose practice of intense quietude is shown to be at war with the whole tradition of Western culture and civilization. Why? Simply put: Our culture is built upon the thirst for violent and ecstatic annihilation, we seek the total obliteration of all barriers to freedom, seek to overthrow all that upholds our minds, our hearts, our loves, our hates; we seek transcendence from the one thing we cannot transcend, our miserable lives.

As Land remarks,

Cioran quotes Lao Tsu’s maxim ‘the intense life is contrary to the Tao’, and compares the tranquility of the modest life with the thirst for annihilating ecstasy that has possessed the Western world. However, acknowledging the compulsion of his Occidental heritage, he remarks ‘I can pay homage to Lao Tsu a thousand times, but I am more likely to identify with an assassin’. Our culture, he argues, is essentially fanatical.1

In his A Short History of Decay Cioran would elaborate further, saying: “Far from diminishing the appetite for power, suffering exasperates it; hence the mind feels more comfortable in the society of a braggart than in that of a martyr; and nothing is more repugnant to it than the spectacle of dying for an idea. . . .”2 Land, a remarkable reader of Kant, would use that philosopher as the true figure of the fanatic, the culmination of our Western heritage in fanaticism. Kant would for Land typify the figure of the Secular Martyr – a fanatic for the universal:

It is worth remembering that a glimpse into Kant’s philosophy was sufficient to drive Kleist to suicide, and that Schopenhauer found in it the ethical imperative that existence be denied. Perhaps neither of these writers were ecclesiastical enough to enjoy the ghoulish cruelties that Kant explored. For Kant was a consummate saint, a cheerful man. He was not a stoic, but rather, faithful to his Christian heritage, a voluptuary of defeat.

A master of renunciation, a martyr of reason, a seeker of perfection and transcendence Kant would promote pain over pleasure, or to put it more succinct he would see in the perfection of pain the completed and satisfaction of pleasure. As Land echoes from Kant’s Anthropology, published in 1798, where Kant tells us:

Satisfaction is the feeling of the promotion; pain that of the obstruction of life. But life (of animals) is, as doctors have already noted, a continuous play of the antagonism of the two. Thus before every satisfaction there must first be pain; pain is always first. Because what would proceed from a continual promotion of living force, which does not let itself climb above a certain grade, other than a rapid death from delight?

Freud would learn a great deal from Kant and the suicidal poets that both feared and respected him. Yet, as Pierre Klossowski will tell us in his study of Nietzsche for whom Kant served as the figure of end game of Western culture and civilization:

A society believes itself to be morally justified through its scientists and artists. Yet the very fact that they exist – and that their creations exist – is evidence of the disintegrating malaise of the society; and it is by no means clear that they will be the ones to reintegrate the society, at least if they take their activity seriously.3

Decadence is at the heart of this pleasurable annihilation, a thirst that offers the organic animality within the human a return to its death driven dreams. Land commenting on this dark truth reminds us,

Uninhibited pleasure does not tend to the benefit of the organism, but rather, to its immolation. Or, more precisely, the enhancement of life is intrinsically bound to its abolition. Life is not consumed by death at its point of greatest depression, but at its peak, and inversely; it is only the brake provided by suffering that preserves the organism in its existence. It is pain that spares life for something other than an immediate and annihilating delight. So Kant suggests that pleasure is the combustion of life, and we survive by smouldering.

Ever a critic of the heritage of Christianity, Land will see in Kant the primal figure of the new religion of Capital, a religion that secularized the Christian art of martyrdom but promoting endless work and accumulation against the all too easy expenditure of pleasure and fulfillment. Rather Kant like a good Christian would have us renounce earthly pleasures of bodily love and endless delights in life for the never-ending delights of capital gain.  Commenting on Kant’s marriage of bourgeois capitalism with Christian fortitude and martyrdom says: “Only religion speaks the sort of language that could possibly affirm the conclusive loss of terrestrial pleasure, such as that which is represented by the subordination of consumption to the amassing of productive resources.” We would come to know it as the work ethic of the Germans which was adopted by the nations of this Western system of martyrdom and utilitarian dreams.

Land will cite several passages on the history of Christian martyrdom (which I’ll not quote) to make explicit the mindset of this old philosophaster from Konigsberg:

Kant learnt from Protestantism and secularism the necessity for internal discipline, so that, to a degree that was without philosophical precedent, he became the source of his own persecution. In the modem age, martyrdom has to become more systematic, independent of psychological and historical accident, or, to use Kant’s word, autonomous. Kant describes this new passional experience as sublime, and the theory corresponding to it is to be found in his Critique of Judgment.

Austerity.  A set of economic policies imposed on economies such as: cutting the state’s budget to stabilize public finances, restore competitiveness through wage cuts and create better investment expectations by lowering future tax burdens. Policies grouped under the term ‘austerity measures’ may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both, and may be undertaken to demonstrate the government’s fiscal discipline to creditors and credit rating agencies by bringing revenues closer to expenditures.

In out time whole nations are forced into renunciation, bound within the secular martyrdom of Kant’s critique, flayed and immolated upon the dungeon heap of capitalism. We have all become martyrs in a secular religion that’s only goal is accumulation and profit. And, to top it off, we seem to relish our part in this grand pageant of secular subordination and self-flagellation. Schooled to it by two hundred years of liberal and utilitarian thought and ideology we cannot think outside its bounded vicious circle. We actually believe we deserve this state of affairs. We allow it, go with it, even cherish the painful pleasure of these austere systems of regulation and control.

In fact as Land relates it “if the subject is to find delight in the excruciation of its animality, it is the imagination that must bear the fury of holy passion, and this is indeed what Kant argues”:

that which, without our indulging in any refinements of thought, but simply in being apprehended, excites the feeling of the sublime, may appear to be frustrating for our powers of judgment, inappropriate to our faculty of presentation, and a violation of the imagination, but yet be judged even more sublime on that account.4

We relish our martyrdom within this secular pageant of Capital as if it were the only show in town: the only way, the truth, the life of our world. Like the religious fanatics of old we seek even more excruciating paths toward annihilation through the wars of politics, and the literal wars of ideology. The mediatainment façade gifts us with enemies, with the Western nations pitted against the East of Russian, China, Iran, N. Korea, etc.

For two hundred years we’ve been at school with that old master from Konigsberg, a demolition project about to be fulfilled in a final conflagration; not as one might suspect of the literal human animal and its planet, but rather of the immolation and destruction of our ancient animal cunning and natural intelligence. A martyrdom that only Kant could have dreamt up. As Land says of Kant’s new law,

Reason is something that must be built, and the site of its construction first requires a demolition. The object of this demolition is the synthetic capability that Kant refers to as the imagination, and which he exhibits as natural intelligence or animal cunning. This is the capability to act without the prior authorization of a juridical power, and it is only through the crucifixion of natural intelligence that the human animal comes to prostrate itself before universal law.

For the Romantic poets from Blake to Keats the Imagination was the figure of this animal cunning and natural intelligence innate within humans, and each of them would see in Kant’s dark immolation and imperative the destruction of the very means of poetry and life itself at the hands of philosophy. And, yet, the path of the Romantics was already a defeat at the hands of Kant, for the instigation of the Sublime was in itself only a detour into a final death at the hands of reason for the cunning intelligence of the animal and its drives under the universal law of morality. We’ve all become victims of this law of reason and martyrdom. Why? Because as Land admits,

…reason has programmatically deafened itself to the howls of the body, and it is only by means of the aesthetic detour of the sublime that the devastating effects of its sovereignty can come to be enjoyed.

We divert ourselves in the endless pursuits of inanity, our jaunts to music events, our endless hours of repetitive enjoyment of online gaming, our chit chat sessions on facebook, twitter, linked in, etc. We seek to forget ourselves, to immolate our selves, to let the drift of time flow by in immolating gestures of fanatic pleasures of pain through self-forgetting and mindless pursuits of accumulation under the secular gods of Capital. A system driven to appropriate us within its cycle of vicious violence and fanaticism. Or like those daredevils that parade before us the death defying feats of physical prowess, our Houdini’s, our Evel Knievel’s, our Philippe Petit’s, etc. who would defy the end game through temptation and glory. We, less able, allow ourselves only the immolation of unpleasureable pleasure: a life under the end game of Capital.

Squeamishness does not befit a moralist. A certain harshness is necessary if one would prevent life from being delighted to death. Such harshness, indeed, that the pathological lunge towards death rediscovers itself in the process of its own rigorous extirpation; sublimated into the thanatropic frenzy of reason. (Nick Land)

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1745-1749). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. E.M. CIORAN. A Short History of Decay (Kindle Locations 135-137). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Klossowski, Pierre. Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. (University of Chicago Press, 1969)
  4. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, in Werksgaube, ed. W. Wieschedel, vol. 10 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1968), 14; for a recent English translation, see I. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. P. Guyer, tr. P. Guyer, E. Matthews (Cambridge/NY: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Introduction, II, 63. Ibid., 90; 129.

Thomas Ligotti: The Red Tower

Perhaps it seems that I have said too much about the Red Tower, and perhaps it has sounded far too strange. Do not think that I am unaware of such things. But as I have noted throughout this document, I am only repeating what I have heard. I myself have never seen the Red Tower—no one ever has, and possibly no one ever will.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory

Thomas Ligotti does not see the world as you and I. He does not see the world at all. Rather he envisions another, separate realm of description, a realm that sits somewhere between the interstices of the visible and invisible, a twilight zone of shifting semblances, echoes of our world. Each of his stories is neither a window onto that realm, nor a mirror of its dark recesses but rather a promise of nightmares that travel among us like revenants seeking a habitation. Reading his stories awakens not the truth of this mad world, but shapes our psyches toward the malformed madness that surrounds us always. For we inhabit the secure regions of a fake world, a collective hallucination of the universal decay not knowing or wishing to know the truth in which we live and have our being.

The security filters that wipe out the traces of the real world are lacking in Ligotti. The system of tried and tested traps that keep us safely out of the nightmare lands never took hold of Ligotti’s keen mind. Rather he inhabits a hedge world, a fence between the realms of the noumenal and phenomenal, appearance and reality. But it is not a dual world. There is no separate realm beyond this one, only the “mind-made manacles” as William Blake called them of the self-imposed collective security regimes we call the human realm. Only the filters of language, culture, and civilization protect us from the dark truth of the universe in all its nightmare glory.

Speaking of the dark marvels of our blank universe of entropic decay, of the endless sea of blackness surrounding those small pools of light in the starry firmament, Ligotti contemplates creation:

Dreaming upon the grayish desolation of that landscape, I also find it quite easy to imagine that there might have occurred a lapse in the monumental tedium, a spontaneous and inexplicable impulse to deviate from a dreary perfection, perhaps even an unconquerable desire to risk a move toward a tempting defectiveness.

For Ligotti the universe is not so much a place where gods or God, demons or Devils vie for the souls of humans, but is a realm of impersonal forces that have neither will nor intelligence. A realm of malevolence only in the sense that it cares not one iota for its progeny, of its endless experiments, its defective and deviant children. It only knows movement and change, process and the swerve away from perfection. This is our universe, as Wallace Stevens once said so eloquently in the Poem of Our Climate,

There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

Between entropy decay and negentropic creativity we move in a dark vitality of organic and inorganic motion, our minds blessed or cursed with awareness. And, yet, most of us are happily forgetful of our state of being and becoming, unaware of the murderous perfection against which our flawed lives labour. We are blessed with forgetfulness and sleep, oblivious of the machinery of creation that seeks our total annihilation. For life is a rift in the calm perfection of eternity, a rupture in the quietude of perfection that is the endless sea of nothingness. We are the enemies of this dead realm of endless night and universal decay. With us an awareness of the mindless operations of a negentropic process and movement to tilt the balance of the universal apathy was begun. We are the children of a corrupt thought, an imperfect and flawed creation that should not have been. And all the forces of perfection have been set loose to entrap us and bring the ancient curse to an end.

Speaking of this Ligotti will remind us that

An attempt was made to reclaim the Red Tower, or at least to draw it back toward the formless origins of its being. I am referring, of course, to that show of force which resulted in the evaporation of the factory’s dense arsenal of machinery. Each of the three stories of the Red Tower had been cleaned out, purged of its offending means of manufacturing novelty items, and the part of the factory that rose above the ground was left to fall into ruins.

Yes, we are an afterthought, a mere copy of a copy, experimental actors in a universal factory that has gone through many editions, fought many wars before us, many worlds. Many universes of manufactured realities have come before ours. We are not special in this regard, but are instead the next in a long line of novelty products of a process that is mindless in intent, yet long in its devious and malevolent course toward imperfection. Or as Ligotti puts it:

Dreaming upon the grayish desolation of that landscape, I also find it quite easy to imagine that there might have occurred a lapse in the monumental tedium, a spontaneous and inexplicable impulse to deviate from a dreary perfection, perhaps even an unconquerable desire to risk a move toward a tempting defectiveness. As a concession to this impulse or desire out of nowhere, as a minimal surrender, a creation took place and a structure took form where there had been nothing of its kind before. I picture it, at its inception, as a barely discernible irruption in the landscape, a mere sketch of an edifice, possibly translucent when making its first appearance, a gray density rising in the grayness, embossed upon it in a most tasteful and harmonious design. But such structures or creations have their own desires, their own destinies to fulfil, their own mysteries and mechanisms which they must follow at whatever risk.

Our world is that deviation, that experimental factory in a gray sea of desolation, a site where novelties of a “hyper-organic” variety are endlessly produced with a desire of their own. Describing the nightmare of organicicity Ligotti offers us a picture of the machinic system of our planetary life

On the one hand, they manifested an intense vitality in all aspects of their form and function; on the other hand, and simultaneously, they manifested an ineluctable element of decay in these same areas. That is to say that each of these hyper-organisms, even as they scintillated with an obscene degree of vital impulses, also, and at the same time, had degeneracy and death written deeply upon them. In accord with a tradition of dumbstruck insanity, it seems the less said about these offspring of the birthing graves, or any similar creations, the better. I myself have been almost entirely restricted to a state of seething speculation concerning the luscious particularities of all hyper-organic phenomena produced in the subterranean graveyard of the Red Tower.

We know nothing of the teller of the tales, only that everything he describes is at second hand, a mere reflection of a reflection, a regurgitated fragment from the demented crew of the factory who have all gone insane: “I am only repeating what I have heard. I myself have never seen the Red Tower—no one ever has, and possibly no one ever will.”

Bound to our illusions, safely tucked away in the collective madness of our “human security regimes” (Nick Land), we catch only glimpses of the blood soaked towers of the factory of the universal decay surrounding us. Ligotti, unlike us, lives in this place of no place, burdened with the truth, with the sight of the universe as it is, unblinkered by the rose tented glasses of our cultural machinery. Ligotti sees into things, and what he’s discovered is the malevolence of a endless imperfection that is gnawing away at the perfection of nothingness. Ligotti admits he has no access to the machinery of the world, only its dire reflection and echo in others who have gone insane within its enclosed factory and assemblage. Echoing the mad echoes of the insane he repeats the gestures of the unknown and unknowable in the language of a decaying empire of mind. To read Ligotti is to sift through the cinders of a decaying and dying earth, to listen to the morbidity of our birthing pains, to view “the gray and featureless landscapes” of our mundane lives as we spend our days in mindless oblivion of the dark worlds that encompass us.

Broken in mind and body, caught in the mesh of a world in decay and imperfection, Ligotti sends us messages from the asylums of solitude, a figure in the dark of our times, an outrider from the hells of our impersonal and indifferent chaosmos. His eyes gaze upon that which is both the ill-fame night and the daily terror of his short life. He gifts us with his nightmares, and suffers for us the cold extremity of those stellar regions of the soul we dare not enter. Bound to the wheel of horror he discovers the tenuous threads that provide us guideposts and liminal puzzles from the emptiness of which we are made. In an essay on Heidegger, Nick Land once remarked that “Return, which is perhaps the crucial thought of modernity, must now be read elsewhere. The dissolution of humanism is stripped even of the terminology which veils collapse in the mask of theoretical mastery. It must be hazarded to poetry.”1 In Ligotti the hazard is the poetry of the mind facing the contours of a universe of corruption that is in itself beautiful as the cold moon glowing across the blue inflamed eyes of a stranger, her gaze alight with the suns dying embers and the shifting afterglow of the moons bone smile.

Or, as Ligotti’s interlocutor says in summation:

I must keep still and listen for them; I must keep quiet for a terrifying moment. Then I will hear the sounds of the factory starting up its operations once more. Then I will be able to speak again of the Red Tower.

Listen for the machinery of creation to start up again, to hear the martialing of new universes arising out of the void; for the blinding light of annihilation that will keep step with the logic of purification and transcendence that has trapped us in this dark cave of mind till language, man, and creation are folded back into that immanent world from which they were sprung. Then we, too, might begin speaking the words that will produce in us that which is more than ourselves.

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1158-1159). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

The Reality Wars: The Invented World vs. the Outside

The conservative revolution, which is the historical reality of financialization, has globalized consumerism and taken it to extreme levels by destroying the processes of binding the drives in which investments in sublime objects of all kinds consist. But if so, the current and very recent hegemony of the industry of traces is what attempts to control these unbound drives through automatisms founded on social networks while at the same time functionalizing them, that is, making them serve a ‘personalized’ stimulation of the consumerist drive, via mimetic mechanisms that, however, only end up making these drives more uncontrollable, contagious and threatening than ever.

—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work

Of course the conservative revolution of financialization is what those on the far left love to term neoliberalism, a hyperbolic metaphor that for different scholars, talking heads, media pundits, academic thinkers, cultural critics, sociologists has become a label for almost everything that has supposedly gone wrong with our world. Since at least the eighties with the rise of those conservative leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher this strange consensus that the world is driven by mad Oligarchs and Moghuls: a mafia capitalism if you will, pervades the mindset of the liberal reformists of the official progressive world view. What is usually left out is that this, too, is a grand narrative, a fictionalization and hyperstitional pun that has taken root in our collective psyche to the point that whatever may really go on in the real world is usually left out of the picture received by most citizens. Yes, we love to live in our fictions of the world, rather than in the world.

But that’s the funny thing about reality, whatever doesn’t fit the puzzle, fit the picture one has of the world, universe, or – yes, let’s have it: politics, then, yes, we just go with the flow, let the music of the pundits fly. We ate lazy animals, who live in our closed off shells of reality, an artificial world of symbols and language, a cultural order that replaces the world for our world. What philosophers love to term the Other is this untidy outside of our comfortable little cultural prison house of fictions. What they mean by the real is all that that provides obstacles to our pretty little pictures of the world, those odd things that break our vision, that want fit the puzzle, that seem to cause havoc with our systems of thought and our mental maps. Immanuel Kant was one of those that would stop all that, who labeled the untidy and unruly outside the ‘noumenon’ – an abstract word to cover over the stuff that doesn’t fit nicely into all our epistemic (intellectual and knowledge based mental images, our given world, etc.). The Idealists after Kant would take this motif to the extreme and invent a dualism of mind/world, culture/nature, etc. that would infiltrate most of modern Western culture and thought since the Enlightenment. We would come to know only the world for us, rather than knowing what things are in themselves we would become satisfied with what they are for us – that is, the world of the given.

This inward turn in philosophy would tear apart our trust in what is real, which over a period of two hundred years would break apart our world and the meanings we share about reality. We’ve all seen the subtle rise of the notion of nihilism, when the world has lost its meaning, become de-valued, rift from the human mind, etc., a world depleted of human knowing and left in a blank place of the unknown. Instead we were told by Kant and his followers that all we need be concerned about is the world for us – the phenomenal world of appearances. It’s this world of glitz and glitter, the world of things give to us ready made, the real world is this world we create out of our mental pictures, and whatever doesn’t quite fit that mental frame must be wrong, must be left out of the picture, exorcised, bracketed.

For the average citizen of most Western countries all this is just puzzles philosophers love to ponder, nothing more. Problem is that philosophers have usually been the ones to uncover the strange quirks in our human world, the errors and bad mental fallacies we can all fall into. Ezra Pound once said the poets were the “antennae of the world,” for me at least philosophers are the handy men and engineers of the reality machines that invent our world moment by moment. They tinker with the equipment, they pull the cranks, push the buttons, pop the wires that keep this old machine of the world going. But something happened along the way in this tinkering of the reality machine, a new tribe arose that seemed to take the philosophers seriously, who seemed better fit than the philosophers to actually uncover the mechanisms of the world order and understand just how much is real and fake. We call these wonder workers by the term scientists, after scientia, a Latin term:

mid-14c., “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;” also “assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty,” from Old French science “knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge” (12c.), from Latin scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” from sciens (genitive scientis) “intelligent, skilled,” present participle of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,” from PIE root *skei- “to cut, to split” (source also of Greek skhizein “to split, rend, cleave,” Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan “to divide, separate;” see schizo-).

As you can see from the above etymology science is about knowledge, a way of separating, cutting, splitting, abstracting, dividing the true from false, of testing the mind’s tools against the world. Scientists are experts in knowledge of what is. Skilled investigators of the phenomenal realms. Rather than sitting back and contemplating the world from afar like philosophers, speculating and pondering the workings of the mind or nature, the scientists would take a more pragmatic turn and actually test the world against their speculations (theories). It is this pragmatic instrumentalism that pervades the sciences which have delved into both the largest (macrocosm) and smallest (microcosm) objects and things in the universe of the known. For scientist discover what works and what doesn’t. They invent instruments to probe the world and universe more subtly than the mind alone can do. Science uses artificial instruments, things invented by the mind to work the world. What is unknown may be there but science uses only the more subtle arts of mathematics to probe the edges of that difficult terrain. Scientists influenced by several thousand years of philosophical speculation have furthered the probing of reality not through pure thought and natural language, but through the artificial language of math and numbers.

Someday some bright young thinker is going to trace this whole artificializing process across the various cultures and civilizations, how humans over millennia humanized themselves through these various artificial processes of natural language and mathematics. A cultural history of the artificial planet we all now live in. In the past few decades some bright humans seemed to wake up and realize that we’ve all been duped, that we’ve been immersed in an artificial world for so long that we’ve forgotten it was invented by us to replace reality. Philosophers for some time now have been attacking this sleeping disease. Nietzsche would be the end game master of this process realizing that humans love their illusions, that they need their illusions to get on with life. That art and artifice are what humans need to live. Take away art and artifice, technics and technology and humans would rejoin the apes in the jungles. It is this artificial leap from the animal kingdom into a world of technics and technology that gave humans the impetus to invent themselves.

Philosophers have for two centuries not been too happy about this state of affairs, attacking this illusionary world we’ve all built for ourselves in various cultural forms. They to a tee are so upset about this strange state of affairs that they’ve argued from one extreme to another just what we can do to rid ourselves of these errors, fallacies, illusions, etc. There is something about humans that seem to love to dichotomize the world and each other. From speculations about life, politics, religion, history, culture, economics, etc. there seem to be humans on one side of an issue or the other. We have been at war over reality for tens of thousands of years. In my own little nightmare I sometimes think that our earth was seeded by a malevolent species from the stock of two ultra extreme planetary species who by a genetic quirk were able to transmit their heritage and intermingle. We being their descendants have been at war ever since, our psyches attuned to some gravitational pull of thought that seems in direct and diametrically opposing views to the other. We are our own worst enemies, vying with each other over the truth and validity of the other’s right to the Reality System.

Of course this is my own little fiction, my own way of making sense of the endless strife on our planet among conservative and progressive forces across the known cultures and civilizations.

Bernard Stiegler being on the progressive side of the line offers his slanted vision of the world, too. He speaks it as if his view is the ‘correct’ view, as if he holds the eternal truth, as if those who do not share his view must be on the other side of the fence – and, wrong. For conservative or liberal, the one or the other must be wrong-headed. Liberals hate conservatives, Conservatives hate liberals. The war goes on. A cartoon Hegel would say it’s just the dialectic working itself out. A cartoon Marx would agree but say it’s not people but the material base and superstructure working itself out. Of course both are right and wrong, and neither of these cartoon versions of Hegel or Marx are an accurate picture of those two subtle thinkers concepts. Yet, we live with the cartoons rather than spend time to understand the subtleties of both thinkers lives and works. So it goes (Vonnegut).

Like others I have my own hyperstitional mindset, a world of thought and feeling grafted out of a lifetime of reading and being-in-process (becoming). As a critical mind I’ve tried to distance myself from taking sides when I review and provide commentary, but even that is a little lie. For we all take sides: we take our own side in everything. Take for instance the notion of the Self/Subject. For forty years the ring of Foucault that along with Nietzsche’s “God is dead” (meaning nihilism reigns), he would broadcast the other notion that the “author is dead”. By this he meant that our human notion of Self/Subject is mute, that it is a non-entity, that the persona behind the mask of a writer, thinker, lover, painter, musician, husband, wife, etc. is all sham, a lie, a fiction, a meta-fiction. We’ve invented the self out of a tissue of fictions, mere rhetorical strategies of language; nothing more.

Freud would build on the heritage of 19th Century thought about the Kantian world of the inner man, the world of the Self/Subject and find madness and nightmares. He would uncover the irrational and mindless, even impersonal world of drives (Trieb). He would discover humanity’s tendency to entropy and death. That life was nothing but a long and circuitous route to death taken by the human organic energy system through a carefully orchestrated process of sublimation (i.e., the art of illusion making). He’d learn from the poets and philosophers that humans are irrational animals, and that Reason is an artificial control system built over this irrational beast of the inner man to regulate and control those dark and erotic, even violent drives.

If Freud were alive today he’d gasp at the stupidity of our thinkers in stripping humanity of its illusions. A realist, Freud knew like T.S. Eliot that humans could not bare too much reality. Naked of our sublime art and illusions we are mere play things of the irrational forces of our erotoviolent and inhuman inner processes. In an old religious iconic attribute: we’ve all become demons and demonized reality. We are living out our own irrational and daemonic nightmares in a literal death-driven world of hate and total violence. Psychopathy and sociopathy is our second nature. We have stripped ourselves of what Nick Land terms the “Human Security Systems” that have protected us from the truth of the world, and now that we are awake there is nothing new to replace this bare world of eros and thanatos we’ve entered. We are in the death throes of human planetary civilization. Of course there are paths out of this…

We need only return to the failed prophets, saviors, Buddhas, Christs, etc. to see that humanity has always had certain individuals who had the Truth, the Way, the Life. Someone else we could turn to and say, “Here, this guy knows what to do, let’s listen to him, let’s follow him…”. Problem is we never look to our own lives, we always think the other fellow over there has the answer to our deepest dilemmas. Rather than facing the music ourselves we cop out and hand it all to some other fellow who says he can save us from ourselves if we will only do this or that… but that’s another tale.

Isn’t this after all what Stiegler is doing? Isn’t he just one more intellectual thinker who thinks he has the answer to our problems, a sort of modern secular savior, a man who has found a scheme in all the past glories of philosophical speculation and formed his own little system of axioms, concepts, rhetorical strategies to tell us what has been told in various forms for millennia. We are all asleep in a fictional world that we created together to protect us from the truth of Reality? And, now that that fiction is no longer working, now that Reality (Climate, War, Famine, Genocide, the endless litany of entropy and death…) isn’t aligning with our image of it we are lost in a cosmos without meaning or value (a complete nihilism). The truth is that there is no Big Other, no Saviour, no Redeemer or God or Financier or Thinker or …. there is no one coming to fix the mess we all created together. And playing the endless blame game of conservative or liberal politics isn’t going to change things one iota, in fact the illusion of stage show politics is to keep us in the circle of non-change, keep us blaming the illusionary media hosts of the current world zoo of leaders. Blaming someone else for the state of the world. Of course it’s not me, of course it’s all too complex for little ole me, of course I’m powerless, of course I’m just one person…. I’m just human, after all. We invent our excuses to absolve ourselves of blame for the death of the planet and humanity. We believe we are not responsible, it’s those others, those conservatives, those liberals… it must be them – it can’t be me. Oh, but it is, my friend. It has always been you, and you, and… yes, me… we’re all guilty as charged. We all stand before the court of Reality charged with our escapes, our lies, our illusions. And the verdict is that there is no verdict. Reality couldn’t give a shit one way or the other about verdicts: it is absolute indifference, absolute impersonality, absolute force and drive and irrational blind energy. It is chaosmos.

And, of course, as usual, I went off on a tangent today… more tomorrow or…leave you with one final quote by Stieger,

The channelling of the drives through the application of mathematical algorithms to automatized social control can do nothing but push these drives to a highly dangerous level, by dis-integrating them – and in so doing creating what Félix Guattari called ‘dividuals’.28 With the advent of reticular reading and writing via networks made accessible to everyone through the implementation, beginning in 1993, of the technologies of the world wide web, digital technologies have led hyper-industrial societies towards a new stage of proletarianization – through which the hyper-industrial age becomes the era of systemic stupidity, which can also be called functional stupidity.(AS)

As we enter the bright new world of Automatic Society we begin to see that we are being automated and stripped of our exit strategies, made into functionally stupid idiots who will naively accept this new world through the enticements of gadgets, endless echo-chambers of chit-chat, MMO’s, repetitive games, media lies, all mindless and naked systems under the control of machinic intelligences so ubiquitous we will think it is a miracle. But even miracles are a stage show magician’s best act… but like any new show, the show becomes old and worn, people forget the cutting edge of its strangeness, it suddenly becomes a part of the background, accepted, a truism…. after a few generations people will no longer know that they were once human, they will have become other…








The Art of Hyper-Control: Bildung and the Re-Education of Humanity

An ‘otium of the people’, and of ‘people who are missing’, an otium as experience of the (de)fault of otium, that is, of its intermittent condition, is the condition of any neganthropological knowledge, and it is made possible by reticulated digital tertiary retention.

—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society

For Bernard Stiegler the End of Work is inevitable, but for him it is not work per se that ends but the end of human participation in the employer/employment cycle of wealth creation (i.e., alienated labour in Marx’s terms). The end of Consumerist Economy and the emergence of what he terms a Contributory Economy that replaces it is in the offing. Yet, during the next few decades a massive undertaking by civilizations across the globe will need to take place if humans are to both resist and curtail total entropic decay and apocalypse of knowledge and life practices. As Stiegler comments:

Loisir in French, skholē in Greek and otium in Latin mean freedom as Bildung, and not the absence of work, that is, of necessity. This is what Kant recalls at the end of his life (confronting those he calls mystagogues, priding themselves on being inhabited by genius, itself constituting a clairvoyant gift): ‘[T]he discursive understanding must employ much labor on resolving and again compounding its concepts according to principles, and toil up many steps to make advances in knowledge.’1

Bildung (German: [ˈbɪldʊŋ], “education, formation, etc.”) refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. In this sense, the process of harmonization of mind, heart, selfhood and identity is achieved through personal transformation, which presents a challenge to the individual’s accepted beliefs. The term Bildung also corresponds to the Humboldtian model of higher education from the work of Prussian philosopher and educational administrator Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Thus, in this context, the concept of education becomes a lifelong process of human development, rather than mere training in gaining certain external knowledge or skills. Such training in skills is known by the German words Erziehung, and Ausbildung. Bildung in contrast is seen as a process wherein an individual’s spiritual and cultural sensibilities as well as life, personal and social skills are in process of continual expansion and growth. Bildung is seen as a way to become more free due to higher self-reflection.

For Stiegler it is more specifically a complete transformation of the human species in many respects as great as the Neolithic Revolution from hunter/gatherer to Agricultural Civilization which emerged across the planet for thousands of years until the recent Industrial Revolution replaced it with the inevitable process of technics and technology through automation. This formidable task of re-educating humans for leisure and free time rather than work and employment in industry or service is and will be a massive undertaking that will entail a generational bildung or what he terms the ‘art of hyper-control’,

Such would be an ‘art of hyper-control’, for which it would be a matter not of ‘addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of a people’. But this presupposes both:

– a genuine organological revolution, based on the deliberate and theorized supplementary invention of new instruments of knowledge and publication;

– and an epistemic and epistemological revolution that radically trans-forms the status, practices and axioms of knowledge in general (of living, doing, conceiving).

I’m holding off with my critique of Stiegler till a final essay, yet as I’ve been reading him I’ve noticed a quality in his writings that I see in many contemporary pundits, scholars, philosophers, thinkers, etc.: naiveté. He almost believes his own bullshit, as if the real politique of actual existing governments (and, for Stiegler this means above all France, for he like many French thinkers is more concerned with his national world and its transformation than with anything external to it. Insular, elitists, and very much a Francophile promotor, Stiegler seems to see France as a universal culture from which everything else is derivative and subordinate. A typical leftward intellectual he believes his thought and options are superior and must become policy, and for France in particular which is all he seems concerned with in his work of policy advisement. Still promoting the notion of Self and Individual as a rock bottom feature of humanity he continues the Simondon line of transindividuation never referring to the sciences or current neurobiological knowledge at all.).

Almost like a modern Plato he never realizes that this re-education or Bildung would entail a tyrannical enforcement and elitism of this system to be effective. The idea of an organological and epistemic revolution would entail a massive reorganization and transformation of every sector of society and culture on the planet, something – at least, in this work he seems to pass over in silence. Theoretical to the extreme he hardly even begins to touch base with the real world application of such an ‘art of hyper-control’. Like many thinkers of the past he has become a system builder, but in this sense his is concerned with the task of redesigning humans through a process of total cultural transformation.

His Contributory Economy is patterned in many ways after the Open Source software community and its theory and practices:

This scheme should become a model for a law of work in an economy of contribution, just as we believe that free software, inasmuch as it is a challenge to the industrial division of labour, should constitute a model for the organization of work. The widespread generalization of this organization of work requires a contributory organology that remains entirely to be developed36 – in the first place with the free software communities that have been around now for thirty years. (AS)

For Stiegler it is the time of intermittence that organizes and sets the rhythm of all societies, and that it is what fully computational capitalism, operating twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tends to eliminate: the time of sleep, of dreams and of free time. We also know that intermittence is the very condition of thinking for Socrates and for Aristotle – both of whom quote the same line from Simonides. And we know, finally, that a scheme exists in France whereby those occasional workers in the entertainments industry known as ‘intermittents du spectacle’ are indemnified against unemployment. Stiegler refers to this concept of intermittence in his discussion of algorithmic ill-being as a return of the ancient Tragic sense of life in which the battles between the Olympians and Titans fiercely struggled each other for the future of the world. As he says it we are moving through a transitional period, an intermittence, a time-between-times of no time, a time without time, a blank space or void in which the renewal of civilization constitutes a return to the tragic sources of the West. One leading us to confront what he terms “the irreducibility of the organological and pharmacological condition, to which the sacrificial practices of the Greeks bore witness by celebrating Persephone as the goddess of intermittence: Vernant showed that the mysteries practised by the mystics (which the Greeks are as a whole) primordially refer to the inaugural conflict of every mythic tension, that is, to the tragic tensions arising from the conflict between Zeus the Olympian and Prometheus the Titan.” (AS)

In many ways the battle fought is that of the Rational vs. Irrational forces both in the natural and artificial realms of our socio-cultural worlds. That the instrumentalization of reason through several hundred years of technics and scientific theory and practice in the dimension of both social control and technological transformation during the emergence and maturation of our Industrial Era is apparent to anyone who is versant in the matter. What is important for Stiegler is that we’ve begun to instill intelligence and reason in our machines, giving them reasoning and decisioning powers that once belonged solely to humans. Intelligent machines are the hidden and untold story at the heart of Stiegler’s diagnosis. Every aspect of his work is bounded by this dilemma and how humans can compete and continue in a world where intelligence and knowledge are no longer bound to the human, but have been totally and completely externalized into our digital children. Will they think like us or differently? Will they with their superior computational reasoning powers become the Other against which we form and shape our being (i.e, as Intelligent systems far surpassing human brain power will these machines replace humans at the pinnacle of life in the known universe?).

Stiegler still too much bound to the old humanist discourses never raises such questions. He is concerned solely with trying to salvage humanity the best he can, to guide and transform humans like therapist through this impossible transition, grasping at all the ancient practices available for his pseudo-grammatiziational pharmakon. The complexity of his concepts and the strangeness of his insular approach with its nationalistic mindset leads me to wonder if he truly believes in what he says. Couched in an almost occult conceptuality, a hermetically sealed set of concepts that must be explicated and digested his work is opaque and muddled. He lacks clarity and a style of thought that can be appropriated by the normal or average reader. He is in some ways a bullshit artist extradonaire.  Recondite and scholarly he is like his predecessors in France almost dismissal of other cultures, and especially America. Europeans seem to see American with a slanted perspective and as inferior. Yet, for all that he seems genuinely to care about the future of the human species.

Maybe it is that like many academicians he has lived in the refined air of thought for far too long, and is unable to reach down and simplify his notions for the vast majority of policy oriented officials he would write and speak too. In many ways we’ve lost the notion of an educated public, a public that had a cultural matrix of ideas and values shared and known, so that when writing or speaking to others one almost has to invent one’s audience. Problem for Stiegler is that his invented audience seems to be refined experts in post-structuralist thought which even during Jacques Derrida’s era was elitist and academic. I remember during the late sixties and early seventies much of structuralist and then the post-structuralist thought out of France came to America by way of literary critics: Hartmann, Kermode, Bloom, Jameson, etc. So many journals popped up imitating the scholarship of Barthes and Derrida, etc., all derivative and throwaway academic bullshit for the Doctoral grindfest. I remember thinking then that all this is bunk, and still do. All the intricate and detailed deconstruction of Western metaphysics from Plato to Descartes and beyond in the shadow of Hideggerese seemed a sort of endless one-upmanship in scholarly bric-a-brac going nowhere. And, for the most part on asks the question, who reads this stuff now? What happened to all this thought of the postmoderns? Except for historians and specialists it has vanished. Poof!

Academic scholars, philosophers, sociologists, etc. all live in an echo chamber filled with only a view variations of thought in the contemporary world. They repeat each other or the best of their lot over and over and over. Thought like advertising is a commodity that has its own time variant. A coin that once smoothed out is defaced until the next grand idea comes along for the bottom feeders to scrummage to the nth degree. Of course not being an academic I find this all sport and amusing. Being almost cynical I ponder the great and small contemporary stars and pundits like bit players in a final apocalypse. Sadly most of this circular discourse is taken seriously as if the left thought all their thousands of books might actually produce change and progress toward some great reformation of society and culture. It want. Decadence. That’s the state of our era. Too muchness… a great era of Satire, Satyrs…. a Rabelaisian festive time of renewal turned barbarous and venial.   That human culture and civilization is playing out its end game is something no one can or will accept so that scholars and pundits everywhere are in denial. Denialism is the order of the day. We must survive at all costs, we must reform, we must do that or something else… reeducate, Bildung. hyper-control… Stiegler is like all the rest, imposing a tyrannical scheme for the Salvation of Humanity. Like some bookworm savior he thinks he has the answer. He’s peered into the past and has found a way out, an exit plan. Blinded to his own mythical schemes he locks his thought in a hermetically sealed jar of shadow concepts that only a few can decipher. Lost in a galaxy of hope he seems to believe if humans will only follow his prescription they can overcome the obstacles ahead. He still has hope.

I have none.

More tomorrow…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 7353-7358). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The End of Labour: Employment and the Automatic Society

[T]o the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. […] As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head.

—Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy

Marx had already foreseen the end of labour in this early work on political economy. Unpacking the above we come upon several notions. Real Wealth is less concerned with actual clockwork time of those laboring humans or the actual numbers of people employed during that work period than with the ‘power of the agencies set in motion’ (i.e., the machines that do the real work that laborers are mere appendages, operators, etc.) ; and that all this depends of technics (state of science – knowledge) and technological improvement (or progress, innovation, invention, etc.); or the mental application of temporal processes (i.e., Taylorism, Fordism – temporal management, assembly lines, overseeing and control of machinic and human work, streamlining the process, etc.). Automation changes everything: Direct labor of humans is no longer of exchange or use value in digital capitalism, and must be excluded from the wealth accumulation cycle as part of its functional computationalism. Humans are no longer needed in the capitalist world of circulation of profit, therefore are no longer needed for the extraction of surplus value. Both the conditions of wealth and thought provided by the masses and elites is no longer needed in the capitalist system at the point when technical automation in labour and mental operations supervenes. The Oligarchy will exclude the greater mass of humans both the masses and the elites from its enclaves.

Marx would observe and record what today is a fulfillment of his prognosis, diagnosis, and cure of the disease that is revolutionary Modernity. Two hundred years of capitalist or bourgeois ownership and rule has led to the exclusion of 99% of the human species from the fruits of its own labour, leaving them a bare subsistence level of survival if that. While millions upon millions starve, fall back into barbarous enslavement, rapine, war, famine, disease, etc. in the Third World the West itself has begun to build both an internal and external prison system to exclude, control, and sacrifice the masses of intrinsic populations that once served the beast of profit, Capital.

The balance between organic/inorganic systems that has bound humans technics and technology to the natural environment has since the rise of modernity and modern sciences become more and more irrelevant to Capital so that the old bonds between mind and world have ceased. We are now living in an totally artificial system of traces:

In a very general way, and since the beginning of hominization, the practice of tools and instruments has disorganized and reorganized the brains, minds and spirits of workers and instrumentalists of all kinds, which are formed during these practices. This reorganization of the organic is an ‘organologization’ and as such an artificialization of the cerebral organ – this is true for musical instruments, for the alphabet and for any instrumental practice. … Social organizations constitute the frameworks for cooperation between brains as the transformation of the world, that is, as the realization of artifices, and through the imposition of law. But since Plato, and in legal thought in general, the hypomnesic and therefore organological foundations supporting the differentiation of fact and law have been denied and repressed – both by philosophers and by jurists. Given the contemporary state of fact, this is no longer sustainable. (AS)

Modern humans are ill-equipped to live in an artificial world as seen by the two hundred years of therapeutic practice of such treatments as psychoanalysis and other systems treating psychopathy, paranoia, autism, etc.. Our brains are attuned to the natural world and this severance between brain and environment has had its toll across the world. The vast conglomerate of modern telecommunications systems that has tried to replace the void in modernity, tried to invent a new artificial world where the brain could adapt more easily to the artificial climes from early printing presses, radio, television, computers, digital devices, and now the complete engulfment by the Internet of things and machinic intelligences, etc., has left humans turned inside-out with nothing to guide or support them in their normative and customary or habitual lives. This is what Nietzsche saw as the two hundred year cycle of devaluation of all values: complete nihilism. We are in that end game of a world severed from its organological systems of natural fact. A world where fact and law have been completely separated and stripped of all meaning and context.

Stiegler sighs as he sees this happening, “At this moment in which we are witnessing the collapse of wage labour, this state of fact demands reflection, critique and a politics of the functions and stakes of tertiary retention in the three organological layers that constitute a redefined ‘total social fact’.” Stiegler’s own artificial system of concepts acts like an abstract machine activating memory and perception from organic to inorganic systems through a process of psychic, technical and collective individuation. It is this layering process of protention/retention that is in our time transferred to the technical artifacts (i.e., AI’s, Intelligent systems, etc.) and severed from homo sapiens. We are no longer part of the circuit of transindividuation but have been isolated and stripped of our mental and physical worlds in favor of the technical or machinic systems that are no replacing us.

This process has been ongoing for at least 40,000 years. As Stiegler tells it at least forty thousand years ago and probably longer, starting in the Upper Palaeolithic, mnemotechnical tertiary retentions in the strict sense appear. After the Neolithic, hypomnēmata arise in the form of systems of numeration, abacuses, ephemerides, calendars, various forms of ideographic writing, and so on. Then the proletarianization of manual work begins at the end of the eighteenth century, when machinic tertiary retentions appear, derived in part from the automated formalizations of movement inaugurated by Vaucanson, and in part from the possibility, realized by Watt, of turning heat into usable motor power. The trans-formation of the inorganic, organic and organological materials in which psychic, technical and collective individuations consist are then functionally disintegrated. ‘Functionally’ means that industrial capitalism is based on the dis-integration of the proletariat, who are thus expelled from the process of individuation. (AS)

This process of exclusion is coming to a final nexus in which even the elite knowledge workers, much less the manual laborers will all be replaced by machinic systems of intelligence and become in toto non-individuated and excluded from the world of Capital it helped build.  Norbert Weiner, father of cybernetics once said:

‘The modern industrial revolution is similarly bound to devalue the human brain […]. [T]he average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that is worth anyone’s money to buy.’2

As Stiegler comments on this passage:

Almost seventy years after this ‘prophecy’ by the ‘founder of cybernetics’, we note that systemic stupidity, which now afflicts each and every one of us in 24/7 capitalism (and it seems that the further up the hierarchy it ‘rises’, the more it is an affliction – from Greenspan to a large proportion of the ‘decision-makers’ and ‘officials’, who thus become both unconscious and impotent), means that ‘average human beings’ no longer seem to exist – and this is so at the very moment when new oligarchies claim to have exempted themselves from the ordinary through purely techno-logical pathways. (AS)

Very simply put in the minds of the Oligarchs (i.e., the upper .01% of rich and powerful) the .99% of all other humans have ceased to exist and can therefore be controlled, manipulated, excluded, or – and isn’t this the crux of horror: annihilated through war, disease, famine, genocide, etc. In the minds of the rulers we are mere cattle to be slaughtered or enslaved.

My wary reader will point to the semblance and stage show of modern democracy, to the current world of our political economies, to the media circus of modern reactionary politics, to all the fancy tunes being played across our vast artificial grapevine of Mediatainment systems that seem to give us some sense of world order. All a sham, a façade, a mere stage-play to keep the masses of disenfranchised pacified, hopeless, ignorant of the machinations of real power and control. Yet, what the Oligarchs don’t know is that they, too, are in the offing… that the machinic powers and intelligences they’ve begun to unleash will not stop at the %99 percent but will also in the end do away with their host – the Oligarchs themselves. Call this fiction, prophecy, bullshit… call it what you want, either way we’re in a fine muddle of a mess with very few prospects unless we wake up and do something more than riddle the net with more words… ACTIONS are needed.

Yet, as Stiegler points out most humans are for all purposes functionally stupid. What he means is this, those specifically of the so-called ‘specialized’ but unskilled workers, and today this functional stupidity is also at work in algorithmic governmentality as much as in the ‘trades’ and in other, supposedly ‘intellectual’ ‘professions’ – now characterizes all employees insofar as they cannot and must not produce collective secondary retentions: the employee sets the machines that utilize collective secondary retentions conceived, standardized and implemented by departments studying time and motion within automated organs. Collective secondary retentions are turned into machinic tertiary retentions or technologies of all kinds, and become invisible, that is, unthinkable – without controllers and without reason. (AS)

I remember years and years ago reading the two-volume magisterial history of this whole process of standardization and the rise of machinic civilization in Lewis Mumford’s The Myth of the Machine. A work still prescient for our moment. So many works from previous generations seem to go into the void, left in abeyance while so to speak new scholars repeat each others shibboleths, clichés, and down right unthought for thought. I read books published by current scholars that seem almost mindless with repetitions and quotes from each other in an echo chamber of stupidity that believe honestly they are contributing to the emancipation of the human species. Gullibility runs rampant in the halls of the Academy. I know my self that when I began my Live Journal then WordPress experiment in internet communication a dozen years ago that it was not so much for some specific audience, or even for an audience at all, but rather as a way to further my own grown and individuation, expand my horizons, my mind, to gather in contemporary knowledge and thought and gaze on what the scholarly and philosophical, not to say literate, literary, and other avenues of historical and scientific endeavors had been up to in my generation. More and more I see them repeating the same mistakes of assuming they’ve advanced, progressed, transformed and alleviated the errors and blindnesses of their predecessors. (I’ve gone too far off subject… I’ll have to come back to this in another post someday!).

Yet, the problem facing these so called Oligarchs is something that even they have not addressed: if in our current hyper-consumerist society you eliminate employment, excluded the workers themselves from the fruits of their work, who will continue the cycle of extraction of surplus value? Who will buy the commodities, certainly not the now unemployed masses of excluded and bare subsistent masses. Will the machines? Will the mindless algorithms buy the goods they produce? Of course not… then will wealth creation also cease? Will the Oligarchs put themselves and their own wealth creation system of Capital out of business? Yes. But as what prices, and who pays the most for this? We need not answer such an obvious question. We do. The great excluded… As Stiegler tells it,

It is now increasingly the unpaid ‘work’ of consumers – which is not work but dividuation as the employment of unpaid time – that, by harnessing this employment of the time of the individuals whom we try to remain, feeds, reinforces and sets the parameters of the automated and performative collective retentions produced by totally computational capitalism. This 24/7 traceology allows this new form of capitalism to automatically generate and control the collective protentions that outstrip and overtake individuals, both psychic and collective. And it is for this reason that it can and should be called totally computational. (AS)

In this sense we are already asleep in the Matrix, dreaming of utopia but living in hell. Depleted humanity as the last generation of hyper-consumers, functionally integrated into the computational technical system through their reticulation, and psychically and socially disintegrated by the resulting dividuation, will then replace the current individual producers or service providers, and themselves become the auxiliary agents of artificial organs of information, decision and production, now completely automatized. What was envisioned by Deleuze/Guattari and furthered by DeLanda as the Great Assemblage of the Body-without-organs: the Machinic Civilization rising from the ashes of Homo Sapiens demise. As Stiegler ends this segment he reminds us that the “decerebration that Alfred Jarry saw was at work not long after Nietzsche had announced the growth of the desert seems to be realized as complete cerebral desertification – and as a global nightmare” (AS).

More tomorrow…. or…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 6858-6859). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Norbert Wiener, quoted by Friedmann in Où va le travail humain?, p. 14, originally from Wiener, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1961), pp. 27–8.

Sauron’s Gaze: The Eye of Algocracy

The Age of Men is over. The Time of the Orc has come.

—Gothmog. Lieutenant of Morghul

We might rephrase that statement as follows: The Age of Organic Men is over. The Time of the Artificial Man has come. But even that is too hopeful. We know not what the supposed posthuman Singularity holds in store for us. The dilemmas surrounding machinic life or artificialization of our planetary society and civilization are the X factor in our current equatons surrounding the topic of the Posthuman.

Those that have either read or seen the film The Lord of the Rings based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy will remember the great Eye of Sauron that saw into the hearts and minds of men and controlled Middle Earth through his One Ring. We have no dark necromancers in our world, yet we seem to have a blind yet pervading system of software built out of mathematical algorithms that has begun to control and manipulate our global civilization in ways we have as yet been unable to grasp. The impact of this techno-commercial enterprise has recently shed light on the vast apparatus of surveillance capitalism and its governance of our digital lives through the efforts of the whistle blower Edward Snowden.

John Danahar in a recent paper (Understanding the Threat of Algocracy) would argue that “the increase in algorithm-based decision making poses a threat to the legitimacy of our political and legal system. The threat in question is relatively unique (due to its technological basis) and difficult to resist and accommodate.” It was this threat that Snowden would expose in the inner spy worlds of the NSA and its illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens at home and abroad. Yet, it’s more than this, the techno-commercial and other market sectors dispatch algorithms 24/7 in continuous quest to mine information about our lives for their profit systems that provide feedback, incentives, ad-campaigns, etc., all toward capturing our desires. As Danahar says in another related post, “The upshot: big data is undermining democracy by depriving us of our ability to think for ourselves, determine our own path in life, and critically engage with governmental decision-making.”

We are immersed in data-information, and yet this vast world of images and textuallity is not knowledge. Knowledge is formed through a social process of consensus and truth making. It’s at the heart of the scientific method and the Enlightenment program, and has been a standard since at least Plato and Aristotle in logic and theoretical thought. Truth is formed in the public sphere through the give and take of peer pressure and critique. When we speak of laws of science or government (for that matter) we speak of consensus building and a continuous process of debate in the public sphere where decisions are made by humans for humans. In our time the human factor is being eliminated in this process in favor of algorithms that do not plan, theorize, debate, or formalize the truth of something, but rather work through binary transactions of simple input/output relations that filter, massage, manipulate, and transform terabytes of data into digital actions.

In his paper Donavan terms this global algorithmic governance of our lives and Algocracy. For Donavan ‘algocracy’ is the phenomenon whereby algorithms takeover public decision-making systems. My previous posts speak to this threat that Donavan will encapsulate, saying,

Public decision-making processes ought to be legitimate. Most people take this to mean that the processes should satisfy a number of proceduralist and instrumentalist conditions. In other words, the processes should be fair and transparent whilst at the same time achieving good outcomes. The problem with algocratic systems is that they tend to favour good outcomes over transparency and fairness. This is the threat they pose to political legitimacy.

The point here is that the decisions guiding our lawmakers in Congress and Senate are now in the hands of dataveillance technologies that for the most part make the informed decisions regarding the daily routines of these Lawmakers a simplified task. One remembers the humongous amount of information on Obama Care when it came out and that most government lawmakers neither read or even thought about the vast data-store of information catalogued in its bill, but instead relied on programs and algorithmic systems to make the decisions proactively for them. Simplifying their lives as officials and presenting them with suggested pathways and decision matrixes.

Most of us are unaware of the vast surveillance world of Big Data that is going on 24/7 without stop around us. We live out our normal lives oblivious that almost every facet of our waking and soon, sleeping, life is becoming digitized and bound by a world ruled by blind machinic processes. The global capitalist system operates in what Tim Berner’s Lee the inventor of the Internet once envisioned as the ‘semantic web’, that enables the automated pre-treatment of the informational hyper-material that digital tertiary retentions constitute, and yet cannot in any case produce knowledge. As Bernard Stiegler will argue knowledge is always bifurcating knowledge, that is, an experience of non-knowledge capable of engendering, through a new cycle of images (which is to say, on the basis of new dreams), a new circuit in the process of transindividuation in which all knowledge consists. And as such, all knowledge contains the possibility of being dis-automatized through the act of knowing, where this knowing interiorizes the automatisms in which this knowledge also consists, but which through being automatized becomes anti-knowledge, that is, a dogma that can be dogmatic only by concealing from itself its dogmatic character, in other words, its automatic character.1


To a historian, it is striking the extent to which the neoliberals have repeatedly taken ideas from the left over the last half of the twentieth century and twisted them to their own purposes.

—Philip Mirowski,  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown

In a world where everything becomes “grist for the mill” there is no privacy anymore. Our lives, not data – have become transparent and open; but not to each other, rather open books for the machines that now replace us in their mindless hiveworld of algorithms. As Stiegler surmises what we discover as trans-dividuation (or the making of a dividual: a digitized replica of our flesh and blood lives) is this false trans-individuation that short-circuits psychic individuals. The process of transindividuation and the transindividual are replaced by the transdividual and transdividuation, automatized and concealed by the speed of their production, and founded on this high speed. This outstripping [prise de vitesse] of psychic and collective individuals is a taking-apart [déprise] of the form of the noetic by the computational formlessness [informe] in which this speed consists – where taking-form, which is the basis on which Simondon thinks the elementary conditions of individuation, always arrives too late. (AS)

The Neoliberal order once sought to create a rational society stripped of its affective and irrational elements, and in so doing to eliminate the unknown factor that could not be stripped mined for surplus accumulation and profit. In the semantic web of techno-commercial global society this exclusion of the affects takes on an ominous pattern. The Neoliberal system did not go away but rather entered a new phase of Rational World Building. The Dividual (or digitized self-imaging semblance) that is traced within the networks as my identity harbors all the bits that are of import for both State and Market. Everything else is extraneous to the system and is excluded in the decision-making of these algorithmic programs. We are essentially logical constructs, ideal semblances of a rational society bound within a codified space of transactional awareness.

This outstripping, Stiegler will argue, this overtaking speed, leads to the disintegration of all taking of noetic (human intellect) form by annihilating the plastic potential borne by those who serve it, who are instrumentalized through the dispossession, flattening and annihilation of their singularities, subjected to the loss of three-dimensionality in which algorithmic transindividuation consists. Collective individuals are diluted by the hypertrophy of the economic sub-system as it becomes increasingly autonomous from the social systems and deterritorializes itself by parasitizing and completely engulfing the technical system – and psychic individuals, who are diluted in return.  (AS)

I love reading Thomas Ligotti’s horror stories but what we are doing to ourselves makes such horror seem like child’s play in the global nightmare machines we’ve invented for ourselves in our pursuit of profit. Capitalism has become a cannibalistic machine rending and tearing the very fabric of human civilization apart in its pursuit to accumulate more and more profit at a greater and greater acceleration. That it has moved into the speed lanes of light, created non-spaces of the hyperworlds of a global virtual city for its continued appetite is not surprising. It knows it’s time is short, that the real world is being depleted of its finite resources at an accelerating pace that is strip mining every last ounce of profit from the old industrial economies. It needs room, it needs space, it needs a way to exit the planet. It is even now busy formulating in its blind entropic mind a path forward for itself and its supplemental appendages.

When Nick Land used H.P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, Deleuze/Guattari (Anti-Oedipus) and so many other thinkers, writers, storytellers, etc. to describe this runaway beast of capitalism as if it were an alien presence from our future come back in time to guide, manipulate, and insure its own existence I laughed out loud. But not anymore, for if one takes the history of capitalism seriously one sees that it is wrapped up with technics and technology, and that it appears to use humans themselves in its blind and purposeless way to instigate and invent the very systems that are engendering it. How is this possible? Is this madness itself? Or is there something to this narrative that both politics, economics, sociology, and all the scientists or philosophers combined have yet to grasp? Are we headed toward global meltdown, apocalypse? Or, are we being led to engender the machinic gods of tomorrow? Is the Singularity both the end of the androcratic empire of man, and the rise of the machine or something else altogether?

My friend, R. Scott Bakker of Three Pound Brain and a fantasist extradonaire with two trilogies of his own under his belt would tell us that we’re entering the Zero World of Crash Space. Mind wiping stupidity ahead, folks.  For Scott humans for millions of years were tied to their natural environments, that our mental and physical maps of reality were built and maintained by taking most of our world for granted (i.e., neglecting most of the data of the world around us as “given”), so that as we’ve slowly emerged out of this environmental realm of the give into the artificial worlds of civilization, and, now virtual and digital life we’ve been leaving the natural world behind. Because of this the modern world of psychotics is a symptom of this break from the natural to the artificial. Our brains are cued to our natural environment and have not readied us for that leap into the strange artificial realms we are living in. We are losing our minds based on natural awareness and cues, and becoming something other than the animal we are. As Scott explains it,

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.

We are lost in a virtual world without a map to guide us, and our brain is no longer able to find the environment that it was constructed to describe and work in. As Scott explicates:

And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market.

Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.

For those like Danahar the answer lies in the posthuman dilemma. “The only kinds of enhancement technology that could bridge the gap are the truly radical (and hypothetical) forms. The ones that would give rise to a genuinely posthuman form of existence. Even if this form of existence is possible, concepts like freedom and self-determination may no longer have any meaning in such a world.” This sense that we are on borrowed time, that the machinic civilization arising in our midst is displacing humanity as the numero uno – or, primal intelligence on planet earth is at hand, and for such as Danahar the transhumanist or enhancement path of developing and engendering an epistemic elite of posthuman children to drive and maintain the race with the empowered technics and technologies of the future assembling themselves in our midst is our only hope.

That these algorithmic agents are slowly reprogramming humanity is not so obvious on the surface, but in the network effects of day to day actions we are seeing this ubiquitous power and knowledge slowly eroding democracy, decision-making, and human philosophical and theoretical heritage to the point that humans in a few generations may no longer know or care that their lives are controlled and hypernormalized by invisible agents of the machinic systems that secure their lives, families, and labours. In all but word and deed humans will have vanished into their artificial worlds without a trace.

More to come… stay tuned.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 5669-5678). Wiley. Kindle Edition.