Erasing the Traces

– ‘Erace the traces!’ – Bertholt Brecht

The future is piled up around us like a ticking bomb,
Every step we take leads us into pockets of resistance.
Glass towers scurry across sparse zones like alien beings,
Seascapes trailing their descent on our earth, silent and alone; fractured.
We are all traces of traces; our memories vanish into dark alcoves of being;
Even our habits break if left for too long in the curves of white divans.
New architectures escape our gaze flowing into communicative geometries;
Their time slicing processes modeling our mobile minds lines of flight:
Accelerating thoughts move ahead of us along vectors of freedom,
Erasing the traces of our lives as we outrun the world that would catch us.

– Steven Craig Hickman (2013)

Author’s note: strange how phrases intertwine in one’s memories… I had forgotten about reading Erdmut Wizisla’s chronicle on the friendship between Benjamin and Brecht where I came across this passage of interest: “In discussing his ‘favourite topic’, that of ‘inhabiting’, Benjamin repeatedly refers to Brecht’s saying in A Reader For Those Who Live In Cities: ‘Erase the traces!’ A note in Benjamin’s journal of May 1931, which recorded a conversation with Egon Wissing, reads as follows: ‘leaving traces is not just a habit, but the primal phenomena of all the habits that are involved in inhabiting a place.’ This phrase recurs in Benjamin’s sketch, ‘To Live without Leaving Traces’ in the text ‘Experience and Poverty’, and finally, modified, in his Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century: ‘to inhabit means to leave traces.'” Yet, it haunted me and recently came back to me after studying many of the new parametric architectures being developed around the world with their unique complexity and curvilinear surfaces and lines of flight that seem to describe strange alien worlds emerging out of our earth’s land and sea scapes like exotic animals drifting on the shores of time. I was thinking of Berardi’s withdrawal from the political disasters of our world when I first composed my poem, but then was haunted by the phrase and had to reseek its original derivation… and, found it again! Strange how the mind weaves such images from scattered references across the span of a lifetime. The secret influences that spur one’s thoughts like accomplices on a journey into freedom.

Modernity: Enlightenment or Anti-Enlightenment?

Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state. It sees the purpose of the state as being the wholly secular one of promoting the worldly interests of the majority and preventing vested minority interests from capturing control of the legislative process. Its chief maxim is that all men have the same basic needs, rights, and status irrespective of what they believe or what religious, economic, or ethnic group they belong to, and that consequently all ought to be treated alike, on the basis of equity, whether black or white, male or female, religious or nonreligious, and that all deserve to have their personal interests and aspirations equally respected by law and government. Its universalism lies in its claim that all men have the same right to pursue happiness in their own way, and think and say whatever they see fit, and no one, including those who convince others they are divinely chosen to be their masters, rulers, or spiritual guides, is justified in denying or hindering others in the enjoyment of rights that pertain to all men and women equally.

– Jonathan Israel,  A Revolution of the Mind

Think about it, read those words again a second, maybe even a third time. Then ask yourself this: What is at stake in this enlightenment project? Reason, universalism, and emancipation. The Age of the Enlightenment spawned our modern world, and still effects us with its contagious ideas on equality, liberty, race, gender issues, and, most of all the right to certain inalienable rights based on natural law. Yet, under the veneer, the surface of our histories is that other tradition, the darker modernity that some call the Counter-Enlightenment. Yet it is much more than a counter it is a deadly enemy, so needs a more forceful appellation: the Anti-Enlightenment. Some may well ask: Were there two modernities? A Radical and a Reactionary path to the modern world? And, are we still playing out the dark political history of this ancient battle? As we think through the issues surrounding modernism we should ask ourselves a simple question: Which modernity – the Enlightenment model or the Anti-Enlightenment model? There seems to be a confusion as to which modernity is more viable in our world today. The choice is before us, shall we side with the radical philosophes of the original Enlightenment; or, with their foes of the Anti-Enlightenment? For me the choice is clear: the tradition of the radical party of the Enlightenment traditions holds for me the only viable path forward as we think through issues of modernity and the politics it spawned. But why has the other modernity, the Anti-Enlightenment tradition displace the original Enlightenment project, how did it attain such an insidious hold over our world and spawn the neoliberal worldview? First we need an understand of just what the Enlightenment is, but more than that we need a better understanding of its enemies, the Anti-Enlightenment tradition which has for two hundred years from the time of Herder and Burke maligned both the philosophes and their ideas of reason, universalism, and emancipation.

If one could choose only three texts to typify the Radical Enlightenment which ones would you choose? For me it would be simple: John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Immanuel Kant’s Reply to the Question: What is Enlightenment?, and Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: each a refinement of the central dictum of the Enlightenment – the liberation or emancipation of men and women everywhere. Yet, it would be such revolutionaries as Robespierre and the Jacobins’s  who would castigate the original radical enlightenment philosophes complaining that the “modern philosophy” opposes “feeling,” and especially the sentiments of the ordinary person. Here, ironically, Robespierre’s Jacobinism closely converged with royalist Counter-Enlightenment ideology, both propagating the myth of the Enlightenment as a coldly clinical, unfeeling machine of rational ideas, brutalizing natural sentiment and destroying instead of furthering what is best in human life. This allegation was taken up internationally and became a stock theme of British attacks on the “modern philosophers” in the 1790s.1

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Tom Sparrow: Levinas Unhinged Arrived!

One recent day I realized that I had written several interrelated essays— which is to say, a book— on Levinas’s philosophy. … Its purpose is to exhibit what might be called a proto-materialist metaphysics leaking through the cracks of the familiar portrait of Levinas as a philosopher of transcendence. It resists the well-worn view that the Levinasian problematic is primarily, if not exclusively, ethical or theological in nature. The singular claim uniting the following chapters is that Levinas provides us with a speculative metaphysics and aesthetics which foregrounds the following: the body in its materiality; the irreducibility of aesthetic experience; the transcendental function of sensation; the ecological aspect of sensibility; the horror of existence. Levinas surprisingly keeps pace on occasion with philosophers of immanence like Gilles Deleuze.

– Tom Sparrow, Levinas Unhinged

I forgot I had preordered Tom’s book on Levinas and got a pleasant surprise this morning when I turned on my kindle fire. I like where he’s going with this and cannot wait to dig in today sitting in my cool pool sipping lemonade. Right… yea, the temperatures have been well above the 110 degree Fahrenheit for well over a week. We’re expecting a little rain later, but in Phoenix when it rains its a monsoon (and, yes, we have a monsoon season) that flushes the skies with muddy waters. But, hey, who cares when you have such great fare to read while the mud flashes by on the desert. I’ll have more to say on Tom’s work if the mud doesn’t float me off somewhere… otherwise I’ll be in that cool pool shades drawn over a too bright sunglint reading… reading… and, thinking as usual…

Yet, already, I’m distracted by the possibilities of Tom’s work. He admits that those rigid defenders of Levinas will probably stand aghast at his work of, as he terms it, ‘impiety’: “I am not trying to “get Levinas right” or advance his ethical program as it is typically understood. What I hope to have accomplished here is an account of Levinas as someone obsessed with matters besides God, the face of the Other, radical alterity, transcendence, and the usual Levinas catchwords.”1 Already the counter thrust, the definitive movement of misprisioning, of thumbing those who so meticulously guard the secrets of the coded world of Levinas, telling them that this will not be such a book, that instead he will offer a book for the uninitiated “so that its metaphysical potential can be fully exploited”. Against the cult of Levinas as a harbinger of some Religious Turn he offer us a Levinas “as first and foremost an engineer of ontology, as someone explicitly engaged in the establishment of a materialist account of subjectivity”. And, most, importantly, this new work is about the “rehabilitation of the sensible,” as against all those other concepts that people tend to fetishize like the “Other, the face, God, infinity, transcendence, or discourse”.

Okay, now I’m off for the pool… have fun all!

1. Sparrow, Tom (2013-06-28). Levinas Unhinged (Kindle Locations 63-65). Zero Books. Kindle Edition.

Architecture for the 21st Century: Postmodernism and Beyond

All architecture (and design) consists of nothing but communications. … Aesthetically it is the  elegance of  ordered complexity and the sense of seamless fluidity, akin to natural systems,  that is the hallmark of parametricism.

– Patrik Schumacher, Architecture’s Next Ontological Innovation (2012)

Looking back on recent postmodern architecture we discover a distinctive panoply of original thinkers: Robert Venturi, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, Nicholas Grimshaw, Aldo Rossi, Barbara Bielecka, Ricardo Bofill, John Burgee, Terry Farrell, Michael Graves, Helmut Jahn, Jon Jerde, Philip Johnson, Recardo Legorreta, Charles Moore, Boris Podrecca, César Pelli, Paolo Portoghesi, Siavash Teimouri, Antoine Predock, Tomás Taveira, Robert A.M. Stern, James Stirling, Mario Botta, Arata Isozaki and John C. Portman, Jr.. One could keep on going but this is enough for me.

Robert Venturi was at the forefront of this movement. His book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (published in 1966), was instrumental in opening readers eyes to new ways of thinking about buildings, as it drew from the entire history of architecture—both high-style and vernacular, both historic and modern—and lambasted overly simplistic Functional Modernism. The move away from modernism’s functionalism is well illustrated by Venturi’s adaptation of Mies van der Rohe’s famous maxim “Less is more” to “Less is a bore.” The book includes a number of the architect’s own designs in the back, including structures such as Guild House, in Philadelphia, that became major icons of postmodernism.

Yet, it was not until the computer came into play late in the 80’s of the last century that many of the underlying principles of both late capitalism and postmodernity fused in a complex post-structuralist aesthetic to produce strange new worlds from the architectural venue. At the forefront of this new strategy was Zaha Hadid. Often named as the most prominent contemporary female architect, or singled out for notice because of her Iraqi Arab background, Hadid is significant beyond these accidents of birth for her intellectual toughness, her refusal to compromise on her ideas even when very few of them were being realized in concrete and steel. For many years, her designs filled the pages of architecture periodicals but were dismissed as impractical or as too radical, and Hadid even thought about giving up architecture after she suffered a major rejection in her adopted homeland of Britain in 1995. Her star began to rise internationally when her design for Cincinnati, Ohio’s new Center for Contemporary Art was selected and built, earning worldwide acclaim. By the mid-2000s Hadid employed nearly 150 people in her London office and was working hard to keep up with new commissions that were coming in, offering her a chance to help reshape the world architectural landscape. (here and here)

Her Directors in this architectural world are themselves well known architects in their own right (here). But one in particular seems to have made an impact of recent philosophical speculation. That is, of course, the work and teachings of Patrik Schumacher. I have only recently begun reading his two volume architectural masterpiece and manifesto for a new style in architecture to surpass modernism forever with Parametricism, The Autopoiesis of Architecture: A New Framework for Architecture. His work is heavily influenced by complexity theory as well as Niklaus Luhman’s theories of society  and communication. As parametricism becomes a tool more designers turn toward it may slowly redefine the basic frameworks of our social spaces, offering a world where humans once again begin to intermingle and communicate rather than rush through the world like zombies on steroids.  In an effort to identify our architectural style to allow it to be recognized, Patrik Schumacher, a partner at Zaha Hadid, has communicated his beliefs in his Parametricist Manifesto. “As a style, parametricism is marked by its aims, ambitions, methodological principles, and evaluative criteria, as well as by its characteristic formal repertoire.”

Parametricism is a methodologically justified style that takes the concept of using parametric form design from the production of a one-off building and applying it to a cityscape. Architecture and urbanism should be tackled as a set of linked design criteria which form a complete “system” in a building, from urbanism down to the smallest details.  Parametric design links all this information in a way similar to a spreadsheet so that a change in one value creates a corresponding change in all other values. biological systems, organisms, from the microscopic to the macroscopic… these kinds of inputs stay in the repertoire. There’s also mathematics – new mathematics – topological patterns and also what is having a impact is new modeling tools and more recently parametric modeling, parametric fields and scripted fields, a new sensibility with respect to orders of iteration. Looking through these new tools there’s a kind of intricacy of overall arrangement with a very high degree of coherence. There’s a lot of internal laws of correlation; everything relates to everything else. It’s a continuous change but it all fits together. It’s not random or arbitrary.

The life process of society consists of a rich,  diversified panoply of institutions and communicative situations. In order to  communicate within specific situations, the relevant participants have to first  find each other and gather in particular settings, be brought into particular  spatial constellations, and be enveloped by specific atmospheres    that prime and prepare the participants  with respect to the appropriate moods and modes of communication to be  expected. This sorting, ordering, orienting, and framing is achieved by the  designed or built environment. To get a grasp of the importance of the ordering  capacity of a complex built environment, we might consider the following  thought experiment: imagine that the population of a metropolis like London is  thrown naked onto an undifferentiated tarmac surface. Nobody would know where  to go or what to do. Nobody would even know who they were anymore. What is  being erased is all the visible information about society’s order and  institutions. The built environment is society’s material memory. It functions  as a slowly evolving system of signification. (here)

While some disagree with the notion of categorizing work to fit into a style, Schumacher calls for a conceptual reconstruction, meaning that we must disregard style as a matter of appearance, and move to understand style as “a design research program conceived in the way that paradigms frame scientific research programs.”

“Although aesthetic appearance matters enormously in architecture and design, neither architecture as a whole nor its styles can be reduced to mere matters of appearance…The new style poses many new, systematically connected design problems that are being worked on competitively within a global network of design researchers. Over and above aesthetic comparability, it is this widespread, long-term consistency of shared design ambitions and problems that justifies declaring a style in the sense of an epochal phenomenon,” explains Schumacher.

Niklas Luhmann is a distinct influence on Schumacher. Luhmann was especially interested in systems which operate on the basis of “meaning,” in particular, systems of human communication. He regarded society not as a network of individuals united by shared beliefs, but rather as the totality of all communications. But in modern societies many kinds of communication were highly “differentiated,” which meant essentially they operated independently according to the specific functions they served. The bulk of Luhmann’s work consisted of systematic analyses of these kinds of communication (especially those organized in the form of full-fledged institutions, such as education and law) using a set of basic conceptual tools he developed beginning in the 1960s. Economic communication by means of money (rather than exchange in kind) was a case in point; it made possible interaction between buyers and sellers and laid the foundation for a whole economic system with its own specifically economic functions.

Like money, trust also served as a specific medium in modern societies, for example in interaction between professionals and laypersons: on some issues we had to accept the judgment of competent experts without checking its validity. Without some such trust, many social relationships would break down very quickly. Even love was now a specialized kind of communication, made possible by the passion exchanged between individuals who were supposed to treat each other as lovers without regard to their other social roles.

Like many social theorists before him, Luhmann analyzed the implications of the transition from traditional to modern society. In older, stratified societies the various functions that had to be performed were arranged in a hierarchy, from the aristocracy down to the peasantry. By contrast, modern societies have separated various social tasks in a “horizontal” fashion, a pattern Luhmann called functional differentiation. This had many advantages; for example, institutions handled more complex problems and individuals generally enjoyed greater opportunities. But it also raised new problems. Institutions (such as religious ones) that in the past played a broad role must now redefine and limit that role. Also, since all institutions now focused on their own function and performance, certain societal problems may be neglected because everyone can claim it was “none of their business” according to Luhmann, this was one source of the current environmental crisis. (more here)

Schumacher points out that the architecture of today is more of a world architecture, where every work is quickly compared or contrasted to other projects.  We experience this constantly as we compare a project to something another firm would have created and argue over which was more successful.  Schumacher explains that this “merely implies a consistency of principles, ambitions, and values to build upon so that different efforts compete constructively with each other and can establish the conditions for cumulative progress rather than pursue contradictory efforts.” As Theory against Theory explains it:

Schumacher’s view of architecture is Hegelian: evolutive stages of civilisation correspond to certain styles in architecture. He divided entire history of architecture in several dominant styles. In his system, not all recognised styles are epochal. Some of them, such as gothic style, represent merely a transitional stage, but not the big style with its articulated discourse. He claims that modernism still operates as the dominant paradigm, even though postmodernism has been exercised allot in the past few decades. By introducing parametricism as a new style and strongly claiming that it is inevitably going to become mainstream within the next twenty years, Schumacher is predicting the future. He is not only announcing the new style, he is also announcing the new epoch, a new stage in the evolution of the human kind: “When we analyse history, we can see that the built environment always had vital role in building societal order. Social order needs spatial order. Society can progress only within a built environment and the entire world of artefacts. That is why I put architecture and design in the same category.” (here)

What is exciting about this new style is that parametricism offers a flexible set of components to manipulate from simple algorithms, which leads to an infinite amount of variation in fluid dynamics.  While in the past, there was a strong allegiance for rigid geometrical figures, now, a conceptual definition of parametricism shows that “the new primitives are animate, dynamic, and interactive entities—splines, nurbs, and subdivs—that act as building blocks for dynamic systems.” (Above review: The Architect’s Newspaper) As Schumacher says:

“Twenty first century brought about drastic changes and we now live in the network society where communication is crucial. Architecture should increase interaction and information exchange, and can no longer insist on physical separation as it did until now. Moreover, we should not push people through passages like cattle, but make sure they navigate quick and easy. This allows them to self-organise in complex matrix of differentiated spaces and enables multiple communication scenarios. This is an ambitious project of ordering social processes in space. Each space is in fact a communication. It invites its visitors to participate and gives them clues on how they should behave, what to do. But people are no longer satisfied with simple ordering of space with rigid forms and strict compartmentalisation. They need to communicate with each other and move swiftly. This is why rooms should not be separated but rather interconnected. Spaces should be constructed in such a way that everyone can easily see, find and communicate with everyone else. Accordingly, the role of an architect should be understood in this sense: we are constantly making ever more complex matrixes for ever more complex social processes that unfold within. This is portrayed through free flow of lines, whether it is a parking space, library or a business company. The point is that wherever you are you see many different things going on. Many things are in view simultaneously because you don’t want to miss anything. As you move through space you have many options what to select next. Conversely, when running down the corridor where you see nothing, you know nothing and miss everything.”

Ultimately this new ontology follows a parametric semiology:

This implies that the  meaning of the architectural language can enter the design medium (digital  model). The semiological project implies that the design project systematizes  all form-function correlations into a coherent system of signification. A  system of signification is a system of mappings (correlations) that map  distinctions or manifolds defined within the domain of the signified (here the  domain of patterns of social interaction) onto distinctions or manifolds  defined within the domain of the signifier (here the domain of spatial  positions and morphological features defining and characterizing a given  territory) and vice versa.  The system of  signification works if the programmed social agents consistently respond to the  relevantly coded positional and morphological clues so that expected behaviors  can be read off the articulated environmental configuration. The meaning of  architecture, the prospective life processes it frames and sustains, is  modeled and assessed within the design process, thus becoming a direct object  of creative speculation and cumulative design elaboration

If as Le Corbusier suggested the “house is a machine for living,” then for Patrik Schumacher the house is a machine for communicating. Recently Graham Harman was at the The Architecture Exchange seminar series ‘Is there an Object Oriented Architecture?’ at the Swedenborg Society in London. Graham Harman, one of a group of contemporary philosophers arguing for an object oriented ontology spoke, answering criticism and questions posed to him by previous architectural speakers in the series. For an outline of the whole series go here or here. As Lindsay Bremner of Westminister and on the blog geoarchitecture remarks Harman opposed Schumacher’s use of Luhmanian communicative theory:

Harman turned to passing some remarks about Patrik Schumacher’s adaption of Luhmann to architecture. The problem he said, is that in Schumacher’s reading, Luhmann is all about communicative systems, not non-communicative ones; and therefore not about objects. Heidegger’s tool analysis is not a theory of tools and equipment, but of broken tools and equipment. We only know about objects when systems break down. Architectural objects, like any objects, are not parts of systems, but are anti-systems, what disturbs or disrupts the system. They are not about relations, but about non-relationality, unique places, singularities. (here)

As another critic Steve Parnell (here) comments on Schumacher’s polemic to let the style wars begin stating that Parametricism is ‘the great new style after Modernism’. As Parnell explains:

Prompted by Luhmann, Schumacher’s inspired move is to apply autopoiesis to the institution of architecture as a sociological entity. This would be a promising avenue of research for the theory, as architecture is forever trying to assert its institutional autonomy. However, its application here is confused by the obsession with Parametricism, as the book attempts to be an all-encompassing and unifying theoretical framework for the institution of architecture, and manifesto for this ‘great new style’ (Schumacher’s words). At 450 pages (and with only 18 images) it’s the first of a proposed two-volume work, making it surely the longest and, quite possibly, the most opaque manifesto in architectural historiography.

The theoretical framework and the manifesto are so closely intertwined that it is difficult to discuss one without the other. The link between the two is, of course, theory. Schumacher claims that ‘only theoretically informed building design constitutes architecture’. But he does not offer any definition of theory, or address what qualities a theory needs to qualify as the validator of architecture, only that innovation requires it and the status quo doesn’t. Instead we are subjected to a quasi-historical and confused account, which states that architectural theory began in the Renaissance – hence the beginnings of architecture at that point. Only three pages previously, however, Vitruvius’ treatise was cited as ‘the first emergence of architecture’ that ‘remains closely tied to religion and to the political order’. (see here)

Needless to say Schumacher does not fare well with either Harman or Parnell in the above. I haven’t had a chance to read through his essays completely, nor his two books on Parametricism and the new Architecture he proposes to replace modernism and postmodernism, but from a cursory reading of his essays I get a feeling that Schumacher is doing for architecture what others have done and are doing for philosophy, moving things forward into new zones of possibility.

Other reviews of Patrik Schumacher’s work:

Architectural Review: The Autopoiesis of Architecture dissected, discussed and decoded by Peter Buchanan Authorship in Algorithmic Architecture: from Peter Eisenman to Patrik Schumacher by Eleftherios Siamopoulos
Icon Magazine: Douglas Murray: here
The Guangzhou Opera House: An Architectural Review

Videos by Schumacher on Parametricism: here
Perltreees vids on Parametricism: here

David Hume as Feminist: On Learned Conversation and the Fair Sex

I know nothing more advantageous than such Essays as these with which I endeavour to entertain the public.

– David Hume, Essays

David Hume was one of the first to break down the walls between the academy of learned professionals and the public at large for whom learned conversation was prized above all else.

I cannot but consider myself as a kind of resident or ambassador from the dominions of learning to those of conversation, and shall think it my constant duty to promote a good correspondence betwixt these two states, which have so great a dependence on each other. I shall give intelligence to the learned of whatever passes in company, and shall endeavour to import into company whatever commodities I find in my native country proper for their use and entertainment. The balance of trade we need not be jealous of, nor will there be any difficulty to preserve it on both sides. The materials of this commerce must chiefly be furnished by conversation and common life: the manufacturing of them alone belongs to learning. (2) 1

What’s interesting in the passage above is the use of economic language to describe the trade between academics and learned public. The idea of innovative ideas manufactured in the hothouses of the academy and then passed into the hands of the public like so many commodities whose value is both entertainment and commerce.

Hume also seems to have been one of the early feminists espousing a sovereignty to the ‘fair sex’ in the domains of communication: “As it would be an unpardonable negligence in an ambassador not to pay his respects to the sovereign of the state where he is commissioned to reside; so it would be altogether inexcusable in me not to address myself with a particular respect to the fair sex, who are the sovereigns of the empire of conversation.”(3) He continues:

To be serious, and to quit the allusion before it be worn threadbare, I am of opinion that women, that is, women of sense and education (for to such alone I address myself) are much better judges of all polite writing than men of the same degree of understanding; and that it is a vain panic, if they be so far terrified with the common ridicule that is levelled against learned ladies, as utterly to abandon every kind of books and study to our sex.(3)

Speaking of the Salons of France he writes tenderly “in a neighbouring nation, equally famous for good taste, and for gallantry, the ladies are, in a manner, the sovereigns of the learned world, as well as of the conversable; and no polite writer pretends to venture before the public, without the approbation of some celebrated judges of that sex.”(3-4) He remonstrates with the fair sex to leave off only one oddity of their learned involvements, and that is of the romanciers, the gallants and the devotionalists, because “the fair sex have a great share of the tender and amorous disposition, it perverts their judgment on this occasion, and makes them be easily affected…”.(4) And, yet,

Would the ladies correct their false taste in this particular, let them accustom themselves a little more to books of all kinds; let them give encouragement to men of sense and knowledge to frequent their company; and finally, let them concur heartily in that union I have projected betwixt the learned and conversable worlds. They may, perhaps, meet with more complaisance from their usual followers than from men of learning; but they cannot reasonably expect so sincere an affection: and, I hope, they will never be guilty of so wrong a choice, as to sacrifice the substance for the shadow.(4)

1. Hume, David; Stephen Copley; Andrew Edgar (1998-06-04). Selected Essays (Oxford World’s Classics) (p. 2). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Becoming Machine: Battlestar Galactica, Post-Singularity and Deleuze’s Vitalism

“Are you alive?”  – Number Six

To parody the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci with the new Christ as a machinic queen of our posthuman future could be seen as a tasteless joke, yet there are those who seem bent on a technological escape velocity into either a transhumanist dream of enhanced biotech or a postsingularity in which we re-sleeve each day in a new hypermodern stylistic synth suit prosthesis empowered by a quantum brain devoid of the fleshly attributes of old school humanity. But before we jet off into the posthuman future maybe we should first see what’s in store for us in those metalloid fantasias of a beyond where our cinematized utopian visions of rupture lead us not to some blissful habitat of reason and pure jouissance, but deliver us instead into the machinic arms of synthetic life as humans dissolve and make way for an inhuman Other.

Battlestar Galactica the first time round as a child was for me full of all those old sci-fi stereotypes and cartoon like escapades one expected from space opera, but the latest incarnation takes itself serious and brings us a universe replete with technological gods who have moved way past the singularity and into a limbo time where science and religion seem to merge in a hypersphere of strangeness. What I like about Netflix is being able to rewind, replay, splice, interact with knowledge bases on the fly, info-depots, character studies, background fillers, media-bytes from flip-boards on google or even specialized blogs devoted to the sundry intricacies of BG’s quirky cast, while reading philosophical tidbits on my kindle, etc. moment by moment image fest of datamaxed portrayals flicking along the camera eye’s synaptic nerve through the brain’s infinite sea of cogitation. Contemplating the shifting realities of a posthuman theory-fiction reveals much more than it conceals, bringing us hints of an unresolved nihilism at the heart of our post-postmodern lives. That’s when I ask myself: Is the eye a technology that needs this strange world? Did the eye invent this or did it evolve me to find it? Are we already prosthetic? Is the embodied self already embedded in a prosthetic device? Are our organic bodies alien suits for a strange stranger seeking freedom in a cage of steel and ice?

Who will forget the opening scene of the first season of Battlestar Galactica miniseries as an old warn out officer docks with a space-station in some unknown quadrant of the galaxy to meet a Cylon representative who will supposedly never show up. After the great Cylon wars in which the more-than-human intelligences have opted out of human habitation and enslavement, and moved on to an undisclosed planet of their own choice where they have lived in silence for fifty years we discover that each year the parties meet at a neutral station as agreed in their treaty. The only thing is that no Cylon has showed its metalloid mask in over fifty years.

So our weary almost dead looking officer – that we take to be a human representative undocks, walks down a long corridor that resembles a bare, brassy or bronzed, metal conclave with one small wooden desk and two opposing chairs located centrally between both secured entry ways. The man sits down opens a briefcase pulls out some papers, two photos (we presume of his wife and son), and then proceeds to open an envelope showing the specification charts of an original Centurion model of a Cylon warrior. He appears to study it for a few seconds, then tired and numbed by his journey – scarred from possible old wounds, he nods off in a slight fitful state of rest with his eyes closed. Then suddenly the metal doors open in front of him as he, startled and quite frankly fearful, stares toward the door not sure if he should stay or fly. The key here is affectivity, the emotion laden flesh creels before the unknown and misrecognized.

At that moment two centurions march in, arms cocked and loaded ready to fire if they meet anything harmful, each stepping just to the left and right of the open security screen checking out the interior of this long room with two Cyclops razor eyes that leave us guessing as to what kind of intelligence hides behind the flickering pulses of red lazelight. A split shot of the human officer sees him ready to bolt, looking like a scared rabbit caught in a trap, not sure if running would do anything more that get him shot in the back. So he stays put. At that moment the loaded armatures of the two centurians retreats and handlike fingers appear, elongated and swirling out like spikes as they stand down and watch the officer in the distance with their now well know lazer red eyes floating horizontal, sliding back and forth in constant surveillance like the eye of a medusa, cold and inhuman.

At that moment, as the two centurions move to parade rest, arms akimbo, we hear the echo of shoes drumming along a far corridor,  growing incessantly louder with each step. Suddenly what appears to be a beautiful woman dressed in leather red with spider meshed blonde hair, wearing brown toned riding boots moves methodically into view toward the human male representative. As she strides intently forward we see her nostrils flare and her scarlet encasement trimmed just above her knees slide along the gleaming surface of the metal floors in shadowlike trails.  Instead of stopping at her side of the table where the other chair awaits her, she instead continues to walk around the table’s barrier sliding up next to the official as if to study him like some exotic pet. Her green eyes open brightly as she studies him as if he were a bug in glue, then she grabs the knap of his neck and pulls him close to the smooth pale skin of her almost human face and asks inquisitively: “Are you alive?”

Startled the human hesitates, his eyes dart around seeking a route of escape, then realizing it would be pointless, unsure if he should speak or not, he finally says in an whisper: “Yes…” Yet, one wonders if at this moment he would rather be dead, or at least totally oblivious and unconscious. Then as if she were testing an automata, a simulated machine, she says, “Then prove it…” She proceeds to lean over and delicately kiss him, indifferent and emotionless, a true sociopathic personality as affectless machine consciousness. He allows it, passive and defenseless against her – can we call it – ‘presence’, her hand pressing behind his neck tighter as if to say, “I own you now, you will do what I say.” All the while we fade back to the cyclops-eyed Centurions who seem to be humming in unison at this strange new circumstance, anticipating some as yet unrevealed plot in this inhuman narrative.

While Number Six continues her exploration of this human victim we see a cinematic fade out and the shadow of a large vessel flying over the station swallowing the human ship above, then from the belly of its mechanical recesses it releases a white dart of fire that curves around looping downward in a spiral toward the space station where it suddenly explodes. The old officer gasps, but Number Six in an ironic almost atonal voice looks blankly at this frightened creature of flesh and blood and merely relays the simple news:

“It has begun…”

The scene fades out as the movie begins in earnest…


Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

– Vernor Vinge,  The Coming Technological Singularity

Why do we have such a fascination for the inhuman Other? What is it about these technological monstrosities that tempts us even to become machinic ourselves? Ever since Mary Shelley used technology within her counter-sublime novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. She gave us our first sense that modernity and modern technology have always been haunted by an insistent return of the “dead;” a return of what has been repressed by the instrumental or “technological” view of the world. But is a sense of death come alive, or is it rather a sense that everything is already full of life and we need only know how to awaken its dark churning potential, its thanatropic necessity, that keeps us on the treadmill of the technological imperative. Yet, once might suggest that it is this uncanny awakening of the ghost in the machine that makes our skin crawl and tingle as we think about strange machinic intelligences that might in some ways be superior to ourselves.

Arthur Kroker tells us there came a moment when teach a series of lectures on technology and futurism that a strange sense of presentiment overcame him. He suddenly realized that the “dynamic language of futurism expressed first by the utopian spin of new digital media and later by the life science industries and the newly emergent genetic class had about it the smell of something very ancient in the western tradition.”(AK 5)1 He realized that our technology was driving us toward goals we had not set, and into paths we might have not foreseen:

In these visions recombinant of transgenic bodies, phosphorescent skin, jellyfish monkeys, firefly organs, mutant fish, sterile hybrid seeds, cross species organs, there was the awakening again of the siren-call of a society intent on its own suicide, celebrating its coming disappearance in the language of the genetic modification of the species. (AK 5)

Then it dawned on him that our complicity in our own dark movement within this technological imperative of transhumanism or AI dawning was something that needed critique, that in fact we needed to think technology outside the horizon of this technological imperative, only then would we better understand the central truth underpinning this deterministic system of techne: that nihilism is the essence of technological destiny. Or as Nietzsche himself put it “All great things bring about their own  destruction through an act of self-overcoming: thus the law of life will have  it, the law of the necessity of “self-overcoming” in the nature of  life–the lawgiver himself eventually receives the call: “patere legem, quam  ipse tulisti.” Caught in the meshes of these new NBIC technologies (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science) that seem to have unlimited funding from government and corporate initiatives alike, what is the goal? Are we seeking life in the machine? Is this a Promethean Project unbound seeking through science some literal heaven on earth through the creation of either immortal transhumans (enhanced, H++, etc.), or by the way of cyborgianization and/or a full commodification of life divorced from flesh and installed in the matrix of some quantum mind?

For Freud this ‘uncanny’ sense in inorganic machinic life was the mark of repression returning us to more primitive modes of existence, a return to “the old, animistic conception of the universe;” which Freud sees as an earlier “stage of development” that has been “surmounted” by modern scientific-technological thought. This “uncanny” coming to life of machines and automata represented a return to life of that animistic or magical thinking repressed by technological modernity – a return of the ‘technological other’ hidden within our machinic unconscious. This sense of a vitality within the inorganic reminds us of Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze drew on a vitalist tradition that put sense before and beyond meaning, and before and beyond the organism.2 This sense of vitalism was for Deleuze not a posited substance or force, but vitalism as a problem, or imperative that appears to have mobilized philosophical, theoretical and literary contretemps.(5) As Claire Colebrook remarks, “Deleuze’s philosophy of life is necessarily, avowedly and manifestly composed along a line of internal incoherence: philosophy must, if it is philosophical, think difference, even if difference is that which cannot be thought. Such an impossibility is not confined to philosophy and has to do with the very positivity of life” (7). Colebrook differentiates between an active and a passive form of philosophical vitalism, saying,

An active vitalism has been the proper mode of traditional philosophy: a tracing back of any system, position, dogma or truth claim to the conditions of its genesis, never accepting a truth without also grasping its coming into being. A passive vitalism, by contrast, is a hyper-philosophy or theory (if we take theory to be an acceptance of the distance or relation that necessarily accompanies any perception or looking). While accepting that all positions, figures and forms must have emerged from life, passive vitalism also confronts a malevolence, stupidity, self-mutilation and opacity that thought can never incorporate or master. … For vitalism is at once an imperative to account for the dynamic emergence of forms, ideas, sense and structures, while the acknowledgment of passivity requires an attention to that which cannot be generated from within thought itself. This doubleness is expressed through Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari’s writings in a number of fractures: every proper name deployed is at once a path to true thinking and a symptom. (7-8)

Deleuze’s need to think the plane of immanence realized that there is also a concomitant awareness of the necessary, difficult and inhuman recidivism of transcendence (166). As Colebrook acknowledges “Deleuze’s philosophy is one of immanence, but it is never the immanence of life but of ‘a’ life – a fleeting and fragile perception that at once gets caught up in territories and recognition, only to break down again when life is blessed with enough violent power to overcome self-maintenance. (166).

As a contrast to the philosophy of immanence portrayed by Deleuze she offers the mathematical purity of Alain Badiou’s anti-immanent formalism. “Badiou seems to offer one of the very few avowedly anti-vitalist and anti-immanent philosophies that would also regard the transcendence of the subject as a virtue.” (167) For Badiou mathematics – or the approach to being as nothing more than a multiplicity devoid of sense – is the proper truth of ontology. (167) And, for Badiou the potential structure of the subject is its radically transcendent nature: it is not a part of this lived, enumerated and embodied existence but a creation of a void or gap in actuality. (167) The point being that Badiou is one of the few voices to suggest that there are values other than life, that the proper subject of ethics is not an embodied, engaged and other-directed social being, and that the truth of being lies in the pure formality of mathematics. (167)

Yet, against Badiou’s stern refusal of the vitalistic tradition which she perceives as the mainstream of thought running Leibniz down through Deleuze and Guattari she remarks,

When Deleuze and Guattari hail a tradition of passive vitalism that runs from Leibniz to Ruyer, they create a line of thought, a way of mapping and sensing a certain play of the world. Their proclamation is both epistemological in its commitment to passive vitalism as a point of view that can account for thinking in all its forms, and pragmatic in its commitment to the expanded creative power of conceptualization that a thought of life as affectivity will enable. (185)

The key word here is ‘affectivity’, and it is to the Affective Turn that we might be better served in our quest to situate ourselves outside the overpowering hypermodernity of the Technological Imperative. This is neither a Luddite implosion nor a relentless gamble for the posthuman matrix, but is instead a way to reweave our ties to Life and its central imperatives of being-in-the-world as embodied creatures whose limits are circumscribed only by the affective relations with each other and all those other non-human beings we share in the spaces of earth. The affects pose a problematic correspondence across each of the divides: between the mind’s power to think and the body’s power to act, and between the power to act and the power to be affected. As Michael Hardt recently remarked we should return to Baruch Spinoza who brought the affects into play to begin with: “The challenge of the perspective of the affects resides primarily in the syntheses it requires. This is, in the first place, because affects refer equally to the body and the mind; and, in the second, because they involve both reason and the passions.”3 Or, as Colbrook remarks “If Spinoza has become fashionable of late, against Descartes, it is precisely because there is no longer mind as a separate substance, for mind is just the ‘feeling of what happens’ at the level of matter.”(84) Yet, if we follow this logic then vitalist or affective turn away from Cartesianism or linguisticism can be characterized through three general features: a rejection of any centre, model or privileged term from which relations would follow (decentring); a refusal to posit any principle outside life that would govern living systems (immanence); and a demotion of cognition or information-based forms of relation to do with calculation in favour of relations that are always determined by specific powers and not some matter in general.(32) She continues:

Once we consider the potentials from which living beings emerged – before the formation of bounded organisms, egos, self-interested subjects and upright citizens – we will then be confronted with the forces of the future. As long as we take the organism as our starting point, then the problems that confront us today, including the certainty that the organism has no future, will remain mired in the narcissistic captivation that regards the world only in terms of the viability of our own sensory-motor apparatus. (42)

But, as Colebrook also suggests, what is retained of vitalism, even while there is no longer a vital force distinct from matter, is a vitalist ethics: ways of knowing and acting ought not operate as detached technical systems but should be adaptive, responsive and open to a milieu that is not represented objectively but felt affectively.(145) So against a vitalism that would center itself on some idealist ‘vital force’ interior or exterior to matter she sees in Deleuze and Deleuze / Guattari a “viral power in life that takes the form of a variability without self-reference, without meaning.” (144) So that instead of attributing mindfulness to nature, and rather than seeing what was once the detached human mind as already part of a dynamic nature, perhaps the figure of mind, and the very concept of the subject, needs to be interrogated rather than extended.(147) Against all those posthuman projects that would seek an escape from the body or an enhancement of its powers beyond recognition maybe we should first begin a methodical interrogation of those ‘self-overcoming’ nihilisms that drive such dreams to begin with.

1. Arthur Kroker. The Will To Technology. (University of Toronto Press 2004).
2. Colebrook, Claire (2011-10-20). Deleuze and the Meaning of Life (Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy) (p. 3). Continuum UK. Kindle Edition.
3. Patricia Ticineto Clough;Jean Halley. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (p. ix). Kindle Edition.

Retro-Fitting Accelerationism: A Short History to Nowhere?

Rotted by digital contagions, modernity is falling to bits. Lenin, Mussolini, and Roosevelt concluded modern humanism by exhausting the possibilities of economic planning. Runaway capitalism has broken through all the social control mechanisms, accessing inconceivable  alienations. Capital clones itself with increasing disregard for  heredity, becoming abstract positive feedback, organizing itself.  Turbular finance drifts across the global network.

– Sadie Plant and Nick Land, Cyberpositive

In that early essay Cyberpositive by cybertheorists Sadie Plant and Nick Land one can find many of the threads of our current discourse on accelerationism. Between catastrophe and anastrophe, the systole and diastole of the future shows its mask. It was in this essay that they took us back to the progenitor of cybertheoretic, Norbert Weiner, for whom “cybernetics was itself to be kept under  control, under a control that was not itself cybernetic. It is as  if his thinking were guided by a blind tropism of evasion, away  from another, deeper, runaway process: from a technics losing control  and a communication with the outside of man”. (here) It was in this early technofuturistic postcyberpunk pulse that we see the movement of Land’s modernism not as some form of nostalgia for an impossible past, but as the alien movement of our posthuman intervention in the future spaces of the city and its environs. Chemical timetravel from the Yage speedsters who immersed themselves in the cities of the red night propagating themselves virally across our planetary wrecking machine of (de)civilization, reprogramming the soft machines, and implanting strange thoughts within the distributional voids of the machinic mind of humans becoming alien(ated):

Capitalism is not a human invention, but a viral contagion, replicated  cyberpositively across post-human space. Self-designing processes  are anastrophic and convergent: doing things before they make sense.  Time goes weird in tactile self-organizing space: the future is  not an idea but a sensation.


In Gareth Branwyn’s Cyberpunk manifesto one hears the inner rhythm of acceleration as it collapses upon the present. As Wolfgang Neuhaus in his cyberpunk fragments rips it “Nothing to stand on or to cling to … Constantly Accelerating, toward some point of zero post-humanity…”. Critical Art Ensemble’s cell theory: “The control of a decentralized power requires the use of distributed resources. This includes a re-orientation of left politics, an organization in cells, allowing the resistance to take many and different starting points, instead of having only one (and perhaps wrong) main opponent in the eye. In such a structure results in a substantial consensus on the basis of mutual trust between individuals, which is what we call true community; each cell builds its own identity without this was obliterate the individual identity, and each person will remain multi-faceted individual, that can not be reduced to particularistic practice.”

Yet, one can find in the old k-punk archive zones Simon’s interview with CCRU (1998) which fills in the early history of this episodic stream. It was here that Mark Fischer aired some of his critical appraisals:

“There’s definitely a strong alliance in the academy between anti-market ideas and completely scleroticised, institutionalized thought,” says CCRU’s Mark Fisher. “It’s obvious that capitalism isn’t going to be brought down by its contradictions. Nothing ever died of contradictions!” Exulting in capitalism’s permanent “crisis mode,” CCRU believe in the strategic application of pressure to accelerate the tendencies towards chaos.

Reading Simon Reynolds Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture where he describes the essence of rave culture as a swing between ‘nympholepsy’ (an ecstastic frenzy caused by desire of the unattainable) and ‘picnolepsy’ (Paul Virilio’s term for frequent, incredibly brief ruptures in consciousness, a series of micro-orgasms or ‘tiny deaths’). He speaks of the “picnoleptic ‘rush culture’ based around the cult of velocity” which became the standard tempo of post-90’s gaming culture and ‘joy-riding’: “teenage tearaways from lawless council estates had taken to stealing cars and, within a few hours, burning out the engines by subjecting them to violent acceleration…” (KL 2627-2629). It was a Rage to Live that drove this social accelerationism which Reynolds describes in detail:

Yet there’s an inchoate fury in ’ardkore, a protean rage, that still feels affirmative to me rather than nihilistic; an urge for total release from constraints, a lust for explosive exhilaration, that incites me like virtually no other music. ’Ardkore seethes with a RAGE TO LIVE, to cram all the intensity absent from a week of drudgery into a few hours of fervour. ’Ardkore frenzy was where the somnambulist youth of Britain snapped out of the living death of the nineties, and grasped a few moments of fugitive bliss. As the chorus of Xenophobia’s ‘Rush In The House’ put it, ‘E come alive E come alive E come alive’. ’Ardkore’s speedfreaks were literally rushing away from their problems, and who could really blame them? (KL 2774-2778).

Yet, this rage to live was also nothing more than a dance in the void, a dark turn inward toward the asylum rather than an escape from its techno-speeding amphitheater: “A gabba rave is an asylum. It’s a haven from an intolerable reality, a world that kids find at once numbingly tedious and worryingly unstable. But it’s also a place of confinement where the nutters rage harmlessly; where kids vent all their anger out of their systems, instead of aiming it against the System” (KL 5096).

But then we move to the political accelerationist critique. JD Taylor on the AntiCapitalist Initiative site has a post on Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek Manifesto describing it as on the whole ‘excellent’, but that it “startlingly universalises and globalises the experience of a minority of western metropolitan academics”. He acknowledges McKenzie Wark’s friendly critique (here). He commends both the manifesto and Wark’s critique for taking on environmental collapse as an issue, yet much of their calls for an accelerationist politics is he tells us nothing more vague than shouting for ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ in any other era. He explains what he means, saying:

What I mean is … the need for a collective political organisation to use this imaginary. Just as the Suffragettes called for a principle, ‘Votes for Women’, they matched this with another, ‘Deeds not Words’, and a powerful and proactive political organisation.

He brings up the manifestos call for a new class composition of ‘partial proletarian identities, often embodied in post-Fordist precarious labour’, and aligns this with E.P. Thompson and his brilliant The Making of the English Working Class:

As Thompson put it, ‘Class is defined by men as they live their own history, and in the end, this is its only definition’ (Thompson 1963: 11). Class-formation and class-struggle are activities and processes, which in turn constitute a class. Whilst the Accelerationist call for a precarious class-formation is interesting, it doesn’t engage with how contemporary classes are formed now.

He continues his critique of the notion of accelerationism as politics remarking that the “limits of ‘accelerationist politics’, as opposed to ‘folk politics’ which I don’t endorse either, is that it is equivalent and in many ways identical to the politics of Google, also at ease with ‘abstraction, complexity, globality, and technology’ (3§1), as well as assisting governments to conduct surveillance of citizens, and to pressure governments into continuing to provide tax-breaks to austerity, thereby enabling ideologically-neoliberal governments like the UK’s to further attack the welfare budget”. Embedded as we are in the current of capitalism an accelerating “technology cannot win a conflict, especially one that aims at post-capitalism, if already embedded in its construction and functionality is a series of capitalist objectives and values”.

He also argues that the rejection of Fordism as “racist, sexist and utterly impossible is hasty, and problematic,” that if we “wish to consider the world without the prioritisation of the human in it, then who else can we engage but Spinoza, who sought to consider things ‘as if they were lines, planes or bodies’”. Yet, using Spinoza would also involve deploying “contemporary scientific reason for the overarching end of human freedom and joy, a rational and political project”. In his conclusion he states,

There is much to recommend the Accelerationist Manifesto, which is well-written, stimulating and full of valuable insights. The analysis of neoliberalism as ‘a sublimation of the crisis rather than its ultimate overcoming’ (2§4), in relation to the value crisis of 1971-1973 is excellently made, and the permeation of work into life also very good. So too is the need for some kind of post-capitalist planning, a vacancy in much of recent Marxism’s disenchanted and increasingly religious theorisations of the Revolution – civil war and famines/blackouts caused by trade embargoes would beset any revolutionary state. But when capitalism is now so ubiquitous, encoded within us, and increasingly powerful, in theorising its end are the Accelerationists not theorising its next goal, particularly in the West, of the exploitation and extraction of surplus-value from new technologies? Anticapitalist thought needs a theorisation of collective desire and the social democratic government-state it can meaningfully contend and offer as counter-power to such a force. – Nowhere fast? A brief critique of the Accelerationist Manifesto

Yet, why should it be a ‘social democratic government-state’? Why not as Badiou and Zizek over and over shout at us, why not a return to the communist Idea, not a repetition, nor a nostalgic recursion to some ideal past, but a return to the beginning, to the event, to the rupture in which all revolutionary movements arise?

1. Reynolds, Simon (2012-03-01). Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture Soft Skull Press.

Steven Shaviro: Accelerationist Aesthetics

Despite Shaviro’s effort to define it, the notion of an accelerationist aesthetics remains an open problem…

– Gean Moreno, Editorial

e-flux is out with a new edition devoted exclusively to Accelerationist Aesthetics. Editor Gean Moreno sees this beyond the political uses of such a conceptual theory-fiction that the artistic impulse of an accelerationist aesthetic might offer “the potential to provoke innovative cartographic exercises that probe unprecedented social complexity and look for new liberatory programs that live up to it, and on the other hand, dark intimations that this aesthetics is indissoluble from the drive to deliberately exacerbate nihilistic meltdowns as the only response to being dragged by the vertiginous speeds of a runaway capitalism.”(here)

Steven Shaviro in his essay Necessary Inefficiency in Times of Real Subsumption for the series reminds us using Mallarmé’s aphorism that Everything comes down to Aesthetics and Political Economy (Tout se résume dans l’Esthétique et l’Économie politique.).  He remarks “aesthetics exists in a special relationship to political economy, precisely because aesthetics is the one thing that cannot be reduced to political economy”. He reminds us of Kant’s integral insights into aesthetic judgment: disinterestedness and the non-cognitive aspect of aesthetic judgment. For Kant art is non-utilitarian, non-didactic, and purposeless. Even Wittgenstein and other Analytic philosophers were puzzled by the paradox that aesthetic experience is not part of any “cognitive mechanism—even though it is never encountered apart from such a mechanism”.

“What is the role of aesthetics, then, today?” asks Shaviro. Delving into the works of the Autonimists, especially the work of Hardt and Negri on subsumption he tells us it is the key to our globalized network society, that “everything in life must now be seen as a kind of labor: we are still working, even when we consume, and even when we are asleep”. This system is termed Neoliberalism and as he remarks: “Neoliberalism is not just the ideology or belief system of this form of capitalism. It is also, more importantly, the concrete way in which the system works. It is an actual set of practices and institutions. It provides both a calculus for judging human actions, and a mechanism for inciting and directing those actions.” The point being that nothing is left to chance, “real subsumption leaves no aspect of life uncolonized”.

It’s under this Neoliberal regime of subsumption that the aesthetics of accelerationism comes into play he tells us. Everywhere you turn in todays Neoliberal global realm one discovers the excess of capital, the transgression of its pervasive commercialization of reality. As he reminds us “Transgression is now fully incorporated into the logic of political economy. It testifies to the way that, under the regime of real subsumption, “there is nothing, no ‘naked life,’ no external standpoint … there is no longer an ‘outside’ to power.” Where transgressive modernist art sought to break free from social constraints, and thereby to attain some radical Outside, accelerationist art remains entirely immanent, modulating its intensities in place.”

Against the political uses of accelerationism he remarks ironically:

…the problem with accelerationism as a political strategy has to do with the fact that—like it or not—we are all accelerationists now. It has become increasingly clear that crises and contradictions do not lead to the demise of capitalism. Rather, they actually work to promote and advance capitalism, by providing it with its fuel. Crises do not endanger the capitalist order; rather, they are occasions for the dramas of “creative destruction” by means of which, phoenix-like, capitalism repeatedly renews itself. We are all caught within this loop. And accelerationism in philosophy or political economy offers us, at best, an exacerbated awareness of how we are trapped.

So if it hasn’t worked as a political tool for struggle then why should it work as an aesthetic? Quoting Deleuze on Nietzsche he tells us that “Deleuze is a good fit for accelerationist art today. Intensifying the horrors of contemporary capitalism does not lead them to explode; but it does offer us a kind of satisfaction and relief, by telling us that we have finally hit bottom, finally realized the worst” (quote):

It often happens that Nietzsche comes face to face with something sickening, ignoble, disgusting. Well, Nietzsche thinks it’s funny, and he would add fuel to the fire if he could. He says: keep going, it’s still not disgusting enough. Or he says: excellent, how disgusting, what a marvel, what a masterpiece, a poisonous flower, finally the “human species is getting interesting.”

For Shaviro the “difference between this aesthetic accelerationism, and the politico-economic accelerationism analyzed by Noys, is that the former does not claim any efficacy for its own operations”. He continues in conclusion:

It does not even deny that its own intensities serve the aim of extracting surplus value and accumulating profit. The evident complicity and bad faith of these works, their reveling in the base passions that Nietzsche disdained, and their refusal to sustain outrage or claim the moral high ground: all these postures help to move us towards the disinterest and epiphenomenality of the aesthetic. … But I do want to claim a certain aesthetic inefficacy for them—which is something that works of transgression and negativity cannot hope to attain today.

One can find all the essays at e-flux journal:

Nick Land: Urban Future (2.0)

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Nick Land has launched his new Urban Future (2.0) site. Offering Shanghai as the City of the Future Now, a hypermodernist acceleration spinning its lightwheels across a reactionary front that exists he tells us in a  ‘now’ that has no fixed duration. He tells us that perhaps, more “than any other city in the world, Shanghai runs its present through memories and expectations. What Shanghai has been is still explicitly taking place, on the way to a destination that it has long anticipated. It is rushing to meet the absolute, globally incandescent modernity that has tantalized it for over 150 years. Obscure presentiments of this strange trajectory dated back further still. Now it is closer than it has ever been, almost palpable, indicated in myriads of signs. As the arrival approaches, things are triggered, or ignited, in ever more rapid succession. Urban Future is — once again — among them.”

In a post on  Peter Hessler’s Oracle Bones (see New York times review), he quotes the author for whom modernity is the excavation of the past through an acceleration into the future, a “process of discovery, reclamation, and dilation, through which the past is explosively expanded”.  Peter comes across a map in the Nanjing museum named OUTLINE OF ANCIENT CHINESE HISTORY which represents the time spiral of Chinese history from Yuanmou Ape-man (approximately 1.7 million years ago) in a spiraling swerve around the rhythms of its vast history which took three turns of the spiral to reach the revolution of 1911, where the timeline finally broke the cycle, straightened out, and pointed directly up and off the page. (here)

Land tells us the “spiral synthesizes repetition and growth. It describes a cyclic escalation that escapes — or precedes — the antagonism between tradition and progress, elucidating restoration as something other than a simple return.” Why is this important? Because he tells us “the history of modernity is rapidly becoming Chinese, and Chinese history is not meandering ‘wallpaper’ but Confucian Restoration, conforming to three great waves, each a turn of the spiral, or Gyre. Following China’s classical era, and the Song Dynasty rebirth of native philosophical tradition, the third Confucian epoch, or second Confucian Restoration, is underway today, coinciding exactly with the renaissance of Global Modernity (or ‘Modernity 2.0’).”

Looks like this new blog will be the hyper-nautical remapping of China’a spiraling modernity as an accelerationist sea-change.  An alternative future that Land appears to see as a time unbounded surging past nihilism and the collapse of the West and into a post-nihilist future where the new reactionary restoration of Confucianism lifts its ancient head and enforces an ethics of personal exemplification. Extoling the virtues to the self: sincerity and the cultivation of knowledge this vision of restoration seems to vibrate with the new face of Chinese communism as transformation guided by rén (仁). Rén consists of 5 basic virtues: seriousness, generosity, sincerity, diligence and kindness.  Confucius believed that the key to long-lasting integrity was to constantly think, since the world is continually changing at a rapid pace. Was Confucius the first accelerationist?

Land’s Time-Traveler’s Guide through an alternative Urban Future should be both interesting and enlightening; that is, enlightening in the dark virulent sense.

Check his new blog out at Urban Future (2.0):

Le Corbusier: Modernism’s High Priest of Architecture

It has been said that Le Corbusier’s buildings violate the street…

– Ada Louise Huxtable, On Architecture

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret known better as Le Corbusier gave us the shape of ideas in things, awakened out of stone, wood, glass, and a zoological plenum of other materials a new world of form and beauty. As Huxtable would say years later on seeing Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts,

Le Corbusier’s buildings are a curious and characteristic blend of the deliberately rugged and the artfully primitive, from a mind of unusual subtlety and sophistication. This one is frankly a workshop; there are no slick finishes or rich materials to seduce the viewer. New England should not object; it shares, with the French, the tradition of austerity.1

As his biographer Nicholas Fox Weber remarked “Compassionate, arrogant, generous, selfish, Calvinist, hedonistic, proud, enraged, ecstatic, sad, Le Corbusier the man was as provocative, and unique, as the buildings with which he changed the visible world.”2 Most of what we know of the revealed self of Le Corbusier is from his letters to his mother Marie Charlotte Amélie Jeanneret-Perret lived to the age of one hundred. As Fox tells us these letters unfold the man: “The intimacy with which Le Corbusier wrote to her about his taste in women is extraordinary. The intensity of his program to change the world, the leaps and plunges of his spirit, the rapidity of his mood swings, and the relentlessness of his emotional needs and professional ambition: all these emerge unmasked.” Continue reading

Dystopian Machines: Karel Capek – R.U.R.

Only by listening to technology’s story, divining its tendencies and biases, and tracing its current direction can we hope to solve our personal puzzles.

– Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants

Karel Capek’s international reputation as an sf writer rests on the play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots, 1920; translated into English 1923) and the novels The Absolute at Large (1922), Krakatit (1924), and War with the Newts (1936), but his stature as the greatest Czech writer of his generation rests on a far larger and more varied body of work, highlighted by the allegorical drama From the Life of the Insects (1921), the trilogy of philosophical novels Hordubal (1933), Meteor (1934), and An Ordinary Life (1934), the stunning detective fiction collected in Tales from Two Pockets (1929), the biographical essay President Masaryk Tells His Story (1934), and an extensive, as yet uncollected and largely untranslated, body of short journalistic essays or feuilletons.1

In an early story (1908) “System,” a cigar-smoking bourgeois boasts that he has solved the problem of workers’ rebellions by choosing his workers from the poorest, the worst educated, the mentally incompetent – in short, the most abject members of society – and then systematically depriving them of any stimulation in order to render them free of ideas and desires, making them, as he puts it, as reliable as machines. At the end of the story like many of his later more familiar works these dehumanized or mechanized Fordist or Taylorist humans would rebel against their masters. But did they ever recover their affective life? Are were they forever doomed to their affectless sociopathic machinic existence?

“…individuals with psychopathy are marked with a constellation of impairments that primarily affect emotional processing. …this account suggests that genetic anomalies give rise to a disorder where there is reduced responsiveness of the amygdala to aversive stimuli in particular. This specific form of reduced emotional responsiveness interferes with socialization such that the individual is more likely to learn to use anti-social behavior to achieve goals.”

– James Blair and Derek Mitchell. The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain

Adam Kotsko in Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide To Late Capitalist Television describes the sociopath, saying:

…as I understand it, real-life sociopaths are pitiable creatures indeed. Often victims of severe abuse, they are bereft of all human connection, unable to tell truth from lies, charming and manipulative for a few minutes at most but with no real ability to formulate meaningful goals. The contemporary fantasy of sociopathy picks and chooses from those characteristics, emphasizing the lack of moral intuition, human empathy, and emotional connection. Far from being the obstacles they would be in real life, these characteristics are what enable the fantasy sociopath to be so amazingly successful.2

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The Bionic Horizon: The Law of Acceleration

A law of acceleration, definite and constant as any law of science, cannot be supposed to relax its energy to suit the convenience of man.

– Henry Adams, The Law of Acceleration

As exponential growth continues to accelerate into the first half of the twenty-first century, it will appear to explode into infinity, at least from the limited and linear perspective of contemporary humans.

– Ray Kurzweil, The Law of Accelerating Returns

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization 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, Meltdown

If you’re accelerating, there are material constraints upon your capacity to accelerate, but there must also be a transcendental speed limit at some point. The ultimate limit is not a limit at all for him, it’s death, or cosmic schizophrenia.

– Ray Brassier, Accelerationism

Technological acceleration and its alliance with late capitalism Benjamin Noys reminds us becomes fused in the utopias of cyberpunk fiction (here). As Noys remarks: “while promising the traversal of capitalism I argue that what it delivers is a reinforcement of the ‘thrill’ of capitalism as a continuing operator of the dematerialization and rematerialization of new ‘bodies’ of labour, while minimizing or valorizing the ‘threat’ of these experiences.” One can remember Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams, Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, and Neuromancer by William Gibson to name only three of the fabled cyberpunkers. One could add one’s own favorite list: Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, Paul Di Filippo just to name a few. In later times such utopian dreams of capital would turn toward the dystopic critical appraisal of such works as Richard Morgan’s trilogy of Takeshi Kovacs a sleever who changes bodies as regularly as we do our clothes. Reincarnated on demand by elite socialites this cyborgian mercenary version of the Chandleresque private eye slips into an out of death sequences without a hitch since his recorded memories backed up and locked away can be retrieved from a subcortical implant hooked to his brain stem. Against this speedworld theoretic of cyberphutures as Noys names it he tells us “rather than the reinforcement and replication of capitalist relations as the means to achieve our future we consider imagining new avant-gardes and new politics that take seriously the reconfiguration and negation of these relations. In this way we could finally rescind the promise of the cybernetic phuture”.

Richard Feynman once remarked: “The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom.” It was another twentieth century visionary, Buckmenster Fuller, who described his concept of ephemeralization as the apparent driver of accelerating change, “the invisible chemical, metallurgical, and electronic production of ever-more-efficient and satisfyingly effective performance with the investment of ever-less weight and volume of materials per unit function formed or performed”.1 The point of this concept is the ability of technological advancement to do “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing”. Fuller’s vision was that ephemeralization will result in ever-increasing standards of living for an ever-growing population despite finite resources. Utopian?

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Posthuman Accelerationism

It is thus necessary to make a distinction between speed and movement: a movement may be very fast, but that does not give it speed; a speed may be very slow, or even immobile, yet it is still speed. Movement is extensive; speed is intensive. Movement goes from point to point; speed, on the contrary, constitutes the absolute character of a body whose irreducible parts (atoms) occupy or fill a smooth space in the manner of a vortex, with the possibility of springing up at any point.

– Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus


Accelerationism is a community blog with several well known young philosophers investigating theories of an accelerated futurism: Tristam Adams, Jon Lindblom, Andrew Osborne, Benedict Singleton, Nick Srnicek, James Trafford, Tom Trevatt, Inigo Wilkins, Alex Williams, and Peter Wolfendale. I’ve covered much of this territory before (here) but thought I’d take a second look.

In a post Some Friendly Questions Pete Wolfendale of Deontologistics fame tells us that the group has “taken quite a bit of flack online since the site went up, some of it informed and well intentioned, some of it the complete opposite, and much of it lying at various points in between”. I admit to being critical of the manifesto (pdf) by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in my previous post. My friend Levi in a post affirming aspects of Srnicek and Williams manifesto mentioned in passing – commenting on my post, that “Perhaps I just completely fail to understand what the accelerationists are on about, but I find noir’s picture unrecognizable”. So I thought to myself: was my appraisal that far off base? Does this accelerationism deserve a second look? I thought “Okay, let’s give them the benefit of doubt, take another look, see exactly what it is they are saying to us. For those that are interested there is a five part series on Social Accelerationism on the Social Acceleration blog (here) which I touch base with below as another aspect of what I perceive as part of several conditions for an accelerationist critique; or, as I define it a temporal critique. I know that for the most part Srnicek and Williams manifesto dealt with a specifically political vision, but we should also see accelerationist discourse as viable in other domains as well.

What the Accelerationists seem to be saying is that we need a return to modernity rather than this dead zone of postmodern boredom and malaise and stasis that offers little more than a postnihilist rapture in transhumanism or a politics of despair in some technocratic capitalist realism. But which path of acceleration shall we take: Nick Land and his Reactionary followers on the Right (see Outside In) offer the Dark Enlightenment with their ringleader, Mencius Moldbug to run the global circus; while Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams (Manifesto) and their ensemble of Accelerationists on the Left seek another path, which seems to be a return to an ultra-modernism. McKenzie Wark offers a critique of Nick’s and Alex’s Manifesto as well (see both from here). I have spoken of Accelerationism as well in previous blog posts (here) and (here).

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Letters to a young Comrade (1)

Dear Comrade,

I know we’ve had this conversation before, and I know you’ve asked me more often than not why the ‘Idea of communism’ matters in such an age as ours. You’ve pointed out that the history of communism has been the history of a great failure. But was it communism that failed us, truly? Should we not admit that mistakes have been made? Are we better than Comrade Lenin who once stated that those “Communists are doomed who imagine that it is possible to finish such an epoch-making undertaking as completing the foundations of socialist economy (particularly in a small-peasant country) without making mistakes, without retreats, without numerous alterations to what is unfinished or wrongly done.”1 Yet, we cannot stop there, we must continue, must remember, allow his message to sink in completely into the core of our being, listen to what he says after this first iteration: “Communists who have no illusions, who do not give way to despondency, and who preserve their strength and flexibility ‘to begin from the beginning’ over and over again in approaching an extremely difficult task, are not doomed (and in all probability will not perish). (ibid.)

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Quiet Week

Been a quiet week. Been actively writing on my dystopian novel.  One could throw a whole reading list at the revolutionary era of the Bolshevik’s. Thinking on the era between the October Revolution and the death of Trotsky one could spend a lifetime. But to put on top of that our own era, a prelude to so many strange worlds opening up as we move into a multipolar reorganization of life on this planet with all that entails in human suffering, as well as the impacts that may be unleashed by the new sciences and technologies of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science. One can only wonder and surmise what possible consequences face us in the near future. Not to mention all the other aspects of resource depletion, climate change, famine, and all the other dire apocalyptic imaginings.

To create a speculative fiction based not only on all these factors, but on the latest philosophical literature available is almost mind boggling to anyone attempting to compress our eras struggles without being either too complex or too simplistic and reductionary.  That no one person could ever begin to master the data needed to understand every facet of our coming eras struggles is in itself telling. Even the notion of a “mastery of knowledge” seems vein in our time. Knowledge is fractured, frayed by its vast storehouses of archives and endless labyrinths of databanks that only a machinic consciousness could hope to interrogate much less apply any structure or narrative decomplexification for human consumption. Maybe that’s just it. Maybe the whole Enlightenment project is now bankrupt to the point that the idea of building a Rational Order of the Ages is becoming a perfect nightmare without outlet.

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Speculations on the End of Time: Gratton, Harman, Barbour

The primary dualism in the world is not between matter and mind, but between objects and relations, and most relations will be unrecognizable as anything mental, just as objects turn out not to resemble what is usually called the physical.

– Graham Harman, Time, Space, Essence, Eidos

Harman’s work must deny the reality of time in order to make his own claims for a certain realism…

– Peter Gratton, Post-Deconstructive Realism It’s about Time

I suggest that our belief in time and a past arises solely because our entire experience comes to us through the medium of static arrangements of matter, in Nows, that create the appearance of time and change. Tensors relate different things and bring them into lawful connection.

– Julian Barbour, The End of Time

Recently Peter Gratton’s essay in Speculations IV (which I’ve already written of here) reminded me of Julian Barbour’s book The End of Time which I’d read a few years back and found some interesting parallel’s on the theory of Time within a metaphysics of presence. What you see below is just bringing out the comparisons, this is not a defense of Harman, Gratton, Barbour or anyone else. Time is a philosophical bombshell, and not a notions that has a perfect solution: at least, not yet, in my honest opinion.  Time is still one of the grand mysteries for science and philosophy, along with ideas on causality, and we need to be open to the strange and unfounded speculations even if they appear at first as counter-intuitive or against the grain of one’s common sense experience. Even Einstein’s conceptions on relativity were not accepted outright, but were debated for years before becoming central to physics. What I show below is just such a comparison between a working scientist, Julian Barbour (quantum gravity theorist), and the speculative philosophy of Graham Harman. To draw comparisons is not to defend either side of the coin. Quantum Gravity Theory is not even the most accepted theory in physics: that being String Theory at present. But all these ideas are hotly debated with no perfect solution. It is to tease out speculative thought and see things differently from our usual habitual modes of thinking. My attitude toward philosophy is to keep an open mind, to take off my ideological blinkers, my philosophical presuppositions, and let the philosopher bare his or her conceptual framework without some ultimate judgment. Judgment is for critique, not commentary. What I try my best to do on this site is commentary rather than critique. You’ll find plenty of critique on a thousand other blogs.  Time is a hobby for me, so I find things interesting in crossovers between systems, even if those systems are true or not true, its the strangeness of the ideas that fascinates. In fact Graham can and will defend his own position in a new book from a comment on this post and on Gratton’s conceptions: here.

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Peter ultimately critiqued both Meillassoux and Graham Harman as metaphyscians of presence: philosophers for whom time is the cosmic illusion (my post on this: here). Harman considers himself a substantial formalist. In an early essay Time, Space, Essence, Eidos he lays out most of the themes that have from the beginning haunted his discourse on Objects and the fourfold tensions between real objects and real qualities, and sensual objects and sensual qualities. Every time I begin thinking about Harman’s system I want to pull out my nephew’s tinker set and start building objects in patterns that will somehow match his diagrammatic imagination.  Peter Gratton in his essay he remarks in otherwise frank terms tells us that neither Meillassoux or Harman believe in Time:

Meillassoux and Harman mark a return to the real that is anything but, as long as they treat the time of becoming as epiphenomenal, and thus deny the reality of time however aporetic it is, as we well know—at the beating hearts of thinkers they too quickly disparage while ignoring what were their central insights.

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Speculative Posthumanism: R. Scott Bakker, Mark Fisher and David Roden

“A posthuman is any WHD [Wide Human Descendent] that goes feral; becomes capable of life outside the planetary substance comprised of narrow biological humans, their cultures and technologies.”

– Dr. David Roden, Hacking Humans

“So really think about it now,” Thomas continued. “Everything you live, everything you see and touch and hear and taste, everything you think, belongs to this little slice of mush, this little wedge in your brain called the thalamocortical system. The neural processing that makes these experiences possible—we’re talking about the most complicated machinery in the known universe—is utterly invisible. This expansive, far-reaching experience of yours is nothing more than a mote, an inexplicable glow, hurtling through some impossible black. You’re steering through a dream…”

– R. Scott Bakker,  Neuropath

In his novel Neuropath Thomas Bible, one of R. Scott Bakker’s characters – an atypical academic, not one of your pie-in-the-sky type, theorists, reminisces with a friend about an old professor who once presented theories on the coming “semantic apocalypse,” the apocalypse of meaning. He tells this friend, Samantha, that this is when the Argument started and conveys to her its basic tenets:

“Remember how I said science had scrubbed the world of purpose? For some reason, wherever science encounters intention or purpose in the world, it snuffs it out. The world as described by science is arbitrary and random. There’s innumerable causes for everything, but no reasons for anything.”1(58)

After a few arguments on how the neural process of the brain itself weaves the illusions of free-will, mind, etc. Thomas lays down the bombshell of Bakker’s pet theory: Blind Brain Theory, saying: “The brain, it turned out, could wrap itself around most everything but itself—which was why it invented minds . . . souls.”(61) Suddenly Samantha wakes up realizing that all this leads to moral nihilism and begins babbling defenses against such truths as Thomas has revealed. For Thomas this all seems all too familiar and human, he reminisces a similar conversation he’d had with his friend and co-hort, Neil Cassidy, who on realizing just where the argument led stated (stoned and pacing back and forth like a feral beast):

“Whoa, dude . . . Think about it. You’re a machine—a machine!—dreaming that you have a soul. None of this is real, man, and they can fucking prove it.” (62)

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Mark Fisher: A Critique of Practical Nihilism: Agency in Scott Bakker’s “Neuropath”

My post was generated by rereading Mark Fisher’s excellent critique of Bakker’s novel in INCOGNITUM HACTENUS Volume 2: here (downloadable in .pdf format). What interested me in Fisher’s critique was his conclusions more than his actual arguments. You can read the essay yourself and draw your own conclusions, but for me the either/or scenario that Fisher draws out is how either the technocapitalists or the technosocialists (‘General Intellect’) in the immediate future might use such knowledge to wield powers of control/emacipation never before imaginable:

For whatever the theoretical implications of neuroscience, Bakker is surely right that its practical applications will in the first instance be controlled by the dominant force on the planet: capital. Capital can use neuroscientific techniques to stave off the semantic apocalypse: ironically, it can control people by convincing them that they are free subjects. This is already happening, via the low-level neurocontrol exerted through media, advertising and all the other platforms through which communicative capitalism operates. Whether neuroscience’s practical nihilism will do more than reinforce capital’s domination will ultimately depend on how far the institutions of techno-science can be liberated from corporate control. Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself. (11)

He brings up two notions, both hinging on the amoral ‘practical nihilism’ of neuroscience itself: 1) the reinforcement by the dominant ideology, technocapitalism, to use such technologies to gain complete control over every aspect of our lives through invasive techniques of brain manipulation; or, 2) the power of some alternative, possibly Leftward, collectivist ideology that seeks through the malleability or plasticity of these same neurosciences to use the ‘General Intellect’ to freely experiment on itself. Do we really want either of these paths?

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Speculations IV: Peter Gratton and Post-deconstructive Realism

In On Touching, Derrida argues that ‘for Nancy, touch remains the motif of an absolute, irredentist, and post-deconstructive realism [réalisme … post-déconstructif] … an absolute realism, but irreducible to any of the tradition’s realisms’ (OT 46/60).

– Michael Marder, The Event of the Thing: Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism

Peter Gratton of Philosophy in a Time of Error fame in the introduction to his excellent book The State of Sovereignty tells us “Political mysticism in particular is exposed to the danger of losing its spell or becoming quite meaningless when taken out of its native surroundings, its time and its space”.1 One wonders if the same thing might be true of philosophical mysticism. Is that not what the history of the last two thousand years in philosophy is? Is not one of the basic tenets of modernity the overcoming of our ancestors metaphysical mysticism? Is metaphysics rather than being overcome still very pervasive within our academies hiding under other names other philosophical disguises?

One of the things that Gratton points out in his new essay for Speculations IV Post-Deconstructive Realism It’s about Time is just that: it is about time, about the presumptive arrogance of SR in its castigation of post-structural forms of philosophical speculation, and, as Gratton puts it, these speculative realists seek “means of driving straight past the “linguistic turn” that had side-tracked, they believe, a previous era of philosophers”. But we should not overlook the troubling effects of such a move he tells us, because what these philosophers have done in bypassing the “linguistic turn” is nothing less than a return to pre-modern, pre-critical modes of thought: “But my argument is that this is a dodge: at the heart of this speculative work is a pre-modern (not even just pre-Critical) consideration of time, where time is epiphenomenal when thought against the eternal…”. One of the consequences of this for Gratton is that until until a certain realism of time opens onto SR thought, their “interventions will be anything but timely”.

Peter center his attack on two specific members of the original SR gang of four: Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Harman. Why them specifically? Instead of answering that question directly Peter goes directly to the heart of Jaques Derrida’s central insight: “There is nothing outside of the text [there is no outside-text; il n’y a pas de horstexte]”. The point of this being as Gratton tells us citing Lee Braver’s rendition of this very notion is this:

There is nothing outside the text because our experience is always linguistically mediated; this makes both subject and object effects of language, rather than entities that precede it from the outside to master or anchor it. Language impersonally structures our selves and our world, and our actions depend on passively taking on these structures.

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Speculations IV: Eileen Joy and the Joys of Reading

Art is inherently subversive, after all, as much an act of doing as undoing.

– Eileen Joy, Weird Reading

Who can remember the first book they picked up and read for pleasure? I confess that having been athletic and being raised down south in the fifties of the last century that being a book reader wasn’t on the top priority list of things a jock was ever to be seen doing. So like many I separated out what I had to read to get by in school from my subversive reading pleasures done under the covers late at night so that no one, especially my non-book reading Step-dad or brothers would ever catch me in the act of reading stories about ancient knights, or musketeers, or pirates, etc. All those weird tales that took me away from my hum rum life of being molded into a no brainer jock who was supposed to know more about hunting, fishing, football, baseball, etc. than about strange far away places beyond the temporal ken of our staid grey lives in the Fifties U.S.A. So coming onto this passage in Eileen Joy’s new essay Weird Reading for Speculations IV brought all those first time reading pleasures back to me:

Nevertheless, works of literature are also unique events that possess a penumbra of effects that can never be fully rationalized nor instrumentalized, and there is no one set of relations within which the whole range of any one text’s possible effects can be fully plumbed or measured. There is always something left over, some remainder, or some non-responsive item, that has to be left to the side of any schematic critique, and this is an occasion for every text’s becoming-otherwise.

This excess, this remainder, this something that can never be explicated fully or trapped within the close reading of some master reader or critic’s textual analysis, this is what escapes or withdraws from us beyond our wildest speculations into a reality so intense and alive that our minds barely comprehend its existence much less acknowledge its haunting presence. Yet, like Eileen describes we can always count on certain repetitions to occur exactly the same way and at the same point within these strange narrative structures we call novels, poems, stories, etc. As she describes it Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina will repeat the same suicidal tale, jump in front of a beastly train; Macbeth will lose his head; Hamlet will murder too late… each of these things will happen over and over like clockwork each time we pick up these same books, plays, poems, etc. And, yet, something will have altered nonetheless. That something is us. We will have been altered by this reading, this moving through the repetitions of a temporal onslaught of words signifying nothing more than strange characters on the abyss of the page entering into conversation with our mind creating a new sphere or object that is an interpenetration of both worlds: that of the text-as-reader and the reader-as-text, the shifting vagaries of something that is neither one or the other, but of both at once. As Eileen tells us:

Stories are like deterministic, machinic systems in which characters, situations, and other details are frozen, as it were, in certain poses, while also being always “wound,” like watches, to keep the same time. Yet, narratives also contain discrete, disconnected instances of being and becoming that are always attempting to expand beyond or subvert the larger narrative system—these instances, or “units” (as Ian Bogost would term them) are like things, material elements with their own conatus (Spinoza’s term for any thing’s tendency to persist in existing), which always leaves the system open to a creative and possibly fruitful chaos (a plenitude of generative unruliness whose historical tense would be the future perfect subjunctive: what would have been, or, what would have not been).

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Speculations IV: Lee Braver and Transgressive Realism

Transgressive Realism, I believe, gives us a reality that transcends our ways of thinking, but not all access to it, offering a middle path that lets us have our ineffable cake and partially eff it too.

– Lee Braver, On Not Settling the Issue of Realism

In the opening of his essay, sounding more like some ancient gnostic, maybe a Valentinian precursor, Lee Braver in his Speculations IV offering gives us a vision of “shadows and reflections, of illusions and elisions, of waste and death”.  Reciting an ancient tale he begins: “Philosophy is a means of escape. Our presence in this world is an accident, in both senses of the word, an unfortunate fate that has befallen us as we have fallen into it”. In other passages he takes on an almost ethereal Christian like ambience, telling us that “we are in this world, but we do not belong here”. Then where do we belong if not in this world? Some other world or sphere of reality, per chance? Exactly! Lee Braver returns, after his excursion into the metaphysical ether, to the Platonic myth of the true world, the real world behind the appearances of this illusionary one where: “We yearn for a reality that is real, and a truth that is true. Since these are not to be found among the detritus of everyday life, we must seek it in a world beyond or behind this one, a realm that truly exists because it has no whiff of non-existence about it—no destruction, no imperfections, no suffering, no death”.

Maybe Lee Braver, like Plato before him, is sick unable to cope with the world around him as it is, but instead seeks to overcome this one by finding some eternal home for his sick soul? But then Lee Braver announces the truth, that no this is not what he believes at all, that if the truth be told this is what for two thousand years certain philosophers, and not only philosophers, but whole tribes of churchmen and their followers believed. Who was the culprit who started this: “it is all Plato’s fault”, Braver tells us emphatically. And all those sick metaphysicians that followed in his wake mistook his parables for the truth, and they too sought to escape this dark world of shadows and enter the true world of light. As he surmises the “lesson of these meta-physicians is that we must not settle for the world we see around us, but must ever strive to transcend it, for the sake of our minds and our souls”.

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Speculations IV: Adrian Johnston and the Axioms of Transcendental Materialism

“Any materialism worthy of the name must involve elements of both naturalism and empiricism.”

– Adrian Johnston, Points of Forced Freedom Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism

In a polemical tour de force Adrian Johnston condenses and codifies the elements of a philosophical materialism for the 21st Century. Adrian like others in the essays for Speculations IV returns to Kant, but for him this is not the exact correlationist litany we’ve seen in the others but more of an acknowledgement of Kant’s philosophical breadth and integrity in being the philosopher who put to rest the metaphysical claims of two thousand years of dialectical deadlocks: “The “Transcendental Dialectic” of the Critique of Pure Reason, revealing the precise contours of the dialectical deadlocks forever dooming in advance each and every classical metaphysics to futility, extracts its critical logics from the evidence furnished by two thousand years of philosophical history.”

I must say that I’m bias toward materialist perspectives and especially of late to both Johnston and Zizek with qualifications (more on that at another time), but will do my part to be – as in previous posts – the neutral observer (or as much as one can be) or close reader and commentator who offers hopefully an unbiased condensation of the original discourse. Being more of a poet and fictional writer and not a professional philosopher, I like many – perceive myself as just an average man thinking and trying to discover in current theory and practice some semblance of the problematique we are all facing in our world today. Trying to find a way forward out of the malaise of our current dysfunctional global (dis)civilization. Speculative Realism offers a multiplicity of perspectives in dealing with the domains of epistemic and ontological aspects of both our material and immaterial worlds, and while I may not agree with each and every perspective I agree that each will need to be confronted and rigorously answered if we are to find a way forward.

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Speculations IV: Levi R. Bryant and Borromean Critical Theory

If your not familiar with Levi R. Bryant by now I’m not sure if this post will matter. Levi on his blog, Larval Subjects, offers the lively reader purchase on almost everything within the spectrum of current philosophical thought. In his essay for Speculations IV he turns his keen eye toward the political spectrum and specifically the controversies surrounding Speculative Realism and its apolitical theoretic as seen within its four major players: Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Although Levi has moved on from the vitalistic shell of his early critique of Deleuze (Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence), and his flirtatious investment in Harman’s Object-Oriented modes (The Democracy of Objects), he continues to evolve a system all his own and has of late rejoined the Lucretian traditions in thought and philosophy. Thinking of Levi within that tradition there may be no better place to start a reading of his current essay on politics (“Politics and Speculative Realism” here: warning: pdf) than by reading Properties and States: Lucretius and Politics.

Levi begins with a Lucretian topos, a theme that runs the gamut of Critical Theory: the critique of the naturalness of categories in both human identities and social relations, uncovering the ideological layers of that underpin their socially constructed, contingent, and historical character.  Levi earmarks Lucretius’s demarcation between properties that inhere in a thing, with the properties that arise out of our human relations with things. An example being slavery: slavery is not he remarks an intrinsic property of a person, but is an unnatural imposition based on power, rank, and privilege. As he restates the matter:

While a number of people—generally those in power or who stand to benefit from a particular way of ordering society—might try to claim that people are naturally slaves, that sexuality is naturally structured in particular ways, that certain groups are naturally inferior, that a particular economic system is the natural form of exchange, and so on, a critical theory reveals how we have constructed these things.

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Speculations IV: Daniel Sacilotto on Representationalism

Daniel Sacilotto whose blog Being’s Poem always brings intelligent clarity to philosophical issues offers us a return to Wilfred Sellars in his essay for Speculation IV Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn (here: pdf). Like many of the other essays he gives us a litany of the history of SR and its Ontological Turn. Right off the bat he centers us in on the battle between two meanings of this ‘Ontological Turn’: 1) the radicalization of critique; and, 2) the overcoming of critique altogether. Ever since Kant moved us into epistemic territory, developing a transcendental logic that ultimately led us toward Idealism and Anti-Realism, philosophers have been trying to find there way back to what Meillassoux called the ‘Great Outdoors’. For Daniel the term Speculative Realism is almost a misnomer, a sort of loosely coupled conceptual framework or heuristic device to align a group of disparate philosophers who “share nothing more than an antipathy to post-Kantian anti-realism,” and are more like a dysfunctional family who use SR as a term that “coins nothing but an exceedingly vague family resemblance, rather than a concept announcing the advent of a new philosophical epoch, or a reformation of Continental thought.”

What binds these otherwise disparate formations or vectors of the Ontological Turn he tells us is their “rejection of transcendental philosophy understood as critical epistemology, and indeed a sustained attack on the concept of representation”. After outlining a short history of representationalism through its various proponents and opponents he teases out the two senses of its trajectory: 1) the break with the pre-modern vision and a turn from a resemblance theoretic to one based on isomorphy (“The possibility of thinking a correspondence between thought and the Real would then be amplified to be understood in terms of the isomorphy between a perspicuous formal ideography and the structural dynamics of spatio-temporal systems in the real order.”); and, 2) this form of representation deals with the long history of representationalism, of its concepts and its relations between the various domains of knowledge and world, etc. (“The distinctions between appearance and reality, mind and world, concepts and objects, statements and facts, would all partake thus of this more general concept.”).

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Follow up on Speculations IV

I haven’t had a chance to read each essay in detail, but I’m discovering in this issue of Speculations IV that it seems to be a time for accounting, for taking stock of where SR started, who the players are, some of the directions for future appraisal, as well as a few critical appraisals that wonder if this is anything new at all. Reading Graham Harman’s introductory essay he lays out the differences among some of the original players: 1) Quentin Meillassoux, whose After Finitude sparked the initial conference in London back in 2007; 2) Ray Brassier, who has distanced himself from the ‘movement’ (If that is what it still is?), Iain Hamilton Grant, as well as Harman himself.

Harman mentions the battle-royal going on within Continental Philosophy between the new realists and the recent century of anti-realists, bringing up a comment by Paul Ennis who offers the succinct opinion that for most Continental philosophers SR and its anti-correlationism is just plain ‘silly’ and not a threat to the dominance of anti-realist traditions:

“Continental realism is the fringe of the fringe. It might be popular for now, but we can already see a sort of knuckling down by the antirealists…the backlash. Most of them find the whole anti-correlationism thing silly and I don’t think continental realism is actually a threat to the dominance of antirealism…”1

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Speculations IV Ready for Review

The latest version of Speculations is out: Speculations IV

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A fast note:

Read Manuel DeLanda’s short essay on Ontological Commitments. He breaks ontology down into three competing camps: Idealist, Empiricists, and Realists. For Idealists there are no mind independent things, entities, or objects. For the Empiricist appearances serve up reality through the senses, everything else is a model or theoretical construct of the mind, a set of tools to help us explain what the senses observe. It is the third, the realist camp within which DeLanda situates his own philosophical proclivities. The realist ontology is hard to pin down, it deals with a totally mind independent reality filled with entities that are fully autonomous and cannot be easily reduced to our conceptual mythologies. This is where speculation comes into play:

There is simply no way to specify the contents of an autonomous world without speculating, since this world may contain beings that are too small or too large, and becomings that are too fast or too slow, to be directly observed.

For DeLanda speculation comes into play specifically because he defines the objective identity of entities not only by their properties but also by their tendencies and their capacities. Using the example of water: it can be in a state of hot, cold, lukewarm, etc. As well as under certain circumstances it has a tendency or capacity to become gaseous, frozen, etc., and it can also become a solvent for acids, alkalis, salts, etc.

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What is the difference between Association and the State?

Jehu is making a very important point here… it shows the difference between Marx/Engels and Baukin, and the key to the abolishment of the State resides in knowing just what an Association is. His point is valid and central to a real understanding of Marxist thought. Read him at The Real Movement!

The Real Movement

Certain Marxists have their own weasel words to cover their statist inclination. Unless pressed to demonstrate it, they routinely  refer to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (as one person stated to me) as “a ruling class’ instrument of the suppression of class enemies”. The employment of coercion against the capitalists, they assert, means the association of the working class is a working class state.

This idea is not to be found in Marx or Engels writings and it isn’t even in the anarchist criticism leveled against Marx by Bakunin.

This really makes it appear as if the difference between working class association and a bourgeois state is who gets suppressed by violence. It poses the problem of association in  a way that isn’t even close to understanding how association differs from the state.

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Utopian Speculation: Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown

UP TO NOW, it has been one of the principal tenets of the critical theory of society (and particularly Marxian theory) to refrain from what might be reasonably called utopian speculation.

– Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation

Emerson once remarked that Americans lived in the ‘optative mood’ – The Transcendentalist (1842):

Our American literature and spiritual history are, we confess, in the optative mood; but whoso knows these seething brains, these admirable radicals, these unsocial worshippers, these talkers who talk the sun and moon away, will believe that this heresy cannot pass away without leaving its mark.

Marcuse, a child of Marxian thought,  and native of Germany could have agreed with Emerson up to a point, but would have added only the communist dictum of Marx himself that the optative mood of communism is “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” What Marcuse did say in his Essay on Liberation is that “what is denounced as “utopian” is no longer that which has “no place” and cannot have any place in the historical universe, but rather that which is blocked from coming about by the power of the established societies.”1

So it was the repressive/oppressive regimes of both the liberal and socialist states of his era that he saw as the problem that was causing a blockage to all those creative potentials that needed to be released through utopian realization. As he put it “the question is no longer: how can the individual satisfy his own needs without hurting others, but rather: how can he satisfy his needs without hurting himself, without reproducing, through his aspirations and satisfactions, his dependence on an exploitative apparatus which, in satisfying his needs, perpetuates his servitude?” (KL 69-71) That Marcuse was correct in his diagnoses but incorrect in the treatment is old hat. He saw that we needed a new direction, and new institutions and relationships of production, ones that would express the ascent of needs and satisfactions very different from and even antagonistic to those prevalent in the exploitative societies. Yet, he based his criteria on a malformed notion of ‘instincts’ and their liberation:

Such a change would constitute the instinctual basis for freedom which the long history of class society has blocked. Freedom would become the environment of an organism which is no longer capable of adapting to the competitive performances required for well-being under domination, no longer capable of tolerating the aggressiveness, brutality, and ugliness of the established way of life.(KL 74-77).

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A Short History of the Progressive Movement

My reason for this post is simple: Nick Land an apprentice of the self-styled Sith Lord, Mencius Moldbug professes a new political creed: NeoReactionism. Moldbug describes this new political faith in negative terms: “A reactionary is not a Republican, a Democrat, or even a libertarian.  It is not even a communist, a fascist, or a monarchist.  It is something much older, stranger, and more powerful. But if you can describe it as anything, you can describe it as the pure opposite of progressivism.” (here) In a nine part open letter to his straw man mythology of progressivism (start here) one is not so much berated with non-factual evidence, as with a skewed sense of what it truly means to be a progressive. So I thought it only appropriate to provide an actual short history of the Progressive Movement. The neoreactionary is no so much fearful of progressivism as he is of social justice, reformism, and regulation. These were and are the core values of the progressive ethical stance now as they were then. At the heart of this was the protection of the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, the abandoned and sick of the world (i.e., pretty much the same things that a man named Jesus Christ believed a couple thousand years back). And, even an atheist could affirm such wisdom, then as now, with or without the God. It was the right thing to do. To link ourselves to the poor, the weak, the oppressed and seek for them and ourselves the right to social justice and the space to live and share in the good life is at the heart of the Progressive Movement.

Luke 4:16-19:  When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In final years of the nineteenth century a reform movement emerged that became what we now call “Progressivism”, which flourished from about 1900 to 1920, and faded away by the early 1920s, although many of its ideas and pragmatic ideology would flourish and inform our political and socio-cultural thought to this day. In U.S. national politics, its greatest achievements occurred between 1910 and 1917. In state and local politics and in private reform efforts—churches, settlement houses, campaigns to fight diseases, for example—Progressive changes began appearing in the 1890s and continued into the 1920s. In these social-justice efforts, legions of activist women, despite lacking the suffrage, were enormously effective. Most prominent in national politics were the “big four”: William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert M. La Follette, and Woodrow Wilson. Mayors Tom Johnson and Sam “Golden Rule” Jones in Ohio led change in their cities, as did governors Hiram Johnson of California and James Vardaman of Mississippi. Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and the rest of the crusaders (known as “muckrakers”) spearheaded what would later be called investigative journalism. Progressive educators ranged from university presidents to philosophers to sociologists. In philanthropy, Chicago’s Julius Rosenwald supported Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, while the Rockefeller Foundation poured millions into education and health in the South. The Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch, the Episcopalian W. D. P. Bliss, and the Catholic John A. Ryan led their churches toward social justice, and by 1910 every major Protestant denomination espoused what was called the Social Gospel. A major progressive-era innovation, the settlement house, combated poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice in many cities, led outstandingly by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago, Lillian Wald and Florence Kelley in New York, and Mary Workman in Los Angeles.1

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Thomas Carlyle: Calvinist, Reactionary and Prophet

In his Institutes, John Calvin defined natural law as the “apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony.” He described the purpose of natural law as “to render man inexcusable.”1

Thomas Carlyle lit his prophetic fires in the empyrean of Bacon and Locke, Hume and Bentham, and then Mills. The power of cognition, or superior intellect would drive this Titan through the Victorian Age. Yet, it was in the light of Shakespeare that he would discover his darkest precursor of this power – On Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841):

For, in fact, I say the degree of vision that dwells in a man is a correct measure of the man. If called to define Shakspeare’s faculty, I should say superiority of Intellect, and think I had included all under that. What indeed are faculties? We talk of faculties as if they were distinct, things separable; as if a man had intellect, imagination, fancy, etc., as he has hands, feet, and arms. That is a capital error. Then again, we hear of a man’s “intellectual nature,” and of his “moral nature,” as if these again were divisible, and existed apart. Necessities of language do perhaps prescribe such forms of utterance; we must speak, I am aware, in that way, if we are to speak at all. But words ought not to harden into things for us. It seems to me, our apprehension of this matter is, for the most part, radically falsified thereby. We ought to know withal, and to keep for ever in mind, that these divisions are at bottom but names; that man’s spiritual nature, the vital Force which dwells in him, is essentially one and indivisible…If I say therefore, that Shakspeare is the greatest of Intellects, I have said all concerning him. But there is more in Shakspeare’s intellect than we have yet seen. It is what I call an unconscious intellect; there is more virtue in it than he himself is aware of. Novalis beautifully remarks of him, that those Dramas of his are Products of Nature too, deep as Nature herself. I find a great truth in this saying. Shakspeare’s Art is not Artifice; the noblest worth of it is not there by plan or precontrivance. It grows-up from the deeps of Nature, through this noble sincere soul, who is a voice of Nature.

Carlyle steeped as he was in the philosophy and poetry of the English and German Idealism followed the intricate course of vitalism through such romantics as Goethe, Novalis, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He also grappled with Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. He wrote a great history of the French Revolution that is still worth reading not only for its power of rhetoric but for its deep insight into the dark contours of that age. That old liberal gnostic Harold Bloom in his Essayists and Prophets admired Carlyle for his Shakespearean temper: ”

We can learn from Carlyle also that the distinction between religious and secular writing is merely political and not critical. Critically, all writing is religious, or all writing is secular; Carlyle sees that Shakespeare has abolished the distinction, and has become the second Bible of the West.2

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Slavoj Zizek: The Right Questions

The great lesson of state socialism was indeed that an immediate abolition of private property and market-regulated exchange, in the absence of concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination.

– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing

What we need are the right questions, we already have plenty of answers, says Slavoj Zizek.  He is more pragmatic and realist than most give him credit for. No pied-piper piping to the choir of children here. He offers no panaceas for the struggles ahead. What he does offer is strategies, problems, and dialogue. He agrees that for the moment all of our debates remain on the ‘enemy’s turf’, and that all “we say now can be taken (recuperated) from us— everything except our silence. This silence, this rejection of dialogue, of all forms of clinching, is our “terror,” ominous and threatening as it should be.”1

He tells us there is a difference between a politics of resistance which is parasitical upon what it negates, to a politics which opens up a new space outside the hegemonic position and its negation. Sometime a ‘gesture of subtraction’ a withdrawal from both the political stage and the economic stage, as in the Occupy Movement is the only path toward opening such a space of the New. One might also say that the Occupy Movement was a first step in withdrawal, a movement of opening up a hole in the veil of capitalist geomancy, of a refusal to enter into any relation with the political or economic system in a constructive or positive way.

Reminding us that none of the great protests movements replaced the existing systems with something new, and that as Lacan said of the May 68′ revolts: “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one.”(Kindle Location 22450) The sadness of the political resistance and protest movements insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the Master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a (disavowed, of course) call for a new Master.(Kindle Locations 22452-22453)

He also states provocatively that the intellectuals as a class with answers, as a vanguard to lead the masses into the new, is a dead myth, that the roles have been reversed, that the people themselves have answers and solutions but have yet to realize the right questions, that they lack only the proper concepts and words as John Berger said, that ‘ring true’. (Kindle Location 22471)

We should treat the demands of the Wall Street protests in a similar way: intellectuals should not primarily take them as demands, questions, for which they should produce clear answers, programs about what to do. They are answers, and intellectuals should propose the questions to which they are answers. The situation is like that in psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but does not know what they are the answers to, and the analyst has to formulate the questions. Only through such patient work will a program emerge. (KL  22478-22482).

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 22433-22435). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Philip K. Dick: Quote of the Day!

Time, then, is actually spatial expansion, layer upon layer. So the hologram is quite large— it is ubique; yes; here is the ur-significance of the word “ubique”: it occupies all space. It is the interface that is Real, in Malebranche’s system. I’m hot on the trail right now— since nothing exists outside of cosmos by definition, all info in it pertains to itself and permeates it and is self-causing. And identical throughout all loci. Then the info is eternally and ubiquitously retrieved and retrievable—A perturbation in the reality field— an irregularity, a departure from the normal— a tugging or pulling or bending. And that is all. Not even the thing, the perturbing body itself; only its effects on “the reality field.” Something out of the ordinary— like I say, a surd. There is a single interacting field and there is a mind ubiquitous in it, immanent in it—Spinoza would agree…

…neither efficient cause was at work (which has been obvious to me) but also not future or retrograde cause. It was self-generating (ultimate homeostasis). It caused itself. I’m not sure of my reasoning but I realize it’s true; I set up a perturbation in the reality field by thinking about it, so to speak. The information had no source (the needed information that I lacked that came into existence); it was self caused. […] We are talking about ex nihilo information; information that generates itself. No wonder it’s so erratic.

– The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick