Posthuman Economics: The Empire of Capital

Maybe what haunts posthumanism is not technology but utopian capitalism, the dark silences long repressed, excluded, disavowed, and negated within the Empire of Capital.  Franco Berardi’s The Uprising grabs the history of art and capital by the horns as the slow and methodical implementation of the Idealist program. By this he means the dereferentialization of reality – or what we term now the semioitization of reality: the total annihilation of any connection between signifier and signified, word and thing, mind and world. Instead we live in a world structured by fantasy that over time has dematerialized reality.

In economics it was Richard Nixon (1972) who cut the link between financial capital and its referent, the gold standard which subtly dematerialized monetarism of the neoliberal era. This slow vanishing act of reality into its digital matrix has in our time become so naturalized that we have forgotten how much our lives are enmeshed in fictions divorced from even the illusion of reality. As Berardi will put it:

The premise of neoliberal dogmatism is the reduction of social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. What is good for finance must be good for society, and if society does not accept this identification and submission, then that means that society is incompetent, and needs to be redressed by some technical authority.1

He speaks of the moment when the newly elected Greek President Papandreou actually had the audacity to question the EU’s austerity program and was summarily ousted by the new entity, The Markets, and replaced with a consultant from Goldman-Sachs. He asks calmly, What is this blind god, the Markets?

Markets are the visible manifestation of the inmost mathematical interfunctionality of algorithms embedded in the techno-linguistic machine: they utter sentences that change the destiny of the living body of society, destroy resources, and swallow the energies of the collective body like a draining pump. (Berardi, 32)

In this sense we are already being run by the machinic systems of math and computation at the core of our economic system. As he tells it the humans behind the system are not fascists, yet they allow society to be enslaved by a mathematical system of economics and financialization, which is clean, smooth, perfect, and efficient. The financial orthodoxy would have you believe that all things should act efficiently. Like all orthodoxies it offers comfort and guidance, but, as orthodoxies do, it also has the power to wound those who cannot follow its dogmas or who resist its rituals of conformity. It is technological because it has primarily to do with making things work, and it is particularly apparent in the contemporary emphasis on quantifiable productivity and associated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.2

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once developed his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.3 Thinking of flow and efficiency one discovers the key is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. This suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, to keep an optimal and peak level of flow going at all times in society and combatting and preventing anything that might disrupt that flow.

In Berardi’s mathematization of society we’re no longer consumers and users, but have instead become as Bruce Sterling tells us in The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Thingsparticipants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos” (Sterling, KL 30). So that in this sense we are no longer embodied humans, but are instead bits of data floating among the wired worlds of our digital economy. But a fascinating aspect of the Internet of things is that the giants who control the major thrust within its reaches Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft could care less about efficiency. No. They in fact don’t bother to “compete” with each other because their real strategy is to “disrupt”. Rather than “competing” – becoming more efficient at doing something specific – “disruption” involves a public proof that the rival shouldn’t even exist.(Sterling, KL 212-216)

The basic order of the economic day is coded in the language of noir dime novels. “Knifing the baby” means deliberately appropriating the work of start-ups before they can become profitable businesses. “Stealing the oxygen” means seeing to it that markets don’t even exist – that no cash exchanges hands, while that formerly profitable activity is carried out on a computer you control. (Sterling, KL 224)

Yet, underneath all the glitter and glitz is the hard truth of reality. If the Internet of things is a neo-feudal empire of tyrant corporations disrupting the flows of efficient commerce in a bid to attain greater and greater power and influence, then the world of austerity and nation states outside the wires is preparing for the barbarians. As Berardi relates it outside the cold steel wires of financial digi-tyranny we can already see the violent underbelly of the old physical body of the social raising its reactionary head: nation, race, ethnic cleansing, and religious fundamentalism are running rampant around the globe. While the digital-elite pirate away the world of finance the forgotten citizenry outside the digital fortress are preparing for war in the streets: despair, suicide, and annihilation living in the austerity vacuum of a bloated world of wires.

Maybe Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming for our century:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Uprising. (Semiotext(e), 2012)
2. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Locations 29-32). Kindle Edition
3. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 214-216). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

Dark Desire

To feel again the driftings of her flesh,
her soft breath’s vibration in my ear;
the tantalizing quivering of her tongue,
and the slow rhythms of her labial smile
hovering over all I am, beyond measure
or control: the lapping’s of the waves,
rocking shorewise upon her thighs;
touching and touched in this warm light
that flows upon us out of dark desire:
the masked moment of this flame
in flitting’s of her spectral crossing.

 – Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

The Posthuman and the Information Guerrilla

Edmund has a great historical awareness of what flows into all of our so called posthuman discourses. In this one he brings out the notions of Serres and others linking the ludic play of artists, poets, musicians, performance arts, etc. – the street noise of the people as Information Bandits and Guerillas, as Parasites (Serres) upon the world of globalization capital bringing if not a counter-music, then a great Noise to disturb and perturb the global machine that is seeking to accelerate us into oblivion.

Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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The Posthuman

Steve Hickman has a great new post up over at Dark Ecologies, musing on the inevitable transition taking place around us, a fractal mutation at the center of the question of what it means to be human in the age of technotopia. Gazing into a cybernetic crystal ball, he warns us that “the inforgasm is upon us…” It is in this literal deluge of data and fibers that we are all conjoined, flittering a high speed and being regurgitated as data junk. Rising from this great “recline of civilization,” as Arthur Kroker once called it, is the specter of the posthuman, who is very much among us at the intersection of smart technology and the biological flesh.

Kroker enters into Hickman’s discourse via his notion of “drift culture.” The Situationists had configured the drift as the derive, a “technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.”[1] This…

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The Cloning of Bethany Tillman

 

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Bethany came home today. I thought it would all be fine, she is to all intents and purposes the spitting image of my wife. Yet, something is missing, something I just cannot put my finger on. Oh sure, her memories are perfect, her voice – the lisp, her little idiosyncrasies: the way she holds her head, the lifting of her hand, the way she stops in the midst of a sentence – as if in thought, then laughs; it’s all there. Yet, when we touch, when I reach over and kiss her lips, it’s as if they were the lips of a stranger, of some other woman. It makes me feel strange.

I asked the doctors about it and they assure me that this is all normal, the way it should be. They insist I should just take it a step at a time. Day by day things will fall in place, her old self will come through as if by magic.

* * *

It’s been three weeks now, and I’m even more ill at ease. She seems to repeat her stories, seems to be stuck in an record or old memories as if she couldn’t think of anything new to say. She wanders around the house almost sleepwalking, puttering, mumbling, trying to figure something out in her mind that she just can’t seem to comprehend.

She looks at me sometimes as if she doesn’t recognize me, as if I were someone from her past, but that she couldn’t quite grasp who. She’ll come up to me and gently touch my face, feel my skin, explore my nose and eyes, my ears; touch my Adam’s apple as if in doing this she might grasp some intangible memory of desire., a fleeting world of life that for some reason had fallen away from her. Tears will come into her eyes then and drop onto her pale cheeks like angels condemned to some forlorn world they’ll never be able recognize nor escape. 

* * *

Today she smiled. It was the first time she actually put on a dress. Said she wanted to take the children to the zoo. It was wonderful.

But when she returned she was crying, and the children seemed cold and indifferent. I sent them to bed. I asked her what happened. “I couldn’t remember how to drive, John.” She ran off to the bedroom and locked the door.

I slept on the couch.

* * *

We went to the movies to see one of her all time favorite stars. She sat there silent through the whole film. She didn’t laugh or cry once. She even forgot to eat her popcorn. I’m beginning to think something is wrong. But what? On the surface she seems her old self. She plays with the children, rocks Lizzy and sings to her; and, with Joey she walks him through his lessons carefully and with patience. Her eyes seem almost to have the old fire. Yet, something is missing. What? There’s this void, this emptiness. She seems to be absent while present. Elsewhere.

* * *

Joey asked me something today that frightened me: “When’s mommy coming home, daddy?”

“Mommy is home, Joey!”

“No, no, daddy: I mean my real mommy, not this one.”

“What do you mean, Joey? This is your mommy, the only mommy you’ve ever had.”

“No, daddy, this one just looks like mommy, but she’s not. She’s someone else’s mommy.”

I wanted him to explain, but was afraid to inquire further and didn’t want to upset him. So instead I just told him that mommy would come home someday, but that he needed to pretend he loved this mommy for now. What else should I have told him?

* * *

Bethany didn’t go to work today. She stayed in bed all day. Said she wasn’t feeling well and that I should just leave her alone.

She didn’t want to see the children. I asked her why.

“Their not my children!” she said emphatically.

That’s when I called Dr. Cael.

* * *

He explained to me that it happened like this sometimes. Some people reject the idea of immortality, they just cannot accept an endless life of becoming other skins. It’s the strangeness of the skin that upsets them, they seem to be unable to make the crossing into reembodiment. Bethany cannot accept being a clone. She knows what she is and feels guilty for having cheated death, as if she were a zombie and not your young wife. She says she feels distant, cold – as if she was watching someone else’s life, not her own.

What do we do now?

There’s nothing that can be done, John. You have to let her go. She’ll find a new life, maybe even have children again. Meet someone else, but she has rejected her former life and cannot return. She has her memories, but she cannot have her former life. It happens, John. Why? It’s a mystery we have yet to figure out.  

So what do I do? My children?

John, she is dead. Your real wife is gone, her ashes are right here. Do what you must. Take your children and see a priest or children’s therapist, work through it John.

* * *

I did. I worked through it. I finally met someone else. Her name is Judy. We love each other very much, and the children seem to get along with her beautifully. But there is a slight complication.

She is a clone, too. Should I tell the children?


 – Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Utopia or Hell: The Future as Posthuman Game Strategy

 

There was no question; the dead thing in the gutter was one of his clones. – Jeffrey Thomas, Punktown

As I was thinking through the last chapter in David Roden’s posthuman adventure in which a spirit of speculative engineering best exemplifies an ethical posthuman becoming – not the comic or dreadful arrest in the face of something that cannot be grasped 1, I began reading Arthur Kroker in his book Exits to the Posthuman Future, who in an almost uncanny answer to Roden’s plea for new forms of thought – to prepare ourselves for the posthuman eventuality, tells us that we might need a “form of thought that listens intently for the gaps, fissures, and intersections , whether directly in the technological sphere or indirectly in culture, politics, and society, where incipient signs of the posthuman first begin to figure.”2 We might replace the use of the word “figure” with Roden’s terminological need for an understanding of “emergence”.

Rereading Slavoj Zizek’s early The Sublime Object of Ideology he will see a specific battle within the cultural matrix in which scientists and critics alike have a tendency to fill these gaps, or unknowns with complexity and an almost acute anxiety of that which is coming at us out of the future. He says that there is always this dialectical interplay between Ptolemaic and Copernican movements. The Ptolemaic being the form that simply shores up the past, solidifying and reducing the complexities of the sciences to its simplified worldview, while the Copernicans always opt for fracturing the old forms, for opening up the world to the gaps that cannot be evaded in our knowledge, to allowing the universe to enter us and challenge everything we are and have been.

The Gothic modes of fiction seem to follow and fill these uncertain voids and gaps with the monstrous rather than light when such moments of metamorphosis and change come about. Fear and instability shake us to our bones, force us to resist change and seek ways to either turn time back or to put the unknown into some perverse relation to our lives, darkening its visions into complicity with the inhuman and sadomasochistic heart of our own core defense systems. One might be reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s remembrance of Mary Shelley’s famous Frankenstein in which his own repetition of her story in a postmodern mode has the creature awaken into his posthuman self with a sense of loss: “

This possibility is now , of course, as defunct as the planet itself. With all biology in tatters, the outsider will never again hear the consoling gasps of those who shunned him and in whose eyes and hearts he achieved a certain tangible identity, however loathsome. Without the others he simply cannot go on being himself— The Outsider— for there is no longer anyone to be outside of. In no time at all he is overwhelmed by this atrocious paradox of fate.

This sense of ambivalence that he fills at having attained at last something outside of humanity returns with a darker knowledge that becoming other he can no longer harbor what he once dreamed, he has become the thing he dreaded. Cast out of the biological tic he is free, but free for what? No longer human he is faced with the paradox of who he now is: and, that he has nothing to which his mind can tend, no thoughts from the others, the humans; no libraries of philosophy, ethics, history, literature. No. He is absolutely outside of the human; alone. Is this solipsism or something else? Even that classic work by the Comte de Lautremont Maldoror in which the ecstasy of cruelty is unleased cannot be a part of this world of the posthuman. What if the mythology of drives, of eros and thanatos, love and death, the rhetoric flourishes of figuration, else the literalism of sadomasochism no longer hold for such beings? How apply human knowledge and thought to what is inhuman? As Ligotti will end one of his little vignettes:

And each fragment of the outsider cast far across the earth now absorbs the warmth and catches the light, reflecting the future life and festivals of a resurrected race of beings : ones who will remain forever ignorant of their origins but for whom the sight of a surface of cold, unyielding glass will always hold profound and unexplainable terrors. (ibid)

This sense of utter desolation, of catastrophe as creation and invention, is this not the truth of the posthuman? Zizek will attune us to the monstrous notion that Hegel’s notion of Aufhebung or sublation is a form of cannibalism in that it effectively and voraciously devours and ‘swallows up’ every object it comes upon.4 His point being that the only way we can grasp an object (let’s say the posthuman) is to acknowledge that it already ‘wants to be with/by us’? If as Roden suggests we as humans are becoming the site of a great experiment in inventing the posthuman then maybe as Zizek suggests its not digestion or cognition, but shitting that we must understand, because for Hegel the figure of Absolute Knowledge, the cognizing subject is one of total passivity; an agent in which the System of Knowledge is ‘automatically’ deployed without external norms or impetuses. Zizek will tell us that this is a radicalized Hegel, one that defends the notion of ‘process without subject’: the emergence of a pure subject qua void, the object itself with no need for any subjective agent to push it forward or to direct it. (ibid, xxii)

This notion that the posthuman as ‘process without subject’ that has no need of human agents to push it, direct or guide it takes us to the edge of the technological void where our human horizon meets and merges with the inhuman other residing uncannily within our own being, withdrawn and primeval.

Engineering Our Posthuman future

Chris Anderson , in his ‘The end of theory: The data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete’  argued that data will speak for themselves, no need of human beings who may ask smart questions:

With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves. […] The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years. Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence . Data without a model is just noise. But faced with massive data, this approach to science— hypothesize, model, test— is becoming obsolete.5

So what is replacing it? Luciano Floridi will tell us that it’s not about replacement, but about the small patterns in the chaos of data:

[One needs to ] know how to ask and answer questions’ critically, and therefore know which data may be useful and relevant, and hence worth collecting and curating, in order to exploit their valuable patterns. We need more and better technologies and techniques to see the small-data patterns , but we need more and better epistemology to sift the valuable ones.6

So if we are to understand the emergence of the posthuman out of the relations of human and technology we need to ask the right questions, and to build the technologies that can pierce the veil of this infinite sea of information our society is inventing in the digital machines of Data. Data itself is stupid, what we need are intelligent questioners. But do these intelligent agents need to be necessarily human? Maybe not, yet as Floridi will suggest:

One thing seems to be clear: talking of information processing helps to explain why our current AI systems are overall more stupid than the wasps in the bottle. Our present technology is actually incapable of processing any kind of meaningful information, being impervious to semantics, that is, the meaning and interpretation of the data manipulated. ICTs are as misnamed as ‘smart weapons’. (Floridi, KL 2525)

Descartes once acknowledged that the essential sign of intelligence was a capacity to learn from different circumstances, adapt to them, and exploit them to one’s own advantage. And, many in the AI community have followed that path thinking it would be a priceless feature of any appliance that sought to be more than merely smart. In our own time the impression has often been that the process of adding to the mathematical book of nature (inscription) required the feasibility of productive, cognitive AI, in other words, the strong programme. Yet, what has actually been happening in the real world of commerce and practical science of engineering is something altogether different, we’ve been inventing a world that is becoming an infosphere, one that is increasingly well adapted to ICTs’ (Information & Communications Technologies) limited capacities. What we see happening is that companies in their bid to invent Smart Cities etc. are beginning to adapt the environment to our smart technologies to make sure the latter can interact with it successfully . We are, in other words, wiring or rather enveloping the world with intelligence. Our environment itself is becoming posthuman and in turn is rewiring humanity. (ibid. Floridi)

ICTs are creating the new informational environment in which future generations will live and have their being. The posthuman is becoming our environment a site of intelligence, we are we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations. For Floridi the task is to formulate an ethical framework that can treat the infosphere as a new environment worthy of the moral attention and care of the human inforgs inhabiting it:

Such an ethical framework must address and solve the unprecedented challenges arising in the new environment. It must be an e-nvironmental ethics for the whole infosphere. This sort of synthetic (both in the sense of holistic or inclusive, and in the sense of artificial) environmentalism will require a change in how we perceive ourselves and our roles with respect to reality, what we consider worth our respect and care, and how we might negotiate a new alliance between the natural and the artificial. It will require a serious reflection on the human project and a critical review of our current narratives, at the individual, social, and political levels. (Floridi, KL 3954)

James Barrat in his book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era tells us he interviewed many scientists in various fields concerning AGI and that every one of these people was convinced that in the future all the important decisions governing the lives of humans will be made by machines or humans whose intelligence is augmented by machines. When? Many think this will take place within their lifetimes.7 After interviewing dozens of scientist Barrat concluded that we may be slowly losing control of our future to machines that won’t necessarily hate us, but that will develop unexpected behaviors as they attain high levels of the most unpredictable and powerful force in the universe, levels that we cannot ourselves reach, and behaviors that probably won’t be compatible with our survival. A force so unstable and mysterious, nature achieved it in full just once—intelligence. (Barrat, 6)

As Kroker will admonish we seem to be on the cusp of a strange transition, situated at the crossroads of humanity, and the future presents itself now as a gigantic simulacrum of the recycled remnants of all that which was left unfinished by the coming-to-be of the technological dynamo – unfinished religious wars, unfinished ethnic struggles, unfinished class warfare, unfinished sacrificial violence and spasms of brutal power, often motivated by a psychology of anger on the part of the most privileged members of the so-called global village. The apocalypse seems to be coming our way like a specter on the horizon, not a grand epiphany of events but by one lonely text message at a time. (Kroker, 193)

The techno-capitalists want to enclose us in a new global commons of intelligent cities to better control our behavior and police us in a vast hyperworld of machinic pleasure and posthuman revelation, while the rest of humanity sits on the outside of these corrupted dreamworlds as workers and slaves of the new AI wars for the minds of humanity. Bruce Sterling in his latest book The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things says we’re already laying the infrastructure for tyranny and control on a global scale:

Digital commerce and governance is moving, as fast and hard as it possibly can, into a full-spectrum dominance over whatever used to be analogue. In practice, the Internet of Things means an epic transformation: all-purpose electronic automation through digital surveillance by wireless broadband.8

Another prognosticator Jacque Attali who supports the technological elite takeover in this world of intelligent systems, tells us that in the course of the twenty-first century, market forces will take the planet in hand. The ultimate expression of unchecked individualism, this triumphant march of money explains the essence of history’s most recent convulsions. It is up to us to accelerate, resist, or master it:

…this evolutionary process means that money will finally rid itself of everything that threatens it — including nation-states (and not excepting the United States of America), which it will progressively dismantle. Once the market becomes the world’s only universally recognized law, it will evolve into what I shall call super-empire, an entity whose structures remain elusive but whose reach is global. … Exploiting ever newer technologies, global or continental institutions will organize collective living, imposing limits on the production of commercial artifacts, on transforming life, and on the mercantile exploitation of natural resources. They will prefer freedom of action, responsibility, and access to knowledge. They will usher in the birth of a universal intelligence, making common property of the creative capacities of all human beings in order to transcend them. A new, synchronized economy, providing free services, will develop in competition with the market before eliminating it, exactly as the market put an end to feudalism a few centuries ago.9

The dream of the global elites is of a great market empire controlled by vast AI Intelligent Agents that will deliver the perfect utopian realm of work and play for a specific minority of engineers and creative agents, entrepreneurs, bankers, and space moghuls, etc., while the rest of the dregs of humanity live in the shadows controlled by implants or pharmaceuticals that will keep them pacified and slave-happy in their menial tier of decrepitude as workers in the minimalist camps that support the Smart Civilization and its powers.    

Yet, against this decadent scenario as Kroker suggests what if the counter were true, and the shadow artists of the future or even now beginning to enter the world of data nerves, network skin, and increasingly algorithmic minds with the intention of capturing the dominant mood of these posthuman times – drift culture – in a form of thought that dwells in complicated intersections and complex borderlands? He envisions instead an new emergent order of rebels, a global gathering of new media artists, remix musicians, pirate gamers, AI graffiti artists, anonymous witnesses, and code rebels, an emerging order of figural aesthetics revealing a new order, a brilliantly hallucinatory order, based on an art of impossible questions and a perceptual language as precise as it is evocative. Here, the aesthetic imagination dwells solely on questions of incommensurability : What is the vision of the clone? What is the affect of the code? What is the hauntology of the avatar? What is most excluded, prohibited, by the android? What is the perception of the drone? What are the aesthetics of the fold? What, in short, is the meaning of aesthetics in the age of drift culture?(Kroker, 195-196)

This notion of drift culture might align well with David Roden’s call for a new network of interdisciplinary practices that combine technoscientific expertise with ethical and aesthetic experimentation will be better placed to sculpt disconnections than narrow coalitions of experts. One in which the ‘Body Hacker’ with her self-invention and empowerment toward a self-administered intervention in extreme new technologies like the IA technique…(Roden, KL 4394). Kroker will call this ‘body drift’:

Body drift refers to the fact that we no longer inhabit a body in any meaningful sense of the term but rather occupy a multiplicity of bodies— imaginary, sexualized, disciplined, gendered, laboring, technologically augmented bodies. Moreover, the codes governing behavior across this multiplicity of bodies have no real stability but are themselves in drift— random, fluctuating, changing. There are no longer fixed, unchallenged codes governing sexuality, gender, class, or power but only an evolving field of contestation among different interpretations and practices of different bodily codes. The multiplicity of bodies that we are, or are struggling to become, is invested by code-perspectives. Never fixed and unchanging, code-perspectives are always subject to random fluctuations, always evolving, always intermediated by other objects, by other code-perspectives. We know this as a matter of personal autobiography.(Kroker, KL 53)10

 This notion that we are becoming ‘code’ is also part of the posthuman nexus. As Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge in Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life tell us this sense of the pervasiveness of the environment enclosing us is becoming posthuman is termed ‘everywhere’: the ubiquity of computational power will soon be distributed and available to the point on the planet… many everyday devices and objects will be accessible across the Internet of things, chatting to each other in machinic languages that humans will not even be aware of much less concerned with; yet, we will be enclosed in this fabric of communication and technology of Intelligence, socialized by its pervasiveness in our lives. Instead of the old Marxian notion of being embedded in a machine, we will now be so enmeshed in this environment of ICTs that they will become invisible: power and governance will vanish into our skins and minds without us even knowing it is happening, and we will be happy.

Luis Suarez-Villa in his recent Globalization and Technocapitalism tells us “the ethos of technocapitalism places experimentalism at the core of corporate power”, much as production was at the core of industrial corporate power, undertaken through factory regimes and labor processes. And , much as the ethos of past capitalist eras was accompanied by social pathologies and by frameworks of domination, so the new ethos of technocapitalism introduces pathological constructs of global domination that are likely to be hallmarks of the twenty-first century. As Floridi will tells us, we are already living in an infosphere that will become increasingly synchronized (time), delocalized ( space ), and correlated (interactions). Although this might be interpreted, optimistically, as the friendly face of globalization, we should not harbour illusions about how widespread and inclusive the evolution of the information society will be. Unless we manage to solve it, the digital divide will become a chasm, generating new forms of discrimination between those who can be denizens of the infosphere and those who cannot, between insiders and outsiders, between information rich and information poor. It will redesign the map of worldwide society, generating or widening generational, geographic, socio-economic, and cultural divides. Yet the gap will not be reducible to the distance between rich and poor countries, since it will cut across societies. Pre-historical cultures have virtually disappeared, with the exception of some small tribes in remote corners of the world. The new divide will be between historical and hyperhistorical ones. We might be preparing the ground for tomorrow’s informational slums (Floridi, 9).

 Welcome to the brave new world. As our drift and code culture, digital immigrants in a sea of information slowly become inforgs and are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick. (Floridi, 16-17)

What remains of our humanity is anyone’s guess. The Inforgasm is upon us, the slipstream worlds of human/machine have begun to reverse engineer each other in a convoluted involution in which we are returning to our own native climes as machinic beings. Maybe a schizoanalyst could sort this all out. For me there is no escape, no exit, just the harsh truth that what is coming at us is our own inhuman core realized as posthuman becoming, an engineering feat that no one would have thought possible: consciousness gives way to the very machinic processes that underpin its actual and virtual histories.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 4399-4401). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (p. 6). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
3. Ligotti, Thomas (2014-07-10). The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein (Kindle Locations 397-399). Subterranean Press. Kindle Edition.
4. Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso 1989
5. Anderson, C. (23 June 2008). The end of theory: Data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete. Wired Magazine.
6. Floridi, Luciano (2014-06-26). The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (Kindle Locations 4088-4089). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
7. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 3). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
8. Sterling, Bruce (2014-09-01). The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things (Kindle Locations 8-10). Strelka Press. Kindle Edition.
9. Attali, Jacques (2011-07-01). A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century . Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
10. Kroker, Arthur (2012-10-22). Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 53-60). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.


 

 

 

 

 

Where Do We Come From

An old man, he came to die or live.
He’d had enough of civilized worlds;
Now he would undo all his modern lives,
Move on to other climes, or enter the void;
Neither bothered him much, nothingness
Might be just as fine as paradise.
He loved colors, people: the gentle innocents,
Primitives devoid of the glitz of speed.
On the upper edge of his final motion of light:
The painting is not an answer. It is a question.
We need the innocence to question everything.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

 

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism – Conclusion (Part 8)

While the disconnection thesis makes no detailed claims about posthuman lives, it has implications for the complexity and power of posthumans and thus the significance of the differences they could generate. Posthuman entities would need to be powerful relative to WH to become existentially independent of it.1

 In his final chapter David Roden takes up the ethical or normative dimensions of his disconnection thesis. He will opt for a posthuman accounting that will allow us to anticipate the posthuman through participation in its ongoing eventuality. Yet, he recognizes there are both moral, political, and other factors that argue for both its necessary constraint and limits through control pressure from normative and political domains. (previous post) As we approach David Roden’s final offering we should remember a cautionary note by Edward O. Wilson from his The Social Conquest of the Earth would caution:

We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.2

In the first section Roden will face objections to his disconnection thesis from both phenomenological anthropocentrism and naturalist versions of species integrity, and find both wanting. Instead of going through the litany of examples I’ll move toward his summation which gives us his base stance and philosophical/scientific appraisal. As he states it:

…the phenomenological species integrity argument for policing disconnection-potent technologies presupposes an unwarrantable transcendental privilege for Kantian personhood. Since the privilege is unwarrantable this side of disconnection, the phenomenological argument for an anthropocentric attitude towards disconnection fails along with naturalistic versions of the species integrity argument such as Agar’s. Thus even if we accept that our relationships to fellow humans compose an ethical pull, as Meacham puts it, its force cannot be decisive as long we do not know enough about the contents of PPS (posthuman possibility space) to support the anthropocentrist’s position. What appears to be a moral danger on our side of a disconnection could be an opportunity to explore morally considerable states of being of which we are currently unaware.*(see notes below)

 Reading the arguments of both Agar and Meacham against the disconnection thesis it brings to mind the sense of how many thinkers, scientists and philosophers fear the unknown element, the X factor in the posthuman equation. What’s difficult and for me almost nonsensical in both arguments is their sense of Universalism, as if we could control what is viable a nominalistic universe of particulars through either a universal and normative set of theory and practices (let’s say a Sellarsian/Brandomonian normativity of “give” and “take” in a space of reasons; creating a navigational mapping of the pros/cons of the posthuman X factor and develop a series of reasoning’s for or against its emergence, etc.) as if we have a real say in the matter. Do we? Roden has gone through the pros/cons of technological determinism and found it lacking in any sense of foundation.

Yet, his basic philosophy seems grounded in the surmises of phenomenological theory and practice rather than in the sciences per se. So from within his own perspective in philosophical theory all seems viable for or against the posthuman. But do we live in a phenomenological world. Do we accept the philosophical strictures of the Kantian divide in philosophy that have led to the current world of speculation, both Analytical and Continental?

As Roden will suggest against the threat of phenomenological species integrity is one that attacks the actual foundations of the whole ethical and political enterprise rather than an specific or putatively “human” norms, values or practices (Roden, KL 4130). I think its safe to say that most of the species that have ever existed (99%) are now extinct according to evolutionists. So humans are part of the natural universe, we are not exceptional, and do not sit outside the realm of the animal kingdom. When it comes down to it do we go with those who fear extinction at the hands of some unknown X factor, some unknown posthuman break and disconnect that might or might not be the end point for the human? Or, do we opt for the challenge to participate in its emergence and realize that it might offer the next stage in – if not biological evolution (although transhumans opt for this), but technological innovation and evolution? Roden will try to answer this in his final section.

 Vital posthumanism: a speculative-critical convergence

In this section (8.2) Roden will opt for a post-anthropocentric ethics of becoming posthuman, one that does not require posthumans to exhibit human intersubjectivity or moral autonomy. Such an ethics would need to be articulated in terms of ethical attributes that we could reasonably expect to be shared with posthuman WHDs (wide human descendants) whose phenomenologies or psychologies might diverge significantly from those of current humans (Roden, 4164).

One prerequisite as he showed in earlier sections of the book was the need for functional autonomy:

A functionally autonomous system (FAS) can enlist values for and accrue functions ( § 6.4 ). Functional autonomy is related to power. A being’s power is its capacity to enlist other things and be reciprocally enlisted (Patton 2000: 74). With great power comes great articulation ( § 6.5 ). (Roden, 4168)

To build or construct such an assemblage he will opt for a neo-vitalist normativity, one that is qualified materialism following Levi R. Bryant against any form of metaphysical vitalism. Instead he will broker an ontological materialism that denies that the basic constituents of reality have an irreducibly mental character (Roden, KL 4180). Second, he will redefine the conceptual notions underpinning vitalism by offering a minimal definition of the posthuman as living because they must exhibit functional autonomy. This is a sufficient functional condition of life at best (Roden, KL 4187). This does not imply any form or essentialism either, there is not implied set of properties etc. to which one could reduce the core set of principles.

He will work within the framework of an assemblage ontology first developed by Gilles Deleuze. It assumes that posthumans would have network-independent components like the human fusiform gyrus, allowing flexible and adaptive couplings with other assemblages. Posthumans would need a flexibility in their use of environmental resources and in their “aleatory” affiliations with other human or nonhuman systems sufficient to break with the purposes bestowed on entities within the Wide Human.(Roden, 4202) I’m tempted to think of Levi R. Bryant’s Machine Ontology which is an outgrowth of both Deleuze and certain trends in speculative realism, too. Yet, this is not the time or place to go into that (i.e., read here, here, here).

He affirms an accord between his own project and that of Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman. Yet, there are differences as well. As he states it:

“…she is impatient with a disabling political neutrality that can follow from junking human moral subjectivity as the arbiter of the right and the good. She argues that a critical posthumanist ethics should retain the posit of political subjectivity capable of ethical experimentation with new modes of community and being, while rejecting the Kantian model of an agent subject to universal norms. (Roden, KL 4224)”

His point is that Braidotti is mired in certain political and normative theories and practices that bely the fact that the posthuman disconnection might diverge beyond any such commitments. As he will suggest the ethics of vital posthumanism is thus not prescriptive but a tool for problem defining (Roden, KL 4271). The point being that one cannot bind oneself to a democratic accounting, because – as disconnection suggests an accounting would not evaluate posthuman states according to human values but according to values generated in the process of constructing and encountering them. (Roden, KL 4278)

In the feral worlds of the posthuman future our wide-human descendants may diverge so significantly from us, and acquire new values and functional affiliations that it might be disastrous for those who opt to remain human through either normative inaction or policing the perimeters of territorial and political divisions, etc., to the point that the very skills and practices that had sustained them prior to disconnection might be inadequate in the new dispensation. (Roden, KL 4372) Therefore as he suggests:

It follows that any functionally autonomous being confronted with the prospect of disconnection will have an interest in maximizing its power, and thus structural flexibility, to the fullest possible extent. The possibility of disconnection implies that an ontological hypermodernity is an ecological value for humans and any prospective posthumans. … To exploit Braidotti’s useful coinage, ramping up their functional autonomy would help to sustain agents – allowing them to endure change without falling apart (Roden, KL 4376- 4385)

He will summarize his disconnection hypothesis this way:

I will end by proposing a hypothesis that can be put to the test by others working in science and technology, the arts, and in what we presumptively call “humanities” subjects. This is that interdisciplinary practices that combine technoscientific expertise with ethical and aesthetic experimentation will be better placed to sculpt disconnections than narrow coalitions of experts. There may be existing models for networks or associations that could aid their members in navigating untimely lines of flight from pre- to post-disconnected states (Roden 2010a). “Body hackers” who self-administer extreme new technologies like the IA technique discussed above might be one archetype for creative posthuman accounting. Others might be descendants of current bio- and cyber-artists who are no longer concerned with representing bodies but, as Monika Bakke notes, work “on the level of actual intervention into living systems”. (Roden, KL 438)

So in the end David Roden is opting for intervention and experimentation, a direct participation in the ongoing posthuman emergence through both ethical and technological modes. Instead of it being tied to any political or corporate pressure it should become an almost Open Source effort that is open and interdisciplinary among both academic and outsiders from scientists, technologists, artists, and bodyhackers willing to intervene in their own lives and bodies to bring it into realization. He will quote Stelarc, a body hacker, saying,

Perhaps Stelarc defines the problem of a post-anthropocentric posthuman politics best when describing the role of technical expertise in his art works: “This is not about utopian blueprints for perfect bodies but rather speculations on operational systems with alternate functions and forms” (in Smith 2005: 228– 9). I think this spirit of speculative engineering best exemplifies an ethical posthuman becoming – not the comic or dreadful arrest in the face of something that cannot be grasped. (Roden, KL 4397)

One might term this speculative engineering the science fictionalization of our posthuman future(s) or becoming other(s). Open your eyes folks the posthuman could already be among you. In the Bionic Horizon I had quoted Nick Land’s essay Meltdown, which in some ways seems a fitting way to end this excursion:

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

—Nick Land, Meltdown

One aspect of Roden’s program strikes me as pertinent, we need better tools to diagnose the technological infiltration of human agency as the future collapses upon the present. Yet, he also points toward a posthuman movement as he sees opportunity in an almost agreement with the tendencies of accelerationism. We might actually see late capitalism as an even more radical form of technological accelerationism which goes beyond any political concerns, and whose goal is reinventing human relations in light of new technology. So that instead of the current mutations  of some phenomenological effort we may be experiencing the strangeness of techno-capital as a speculative opportunity to rethink basic notions of humanity as such. Ultimately, as we’ve seen through time technology and humanity have always already been in symbiotic relationship to emerging technologies from the time of the early implementation of domestication of animals and seed baring agricultural emergence to the world of Industrial Civilization and its narrowing of the horizon of planetary civilization. What next? Roden offers an alliance with the ongoing process, optimistic and open toward the future, hopeful that the alliance with the interventions of technology may hold nothing more than our posthuman future as the next stage of strangeness in the universe. We’ll we become paranoid and fearful, withdraw into combative and religious reformation against such a world; or, will we call it down into our own lives and participate in its emergence as co-symbiotic partners?


*Notes:

Agar: In Humanity’s End, Agar is mainly concerned with the first type of threat from radical technical alteration. His argument against radical alteration rests on a position he calls species relativism (SR). SR states that only certain values are compatible with membership of a given biological species: According to species-relativism, certain experiences and ways of existing properly valued by members of one species may lack value for the members of another species.(Roden, 3869)

Meachem (from a dialogue): Thus a disconnection could be a “phenomenological speciation event” which weakens the bonds that tie sentient creatures together on this world:

This refers us back to a weakened version of Roden’s description of posthuman disconnection: differently altered groups, especially when those alterations concern our vulnerability to injury and disease, might have experiences sufficiently different from ours that we cannot envisage what significant aspects of their lives would be like. This inability to empathize will at the very least dampen the possibility for the type of empathic species solidarity that I have argued is the ground of ethics. (Ibid.)

Meacham’s position suggests that human species recognition has an “ethical pull” that should be taken seriously by any posthuman ethics.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 3832-3834). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 179-181). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Zizek & Deleuze: On Desire

Of late I’ve been tracing down the two forms of desire that interplay through much of the past two-hundred years in discourse. I was rereading Zizek who is a student and epigone of Lacan/Hegel who both conceived desire as lack, while Deleuze on the other hand conceived desire as fully positive. I had discovered in Nick Land’s works this same sense of desire as in Deleuze. There is this undercurrent of philosophers that seem to battle between these conceptions of desire as if it were a central trope and mask for aspects of drive and energy that those following the transcendental Idealists despise with a passion. I’m just taking a few notes here and there as I trace this strange battle of the philosophers over conceptions of desire. It seems important.

 Below is a quote from Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences by Slavoj Zizek:

…Deleuze insists that desire has no object (whose lack would trigger and sustain its movement): desire is “a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has always reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” This is the thrust of Deleuze’s reading of masochism and courtly love— in both cases, not logic of sacrifice, but how to sustain the desire … According to the standard reading of masochism, the masochist, like everyone, also looks for pleasure; his problem is that, because of the internalized superego, he has to pay for his access to pleasure with the pain, to pacify the oppressive agency which finds pleasure intolerable. For Deleuze, on the contrary, the masochist chooses pain in order to

dissolve the pseudo-link of desire with pleasure as its extrinsic measure. Pleasure is in no way something that can only be reached via the detour of pain, but that which has to be delayed to the maximum since it is something which interrupts the continuous process of the positive desire. There is an immanent joy of desire, as if desire fills itself with itself and its contemplations, and which does not imply any lack, any impossibility.

And the same goes for courtly love : its eternal postponement of fulfilment does not obey a law of lack or an ideal of transcendence: here also, it signals a desire which lacks nothing, since it finds its fulfilment in itself, in its own immanence; every pleasure is, on the contrary, already a re-territorialization of the free flux of desire.

Of course Zizek goes ballistic at Deleuze’s insistence on the notion that desire lacks nothing… Zizek being a faithful child of Hegel gets exasperated and wants to say, ah ha, I got you Deleuze when he says:

Therein resides the ultimate irony of Deleuze’s critique of Hegel: when, against Hegel, Deleuze claims that creation “is immediately creative; there is no transcendent or negating subject of creation that might need time in order to become conscious of itself or otherwise catch up with itself,”  he thereby imputes to Hegel a substantialization-reification which is not there and, in this way, obliterates precisely that dimension in Hegel which is the closest to Deleuze himself. Hegel repeatedly insists that Spirit is “a product of itself”: it is not a pre-existing Subject intervening into objectivity, sublating-mediating it, but the result of its own movement, i.e., pure processuality. As such, it does not need time to “catch up with itself,” but simply to generate itself. (ibid, KL 169)

What’s truly ironic is that for Hegel ‘Spirit’ is a mask for desire, so that it is Zizek not Deleuze who is bound to a misprisioning of Hegel and Deleuze both. Zizek has a fetish for the self-reflecting nothingness at the center of his own empty being: what he calls subjectivity. He could not find desire there so he has been chasing after it through all the worlds of philosophy, film, art, trash, culture, Lacan, Hegel… will he find it? All he need do is give up his love of nothingness. But that’s the key he desires less than nothing so will continue to revolve in his own black hole of non-being.

Yet, if we remember from his opus Less Than Nothing the basic theme was on desire:

This book tries to demonstrate that the Freudian drive cannot be reduced to what Buddhism denounces as desire or to what Heidegger denounces as the Will: even after we reach the end of this critical overcoming of desire-will-subjectivity, something continues to move. What survives death is the Holy Spirit sustained by an obscene “partial object” that stands for the indestructible drive. One should thus (also) invert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of how we relate to the proximity of death in the Kierkegaardian sense of the “sickness unto death,” as the series of five attitudes towards the unbearable fact of immortality. One first denies it: “What immortality? After my death, I will just dissolve into dust!” Then, one explodes into anger: “What a terrible predicament I’m in! No way out !” One continues to bargain: “OK, but it is not me who is immortal, only the undead part of me, so one can live with it …” Then one falls into depression: “What can I do with myself when I am condemned to stay here forever?” Finally, one accepts the burden of immortality.2

And, of course, one realizes that Zizek is being beyond ironic in such statements since he is a purist of atheists. Zizek is after that “something continues to move”. The burden of life and immortality for Zizek is to be condemned to this life forever, to repeat it ad infinitum like Kafka’s surveyor in The Castle he is condemned to a novel that will never end because the author left the stage before it was completed. An irony too sweet to be missed: one can also conceive desire as a mode of avoiding the circularity of the drive: the self-enclosed rotary movement is recast as a repeated failure to reach a transcendent object which always eludes its grasp (Zizek, KL 5319). This is Zizek’s desire as lack. A sort of hell where one is condemned like Dante’s lovers to whirl in the winds of infinity just out of reach of each other, condemned to an eternity of longing that can never be fulfilled.

Deleuze will offer his own view on desire in which he will point out that desire always flows from within an assemblage. To desire is to construct and assemblage, to construct and aggregate – a dress, a sun ray, a woman or assemblage of a woman, a vista, a color, etc. To be abstract about it: desire is a constructivism. Everytime someone says they desire something, they first of all desire to construct an assemblage, to shape their desire around a mileu:

 

In the video he goes on to speak of the three points he and Felix Guattari had in disagreement with classic forms of psychoanalysis:

1) they were persuaded with the notion that the unconscious is not a theatre, a place where Hamlet and Oedipus continually play out their scenes. It’s not a theatre but a factory, a production… the unconscious produces, continuously produces… ;

2) the theme of delirium, which is closely linked to desire… to desire is to become delirious… it is opposite to what psychoanalysts discuss – it’s not about the father and mother… the great secret of delirium is that we desire about the whole world… one desires about history, geography, tribes, deserts, people, climates, etc. … it’s not about family, its about tribes and milieu, about one’s place within these…the determinants.

3) desire always constructs assemblages and establishes itself in assemblages, always putting several factors into play, while psychoanalysis is just the opposites and reduces the factors to a single factor: the father, the mother, etc.  While assemblages are a multiplicity, psychoanalysis is a reduction to the one. 

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-05-04). Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 156-169). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 313-321). Norton. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 7)

Our role as humans, at least for the time being, is to coax technology along the paths it naturally wants to go. – Kevin Kelly

In a book by that name What technology wants? he’ll elaborate, asking:

So what does technology want? Technology wants what we want— the same long list of merits we crave. When a technology has found its ideal role in the world, it becomes an active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. Our task is to encourage the development of each new invention toward this inherent good, to align it in the same direction that all life is headed. Our choice in the technium— and it is a real and significant choice— is to steer our creations toward those versions, those manifestations, that maximize that technology’s benefits, and to keep it from thwarting itself.1

As you read the above paragraph you notice how Kelley enlivens technology, as if it were alive, vital, had its own will and determination, its own goals. This notion that technology should be coaxed along toward its ‘inherent good’, and that this is our obligation and moral duty to steer (think of steersman: cyber) it and help it along so it doesn’t get frustrated and thwart itself is perilously close to treating technology like a child that needs to be educated, taught what it needs to know, help it become the best it can be, etc. But is technology alive, does it have goals, is it something that has an ‘inherent good’ or moral agenda; and, most of all, is this our task and responsibility to insure technology will get what it wants. Such a discourse shifts the game makes us feel as it technology now has the upper hand, its agenda is more important than ours, etc. What’s Kelley up too, anyway?

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In that post Roden would leave us asking: What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? If we listened to Kelley we might just discover in helping this agent of the technium – as he terms the symbiotic alliance of humans and technology in our time, that technology wants something we might not quite want for ourselves: the end or humanity. Of course that’s the notion presented in such movies as the Terminator series of films, etc.

What Roden offers instead is a reminder that we may first want to question our role and the role of technology in our lives and futures. He will remind us that in chapter five he provided an theory of accounting which argued that we have a moral interest in making or becoming posthumans since the dated nonexistence of posthumans is the primary source of uncertainty about the value of posthuman life. Now whether we agree or disagree with this is beyond our immediate concern. As he’s shown over and over this is all within the perimeters of a speculative posthumanism that is both undetermined and open to variable accountings. In this chapter he will appraise such actions in the context of our existing technological society.

First thing he’ll question is the work of Jaques Ellul and Martin Heidegger both of whom support to varying degrees the notion that technology is deterministic. The notion that technology asserts a determining effect on society and humans is both instrumentalist and substantive:

Technology is not a neutral instrument but a structure of disclosure that determines how humans are related to things and to one another. If Heidegger is right, we may control individual devices, but our technological mode of being exerts a decisive grip on us: “man does not have control over unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws” (Heidegger 1978: 299). If this is right, the assumption that humans will determine whether our future is posthuman or not is premature. (Roden, 3476-3480)2

On the other hand Ellul will develop a theory of technique in which the notions of “self-augmentation” is aligned with the autonomy of technology: “the individual represents this abstract tendency, he is permitted to participate in technical creation, which is increasingly independent of him and increasingly linked to its own mathematical law” Ellul quoted (Roden, 3494). Roden on the other hand will argue that a condition of technical autonomy – which Ellul calls “self-augmentation” – is in fact incompatible with autonomy:

Self-augmentation can only operate where techniques do not determine how they are used. Thus substantivists like Ellul and Heidegger are wrong to treat technology as a system that subjects humans to its strictures. (Roden, 3512)

The rest of the chapter Roden will elaborate on this statement with examples from both Ellul and Heidegger. I’ll not go into the details which are mainly to bolster his basic defense of the disconnection thesis being indeterminate and open rather than being determined by technology or technique. The notion that planetary technology is a self-augmenting system then Ellul’s normative technological determinism is lacking in the necessary resilience to explain the various anomalous aspects of existing technological innovations and changes. In fact this chapters main thrust is to align Roden’s argument not over specific notions of technicity etc., but rather to argue for a realist conception of technological rupture and disconnection as compared to the deterministic phenomenological philosophies of Heidegger, Ellul, Verbeek, and Ihde: we should embrace a realist metaphysics of technique in opposition to the phenomenologies of Verbeek and Ihde. Technologies according to this model are abstract, repeatable particulars realized (though never finalized) in ephemeral events (Roden, 3748).

A realist metaphysic will realize that to control a system we also need some way of anticipating what it will do as a result of our attempts to modify it. But given the accounts … [Ellul, Heidegger, Verbeek, Ihde], it is likely that planetary technique is, as Ellul argues, a distinctive causal factor which ineluctably alters the technical fabric of our societies and lives without being controllable in its turn (Roden, 3767). Which will lead us to understand that even with the vast data storage and knowledge based algorithms of data mining, which would provide an almost encyclopedic information of current “technical trends”, this in itself will not be sufficient to identify all future causes of technical change. (Roden, 3773) It also entails a sense of porousness and fuzziness within this abstract and technical space, and as SP has shown technical change could engender posthuman life forms that are functionally autonomous and thus withdraw from any form of human control. (Roden, 3779) Last but not least, any system built to track changes within the various systems would be themselves part of the systems, so that any simulation of the patterns leading to a posthuman rupture would be “qualitatively different” from the one it was originally designed to simulate.

In summary if our planetary system is a SATS (self-augmenting technical system) or assemblage of systems Roden tells us there are grounds to affirm that it is uncontrollable, a decisive mediator of social actions and cultural values, but not a controlling influence (i.e., a deterministic system of technique or control). (Roden, 3794):

On the foregoing hypothesis, the human population is now part of a complex technical system whose long-run qualitative development is out of the hands of the humans within it. This system is, of course, a significant part of W[ide]H[umans]. The fact that the global SATS is out of control doesn’t mean that it, or anything, is in control. There is no finality to the system at all because it is not the kind of thing that can have purposes. So the claim that we belong to a self-augmenting technical system (SATS) should not be confused with the normative technological determinism that we find in Heidegger and Ellul. There is nothing technology wants. (Roden, KL 3797-3802)

In tomorrow’s post we will come to a conclusion, discussing Roden’s “ethics of becoming posthuman”.

1. Kelly, Kevin (2010-10-14). What Technology Wants (Kindle Locations 3943-3944). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 6)

 Given their dated nonexistence, we do not know what it would be like to encounter or be posthuman. This should be the Archimedean pivot for any account of posthuman ethics or politics that is not fooling itself. – David Roden,

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. This will be brief post today. Roden will in chapter six qualify and extend his disconnection thesis by a speculative surmise that it implies that whatever posthumans might become we can start with at least one conceptual leap: they will be functional autonomous systems (FAS).

He will test out various causal theories that might inform such a stance: Aristotelian, Kantian, and others. But will conclude that none of them satisfy the requirements set by disconnection thesis in the sense that most of these theories deal with biological as compared to either hybrid or even fully technological systems and adaptations. Against any form of teleological system whether of the Aristotelian or an ASA (autonomous systems approach) which is intrinsically teleological he will opt for a pluralistic ontology of assemblages (which we’ve discussed in the previous post ), because it comports well with a decomposability of assemblages that entails ontological anti-holism.1

He will survey various forms of autonomy: moral and functional; Aristotelian; Darwinian and ecological; modularity and reuse; and, assemblages. Instead of belaboring each type, which is evaluated and rejected or qualified in turn for various reasons: teleology, biologism, etc. We move to the final section that he appropriates aspects useful from the various types of autonomy studied to formulate a workable hypothesis and working theory that is revisable and situated at the limits of what we can expect as a minimal base of conceptuality to discover if and when we meet the posthuman. It ultimately comes down to the indeterminacy and openness of this posthuman future.

His tentative framework will entail a modular and functional autonomous system because the model provided by biological systems suggests that modularity shields such systems from the adverse effects of experimentation while allowing greater opportunities for couplings with other assemblages. Since humans and their technologies are also modular and highly adaptable, a disconnection event would offer extensive scope for anomalous couplings between the relevant assemblages at all scales. (Roden, 3364-3371)

In some ways such an event or rupture between the human and posthuman entailed by disconnection theory relates to both the liminal and the gray areas between assemblages and their horizons. As he will state it a disconnection is best thought of as a singular event produced by an encounter between assemblages. It could present possibilities for becoming-other that should not be conceived as incidental modifications of the natures of the components since their virtual tendencies would be unlocked by an utterly new environment. (Roden, 3371) Further, such a disconnection could be a process over time, rather than one isolated singular event, which leaves the whole notion of posthuman succession undetermined as well as unqualifiable by humans themselves ahead of such an event. Think of the agricultural revolution between the stone age world of hunting and gathering, and new static systems of farming and hording of grains in large assemblages of cities for fortification, etc. This new technology of farming and its related processes were a rupture that took place over thousands of years from stone age through the Neolithic and onward. Some believe that it was this significant event that would in turn help develop other technologies such as writing (temple and grain bookkeeping), math (again taxation, counting), etc. all related to the influx of agriculture and the cities that grew up in their nexus: each an assemblage of various human and technological assemblages plugged in to each other over time.

Which brings in the notion that it is an event, an intensity, rather than an object or thing, which means that the modulation and development of whatever components leading to this process are outside of the scope of traditional metaphysics or theories of subjectivity. (Roden, 3380) As well it is not to be considered an agent nor a transcendental subject in the older metaphysical sense, rather since it is part of processual and mutually interacting set of mobile components that lend themselves to assemblages with an open-textured capacity for anomalous couplings and de-couplings it need not be wed to some essentialist discourse that would reduce its processes to either biological or technological systems. We just do not have enough information. 

In summary he will tell us that if disconnections are intense becomings, becomings without a subject, then this is something we will need to take into account in our ethical and political assessment of the implications of SP. Becoming human may not be best understood as a transition from one identifiable nature to another despite the fact that the conditions of posthumanity can be analysed in terms of the functional roles of entities within and without the Wide Human. Before we can consider the ethics of becoming posthuman more fully, however, we need to think about whether technology can be considered an independent agent of disconnection or whether it is merely an expression of human interests and powers. What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? (Roden, KL 3388-3394)

We will explore the technological aspect in the next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Location 2869). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 5)

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Roden will argue in Chapter 5 that we need a new theory of difference to understand the disconnection between the human and posthuman. He will suggest that the difference should be conceived as an emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. He will also suggest that these individuals should not be conceived in narrow biological terms but in “wide” terms permitting biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman. (Roden, KL 2423)

Before beginning to unravel Roden’s thoughts we discover that the philosophy of Manuel DeLanda and his Assemblage Theory will play a major role in underpinning this project. DeLanda above all considers himself a realist, not in the naïve common sense view of the 19th Century, but in the sense that at the very least that reality has a certain autonomy from the human mind. Thus he makes an initial split between reality as it is, and reality as it appears to the human mind. Human access to reality is a sort of translation, distortion, transformation, simplification, or truncation of it.2

Manuel DeLanda

DeLanda also develops a theory of the assemblage grafting many of the ideas from Deleuze/Guattari. An assemblage entails that no object is a seamless whole that fully absorbs its components, and also entails an anti-reductionist model of reality. There is also no ultimate layer of tiny micro-particles to which macro-entities might be reduced. At whatever point we fix our gaze, entities are assembled from other entities: they can be viewed as unified things when seen from the outside, yet they are always pieced together from a vast armada of autonomous components. This also means that Delanda believes in genuine emergence. It is not possible to eliminate larger entities by accounting for the behavior of their tiniest physical parts. (Harman, 172) DeLanda himself will tell us:

Today, the main theoretical alternative to organic totalities is what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls assemblages, wholes characterized by relations of exteriority. These relations imply, first of all, that a component part of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different. In other words, the exteriority of relations implies a certain autonomy for the terms they relate, or as Deleuze puts it, it implies that ‘a relation may change without the terms changing’. Relations of exteriority also imply that the properties of the component parts can never explain the relations which constitute a whole, that is, ‘relations do not have as their causes the properties of the [component parts] between which they are established …’ although they may be caused by the exercise of a component’s capacities. In fact, the reason why the properties of a whole cannot be reduced to those of its parts is that they are the result not of an aggregation of the components’ own properties but of the actual exercise of their capacities. These capacities do depend on a component’s properties but cannot be reduced to them since they involve reference to the properties of other interacting entities. Relations of exteriority guarantee that assemblages may be taken apart while at the same time allowing that the interactions between parts may result in a true synthesis.3

A central point in the paragraph above is that assemblage theory is based on an anti-reductionist in form or what one might term either anti-essentialist or anti-physicalist form of materialist discourse. He opts for what many now term a ‘flat ontology’, but by flat they do not mean that it could be reduced to some flat continuum, rather a flat ontology that allows countless layers of larger and smaller structures to have equal ontological priority. In this sense a flat ontology rejects any ontology of transcendence or presence that privileges one sort of entity as the origin of all others and as fully present to itself. DeLanda promotes a hard core anti-essentialism as part of his assemblage theory:

The ontological status of any assemblage, inorganic, organic or social, is that of a unique, singular, historically contingent, individual. Although the term individual’ has come to refer to individual persons, in its ontological sense it cannot be limited to that scale of reality. Much as biological species are not general categories of which animal and plant organisms are members, but larger-scale individual entities of which organisms are component parts, so larger social assemblages should be given the ontological status of individual entities: individual networks and coalitions; individual organizations and governments; individual cities and nation-states. This ontological manœuvre allows us to assert that all these individual entities have an objective existence independently of our minds (or of our conceptions of them) without any commitment to essences or reified generalities. On the other hand, for the manœuvre to work, the part-to-whole relation that replaces essences must be carefully elucidated. The autonomy of wholes relative to their parts is guaranteed by the fact that they can causally affect those parts in both a limiting and an enabling way, and by the fact that they can interact with each other in a way not reducible to their parts, that is, in such a way that an explanation of the interaction that includes the details of the component parts would be redundant. Finally, the ontological status of assemblages is two-sided: as actual entities all the differently scaled social assemblages are individual singularities, but the possibilities open to them at any given time are constrained by a distribution of universal singularities, the diagram of the assemblage, which is not actual but virtual.(DeLanda, 40)

This notion of virtual/actual would take me too far away so I’ll let off from here. The main drift we take away from this is the sense that all entities are on equal footing, that they have an objective existence independent of our minds (i.e., against all Idealisms whatsoever), and the notion of emergence that entails the part-to-whole relation that cannot be reduced to an essential nature etc. are all keys within this notion of assemblage. An assemblage can be made up of independent assemblages, yet there is never a whole or totality, rather one might think of it as a cooperative or synthesis of assemblages that can disconnect or unplug and replug into further assemblages.

Back to Roden and the posthuman difference or disconnection thesis

Roden will begin with an ethical dilemma: We can either account for our technological activity and participation in this process that might lead to the posthuman, or we can discount it. To that he will say that “accounting for our contribution to making posthumans seems obligatory, but may be impossible in the cases that really matter; while discounting our contribution to posthuman succession appears irresponsible and foolhardy” (Roden, KL 2450). Either path will lead to an impasse he suggests. So what to do? First he says we need to schematically understand the basic premises of (SP) or speculative posthumanism. SP argues that the descendants of current humans could cease to be human by virtue of a history of technical alteration (Roden, KL 2469). Because of this we discover SP recognizes the notion that posthumanity comes about as the result of a process of technical alteration; and, that it represents the relationship between humans and posthumans as a historical successor relation, wide descent (Roden, KL 2475).

Before understanding this sense of the divide or disconnect between human/ posthuman we must first realize he suggests that any theory will by necessity need to be value neutral: “the posthuman it is, it might be argued, not so loaded as to beg ethical questions against critics of radical enhancement” (Roden, KL 2496). What he is implying is that for transhumanists thinkers such as Nick Bostrom there is a positive ethical stance in place to promote both enhancement and augmentation of humans as part of a key component of the global corporate system in which the health, medical, pharmaceutical, technological etc. initiatives have placed it as part of its elite capitalist score card for future world society based on enhanced humans, creativity, technocapitalism, smart cities, etc. While SP has no agenda and is value free in this sense of not being aligned with corporate pressure or governmental control to promote its objectives and gain monetary allocation or funding for its agendas. (He does not state this explicitly, and these are my own views or reading between the lines).

Which brings up a good point. So far Roden’s discourse has kept a high profile academic style that tends toward laying out stage by stage the philosophical, scientific, and technological layers of his argument without going into any ethical or political commitments one way or the other. This is to me one of the bright points of the book. Too many works of late are all so value laden with political, cultural, social, religious, anti-religious or atheistic agendas that one is never sure of the truth under all the ideology. David’s discourse keeps the gray tones, but to a purpose, and is careful to use rhetoric that is value neutral in the way of clarifying and making explicit the underlying truth of the matter without leading the viewer astray with other issues that are extraneous to the main argument. This is not to say that we should not understand the ethical or social implications, and later in the book he will offer that as well. Just an observation. 

Roden will tell us that there is both the sense of a wide descent and a wide humanity: the one dealing with any relationship that can be technically mediated to any degree; the other dealing with the notion of any product of a technogenetic process (Roden, KL 2527). This will lead us back into that concept of assemblage discussed above in DeLanda’s work. If we place this descent and wide humanity within the context of human descent and narrow humanity we understand the notion of becoming human or hominization has involved a confluence of biological, cultural and technological processes. It has produced socio-technical “assemblages” where humans are coupled with other active components: for example, languages, legal codes, cities and computer-mediated information networks. (Roden, KL 2540)

He will, after DeLanda, suggest that narrow humans (Homo Sapiens) exist within a specific horizon of an extended socio-technical network of assemblages, and that whatever the posthuman entails it will inaugurate and emergence from or historical rupture with the narrow human network or assemblage. (Roden, 2564) More specifically any Wide Human descendent will become posthuman if and only if it has ceased to belong to WH (the Wide Human) as a result of technical alteration; and, second, that it is a wide descendant of such a being (outside WH) (Roden, KL 2588). This is the point when many would raise the ethical dilemmas faced by humanity. The simple truth of it is that we cannot reduce whatever the posthuman might become to some moral or immoral human essence or decision making process. Against any anthropological essentialism. Whatever WH might become they have the same ontological status (flat ontology) as our species (Homo sapiens). As Roden suggests they are both are complex individuals rather than kinds or essences. However, WH is constituted by causal relationships between biological and non-biological parts, such as languages, technologies and institutions. A disconnection event would be liable to involve technological mechanisms without equivalents in the biological world and this should be allowed for in any ontology that supports speculative posthumanism. (Roden, 2649)

For the rest of the chapter he goes over several aspects of his disconnection thesis: 1) modes of disconnection (i.e., greater cognitive powers, bodily configurations, linguistic and perceptual alterations, etc.); 2) is disconnection predictable? (unlikely that we will be able to discern the nature or the effects of feasible disconnection-potent technologies without building serviceable prototypes); 3) once the disconnection takes place how do we interpret these posthuman others? The last question he will choose both caution and opt for an accounting: “even if we enjoin selective caution to prevent worst-case outcomes from disconnection-potent technologies, we must still place ourselves in a situation in which such potential can be identified. Thus seeking to contribute to the emergence of posthumans, or to become posthuman ourselves…”(Roden, 2814). So that our best bet is not to turn a blind eye, nor to attempt a retreat and try to control this unpredictable emergence, but rather to keep an eye toward it, account for the anomalies that arise in our midst, keep looking for posthuman occurrence and if we discover it to provide an ongoing accounting and analysis of its paths and trajectories.

Summing up this notion of the disconnection thesis we discover that all it amounts to is an acknowledgement that at some future time technical alternations may occur that will provide a rupture and emergence of the posthuman, but what form it will take is not something we can extrapolate from current theory. The best we can do as he suggests is by satisfying our moral concern with our posthuman prospects through posthuman accounting is by seeking to produce or become posthumans. While objections to the policy of posthuman accounting on precautionary grounds have been deflected here, the reader could be forgiven for being dissatisfied by this resolution of the posthuman impasse. This resolution is tactical and provisional. However, before we are in a position to provide a more satisfactory resolution, in the form of an ethics of becoming posthuman, we will need to devise a general account of the posthuman autonomy or agency presupposed by the disconnection thesis and consider its general ontological requirements. (Roden, 2817)

We will turn to that in our next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Harman, Graham (2010-11-26). Towards Speculative Realism: Essays & (p. 174). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
3. DeLanda, Manuel (2006-09-14). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (p. 10). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4.2)

The problem of interpretation arises because there are empirical and theoretical grounds for holding that some phenomenology is “dark”.
– David Roden,  Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In section 4.2 he will introduce us to the notion that not all phenomenology deals with the pure world of surfaces and light. There is a dark side, or should we say ‘A Dark Tale of Phenomenology’. It will be a tale of twined realms: one of perception, and one of time. It will be a tale in which we will never be sure whether what is alien and posthuman can ever be known or shared by our own mental states, or that we will even be able to control or forecast what the posthuman is or could be. We will be in the dark with that which is alien and alienating.

David Roden will give us a beginning to our tale: “Let’s call a feature of experience “dark” if it confers no explicit or implicit understanding of its nature on the experiencer (Roden, KL 1961)”.1 Unlike the phenomenology of Husserl or even Heidegger in which the surface detail that we can intuit and see within the realm of appearance and presence, dark phenomenology would deal with that which cannot directly be seen, touched, felt, smelled, etc., yet affects us and influences our dispositions, feelings, or actions in indirect and strange ways that we cannot describe with any precision. Our access to this dark side would be by indirect ways, much like scientist who uncover the truth of dark energy and dark matter which make up 99% of our universe and yet we never have direct access to such things except through a combination of mathematical theorems and instruments that measure aspects of these unknown unknowns indirectly through experimentation and analyses.

Reading Roden’s surmises about color theory, and of how there are millions of shadings of color that we cannot intuit or describe from a firs-person-singular perspective because we do not have access or it is a form of loss or neglect reminded my of what many in the neurosciences are suspecting. As I suggested from Bakker’s BBT theory in a previous post the brain only ever gives us the information we need to deal with the things evolution and survival have adapted us too in our understanding or ‘intuiting’ of the environment we are embedded within. Yet, as Roden is suggesting there is an amazing realm of experience we never have direct access to, and that in fact we are blind too not because we cannot intuit it, but because the brain only offers our ‘first-person’ of subjective self or temporary agency certain well-defined and filtered pieces of the puzzle. It filters out the rest accept as Roden said previously, there are times when we are affected by things we cannot perceive but are part of reality. Phenomenology is unable to discuss such things because it is not science, it lacks both the conceptual and instrumental technology to graze even a percent of this unknown or blind territory surrounding us. Philosophers like to talk of chaos, etc. When in fact it is a sea of information that the brain analyses at every moment, but delivers to us packaged in byte size representations that we can handle as its evolutionary agents of choice.

(A personal aside: I must admit I wish David would have sunk the philosophy for neuroscience and hard-sciences rather than wasting time with the philosophical community. It always seems reading such works that one must spend an exorbitant amount of time clarifying concepts, ideas, notions for other professional philosophers who will probably reject what your saying anyway. To me science is answering these sorts of questions in terms that leave the poor phenomenological philosopher in a quandary. Maybe its part of the academic game. I’ve never been sure. Yet, as we will see David himself will make much the same gesture later on.)

Either way as I read dark phenomenology is actually trying to deal not with appearance but with what Kant used to call the ‘noumenal’ realm. Which was closed off from philosophical speculation two-hundred years ago as something that could never be described or known. Yet, both philosophy and the sciences have been describing aspects of it ever since and doing it by indirect means without ever name it that. It’s as if we’ve closed our selves off from the truth of our own blindness, and told ourselves we’re not blind.

As Roden will affirm of all these representationalist philosophers in discussing the possibility that time may have a dark side: “For representationalist philosophers of mind who believe that the mind is an engine for forming and transforming mental representations there is good reason to be sceptical about the supposed transcendental role of time” (Rode, KL 2068). Then he will tells us why: “For where a phenomenological ontology transcends the plausible limits of intuition its interpretation would have to be arbitrated according to its instrumental efficacy, simplicity and explanatory potential as well as its descriptive content” (Roden, KL 2081).

 And as if he heard me he will tell us that phenomenology must provide an incomplete account of those dark structures that are not captured in appearance through other modes of inquiry, saying: “If phenomenology is incompletely characterized by the discipline of phenomenology, though, it seems proper that methods of enquiry such as those employed by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and cognitive modellers should take up the interpretative slack. If phenomenologists want to understand what they are talking about , they should apply the natural attitude to their own discipline. (Roden, 2120)”

And, of course most practicing scientists in these fields would tell Roden and the others: Why don’t you just give it up and join us? Maybe philosophy is not suited to describe or even begin to analyze what we’re discovering, maybe you would be better off closing down philosophy of mind and becoming scientists.” But of course we know what these philosophers would probably say to that. Don’t we. 

Ultimately after surveying phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger and others Roden will come to the conclusion:

Dark phenomenology undermines the transcendental anthropologies of Heidegger and Husserl because it deprives them of the ability to distinguish transcendental conditions of possibility such as Dasein or Husserl’s temporal subject (which are not things in the world) from the manifestation of things that they make possible. They are deconstructed insofar as they become unable to interpret the formal structures with which they understand the fundamental conditions of possibility for worlds or things. … As bruited, this failure of transcendentalism is crucial for our understanding of SP. If there is no a priori theory of temporality, there is no a priori theory of worlds and we cannot appeal to phenomenology to exclude the possibility that posthuman modes of being could be structurally unlike our own in ways that we cannot currently comprehend. (Roden, KL 2194 – 2206)

 What we’re left with is an open and indescribable realm of possibility that is anyone’s guess. As he will sum it up there is no reason to be bound by a transcendental or anthropological posthumanism, instead SP will have no truck with constraints on the open-endedness of posthumanism (” This is not to say, of course, that there are no constraints on PPS”):

Posthuman minds may or may not be weirder than we can know. We cannot preclude maximum weirdness prior to their appearance. But what do we mean by such an advent? Given the extreme space of possible variation opened up by the collapse of the anthropological boundary, it seems that we can make few substantive assumptions about what posthumans would have to be like.  (Roden, 2378)

In the next post Roden takes up the formal analysis rather than an a priori or substantive account of posthuman life, suggesting that we will not be able to describe the posthuman till we see in in the wild. We will follow him into the wild.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

 

The Silk Road

When one thinks of time maybe one should think of a road.
A road stretching through time. A road living among times.
Travelers, men of curious disposition:  Zhang Qian, Xuanzang,

Ibn Battuta, and Marco Polo. Worlds to and from opposite ends.
Rome and China. Strange relations. Fierce tribal lands, deserts,
Wild and unknown things scattered in a sea of change and exchange.
If history were a word would trade contain it? Stories? Religions?
Dark desert warriors and emptiness. Kingdoms. Kushan, Sogdian,

Parthian, Persian, Abbasid, Seleucid, Roman or Byzantine: dust
of a thousand thousand men and women. Exotic realms. Fantastic.
Invention: compass, gunpowder, paper-making, and printing.
Conquest. Globalism. War. Reading. Modernity. Freedom. Motion.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 Note: been reading Nick Land’s intro Xinjiang Horizons Urbanatomy Electronic.


David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4)

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In Chapter Three Dr. Roden would tell us that pragmatism elaborates transcendental humanism plausibly, and that because of that we need to consider its implications for posthuman possibility. In Chapter Four he will elaborate on that by defining pragmatisms notion of language as a matrix  “in which we cooperatively form and revise reasons”, and he will term this the “discursive agency thesis (DAT)” (Roden, KL 1402).1 The basic premise here is simple: that any entity that lacks the capacity for language cannot be an agent. The pragmatist will define discursive agency as requiring certain attributes that will delimit the perimeters of what an agent is:

1) An agent is a being that acts for reasons.
2) To act for reasons an agent must have desires or intentions to act.
3) An agent cannot have desires or intentions without beliefs.
4) The ability to have beliefs requires a grasp of what belief is since to believe is also to understand “the possibility of being mistaken” (metacognitive claim).
5) A grasp of the possibility of being mistaken is only possible for language users (linguistic constitutivity). (Roden, KL 1407-1413)

As we study this list of agency we see a progression from acting for specific reasons, desires, intentions, beliefs to the need for self-reflection and language to grasp these objects in the mind. We’ve seen most of this before in other forms across the centuries as philosophers debated Mind and Consciousness. For philosophers, neuroscientists and cognitive scientists, the words are used in a way that is both more precise and more mundane: they refer to the familiar, everyday experience of having a “thought in your head”, like a perception, a dream, an intention or a plan, and to the way we know something, or mean something or understand something. “It’s not hard to give a commonsense definition of consciousness” observes philosopher John Searle. What is mysterious and fascinating is not so much what it is but how it is: how does a lump of fatty tissue and electricity give rise to this (familiar) experience of perceiving, meaning or thinking?

Philosophers call this the hard problem of consciousness. It is the latest version of a classic problem in the philosophy of mind called the “mind-body problem.” A related problem is the problem of meaning or understanding (which philosophers call “intentionality”): what is the connection between our thoughts and what we are thinking about (i.e. objects and situations out in the world)? A third issue is the problem of experience (or “phenomenology”): If two people see the same thing, do they have the same experience? Or are there things “inside their head” (called “qualia”) that can be different from person to person?

Neurobiologists believe all these problems will be solved as we begin to identify the neural correlates of consciousness: the actual relationship between the machinery in our heads and its collective properties; such as the mind, experience and understanding. Some of the harshest critics of artificial intelligence agree that the brain is just a machine, and that consciousness and intelligence are the result of physical processes in the brain. The difficult philosophical question is this: can a computer program, running on a digital machine that shuffles the binary digits of zero and one, duplicate the ability of the neurons to create minds, with mental states (like understanding or perceiving), and ultimately, the experience of consciousness?

But I get ahead of myself for Dr. Roden begins first analyzing the notions of Analytical philosophy in which “propositional attitudes” or what we term items in the mind: psychological states such as beliefs, desires and intentions (along with hopes, wishes, suppositions, etc.) are part and partial of our linguistic universe of sentences that describe the “that” clause. (Roden, KL 1416) Discussing this he will take up the work of Davidson, Husserl and Heidegger.

Now we know that for Husserl phenomenology is transcendental because it premises its accounts of phenomenon on the primacy of intentionality with respect both to reason and sense. So that Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology begins and ends by a ‘reduction’ of phenomena to its ‘intentional objects’ or the ‘ideal object’ intended by a consciousness.2 

For Roden the conflict is not about intentionality (which he seems to accept) but is more about our cognition and understanding of differing “positions regarding commonly identified objects”: “That is to say, our challenge to the metacognitive claim does not show that advanced posthumans with florid agency powers would not need to understand what it is to be mistaken by being able to using the common coin of sentences.” (Roden, KL 1805-08) He will even suggest that the fact that humans can notice that they have forgotten things, evince surprise, or attend to suddenly salient information (as with the ticking clock that is noticed only when it stops) implies anecdotally that our brains must have mechanisms for representing and evaluating (hence “metacognizing”) their states of knowledge and ignorance. (Roden, KL 1815)

What’s more interesting in the above sentence is how it ties in nicely with R. Scott Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory:

“Intentional cognition is real, there’s just nothing intrinsically intentional about it. It consists of a number of powerful heuristic systems that allows us to predict/explain/manipulate in a variety of problem-ecologies despite the absence of causal information. The philosopher’s mistake is to try to solve intentional cognition via those self-same heuristic systems, to engage in theoretical problem solving using systems adapted to solve practical, everyday problem – even though thousands of years of underdetermination pretty clearly shows the nature of intentional cognition is not among the things that intentional cognition can solve!” (see here)

 This seems to be the quandary facing Roden as he delves into both certain philosophers and scientists who base their theories and practices on intentionality, which is at the base of phenomenological philosophy both Analytical and Continental varieties. Yet, this is exactly his point later in the chapter after he has discussed certain aspects of elminativist theoretic of Paul Churchland and others: evidence for non-language-mediated metacognition implies that we should be dubious of the claim that language is constitutive of sophisticated cognition and thus – by extension – agency (Roden, KL 1893). He will conclude that even if metacognition is necessary for sophisticated thought, this may not involve trafficking in sentences. Thus we lack persuasive a priori grounds for supposing that posthumans would have to be subjects of discourse (Roden, 1896).

I think we’ll stop here for today. In section 4.2 he will take up the naturalization of phenomenology and the rejection of transcendental constraints. I’ll take that up in my next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Jeremy Dunham, Iain Hamilton Grant, Sean Watson. Idealism: The History of a Philosophy (MQUP, 2011)

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 3)

Continuing where I left off yesterday in my commentary on David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human  we discover in Chapter Two a critique of Critical Posthumanism. He will argue that critical humanism like SP understands that technological, political, social and other factors will evolve to the point that the posthuman will become inevitable, but that in critical posthumanism they conflate both transhuman and SP ideologies and see both as outgrowths of the humanist tradition that tend toward either apocalypse or transcendence. Roden will argue otherwise and provides four basic critiques against the anti-humanist argument, the technogenesis argument, the materiality argument, and the anti-essentialist argument. By doing this he hopes to bring into view the commitment of SP to a minimal, non-transcendental and nonanthropocentric humanism and will help up put bones on its realist commitments (Roden, KL 829).1

Critical posthumanism argues that we are already posthuman, that it is our conceptions of human and posthuman that are becoming changing and that any futuristic scenario will be an extension of the human into its future components. SP will argue on the other hand that the posthuman might be radically different from the human altogether, such that the posthuman would constitute a radical break with our conceptual notions altogether. After a lengthy critique of critical posthumanism tracing its lineage in the deconstructive techniques of Derrida and Hayles he will tell us that in fact SP and Critical posthumanism are complementary, and that a “naturalistic position structurally similar to Derrida’s deconstructive account of subjectivity can be applied to transcendental constraints on posthuman weirdness” (Roden, KL 1037). The point being that a “naturalized deconstruction” of subjectivity widens the portals of posthuman possibility whereas it complicates but does not repudiate human actuality (Roden, 1039). As he sums it up:

I conclude that the anti-humanist argument does not succeed in showing that humans lack the powers of rational agency required by ethical humanist doctrines such as cosmopolitanism. Rather, critical posthumanist accounts of subjectivity and embodiment imply a cyborg-humanism that attributes our cognitive and moral natures as much to our cultural environments (languages, technologies, social institutions) as to our biology. But cyborg humanism is compatible with the speculative posthumanist claim that our wide descendants might exhibit distinctively nonhuman moral powers. (Roden, 1045-1049)

When he adds that little leap to “nonhuman moral powers” it seems to beg the question. That seems to align toward the transhumanist ideology, only that it fantasizes normativity for nonhumans rather than enhanced humans. Why should these inhuman/nonhuman progeny of metal-fleshed cyborgs have any moral dimension whatsoever? Some argue that the moral dimension is tied to affective relations much more than cognitive, so what if these new nonhuman beings are emotionless? What if like many sociopathic and psychopathic humans have no emotional or affective relations at all? What would this entail? Is this just a new metaphysical leap without foundation? Another placating gesture of Idealism, much like the Brandomonian notions of ‘give and take’ normativity that such Promethean philosophers as Reza Negarestani have made recently (here, here, here):

Elaborating humanity according to the self-actualizing space of reasons establishes a discontinuity between man’s anticipation of himself (what he expects himself to become) and the image of man modified according to its functionally autonomous content. It is exactly this discontinuity that characterizes the view of human from the space of reasons as a general catastrophe set in motion by activating the content of humanity whose functional kernel is not just autonomous but also compulsive and transformative.
Reza Negarestani , The Labor of the Inhuman One and Two

The above leads into the next argument: technogenesis. Hayles and Andy Clark will argue that there has been a symbiotic relation between technology and humans from the beginning, and that so far there has been no divergence. SP will argue that that’s not an argument. That just because the fact that the game of self-augmentation is ancient does not imply that the rules cannot change (Roden, KL 1076). Technogenesis dismissal of SP invalidly infers that because technological changes have not monstered us into posthumans thus far, they will not do so in the future (Roden, KL 1087).

Hayles will argue a materiality argument that SP and transhumanists agendas deny material embodiment: the notion that a natural system can be fully replicated by a computational system that emulates its functional architecture or simulates its dynamics. This argument Roden will tell us actually works in favor of SP, not against it. It implies that weird morphologies can spawn weird mentalities. 7 On the other hand, Hayles may be wrong about embodiment and substrate neutrality. Mental properties of things may, for all we know, depend on their computational properties because every other property depends on them as well. To conclude: the materiality argument suggests ways in which posthumans might be very inhuman. (Roden, 1102)

The last argument is based on the anti-essentialist move in that it would locate a property of ‘humaneness’ as unique to humanity and not transferable to a nonhuman entity: this is the notion of an X factor that could never be uploaded/downloaded etc. SP will argue instead that we can be anti-essentialists (if we insist) while being realists for whom the world is profoundly differentiated in a way that owes nothing to the transcendental causality of abstract universals, subjectivity or language.  But if anti-essentialism is consistent with the mind-independent reality of differences – including differences between forms of life – there is no reason to think that it is not compatible with the existence of a human– posthuman difference which subsists independently of our representations of them. (Roden, 1136)

Summing up Roden will tell us:

The anti-essentialist argument just considered presupposes a model of difference that is ill-adapted to the sciences that critical posthumanists cite in favour of their naturalized deconstruction of the human subject. The deconstruction of the humanist subject implied in the anti-humanist dismissal complicates rather than corrodes philosophical humanism – leaving open the possibility of a radical differentiation of the human and the posthuman. The technogenesis argument is just invalid. The materiality argument is based on metaphysical assumptions which, if true, would preclude only some scenarios for posthuman divergence while ramping up the weirdness factor for most others. (Roden, 1142-1147)

Most of this chapter has been a clearing of the ground for Roden, to show that many of the supposed arguments against SP are due to spurious and ill-reasoned confusion over just what we mean by posthumanism. Critical posthumanism in fact seems to reduce SP and transhumanist discourse and conflate them into some erroneous amalgam of ill-defined concepts. The main drift of critical posthumanist deliberations tend toward the older forms of the questionable deconstructionist discourse of Derrida which of late has come under attack from Speculative realists among others.

In the Chapter three Roden will take up the work of Transhumanism which seeks many of the things that SP does, but would align it to a human agenda that constrains and moralizes the codes of posthuman discourse toward human ends. In this chapter he will take up threads from Kant, analytical philosophy, and contemporary thought and its critique. Instead of a blow by blow account I’ll briefly summarize the next chapter. In the first two chapters he argued that the distinctions between SP and transhumanism is that the former position allows that our “wide human descendants” could have minds that are very different from ours and thus be unamenable to broadly humanist values or politics. (Roden, KL 1198) While in chapter three he will ask whether there might be constraints on posthuman weirdness that would restrict any posthuman– human divergence of mind and value. (Roden, 1201) After a detailed investigation into Kant and his progeny Roden will conclude that two of the successors to Kantian transcendental humanism – pragmatism and phenomenology – seem to provide rich and plausible theories of meaning, subjectivity and objectivity which place clear constraints on 1) agency and 2) the relationship – or rather correlation – between mind and world. (Roden, 1711) As he tells us these theories place severe anthropological bounds on posthuman weirdness for, whatever kinds of bodies or minds posthumans may have, they will have to be discursively situated agents practically engaged within a common life-world. In Chapter 4 he will consider this “anthropologically bounded posthumanism” critically and argue for a genuinely posthumanist or post-anthropocentric unbinding of SP. (Roden, 1713)

I’ll hold off on questions, but already I see his need to stay with notions of meaning, subjectivity and objectivity in the Western scientific tradition that seem ill-advised. I’ll wait to see what he means by unbinding SP from this “anthropologically bounded posthumanism”, and hopefully that will clarify and disperse the need for these older concepts that still seem to be tied with the theo-philosophical baggage of western metaphysics.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 2)

In my last post on David Roden’s new book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human I introduced his basic notion of Speculative Posthumanism (SP) in which he claimed that for “SP … there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.” The basic motif is that his account is not a normative or moral ordering of what posthuman is, but rather an account of what it contains. 

In chapter one he provides a few further distinctions to set the stage of his work. First he will set his form of speculative posthumanism against the those like Neil Badmington and Katherine Hayles who enact a ‘critical posthumanism’ in the tradition of the linguistic turn or Derridean deconstruction of the humanist traditions of subjectivity, etc.. Their basic attack is against the metaphysics of presence that would allow for the upload/download of personality into clones or robots in some future scenario. Once can see in Richard K. Morgan’s science fictionalization (see Altered Carbon) of humans who can download their informatics knowledge, personality, etc. into specialized hardware that allows retrieval for alternative resleeving into either a clone or synthetic organism (i.e., a future rebirthing process in which the personality and identity of the dead can continually be uploaded into new systems, clones, symbiotic life-forms to continue their eternal voyage).  Hans Moravec one of the father’s of robotics would in Mind’s Children be the progenitor of such download/upload concepts that would lead him eventually to sponsor transhumanism, which as Roden will tell us is a normative claim that offers a future full of promise and immortality. Such luminaries as Frank J. Tipler in The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead would bring scientific credence to such ideas as the Anthropic Principle, which John D. Barrow and he collaborated on that stipulates: “Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, will never die out.”

Nick Bostrom following such reasoning would in his book Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy supply an added feature set to those early theories. Bostrom showed how there are problems in various different areas of inquiry (including in cosmology, philosophy, evolution theory, game theory, and quantum physics) that involve a common set of issues related to the handling of indexical information. He argued that a theory of anthropics is needed to deal with these. He introduced the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Self-Indication Assumption (SIA) and showed how they lead to different conclusions in a number of cases. He pointed out that each is affected by paradoxes or counterintuitive implications in certain thought experiments (the SSA in e.g. the Doomsday argument; the SIA in the Presumptuous Philosopher thought experiment). He suggested that a way forward may involve extending SSA into the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA), which replaces “observers” in the SSA definition by “observer-moments”. This could allow for the reference class to be relativized (and he derived an expression for this in the “observation equation”). (see Nick Bostrom)

Bostrom would go on from there and in 1998 co-found (with David Pearce) the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+). In 2004, he co-founded (with James Hughes) the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In 2005 he was appointed Director of the newly created Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford. Bostrom is the 2009 recipient of the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement and was named in Foreign Policy’s 2009 list of top global thinkers “for accepting no limits on human potential.” (see Bostrom)

Bostrom’s Humanity+ is based on normative claims about the future of humanity and its enhancement, and as Roden will tell us transhumanism is an “ethical claim to the effect that technological enhancement of human capacities is a desirable aim” (Roden, 250).1 In contradistinction to any political or ethical agenda (SP) or speculative posthumanism which is the subject of Roden’s book “is not a normative claim about how the world ought to be but a metaphysical claim about what it could contain” (Roden, 251). Both critical posthumanism and transhumanism in Roden’s sense of the term are failures of imagination and philosophical vision, while SP on the other hand is concerned with both current and future humans, whose technological activities might bring them into being (Roden, KL 257). So in this sense Roden is more concerned with the activities and technologies of current and future humans, and how in their interventions they might bring about the posthuman as effect of those interventions and technologies.

In Bostrom’s latest work Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies he spins the normative scenario by following the trail of machine life. If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation? In my own sense of the word: we want be able to control it. Just a study of past technology shows the truth of that: out of the bag it will have its own way with or without us. The notion that we could apply filters or rules to regulate an inhuman or superintelligent species seems quite erroneous when we haven’t even been able to control our own species through normative pressure. The various religions of our diverse cultures are examples of failed normative pressure. Even now secular norms are beginning to fall into abeyance as enlightenment ideology like other normative practices is in the midst of a dark critique.

In pursuit of this Roden will work through the major aspects of the humanist traditions, teasing out the moral, epistemic, and ontic/ontological issues and concerns relating to those traditions before moving on to his specific arguments for a speculative posthumanism.  I’ll not go into details over most of these basic surveys and historical critiques, but will just highlight the basic notions relevant to his argument.

1. Humanists believe in the exceptionalism of humans as distinct and separate from non-human species. Most of this will come out of the Christian humanist tradition in which man is superior to animals, etc. This tradition is based in a since of either ‘freedom’ (Satre, atheistic humanism) or ‘lack’ (Pico della Mirandola). There will also be nuances of this human-centric vision or anthropocentric path depending stemming from Descartes to Kant and beyond, each with its own nuanced flavor of the human/non-human divide.
2. Transhumanism offers another take, one that will combine medical, technological, pharmaceutical enhancements to make humans better. As Roden will surmise, transhumanism is just Human 1.0 to 2.0 and their descendents may still value the concepts of autonomy, sociability and artistic expression. They will just be much better at being rational , sensitive and expressive – better at being human. (Roden, KL 403-405)
3. Yet, not all is rosy for transhumanists, some fear the conceptual leaps of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As Roden tells us Bostrom surmises that “the advent of artificial super-intelligence might render the intellectual efforts of biological thinkers irrelevant in the face of dizzying acceleration in machinic intelligence” (Roden KL 426).
4. Another key issue between transhumanists and SP is the notion of functionalism, or the concept that the mind and its capacities or states is independent of the brain and could be grafted onto other types of hardware, etc. Transhumanist hope for a human like mind that could be transplanted into human-like systems (the more general formulation is key for transhumanist aspirations for uploaded immortality because it is conceivable that the functional structure by virtue of which brains exhibit mentality is at a much lower level than that of individual mental states KL 476), while SP sees this as possible wishful thinking in which thought it might become possible nothing precludes the mind being placed in totally non-human forms.

Next he will offer four basic variations of posthumanism: SP, Critical Posthumanism, Speculative realism, and Philosophical naturalism. Each will decenter the human from its exceptional status and place it squarely on a flat footing with its non-human planetary and cosmic neighbors:

Speculative posthumanism is situated within the discourse of what many term ‘the singularity’ in which at some point in the future some technological intervention will eventually produce a posthuman life form that diverges from present humanity. Whether this is advisable or not it will eventually happen. Yet, how it will take effect is open rather than something known. And it may or may not coincide with such ethical claims of transhumanism or other normative systems. In fact even for SP there is a need for some form of ethical stance that Roden tells us will be clarified in later chapters.

Critical posthumanism is centered on the philosophical discourse at the juncture of humanist and posthumanist thinking, and is an outgrowth of the poststructural and deconstructive project of Jaques Derrida and others, like Foucault etc. in their pursuit to displace the human centric vision of philosophy, etc. This form of posthumanism is more strictly literary and philosophical, and even academic that the others.

Speculative realism Roden tells us will argue against the critical posthumanists and deconstructive project and its stance on decentering subjectivity, saying  “that to undo anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism we must shift philosophical concern away from subjectivity (or the deconstruction of the same) towards the cosmic throng of nonhuman things (“ the great outdoors”)” (Roden, KL 730). SR is a heated topic among younger philosophers dealing with even the notion of whether speculative realism is even a worthy umbrella term for many of the philosophers involved. (see Speculative Realism)

Philosophical naturalism is the odd-man out, in the fact that it’s not centered on posthuman discourse per se, but rather in the “truth-generating practices of science rather than to philosophical anthropology to warrant claims about the world’s metaphysical structure” (Roden, KL 753). Yet, it is the dominative discourse for most practicing scientists, and functionalism being one of the naturalist mainstays that all posthumanisms must deal with at one time or another. 

I decided to break this down into several posts rather than to try to review it all in one long post. Chapter one set the tone of the various types of posthumanism, the next chapter will delve deeper into the perimeters and details of the “critical posthumanist” discourse. I’ll turn to that next…

Visit David Roden’s blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden on Posthuman Life

 There evolved at length a very different kind of complex organism, in which material contact of parts was not necessary either to coordination of behaviour or unity of consciousness. . . .
—OLAF STAPLEDON, First and Last Men

When Stapledon wrote that book he was thinking of Martians, but in our time one might think he was studying the strangeness of what our posthuman progeny may evolve into.  In Last and First Men Stapledon presents a version of the future history of our species, reviewed by one of our descendants as stellar catastrophe is bringing our solar system to an end. Humanity rises and falls through a succession of mental and physical transformations, regenerating after natural and artificial disasters and emerging in the end into a polymorphous group intelligence, a telepathically linked community of ten million minds spanning the orbits of the outer planets and breaking the bounds of individual consciousness, yet still incapable of more than “a fledgling’s knowledge” of the whole.1

Modern humans (Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens sapiens) are the only extant members of the hominin clade, a branch of great apes characterized by erect posture and bipedal locomotion; manual dexterity and increased tool use; and a general trend toward larger, more complex brains and societies. We evolved according to Darwinian theory from early hominids, such as the australopithecines whose brains and anatomy in many ways more similar to non-human apes, are less often thought of or referred to as “human” than hominids of the genus Homo some of whom used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 200,000 years ago where they began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago and migrated out in successive waves to occupy all but the smallest, driest, and coldest lands. (see Human)

You begin to see a pattern that evolution moves through various changes and transformations. Yet, there is no end point, no progression, not teleological goal to it all. Instead evolutionary theory – and, more explicitly its modern synthesis, connected natural selection, mutation theory, and Mendelian inheritance into a unified theory that applied generally to any branch of biology. One thing that sticks out in this is that evolution deals with organic evolution. The modern synthesis doesn’t include other types of evolvement that might portend what the posthuman descendants of humans might become. If we follow the logic of evolutionary theory as it exists we could at best extrapolate only the continued organic evolution of humans or their eventual extinction. We know that extinction is a possibility since 99% of the species that have ever existed on earth are now extinct. Something will eventually replace us. But what that ‘something’ might be is open to question, an open ended speculative possibility rather than something a scientist could actually pin down and point to with confidence.

 

This is the basic premise of Dr. David Roden’s new work, Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. We are living in a technological era in which a convergence of NBIC technologies (an acronym for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science), as well as certain well supported positions in cognitive science, biological theory and general metaphysics imply that a posthuman succession is possible in principle, even if the technological means for achieving it remain speculative (Roden, KL 157). Roden will term his version of this as “speculative posthumanism”:

Throughout this work I refer to the philosophical claim that such successors are possible as “speculative posthumanism ” (SP ) and distinguish it from positions which are commonly conflated with SP, like transhumanism. SP claims that there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.2

Roden will develop notions of “Critical Posthumanism” — which seeks to “deconstruct” the philosophical centrality of the human subject in epistemology, ethics and politics; and, Transhumanism — which proposes the technical enhancement of humans and their capacities. Yet, as Roden admits before we begin to speak of the posthuman we need to have some inkling of exactly what we mean by ‘human’: any philosophical theory of posthumanism owes us an account of what it means to be human such that it is conceivable that there could be nonhuman successors to humans (Roden, KL 174).

One thought that Roden brings out is the notion of subjectivity:

Some philosophers claim that there are features of human moral life and human subjectivity that are not just local to certain gregarious primates but are necessary conditions of agency and subjectivity everywhere. This “transcendental approach” to philosophy does not imply that posthumans are impossible but that – contrary to expectations – they might not be all that different from us. Thus a theory of posthumanity should consider both empirical and transcendental constraints on posthuman possibility. (Roden, KL 180)

Yet, such premises of an anti-intentional or non-intentional materialism as stem from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, and Nick Land would opt that we need no theory of subjectivity, that this is a prejudice of the Idealist tradition and dialectics that are in themselves of little worth. Obviously philosophers such as Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Quentin Meillassoux, and Adrian Johnson stand for this whole Idealist tradition in materialism in one form or another. Against the Idealist traditions is a materialism grounded in chaos and composition, in desire: Nick Land’s sense of libidinal materialism begins and ends in ‘desire’ which opposes the notion of lack: instead his is a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire (Land, 37).3 Unlike many materialisms that start with the concept of Being, or an ontology, Libidinal Materialism begins by acknowledging thermodynamics, chaos, and the pre-ontological dimension of energy: “libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition” (43). Being is an effect of composition: “being as an effect of the composition of chaos”:

With the libidinal reformulation of being as composition ‘one acquires degrees of being, one loses that which has being’. The effect of ‘being’ is derivative from process, ‘because we have to be stable in our beliefs… one has a general energetics of compositions… of types, varieties, species, regularities. The power to conserve, transmit, circulate, and enhance compositions, the power that is assimilated in the marking, reserving, and appropriation of compositions, and the power released in the disinhibition, dissipation, and … unleashing of compositions (Land, 44) … [even Freud is a libidinal materialist] in that he does not conceive desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process (Land, 45).

R. Scott Bakker author of the fantasy series The Second Apocalypse is also the theoretician of what he terms Blind Brain Theory (BBT). Very briefly, the theory rests on the observation that out of the vast amount of information processed by the brain every nanosecond, only a meagre trickle makes it through to consciousness; and crucially that includes information about the processing itself. We have virtually no idea of the massive and complex processes churning away in all the unconscious functions that really make things work and the result is that consciousness is not at all what it seems to be. Even what we term subjectivity is but a temporary process and effect of these brain processes and has no stable identity to speak of, but is rather a temporary focal point of consciousness. (see The Last Magic Show)

So to come back to Roden’s statement that some “philosophers claim that there are features of human moral life and human subjectivity that are not just local to certain gregarious primates but are necessary conditions of agency and subjectivity everywhere (Roden, KL 180)”. We can with BBT and Libidinal Materialism, or what might be better termed an anti-intentional philosophy based on non-theophilosophical concepts throw out the need to base our sense of what comes after the human on either ‘agency’ or ‘subjectivity’ as conditions, for both are in fact effects of the brain not substance based entities. So Roden need not worry about such conditions and constraints. And, as he tells us weakly constrained SP suggests that our current technical practice could precipitate a nonhuman world that we cannot yet understand, in which “our” values may have no place (Roden KL 187). Which is this sense that our human epistemologies, ontologies and normative or ethical practices and values cannot tell us anything about what the posthuman might entail: it is all speculative and without qualification.

But if this is true he will ask:

Does this mean that talk of “posthumans” is self-vitiating nonsense ? Does speaking of “weird” worlds or values commit one to a conceptual relativism that is incompatible with the commitment to realism? (Roden, KL 191)

If posthuman talk is not self-vitiating nonsense, the ethical problems it raises are very challenging indeed. If our current technological trajectories might result in the world turning posthuman, how should we view this prospect and respond to it? Should we apply a conservative , precautionary approach to technology that favours “human” values over any possible posthuman ones? Can conservatism be justified under weakly constrained SP and, if not, then what kind of ethical or political alternatives are justifiable? (Roden, 193)

David comes out of the Idealist traditions which I must admit I oppose with the alternate materialist traditions. As he tells us:

As I mentioned, an appreciation of the scope of SP requires that we consider empirically informed speculations about posthumans and also engage with the tradition of transcendental thought that derives from the work of Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. (Rode, KL 200)

These are the questions his book raises and tries to offer tentative answers too:

Table of contents:

Introduction: Churchland’s Centipede
1. Humanism,Transhumanism and Posthumanism
2. A Defence of Pre‐Critical Posthumanism
3. The Edge of the Human
4. Weird Tales: Anthropologically Unbounded Posthumanism
5. The Disconnection Thesis
6. Functional Autonomy and Assemblage Theory
7. New Substantivism: A Theory of Technology
8. The Ethics of Becoming Posthuman.

I’ve only begun reading his new work so will need to hold off and come back to it in a future post. Knowing that his philosophical proclivities bend toward the German Idealist traditions I’m sure I’ll have plenty to argue with, yet it is always interesting to see how the current philosophies are viewing such things as posthumanism. So I looked forward to digging in. So far the book offers so far a clear and energetic, and informative look at the issues involved. After I finish reading it completely I’ll give a more informed summation. Definitely a work to make you think about what may be coming our way at some point in the future if the technologists, scientists, DARPA, and capitalist machine are any sign. Stay tuned… 

David Roden has a blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

For others in this series look here.

1. Dyson, George B. (2012-09-04). Darwin Among The Machines (p. 199). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
2. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 165-168). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
3. Nick Land. A Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)

Troubling the Waters

cedbca75317c8228cdf9a3538c19e9f8

My love is gone among the darkest suns,
Gone where night is never done,
And life does not touch the stars or trouble time;
Where the troubled waters of this dead earth,
Give way among these dry stones and leaves:
Seeking solace from this cruel fate —eternal love.

My heart sinking into dampness and the pit,
Amid shadows of black pillars and demented thoughts:
Floating toward a distant land, broken, alone –
Lost in the gray mists of doubt and despair,
Till time and love and all measured truths, disperse
And find me broken among these fading vines and oaken hollows,
Where the dark one dwells at the world’s black rim, wailing

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Jules Verne: Acceleration, Science, and the Future

jules verne

In 1863, the great novelist Jules Verne undertook perhaps his most ambitious project. He wrote a prophetic novel, called Paris in the Twentieth Century, in which he applied the full power of his enormous talents to fore-cast the coming century. His biographers have noted that, although Verne was not a scientist himself, he constantly sought out scientists, peppering them with questions about their visions of the future. He amassed a vast archive summarizing the great scientific discoveries of his time. Verne, more than others, realized that science was the engine shaking the foundations of civilization, propelling it into a new century with unexpected marvels and miracles. The key to Verne’s vision and profound insights was his grasp of the power of science to revolutionize society.1

Science as the engine of progress and development, of modernity as it has come down to us is central to the underlying myths of speed and accelerationism. Jules Verne could be considered the father of Accelerationism. Frank Borman an astronaut on Apollo 8 would comment: “In a very real sense, Jules Verne is one of the pioneers of the space age”. Books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras and An Antarctic Mystery, Mathias Sandorf, Journey to the Center of the Earth would each inspire scientists like pioneering submarine designer Simon Lake, and other maritime scientists: William Beebe, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and Robert Ballard, and Jacques Cousteau; rocketry innovators Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth; explorer Richard E. Byrd, after a flight to the South Pole; Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer; the preeminent speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel;  and others like Fridtjof Nansen, Wernher von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, and Yuri Gagarin.

Even Marx himself would understand that science is the engine of production and progress:

“…the entire production process appears not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science. [It is] hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment in this process. As with the transformation of value into capital, so does it appear in the further development of capital that it presupposes a certain given historical development of productive forces on one side – science too is among these productive forces – and, on the other, drives and forces them further onwards.”2

 This notion that the cycle of the production process is driven by applied science as a productive force, and that it is a continuous force driving it in a progressive form of continuous process is key to Marx’s understanding. Instead of capital as the driver of production as many assume, Marx would describe a combination of social labour and the “technological application of natural sciences, on the one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination of total production on the other side” (ibid). These two forces would ultimately lead capital to “its own dissolution as the form of dominating production” (ibid).

Marx as he begins to diagnose the power of science and machines tells us that at first the power of machines to take over human labour was martialed not by the machines, but by mechanizing the worker, but as he says the rise of machines in industry arose by “dissection – through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places. Thus, the specific mode of working here appears directly as becoming transferred from the worker to capital in the form of the machine, and his own labour capacity devalued thereby” (ibid).

Even now we hear many workers in the labour force worried that robots and intelligent systems will make them obsolete. In From Watson to Siri we discover that as in early Fordist era machine takeovers we’re facing it again:

“…in the infancy of the 21st century, a new revolution is reshaping the American economy, what we might call the “A.I. revolution.” … machines employing natural language processors, voice recognition software and other tools of artificial intelligence are proliferating, just as textile mills and, later, assembly lines proliferated and fundamentally altered the American economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, American workers won the race against machines by using advances in technology to usher in a new era of consumerism and mass production. This time … we must learn to co-exist with machines, rather than race against them.” (PBS/Need to Know)

It is also interesting, continuing with Marx’s essay, that real wealth creation depends less “on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology or the application of this science to production” (ibid). Again the engine of science and knowledge applied is the driver and engine of wealth creation in which the human worker become more of a “watcher and regulator” of the production process done for the most part by machines. What Marx is ultimately driving at is that humans as scientists and knowledge workers whose “understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence in the social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and wealth” (ibid, 62).

The point that Marx is making in contradistinction to many labour theorists is that wealth is produced by promoting less labour time and more free time for social individuals who thereby become artistic, scientific, educated in free time:

“The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of its penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created.” (ibid, 63)

 By this of course surplus labour is the labour performed in excess of the labour necessary to produce the means of livelihood of the worker (“necessary labour”). So that the exploitation of surplus labour or making individuals work more than is needed for their basic needs should be put to an end, and the input of wealth distributed to the mass of workers to further their education so that through their artistic and scientific creativity and inventions industry would benefit greatly. As Marx will pointedly tells us the capitalists have no clue, that instead of opening up free time for the workers and giving them an opportunity to further their artistic and scientific education, they force them to work longer hours than is necessary to survive:

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form: hence it posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question life or death – for the necessary.” (ibid, 63)

But remember Marx had previously told us that the development of the social individual is the “great foundation-stone of production and wealth”, not surplus labour nor labour time as the source of wealth. The point of the contradiction comes into play in that the capitalists use the powers of science, and the resources of nature as the engine of wealth creation in collusion with the social combination and social intercourse independent of labour time employed on it (ibid, 63). Yet, on the other hand they play the blind-man’s card and have us believe that labour time is the measuring rod for the social forces created, and limit it as the created value of value (ibid, 63).

Yet, Marx will almost surprised by his own analyses remind us that it is the human brain freed up to produce knowledge for the society that is the lynchpin of wealth, and that the “creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally” which leads to people being able to pursue artistic and scientific education etc. Yet, the capitalists in contradistinction to their own practices, invert this logic and take hold of the surplus labour to force workers not into free time for education, but to produce excessive material products for the market and as Marx suggests, if it succeeds too well it “suffers from surplus production, and then necessary labour is interrupted, because no surplus labour can be realized by capital” (ibid, 64). The point here is that the capitalist is his own worst enemy, and the cycles of bust and depression, inflation, etc. are brought about by the fantasia of the capitalists.

Ultimately Marx’s diagnosis would be that as the contradiction continues to produce these same cycles of boom and bust over and over and over again, it is up to the workers, not the entrepreneurs and bankers (Capital), to appropriate their own surplus labour (free time): Once they have done so- and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. (ibid, 65) This will lead Marx to his final point, that real wealth is the combined or total productive power of all workers, and the measure of wealth is not labour time but “disposable time”. Instead of the capitalist who bases wealth on labour time, on the exploitation of the worker beyond his necessary time he needs to support himself and his family, he is force to “work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools” (ibid. 65).

Instead as Marx will tell us what should occur is the saving of labour time, of turning it into free time, of education and productive time for family and life thereby allowing workers to ultimately accumulate knowledge for society: “this process is then both a discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming, and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society” (ibid, 66).

As we move into an era of artificial intelligence, smart cities, technocapitalism the need for creativity and higher performance and inventiveness has come more and more into play, and as Luis Suarez-Villa will tell us this is becoming a era in which creativity itself is becoming the greatest commodity: “The commodification of this most intangible and elusive human quality has characteristics separating it from the commodification of other resources in previous stages of capitalism.”3

In my next post I’ll introduce some of where Luis Suarez-Villa sees our brave new world of technocapitalism is taking us. All of this as lead in to Kaku and others as to the direction of capital, acceleration, and science as they merge and form the new worlds ahead.

1. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Random House, 2012)
2. Fragment on Machines. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. editors Robin Makay and Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
3. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 357-359). Kindle Edition.

Visions of the Future: Apocalypse or Paradise?

Continuing with a frontal assault of our conceptions of the future in both their negative and positive modes I’d like to continue down the path from previous notes on John Michael Greer’s assessment for America and the world’s prospects (here). He ended his book telling us that Americans need a new vision, a new Dream, one “that doesn’t require promises of limitless material abundance, one that doesn’t depend on the profits of empire or the temporary rush of affluence we got by stripping a continent of its irreplaceable natural resources in a few short centuries“. Yet, he also warned us that “…nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on“.1

Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future will offer what he terms an “insider’s view” of the future. I thought it ironic that he would pull the old trick of insider/outsider that opposes scientific authority to the folk-wisdom of the tribe, and assumes scientific knowledge has some greater privilege and access to the future than that of historians, sociologists, science fiction writer’s, and “futurologists” – who he gently removes from authority and truth, saying in his preface that they are all “outsiders” – “predicting the world without any firsthand knowledge of science itself” as if this placed them in a world of non-knowledge or folk-wisdom that could be left behind, as if they were mere children in a grown-ups world of pure scientific mystery that only the great and powerful “insider”, the scientist as inventor, investigator, explorer of the great mysteries of the universe could reveal.

Yet, in the very next paragraph after dismissing the folk-wisdom of the tribal mind, and bolstering the power of science and scientists he will ironically admit that “it is impossible to predict the future with complete accuracy”, that the best we can do is to “tap into the minds of scientists on the cutting edge of research, who are doing the yeoman’s work of inventing the future”.2 One notices that science is now equated with “invention” of the future, as if the future was a product or commodity that we are building in the factories of knowledge, both material and immaterial that will – as he terms it “revolutionize civilization”. Of course etymologically invention is considered “a finding or discovery,” a noun of action from the past participle stem of invenire to “devise, discover, find”. And as he uses the words “yeoman’s work” for scientists as inventors of the future we will assume the old sense of that as “commoner who cultivates his land”, or an  “attendant in a noble household,” so that these new scientists are seen as laborers of the sciences producing for their masters, or the new nobility of the elite Wall-Street and Corporate Globalist machine.

(I will come back to the notion of the future as Invention in another essay in this series. What is the future? How do we understand this term? Is the future an invention, a discovery, a finding; or, is it rather an acceleration of the future as immanent in our past, a machinic power unfolding, or a power invading us from the future and manipulating our minds to deliver and shape us to its will? Time. What is this temporality? What is causality? Do we shape it or does it shape us? )

So in Kaku we are offered a vision of the future in alignment with the globalist vision of a corporatized future in which scientists are mere yeoman doing the bidding of their masters in inventing a future that they are paying for through the great profit making machine of capitalism. It’s not that his use of differing metaphors and displacements, derision of the outsider and ill-informed or folk-wisdom practices of historians, sociologists, science-fiction writers, and futurologists was in itself a mere ploy; no, its that whether consciously or unknowingly he is setting the stage, which on the surface appears so positive, so amiable, so enlightening and informing for a corporate vision of the future that is already by the virtue of a dismissal of its critics a done deal, a mere effort of unlocking through the power of “devices, inventions, and therapies”. Kaku is above all an affirmer of technologies dream, of science as the all-powerful Apollonian sun-god of enlightened human destiny that will revolutionize civilization.  

I doubt this is the dream that John Michael Greer had in mind when he mentioned that we need a new American Dream. Or is it? For Greer there only the ultimate demise of the last two-hundred years of Fordism or the Industrial Age:

Between the tectonic shifts in geopolitics that will inevitably follow the fall of America’s empire, and the far greater transformations already being set in motion by the imminent end of the industrial age , many of the world’s nations will have to deal with a similar work of revisioning.(Greer, 276)

Yet, this is where Greer leaves it, at a stage of revisioning to come, of dreams to be enacted. He offers no dream himself, only the negative critique of existing dreams of the Fordist era utopias that have failed humanity and are slowly bringing about disaster rather than transformation.

Kaku on the other hand, whose works sell profitably, a man who has the ear of the common reader as well as the corporate profiteers seeks his own version (or theirs?) of the American Dream. Unlike his previous book Visions, which offered his vision of the coming decades; instead, this new one offers a hundred year view of technology and other tensions in our global world that as he tells it ominously “will ultimately determine the fate of humanity”.

I’ll leave it there for this post, and will take up his first book, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century in my next post, then his Physics of the Future in the third installment. 

1. Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America . New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Doubleday, 2012)

John Michael Greer: Decline and Fall of the Global Empire

An empire is an arrangement among nations, backed and usually imposed by military force, which extracts wealth from a periphery of subject nations and concentrates it in the imperial core. Put more simply, an empire is a wealth pump, a device to enrich one nation at the expense of others.
– John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report’s new book is worth reading, Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America. The basic ploy is as old as Rome: the globalist nations are running out of both territory, resources, and what he terms the costs between the periphery and the core. Because of this we’re headed for a crunch, or as he terms it, a catabolic collapse:

To understand how empires collapse, two things have to be kept in mind. The first is the core concept of catabolic collapse … — the mismatch between maintenance costs and available resources. The second is the definition of empire … — that an empire is a wealth pump, a system of economic arrangements backed by military force that extracts wealth from subject nations and concentrates it in the imperial core.1

He suggests that the American Empire and Western Civilization are slowly moving toward decline and fall, and that it is due to the a catabolic collapse as defined above. As Arthur Herman will tell us in The Idea of Decline in Western History, decline is actually a “theory about the nature and meaning of time”.2 That Western democracies and globalism are being eroded from competitive and aggressive forces and nations such as Russian and China is part of the reason, yet more than that is the West’s mythical inheritance in the ‘Myth of Progress’: every theory of progress also contains a theory of decline, since “inevitable” historical laws can just as easily shift in reverse as move forward. Likewise, whenever we meet a theory about the decline of Western civilization, we can probably find lurking underneath a theory of progress.(Herman, 2)

Yet, we’ve seen this surmise before in the works of such grand narrations as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. Spengler would at the beginning of his classic history of decline ask:

Is there a logic of history? Is there, beyond all the casual and incalculable elements of the separate events, something that we may call a metaphysical structure of historic humanity, something that is essentially independent of the outward forms — social, spiritual and political — which we see so clearly? Are not these actualities indeed secondary or derived from that something? Does world-history present to the seeing eye certain grand traits, again and again, with sufficient constancy to justify certain conclusions? And if so, what are the limits to which reasoning from such premises may be pushed? 3

Reinhold Niebuhr in his own time would state that the lower middle class was often attracted to a politics of envy and resentment, and that the progressive tradition never grappled with the difficult questions but continually battled over false ideological quandaries of life – anti-intellectualism , xenophobia, racism.4 When it came down to it as Niebuhr would ask: If social cohesion is impossible without coercion, and coercion is impossible without the creation of social injustice, and the destruction of injustice is impossible without the use of further coercion, are we not in an endless cycle of social conflict? (Lasch, 532)

Christopher Lasch himself felt the progressive tradition in American History was on decline, and even in its final death throws. For him the options were few and far between:

The need for a more equitable distribution of wealth ought to be obvious, both on moral and on economic grounds, and it ought to be equally obvious that economic equality cannot be achieved under an advanced system of capitalist production. What is not so obvious is that equality now implies a more modest standard of living for all, not an extension of the lavish standards enjoyed by the favored classes in the industrial nations to the rest of the world. In the twenty-first century, equality implies a recognition of limits, both moral and material, that finds little support in the progressive tradition. (Lasch, 532)

This last published in 1991. Yet, the rich or top 1% of the global world, and especially in America are not about to lay down their riches for the masses. That last sentence is telling as we watch nightly the austerity measures earmarked for working people while the rich live in hyper-luxury that even the ancient Romans would have envied. So what does John Michael Greer see ahead? “

Over the decades ahead, the people of the United States and the rest of the industrial world are going to have to deal with the unraveling of an already declining American global empire, the end of a global economic order dominated by the dollar and thus by America’s version of the imperial wealth pump, the accelerating depletion of a long list of nonrenewable resources, and the shattering impact of rapid climate change , just for starters. If history is any guide, the impact of those crises will likely be compounded by wars, revolutions, economic crises, and all the other discontinuities that tend to crop up when one global order gives way to another. (Greer, 264-266)

Of course there is nothing new there, more of the doom and gloom forecasting we’ve seen in many books over the past few years that offer us differing views of the coming collapse of civilization on a planetary wide scale. The accumulated effect is almost mind numbing. Michael C. Ruppert in his Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World would offer his own sobering conclusion:

At question here is not just the planet’s ability to sustain new growth, which is obviously a thing of the past, but its ability to support those who are already here. We must power down. There were only about two billion of us here before oil. There are almost seven billion of us today. Failing to address this single, overriding issue may result in the extinction of the entire species because, if we do not address this as a whole, it will be addressed for us by chaos, war, famine, disease, societal breakdown, collapse and very possibly nuclear war. This challenge may be addressed by those with vast money and resources in secret. It may be addressed by genocide, biological warfare or some other means.5

 Another more scholarly or academic treatment on collapse came from Joseph A. Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies, wherein he demarcates four basic concepts that lead to collapse: first, human societies are problem-solving organizations; second, sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance; third, increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and fourth, investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns. (Tainter, 194) The combination of the first three into the fourth align well with Greer’s notion of the mismatch between maintenance costs and available resources.

Once a complex society enters the stage of declining marginal returns according to Tainter, collapse becomes a mathematical likelihood, requiring little more than sufficient passage of time to make probable an insurmountable calamity. (195) Yet, unlike Spengler, Toynbee, or even the notion of progressive decline as pointed out in both Arther Herman and Christopher Lasch, Tainter will tell us:

Collapse … is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity. The notion that collapse is uniformly a catastrophe is contradicted, moreover, by the present theory. To the extent that collapse is due to declining marginal returns on investment in complexity, it is an economizing process. It occurs when it becomes necessary to restore the marginal return on organizational investment to a more favorable level. To a population that is receiving little return on the cost of supporting complexity, the loss of that complexity brings economic, and perhaps administrative, gains.(198)

What he describes sounds much like Freud discussing the ‘Death drive’ which ultimately leads to a degree zero or annihilation into as Tainter would have it: “a lower complexity”. Problem with Tainter is that he speaks of the collapse of societies as if it were a mathematical abstraction devoid of human pain and suffering, as if it were just a matter of theorems and economic measures based on chaos theory, etc., where its all about loss or gains of complexity that can easily be handled by a top/down administrative tier of intellectual bureaucrats.  Yet, he admits that his approach is neither dramatic nor romantic, and that they would never make a movie of it but that in the end it speaks the truth of societies as clearly as all those grand narratives without the emotional baggage, just the plain facts of the case.

Another rock star of collapse theory is Dmitry Orlov who tells us he has no qualifications other than experiencing the collapse of the Soviet Union:

Collapse can be conceived of as an orderly, organized retreat rather than a rout. It may even be useful to think of collapse as a transition: a transition that has already been planned for us (so no further transition planning activities are needed) and will consist of the collapse of finance, consumerism and politics-as-usual, along with the collapse of the societies and cultures that are entirely dependent on them. (Orlov, 14) 7

In fact as he began studying collapse he discovered over and over certain basic patterns that turned up time and time again, which he ultimately laid down as the five stages of collapse:

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed to resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out and access to capital is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/ or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality , compassion, charity.” Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I can die tomorrow.” (Orlov, 14-15)

Stage five almost reminds me of my abusive father who used to pound into me literally the motto: “It’s a dog eat dog world kid. If you don’t learn to eat them, they’ll eat you for sure. Learn to fight.” Have we truly come to that? Are we entering the stage of becoming our inhuman core? Sad. Yet, if one wanders through a few cities here in America that are now in financial ruins:  Stockton, California; Mammoth Lakes, California; West Fall, Pennsylvania; Jefferson County, Alabama; Falls, Rhode Island; Vallejo, California; Moffett, Oklahoma; Pritchard, Alabama, etc. and the list could go on… (see Broken America) would we discover aspects of stage five’s cultural collapse?

That we are living in the twilight years of America is becoming obvious for many of us as we watch things fall apart. We can see many of the aspects in Orlov’s five stages already with us in differing parts of this country, and I’m sure other nations in Europe or elsewhere around the world would have their own tales. As Greer sums it up for us here in America:

One of the central tasks before Americans today, as our nation’s imperial age stumbles blindly toward its end, is that of reinventing America: of finding new ideals that can provide a sense of collective purpose and meaning in an age of deindustrialization and of economic and technological decline. We need, if you will, a new American dream, one that doesn’t require promises of limitless material abundance, one that doesn’t depend on the profits of empire or the temporary rush of affluence we got by stripping a continent of its irreplaceable natural resources in a few short centuries. I think it can be done, if only because it’s been done three times already. For that matter, the United States is far from the only nation that’s had to find a new meaning for itself in the midst of crisis, and a fair number of other nations have had to do it, as we will, in the face of decline and the failure of some extravagant dream. Nor will the United States be the only nation facing such a challenge in the years immediately ahead. Between the tectonic shifts in geopolitics that will inevitably follow the fall of America’s empire, and the far greater transformations already being set in motion by the imminent end of the industrial age, many of the world’s nations will have to deal with a similar work of revisioning. That said, nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on. (Greer, 276)

As a poet in what Harold Bloom once termed The Evening Land of America it’s time for us to both envision and revision what it means to be America. Walt Whitman once said in a poem, America:

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

 

Let that be our motto going forward! Yet, it’s worth reemphasizing Greer’s last sentence: “…nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on.

 

1. Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (pp. 14-15). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Herman, Arthur (2010-05-29). The Idea of Decline in Western History (p. 1). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
3. Spengler, Oswald (2014-06-11). The Decline of the West: The Complete Edition (Kindle Locations 225-229).  . Kindle Edition.
4. Lasch, Christopher (1991-09-17). The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (p. 531). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
5. Michael C. Ruppert. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (Kindle Locations 2275-2279). Kindle Edition.
6. Joseph A. Tainter. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Kindle Edition.
7. Orlov, Dmitry (2013-05-10). The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit (p. 14). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

A Dry Leaf in a Windy Land

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As a child I heard them in the distance,
Bellowing and yelping, hell hounds
In the night, dark and full of ancient spite;
Springing after an old coon in the oak tree:
Ancient war in the woods, broken kings

Under a bone moon; where my heart
Followed the dead to their hazed weir;
Sad eyes gleaming – moldy dreams
Traveling maze-wise, troubling stars;
Lost in the silence, mumming a lost cause,
An endless dance, bitter and broken as I go.
Sometimes in the night I hear her banshee call:
The crone and her riders shifting among dank stones;
And I like the fool I am, I rise up and follow them,
Over hills of my black mind: a dry leaf in a windy land.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Benjamin Noys on Accelerationism & Counter-Accelerationism

I want to suggest that the starting point for any political sensibility, by which I mean the sensibility from the left, is to break with the fantasies of Real forces of acceleration.
– Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities

Just finished reading Benjamin Noys’ new book Malign Velocities. It’s a work one could finish in an afternoon, yet it is packed with some interesting and insightful historical and critical nuggets. His blog No Useless Leniency has been a mainstay for lively thought for a while now, and his earlier work The Persistence of the Negative is an excellent critique of Continental philosophy.

The notion of Accelerationism has a distinctive history, which of late do to Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics (here) has revived certain tendencies within leftist theory concerning its investment in Marxist ideology and practice. A good book that incorporated many of the historical texts as well as later commentary from both left and right is the #Accelerate# the accelerate reader (here) edited by Robin Mackay, Armen Avanessian. I’ve published several essays on this and other aspects of Accelerationism in my Speculations on Philosophy page (here). Nick Land has the majority of links to most web related information (here).

Noys work does something worthwhile in that he gives a nice history and summation of current thought concerning accelerationism, as well as offering his own counter-accelerationism critique and positive thought on what is to be done in our current moment. If you know nothing of accelerationism this would be a good place to start. If your a non-philosopher, but would like to get your hands dirty and understand some of the current controversies and aspects of political and social philosophy as it is being touted by some on the left or right this would be a good introduction.

Noys makes no qualms, he’s politically on the left and his discourse stays within the perimeters of Marxist ideology and economic thought. Yet, he also sees accelerationism as part of something greater and perplexing, perverse. As part of that tradition steaming from Nietzsche, Bataille, Italian Futurism, Surrealism, Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death, and finally given a new formulation within the work of Nick Land and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) at University of Warwick in the 1990’s. It would be the work of Land that influenced his decision to write this work, that and the notion that Land and the CCRU crew abandoned the humanistic traditions in favor of a new “post-human state beyond any form of subject, excepting the delirious processes of capital itself.” Land’s sense of a full blown Deleuzeguattarian accelerationism along with an investment in neo-reactionary thought would force Noys to term their work as “Deleuzian Thatcherism”.

What I enjoyed is that he kept the polemic to a minimal, and delved into the history and commentary with both an equitable and even handedness, never falling into personal attacks nor castigating what he in fact finds a little distasteful. He seems to utilize the old ironic stance of placing accelerationism within a realm of “fantasy” which is opposed to the Real of production. One might assume he was formulating the Real as part of the Lacanian Real, but instead as he states it “the Real is capitalized to indicate this is not the ‘real’ qua reality, but rather the excessive force of production that is that is only ever cooled-off to form the apparently ‘real’. I would have like to see him actually go into more details in a critique of Land’s only book, A Thirst for Annhilation and his recently published essays in Fanged Noumena, but for better or worse he adds a small appraisal in chapter four of this work.

A better way to understand this production of the real is to realize it is fundamentally incongruent with Freudian and Lacanian models of the unconscious. Freud and Lacan see the unconscious as symbolic, fantasy laden, and dramatic ­­ filled with semiotic puzzles and ancient Greek theater. Hence, for both authors desire is associated with lack. That is to say, desire desires that which is fantasized, repressed, wished for, or absent. Desire is engaged entirely with that which is lacking and needs to be represented. Hence, “desire gives way to a representation” of that which is lacking ­­ the phallus, the Oedipal escapade, the ideal “I”, etc.. But for Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus the schizoid, as a figure of nomadic thought and life is incapable of experiencing lack. For him or her the unconscious is always productive and never fantastical. Desire itself produces the real and creates new worlds. So instead of desire as ‘lack’ we have desire as a positive force or power that is creative or libidinal (i.e., a drive without intention or goal).

In some ways this agon over concepts of desire as lack or productive fullness; as an absence seeking the big Other, the represented One: Freud, Lacan, Badiou, Zizek, etc.; and, the other tradition from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze and Guattari, and Nick Land is central to our era. This battle over desire and its force is at the heart of accelerations as well. As Nick Land will tell us in A Thirst for Annihilation we should return to Schopenhauer, not Hegel for our understanding of Desire:

“It is not Hegel or Schelling who provide… it is Schopenhauer. With Schopenhauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as a energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic. It is this type of thinking that resources Nietzsche’s genealogy of inhuman desire, which feeds in turn into Bataille’s base materialism, for which ‘noumenon’ is addressed as impersonal death and as unconscious drive” (8). 

I’ll not go into detail of Noys confrontation with Bataille, which is part of his section on Terminal Acceleration in which he confronts Jean-Luc Goddar’d films and Bataille’s ‘excremental vision’ as he terms it after certain remarks in Bataille’s works such as The Literature of Evil, etc. If there is one fault in Noys book it is this inability to tease out the conceptual frameworks of the various accelerationisms. He does a great job of skimming the surface layers, but because of his investment in Marxist ideology his mind seems blinkered to read everything toward some counter-accelerationist teleology or resistance without ever truly lifting and separating out the various forces of the Right and Left Accelerationisms except as history and economics, politics and cultural critique – not as philosophies vying for the mind of our current era. 

Yet, as Noys will tell us in his preface his plan “is not to offer an exhaustive account of accelerationism, but rather to choose certain moments when it emerges as a political and cultural strategy”. So we have to accept that this is more of political and cultural critique, rather than a philosophical critique of the conceptual frameworks of the various accelerationisms. I’m not going to give a full reading since much of the material has been covered by many parties. I just want to highlight a few nuggets here and there. Over and over he reiterates that at the core of accelerationism and an ideology is this sense of the merger of the human and machine, whether in economics, politics, social, or cultural life. Noys believes we should stay with the economic realm rather than the fantasies of hyper-accelerated capitalism, understanding how our own machinic nature intersects and links us to the realms of labor and production. He argues that even in the cyberpunk phuturism of fiction and music and economics of High-Frequency Trading (HFT) we see a postmodernism with a ‘passion for the real’. He sees that the aesthetic appeal of accelerationism lies in its sense of jouissance – a sense of perverse enjoyment that seeks a fusion of pleasure/pain or masochistic immolation. At the heart of this sensibility is desire and death, flux and flow – the need to accelerate faster and faster to the point of annihilation. At least this would be the classic form of it found partially in Land and others.

Noys will not take on the task of a critique of his left compeers except to say a few words about Williams and Srnicek’s manifesto, except as baring on the dromological effect of speed (Virilio) they see in traditional accelerationism. His main critique of them is their inability to ‘ground’ their critique of Landian or other forms of accelerationism. He’ll call their move to ‘open a space of possibilities’, or as Brassier and Negarestani later (and they are never mentioned) following Sellars/Brandom in a normative turn toward notions of ‘navigating the space of reasons’ and offering negotiations of ‘give’ and ‘take’ between various strata of society, politics, culture, etc.  He says with it we could speak of an “accelerationist critique of accelerationism”.

Yet, he doesn’t go into any depth into their actual program. Even the work of Land is not fully explored, but is rather caricatured. I felt the early part of the book, the historical reflections and distillation were excellent. His knowledge of Marx seemed basic and flowed with the usual scholarship of labor and labor-power and dead labor, etc. He uses examples extensively from Marx and others to bolster his critiques. Most of his critiques were of early ancestors of the concept of acceleration, teasing out the threads of the concept in discussions of various forms of acceleration: Futurist, Communist, Cyberpunk, Apocalyptic, and Terminal. Each of the various strands weaves a tale of a runaway capitalism that seems bent of merging either with the cyborg posthuman worlds, or allowing some H.P. Lovecraft fantasy of Shoggothic monstrous minds  merging out of the future-past into our moment. This interplay of fantasy and the Real is like a dialectical leitmotif running the gamut of the essay. Each of his historical moments and commentary were spot on and handled with finesse. He is well read and has a good grasp of the material. But in the end I wanted to know beyond the negative critique what he might offer as part of his positive program, his counter-accelerationist agenda.

What he discovers is that tracing this heritage of accelerationist and anti-accelerationist discourse we discover a “strange convergence on nostalgia: nostalgia for a vanishing possibility for socialists slow-down, itself a terminal slide away from socialism, versus capitalist ostalgie that can only fill our absent future with past dreams of acceleration.” He tells us accelerationists see the problem but not the solution, that they opt for an integration with the machine, with capitalism as an accelerating process in which humans are to be integrated. That this is a ‘moving contradiction’, yet it is not a solution. Instead accelerationism seeks to integrate and ultimately move toward oblivion and extinction, which “bypasses the problem of consciousness, awareness, struggle in a logic of immersion.”

Against nostalgia and a revitalization of past accelerationism in whatever form, modern or postmodern, he tells us we need to begin by recognizing the basic contradiction at the heart of the accelerationist agenda. Caught between a terminal future or a nostalgic return to an impossible Fordist past we seem bound to a runaway train. Noys tells us we need to act now, and rethink the traditional problems that workers and labor face in their lives daily. He would have us struggle for the ‘decommodification’ of our lives, fight against the privatization that seems to be forcing the burden of health-care and other public services onto the individual as if this is what they wanted, when in fact it is what the larger capitalist entities want. If they force the individual to pay for their own services then the cost is off their shoulders. He tells us we need to protect public services, benefits, and social support systems that help sustain them.

A counter-accelerationist move he informs us would begin in disruption of acceleration itself and all its capitalist machinery. I kept thinking of the my favorite environmentalist book The Monkey-Wrench Gang and Aldo Leopold for some reason. The notion of gumming up the works and slowing the system down using various tactics came to mind. Yet, he doesn’t suggest we decelerate, or withdraw, instead what he says is our task is to “collectively sustain forms of struggle and negation that do not offer false consolation, either of inbuilt hope or cynicism and absolute despair.” Instead of falling into Land’s trap of “Transcendental Miserablism” we need to track it, understand its failings, and seek ways to obviate its effects.  Ultimately we need to face the fact that we are in the midst of integrations, immersions, and extractions. Capitalism is already seeking to merge us into new forms of posthuman and trans-human machinic worlds. What we need is to realize:

The tension of these moments requires a collective sense of past struggles and of struggles to come, a recognition of that possibility of work as it has been shaped not only by capitalism but by resistance.

Whether you agree or disagree Benjamin Noys needs to be read by those who value current struggles and resistances. His work is clear, incisive, rigorous, and has that measure of intellectual honesty that we need in this time between times.

 

1. Benjamin Noys. Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism (Zero Books, 2014)

 

 

Quote of the Day: Michael Foucault on The Year Without Names

Q: Allow me first to ask why you have chosen to remain anonymous?

MF: Why have I suggested that I remain anonymous? Out of nostalgia for the time when, being completely unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard. The surface contact with some possible reader was without a wrinkle. the effects of the book rebounded in unforeseen places and outlined forms I hadn’t thought about. The name is facility.

I will propose a game: the year without names. For one year books will be published without the author’s name. The critics will have to manage with an entirely anonymous production. But I suspect that perhaps they will have nothing to say: all the authors will wait until the next years to publish their books.

from Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961 – 1984

The Curse of the Sun: Libidinal Materialism as the Composition of the Universe

…philosophy is a machine that transforms the prospect of thought into excitation; a generator.

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land like his compeers – Nietzsche, Bataille, and Cioran has that quality of aphoristic power that keeps one returning here and there to his dark disquisitions and divigations into the night worlds between desire and death. I’ve asked myself many times why certain writers force me to reread them over and over and over again; and, as such, why with each new reading I discover bits and pieces of something I’d missed, or not been aware of within the last set of notations. For, yes, these are writers for whom one takes notes, jots down certain aphoristic sentences that suddenly awaken one’s own machine, one’s own mind, exciting it and generating other thoughts.  There seems to be under the darkening layers or scales of his thought an energetics, a theory of composition that seeks its habitation at the crossroads of eroticism, death, and the infinite inroads of desire. Life is a child of the sun, and its curse: to wander in a maze without outlet bound to an infernal machine of desire that seeks only ever more powerful ways of dodging the fatal Minotaur of inexistence.

As a pariah and outlaw philosopher Land in his one book and several essays pushed the limits of mind like some Rimbaud of the last thought. No need to go over the history of that again. Too many superficial readings of his physical and mental breakthroughs and breakdowns into vastation or emptiness are already misunderstood. And, that he has returned not as his former self, but as a gnomic agent proclaiming his cultural provocations to a certain reactionary mindset is only another masked distancing from his earlier wildness.

As he will remind us Bataille’s “thirst for annihilation is the same as the sun” (33).1 Yet, it is not a “desire man directs toward the sun, but the solar trajectory itself, the sun as the unconscious subject of terrestrial history” (33). This notion that the history of the earth is guided by a secret history of the sun, its dark proclivities and mythologies guiding the pathology of human civilization and the inhuman forms that shadow us. Is this not the truth we seem to fear? We seem to hide from the white death of its blinding gold mask, the eye of death that would turn us to ash if we were not protected by the ions swirling in the ocean of our atmosphere. That the ancients who sacrificed to the sun, who with obsidian or bone knives cut the living hearts of its victims from their chests and held them to the sun as to the great glory and splendor of heavenly sovereignty. That blood, and only blood; the violence of death could keep this great power churning in the heavens, this furnace of life, this engine of all creation: was this not at the heart of all ancient religion? Human life consumed in the furnace of the sun? Is not all economics an economy of the Sun? As Land will tell us:

Excess or surplus precedes production, work, seriousness, exchange, and lack. The primordial task of life is not to produce or survive, but to consume the clogging floods of riches – of energy – pour down upon it.

The notion that all organic life on earth is part of a vast consumption machine, a living mouth. Is this not the truth of it? And, what are we consuming? Is it not the excess of the living Sun itself? Are we not fed by the sun and its excessive life? Sometimes I think of those nineteenth century mythologizers who sought to understand ancient religious practices under the auspices of solar mythologies; or, as Land will have it, there “is no difference between desire and the sun: sexuality is not psychological but cosmo-illogical” (37). Land will obliterate the Physicalism of science or philosophical thought through the light of the sun, and out of its ashes – like some new born phoenix, “libidinal materialism” will arise: a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, which as he satirically put it “a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice” (38).

Physicalism was bound to theology, to the One. It was a dualism, having formulated matter as dead and passive and mind as other than this stuff. It was already caught in its on fly-trap, bound to false assumptions before it even began explaining the universe of its reasoning madness. After a thorough investigation of thermodynamics, entropy, negentropy and Boltzmann’s mathematics and findings he will recenter his understanding of “libidinal matter” saying,

“Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation… (following  Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud ) entitling it ‘drive’. Drive is that which explains, rather than presupposing, the cause/effect couple of classical physics. … drives are irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law. (42)”

In his theory Land is moving toward a non-intentional philosophy, one that is “not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire as understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic” (42). So against Hegel, Marx and their progeny Land offers another libidinal materialism. One must turn to thermodynamics and ‘energy’ for an alternative view of materialism. Two-thousand years of metaphysical blundering is overthrown and new tropes rearrange our relations to science and philosophy: Chance, Tendency, Energy, and Information. He will offer a new cosmographic cosmos:

“…thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all came from. The death-drive is the longing to return there, just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. … Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. (43)”

The universe is an open, rather than closed system: “no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy,. A receipt of information – of intensity – carried downstream” (43). Yet, against Boltzmann who built his notions of thermodynamics within an ontology, libidinal materialism sits in chaos outside any thought of Being. What Land offers is a processual theory based on composition, one in which Being is an effect of chaos composition rather than some static substance: the “effect of being is derivative from process…” (44).

Out of Nietzsche he will demarcate a general libidinal energetics: 1) a questioning of the mathematical underpinnings of science as same, equal, or identical – as essentializing; 2) the figure of eternal recurrence as libidinal engine producing energetics; and, 3) a general theory of hierarchies, of order as rank-order (composition). Idealism and Physicalism collapse, transcendental philosophy from Kant till now is decapitated; finished; and, finally, 4) a diagnosis of nihilism, of the hyperbolic of desire (the terminal end-point of humanity in null or God). (44-45).

Land will admit Freud into the new philosophical world of libidinal materialism: he, too, is an energeticist: “he does not conceive of desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process. Yet, Freud – even though recognizing the truth of the drives will bolster up the old metaphysics of ego and the reality principle against their force, going against the very truth of the pressure of the drives as modulation of self not as intentional agent but as temporary control point for the drives in their fluxuations and endless compositions. Land will discover in Freud another Solar Mythologist, one found within his Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he discovers life as a mazing in complex escape from death or null zero, an endless wandering in the labyrinth of time against death: “a maze wanderer” (47). Then Land asks: “What is the source of the ‘decisive external influences’ that propel the mazings of life, if not the sun?”

Life is not an accident as some suggest, but is rather the curse of the sun. Land is our postmodern Lucretius teaching us that death is nothing to be feared, death is merely the form life takes in its infinite mazings and compositions under the gaze of the Apollonian eye of the Sun. “Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. … Across the aeons our mass hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls.” Desire continues its quest for the sun. Or, as that Shaman of the Evening Lands says it:

Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

The secret of the labyrinth is in its “scalings” – like dark matter and dark energy which structurate and energize the visible matter we see in the universe the drives within that chaotic sea produce the veritable universe of light and suns and galaxies around us. Composing and decomposing and recomposing matter in an infinite play without purpose or teleological goal.  There is no whole, no totality, there is nothing but the labyrinth and process, comings and goings and returnings, endlessly all the way up and all the way down.

Land will remind us that for Bataille the natural and cultural worlds that envelope the earth or nothing more than the evolution of death. Why? Because in “death life becomes an echo of the sun, realizing its inevitable destiny, which is pure loss” (56). He will add that such a materialist discourse is free of that intentional subject that mars all idealist discourse, and that it offers a non-metaphysical and non-intentional understanding of the of the economy as pure poetry rather than philosophical plunderings of either Descartes dualism or Marx’s dialectical modes of thought. Instead, as Bataille will affirm, poetry is a “holocaust of words” (56).

In fact bourgeois culture is not an expression of capitalism, it is its antithesis: capitalism is anti-culture (56). In the older feudalism of the aristocracy and Catholicism the notion of “expenditure” and pure loss were central, in the new modern economies cannot accept the need for expenditure or even admit that overproduction is an issue or problem. Instead of waste and excess, sacrifice and pot-latch festivals of total expenditure we get endless cycles of overproduction, deflation, and depression.

One remembers those anthropologists who studied the notion of potlatch:

“In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished”.2

As Earnest Becker in his Escape from Evil will remind us “primitive man created an economic surplus beyond basic human need so that he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire economy of nature in the first place”3, so that he needed to give to keep the power flowing, the cosmological circuit of power from sun to earth and back again moving, allowing the obligation and expiation to channel its forces of accumulated riches rather than hording them. In the potlatch when the entire goods of a community and a chieftain were destroyed and annihilated it was to open up the power of the gods and sun to the community as a whole: “the eternal flux of power in the broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible expenditure; man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as possible” (30). 

In our time War is the potlatch feast of nations, the way in which nations sacrifice to the gods of life and expend their generosity and glory to the ancient sun and death. As Paul Virilio in Pure War speaking of the atrocities of Pol Pot will tells us: “If they had let Pol Pot act as he saw fit, there would have been no one left. Cambodia is the scale-model of the suicide State which no longer gathers populations in order to exploit territory, but which infinitely dissolves it” and allows the festival of a endless annihilation of expenditure.4

In our time philanthropy and other so to speak redistributions of wealth back to the community have become parodies and examples of the forgotten truth of those ancient potlatches. Even in the latest democratic pitch to redistribute the wealth to those in need is a parody. We’ve lost the truth of giving, of expenditure, or the pure waste of goods to the gods and sun. We live now in that labyrinth without outlet where no expenditure and no waste exist, only the endless cycles of repetition and economic depression. The riches of the world continue to be accumulated in the hands of a few who will never all those to return to the community or the sun. Yet, as the debt and guilt of this accumulate the earth and sun will have their day, too.

As Land will tell us the “mobility peculiar to the labyrinth – real cosmic motion or liquidation – is not confined by the scales, instead it finds a shaft of facilitation passing from one to another, a “slippage”, the full consequence of which is an illimitable dispersion across the strata: communication through death” (203). Harold Bloom in a book on The Labyrinth will tell us that the ancient identity of rhetoric, psychology, and cosmology is preserved in the figuration of imaginative literature “as a breathing, moving labyrinth”.5 James Joyce once said that “history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake”, and Finnegan’s Wake is a figural labyrinth within which both secular and sacred mazings repeat themselves in moving kaleidoscope of pun in which the reader is condemned to wander between sea and sea. But then again maybe the truth is that the living labyrinth doesn’t want you to escape, that in truth it lulls you into wandering its dark corridors forever in hopes that you will never discover the exit; for to find the exit is to discover neither escape nor freedom, but the final termination: death. 

Land will leave us one last sublime darkening, a philosophical knowing (kairos-happening) or gnosis (not Gnosticism but a knowing that is at once a corruption and a degradation of all we have been or will be):

Poetry is this slippage that is broken upon the end of poetry, erased in a desert as ‘beautiful as death’. There is no question of affirmation, achievement, gain, but only a catastrophe without mitigation compared to which everything is poverty and imprisonment.

 

1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992).
2. Potlatch. Wikipedia.
3. Escape from Evil. Ernest Becker. (Free Press, 1975)
4. Pure War. Paul Virilio ( Semiotext(e), 2008)
5. The Labyrinth. Harold Bloom. (InfoBase, 2009)

 

Fantasy & Cruelty

In Sade we discover a surprising affinity with Spinoza – a naturalistic and mechanistic approach imbued with a mathematical spirit.
– Gilles Deleuze, On Coldness and Cruelty

As I finished reading G.R.R. Martin’s first novel in his Game of Thrones series an aspect of his work kept cropping up from time to time: the realism and the cruelty that pervades the work. Yet, it’s not pornographic, not in the sense that he relishes the verbal abuse and descriptions to the point of decadence, of martialing each and every literal manifestation and image of physical description. No. He is subtle and brushes over most of it through characterization instead.

For those that haven’t read the book I don’t want to go into details, but toward the end one of the main characters throughout the book – one who has shown courage, honor, loyalty, forthrightness: all the usual aspects of character we associate with a heroic stance – this person, is suddenly marked as a traitor and beheaded. What was interesting about it is that the one who calls for the beheading is a young man who has been declared king, who is only 15, and who has been offered by his mother, the traitor’s daughter, and his counselors other options of forgiveness, banishment, etc. if the man will only pledge fealty to the young king ( and of course they blackmail him into doing this with the threat of killing his daughters ). The man stands in front of what appears to be the type of a religious institution (Septa) and proclaims openly his traitorous actions ( and, truth is, he isn’t a traitor – but I’ll not ruin the story in details). After stating this the young king accepts his pledge, but then tells all that his mother, counsellors, and others would have him send the man into exile, etc. and, he surprises them all by asking his executioner to kindly give him his head instead.

What we discover in this young man, and in others throughout the book is an almost eerie portrayal of a psychopath (i.e., one that shows no sign of remorse, no emotion or compassion toward others – a form of impersonal cruelty). What I found interesting next is that the young king is being forced by his mother to marry the man he just killed. The young king later in the day takes her up to the upper walls or parapets that afternoon and shows her a set of pikes, one of which has her father’s head on it on display. He forces her to study it as well as all the others. When she refuses he does not soil his own hands, but has one of his lackeys slap her to the point she is bleeding, etc. Again he feels absolutely nothing. Of course we never get on the inside of his head of POV, only through the eyes and mind of the victim. Deleuze will tell us that masochists want above all things to mold a woman into a despot, persuade them to cooperate in their own victimage.1

That the young king seeks to educate the young girl into his cruel and impersonal world is at the heart of masochism Delleuze tells us. The truth is that he is both king and also his mother’s son. His mother is seen to be cruel and full of bitter fury at any and all perceived enemies and tries her best to control her son and other men subordinated to her. Martin seems to favor this type of woman in his book. We notice several of the characters who have sons who are controlled and smothered in mother love. Yet, the hero’s wife that was beheaded is portrayed just the opposite, as a loving mother who let’s her sons make their own decisions. Yet, even she is seen to be strong and also willing to lead and or have her son submit to certain wishes.

I used Martin’s work as an example, but there are many fantasy series that provide this sado-masochistic tendency with some of its characters. Before reading his work one sees blurbs, ads, and reviews, all detailing his realism, grittiness, etc. But one never sees good old fashioned character studies. And, most of all this is the key to his book: character studies. I just wish he’d of shown the cruel face from the inside rather than through the eyes of his victims sometimes. But I can understand why he probably didn’t: to show psychopathy or sociopathy from the inside would be to break the contract of fantasy, to reveal a distorted mind full of hate and spite. And, truth, is most of these beings like the young king are mindless as much as emotionless. Only in Shakespeare that I know of (and, maybe a few crime novels) does one see psychopathy and what Nietzsche termed “spiritual cruelty” from the inside: Othello, Edmund in King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc.

Yet, that to me is what might be missing in certain forms of fantasy: the dark nihilistic intelligence of an Edmund. I have yet to see a fantasist portray and pure vitalist or nihilist from the inside. Yet, there is hope. I’m reading my friend R. Scott Bakker’s Second Apocalypse Series. (The Prince of Nothing, and the Aspect Emperor – two trilogies). I’m only half-way done with the first book in this series.

Deleuze will tell us that such fantasy as Sade and Masoch give us takes us to the limits of language and interpretability, that each splits language into its imperative and descriptive function toward a transcendent or higher function: allowing the personal element reflecting on itself to become totally impersonal. Each delivers through fantasy in the extreme the monstrous truth and the inhuman core of the human.

The image of that core came at the end for me in the character of Dany who brings both the dream, wish, and merciless power of imagination to bear in one finite moment of what W.B. Yeats termed in his famous A Vision as the “Condition of Fire”. You’ll have to read to the first novel in Martin’s series to understand what I mean by that ( I don’t want to spoil it for you ). 🙂

1. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty. Gilles Delleuze (Zone Books, 1999)

Busy, busy, busy… Sorry haven’t posted of late…

Just a short note: I’m still alive… just busy reading, taking notes, working on maps, writing scenes, plotting, creating characters, studying sagas, and old romance literature, rereading Tolkien, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, G.R.R. Martin and few others Guy Gavriel Kay, etc. Various histories, mythologies, religious, political, legal, and other areas of knowledge: arts, music, crafts, architecture, etc.

So much goes into the backgrounding and foregrounding of a work. I have to admit I love this new application Scrivener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
One of those apps that keeps everything organized as your going, and then can compile it into a word or mac format.

So I may play hookie for a while to just get things a bit more organized and off the ground. I had a good run on poetry for 4-5 months but it’s time to do some other projects I’ve been putting off for a while: finish up the noir novel, work on this new fantasy novel and tetralogy, and take some time to just stay away from the online world for a month or so… a little R&R… Going to take the travel trailer out to the lake and hibernate with a few good books and fish for a week or so 🙂

So have fun: enjoy the ride! I’ll be back… 🙂

Wynterhaven: Scene Three

 

The twice-born are of another order of being; they’ve faced the powers of the dead and lived.

– Sayings of the Tograh

Grimsilkan Ulfwyn gazed beyond the portico window on the north-facing of his strategy room high atop Brangwyn Tower. In the distance jutting above the snow-bound mountains of the Caerdwyn Tor he saw two stormhawks dancing in the afternoon sun. He felt as old as the gray-stone tower his grandsyre built two-generations before. His face was streaked with battle-scars and deep-cut ridges, muscular and dense, – “a stoic bastard” as his old counselor Tieg Thorngris would say, seemed almost frozen like the white and treacherous landscape beyond the castle walls. His once black beard was now full of snow-streaks, and his piercing cobalt-blue eyes seemed impervious and almost indifferent to the bitter winds sifting through the stone tower. He seemed more like one of those fierce stormhawk’s, ready to take flight at any moment, diving into the frozen worlds before him, ready to hunt prey and enjoy the blood-lust of the kill, than he was to remain here in human form lost in heavy thought.

“Snowfall is in the offing,” he said out loud to no one in particular.

“Aye, it’ll be higher than the flood-gates within a moon-passage.” Kag Romjik said.

“Why do they grow up so fast, Kag?”

“It’s the way of things. No changing Wyrd.”

Grimsilkan turned, looking at the old man, wanting to argue, but knowing it would do no good, make no difference.Kag is right”, he thought to himself: “Wyrd has us all in its clutches, we’re all part of the great pattern, mere threads on the Weavers loomcraft wheel, all part of the Mystruin Tapestry shaped and shaping all things known and unknown. My son and heir will have to face the “fearing” the same as I did long ago. Wyrd will have her way even in death if need be. Nothing I do or say will change that.”

Ermengard stepped into the room at that moment. Several of the men who’d been arguing over maps and diagrams, charts and artifacts spread across a carved oaken slab stopped and bowed as the Lady of the Castle entered with her small entourage of maidens. Her forest green eyes flashing she gracefully slipped across the hard stone floor more like a Istarian Jarlcat than the Queen of Mystruin Castle. Dressed in the shocking red and black ceremonial garb she’d designed for the coming Ceremonial of Changing, she’d knotted her ravenborn hair, letting it slip down through an intricte inlay of gold and silver tulai-circlets, looping through her bodice in the prescribed manner of her station in the hierarchy of Consiliators. If nothing else she was a stickler for the formalities of caste and rank. 

The scattered assemblage of men made a call to arms standing back as she headed directly toward her lord and husband. She hated this old tower, the chilling winds, the dank presence of the world outside with its never-ending snow and ice. Coming from the Summerlands of Droveanii far to the south and east she’d been married off by her Syre, the High-King Alain Transval as part of a political ploy to gain a hold over the dark lords of the Mystruin.

She looked upon her husband’s dire, hawk-like visage,  which after all these years and wars still seemed in its rugged way, handsome, saying: “Why the long face, my lord? Tonight you see your son through the Changing. This is a happy time, why such sadness?”

He looked at her with icy-bladed eyes, his lips tensing, and said: “You know very well this is only the beginning. Is he ready? Will he survive?”

His fierceness and bitterness were understandable, she’d never loved him the way he’d wanted, never shown the deep feelings he’d expected. Their marriage meant nothing to her more than thralldom, an enslavement to a man she’d never love; and, yet, she honored her Syre and the traditions of her people, holding forth the forms of the ancestral legacy, allowing the show of love, if not love itself. As for her son by him, she’d faced these fears long ago with her brothers, and knew the customs of her people better than this man did. She would now face it with her eldest, as he took up the challenge, faced the bitter truth of his own life, learned from the darkness all that could be learned.

That her eldest born, Tancred, had come of age, and was to become an Othering, a creature of the Mystruin waeorld was part of that ancient pact with the drakenkyn made so many ages ago. Yet, she knew something her husband and lord did not, she’d seen the ending. There was more than one way to enter the Mystruin Vale. Women had their ways, secretive ways that men would never be privy of, nor would they even understand.

She gazed directly into his steel-blue eyes saying, “Your son is of the drakenborn. He will survive.”

The tension in the room was so thick a cough would have ignited a war.

Then it all changed. Grimsilkan felt a calm come over him, knowing that she spoke truth. He laughed then and said, “Then let us be gone from this cold blasted tower. My son is to be born again tonight by blood and fire. Let us give him the send off he deserves. If my son is to die, let us feast on his dark flesh, else he will feed on ours.”

 ***

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Wynterhaven – Grasping the Conceptual Framework

 

History as taught by the Consolatory is both vague and outdated. It is in need of a radical revision in the light of what is occurring, in more sophisticated areas of knowledge, whose shadowyrd shapings started changing a hundred declans ago. The ancient discipline of history is in decay and disrepute, and has not changed its basic premises for millennia. This is an embarrassing situation for those few of us tasked with finding answers in these dark times. The historians of old tried to isolate it and demarcate the truth as if that would explain the infinite variations across the vast voids of the Consilience. It didn’t and it want. Instead as we’ve seen in the past declan what is needed is a dynamic interaction with the timelines, an entry into the record itself, a retrieval of the information lost within its dark and labyrinthine recesses, discover in its forlorn and forgotten mythologies the veritable traces of our nightmare heritage. To do this is the stated goal of the Perilous Quest.

– Magister Cyb, On the History of the Consilience: A Lecture for Prospective Novitiates

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.


In the sense of bringing both science fiction and fantasy together rather than following the path of Medieval lore and redoubling what has already been so well done by hundreds and thousands of fantasists already. I’m seeking to break the barriers between genres and to fold both old sci-fi and fantasy elements into a new mold; or, not so new… following in Frank Herbert’s footsteps with Dune, but in a completely different tale having no Messiah, but rather the efforts of many in solving the problems facing what I’m calling the “Consilience” – a nod to Edward O. Wilson’s work of that name which unsuccessfully sought to bring all the sciences under a unified umbrella, a goal that many before have also tried. In our time we’ve been through the Science Wars in which the concept of Science per se has been whittled down to the more polymorphic term “the sciences”. Philosophers love to battle over such things… lol

Fantasy may seem to some as an escapist fiction, utopian and hopeful. But is this true? Most fantasy in one form or another deals with the grim facts of life as it is, and yet makes us think about these facts in ways other than the old sense of realist fiction. Are the Icelandic Sagas fantasy in an escapist sense. No. They are grittier and more realist than most so called realists fiction. Myth and legend deal in facts that are left out of the one-sided phenomenalism of our Enlightenment heritage. Saga, romance literature and poetry, and now our age of fantasy deal in the noumenal / phenonmenal divide, of the hedgerows of existence, the between zones where mind, nature, and reality intermingle in a no-man’s zone of wildness and strangeness just beyond the purview of our safe worlds of commerce and hack-a-day-lives. The lands of fairy are the realms where things do not play by our codified rules and regulations of thought, concept, and morality. It is a land beyond that is no longer locked down to human need or poverty. It is. That is all we can say of it. It is the inhuman without and within us. It is the perilous realm just this side of the abyss. 

Secular Philosophers seem to relish arguing over anything that hinges on older forms of theological thought forms, as if they could replace it with inventions of their own. The human mind is what it is, we are limited beings; yet, within the limits of our biological make up is infinite variation of thought and life. For two-hundred years scholars of the secular cast have tried their best to root out the mythological mind and demythologize every aspect of our thought and education. They failed miserably. Now more than ever people seek in the myths, legends, folk-tales, and the realms of fairy the answers that so to speak Secularism and the Enlightenment failed to produce. So here we are at the beginning of a new millennia seeking the same old answers humans have been asking for thousands of years. Who are we? What is our purpose? Fantasy is the realm where such things free float across all time and value systems seeking those answers in a way that does not hinge on the author’s own belief systems.

Having spent years reading both the Romantic poets and the Romantic or Enlightenment philosophers (Kant, Schelling, Ficht, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) and their progeny in our own century I start with the assumption that since Kant we’ve closed off the realm of the unknown and not directly accessible realm of the noumena; and, have blindly forced ourselves to study only the phenomenal world as exposed by our concepts and senses. Many are now awakening and wondering why we closed off that other realm of the noumena and its strangeness. Why did we close the mind down into a smaller sphere of thought rather than discovering indirectly and by other means the realms left behind.

Of course we didn’t. From the age of the Romantics on there was always an underground force of intellectuals, writers, fantasists, mythographers, seekers of mysteries etc. who kept the noumenal realms alive and within the purview of thought and imagination. I grew up in a world where fantasy was frowned on. If you were caught reading fantasy you were considered a sissy, etc. I’ve always remembered that time of youth and been disappointed that I never truly had a chance to enjoy all those books by Andrew Lang, the Grim Brothers, Burton’s 1001 Night Tales, etc. But when I grew up I entered them and discovered treasures of mind and heart I’d of never know about if I’d of kept the old thoughts of youth and its taboos in place. I’m glad I didn’t.

For me Time and our understanding of it seems the great issue of our age. Time is what shapes our notions of causality, of our linear or synchronic and our dynamic or diachronic/dialectical views of events and history. Rather than a disquisition on the Occasionalists (Malebranche) or Process Philosophy (Alfred North Whitehead), or even the Speculative Realists of our age (Brassier, Grant, Meillassoux, and Harman) I’ll just add that at the heart of my work is this sense of time as a hyperobject, as my friend Timothy Morton calls it:

Hyperobjects are real whether or not someone is thinking of them. Indeed, for reasons given in this study, hyperobjects end the possibility of transcendental leaps “outside” physical reality. Hyperobjects force us to acknowledge the immanence of thinking to the physical. But this does not mean that we are “embedded” in a “lifeworld.”

– Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World

In my studies of Gnosticism and Gnosis over the years I sought to understand why the Catholic Church despised these heretics so much that in every instance that it cropped up from the Age of Constantine onward the heretics were slaughtered to the man, woman, and child. The last instance of this being the communities in Southern France during the reign of Pope Innocent III. Readings from the scholar Ioan P. Couliano, Umberto Eco, and now with the work of such as Pagels, Erhmann, Davies, Fiedler, Chilton, etc. one begins to weave a tale and understand something about these peaceful peoples. Both in the age of early Christianity and the times of forgetting and madness in the Middle-Ages and the demise of hundreds of thousands of people in villages, cities, and whole regions…

It was in this age of the troubadours, Courts of Love, Crusades, Templars, etc. that our notions of history, poetry, nobility (noblisse oblige), sharing and partnership between aristocrats and commoners was breaking down barriers. So many wonderful things were happening in this time period. What did we lose? Lately I’ve been reading a work on Ermengard of Narbonne. A Queen who lived a long and empowered life and was one of the strongest women and rulers of her age. So many women of that time were leaders. Beyond envy and gold why did the Catholic Church and its minions in Northern France decide to commit genocide against a whole world? In some ways the work I’m dealing with will work with much the same questions in a sub-creation in Tolkien’s sense yet not restricted by the religious or moral vision he imposed on aspects of his overall vision.

Thinking of such vitalist philosophers as Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and Franco Berardi (Bifo) I’m tempted to see certain patterns on the dark horizon of thought that lead toward brightness. For Deleuze and Guattari there appeared to be certain lines-of-flight out of our current timelines, ways of escaping the overpowering burden of history in which we seem foredoomed to decay and endless cycles of repetition of the same story of human destruction (in Freud’s sense of thanatopic culture). Berardi saw it as an escape from history and civilization as we know it. Nick Land sees our age as an invasion from the future of a sort of hyperobject that is accelerating us toward oblivion or apocalypse and an increasing rate. Environmentalists seem to see a great climate catastrophe happen all around us that most of us are as yet little concerned with because it has yet to affect our actual lives in the present moment. These are all the types of ideas I’m invested in and will explore not in some abstract philosophical way, but through actual characters confronting such things in flesh and blood real time. A way of allowing the clash of cultures, ideologies, and moments of violence and love that we all go through. 

As I write mainly background information in my sense of world-building, laying the background and foreground elements of the story: grapple with the immediate story itself, the characters, the tensions and motions of the real lives of the people that interest me this other more abstract layer will play out in a sort of Herman Hesse Glass-Bead Game realm of scholars, runemages, monks, etc. as the above segment iterates. I want be adding much more to my site, but will throw a few tidbits along the way as I work through this process over the next couple years. I see it as involving that amount of time to finish the first work. More than likely I’ll just meditate from time to time on this knowledge base, get some of my ideas out. Knock a few stones in the head. Lots of work ahead. Yet, to me its both interesting and a lot of just plain old fun to build this little by little. 🙂

  

Wynterhaven – Scene Two

 

It is said that the Dragonwyr Blademasters are the deadliest warriors of the Three Kingdoms. Their ancient art of the sarblade is a closely guarded secret, taught only to the elite nobility as part of the dark martial arts which bind them to its magic in the Mystruins.

– Grimore of the Darkblade, Alii Seto

“No, no, no…” shouted Master Galliois. “How many times do I need to tell you that a Sarblade is not a long-sword, not a piece of junk metal, but a living thing, a creature full of power and magic infused with the daemoniis of ancient Irurian darkfyre metal from the Calabrian Salj; such a noble blade is a thing of finesse, quickened to life in the smithys of the Dagoriim. A blade to be handled like a god, or legend, not as if it were a mere toy held in the hands of a useless foot soldier. Do you understand?”

Tancred listened to his master yowl on as if he were more in love with the lore of the ancient bladesmiths than in teaching him the Art of Serii. He knew it would be of no use to say anything. He’d been through this a hundred times, and wondered if he’d ever get the old forms down. He bowed his head, concentrated, and began his forms again. The dance of the sarblades was an intricate weaving of motion, body and mindedness in unison, a slow pacing of heart and breath, a patterning that if done correctly would allow one to become attuned to the dark powers of those daemoniis residing in the cold heart of the black-metal sarblade. It had taken him time to get used to using the combination of short and long swords – the Twin-Moon stance of old, which few had ever tried to master; a form used by the Ningirii Assassins long ago.

Sarblades were notorious in accepting or rejecting a potential master, and if they rejected him he would never enter the Order of the Inarii Templars. Even as a child he’d dreamed of the day he’d become one of the elite, a Dragonwyr Blademaster like Master Gallois. But until he unlocked the force of the daimonii he would be an outlier, a mere lackey of the blades rather than their master. And, as his master reminded him time and again, he would soon face the perilous challenge, begin the quest of Tendarii and seek out the Queen of Draken herself to be blessed by the darkfyre of her magical breath. If he lived he would become a Dragonwyr Blademaster, if not he would die. There was no other choice. In his heart he knew he would face the challenge and survive, and not only survive but become the greatest of her disciples.

“That’s it,” Master Gallois said hopefully. “Keep the short-blade close to you, let the sprite of the other shape itself to the patterns. Let you’re feet glide and arms quicken to the fires within the blades.”

He paced himself slowly dipping and sliding, moving through the forms as if he were truly one of the fyrdraken. It was Aix Caerlis of Angarii who was first initiated into the secret patterns. The sarblade itself extended into the predawn of myth and legend. It was said that Aix himself was taught the forms by the great Fyrdrake Melusii during the age when human and draken kyn formed an alliance against the Veneti Zarz of Calix in the Wars of the Black Rose.

He felt his mind slipping into that silent place as he’d been instructed so many times before. He’d known what to do, but had yet to achieve it: the quieting of flesh and breath, the unity of mind and heart, beat by beat till a void opened in the mind allowing the daemonii a slight breeze, a “wind in the looms of time” as Master Gallois described it.

Suddenly his mind went blank and he felt his body moving of its own accord as if something else within him were now reaching upward from the sarblades, sparks and sarfyre jetting blue in small flames all around him began to dance and spring to life as his pace quickened. He felt quieting of mind and a sense of grace and power assume its place in his body as he danced among the wooden wards slashing and thrusting now left, now right, flipping and spinning round and round, jumping or diving into the quickened pace of the final movement which would bring him to his goal where he would reach up and in one fell swoop attacking the would-be ward of a fake king in an assassin’s stance. Just as he reached the opening he lifted the blades, and a rush of power enfolded him in fire and he felt for the first time the awakening of the daemoniis, the fyrdrake mind as it channeled its violence and wisdom all in one fell dance of death. When it was done he felt exhausted and collapsed at the foot of the wooden king.

“Bravo, bravo…” Master Gallios was lifting him up now. “Finally, I can see you entered the weave. How did it feel? Did you sense the presence of the fyrdraken? The blue flames…” he slapped the young man on the back.

Tancred opened his mouth to answer but was cut short.

“Don’t lolly-gag… hurry up, now; go… go wash up and get ready for the feasting. You’re father; my Lord, will have my head on a platter if you’re not ready for the Changing Ceremony tonight. Go on… get out of here, will you!”

The old master smiled. He was happy with the way the young apprentice was coming along. He knew now it was only a matter of time. The boy was finally becoming a man, and he would need the edge of this ancient art for what was coming. “We all will,” he thought to himself.

* * *

 

The Art of Faërie: A Short History of Romance Literature

 

 

One of the interesting facts I’ve been uncovering as I study the scholars of the history and literature of Romance is this intermingling of oral and written culture as it slowly evolved out of a hunger both of the elite courts of various countries, and the loosening of the Catholic Church’s hold on the older accumulation of scribes, clerks, and knowledge workers of the several libraries scattered around Europe. The Celtic peoples had an aversion to writing, and the great cycles of the Welsh, Irish, and Scottish were held in guarded secrecy within their respective languages. Not until the epic cycle of Tristan and Iseult was finally written down in the 12th Century (a founding text in Romance Literature) did the world of the Celtic Lands of myth and romance become more and more open in the exchange of information that began with traveling tellers of tales, and the court poets.

We know that the earliest transformations out of Latin into Old French were becoming available mainly due to the Angevin court of Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in England, where Anglo-Norman and Old French held sway as the language of the elite and powerful. From those early beginnings the world of Continental Europe began in earnest transcribing many of the older Latin works such as Romande Thèbes, the Roman d’Eneas, and Benoîtde Sainte-Maure’s Romande Troie were imaginative retellings of Classical epics with distinctive additions: descriptions of extra- ordinary objects, deeper analyses of sentimental affairs, as well as narratorial interventions. Wace’s Romande Brut (c. 1155) adapted Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) into a popular vernacular history that disseminated not only the myth of Britain’s historical link to Troy through Brutus, Aeneas’s grandson, but also the legend of King Arthur, whose Round Table is first mentioned in this romance. Most of these tales telling the “matter of Rome” and the “matter of Britain” were written in rhyming pairs of eight-syllable verses. The lively style of the Old French octosyllabic couplet soon became the preferred mode for clerks who would tell tales of love and adventure to aristocratic audiences in the francophone circles of England and France.1

Chrétien de Troyes in his Erec et Enide was the first of the great romancers whose work set fire across the Continent of his age for Arthurian literature and poetry. In his tales of Lancelot and Perceval the notions of noble love and chivalric prowess opened a door between worlds so to speak. Courts around Europe of that age would begin to emulate the world of romance and refine their own secular and religious worlds as these new translations and adaptations of the French prose romances entered the whole of Europe. From this would spring the age of the traveling minnesingers, troubadours, and trouvères: the poets of romance and chivalry.

Early verse romances were composed in writing but intended for public reading, and they often display their author’s sense of both literary aesthetics and oral performance. Drawing their material from a broad range of sources that included oral folktales, vernacular epics and saints’ lives, courtly lyrics, classical Latin literature and contemporary chronicles, romance authors self-consciously blended ancient and contemporary stories into new shapes, created characters who appealed to the sentimental, moral, and political concerns of their audience, and drew attention to their own art as they did so. (Ibid, 4)

In the Occitanian lands of what is now Southern France or Languedoc the culture of the elites would be inclusive of the common people within its world-view. It allowed anyone to become a knight and poet of the court through the Courts of Love. It also opened up the age of freedom from the rule of the Catholic Church and spawned a differing value system based not on authority and the hidden structures of ritual and Latinate verbiage that ruled the Catholic codes of aristocratic enclaves. Instead a new culture began in Albi which would ultimately spark the ire of Pope Innocent III to genocide of a living culture and its people. Yet, for the two hundred years of its independence it would become the model for poetry and romance throughout the ages.

Shakespeare’s adoption of romance motifs, and in the reframing of courtly love plots in Marguerite de Navarre or Madame de Lafayette, in the nineteenth- century Arthurian revival, or in twentieth-century recasting of medieval romance themes in fiction and film, the ethical questions as well as the idealizing spirit of romance have endured. Contemporary critics have viewed romance as a mode that attempts to embellish social reality and escape from history, as one that explores the sacred mysteries of birth, death, and the quest for identity with secular optimism, or as one that sets up a binary opposition between good and evil to protect an elite society from the “Other.”  It is commonplace to set the genre of medieval romance against its literary descendant, the modern novel, whose realism and discursive complexity are contrasted with the fantasy and ideological directness of its fictional forebears.(6)

1. Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance Literature. (p. 3) (Cambridge, 2000)

The Art of Faërie: The Tree of Tales

whti_tree

I feel strongly, the fascination of the desire to unravel the intricately knotted and ramified history of the branches on the Tree of Tales. It is closely connected with the philologists’ study of the tangled skein of Language, of which I know some small pieces. But even with regard to language it seems to me that the essential quality and aptitudes of a given language in a living moment is both more important to seize and far more difficult to make explicit than its linear history.1

The Lord of the Rings begins and ends in a record of linguistic nuance as Tolkien sought through the world mythopoeic poetry and traditions the roots of a particular puzzle that became the Art of Faërie. So with regard to fairy-stories, I feel that it is more interesting, and also in its way more difficult, to consider what they are, what they have become for us, and what values the long alchemic processes of time have produced in them.(p. 333).” Think on that: What the tales of faërie are, have become for us, and what values have been transformed through time from within their telling’s and retellings. His use of the notion of “alchemic processes of time” rather than some Christian type statement is telling as well.

A notion that tales being slowly transformed and mutated in magical vats and magical processes rather than being transcribed repeatedly by Christian scribes or monks year after year on vellum. The point he is making is that whatever the origins of these tales are is now lost beyond human memory or recall. All we have now is the matter-at-hand, the tale being told or the one we are reading. The rest is the dead letter of history. The only thing we can ask is the same that an “archaeologist encounters , or the comparative philologist: with the debate between independent evolution (or rather invention) of the similar; inheritance from a common ancestry ; and diffusion at various times from one or more centres.(334)”

In the 19th Century many scholars of fairy-stories assumed them to descend from nature-myths, as if the Olympic gods were no more than tales personified of the sun and moon, stars, natural cycles of the natural world. Until fairy-tales themselves were mere natural denizens of minute size and natural proclivities. Tolkien says these scholars got it backwards.

The nearer the so-called ‘nature myth’, or allegory of the large processes of nature, is to its supposed archetype, the less interesting it is, and indeed the less is it of a myth capable of throwing any illumination whatever on the world. Let us assume for the moment, as this theory assumes, that nothing actually exists corresponding to the ‘gods’ of mythology: no personalities, only astronomical or meteorological objects.(337)

Against such readings of myth, fable, marchen, etc. as conveying only the truth of some natural events Tolkien points to the actual effect fairy-tales have upon their readers or listeners. The ancient elements can be knocked out, or forgotten and dropped out, or replaced by other ingredients with the greatest ease: as any comparison of a story with closely related variants will show. The things that are there must often have been retained (or inserted) because the oral narrators, instinctively or consciously, felt their literary ‘significance’.(346)

Even after centuries of retelling, some elements remain: the basic elements of taboo and prohibition remain.  

Even where a prohibition in a fairy-story is guessed to be derived from some taboo once practised long ago, it has probably been preserved in the later stages of the tale’s history because of the great mythical significance of prohibition. A sense of that significance may indeed have lain behind some of the taboos themselves. Thou shalt not— or else thou shall depart beggared into endless regret. The gentlest ‘nursery-tales’ know it. Even Peter Rabbit was forbidden a garden, lost his blue coat, and took sick. The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation. 346

He uses that to great effect in his retelling of the fall of the 2nd Age when the men of Numenor decide to break the long standing taboo and prohibition against sailing west toward Valinor. The Last King of Men in Valinor is dying and he decides to sail west to gain immortality. The Elves of Valinor make supplication to the Ainur and receive permission to deal with men. They open a great chasm between Valinor and Numenor which engulfs all the ships and their King, as well as toppling the great Island kingdom of Numenor in the abyss which closes over them for good. The earth is changed and the door to Valinor is closed to all but the remaining elves in Middle-Earth. So begins the 3rd Age. Sauron who instigated the whole things slinks off with a few ships that happened to heed the warnings and were heading to the coasts of Middle-Earth.

This notion of taboo and prohibition seem to be at the heart of most myths, almost as a goad to force the weary heroes/heroines to break it. As if there was already something deep within human nature that needs to rebel against all prohibitions. Against those that deprecate fantasy as mere children’s literature, or that see it as silliness and beneath the high calling of artistic excellence he says: Fantasy is , I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent. … Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness.(362).”

He talks about how many adults speak of fantasy as unreal, delusional, fit for children, etc. All the time not realizing that many of the elements of their own lives are made up of more useless fantasy of the lesser kind than the art of faerie has on offer. He admits that many do not understand that unlike novels that stick with factual reality, fantasy is much more difficult to achieve:Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.(364)”

Fantasy is in this sense a heterocosm, a secondary-world in which we see images of those powers and forces that surround us and to which we have no direct access in the Primary World. A place where the realm of Faërie and human kind awaken in vision together through Art and Imagination, knowing and being known by the powers of which we have vague hints and hauntings in our real world surrounding us. In this sense all mythopoeic notions of a fall are also of a creation: all creations entail catastrophe in the same breath and event. 

I’ll be adding some commentaries on and appreciations of the great cycles that J.R.R. Tolkien recorded over the next month or so as I begin to reread his works in earnest. In some ways the Quest of the Ring cycle unlike the older Grail quests is not to find the object of power which would transform the world, but rather the quest is to take the object of corruption and power, the object that has already been found but was the creation of a mind bent on control and domination and tyranny. The quest of Frodo is to unbind and destroy the object rather than as in the Grail Romances to find and use it, a complete reversal – or, not so much a reversal as it is another type of quest: one that seeks to release what was bound and shaped to other music and ends than freedom. That to me is the essential quest of the Ring Cycle: to attain freedom from the power and domination and enslavement to Power in the world. In that sense one can read Tolkien as one who set the path for us to follow as we seek to know these ancient worlds of the Art of Faërie.

1. Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). Tales from the Perilous Realm (pp. 332-333). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.