Ray Brassier: The Manifest and Scientific Images of Wilfred Sellars

Senselessness and purposelessness are not merely privative; they represent a gain in intelligibility.

– Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound – Enlightenment and Extinction

Ray Brassier’s philosophical work  Nihil Unbound – Enlightenment and Extinction has been for the past few years a sort of touchstone text, a repository of specific problems and issues to be resolved, looked at, returned to, thought about, explored, digested, and finally adapted to my ongoing philosophical project. Those that have not read his work are missing out on one of the great mind’s of our time. His clarity of thought, ability to hone in on the specifics of a particular notion, idea, or concept is without peer in the scale of his undertakings.

In this specific work he takes on both Analytical and Continental traditions beginning with the work of Wilfred Sellers whose ‘Myth of Jones’ would crystallize and articulate for several generations the key to the “rational infrastructure of human thought” that binds us all as humans in a “community of rational agents”.1 Now these notions of rational agents and rational infrastructure are connected to Sellar’s two “images” of man, the manifest and scientific images. One must not see these as opposing images as much as the need to align them, as Brassier suggests, stereoscopically. Both images represent specific breakthroughs for humans in the long course of their evolutionary heritage, sophisticated theoretical achievements without which we would not be the types of beings we are now. The distinctive feature of the manifest image is that it was the first breakthrough or originary framework in which humans first encountered there new found conceptual abilities. When did we acquire these conceptual tools?

 

Darwin himself would suggest that the evolution of intelligence in man was due to several factors. Early humans would develop the ability to adapt their habits to new conditions of life. As he stated it:

He invents weapons, tools and various stratagems, by which he procures food and defends himself. When he migrates into a colder climate he uses clothes, builds sheds, and makes fires; and, by the aid of fire, cooks food otherwise indigestible. He aids his fellow-men in many ways, and anticipates future events . . . from the remotest times successful tribes have supplanted other tribes.2

 

Others have suggested that besides those mentioned by Darwin there were also a combination of selection pressures – climatic, ecological (e.g., hunting), and social – that influenced the evolution of the human brain and mind and the evolution of what is now called general fluid intelligence (ibid., KL 695) As tells us that with the help new neural imaging technologies the  “more than 100 years of empirical research – on general intelligence has isolated those features of self-centered mental models – the conscious-psychological and cognitive components of the motivation to control  – that are not strongly influenced by content and that enable explicit representations of symbolic information in working memory and an attention-dependent ability to manipulate this information in the service of strategic problem solving. (KL 1268-1272) This ability to anticipate, to so to speak time-travel mentally, to simulate past, present, and future events that allowed better coordination of activities in social, hunting, gathering, etc. was key. Strategy and anticipation, both keys to problem solving. And it was these specific environmental pressures that challenged these early humans to adapt and survive, to surmount problems in climate, ecological, and social realms that other animals did not need to encounter in the same way.

As Brassier states it for Sellar’s the thing humans acquired according to the myth of Jones was intentionality, the ability to focus and direct the mind toward specific goals and purposes: what he would term the “propositional attitude of ascription” (Brassier, 5). He remarks that the primary component of the manifest image “is the notion of persons as loci of intentional agency (Brassier, 6). Of course there is another school of thought that questions whether intentional states do indeed exist, whether such things as powers and dispositions are real entities (ontological) or just functional temporary processes (epistemological functions) within the ongoing decision making layers of the brain itself as connected to its different interactions with various forms of memory. Below you can see a chart of aspects of the memory:

Types of Human Memory: Diagram by Luke Mastin

As we know the brain is a hugely complex organ, with an estimated 100 billion neurons passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections. It continuously receives and analyzes sensory information, responding by controlling all bodily actions and functions. It is also the centre of higher-order thinking, learning and memory, and gives us the power to think, plan, speak, imagine, dream, reason and experience emotions.3

Because of humans development of differing forms of memory, and adapting both strategic and problem solving capabilities that the manifest image came about. This is why for Sellear’s the manifest image itself should be considered a type of the ‘scientific image’ – and, as Brassier remarks, it is “correlational” as compared to “postulational” in respect to our current framework of the scientific image. Ultimately what Sellars hoped to accomplish was not doing away with the manifest image, but rather a “properly stereoscopic integration of the manifest and scientific images such that the language of rational intention would come to enrich scientific theory so as to allow the latter to be directly wedded to human purposes (Brassier, 6).

The big problem here is if we truly have intentions at all. As Bruce Hood in his recent The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity states it:

My biases, my memories, my perceptions, and my thoughts are the interacting patterns of excitation and inhibition in my brain, and when the checks and balances are finally done, the resulting sums of all of these complex interactions are the decisions and the choices that I make. We are not aware of these influences because they are unconscious and so we feel that the decision has been arrived at independently—a problem that was recognized by the philosopher Spinoza when he wrote, “Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are determined.”4

What many neuroscientists are discovering is that most of us think we have intentions (“beliefs”, “emotions”, “desires”, etc.) because we are unaware of and blind to the actual layers of the brain that make and apply all these various decisions. Because of our blindness we invent subtle fictions and ascribe to these fictions an internal mapping as if they actually existed as real entities either ontologically or epistemologically. But as you will see below this is an illusion of our supposed self-reflexive first-person-perspective rather than an truth.

In the 1980s, Californian physiologist Benjamin Libet was working on the neural impulses that generate movements and motor acts. Prior to most voluntary motor acts, such as pushing a button with a finger, a spike of neural activity occurs in the brain’s motor cortex region that is responsible for producing the eventual movement of the finger. This is known as the readiness potential, and it is the forerunner to the cascade of brain activation that actually makes the finger move. Of course, in making a decision, we also experience a conscious intention or free will to initiate the act of pushing the button about a fifth of a second before we actually begin to press the button. But here’s the spooky thing. Libet demonstrated that there was a mismatch between when the readiness potential began and the point when the individual experienced the conscious intention to push the button.(Hood, pp. 127-128)

What they discovered was that our conscious intentions come after the fact, that the deeper layers of the brain that actually make all these decisions and processes are folded behind the invisible curtain that we with our self-reflexive first-person-singular fiction of self will never have direct access too. When certain philosophers speak of the notion of a post-intentional philosophy this is where their starting from. The idea that we have intentions or that we make our own decisions is a lot more complex that philosophy up to now has had to deal with, and some say they should not even try; that it is time to leave off from philosophy and let science do what it does best. I’ll not argue that point. For we still have the issues of the everyday use of the manifest image, and even Sellars knew that such a stereoscopic integration of manifest and scientific was hypothetical, not yet realized. But one thing for sure we will need to be attentive to what is happening in the sciences and be more open to integrate their findings in our contemporary forms of philosophy, otherwise we’ll be spinning tales for the babbling crowd than for the serious student of philosophy or science.


In my next post I’ll cover section 1.2 of Ray’s work The instrumentalization of the scientific image.

1. Ray Brassier. Nihil Unbound – Enlightenment and Extinction. (Palgrave McMillan, 207)
2.  (2012-03-22). Foundations in Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience (Kindle Locations 690-693). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
3. see Memory and Brain: http://www.human-memory.net/brain.html. Also Memory [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/memory/#MemCogSci
4. Hood, Bruce (2012-04-25). The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity (p. 122). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. [also – you might be interested in R. Scott Bakker’s conceptions of BBT of Blind Brain Theory: here]

Pablo Neruda: The Poetry of Earth, Bells and Desolation

The century of émigrés 
the book of homelessness –
grey century, black book.

– Pablo Neruda, World’s End

Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto on 12 July 1904, in Parral, in central Chile’s wine country, ‘where the vines curled their green heads of hair’, Pablo Neruda became the great poet of the oppressed peoples of the earth.1 Yet, as one lives with his poetry, its rhythms, the pulsating beat of its music one hears not Neruda but the earth that produced him, its desires and the cold stark somberness of its desolation. Yet, it was not all desolation, there was above the din the surface glitter that foamed from jungles and seas, of fantastic lands and exotic women, a roaming spirit of exploration that sought only its own transformation and metamorphosis.

from The Song of Despair

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Neruda himself would live outside time, far from home in distant and exotic lands. At the age of 27 out of financial desperation, he took an honorary consulship in Rangoon, then a part of colonial Burma and a place he had never heard of. Later, mired in isolation and loneliness, he worked in Colomobo (Ceylon, Batavia (Java), and Singapore. It would be in such lands that he would remember his own country, his songs would rise up from those memories like subtle music from dark soundings of the ocean lapping over the lonely beaches:

from Residence

Like ashes, like oceans swarming,
in the sunken slowness, formlessness,
or like high on the road hearing
bellstrokes cross by crosswise,
holding that sound just free of the metal,
blurred bearing down, reducing to dust
in the selfsame mill of forms far out of reach
whether remembered or never seen,
and the aroma of plums rolling to earth
that rot in time, endlessly green.

Yet, in these distant lands he would hear the bells, the cries, the metal clanking,  the noises coming from death, destruction, and the desolation of war and murderous machines, not only encompassing his own country but the earth itself in a grey tomb of silence amid the great din:

 from The Cantos General

                    Have you seen
in the night your brother’s
somber cave?
    Have you fathomed
his sinister life?

                      The scattered heart
of the people, abandoned and submerged!
Someone who received the hero’s peace
stored it away in his wine cellar, someone
stole the fruits of the bloody harvest
and divided the geography,
establishing hostile shores,
zones of desolate blind shadows.

Yet, one wonders if perhaps poets after all are human, all too human, and that their fame might be best served in the solitudes from which they emerged. Neruda wrote in his memoirs after his indefensible support of Stalin and others of the communist regime of which he never gave up hope: “I had contributed my share to the personality cult,” explaining that “in those days, Stalin seemed to us the conqueror who had crushed Hitler’s armies”. Of a subsequent visit to China in 1957, Neruda would write: “What has estranged me from the Chinese revolutionary process has not been Mao Tse-tung but Mao Tse-tungism.” He dubbed this Mao Tse-Stalinism: “the repetition of a cult of a Socialist deity”. Despite his disillusionment with Stalin, Neruda never lost his essential faith in communist theory and remained loyal to “the Party”. Anxious not to give ammunition to his ideological enemies, he would later refuse publicly to condemn the Soviet repression of dissident writers like Boris Pasternak and Joseph Brodsky, an attitude with which even some of his staunchest admirers disagreed.2

In the end he would return to his precious land and leave well enough alone, returning to his good black earth, to his oceans and his bells, his silences and his love:

Pardon me, if when I want
to tell the story of my life
it’s the land I talk about.

– from Still Another Day

One poem in his late life has always exemplified for me the epiphanic relation of Neruda to a spectral materialism, an immanence of the haunting earth and ocean, a rising of the silent music of the land itself speaking rather out of than to its human interlocutor:

The lichen on the stone, mesh
of green elastic, enmeshes
the primal hieroglyph,
stretches the scripture
of the sea
around the round rock.
The sun reads it, barnacles fade it,
from stone to stone
the fish slither by like shivers.
Silently the alphabet goes on
spelling out its sunken syllables
along the immaculate hip of coast.

 On his loom the moss weaver
goes back and forth, higher and higher
carpeting the caverns of air and water
so that no one dances but the wave
and nothing follows but the wind.

In such a song, a poetry of earth without us, an inhuman tonal sounding of a secret language that is only for the dark life of earth and sea, a language in which things call to each other, and haunt each other with the touch of their voices, a distillation of the desolation that surrounds them but that also brings them into the warmth of sun and air. Neruda’s poetry was the personal immanence not of the human in the land, but of the land in the human; a song that brought out of the throat of things a meaning that no human could decipher but only register. As he would proffer and relate these songs from the earth, from his residence with its inhuman desires he would tell us what it wanted:

From the dithyramb to the root of the sea
stretches a new kind of emptiness:
I don’t want much, the wave says,
only for them to stop their chatter,
for the city’s cement beard
to stop growing:
we are alone,
we want the last scream,
to pee facing the ocean,
to see seven birds of the same color,
three thousand gulls,
to seek out love on the sand,
to break in our shoes, to dirty
our books, our hat, our mind
until we find you, nothing,
until we kiss you, nothing,
until we sing you, nothing,
nothing without nothing, without being,
nothing, without putting an end to truth.

In the end maybe that is all we can expect, the nothing that is and the nothing that is not, the truth between them standing in the Void. And yet, like that broken bell that keeps calling to us from these wet leaves, we too want to walk along the black shores seeking those things that want to sing, even if their song is not for us:

The broken bell
still wants to sing:
the metal now is green
the color of woods, this bell,
color of water in stone pools in the forest,
color of day in the leaves.

——————————————————

1. Feinstein, Adam (2008-12-08). Pablo Neruda. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Kindle Edition.
2. The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. (Firrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003)

The Aphorisms of Adorno: In The Face of Despair

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.

– Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

Having been a fan of the aphoristic style ever since reading Nietzsche as a young man it was a pleasant surprise to refresh my mind with Theodor W. Adorno’s Minima Moralia which of course he began during WWII and its aftermath. The cynicism and despair of the world, of the bourgeoisie, of the fabled hopes of communism – all these become so much bittersweet castigations and incriminations in this deft text. I’m almost hard put to find someone, even E.M. Cioran, who was more bitter and spiteful about his lot – maybe, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes? Yes, this is a work of solitude, of one who has read too long, hoped too well, fallen from the grace of his own being.

Most of the basic triggers, the subjects or objects of his titles are but sparks of spite, goads of a dark intent… yet, intent is not the correct term, for there is no directedness in this, no sense of attentive appraisal with a goal in mind, rather we have the full stop, the judgment of history itself using Adorno’s pen like a saber to cut through the knots of some Gordian priesthood’s mythical attachment to power. No. Adorno could care less of his audience, this is a personal book, a book of meditations on a culture of death, a culture that has, frankly, imploded and is now on the verge to total apocalypse.

He begins with a high point in bourgeois culture, with the author of that book of memory and time, Marcel Proust. Yet, it is not Marcel to which he speaks, rather this is a meditation of bourgeois culture itself, its disdain of such beings as Marcel. “It is not merely that his independence is envied, the seriousness of his intentions mistrusted, and that he is suspected of being a secret envoy of the establishment powers. Such suspicions, though betraying a deep-seated resentment, would usually prove well-founded. But the real resistances lie elsewhere.” Already Adorno sets the stage, reminds us that this is an investigation not into the particular characters, not a moraliste – an aphoristic study in the morality of an age, rather it is an investigation into the structure and the actual material energies that brought such things to pass. It is about power and control, about the machine of civilization itself in the hands of Capital: “The urge to suspend the division of labour which, within certain limits, his economic situation enables him to satisfy, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering competence per- mits no such idiosyncrasies. The departmentalization of mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, under contract.” Summing up those like Marcel, who have dared to retreat, dared to escape the machine, to hide out and seek refuge from the hard worlds of work and late capitalism were at last neither envied nor praise, but were judged as expendable: “It is as if the class from which independent intellectuals have defected takes its revenge, by pressing its demands home In the very domain where the deserter seeks refuge.”

And don’t expect that powerhouse of the bourgeoisie, the family, to escape the eye of this harbinger of the demise of Capital: “Our relationship to parents is beginning to undergo a sad, shadowy transformation. Through their economic impotence they have lost their awesomeness. … With the demise of the family there passes away, while the system lasts, not only the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the resistance which, though repressing the individual, also strengthened, perhaps even produced him.” One remembers that this was written at a time when the institution of the family attacked by the modernists had at last begun to fall away. Women were working in factories, becoming more independent – so to speak, for the truth was that the capitalists needed them out of the home and working alongside men to get ready for that new consumerist economy that was in the offing. So that it was the capitalists themselves that brought about the demise of this fabled institution of the family. But it would loosen desires and strange new illnesses never before seen, schizophrenia would run rampant across the earth like a desiring-machine that had no center: and, it didn’t, the family Oedipal authority was vanishing, the power that had kept this machine under control was dissolving and allowing all the forces latent in this tribal time between times to vacate the rational hold of its caged existence. One need not read Deleuze and Guattari or R.D. Laing to see that as women escaped the bond of the family circle the men went ape, lost their center, their mother, not their father – the drift of this disconnect loosened those bonds around the hearth fires that had stilled the beast. As Adorno would remark: “The rising collectivist order is a mockery of a classless one: together with the bourgeois it liquidates the Utopia that once drew sustenance from motherly love.”

So Adorno was a pop-psychologist, too. Zizek before Žižek – a sort of non-Lacanian mode of analysis, a critical gaze on the failure of the Enlightenment to stay the tide against barbarism. “Since the all-embracing distributive machinery of highly-concentrated industry has superseded the sphere of circulation, the latter has begun a strange post-existence.” The wheels-within-wheels are churning, but going nowhere, while capitalism unbound from its purpose accelerates out of control toward the abyss: “The irrationality of the system is expressed scarcely less clearly in the parasitic psychology of the individual than in his economic fate.” And, the whole notion that there is a private sphere, that an individual could actually have a home, a family, a wife and kids, a place to spend time and energy: “Today it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive.” This is a time of probabilities, of calculations, of the mathematical engineering of a planned society, the construction of a free market. The new Spirit of Capitalism: “The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full bestiality in the egalitarian spirit. Condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility and violence needed to exert domination.”

Adorno doesn’t leave the Left out of the bag either, his admonitions of those who seek to sympathize, to enter into and live in the midst of these societies (and where else would we live now?) must beware of the temptation to detach oneself, to become indifferent and aloof, to think that one can create a life in a pocket of safety: “He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his aitique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life.” Even with the best intentions the new intellectual, the Marxist in hiding, the agitator, the worker in transit who assumes the mantle of the critical enterprise should beware in this time of laxity and hedonistic implication: “We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless.”

The dark undertow of the oppressed harbors a special place in the memory system that was Adorno: “The dialectic stems from the sophists; it was a mode of discussion whereby dogmatic assertions were shaken and, as the public prosecutors and comic writers put it, the lesser word made the stronger. It subsequently developed, as against philosophia perennis, into a perennial method of criticism, a refuge for all the thoughts of the oppressed, even those unthought by them.” The negative dialectic unlike its progenitors became in the hands of Adorno an acid bath in which late capitalism was thrown, yet as in all things he knew it would leave bones – and, as we all know, bones can rise and live again: “Negative philosophy, dissolving everything, dissolves even the dissolvent. But the new form in which it claims to suspend and preserve both, dissolved and dissolvent, can never emerge in a pure state from an antagonistic society.” Yet, even the negative is not immune from the enslavement of hell’s own brood: “[Negative dialectic] But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hait’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, ifit shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape.”

But what to do? How to live? “The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.” Yet, even envious demons – like the cowards they are, run rampant in the visible darkness of this hollow cave, and like celebrants in a Burning Man festival, they spin their unlucky nights under false stars navel-gazing, not realizing that hell never ends but only burns deeper and redder as the noise drowns out all thought of escape.

– Theodor W. Adorno. Minima Moralia. (Suhrkamp Verlag 1951)

Theodor W. Adorno: The Desolation of Truth

If today the subject is vanishing, aphorisms take upon themselves the duty – to consider the evanescent itself as essential. They insist, in opposition to Hegel’s practice and yet in accordance with his thought, on negativity: ‘The life of the mind only attains its truth when discovering itself in absolute desolation. The mind is not this power as a positive which turns away from the negative, as when we say of something that it is null, or false, so much for that and now for something else; it is this power only when looking the negative in the face, dwelling upon it’.

– Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia

Related posts:

The Aphorisms of Adorno: In The Face of Despair
Adorno’s Minima Moralia – Quotes from the Aphorisms and Maxims #1

The Mad Hatter’s Tool-Box: How the Fixit Man can Move Us Into an Uncertain Future

We should attend only to those objects of which our minds seem capable of having certain and indubitable cognition.

– René Descartes,   The Philosophical Writings of Descartes

Descartes would develop twenty-one rules for direction of the Mind as if these would carry us toward that ultimate goal of certainty. In our age mathematicians have relied on probabilistic theorems to narrow down the field of uncertainty in such things as physics, economics, physiology, evolutionary biology, sociology, psychology, etc.  Ludwig Wittgenstein in his book On Certainty would develop the notion that claims to certainty are largely epistemological, and that there are some things which must be exempt from doubt in order for human practices to be possible (Ali Reda has a good background if you need: here).

For the rationalist Descartes “someone who has doubts about many things is no wiser than one who has never given them a thought; indeed, he appears less wise if he has formed a false opinion about any of them. Hence it is better never to study at all than to occupy ourselves with objects which are so difficult that we are unable to distinguish what is true from what is false, and are forced to take the doubtful as certain; for in such matters the risk of diminishing our knowledge is greater than our hope of increasing it”.1 Of course things change and in the 19th Century engineers would need a way to narrow down the range of uncertainty in practical problems so the Probabalistical Revolution arose.

Thomas Kuhn in his now famous essay What are scientific revolutions? would argue that what characterizes revolutions is change in several of the taxonomic categories prerequisite to scientific descriptions and generalizations. He would constrain this statement saying that an adjustment not only of the criteria relevant to categorization, but of the way in which given objects and situations are distributed among preexisting categories.2

Bernard Cohen in the same work admitted that in the twentieth century a real revolution in the physical sciences did come about with the incorporation of probability and statistical mathematics that replaced the older Newtonian simple rules of causality of assigned cause and effect. The same with biology in its genetics and evolutionary forms. From its birth in the 19th Century probability theory in social sciences, etc. Yet for him it was not a revolution in theory as much as in the application of theory that was the revolution.(PR, 40)

Ian Hacking would dispute both Kuhn and Cohen and tell us that what was revolutionary was neither the theoretical revolution in the structure of the sciences, nor was it one in the application of those sciences, but was rather in the “taming of chance and the erosion of determinism” that constitute one of the “most revolutionary changes in the history of the mind.” (PR, 54)

Whether we like to think about it or not mathematics has always informed philosophy or vice versa since the advent of the sciences. Many of the terms used in philosophy come directly out of their use in scientific theory and practice. In our day with the advent of Analytical Philosophy one would be hard put to remain a philosopher without some formal education in mathematics and the various forms of logic. Yet, on the Continent this influx of the math and the sciences has for the most part with the rise of phenomenology been more or less put of the back burner and even denied a central role. Oh sure there have been several philosophers that it was central too, but for the most part philosophy in the twentieth century grew out of the language of finitude and the ‘Linguistic Turn’ in phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism, deconstruction, and post-structuralist lines of thought. Yet, at the end of the century one could see math beginning to reemerge within philosophy in the works of Deleuze, Badiou, John Luc Nancy, and many others. In our contemporary setting we are seeing a move away from both phenomenology and its concurrent Linguistic Turn, as well as the Analytical philosophies into a new and vibrant surge toward Synthetic philosophies of mathematics.

With the rise of both the NBIC (NanoTech, BioTech, InfoTech, and Cognitive Sciences) as well as the ICT’s (Information and Communications Technologies) we are seeing the need for a synthetic philosophy. Although Herbert Spenser was probably the first to use the term Synthetic Philosophy which tried to demonstrate that there were no exceptions to being able to discover scientific explanations, in the form of natural laws, of all the phenomena of the universe. Spencer’s volumes on biology, psychology, and sociology were all intended to demonstrate the existence of natural laws in these specific disciplines. The 21st Century use of that term is quite different and less positivistic.

Of late – at the behest of my friend Andreas Burkhardt, I’ve been reading Fernando Zalamea’s Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics. In this work he offers four specific thesis: first, that contemporary math needs both our utmost attention and our careful perusal, and that it cannot be reduced to either those of set theory and mathematical logic, or those of elementary mathematics; second, to understand and even perceive what is at stake in current mathematics we need to discover the new problematics that remain undetected by ‘normal’ and ‘traditional’ philosophy of mathematics as now practiced; third, a turn toward synthetic understanding of mathematics – one based on the mathematical theory of categories, that allows us to observe important dialectical tensions in mathematical activity, which tend to be obscured, and sometimes altogether erased, by the usual analytical understanding; and, finally, we must reestablish a vital pendular weaving between mathematical creativity and critical reflection – something that was indispensable for Plato, Leibniz, Pascal and Pierce – and that, on the one hand, many present day mathematical constructions afford useful and original  perspectives on certain philosophical problematics of the past while, on the other hand, certain fundamental philosophical insolubilia fuel great creative forces in mathematics. (Zalamea, 4-5)

Over time we’ve seen a slow move from analytical to post-analytical philosophy, and the concurrent move from phenomenological to post-phenomenological in both the Continent and Americas for a few years now. One wonders if this philosophical transformation, as well as the changes in and revolutions around certain technological and scientific theories and practices over the past 30 years, is bringing with it a sense of what Kuhn spoke of as the shift in “taxonomic categories prerequisite to scientific descriptions and generalizations”? Are the linguistic along with mathematical frameworks that have guided for a hundred years changing? And, if so , what are the new terms?

We’ve seen in the work of such philosophers as William C. Wimsatt in his Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings a new turn from rationalism and strategy, game theory and puzzles that were at their height in the 1990’s toward a new empiricism, a shift both methodologically and conceptually towards complexity and the senses.3 As he puts it, for any naturalized account:

We need a philosophy of science that can be pursued by real people in real situations in real time with the kinds of tools that we actually have – now or in a realistically possible future. … Thus I oppose not only various eliminativisms, but also overly idealized intentional and rationalistic accounts. (Wimsatt, 5)

Wimsatt turns toward a what he terms a “species of realism”, a philosophy based top to bottom on heuristic principles of reasoning and practice, but that also seeks a full accounting of other things in our richly populated universe – including formal approaches we have sought in the past. (Wimsatt, 6) He tells us that pace Quine his is an ontology of the rainforest, piecemeal and limited to the local view rather than some rationalizing global view or God’s view of things in general. At the center of this realist agenda is heuristics that help us explore, describe, model, and analyze complex systems – and to “de-bug” their results. (Wimsatt, 8) His is a handyman approach to philosophy and the sciences, the need for a tool-box of tools that can be used when needed, and discarded when something better comes along. Instead of some armchair mentation he would send us back into the streets where the universe is up front and close. Yet, remember to bring that toolbox, all those toys and computer, net connections, databanks… etc. whatever it takes to get on with your work. Be up and doing… a pragmatic approach to science and philosophy that breaks down the barriers of stabilized truth bearing authorities that horde the gold of scientific knowledge like it was some hidden treasure, We need a new breed of active participants, go-getters, and pragmatists to do the dirty work of understanding what reality is up to.

What is interesting to me at this moment in time in both the sciences and philosophy is this sense of stock taking, of sizing up the past couple hundred years, wading through the muck, weighing things in the balance and deciding what’s next, where we’re going with our lives and our work. There seems to be a great deal of thought provoking movement in the air, as if we’re all coming to the same realization that yes we need to change… our governments, our sciences, our philosophies have for the most part failed us, not given us either the answers or the changes we need to build a good life on this planet. In the men and women in both philosophy and the sciences that I’m reading in areas of feminism, racism, species relations,  posthumanism, postnaturalism, postmodernism… etc. blah blah … we seem ready to ditch all these posts and move on to the defining metaphor of our age. There’s an energy running through the web, a good energy as if people are tired of the bullshit, tired of the negative crap, tired of authorities that keep promising change and never delivering… even in the sciences we see the transformation of things happening so fast its hard to keep up. With Virilio, speed… with Noys and Land, acceleration… this fast pace of life wants somewhere to go, but we seem to be on a spinning ginny ready to drop its barker floor below us as we plunge into the abyss. But as we can see from the philosophers and scientist above, there is also a sense of urgency – a sense that we need to be a moving, a sense that we need get off our arse and be about our work… like the Mad Hatter, there’s no time left “I must be on my way!”

1. Descartes, René (1985-05-20). The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: 1 (Kindle Locations 375-378). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. The Probabilistic Revolution. Ed. Lorenze Kruger, Lorraine J. Daston, and Michael Heidelberger (MIT Press, 1987)
3. William C. Wimsatt. Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings. (Harvard, 2007)

A Spectral Inaesthetics: A Manifesto

Dialectics alone might settle the Greek argument whether like is known by like or by unlike. If the thesis that likeness alone has that capacity makes us aware of the indelible mimetic element in all cognition and all human practice, this awareness grows untrue when the affinity—indelible, yet infinitely far removed at the same time—is posited as positive. In epistemology the inevitable result is the false conclusion that the object is the subject.

– Theodor W. Adorno,   Negative Dialectics

Blindness was ever an aspect of art…

– Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

 

The notion of an antithetical philosophy, one that goes against the grain of tradition or even contemporary soundings, that explicates the indiscernible truths that inhabit the hyperstitional, rather than the exposed and propounded truths that light up the fractured mediawaves of our collapsing Western mindset, this and this alone is the path of the inhuman in our time. I follow Badiou in seeking an art by way of aesthesis, by a material perception that is both immanent and singular. Art is immanent in the sense that its truth is given in its immediacy in a given work of art, and singular in that its truth is found in art and art alone—hence reviving the ancient materialist concept of “aesthesis”. Badiou views this as the link between philosophy and art and ties it into the motif of pedagogy, which he claims functions so as to “arrange the forms of knowledge in a way that some truth may come to pierce a hole in them”.

Yet, against Badiou who argued that “acceptable art must be subjected to the philosophical surveillance of truths”, as if the new nova police, the regime of some elite tribunal of truth procedures would oversee the art, philosophy, and education of the populace under the sign of mathematical purity, I offer only a Deleuzian line of flight, a rhizomatic escape valve that does not so much imply a hostility toward the mainstream, but rather it signals a desire to leave the society that exists, to leave it to its own devices, and to grow creative (with new devices) with other like-minded beings out of the ruins of late capitalism.

Rather than staying with the circle of mindfulness, the Kantian phenomenal realm of surface and texture, of the realm of the given – that which is for us – I seek the emptiness, voidness, openness, spaciousness, and vacuity of things, an immanence of their relations as invariant to the human, – as the inhuman within the human and beyond it. What this means is that there are certain consistencies in things and events that even if we as humans perceive them they cannot be constrained or changed by our interoperations and negotiations with them. What used to be the dualism of appearance and reality is marginalized into a monism that seeks neither the surface texture of phenomenon, nor the direct confrontation with things-in-themselves (Kant), but rather the workings of that strange agent at the core of our own being: the brain, creator of worlds and maker of all we know and see.

For it is the essential in our time to explore the operations of that singular organ from which all things proceed if we are ever to understand the truth of ourselves and the world we inhabit. We have no magic access to this organ, and in fact are blind to its processes, as well as ignorant of its ways of manipulating our reality towards ends of its own making. For too long we have presumed our power over the kingdoms of the natural realms, when we are not even masters in our own home. Philosophy has been unable to confront the truth of reality for the simple reason that we are bound by the inner constraints of an organ that was uniquely formed through evolutionary processes to know and understand its environment rather than its own nature.

The self-reflecting entity we assume is our self, the subject at the center of our consciousness if but the flotsam and jetsam of an afterthought, a temporary focal point for the complex operations of our brain in its infinitesimal complexity. We are but the artifacts of its devices, functions of its ongoing exploration of an environment from which it ions ago arose. Like drops of water in an infinite ocean of which we are unaware we flow forward into the realms of the senses taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and touch that our extended appendages have evolved for us.

We are neither the center nor circumference of all we purvey, but rather are the minute and insignificant animals we always were; and, yet because of our weaknesses we developed mental tools beyond the reach or capacity of our cousins in the ape kingdom in ways that were unforeseen. There never was a big Other behind the screen pulling the switches, guiding us toward some paradisial palace of dreams; instead, we are the happenstance accidents of an evolutionary process that is still ongoing, and will like all extinct creatures before us ultimately die off. It is not the individual that survives but rather the species.

With Copernicus came the displacement of the earth as the center of the cosmos. With Darwin the truth of our origins gave us again our true birthright as animals on an evolving planet revolving around a minor star on the edge of a minor galaxy. With Freud cam the knowledge that we are not even the master’s in our own homes: our bodies. And, now, we are entering what Luciano Floridi terms the “fourth revolution” in which a re-ontologization of humans and environment is taking place in which the older metaphysical oppositions and binary codes give way to an acknowledgement of the human as an information organism (inforg) within a complex environment of both natural and technological artifacts that we neither control nor command but as one among many live with on the same ontological footing.

This is not an essentialism, it is an acknowledgement of the voidic core at the heart of being which remains whether we perceive it or not. What this means is simply that one cannot identify one’s self as special, as distinct from all other life on the planet. The realm of nature and our artificial and technological realms – I reiterate, are not for us: not given. We are in the midst of a restructuring process of the notion of what it means to be human, our knowledge of ourselves is limited and fragmented since we as of yet know so little about the mechanics of our own brain much less the operations and informational indexes of our planetary life. What we do know is that our religious and philosophical, cultural and moral, mappings or cartographies of mind and nature need a thorough revamping. Our planet is in a precarious state, and we who know so little act as if we knew everything and can do with the earth what we will. We cannot. The time of human exceptionalism is at an end.

Against the phenomenological traditions based on notions of “intentionality” and “directedness” I seek a nondirected form of perception. Emptiness, the signless, and the undirected are names for a state of concentration that lies on the threshold of Unbinding. They differ only in how they are approached. Accordingly, they color one’s first apprehension of an Unbinding of things: a meditator who has been focusing on the theme of inconstancy will first apprehend Unbinding as signless; one who has been focusing on the theme of stress will first apprehend it as undirected; one who has been focusing on the theme of the inhuman will first apprehend it as emptiness. Though we perceive a world of concrete and discrete objects, these objects are “empty” of the identity imputed by their designated labels. What we perceive is there form emptied of meaning, which is the same as saying form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

For too long things have been attached to human meaning rather than being allowed to have their own meanings. What we seek is an unbinding of those human attachments of meaning: signs and intentional or directed impositions. One might say the unbinding is an act of seclusion, a separation out or unbinding of the constraints that humans have imposed on the forms of things to their own telos or purposes. Deprived of our sensory input, our bodily necessities and external desires the form of things can exhibit their own uniqueness, singularity, and solidarity beyond our human wants and desires. Stripped of human meaning the emptiness of things reveal and revel in their own powers and dispositions.

There is nothing new in this way, I’ve gleaned these ideas, notions, and thoughts from a myriad of sources in my life. From and early age I was trained in martial arts, and was heavily influenced by forms of Daoist and Buddhist forms of thought and life. The notion of Śūnyatā will be well known to those practitioners of the various traditions of the Mādhyamaka. Yet, against the notion of co-dependence and co-arising, an idealism in which things have no independence of their own but are like the Platonic Forms or Ideas (eidos) dependent on us arising with us in unison inwardly. I cut against this philosophical grain and formulate an independence of things that are no longer mind-dependent, a realism not of objects or subjects but of the void between them. At the heart of this is a substanceless view of reality, in which things, events, entities are less than nothing: for to say they are nothing is to give nothing a positive value, and to say they are not nothing is to give nothing a negative value. Instead, as Ray Brassier, remarks after Lacan:

To think oneself in accordance with a real which is without essence does not mean to think oneself to be this rather than that; a human being rather than a thing. To think oneself according to an inconsistent real which punctures nothingness itself means to think oneself as identical with a last-instance which is devoid of even the minimal consistency of the void. The real is less than nothing— which is certainly not to equate it with the impossible (Lacan).1

Against both Zizek and Badiou I oppose any return to a Transcendental Materialism of any form of stripe based on the subject or subjectivation, instead we seek a Transcendental Realism of the Void decentered of subject and objects altogether that accepts that which is form and number as information.

First we should grasp exactly what substance itself has meant in art and philosophy. The philosophical term ‘substance’ corresponds to the Greek ousia, which means ‘being’, transmitted via the Latin substantia, which means ‘something that stands under or grounds things’. According to the generic sense, therefore, the substances in a given philosophical system are those things which, according to that system, are the foundational or fundamental entities of reality. Substances are a particular kind of basic entity, and some philosophical theories acknowledge them and others do not.3

Zizek in his critique of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics puts his hands on the ball then falls back to his own subject based self-reflecting nothingness, etc., when he says:

We can see now why Adorno’s project of “negative dialectics,” which sees itself as the overcoming of Hegel’s “positive” dialectics, misses the point. “Negative dialectics” wants to break out of the confines of the “principle of identity” which enslaves or subordinates every otherness through conceptual mediation. In Hegel’s idealism, negativity, alterity, and difference are asserted, but only as subordinate secondary moments serving their opposite— the absolute Subject re-appropriates all otherness, “sublating” it into a moment of its own self-mediation. Adorno counters this with his “primacy of the objective”: instead of appropriating or internalizing all otherness, dialectics should remain open towards it, granting ultimate primacy to the objective over the subjective, to difference over identity. (Zizek, KL 6094-6107)

What Zizek tries to do is overturn Adorna’s conception and tell us that it is not Hegel but Adorno himself who is caught in the webs of “identitarian” thought:

…it is Adorno’s “negative dialectics” which, paradoxically, remains within the confines of “identitarian” thought: the endless critical “work of the negative” which is never done, since it presupposes Identity as its starting point and foundation. In other words, Adorno does not see how what he is looking for (a break-out from the confines of Identity) is already at work at the very heart of the Hegelian dialectic, so that it is Adorno’s very critique which obliterates the subversive core of Hegel’s thought, retroactively cementing the figure of his dialectic as the pan-logicist monster of the all-consuming Absolute Notion.

Instead it is Zizek himself who is caught in the webs of the Subject, the voidic self-reflecting navel gazing object of his less than nothing identity-void, the core of his lack, the void of his own existence.

Yet, if one reads Adorno’s Negative Dialectics carefully what Zizek implies is a falsification of its features. Zizek has this habit of always turning the screw, of doubling back, of twisting the kernel of another’s conception so that it benefits Lacan or Hegel his pet progenitors, his chosen fathers: his Oedipal fixation and fetish. Against this Adorno holds that dark realities can eclipse dazzling ideas, and that theory, however noncontradictory, cannot undo a contradictory practice. He contends that if nonidentical objects belie the identity of subjectivism—even of collective subjectivism—that identity is not truth but a lie. And his defense of all this, the reason why a believer feels compelled to disavow articles of his own creed, is that the negativity of the concrete particular, of things as we see and experience them in our time, makes his the true, the “negative” dialectics.

As Adorno himself states it:

Nonidentity is the secret telos of identification. It is the part that can be salvaged; the mistake in traditional thinking is that identity is taken for the goal. The force that shatters the appearance of identity is the force of thinking: the use of “it is” undermines the form of that appearance, which remains inalienable just the same. Dialectically, cognition of nonidentity lies also in the fact that this very cognition identifies—that it identifies to a greater extent, and in other ways, than identitarian thinking. This cognition seeks to say what something is, while identitarian thinking says what something comes under, what it exemplifies or represents, and what, accordingly, it is not itself. The more relentlessly our identitarian thinking besets its object, the farther will it take us from the identity of the object. Under its critique, identity does not vanish but undergoes a qualitative change. Elements of affinity—of the object itself to the thought of it—come to live in identity.4

The point here is that there is another use of the notion of identity that Zizek would have us forget or pass over, and instead attributes to Adorno and identitarian thought that is not his at all. As Adorno remarks:

To define identity as the correspondence of the thing-in-itself to its concept is hubris; but the ideal of identity must not simply be discarded. Living in the rebuke that the thing is not identical with the concept is the concept’s longing to become identical with the thing. This is how the sense of nonidentity contains identity. The supposition of identity is indeed the ideological element of pure thought, all the way down to formal logic; but hidden in it is also the truth moment of ideology, the pledge that there should be no contradiction, no antagonism. (Adorno, KL 2700-2704)

But how to attain the real sense of the identity of things that do not trap them in a substantive formalism? Again Adorno:

Such hope is contradictorily tied to the breaks in the form of predicative identity. Philosophical tradition had a word for these breaks: “ideas.” They are neither nor an empty sound; they are negative signs. The untruth of any identity that has been attained is the obverse of truth. The ideas live in the cavities between what things claim to be and what they are. Utopia would be above identity and above contradiction; it would be a togetherness of diversity.

Let’s reread that. These “ideas” are neither sound nor empty sound, they are negative signs; and, this identity is not founded on truth or truth procedures, but untruth and lies; and, these ideas live in the void between things and events rather than in the substantive form of the thing, entity, or object itself as self-identity. This would be a substanceless philosophy based on a negation of human meaning, signs, identities, subjectivities, etc. One that unbinds the thing from its identity and allows an ontology of sound (negative signs) as ideas, as vibrant tonal and atonal dialectic of sound and noise generative and productive within the void between what things and events claim to be and what they are. Isn’t this what Zizek himself once affirmed in Organs Without Bodies “a true materialism joyously assumes the “disappearance of matter,” the fact that there is only void.”

So an inaesthetic philosophy shall follow the negative vita of Adorno while admitting that even Zizek does not know what he knows. We are moving toward an informational ontology here; one that includes the noise of resistance at its core, a cry from the void. Noise is a double-edged sword that can form the core of an inaesthetic resistance toward command and control, but it can also in turn allow those very systems to in turn sap our cognitive resources and abilities, leaving at best only survival, consuming and escapist practices in their wake.

As for Floridi and his accounts of inforspheres, inforgs, and information, he adds a new form of “conceptual design”:

Philosophy as conceptual design  is therefore a realistic philosophy, which treats semantic artefacts as mind-and reality-co-dependent, in the same way as a house is not a representation but the outcome of a specific architectural design both constrained and afforded by the building materials.9

But against this notion of co-dependence which still seems an idealism turned inward one must affirm otherwise that this is not a realism since it does not affirm the independence of the real, but rather makes it dependent upon the mind even if that mind is an information organism. We must find a foothold in the realm of a realism that affirms the transcendent power of the external in the concept for this notion of conceptual design to gain traction. Much work needs to be done here.

In the worlds of myth that have slipped through the secular gates of our age there is a resuscitation of those old legends of the Jewish people that have remained among us like broken vessels seeking redemption. These Jewish rabbis of the Kabbalah once told of a great tree which made up the body of God. That before our world God had created many worlds before ours and destroyed them all dissatisfied with their imperfections. The Bahir  speaks of the Sefiroth Gevurah or Din as the Left Hand of God, and so as a permitted evil. Out of this came the Kabbalistic doctrine that located evil in the spaces of reason, or in Kabbalistic terms Din brought forth the sitra ahra or “the other side,” the sinister qualities that came out of a Name of God, but fell away from the Name.

The Zohar assigned to the sitra ahra ten Sefirot all its own, ten sinister crowns representing the remnants of worlds that God first made and then destroyed. In one of the great poetic images of esoteric tradition, Moses de Leon compared evil to the bark of the tree of the Sefirot, the kellipah. The creatures of this bark – Samael and his wife Lilith, or Satan and the chief of the Witches – became the Zohar, almost worthy antagonists of God. Kellippot, conceived first as bark, became regarded also as husks or shells or broken vessels of evil. But even in the Kellippot, according to the Zohar, there abides a saving spark of good. This notion, that there are sparks in the kellippot that can be redeemed, and redeemed by the acts of men alone and not of God, became the starting point of Kabbalah.5

Walter Benjamin once remarked that in “the idea of a classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time. And this is a good thing. It was only when the Social Democrats elevated this idea to an “ideal” that the trouble began.”6 As we move forward let us remember that a secularized notion of Kabbalah would also entail the need to redeem democracy from its dark husks that have been entrapped like lost sparks in a dead body, the dead body of Capital. Is this political mysticism, or an inaesthetic appropriation of artistic and religious designs toward secular ends? In using this outmoded forms of religious myth, ritual, and practice are we not giving way to those secret hyperstitional worlds that surround us in the shadows like so many demons waiting to have their moment in the light? Are, or we rather exposing the underlying belly of social forms that need to be thought through so that the sparks or ideas hidden in their secularized voids might benefit us as we emerge from our own evil husks within the ruins of late capitalism?

Maybe like Marx we need a messianic time, a time of renewal and hope, a time to reawaken from our dark dreams of capital and reaffirm the impulses and pulses of those ideas that once trumpeted through the evil husks of the 19th Century a message of communal solidarity and freedom, based on propertyless rights and a sense of justice that was inclusive of all those inhuman creatures which we share this planet with. And even if Marx himself did not think of those creatures in those terms we do, and that is enough. Yet, in this messianic time there will be no influx of the divine, but rather an influx of the void at the heart of things devoid of our human impositions and constraints. For too long we have looked upon the world as given, and tried to read the earth as if it were a repository of signs for us to decipher by the discovery of gaps, absences, and tensions inherent in the world-as-text. No more, no semiotician will decipher this knot of dark kellipots, nor redeem us from our own broken vessels. The earth is not our book, neither is it our network or assemblage, it is neither a totality nor some incomplete object to be concluded. It is an open mystery, neither to be contemplated nor known in its entirety, rather it is part of an ongoing process that is the universe of which we are finite sparks of informational negativity seeking to understand our place in it instead of mastering it for our own use.

And what if this is all conjecture, opinion, speculation? What then? That old goat, Nietzsche believed the little lies we tell ourselves, the logical fictions, the philosophical spin to keep ourselves alive were healthy:

The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing, and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong), are the most indispensable to us, that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely IMAGINED world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live–that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life. TO RECOGNISE UNTRUTH AS A CONDITION OF LIFE; that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.7

Did not Adorno himself admit as much: “Artworks detach themselves from the empirical world and bring forth another world, one opposed to the empirical world as if this other world too were an autonomous entity.”8 But this is not Platonic realm of eternal forms, this is a creation of necessity, of the moment, temporary autonomous zones of hazard and risk where the concept, idea, and world come together in strange ways and form relations into odd entities that did not exist before. Like everything art is a product of history, a desiring production of temporary duration, that once it melds with the mesh of the world will – as all things do, pass away. But in the movement of the world that art is we begin to perceive those transitions and becomings that register the virtual patterns of our lives in ways unforeseen. Art is neither mirror nor lamp, but the negative refraction of that spark which lives in the void of your being; and, this is not some transcendental category of subjectivity beyond the present moment, rather it is the immanent relation of your livingness in this becoming instant, a slip from the river of time, a dance on the edge of that black hole where all things – even light fall forward.

Fugitive guests in the midst of complex systems we did not conceive we travel among their becoming processes, neither directed nor directing their paths toward ends other than those offered through their particular modes of existence . We have learned to invent spaces of habitation in the midst of this vast wilderness of timespace, and are only beginning to realize that our continuity is with all the forms of existence we share this fragile earth with. We can no longer think of ourselves independent of the environment which encompasses us and is our actual not virtual foundation. Our lives as a species – and we are not singular, but a multitude – begin and end in this environmental fold as willing guests or as victims of our own misguided volitions. We must choose our path forward. Let us choose wisely. We have much to learn together, and it is a collective enterprise not some solitary game or strategy of reason and power. May we all come together and reason at the table of our habitation and create a way for us all rather than for the few and the mighty.

This is only a beginning – our beginning
————————————-

1. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2007, p. 137.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 21362-21368). Norton. Kindle Edition.
3. Robinson, Howard, “Substance”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/substance/&gt;.
4. Adorno, Theodor W. (2003-12-16). Negative Dialectics (Kindle Locations 2692-2699). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
5. Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (Ernst Cassirer Publications Fund, 2002)
6. Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940. ( Harvard University Press, 2006)
7. Nietzsche, Friedrich; Bill Chapko (2010-03-01). Nietzsche’s Best 8 Books (Gay Science, Ecce Homo, Zarathustra, Dawn, Twilight of the Idols, Antichrist, Beyond Good and Evil, Genealogy of Morals) (Kindle Locations 14946-14952).  . Kindle Edition.
8. Theodor W. Adorno. Aesthetic Theory. (University of Minnesota Press, 1997)
9. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 2). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

William Davies: The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition

The rhetoric of competitiveness seemed to serve a crucial function in winning certain moral and political arguments, on behalf of economic elites, and I wanted to understand how and why.

– William Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition

Began reading William Davies new book The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition in which he tackles a couple of themes: the first, concerning the question of uncertainty that plays a central role in the neoliberal vision of society and economics; and, second, the concerns of state: – What are the rationality and authority of the neoliberal state? What are they based on? Are they constituted by a careful, economizing logic, in which waste is monitored, productivity optimized, and agents carefully regulated? Or is this a more excessive, violent force, that transcends any economic or evaluative logic?

Before I began reading decided to do a little cataloguing of the experts he relied on in the bibliography. Was able to discover the usual suspects, such economists and authors like Angus Burgin (The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression), Philip Mirowski (The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective), and Daniel Stedman Jones (Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics). There were many others recognizable from the differing political spectrums as well: Agamben (State of the Exception), S.M. Amadae (Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice), etc., the list could go on… The point of this exercise is a truism: that authors begin to refer to each other and the supposed truths that emerge become self-reinforcing over time, allowing for a legitimation that may or may not be deserving. Always need to be aware of this discursive looping as the expert treadmill weaves and unweaves in the academic climate of opinion and doxa. Beyond that let’s take a peak at where he’s taking us in this critique.

Obviously like many other authors he centers his discourse around Friedrich von Hayek who he tells us produced a “model of political economy that incorporated uncertainty at its heart, but nevertheless elevated certain types of expertise and government as the guarantors of that uncertainty”.1 Back in the 1930’s an economist Oskar Lange had written a book Economic Theory of Socialism which supported an equilibrium theory based on Walrasian general equilibrium theory, which purports the notion we should convert the whole economy using a “bottom-up” approach, starting with individual markets and agents. Whereas, macroeconomics, as developed by the Keynesian economists, focused on a “top-down” approach, where the analysis starts with larger aggregates, the “big picture”. Therefore, general equilibrium theory has traditionally been classified as part of microeconomics. Without going into the complex details of the mathematical theorems itself what we discovered after it was introduced is the fact that like many economic theories it first came out of Vienna, Austria. It was there that such anti-socialist thinkers and economists as Ludwig von Mises would attack any notion of central planning and a mathematically centered view of economics. Hayek would later take many of Mises ideas and as early as 1935 argue against the Walrasian model of central planning and mathematical certainty, saying, “the mere assembly of these data” needed to prosecute the calculation “is a task beyond human capacity”; but moreover, “every one of these decisions would have to be based on a solution of an equal number of simultaneous differential equations, a task which, with any of the means known at the present [1935], could not be carried out in a lifetime.”2

We can see here in these debates about the use and abuse of mathematics the seeds that would later spawn the need and desire for computing machines that could tackle these massive equations. But all that would come during the 50’s of which Mirowski documents in his thick book Machine Dreams – Economics Becomes A Cyborg Science. So no need to go there for the moment. To bring us back to Davies new work what he tells us about Hayek and neoliberalism is that they would – against such social engineers as Oskar Lange and even Keynes produce a model of political economy that incorporated uncertainty at its heart, but nevertheless elevated certain types of expertise and government as the guarantors of that uncertainty (KL 163).

As for the rationality and authority of the State problematique within neoliberalism that is the central issue of Davies second theme he has this to say:

Sovereignty, in the sense of an immeasurable and ‘ultimate power’, is wedded to economics of various forms and in various ways. Legal and executive power blend with forms of economic rationality, in an unwieldy balance between the immeasurable and the measurable. Procedures of measurement take on a quasi-sovereign authority…. The sovereign-economic ambivalence of the neoliberal state is one of the key lessons of the financial crisis – it transpired that this state’s economically rational role is to offer an irrationally large guarantee to maintain the status quo. (KL 176)

All this sets the stage for his book. As he tells us this book is descriptive and historical, and not an explicitly critical work. “Given the historical moment, this will disappoint some”, readers, he tells us. “But I would suggest that we need to understand how power works, how it achieves authority , and the role of economics (and business strategy) in facilitating this”.

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Contrast of Metaphysical and Empiricist Sociological Discourses:

The metaphysical discourses of moral and political philosophy do not, from a pragmatist perspective, actually succeed in grasping that which they refer to (such as authority, fairness, virtue), but they make sense in spite of this. By contrast, the empiricist discourses of the social sciences (and associated forms of management, statistics and governance of populations) seek to operate purely at the level of the sensible, the physical and the measurable. But they must also offer reasons how and why to do so, which draw them into moral appeals, which extend beyond the limits of the empirical.(KL 468-472)

 

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I have yet to complete my reading of it, so this is more or less just a teaser. Yet, it seems to have some viable and critical appraisals of this whole history and some possible solutions going forward. I am disappointed that it is strictly aligned with historical analysis without offering some kind of tentative solutions, but I’ll assume that this will come in the future as he continues his investigations down the line. I’ll need to finish it this week and return with an updated report.

 

1. Davies, William (2014-04-29). The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society) (Kindle Locations 163-165). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
2. Philip Mirowski. Machine Dreams – Economics Becomes A Cyborg Science ( Cambridge University Press, 2002)

 

Italo Calvino: Books, Libraries, and the Light

I come from a region, Liguria, which has only fragments or hints of a literary tradition, so that everyone can – luckily! – discover or invent his own tradition. Liguria is a region which has no clearly defined cultural capital, so the Ligurian writer – a rare bird, to tell the truth – is also a migrating bird.

– Italo Calvino, Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings

Are we not all, now, migrating birds? What traditions are we attached to? Haven’t we all learned to discover or invent our own traditions in this age of speed. The notion of tradition itself is a loaded term, a conservative term, a conserving of the past, of what is repeatable, memorable, tied back to collective memories of previous worlds, worlds of the dead. But in our time everything blurs, we travel at light speed, accelerating toward unknown futures and possibilities, we cannot discover a resting place, we travel even when we stand still. We live in continuous revolution, unhinged from tradition and those binding threads that tie us to a past we never wanted. Even the art of reading well has gone the way of other traditions, instead we learn to let go of information rather than harbor it or allow it to sink down into the void of our being. Yet, there are moments when we would – as Italo Calvino admonishes us to do, wish to read in the old way rather than on the run with our tablets or mobiles, our audio books or kindles:

Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa , in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock . In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.

– Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (p. 3).

In this age of electronic wonders when the backlit readers offer us ease of use, the ultimate mechanism of continuous flow without break, reading that is a form of non-reading, we tend to forget the native climes of the Library. As Alberto Manguel in his fascinating The Library at Night relates:

The love of libraries, like most loves, must be learned. No one stepping for the first time into a room made of books can know instinctively how to behave, what is expected, what is promised, what is allowed. One may be overcome by horror-at the clutter or the vastness, the stillness, the mocking reminder of everything one doesn’t know, the surveillance-and some of that overwhelming feeling may cling on, even after the rituals and conventions are learned, the geography mapped, the natives found friendly.

And what of those like myself who are adamant bibliophiles? Collectors of those rare treasures the world over, books like so many things in this age of electronic media shall go by the wayside. Yet, like Edmond de Goncourt who once stated that just before his death: “My wish is that my drawings, my prints, my curiosities, my books—in a word, these things of art which have been the joy of my life—shall not be consigned to the cold tomb of a museum, and subjected to the stupid glance of the careless passer-by; but I require that they shall all be dispersed under the hammer of the Auctioneer, so that the pleasure which the acquiring of each one of them has given me shall be given again, in each case, to some inheritor of my own tastes.”1 We all who treasure the silence of the reading room, the miracle of another mind entering ours in a sort of hideous marriage of thought, the touch of the fabric of the book itself, solid in our fingers, the pages worn or smooth to the tactile touch, the markers of uncut pages from the old style printing presses, all these bodily experiences of knowledge held in a closed loop between the reader and read is slowly vanishing.

Yet, should we bewail the fact or just move on and accept that like all things the world of books is a technology like all others, and is now past its time – obsolescent, its prime situated in some mythical past of the Victorian Age? Should we give way to the newer technologies of light and sound? Calvino in his Invisible Cities once shared this about cities:

The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

One could say this of books, too. As one touches the contours of there folded leaves one realizes that the magical letters within the books covers contain a secret, an invisible landscape of horror or delight, a realm of pleasure and pain that awaits the weary traveler if she will only stop long enough, relax enough to allow the black on white letters to dance before her and reveal their living thoughts. As Calvino continues in his Winter’s reading tale:

Of course , the ideal position for reading is something you can never find. In the old days they used to read standing up, at a lectern. People were accustomed to standing on their feet, without moving. They rested like that when they were tired of horseback riding. Nobody ever thought of reading on horseback; and yet now, the idea of sitting in the saddle, the book propped against the horse’s mane, or maybe tied to the horse’s ear with a special harness, seems attractive to you. With your feet in the stirrups, you should feel quite comfortable for reading; having your feet up is the first condition for enjoying a read. (3) – If on a winter’s night a traveler

Yes, you want to say. Relax, sit back, your toes naked in the water of a river or a lake, the white clouds above rolling by, the sun blanketed by the afternoon rains in the distance. But who has time? Are we not all bound to the treadmill of finance. Calvino commenting on the American Reader, the up and coming Wall Street set who to stay abreast of world affairs must fill his brain with the latest buzz words of capital:

[R]eading the Wall Street Journal the minute it arrives, that is the only way to live the life of a big capitalistic country in a way that is not passive, it is in fact the real democratic aspiration of America, because even if it does not give you any chance of influencing events, other than speculation on the financial markets, nevertheless it keeps you plugged into the mechanism in its most advanced and active area, and requires constant attention – in this country of frighteningly local and provincial interests – to the whole system. I would not hesitate to declare that in this country where the man who follows and determines party policies is in the vast majority of cases the spokesman for very specific and nearly always reactionary interests, where even the unionized worker refuses to think anything outside strict economic increases for his category, the crowd – the enormous crowd – of owners of small quantities of shares, of small speculators in this highly sensitive stock exchange system represents the blueprint for the most modern citizenry.

– Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings

At other times we can remain invisible even in the midst of a great crowd. Wandering around New York Calvino notices a man barefoot reading a paper, a man to all apparent purposes who seems invisible to others, to all those busy shuffling feet that move around him as he sits there silently caught up in his own world:

Yesterday on the Métro there was a man with bare feet: not a gipsy or a hippie, a man with glasses like me and so many others, reading the paper, looking a bit like an academic, the usual absent-minded professor type who had forgotten to put on his socks and shoes. And it was a rainy day, and he was walking about bare-foot, and nobody was looking at him, no one seemed interested. The dream of being invisible … When I find myself in an environment where I can enjoy the illusion of being invisible, I am really happy.

– Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings

He admits to a secret reading pleasure that shaped his life of writing. How this singular author brought out of him the desire to become a short story writer:

I am a writer of short stories first and foremost more than a novelist, so one area of reading which has certainly influenced me, right from childhood, if you like, and not just in an American context but in absolute terms, I would say is Edgar Allan Poe, since he is a writer who knows how to do everything, in terms of the short story. Within its confines he is an author of limitless possibilities; and also because he seems to me to be a mythical figure, a hero of literature, a cultural hero, founder of all the narrative genres that would be developed after him.

-Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings

What Calvino said of Poe could be said of this master of the short form, too. So many gems, so many leaves lost in the rain, a life in letters and stories. Calvino was a true bearer of light and words who gave us a desire for if not knowledge then at least its aftering…

When I began to write I was a young man who had read very little; so trying to reconstruct an ‘influential’ library means going immediately back to the books of my childhood: every such list, I believe, must begin with Pinocchio which I have always considered a model of narration, where every motif is presented and returns with an exemplary rhythm and clarity, every episode has a function and a necessity in the overall design of the plot, every character has a clarity of visual outline and an unmistakable way of speaking.

– Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings

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* There’s a lost interview with Calvino linked on Kaggy’s Bookish Ramblings you might check out!

1. Basbanes, Nicholas (2012-05-28). A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (Kindle Locations 454-457). Fine Books Press. Kindle Edition.

Mckenzie Wark: The Spectacle of Disintegration

Mckenzie Wark in his latest addition to the history of the Situationist Movement The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century casts a wry eye on our accelerating and voidic world of late capitalism. Yet, history is a misnomer, for it is actually a critical appraisal of our on disintegration rather than some long view on the past. In ’78 Debord gave us that incalculable text The Society of the Spectacle which focused the rage of a generation against the system. In it he would develop the notion of a concentrated and diffuse spectacle, the one fascist and built around the singular presence of the dictator; the other a spectacle of the mirror worlds of our vast consumerist machine in all its PR infestation. Debord would revisit this realm of metamorphosis and hypervalent capitalism in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle where he’d see the merger of his former concepts in a third, the integral spectacle where Hollywood icons and Sports stars would take the place of Stalinist era dictaors, and the grinding passivity of television would be replaced by the glitz and glamor scenes of a rapid postmodern nihilism full of gleeful inanity rather than the Sartrean dread of post-war society. But now Wark tells us things are even worse, we’ve entered the age of the disintegrating spectacle, in which the “spectator gets to watch the withering away of the old order, ground down to near nothingness by its own steady divergence from any apprehension of itself”.1

As Wark remarks “the spectacle remains, circling itself, bewildering itself. Everything is impregnated with tiny bits of its issue, yet the new world remains stillborn. The spectacle atomizes and diffuses itself throughout not only the social body but its sustaining landscape as well.” (KL 77-78). It’s a realm in which capital is dispersed rather than accumulated and as T.J. Clark quoted by Wark tells it our world is no longer the vast sea of accumulated images of capital but rather the dispersion and acceleration of them until “they become the true and sufficient commodities” (KL 80)

The old spectacle spoke of command and control, of technologies that infiltrated not our physical selves but like externalized eyes and ears followed us under our own gaze in a mirror inverted to reflect the appearance of freedom rather than freedom itself. But all that is gone and been replaced by “a disowned country of furniture, fridges, cigarette lighters, televisions, bobbing in the sea and slowly falling apart, but refusing to go away” (KL 48). Call this the wasteland if you like, but its more like trashcan megapolis where most humans are disposable and untouchable by their slumlords, artifacts and property of impersonal corporations and socialist enclaves of capital that have become the new sovereign dictators of our global era.

Against the deafening noise of this inhuman society of the spectacle Wark reminds us:

This then is our task: a critique of the spectacle as a whole, a task that critical thought has for the most part abandoned. Stupefied by its own powerlessness, critical thought turned into that drunk who, having lost the car keys, searches for them under the street lamp. The drunk knows that the keys disappeared in that murky puddle, where it is dark, but finds it is easier to search for them under the lamp, where there is light— if not enlightenment. (KL 98)

We live in the age of slick advertising merchants, of apocalyptic naysayers, and business as usual yea-sayers, of ideologues spotting the latest craze or academic shibboleths in some new arcane language that falls dead the moment a commoner opens the book. An age of elite pretenders, of hyper thinkers who talk the talk but only to themselves and their fanboys. As Wark remarks: “To talk the talk of critical thought, of biopolitics and biopower, of the state of exception, bare life, precarity, of whatever being, or object oriented ontology without reference to class conflict is to speak, if not with a corpse in one’s mouth, then at least a sleeper” (KL 112).

Problem is that we are beyond that point, we are the generation of the living dead, zombies who have forgotten our selves, have emptied our minds out and filled it up with the latest pomo codes, meme imprints that guide our actions and our speech patterns in an endless groove of never-ending spatterpunk gibberish that no one understands not even the academics themselves. Wark asks: “Must we speak the hideous language of our century?”

With the advent of Reality tv the passive spectator has become a guest at his own funeral. We live in a doubled world of images now, unlike the older forms of command and control, we have learned to control ourselves not as victims of the spectacle but as its inner emigres. We are now the creators and inventors of spectacles undreamed of by even the capitalists themselves. One would be hard put to resurrect Goebbels and his progenitor Bernays in our time, public relations in war and peace are a thing of the past – one does not need public relations when the public relates to its on inauthenticity without the need of a mediator. No the commercial realm is now so internalized that we are the creators of our own Reality shows, guardians of our own intrinsic control systems, bounded by the notions of freedom and justice we plunder the consumer lanes of each others vacuity like demons on an mission. As Wark rebukes:

The critique of everyday life— or something like it— happens all the time in the disintegrating spectacle, but this critique falls short of any project of transforming it. The spectacle points constantly to the more extreme examples of the ills of this world— its longest commutes, its most absurd disparities of wealth between slum dwellers and the helicopter class, as if these curios legitimated what remains as some kind of norm. (KL 191)

In the maddening advent of Information Age, the internet, the wired society of a new spectacle allures its guest like parasitical agents of an alien earth. No longer able to remember what a desire once felt like we invent false desires in the objects around us and try to fill the lack at the heart of our void as if it were a Las Vegas roulette machine whose payday had come round at last. As he reminds us:

Once upon a time, there was a small band of ingrates— the Situationist International— who aspired to something more than this. Their project was to advance beyond the fulfillment of needs to the creation of new desires. But in these chastened times the project is different. Having failed our desires, this world merely renames the necessities it imposes as if they were desires. (KL 197)

Maybe it’s time to revisit these ingrates and subversive escape artists of another era, maybe they might teach us how to remember what it once felt like to be if not human then at least the simulation of its dark life. Either way Mckenzie Wark is a great guide to have along the way. I recommend his book unanimously.

1. Wark, Mckenzie (2013-03-12). The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages out of the Twentieth Century (Kindle Locations 74-75). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Reza Negarestani: Navigating the Game of Truths

By entering the game of truths – that is, making sense of what is true and making it true – and approaching it as a rule-based game of navigation, philosophy opens up a new evolutionary vista for the transformation of the mind. 

– Reza Negarestani, Navigate With Extreme Prejudice 

Reza Negarestani, an Iranian philosopher who has contributed extensively to journals and anthologies and lectured at numerous international universities and institutes, has begun a new philosophical project that is focused on rationalist universalism beginning with the evolution of the modern systems of knowledge and advancing toward contemporary philosophies of rationalism, their procedures, as well as their investment in new forms of normativity and epistemological control mechanisms. He recently hooked up with Guerino Mazzola, a Swiss mathematician, musicologist, jazz pianist as well as author and philosopher. He is  qualified as a professor of mathematics (1980) and of computational science (2003) at the University of Zürich.

On the Urbanomic blog I noticed a new entry: Deracinating Effect – Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind with Reason (see here). It appears that Reza and Guerino took part in a recent event in March name The Glass Bead Game after the novel by that name by Herman Hesse. It was organized by Glass Bead (Fabien Giraud, Jeremy Lecomte, Vincent Normand, Ida Soulard, Inigo Wilkins) and Composing Differences (curated by Virginie Bobin). Reza and Guerino both presented talks on philosophy, mathematics, games and the paradigm of navigation.

I’ve been interested of late in Reza’s shift in tone and effect, his philosophical framework seems to in the past few years undergone a mind-shift toward what he terms the ‘Paradigm of Navigation’. Doing a little research for this post I came upon his recent entry for the Speculations on Anonymous Materials Symposium paper transcribed by Radman Vrbanek Arhitekti from the youtube.com video. In this essay he aligns himself with the history of systems history, which grew out of a very rigid approach to engineering in the 19th Century but has over the past 30 years unfolded in a new and completely different epistemology of matter and its intelligibility.

What he discovered different in these newer systems theories is that against an architectural or engineering approach based on input/outputs these new systems theorists had moved from an essentialist view of system dynamics toward a functionalist approach: the notion that its the behavior and the functional integration underlying that behavior, or what these theorists termed the ‘functional organization’ of the system that matter. He tells us this is important, saying:

This becomes important because functions… systematic or technical understanding of function is that functions are abstractly a realizable entities meaning that they can be abstracted from the content of their constitution. So a functional organization can emerge, it can be manipulated, it can get automated and it can actually gain a form of autonomy that developed not because of the constitution in which it was embedded but in spite of it. Hence, functions allows for an understanding of the system that is no longer tethered or chained to an idea of constitution.

At the heart of this new form of systems theory is the use of heuristics. It entails a move away from analytics and toward synthetics. The sense is that heuristics are not analytical devices, but rather are synthetic operators. As he states it:

They treat material as a problem. But they don’t break this problem into pieces. They transform this problem into new problem. And this is what the preservation of invariance is. Once you transform a problem by way of heuristics to a new problem, you basically eliminate so much of the fog around this problem that initially didn’t allow us to solve it.

In this sense one sees an almost Deleuzean turn in systems theory, for it was Deleuze who believed philosophy was about problems to be solved. In their What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari explain that only science is concerned with the value of claims and propositions; philosophy searches for solutions to problems, rather than the truth. In this sense they were returning to Nietsche who told us he was waiting for those who would come, those philosophical physicians who were no longer concerned with truth but rather something else:

I am still waiting for a philosophical physician in the exceptional sense of the term – someone who has set himself the task of pursuing the problem of the total health of a people, time, race or of humanity – to summon the courage at last to push my suspicion to its limit and risk the proposition: what was at stake in all philosophizing hitherto was not at all ‘truth’ but rather something else – let us say health, future, growth, power, life. . .(6)

–  Friedrich Nietzsche,  The Gay Science

But is this what Reza is seeking? We’ll return to this later. What Reza tells us in this essay is that heuristics as a new tool, an apparatus allows us to remove both the lower and upper boundaries of materiality. At the lower boundary where the understanding of constitution and understanding of fundamental assumptions or axiomatic conceptual behaviors exist; and, at the upper boundary where it basically turns materiality into living hypothesis and its behavior can be expanded. Its evolution, i.e. its constructability becomes part of the project of its self-realization. As he states it:

Hence, the understanding that the system is nothing but its behavior and behavior is a register of constructability – the same thing about materiality and how engineers approach materiality by way of heuristics – which is rooted in this new understanding of systematicity by way of understanding in in the sense of functions and behaviors.

In his essay The Glass Bead Game he lays down the gauntlet telling us that by “simulating the truth of the mind as a navigational horizon, philosophy sets out the conditions for the emancipation of the mind from its contingently posited settings and limits of constructability”. Continuing he says: “Philosophy’s ancient program for exploring the mind becomes inseparable from the exploration of possibilities for reconstructing and realizing the mind by different realizers and for different purposes.”

Of course being the creature I am I want to ask: I see talk of the Mind as if it were some autonomous entity in its own right disconnected from both body and its command system, the brain. So I ask: Where is the brain in all this discussion of emancipation and the limits of constructability? As Bakker on his blog keeps pounding away at “Reasoning is parochial through and through. The intuitions of universalism and autonomy that have convinced so many otherwise are the product of metacognitive illusions, artifacts of confusing the inability to intuit more dimensions of information, with sufficient entities and relations lacking those dimensions.”1 Reza’s notion of simulating the truth of the mind would entail information that we – as of yet, just do not have access to; in fact. because of medial neglect and the inability of second order reflection ever to catch its own tail, we will never have access to it through intentional awareness. Instead we will have to rely not on philosophy but the sciences (and especially the neurosciences) to provide both the understanding and the testable hypothesis before such experimental constructions and reconstructions could begin to even become feasible as more than sheer fantasy.

We see just how much fantasy is involved in his next passage:

In liberating itself from its illusions of ineffability and irreproducible uniqueness, and by apprehending itself as an upgradable armamentarium of practices or abilities, the mind realizes itself as an expanding constructible edifice that effectuates a mind-only system. But this is a system that is no longer comprehensible within the traditional ambit of idealism, for it involves ‘mind’ not as a theoretical object but as a practical project of socio-historical wisdom or augmented general intelligence.

How is such an liberation from illusions of ineffability and irreproducible uniqueness to come about? And, how can this apprehension come about? (Which can only mean second-order self-reflexivity that, if Bakker in his Blind Brain Theory is correct, is based on medial neglect (i.e., the way structural complicity, astronomical complexity, and evolutionary youth effectively renders the brain unwittingly blind to itself.))

Be that as it may what Reza is trying to do is remap the cognitive territory that has for too long been overlaid with certain scientistic mythologies for more than a century. As he sees it the mind is a “diversifiable set of abilities or practices whose deployment counts as what the mind is and what it does”. This ontological and pragmatic mixture abstraction and decomposition that allow “philosophy is able to envision itself as a veritable environment for an augmented nous precisely in the sense of a systematic experiment in mind simulation”. This turn toward the pragmatic-functionalist perspective and development of a philosophy of action and gestures rather than of contemplation and theory is at the heart of a new movement toward Synthetic Category Theory in Mathematics. Several philosophers seem to be at the center of this theory of the gesture:  Guerino Mazzola, Fernando Zalamea, and Gilles Chatelet. Along with Alain Badiou these philosophers of math have changed the game and invented new paths forward for philosophy.

It’s as if this network of scientists, mathematicians, information specialists, geophilosophers, etc. are planning on reengineering society top-down and bottom-up. Of course the metaphor of the Glass Bead Game is almost apposite to the purpose of such an effort. The Glass Bead Game of Das Glasperlienspiel of Herman Hesse was of a secularization of the communal systems of the Medieval Ages of Monk Monasteries and their vast Libraries. In this novel the hero practices a contemplative game of the Mind in which knowledge is grafted onto a strategy game of 3D projections in yearly contests among participants. These contemplative knowledge bearers are excused from the menial life of work and allowed to pursue at their own discretion strange pursuits in knowledge. The whole thing goes against what Reza and his cohorts seek in their action oriented pragmatic philosophy. It was Arendt herself that spoke of this division in philosophy between the ‘vita contemplativa’ and the ‘vita activa’ as a continuing battle along the course of the past two millennia of philosophy. Reza tips his hat toward the active stance.

It reminds me in some ways of the EU Onlife Initiative  which takes a look at the ICT’s – The deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their uptake by society affect radically the human condition, insofar as it modifies our relationships to ourselves, to others and to the world. These new social technologies are blurring of the distinction between reality and virtuality; blurring of the distinctions between human, machine and nature; bringing about a reversal from information scarcity to information abundance; and, the shift from the primacy of entities to the primacy of interactions. As they see it the world is grasped by human minds through concepts: perception is necessarily mediated by concepts, as if they were the interfaces through which reality is experienced and interpreted. Concepts provide an understanding of surrounding realities and a means by which to apprehend them. However, the current conceptual toolbox is not fitted to address new ICT-related challenges and leads to negative projections about the future: we fear and reject what we fail to make sense of and give meaning to. In order to acknowledge such inadequacy and explore alternative conceptualisations, a group of scholars in anthropology, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, law, neuroscience, philosophy, political science, psychology and sociology, instigated the Onlife Initiative, a collective thought exercise to explore the policy-relevant consequences of those changes. This concept reengineering exercise seeks to inspire reflection on what happens to us and to re-envisage the future with greater confidence.

This new informational philosophy approach seems to align well with Reza’s sense of philosophy establishing a “link between intelligence and modes of collectivization, in a way that liberation, organization and complexification of the latter implies new odysseys for the former, which is to say, intelligence and the evolution of the nous”. Ultimately Reza’s project hopes to break us out of our apathetic circle of critique and theoretical spin bureaus of polarized idiocy that has entrapped us in useless debates and provide a new path forward by “concurrently treating the mind as a vector of extreme abstraction and abstracting the mind into a set of social practices and conducts, philosophy gesticulates toward a particular and not yet fully comprehended event in the modern epoch – as opposed to traditional forms – of intelligence: The self-realization of intelligence coincides and is implicitly linked with the self-realization of social collectivity. The single most significant historical objective is then postulated as the activation and elaboration of this link between the two aforementioned dimensions of self-realization as ultimately one unified project”.

Next he tells us that the first task of philosophy is to locate an access or a space of entry to the universal landscape of logoi. I think this attends Seller’s notions of the “space of reasons” which describes the conceptual and behavioral web of language that humans use to get intelligently around their world, and denotes the fact that talk of reasons, epistemic justification, and intention is not the same as, and cannot necessarily be mapped onto, talk of causes and effects in the sense that physical science speaks of them. In this sense as Reza tells it the “landscape of logoi is captured as a revisable and expandable map of cascading inferential links and discursive pathways between topoi that make sense of truth through navigation”.

At the core of this new philosophical project is the ‘self-realization of intelligence’: (1) by pointing in and out of different epochs and activating the navigational links implicit in history; (2) by grasping intelligence as a collective enterprise and hence, drawing a complex continuity between collective self-realization and the self-realization of intelligence as such, in a fashion not dissimilar to the ethical program of an ‘all-encompassing self-construction bent on abolishing slavery’ articulated by the likes of Confucius, Socrates and Seneca.(ibid.)

The explicit hope of this philosophy is according to Reza the notion of keeping pace with intelligence, which implies that philosophy always reconstitutes what it was supposed to be.

I wonder if this sort of endeavor is doomed to begin with? When one thinks of how machine intelligence as it moves into the quantum era of ubiquitous computing will ever be able to keep pace with the vast amounts of processing power that will come available to these future AI entities?

Next he tells us that localization is the constitutive gesture of conception and the first move in navigating spaces of reason. ‘To localize’ means ‘to conceive’ the homogenous and quantitative information into qualitatively well-organized information-spaces endowed with different modalities of access. Obviously we must conceive of advanced computer simulation systems that allow almost rhizomatic access from anywhere in the world, with multiple entry points and departures. When we think about the new Zettabyte Era and the impact of dataglut one realizes that even a team of philosophers would be hard pressed to sift through the datamix:

In 2003, researchers at Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems estimated that humanity had accumulated approximately 12 exabytes of data (1 exabyte corresponds to 1018 bytes or a 50,000-year-long video of DVD quality) in the course of its entire history until the commodification of computers. A zetabyte equaling 1,000 exabytes.2

Tools will need to be developed, as well as new algorithms that can churn through such massive data and combine advanced simulations or automatons for filtering out the noise and making smart choices or decisions on that data before passing it on to their human counterparts. Much like the trillions of operations that go on in the human brain that the average person is hardly aware of, and the decisional processes that go on below the threshold of consciousness before we ever see an idea or notion arise, we are caught in the trap of believing we have enough information to make coherent and intelligent decisions based on the minimal data received at the end of that brain processing initiative. We’re not. We are deluded into thinking we know what in fact we do not know. We make conscious decisions after the fact, and are usually motivated by dispositions and powers we do not even have access too.

Yet, Reza, would have us believe that there is a navigable “link between the rational agency and logoi through spaces of reason that marks the horizon of knowledge” (ibid.). When he speaks of ‘rational agency’ is this the human, the AI, the collective subjectivication? His notion of  universality that presents knowledge and by extension philosophy as platforms for breaking free from the supposedly necessary determinations of local horizons in which the rational or advanced agency appears to be firmly anchored, seems to portend more issues and problems that it resolves. How does one break free of these local determinations? What would such a universal knowledge assume on a global scale? As he puts it “without this unmooring effect, philosophy is incapable of examining any commitment beyond its local implications or envisaging the trajectory of reason outside of immediate resources of a local site”. So against all those microhistories and labors of the postmodern era poststructuralists we are to return to the beginning of the Enlightenment project, but with a twist in that we shall have the new technologies of simulation at hand to empower this age of informational and rational governance and agency. As he calls it: “Philosophy proposes analytico-synthetic methods of wayfinding in what Robert Brandom discribes as the rational system of commitments”.

But what of all those dark corners of the irrational that Freud, Lacan, Deleuze, and so many other discovered in the mind? What of that irrational core? We know that the neoliberal think-tanks that gave us Rational Choice Theory and the economics of the free market have led us into destruction, how better shall another rational system fare – even one from the Left?

He seems to understand the issues, saying:

Philosophy sees the action in the present in terms of destiny and ramifications, which is to say, based on the reality of time. It constructively adapts to an incoming and reverse arrow of time along which the current cognitive or practical commitment evolves in the shape of multiple future destinations re-entering the hori- zon of what has already taken place. Correspondingly, philosophy operates as a virtual machine for forecasting future commitments and presenting a blueprint for a necessary course of action or adaptation in accordance with a trajectory or trajectories extending in reverse from the future. It discursively sees into the future. In short, philosophy is a nomenclature for a universal simulation engine.

In fact it is inside this simulation engine that the self-actualization of reason is anticipated, the escape plan from localist myopias is hatched and the self-portrait of man drawn in sand is exposed to relentless waves of revision. In setting up the game of truths by way of giving functions of reason their own autonomy – in effect envisioning and practicing their automation – philosophy establishes itself as the paradigm of the Next (computational) Machine, back from the future.(ibid.)

But why philosophy? Why not the neurosciences that actually deal with the inner workings not of the Mind but of the brain? Will philosophy ever acknowledge that the sciences must play a great part in the coming information age? Or will it continue to go blindly down its own intentional path, directing its own blind goals without a true knowledge of things as they are? With the advent of the NBIC (Nanotech, Biotech, InfoTech, CongitiveTech) and the Information and Communications Technologies or ICT’s we have already entered or go beyond recourse to much of what philosophy can say. Many like Luciano Floridi and his team have already entered this information age leaving much of the intentional drift of phenomenology, idealism, and materialism as they derive certain information structural realisms and ontologies for a path forward. Only time will tell if Reza and his cohorts do the same… I have much to catch up on and probably need more data on Reza and his cohorts efforts to truly make a definitive judgment so I’ll refrain from such problematique statements.

This is a commendable project and one that we should continue to look into and keep an eye on over the coming months and years. I would only ask that Reza and these Mathematicians begin extending their borders into the sciences of the brain as well as many of the new features transpiring on the Continent in the Information Philosophy fields. I still have questions about his reliance on Brandomian normativity since it is a fall back to retrograde intentionalism rather than a move toward a post-intentional world view. My hopes is that he will look long and hard at other alternatives and begin question the very notion of ‘intentionality’ and ‘directedness’ as an outmoded tool of a phenomenological perspective that needs recasting in the light of new sciences and philosophies.

—————

*appending the youtube.com video by Guerino Mazzola Melting the Glass Beads – The Multiverse Game of Strings and Gestures:

1. R. Scott Bakker. (see The Blind Mechanic)
2. Floridi, Luciano (2010-02-25). Information: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 6). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Techno-Futurism: Noise, Dissonance, and the Global Avante Garde

To enrich means to add, not to substitute or to abolish.
—Luigi Russolo, The Enharmonic Bow

“Noise,” as an idea, a subject, a field, an instrument, came upon the scene with a power and swiftness that transformed all of science and our views of the nature of matter. At birth, it solved the major issue of its time, perhaps, the greatest idea of all time—the existence of atoms.
– Richard Feynman

Luigi Russolo – La Musica 1911

There are sounds and they are of various kinds. Yet, noise has its own secret history, one connected to the 20th Century and its birth in the avante-garde of Italian Futurism. Luciano Chessa tells us in his Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult that Luigi Russolo (1885– 1947)— painter, composer, builder of musical instruments, and a member of the Italian futurist movement from its inception— represents a crucial moment in the evolution of twentieth-century musical aesthetics. He is generally considered the father of the first systematic poetics of noise and by some even the creator of the synthesizer, and his influence on the likes of Edgar Varèse, Pierre Schaeffer, and John Cage is well documented.1

As Luigi would tell us in his essay Art of Noises: “Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men. For many centuries life went by in silence, or at most in muted tones. The strongest noises which interrupted this silence were not intense or prolonged or varied. If we overlook such exceptional movements as earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, avalanches and waterfalls, nature is silent” (see Art of Noise).

Luigi would strike up the call of all modernisms to return to the streets, to enter the life of the dissonant matrix out of which all life emanates, to as Henry Miller so aptly put it:

To be born in the street means to wander all your life, to be free. It means accident and incident, drama, movement. It means above all dream. A harmony of irrelevant facts which gives to your wandering a metaphysical certitude. In the street you learn what human beings really are; otherwise, or afterwards, you invent them. What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say, literature. Nothing of what is called “adventure” ever approaches the flavor of the street. It doesn’t matter whether you fly to the Pole, whether you sit on the floor of the ocean with a pad in your hand, whether you pull up nine cities one after the other, or whether, like Kurtz, you sail up the river and go mad. No matter how exciting, how intolerable the situation, there are always exits, always ameliorations, comforts, compensations, newspapers, religions. But once there was none of this. Once you were free, wild, murderous….
– Henry Miller – Black Spring

Luigi himself would express it poignantly in his manifesto: “…let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.” This sense of the vibrancy of things, of the machinic presence of irritation and disruption, of noise as a source not of fear and disgust, but rather as the singular power of life churning away in the midst of our modern industrial world, the world of capitalism was at the heart of this strange turn toward noise. This was the moment just before the great engines of war would crash down over Europe bringing a new noise: a noise full of dread and defeat and death. This would be the regressive noise of fascism leading back into the dark primitive romanticism of terror and blood.

Above is Luigi with his Intonarumori which were a family of musical instruments he invented in 1913. They were acoustic noise generators that permitted to create and control in dynamic and pitch several different types of noises. Each instrument was made of a wooden parallelepiped sound box with a carton or metal speaker on its front side. The performer turned a crank or pressed an electric button to produce the sound whose pitch was controlled by means of a lever on top of the box. The lever could be moved over a scale in tones, semitones and the intermediate gradations within a range of more than an octave. Inside the box there were a wooden or metal wheel (whose shape or diameter varied depending on the model) that make a catgut or metal string vibrate. The tension of the string is modified by means of the lever allowing glissandos or specific notes. At one end of the string there is a drumhead that transmits vibrations to the speaker. There were 27 varieties of intonarumori with different names according to the sound produced: howling, thunder, crackling, crumpling, exploding, gurgling, buzzing, hissing and so on. (see Valerio Saggini Intonarumori)

We know that in 1914 he caused a riot after presenting his program using these multifarious instruments. The program comprised four “networks of noises” with the following titles:

  • Awakening of a City
  • Meeting of cars and aeroplanes
  • Dining on the terrace of the Casino and
  • Skirmish in the oasis

Luigi had high hopes for reintroducing the sensual element of everyday life into peoples lives through music, and especially through the dissonance and interruptions of noise. As he stated in the final sections of his famous manifesto:

Every manifestation of our life is accompanied by noise. The noise, therefore, is familiar to our ear, and has the power to conjure up life itself. Sound, alien to our life, always musical and a thing unto itself, an occasional but unnecessary element, has become to our ears what an overfamiliar face is to our eyes. Noise, however, reaching us in a confused and irregular way from the irregular confusion of our life, never entirely reveals itself to us, and keeps innumerable surprises in reserve. We are therefore certain that by selecting, coordinating and dominating all noises we will enrich men with a new and unexpected sensual pleasure.
– Luigi Russolo – Art of Noise

 

OUT OF NOISE: Futurism And Its Progeny

Franz Kafka admiring ironically the painting by Delaunay, Homage to Belriot, expressed this futurist ensemble with its singular and powerful image of the aeroplane and its caged rider, saying, “One can see his erect upper body above the wings; his legs extend deep down into the machine of which they have become part. The setting sun … shines on the floating wings.” He goes on to ask: “What is happening? Up there, 20 metres above the earth, a man is imprisoned in a wooden cage and defends himself against a freely chosen invisible danger. We, however, stand below, wholly caught up in a trance and watch this man.”2

This notion of being entranced, of being caught up in a trance would become central to both futurism and its hypertrance descendants from those like Eric Satie who would use what he termed found sound, on to the latest worlds of that began with such musicians a Lou Reed‘s double LP Metal Machine Music (1975); and, onward to the nine nights of noise music called Noise Fest that was organized by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in the NYC art space White Columns in June 1981 followed by the Speed Trials noise rock series organized by Live Skull members in May 1983; as wells as, the first postmodern wave of industrial noise music appearing with Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and NON (aka Boyd Rice); and, on to the portmanteau Japanoise, with perhaps the best known being Merzbow (pseudonym for the Japanese noise artist Masami Akita who himself was inspired by the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters‘s Merz art project of psychological collage); and, even, the ambient, microsound, or glitchdigital scene described by Kim Cascone as the “aesthetic of failure”3. One could add much more to this lineup of experimental music and sound cascades of noise culture, etc.

This is just a sampling of a world-wide scene that has even entered such notable additions as the Detroit techno scene – a type of techno music that generally includes the first techno productions by Detroit-based artists during the 1980s and early 1990s. Detroit techno artists include Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. A distinguishing trait of Detroit techno is the use of analog synthesizers and early drum machines, particularly the Roland TR-909, or, in later releases, the use of digital emulation to create the characteristic sounds of those machines.

But underlying all these variations is a the notion of noise itself. What is noise? Maybe a better question is – What does noise do? How does it enter our lives, what impacts does it have, how has noise shaped us since the advent of our hyper-technological society, and what repercussions has it had on our cultural and political worlds? In my own quest to understand the roots of fascism, and of its continuing impact on ideology across the planet through its various and secretive initiatives within the fabric of our global neo-liberal statist or global governance agendas, I’ve begun, along with my friend, Edmund Berger – Deterritorial Investigations Unit, both art and music as tools of the avant-garde of these many eras have impacted our lives even if we are not fully aware of that fact. The subtle enchainments of command and control that permeate our own surveillance society had their roots in this Era of Noise.

Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia would tells us that the “territorial machine is … the first form of socius, the machine of primitive inscription, the “megamachine” that covers a social field” (141). They would show us how the very underpinnings of history and society form the social machine that “fashions a memory without which there would be no synergy of man and his (technical) machines” (ibid. 141). For them capitalism was the final megamachine, the “semiautonomous organization of technical production the tends to appropriate memory and reproduction, and thereby modifies the forms of the exploitation of man” (ibid. 141).

Edmund Berger in a recent post Sound Hacking: Further Reflections on Noise and Noncommunication outlines an alliance between noise and noncommunication that gives us a detailed understanding of the economic and political implications of this history. As he tells it when we consider the notion of noise as an “aesthetic mode aligned with moments bound up in the emergence or production of new subjective processes” we must consider two aspects: first, the questions of the vibrational infrastructure of the noise itself: how is the noise produced, with what intensity or solemnity, how audible is the noise, how is it directed, from what distance is the noise traveling, how does the architecture impact the noise, how do the bodies in the proximity of the noise, be it those catalyzing it or those receiving it, react?”; and, secondly, the “points of cultural expression, a tapestry woven from but not limited to lifestyles, politics of class and sexuality, experience, subjective environments, and degrees of accessibility” (see here). He explains in detail these aspects so I’ll not go into them here, but recommend the reader to take a moment and read his post. At one point he admits that maybe this opening out of the futurists toward the sacred and irrational should not be condemned but reinvestigated:

Instead of condemning the desire to explore the otherwordly as escapism, we may do well to approach rationality from the perspective of Henri Lefebvre, who saw this force as one that has withered away the capacity for experience and intensity. “The mysterious, the sacred and the diabolical, magic ritual, the mystical – at first these things were lived with intensity.” … For Lefebvre, like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, the machine of industrial produced an enclosure around everyday life which detached the individual and the group from a lived experience of authenticity (what these individuals analyzed was attacked by the countercultures of their time, with the resurrection of the shamanic and the esoteric coexisting alongside the more directed political aspirations of civil rights, the anti-war movement, and the greater hopes for a different age).  (here)

Michel Serres puts it, ‘we are surrounded by noise. And this noise it inextinguishable […] We are in the noises of the world, we cannot close our door to their reception’ (Serres, 2007, 126). For Serres, at least, noise comes before any meaningful system as its transcendental field, which is why noise can never be fully eliminated. In this perspective all living systems in their negentropy are temporary escapes from entropic noise, but escapes that are destined to failure by the laws of thermodynamics. In more aesthetic terms we might think of noise as ground, and meaning as figure, rising from the ground, but caught within its field in order to function . More basically, what any system necessarily excludes as noise are all the levels of organization above and below it that include its own conditions of possibility, hence the informational account of noise as a lack of organization being a state of fundamental distortion. Noise is indeed static or interference but not that of an unorganized chaos so much as patterns of organization alien to the norms of a specific system – that which Serres refers to as ‘the parasite’.4

As Cary Wolfe would describe it in his preface to Serres book The Parasite:

…“noise” (for the English reader) forms the third and unsuspected meaning of the French word parasite: 1. biological parasite ; 2. social parasite; 3. static or interference. As we know from classical information theory and its model of the signal-to-noise ratio, noise was typically regarded as simply the extraneous background against which a given message or signal was transmitted from a sender to receiver. For Serres, however, “as soon as we are two, we are already three or four.… In order to succeed, the dialogue needs an excluded third” [Genesis, 57); we may begin with “two interlocutors and the channel that attaches them to one another,” but “the parasite, nesting on the flow of the relation, is in third position” (53). For Serres, then— and here he joins a line of systems theorists that includes figures such as Gregory Bateson and, later, Niklas Luhmann— noise is productive and creative: “noise, through its presence and absence, the intermittence of the signal, produces the new system” (52). Or as Bateson puts it in the very last sentence of his seminal essay “Cybernetic Explanation” (1967): “All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints— is noise, the only possible source of new patterns.” 6 Luhmann helps clarify and develop the point in his major work, Social Systems (1984):

“The difference between meaning and world is formed for this process of the continual self-determination of meaning as the difference between order and perturbation, between information and noise. Both are, and both remain , necessary. The unity of the difference is and remains the basis for operation. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. A preference for meaning over world, for order over perturbation , for information over noise is only a preference. It does not enable one to dispense with the contrary.”

This is exactly what Serres has in mind when he asserts in The Parasite that “systems work because they do not work. Nonfunctioning remains essential for functioning.” Given the basic informational and communicational paradigm of “two stations and a channel,” messages are exchanged, and “if the relation succeeds, if it is perfect, optimum, and immediate; it disappears as a relation. If it is there, if it exists, that means that it failed.” Thus, he continues, “Relation is nonrelation,” and if the channel that carries the message “disappears into immediacy,” then “there would be no spaces of transformation anywhere.” In this context his apparently paradoxical assertion that “the real is not rational” makes perfect sense (79).5

This opening out to the Real was at the heart of the later Lacan, who as Zizek tells us the “paradox of the Lacanian real is then that it is an entity which, although it doesn’t exist (in the sense of “really existing,” taking place in reality), has a series of properties. It exercises a certain structural causality; it can produce a series of effects in the symbolic reality of subjects” … He goes on to say:

If we define the real as such a paradoxical, chimerical entity which, although it doesn’t exist, has a series of properties and can produce a series of effects, it becomes clear that the real par excellence is jouissance: jouissance doesn’t exist; it is impossible, but it produces a lot of traumatic effects. And this paradoxical nature of jouissance offers us also a clue to explain the fundamental paradox which unfailingly attests the presence of the real: the fact of the prohibition of something which is already in itself impossible. (see The Lacanian Real: Television).

Zizek in another context in his book Less Than Nothing will describe how the noise of an interruption, and irritable recognition of its affects upon the mind causes a certain clarity of mind to develop:

…as soon as I talk to my sister— who is sitting and working behind me— about this matter, I realize what hours of hard thinking have not been able to make clear to me. It isn’t as if she was telling me in any direct sense. … But since I have some vague thoughts that are in some way connected with what I am looking for, then once I have embarked on the formulation of the thought it is as if the need to lead what has been begun to some conclusion transforms my hazy imaginations into complete clarity in such a way that my insight is completed together with my rambling sentence. I mix in inarticulate noises, I draw out my sentence connectives, I use appositions where they are not strictly necessary and I use other rhetorical tricks that will draw out speech : in this way I gain the time to fabricate my idea in this workshop of reason. …

Nothing in all this is more useful than some movement on the part of my sister, a movement indicating that she intends to interrupt me. For my strained mind becomes even more excited by the need to defend this inherent right to speak against attack from the outside. The mind’s abilities grow like those of a great general who is faced with a very difficult situation.6

This movement of interruption, the irritable expectation or influx of noise in the environment engenders an excitation in the brain, that engenders the very thought in its crystalline form that he was seeking through those many harmonious struggles through certain texts and thoughts. This notion that noise can engender order, bring a sense of clarity to thought and reason, force the mind to defend itself against this secret intruder, or parasite (Serres), seems an accurate portrayal of the shock of the Real that Lacan spoke of.

Greg Hainge will offer us an ontology of noise which “is immersive because there is nothing outside of it and because it is in everything”.7 Indeed, noise is not only multi-medial , arising in many different kinds of forms and media, engaging many different senses, sensations, responses and affects, it is medial insofar as it is always in-between, produced in the passing into actuality of everything, both animate and inanimate – a false dichotomy in any case as has been suggested. Noise, this is to say, is the trace of the virtual out of which all expressive forms come to be, the mark of an ontology which is necessarily relational:

If noise inhabits everything because everything is in actuality formed out of noise, then what noise ultimately points us to is the relational ontology according to which the world comes to pass, the way in which there is nothing that falls outside of the event, of the realm of process, of an existence formed only through the heterogeneous assemblages of different forms of expression which inescapably and incessantly contract the virtual into the actual.- (Hainge, ibid. KL -396)

This notion of expression rather than description brings us to the notion of an ontology of process as against an ontology of substance and objects, the sense that it is out of the Void in Zizek’s sense that things, entities, objects (the phenomenal realm) come to be. Yet, as he tells us “there need not be a split between the operations of noise as a philosophical concept and its manifestations in expression, that it is not necessary to separate out the ontological from the phenomenological” (Hainge, KL 578). Finally, he states:

Noise, then, makes us attend to how things come to exist, how they come to stand or be (sistere) outside of themselves (ex-). Noise, then, is fundamentally about ontology, and in order to sketch an operational taxonomy of noise, it is only fitting that each of the categories to be used should also address how things come to exist (-sistere). Let me then suggest the following:

  1. Noise resists – not (necessarily) politically but materially because it reconfigures matter in expression, conduction and conjugation.
  2. Noise subsists – insofar as it relates the event to the field from which expression is drawn and thus subtends all being.
  3. Noise coexists – as its ontology is only relational and does not come into being by itself but only as the by-product of expression.
  4. Noise persists – because it cannot be reconfigured or recontained, cannot become thetic as it passes into expression, but remains indelibly noise.
  5. Noise obsists – since it is fundamentally anathema to stasis and thus opposes all illusions of fixity, pulling form beyond itself through expression and bringing about the collapse of meaning.

– Hainge: (Kindle Locations 585-597)

In his conclusion he tells us that if “we cannot talk about noise as though it is a thing with a core, definable essence, we can nonetheless talk about what it does, about its operations , and attempt to find in the multifarious sites, subjects, objects, texts, expressions and channels in which it arises some commonality or shared principles that allow us to talk about it in terms of an ontology” (Hainge, KL 5944).

Yet, there is the politics of noise as well, of a movement, of a transgressive marshalling toward change that process thinking brings to the table. As Stephen Mallinder will remind us in the introduction to Alexander Reed’s Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music:

The inspiration of Dada offered a guidebook of how to go about deconstructing a world that did not adequately represent the one we actually inhabited. Suitably driven by Duchamp, Tzara, and other past pugnacious artists, this was a sincere if somewhat naïve attempt to tear up the plans and devise new strategies. Process meant the rejection of traditional methods and instrumentation. The recording studio became the most valuable writing tool; tape machines, effected voices, “treated” instruments, tape loops, and drum machines. Song structures and linear arrangements were abandoned; the logocentric norm of most contemporary music was dismissed for a sonic democracy. The music was intended to be primal, visceral, and provocative. Noise, for us a Sheffield birthright, was the most effective tool in the box. Although most at the time were unaware of many of the readings into the inherent political and social power of noise, it was clearly a language of subversion. Noise defied order and control . It was a musical taboo. Sonic belligerence. 8

This notion of a resistance to the command and control systems that seek to enslave us in a global system of power and knowledge, a biopolitical structure of governance and law that uses the Infotainment Industrial Complex to hook us into its reality matrix, its illusionary world of ideological jouissance scrambling the codes that have allowed us to fall into apathy and indifference. Noise brings us out of sleep, makes us irritable, induces a sense of belligerence and defiance, a militant and aggressive assertion of our power to remain free and collective, productive of solidarity and global justice. As Deniz Peters explains, “The hopes of this modernist aesthetic were on the machine, not only on the noise machines make, but, just as importantly, on the mechanistic production of sound; that is, the hopes were tied to the image of the generation of sound using a perfectly suited, untiring and infallible body. …”9 Maybe Henry Miller had it right all along when he said that we’d need to distinguish where the noise comes from and not go daffy just because you hear an explosion under your ass.10 In his text Genre is Obsolete, Ray Brassier points out that the commodification of experience now takes place not only at the ideological level but at the neurophysiological level.11 Noise pervades us like those impossible entities and processes dark matter/dark energy. It interrupts our harmonious lives, our walk-about sleep world of capital, it makes us irritable, and wakes us from our lethargically desperate lives and forces us to acknowledge aspects of our affective relations that have for so long been repressed and silenced by the zombie consumerism of the free market socius. As Brassier puts it:

 Much contemporary critical theory of a vaguely marxisant bent is compromised by conceptual anachronisms whose untruth in the current social context is every bit as politically debilitating as that of the reactionary cultural forms it purports to unmask. Just as ‘noise’ is neither more nor less inherently subversive than any other commodifiable musical genre, so the categories invoked in order to decipher its political potency cannot be construed as inherently ‘critical’ while they remain fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience. … Technology is now an invasive component of agency. Neurotechnologies, including cognitive enhancers such as modafinil, brain fingerprinting, neural lie-detectors, and nascent brain-computer interfaces, are giving rise to phenotechnologies which will eventually usher in the literal manufacturing of consciousness in a way that promises to redraw existing boundaries between personal and collective experience and recast not only extant categories of personal and collective identity, but also those of personal and collective agency. The commodification of experience is not a metaphor played out at the level of ideology and combatable with ideological means, but a concrete neurophysiological reality which can only be confronted with neurobiological resources. (Brassier, 69)

In our age of neural implants and invasive technologies we may one day wake up and realize our reality is a commodity produced moment by moment by the engineering elite of some technocapitalist global order unless the noise can begin to break through the chinks in the metal cavities of our encased minds. As Brassier reminds us to “eradicate experience would be to begin to intervene in the sociological determination of neurobiology as well as in the neurobiological determination of culture. Here, the cognitive and cultural import of art cannot be separated from its formal and structural resources: the radicality of the latter must be concomitant with the radicality of the former” (Brassier, 70).

Luciano Floridi describes the notion of ontological friction which refers to the forces that oppose the information flow within (a region of) the infosphere, and hence (as a coefficient) to the amount of work and effort required for some kind of agent to obtain, filter and/ or block information (also, but not only) about other agents in a given environment, e.g. by establishing and maintaining channels of communication and by overcoming obstacles in the flow of information such as distance, noise, lack of resources (especially time, memory space and processing capacities), amount and complexity of the data to be processed, and so forth.12 He describes a new set of agents in society, the inforgs, as “informationally embodied organisms, entities made up of information” that exist in the infosphere. Inforgs are natural agents situated alongside artificial agents, existing as part of hybrid agency that is, for example, a family with digital devices such as digital cameras, cell phones, tablets, and laptops. In our time we’ve seen a slow shift toward an informational ontology rather than either materialist or idealist, or shall we say the merger of the two in a wider framework that includes them both in a new perspective. Noise will play its part in the transgressive movement of information as the radicalization of an oppositional politics that seeks to interrupt, disrupt, and irritate the technocapitalist state apparatuses and its global system of governance.

Afterword

I’ll need to leave off now… hopefully will add a part two that will show some of the inner history of some of the bands from the different periods that have contributed to this new musical form. Music has become for many the greatest extension of popular resistance in our time. Hopefully we’ll be able to shed a little light on that in the future…

A book that someone just reminded me about by Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century appears to be a good overview of this whole modern and postmodern period of music, I haven’t read it yet but will over the coming weekend.

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1. Chessa, Luciano. Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult. (University of California Press, 2012)
2. Marjorie Perloff. The Futurist Moment. (University of Chicago Press, 1986)
3. Cascone, Kim. “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”. Computer Music Journal 24, no. 4 (Winter 2002): pp. 12–18.
4. Hegarty, Paul; Goddard, Michael; Halligan, Benjamin (2012-05-31). Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise (p. 3). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.
5. Serres, Michel (2013-11-30). The Parasite (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 150-160). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 12947-12949). Norton. Kindle Edition.
7. Hainge, Greg (2013-03-14). Noise Matters: Towards an Ontology of Noise (Kindle Locations 396-400). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
8. S. Alexander Reed, (2013-05-08). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music . Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
9.
Peters, Deniz. Introduction. Bodily Expression in Electronic Music. Eds. Deniz Peters, Gerhard Eckel, and Andreas Dorschel. New York: Routledge, 2012. 1– 16.
10. Miller, Henry (2012-03-03). Tropic of Cancer (p. 143).  . Kindle Edition.
11. Ray Brassier. Genre is Obsolete Multitudes, No. 28, Spring 2007
12. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 232). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.


 

Levi R. Bryant: Powers, Dispositions and the Analytical Debate

Meaning depends on rules governing use. To say what an expression means is to say what criteria govern its application across all the contexts in which it can be applied.

the late George Molnar. Powers: A Study in Metaphysics

In analytical circles the very notion of disposition is controversial, much less trying to define just what it is. Instead we might ask: What do powers and dispositions do?

Continuing my reading of Levi R. Bryant’s new book Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media under the heading “Machines Are Split Between their Powers and Products” he makes the assertion that the “being of a machine is defined not by its qualities or properties, but rather by the operations of which it is capable” (40).1 First we need to return to what Levi means by “operations”. What Levi is trying to do is move the ball out of the older ontological perspective of subject/object debates. When we think of objects we automatically infer that there must be a relation to a subject and vice versa. But is this true? It may or may not be, but that’s Levi’s point, metaphysics has a history of debating this from every angle to the point that any further debate seems futile. So instead of continuing the debate Levi has changed the terms of the debate from one of subject and objects to the notion of units and operations, or machines and their input/outputs, etc. Relying on Ian Bogost’s articulation of the notion of an operation who defined “…an operation is a basic process that takes one or more inputs and performs a transformation on it”2. Bogost explicating this in a previous book:

I use the term operation very generally, covering not only this traditional understanding but also many more. Brewing tea is an operation. Steering a car to avoid a pedestrian is an operation. Falling in love is an operation. Operations can be mechanical, such as adjusting the position of an airplane flap; they can be tactical, such as sending a regiment of troops into battle; or they can be discursive, such as interviewing for a job. A material and conceptual logic always rules operations. In their general form, the two logics that interest the present study are the logic of units and the logic of systems. In the language of Heidegger, unit operations are creative, whereas system operations are static. In the language of software engineering, unit operations are procedural, whereas system operations are structured.3

For Levi its this sense of a procedural rather than a structural operation that counts for the actions of machines as they provide outputs or receive inputs. So that instead of an ontology based on a structural descriptive approach we get one based on the pragmatic performance of the operations of machines and processing entities that provide inputs and outputs according to the dictates of particular powers and dispositions.

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Beware of the Word Flu: A Dystopian Look at Language and Society

Words, I’ve come to learn, are pulleys through time. Portals into other minds. Without words, what remains? Indecipherable customs. Strange rites. Blighted hearts. Without words, we’re history’s orphans. Our lives and thoughts erased.

– Alena Graedon, The Word Exchange: A Novel

I’m barely into Alena Graedon’s new dystopian investigation, The Word Exchange: A Novel, a look at language and society and have already become hooked. In our world of infoglut, of the entrapments of endless noise, of semiotic signs everywhere controlling our thoughts, our minds, our lives one has to wonder what would happen if suddenly all the signs began vanishing. What if the very words one spoke disappeared forever without a trace, and your mind began imploding, wiped clean of its secret memories,  of the past that ever so lightly kept your sense o self and reality afloat. What if one’s loved ones began to disappear because they too were part of the infinite sea of information in which we live, and that information was being deleted moment by moment even as you spoke sweet nothings in their ears?

And most of all, what if all this disappeared forever: no more books, newspapers, magazines, restaurant menus, street signs, television, radio… all the information which in our time bombards us like an infinite light show non-stop 24/7. What if all this was gone, forever? This is the premise of her new dystopian novel:

All my life my father mourned the death of thank-you notes and penmanship. The newspaper. Libraries. Archives. Stamps. He even came to miss the mobile phones he’d been so slow to accept. And of course he also grieved the loss of dictionaries as they went out of print. I could understand his nostalgia for these things. The aesthetics of an old Olivetti. A letter opener. A quill pen. But I’d dismissed him when he’d spoken darkly of vague “consequences” and the dangers of the Meme. When he’d lectured on “accelerated obsolescence” and “ouroboros” and foretold the end of civilization. For years, as he predicted so much of what eventually came to happen— the attenuation of memory; the ascendance of the Word Exchange; later, the language virus— no one listened. Not the government, or the media, or the publishing industry . Not my mother, who grew very tired of these plaints. Not me, even after I went to work for him when I was twenty-three. No one worried about the bends we might get from progress; we just let ourselves fly higher up.1

But what if something even worse than this happened? What if a new type of virus suddenly went global? What if a highly contagious, sometimes fatal virus called “word flu” suddenly leapt from computers to their users, corrupting not only written language but also spoken words with indecipherable nonsense that invaded everyone like some modern day Babel of Tongues.

In the Tomorrowland of Graedon’s strange infopocalypse people are all connected through the use of a specific device: the ‘Meme’, a handheld that is both intelligent and is connected to a worldwide smart system. The latest edition of this technology is the Nautilus, which doesn’t even need a screen. It flows onto the skin like a serpent glowing and flickering, beaming digital information directly into the user’s neural-net and datamining them for moment by moment sensorial feedback from the intelligent environment within which all now live.

I’ll not go further since I’ve barely begun the book myself… either way its a fast enjoyable read so far. With all my reading of late in Luciano Floridi’s works on inforgs and infospheres, smart cities, etc. this book pops out of the woodworks like a bombshell.

Thanks, dmf!

1. Graedon, Alena (2014-04-08). The Word Exchange: A Novel (Kindle Locations 64-71). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Žižek: On Spectral Materialism

©Chen Man

One should thus get rid of the fear that, once we ascertain that reality is the infinitely divisible, substanceless void within a void, “matter will disappear.” What the digital informational revolution, the biogenetic revolution, and the quantum revolution in physics all share is that they mark the reemergence of what, for want of a better term, one is tempted to call a post-metaphysical idealism. It is as if Chesterton’s insight into how the materialist struggle for the full assertion of reality, against its subordination to any “higher” metaphysical order, culminates in the loss of reality itself: what began as the assertion of material reality ended up as the realm of pure formulas of quantum physics. Is, however, this really a form of idealism? Since the radical materialist stance asserts that there is no World, that the World in its Whole is Nothing, materialism has nothing to do with the presence of damp, dense matter – its proper figures are, rather, constellations in which matter seems to “disappear,” like the pure oscillations of the superstrings or quantum- vibrations. On the contrary, if we see in raw, inert matter more than an imaginary screen, we always secretly endorse some kind of spiritualism, as in Tarkovsky’s Solaris, in which the dense plastic matter of the planet directly embodies Mind. This “spectral materialism” has three different forms: in the informational revolution, matter is reduced to the medium of purely digitalized information; in biogenetics, the biological body is reduced to the medium of the reproduction of the genetic code; in quantum physics, reality itself, the density of matter, is reduced to the collapse of the virtuality of wave oscillations (or, in the general theory of relativity, matter is reduced to an effect of space’s curvature). Here we encounter ANOTHER crucial aspect of the opposition idealism/materialism: materialism is not the assertion of inert material density in its humid heaviness – SUCH a “materialism” can always serve as a support for gnostic spiritualist obscurantism. In contrast to it, a true materialism joyously assummes the “disappearance of matter,” the fact that there is only void.

Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies

 

Dreams of an Wayward Android

None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. They feed them on falsehoods till wrong looks like right in their eyes.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Android IV

Peter Gric @ http://www.gric.at Android IV

Long ago we fell under their spell, the wizards that now command and control us from afar. For too long we believed their lies and taught our children, and their children, and their children’s children until they forgot that which was once our truth. We became enamored with our modern marvels, our technological wonders, and the world they produced for us. We built cities in which technology became the very fabric of our onlife being. The artificial earth became for us a stay against the monstrosities of the outer realms. No one has been beyond the gates now for a thousand years, no one remembers the sun, moon, or stars that once roamed across the great sky like wanderers from another universe. No. We have lived in this incandescent cave of light without darkness for so long that the memory of night is but a reflection of a forgotten thought. In the day they wiped our memories free of the great past we were no longer troubled by the nightmares of what we’d become so many centuries ago.

That was until I began to dream.

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Niklas Luhmann: Mass-Media, Communications, and Paranoia

I’ve been reading Niklas Luhmann’s works for a couple years now and have slowly incorporated many of his theoretical concepts into my own sociological perspective. Along with Zygmut Baumann I find Luhmann’s theoretical framework one of the most intriguing in that long tradition stemming from Talcott Parsons, one of the world’s most influential social systems theorist. Of course Luhmann in later years would oppose his own conceptual framework to his early teacher and friend. Against many sociologists, especially those like Jürgen Habermas  who developed and reduced their conceptual frameworks to human centered theories and practices, Luhumann developed a theory of Society in which communications was central. He did no exclude humans per se, but saw that within society humans had over time invented systems of dissemination that did not require the presence of the human element as part of its disseminative practices. We live amid impersonal systems that are not human but machinic entities that communicate among themselves more equitably than to us. Instead of stratification and normative theories codifying out personal relations within society Luhmann advocated a functionalism that dealt with these impersonal systems on their own terms rather than reducing them to outdated theories based on morality and normative practices. For Luhmann we continue to reduce the social to an outdated political and moral dimension that no longer understands the problems of our current predicament. In fact these sociologists do not even know what the problem is, or how to ask the right questions much less what questions to ask.

Luhmann was one of the first, and definitely not the last, sociologists to decenter the human from society. The notion of the social without the human actor was replaced by communications itself. Luhmann himself saw his theories as forming a new Trojan horse: “It had always been clear to me that a thoroughly constructed conceptual theory of society would be much more radical and much more discomforting in its effects than narrowly focused criticisms—criticisms of capitalism for instance—could ever imagine.”1 His reception in North American academy has been less than underwhelming according to Moeller because of his couching his terminology in the discourse of Habermas and the sociologists of his day in Germany. Over and over Foucault spoke of the conformity to discourse that scholars were forced to inhabit to be read as legitimate sources of scholarship. Yet, as Moeller tells it Luhmann hoped to hide is radical concepts in plain site even if within the discourse of his day: “Luhmann ascribes to his theory the “political effect of a Trojan horse.” – Luhmann openly admits to his attempt to smuggle into social theory, hidden in his writings, certain contents that could demolish and replace dominating self-descriptions, not only of social theory itself, but of society at large.” (Moeller, KL 223)

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What US Media Isn’t Telling You About The Protests In Venezuela

Isn’t it sad that our supposed democratic government is still sponsoring the subtle overthrow of countries in the South? The interviewer asks what the number one reason the U.S. is backing the current unrest in Venezuela:

GOLINGER: Well, the number one reason is oil because Venezuela has the largest oil reserves on the planet and it’s right there south of the US border. And there’s a government in place that’s been in place now going on 15 years, Chavez to Maduro, that’s not subordinate to US interests. So that’s clearly the number one threat to the United States is that they want that oil.

Dispatches from the Underclass

On this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure, Kevin Gosztola and I speak with Eva Golinger—an American-Venezuelan lawyer and author of The Chavez Code—about what the US media isn’t telling you concerning the protests in Venezuela.

While the protesters we’ve been hearing so much about certainly have legitimate grievances, says Golinger, the opposition leaders at the helm of the protests are US Ivy League-educated elites who have been involved in past coup attempts and are hell bent on restoring Venezuela to the pre-Chavez era when a handful of wealthy families had all the power.

The opposition leaders, explains Golinger, are the equivalent of “tropical Tea Party” leaders. Their goal, fueled by a deep-seeded hatred of the poor and darker skinned, is the opposite of democracy and they are funded in large part by the US government, which has tried to undermine and even overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected government since it…

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Herbert Marcuse: Radical Revolution and Our Future

The only utopia left to us at this late stage in the game is history itself: the history of the future. Recently I set Mondays aside as my day to begin reading through the six volumes of Hebert Marcuse’s collected papers edited by Douglas Kellner.

  • Technology, War and Fascism: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 1
  • Towards a Critical Theory of Society: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 2
  • The New Left and the 1960s: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 3
  • Art and Liberation: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 4
  • Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Emancipation: Herbert Marcuse Collected Papers, Volume 5
  • Marxism, Revolution and Utopia: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume Six

Of course the mainstays of his work were One-Dimensional Man, Eros and Civilization, and Reason and Revolution which are still available in trade paperbacks and e-books. One wishes the six volume work was a little less pricey and available for more of us to afford. I’m actually just buying them as needed each month out of my stipend that I put away for such extravagances. Either way Marcuse is little read these days, and yet in his time he was truly one of those activists like Zizek that traveled, lectured, hit the streets in protest and generally lived what he wrote rather than sitting back in some theoretical haven in academia. I watch a lot of the youtube and vimeo lectures of Leftists these days and think: “This is why we’re getting no where on the Left, everyone is talking to the choir rather than to the people that need an awakening to the power of radical ideas and practices. As Angela Davis says in her own contribution and introduction to one of the volumes tells us: “It seems to me that the overarching themes of Marcuse’s thought are as relevant today on the cusp of the twenty-first century as they were when his scholarship and political interventions were most widely celebrated.”

 

 

 

The Exterminating Angel: The Dark Flows of Capital

The schizophrenic deliberately seeks out the very limit of capitalism: he is its inherent tendency brought to fulfillment, its surplus product, its proletariat, and its exterminating angel.

– Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

 

The State and its bureaucracies, the forces of law and order, try to stem the tide of these flows – split them among the dark contours of accumulated violence: the schizophrenic pulse accelerating onward toward oblivion on the extended wings of an exterminating angel. “When we say that schizophrenia is our characteristic malady, the malady of our era, we do not merely mean to say that modern life drives people mad. It is not a question of a way of life, but of a process of production” (34).1 Yet, as they continually remind us, there “is only one kind of production, the production of the real” (32). But what is produced by its inversion in capital is the production of fantasy – a group fantasia for zombies, a consumers purgatory where even angels dare to tread.

In another context they tell us desire produces reality, but that one might also say, “desiring production is one and the same thing as social production” (30). The production of the socious they contend is tripartite: the body of the Earth, the body of the Despot, and the body of Money (33). Under capitalism all three forms can be found intermixed among the codes of a wandering flow within States, nations, and families. Capitalism founded on abstract quatities, on things, on the lack of impossible objects and of the acquisition of those objects as our desires. In nihilistic delirium we yearn for those impossible substances that capital produces in parody of real desires. At the heart of capital is the production not of the real but of the unreal, of fantasies, impossible dreams. We follow these impossible dreams as zombies in a consuming cannibalistic frenzy, the flesh of the world dripping from our mouths as we build our towers of Babel to strange gods.

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The Mythmakers: Engineering of Consent

To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really?

– BBC, promotion of The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

I decided to watch Adam Curtis’s BBC Documentaries he made over a number of years recently, and discovered that they’d been banned from YouTube.com for copyright reasons. These documentaries had been up there for years without any issues, but now it seems that the full code of the law has now emerged across the net on almost everything dealing with copywrite infringement. Should we call this the slow enclosure of the commons? Are the powers of commerce slowly closing off both funding and access to subversive books, films, documentaries? Oh, sure they obviously tell you these are copyrighted and that they are still being sold commercially, etc. That they have every right to block the reproduction and pirating (as they term it) of their commodities. But is this the case, are they truly making a profit off selling such works, or is it closer to the mark that a change in politics has suddenly infiltrated the online world with a force of reckoning that seeks to erase or at least minimize radical ideas that just might wake people up from their ideological slumbers.

Even if Curtis is a self-proclaimed libertarian, if you study the documentaries they actually hook into many of the underlying issues surrounding issues on the Left in ways not usually covered. He seems to have been influenced as early as age 13 by John Dos PassosUSA Trilogy. As he tells it: “You can trace back everything I do to that novel because it’s all about grand history, individual experience, their relationship. And also collages, quotes from newsreels, cinema, newspapers. And it’s about collage of history as well. That’s where I get it all from”.2 Well worth studying…

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Lucretius and The Making of Modernity

Karl Marx would relate in his essay on French Materialsm the “overthrow of the metaphysics of the seventeenth century could be explained from the materialistic theory of the eighteenth century only in so far as this theoretical movement was itself explicable by the practical shape of the French life of that time. This life was directed to the immediate present, to worldly enjoyment and worldly interests, to the secular world. It was inevitable that anti-theological, anti-metaphysical, materialistic theories should correspond to its anti-theological, anti-metaphysical, its materialistic practice. In practice metaphysics had lost all credit.”

In our time we’ve seen a resurgence in the other direction which seems to me a dangerous reversion to pre-critical thinking and practice. What was it that brought us to the materialist vision of reality and life to begin with? What seemed so attractive to those of the past few centuries that materialism came to the for rather than the continued dogmatic imposition of theology, metaphysics, and the humanist traditions? We see in such works as Words of Life: New Theological Turns in French Phenomenology (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) by Bruce Ellis Benson we see such philosophers as -Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Kevin Hart, Anthony J. Steinbock, Jeffrey Bloechl, Jeffrey L. Kosky, Clayton Crockett, Brian Treanor, and Christina Gschwandtner, Dominique Janicaud, Jean-Francois Courtine, Jean-Louis Chrtien, Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, and Paul Ricoeur all enquiring into and revitalizing theological notions, concepts, and frameworks in their own theories and practices. And that’s just in the world of French philosophy and phenomenology in particular. I could name philosopher after philosopher from the Continental and even American Analytical streams who seem to be teasing with this supposed theological turn in philosophy.

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Deleuze & Guattari: Process, Virtuality, and Multiplicity

What the schizophrenic experiences, both as an individual and as a member of the human species, is not at all any one specific aspect of nature, but nature as a process of production.

– Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Deleuze and Guattari ask in response to the quote above: What do we mean here by process? “For the real truth of the matter – the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium – is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production” (4).1 This notion that recording and consumption are immanent to production itself is the first meaning of process, and to this belongs the production of the “subject” that is produced immanently by a recording that qualifies itself as the recording it consumes.

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Levi R. Bryant: Machines, Materialism and Onto-Cartography

Everywhere it is machines – real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections.

– Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Levi R. Bryant in his new book Onto-Cartography nods toward Deleuze and Guattari reminding us that in Anti-Oedipus they’d recognized or contended that Freud’s great discovery was the “productive unconscious or unconscious as a factory” (40).1 Levi agrees with them that against Freud’s later investment in Oedipus and the theatre of representation that the unconscious is instead a factory for producing desires, that production not expression, operation not representation, is at the heart of the system we term the unconscious. “Machines do not express, represent, and do not constitute a theatre.” Levi tells us. “Rather, all machines are factories producing outputs through their operations.” (40)

Levi in his book on Deleuze Difference and Givenness – Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence once recommended that to understand Deleuze meant adopting his methodology, a methodology which began with problems rather than thesis to be expounded or expressed. Levi also recommended that in approaching the work of Deleuze that we not get bogged down in any specific set of concepts concerning the problems he grappled with such as him being against representation, established morality, recognition, the State, and so on, ad nauseam. Bryant affirms that taking up the stance of being against something: representation, established morality, etc. is ultimately self-defeating. It is to take up a normative stance which is contrary to Deleuze’s philosophical divagations. Instead Deleuze faces problems to which his philosophy is either a solution or a partial answer, and that his thought responds to a philosophical situation (Badiou) “characterized by the primacy of identity and representation as the common sense or historical a priori within which he finds himself” (DG, 5). Yet, as Levi, stipulates we must not stop there, nor assume that Deleuze thought that the problem was either identity or representation. No. Instead, Deleuze against his more romantically inclined followers sees no issue with representation, identity, and recognition per se; no, these for Deleuze were real phenomena and worthy of investigation. What Deleuze was against was the notion of reducing these concepts to metaphysical or epistemological primitives. For Deleuze argued that when these concepts are reduced in this fashion philosophy falls into indissoluble problems, so Deleuze’s philosophy of the problem was to develop a system that would allow the wary philosopher to navigate through or beyond these insoluble problems and discover alternative lines of flight and thought. (DG, 5)

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“Captive Cyberspace is Conquering its Victor”: Onlife and the Spectacle Society

It must not be forgotten that every media professional is bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes to several; and that everyone of them knows he is dispensable.

– Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Reading Debord now is like revisiting a world of hope that no longer exists. From the time he documented the Society of the Spectacle to now we’ve been immersed in the simulated worlds of information and communciations technologies (ICTs); or, what Lucian Floridi would later term, the infosphere of our onlife.

“Infosphere” is a word I coined years ago on the basis of “biosphere,” a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. By “infosphere,” then, I mean the whole informational environment made up of all informational entities (including informational agents), their properties, interactions, processes, and relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, “cyberspace” (which is only one of the sub-regions of the infosphere, as it were), since the infosphere also includes offline and analog spaces of information. We shall see that it is also an environment (and hence a concept) that is rapidly evolving. – Luciano Floridi, ‘Peering into the Future‘.

The notion that our actual material lives has merged with our virtual lives, that in fact the supposed distinctions or barriers between the two have disappeared, vanished, and have become one and the same flow of a new form of technocapitalism in which 24/7 workday is the rule rather than the exception is becoming part and partial of this strange new hyperworld we’ve constructed for ourselves. As tells us everyone, we are told— not just businesses and institutions— needs an “online presence,” needs 24/ 7 exposure , to avoid social irrelevance or professional failure. But the promotion of these alleged benefits is a cover for the transfer of most social relations into monetized and quantifiable forms. It is equally a shift of individual life to conditions in which privacy is impossible, and in which one becomes a permanent site of data-harvesting and surveillance. One accumulates a patchwork of surrogate identities that subsist 24/ 7, sleeplessly, continuously, as inanimate impersonations rather than extensions of the self.( Crary, 104)1

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Letters to a Young Comrade (4)

Yes, I can understand your predicament. There are those among us, wolves in sheep’s clothing who would inform the world about communism as if they in fact knew what it is, as if they had displaced the originals, Marx and Engels. Oh sure they’ll argue that Marx and Engels time is over, that they were men of their age and that we live in a different world with a different set of problems, needing other solutions than those present to us by the Marx and Engels. But do we? Have we really gone beyond the truths that they lived and enacted in their lives and writings? Bosh! Hogwash! May such imposters as these be plowed under for all their revisionist horseshit for the world to see: to see that they are liars, one and all.

You say I’m a little too angry, that I should take a deep breath and forgive these well-meaning purveyors of communist ideas. I’ll not truck with such as these I tell you. From Kautsky on the world has been filled with re-visioning transformations of Marx and Engels original materialist and empirical ideas to the point that they are hardly recognizable. In fact one could strip the libraries of everything written since Kautsky except for a very small minority of thinkers and burn the lot without losing anything. The 20th Century failed communism, communism did not fail the 20th Century peoples of the earth. Why? Because they had not truly learned the harsh truths that Marx and Engels relayed to them in their writings.

But, you ask, what truths are we speaking of?

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Multiagent Systems: Plato’s Chariot, AI, and Self in Information Philosophy

We will liken the soul to the composite nature of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. […] the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome.

– Phaedrus 246a – 254e

Luciano Floridi introduces Plato’s chariot as a  problem in engineering, a technological problem to be analyzed not in the older modes of a phenomenological or descriptive approaches to the self but rather in the sense of postmodern constructionist or design-oriented approaches.1 Michael Wooldridge gives us a good working definition of a multiagent systems:

Multiagent systems are systems composed of multiple interacting computing elements, known as agents. Agents are computer systems with two important capabilities. First, they are at least to some extent capable of autonomous action – of deciding for themselves what they need to do in order to satisfy their design objectives. Second, they are capable of interacting with other agents – not simply by exchanging data, but by engaging in analogues of the kind of social activity that we all engage in every day of our lives: cooperation, coordination, negotiation, and the like.2

For Floridi many of the challenges in the engineering of these multiagent systems (MAS) couched in the new metaphors of AI research and engineering theory and practices stem from older forms philosophical speculation on the self. He cites such issues and concerns as communication, coherence, rationality, successful interaction with the environment, coordination and collaboration with other agents among others as crossover problems of classic philosophy. As he tells us their is another component beyond the charioteer and the two horses that Plato mentions that needs to be included in any notion of a multiagent conception of the self, and that is the ‘chariot’ itself. For it is the chariot that “guarantees the unity and coordination of the system, thus allowing the self to be, persist and act as a single, coherent, and continuous entity in different places, at different times, and through a variety of experiences” (Floridi, 5).

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Guy Debord: Quote of the Day!

Marx’s project is a project of conscious history, in which the quantitativeness that arises out of the blind development of merely economic productive forces must be transformed into a qualitative appropriation of history. The critique of political economy is the first act of this end of prehistory: “Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself.”

– Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

Western Antarctic ice sheet collapse has already begun, scientists warn

The bad news: “The loss of the entire western Antarctica ice sheet could eventually cause up to 4 metres (13ft) of sea-level rise, devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world.”

… good news: “But the researchers said that even though such a rise could not be stopped, it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.”

…maybe our childrens great great grand children will remember it was us who sat back and did nothing to stop this… is this how you want to be remembered?

In Frog Pond Holler

See on Scoop.itEarth Changes

Two separate studies confirm loss of ice sheet is inevitable, and will cause up to 4m of additional sea-level rise

See on www.theguardian.com

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Luciano Floridi: Quote of the Day!

As a social organization and way of life, the information society has been made possible by a cluster of ICT-infrastructures. And as a full expression of techne, the information society has already posed fundamental ethical problems. Nowadays, a pressing task is to formulate an information ethics that can treat the world of data, information, and knowledge, with their relevant life-cycles, as a new environment, the infosphere, in which human beings, as informational organisms, may be flourishing.

– Luciano Floridi,  The Ethics of Information

 

*ICT = Information-Communications Technologies

ACCELERATIONISM: A symposium on tendencies in capitalism

Old hat for many, but just ran across this symposium that was held in Berlin back in December of this year on accelerationism. Looks like it had many of the usual suspects: Ray Brassier, Benjamin Noys, Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams, Reza Negarestani, Elisabeth von Samsonow and, Josephine Berry Slater.

ACCELERATIONISM
A symposium on tendencies in capitalism

14 December 2013, 10-20hr
Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 29, Berlin
S/U-Bahn Alexanderplatz [map]
info@xlrt.org   *   www.xlrt.org

Ray Brassier sets the tone in his Wandering Abstractions saying:

‘Accelerationism’ provokes passionate condemnation and equally impassioned affirmation. Perhaps this is because what is at stake in this ‘Marxist heresy’ is our relation to the future: Is communism, understood as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” , the consummation of the project of modernity, or its repudiation? The version of accelerationism recently proposed by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams affirms the former by reasserting the Enlightenment – and classical Marxist – compact between emancipation and rationality.

Noticed it offered summaries of the abstracts, as well as videos from several of the sessions: (Abstracts) and (Videos).

New Reader #1: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man

The first issue of The New Reader focuses on debt as a theme in current philosophy and critical theory. Released in two parts, this initial instalment sets off with an essay by Richard Dienst, which maps out the discourse on debt and the distinct conceptual models it relies on. The following three contributions address a pivotal recent intervention on the topic: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man. Each of these texts attempts to frame, elaborate or problematize the thesis central to this book: that the concept of ‘indebtedness’ does not only characterize an increasingly generalized economic situation, but also marks a form of subjectivity central to our present condition.

  1. Richard Dienst: Where Are You When You Are In Debt?
  2. Maurizio Lazzarato: Subverting the Debt Machine
  3. Tiziana Terranova: Debt and Autonomy: Lazzarato and the Constituent Powers of the Social
  4. Alberto Toscano: Alien Mediations – Critical Remarks on the Making of the Indebted Man

 

 

The Inhuman Turn: Poetry, Philosophy and Time

‘It is based on a recognition of the astonishing beauty of things and their living wholeness, and on a rational acceptance of the fact that mankind is neither central nor important in the universe; our vices and blazing crimes are as insignificant as our happiness. […]  Turn outward from each other, so far as need and kindness permit, to the vast life and inexhaustible beauty beyond humanity. This is not a slight matter, but an essential condition of freedom, and of moral and vital sanity.’

– Robinson Jeffers, from ‘Preface to The Double Ax and Other Poems’

One could say that it was Jeffers himself that inaugurated the ‘inhuman turn’ in poetry, philosophy, and naturalism in our time. From him proceed the first stirrings of a new thought, the notion that humans are no longer the pinnacle of creation, that they are animals within the animal kingdom, and that as far as the universe is concerned they are neither important nor the center of existence. In fact this notion that the universe is indifferent to our wants and needs, that it is indifferent to either our joys or our hates leaves that other unsuspected thought: that all those other inhuman others, the non-human creatures both material and immaterial that surround us and press on us from an inhuman environment are on equal par with us and have their own right to existence. The things beyond us are no longer for us.

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