The City of the Future entangles urban spectacle inseparably with prophecy. One sees, now, what is yet to come.
– Nick Land, Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time
After reading Nick Land’s new book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Times it occurred to me to refresh my mind concerning Land’s earlier conceptions of Time.
Notions of time will serve as a leit-motif throughout Land’s writings. In his early The Thirst for Annihilation he will explore time’s dark secrets. It was here that he began developing his early notions of technomic time etc. He reminds us that every civilization “aspires to a transcendent Aeon in which to deposit the functional apparatus of chronos without fear of decay”.1 The point of this for Land is that civilization is a machine constructed to stop time’s progress toward terminal decay and death, entropy. “‘Civilization’ is the name we give to this process, a process turned against the total social calamity – the cosmic sickness – inherent to process as such” (97). This notion that civilization is an engine to stave off the effects of entropy, to embalm time in an absolute medium of synchronic plenitude and cyclicity (i.e., Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” theme) will return in his latest book Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time as he describes the impact of civilization and the culture of modernity:
As its culture folds back upon itself, it proliferates self-referential models of a cybernetic type, attentive to feedback-sensitive self-stimulating or auto-catalytic systems. The greater the progressive impetus, the more insistently cyclicity returns. To accelerate beyond light-speed is to reverse the direction of time. Eventually, in science fiction , modernity completes its process of theological revisionism, by rediscovering eschatological culmination in the time-loop.2
In his new book the City itself will become the icon or engine of civilization in its efforts to stave off entropy and death. This notion that we are living in a video game or movie, a timeless realm of pure (or impure) repetition (i.e., a time-loop), and that what we think of as time is nothing more than the fleeting image of our own ghostly lives imprinted on an absolute screen accelerating at light-speed going nowhere but in a synchronous loop is modernity’s secret lie against time. Progress has never been about progressing somewhere, but has always already been about the eternal cycles of recurrence and returns, civilizations struggle against the influx of asynchronous time: real time. A time that end’s the absolute time and brings us the asynchronous truth of annihilation. Or, as Land will put it:
After the ruthless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time remains, for it is the reality of abstraction itself that is time: the desert, death, and desolator of all things. (Thirst, 112)
Auto-Production & the technomic singularity
I’ve written in another essay that explicates the rest of the details on this Land’s concept of teleoplexy (see here). In the final section of his teleoplexic essay he asserts that the coming ‘Techonomic Singularity’ will ultimately be resolved and accomplished by the very activity of the auto-productive powers of the teleoplexic hyper-intelligence itself, through its own crossing of the cognitive rubicon, by way of its own processes rather than through any human agency or intervention. As Land admits the difficulty and complexity of such a Techonomic Singularity must be approached through anticipating the “terms of its eventual self-reflexion – the techonomic currency through which the history of modernity can, for the first time, be adequately denominated. It has no alternative but to fund its own investigation, in units of destiny or doom, camouflaged within the system of quotidian economic signs, yet rigorously extractable, given only the correct cryptographic keys.(520)”
The concept of auto-production was introduced Land tells us by Jane Jacobs Economy of the Cities:
In this work she outlines a simple and powerful theory of urban self-organization, driven by a spontaneous economic process of import replacement. Cities develop by autonomization, or introversion, which occurs as they learn from trade, progressively transforming an ever-greater proportion of their commercial flows into endogenous circuits. This (urbanomic) tendency need not isolate cities from the world, but it necessarily converts stable dependency into dynamic interaction, driving continuous commercial modification. (see An Introduction to Urbanonmy)
More importantly Land tells us Jacobs thesis establishes a framework for systematically exploring the time-structure of the urban process, conceived not solely as a (prolonged) episode in time, or history, but also as the working of a chronogenic, or time-making social machine. He explicates:
The concept which Jacobs tacitly introduces, as the guiding principle of the urbanomic trend, is autoproduction. As it grows, internally specializes, self-organizes, dissipates entropy, and individuates, the city tends to an impossible limit of complete productive autonomy. It appears as a convergent wave, shaped in the direction of increasing order or complexity, as if by an invisible hand, or according to an intelligent design. The pattern is exactly what would be expected if something not yet realized was orchestrating its self-creation.(ibid)
The notion that something “not yet realized” orchestrating its own self-creation is at the core of his notion of a teleoplexic space. Land marks out the spaces of the infosphere within which technological intelligence begins to take over from the human as the laboring force of modernity, it performs the task of alien agent or teleoplexic space or environment within which capitalism no longer has an outside but has become the artificial immanence within which all our onlife actions take place. As he remarks: “Accelerationism has a real object only insofar as there is a teloplexic thing, which is to say: insofar as capitalization is natural-historical reality” (514). This new teleoplexic environment that is re-engeering both us and our society as well as the infrastructure of our planetary base is what might be termed a teleospheric ordinal – a numeric set of layered spaces that incorporate the territory and the map seamlessly. This is not some virtual cyberspace, but is the total encompassment of our global environment in which we exist.
Luciano Floridi will tell us that the new Information and Communications technologies or ICTs are re-ontologizing our world and creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it.4 ‘Ubiquitous Computing’, ‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’ are all terms for this same phenomena.
Land will ask: What would be required for teleoplexy to realistically evaluate itself – or to ‘attain self-awareness’ as the pulp cyber-horror scenario describes it? Land will offer us his secret future of the AI Intelligence technogenesis: “Within a monetary system configured in ways not yet determinate with confidence, but almost certainly tilted radically towards depoliticization and crypto-digital distribution, it would discover prices consistent with its own maximally-accelerated technogenesis, channeling capital into mechanical automatization, self-replication, self-improvement, and escape into intelligence explosion” (517). In other words it will use all the tools of capitalism at its disposal to begin evolving into and naturalizing the teleoplexic environments of the infosphere. If anything accelerationism is a tracking device for this advanced hyper-cognitive explosion of intelligence: “Irrespective of ideological alignment, accelerationism advances only through its ability to track such a development, whether to confirm or disconfirm the teleoplexic expectation of Techonomic Singularity” (517).4
The Sentient City & Templexity
In his new book Land will tell us that every “singularity is an exception. No emergent real individual is able to fall, without remainder , under a general law” (Templexity, KL 272). So what is templexity? Land begins his survey admitting that it is more of an emergent question rather than something that can be stripped to its essential elements in some philosophical proposition or axiom set of principles. In typical style Land will offer the reading the shocking news that “cities are time machines” (Templexity, KL 12). After this we learn that templexity is the thing of which ‘time-travel’ narratives seek to portray in their dramatic scenarios. As he will state it:
Templexity is indistinguishable from unbounded real recursion, so it cannot be lucidly anticipated independently of a historical completion – or ‘closure’ (apprehended in the multitudinous sense noted in the text to follow). There could only have been a beginning – a prolegomenon to the rigorous formulation of templexity as a question – and the topic itself retracts this, even before its proposal. The real process is not the resolution of the problem at the level it appears – dramatically – to have been initially posed, but its re-absorption into the alien cognitive matrix which inherits it. ‘Templexity’ – as a sign – marks the suspicion that, if we are waiting for this to happen, we still understand nothing. (Templexity, KL 58-63)
This notion of the City as teleoplexic intelligence or AI, one that will ultimately re-absorb the process involved in templexity allows us to envision City as a time-machine contrived by civilization in its struggles against entropy. As Land will tell us to “invoke the city as the emergent subject of the question of time is not merely hypothetical but – when approached at the scale appropriate to the real cognitive agency involved – fully experimental. The tacit (and vulgarized) question: What is Shanghai coming to think about this? (Templexity, KL 41)”
Shanghai is a city of time anomalies. Shifting gradients of time float among its several levels like ancient mythic structures seeking resurgence. Land will term this decopunk. He will dub the first cosmopolitan modernity the International style which offered a world above the world, a universal realm beyond the stuttering implosion of national and ethnic rivalries; an escape hatch from the war worlds of the 19th Century. A world bound to the “uncompromising logic of functional and geometrical idealization” (Teleplexity, KL 246). He will go on to say that it was through International Style social structures of all kinds, spearheaded by exemplary public buildings, were to find their consummate reconciliation with the universally communicable Idea (Templexity, 252).
In our time the older forms of modernity have returned in a new shape, Decopunk which brings with it a complexity that can seem overwhelming. It folds back, exorbitantly, into that which had already folded into itself. As he tells it:
Nothing expresses the cultural tendency of positive cosmopolitanism more completely, more cryptically, or more surreptitiously than the Deco modernist matrix thus re-activated. Its mode of abstraction is inextricable from an ultimate extravagance, intractable to linguistic condensation, and making of decoration a speechless communication, or ecstatic alienation, through which interiority is subtracted. Emerging from the fusion of streamline design trends with fractionated, cubist forms and the findings of comparative ethnography, it exults in cultural variety, arcane symbolism and opulence of reference – concrete colonial epistemology and metropolitan techno-science are equally its inspirations – as it trawls for design motifs among the ancient ruins of Egypt and Mesoamerica, Chinese temples, recursive structures, sphinxes, spirals, ballistic machine-forms, science fiction objects, hermetic glyphs and alien dreams. It is neither language nor anti-language, but rather supplementary , ancillary, or excess code, semiotically-saturated or over-informative, hyper-sensible, deviously circuitous, volubly speechless, muted by its own delirious fluency. It has no specific ideology… (Templexity, KL 261).
I don’t want to spoil it for the reader. So will leave off here. Read the book. Nick weaves a tale of modernity and Shanghai, time-loops, films, books, mythology, science, economics, etc., and time as he uncovers the traces of templexity within the processes of the City. All I’ll leave with you is this last enigmatic smile hovering out of hyperstitional flux that is Shanghai:
For over a century (but less than two) Shanghai Capitalism – despite dramatic interruption – has been building a real time machine, which Rian Johnson, among many others, stumbled into, and tangentially fictionalized. Although the detailed workings of this machine still escape public comprehension, its intrinsic self-reflexion ensures its promotion, as an object of complex natural science, of spectacular dramatization, and of multi-leveled commercialization. It enthralls East and West in an elaborate exploration of futuristic myth. At its most superficial, where it daubs the edges of the mind with its neon-streaked intoxication, it appears as a vague but indissoluble destiny. What it is becoming remains to be recalled. (Templexity, KL 475)
1. Nick Land. A Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)
2. Land, Nick (2014-11-05). Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time (Kindle Locations 375-378). Urbanatomy Electronic. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
4. #Accelerate the accelerationist reader. (editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian) Urbanomic, 2014