Nick Land: Chronogenesis & Urbanomy


Reading Nick Land’s blog Outside In is a nose-dive into the neoreactionary slipstream, an accelerating looper fest for the post-millennial blues. Yet, his other blog Urban Future (2.1) offers us the dark contours of his visionary timescapes. Sometimes I get the feeling that Land himself is an alien visitor from the future, a chronotraveler whose messages convey not so much the inner workings of our posthuman future as they do the unfolding deterritorializtaion of our humanity into becoming-machinic.

In the introduction to Urbanomy, he suggests that the Cities of our late-capitalist world are specific types of abstract machines: chronogenic factories, or time-making social machines. Taking his cue from Jane Jacobs The Economy of the Cities where she outlined a “simple and powerful theory of urban self-organization, driven by a spontaneous economic process of import replacement“, Land will apply a form of non-linear dynamics and chaos theory of emergence to the “growth, complexification, and individuation of the city [as] an integral … single urbanomic process”.

What is interesting is the notion of autoproduction that Jane Jacobs introduced which unlike the notion of autopoiesis – introduced by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela to define the self-maintaining chemistry of living cells, and applied to other systems theoretical constructs – purely epistemic concept rather than ontic or ontological in intent in which autopoietic systems are seen as autonomous and operationally closed. Jacobs concept on the other hand is ontic and ontological rather than epistemic, it ontologizes the processes in their autoproductive capacity to attain self-organized emergent systems and behaviour that tend to break down the walls between autopoetic and allopoetic interactions, behaviours and self-organizational processes.

The difference between the two notions is based on the very core description. As Maturana will define it, an autopoietic system is autonomous and operationally closed, in the sense that there are sufficient processes within it to maintain the whole. What this means is that the system involved does not need input from external sources or resources to maintain its integrity. Whereas the notion of autoproduction involves feedback loops from external resources outside itself to maintain its ongoing processes. Whereas allopoiesis is the process whereby a system produces something other than the system itself. One example of this is an assembly line, where the final product (such as a car) is distinct from the machines doing the producing. Autoproduction works in a feedback loop between both autopoetic and allopoetic processes and applies a temporal and evolutionary ingredient that is lacking in the structurally static notions of Maturana.

Land will describe the concept of autoproductive process as urbanomy, applying it to of the self-organizing tendencies and processes that shape a City, saying, 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.”

Philosopher Luciano Floridi in his The Philosophy of Information develops what he terms an Information Structural Realism (ISR) that entails the notion of a demiurgic power: “Knowledge is not a matter of either (a) discovering and describing, or (b) inventing and constructing, but of (c) designing and modeling reality, its features and behaviours into a meaningful world as we experience it.1 Yet, it will be in Deleuze and Guattari that the demiurgic power as “invisible hand” (as Land describes it) will take on a more precise conceptual retooling. In War in the Age of Intelligent Machines DeLanda will cite a number of self-organizing phenomena in the domains of chemistry, physics, biology, and human social history (migrations, crusades, invasions) which can all be described by the dynamical systems model. He then extends D&G’s concept of the machinic phylum to include the “overall set of self-organizing organizing processes in the universe”. Thus, in DeLanda’s formulation, at certain critical moments all material processes, whether organic or nonorganic, are traversed or subtended by a few abstract mechanisms that can be said to constitute the machinic phylum. More specifically, under conditions of instability the nonlinear flows of matter and energy spontaneously evolve toward a limited set of possible states that can be mapped as a “reservoir” of abstract mathematical mechanisms (i.e., attractors). What Deleuze calls a virtual or abstract machine, therefore, is really a “particular set of attractors” (1):

We have then two layers of “abstract machine”: attractors and bifurcations. Attractors are virtual machines that, when incarnating [sic], result in a concrete physical system. Bifurcations, on the other hand, incarnate by affecting the attractors themselves, and therefore result in a mutation in the physical system defined by those attractors. While the world of attractors defines the more or less stable and permanent features of reality (its long-term tendencies), the world of bifurcations represents the source of creativity and variability in nature. For this reason the process of incarnating bifurcations into attractors and these, in turn, into concrete physical systems, has been given the name of “stratification”: the creation of the stable geological, chemical and organic strata that make up reality. Deleuze’s theory attempts to discover one and the same principle behind the formation of all strata. (ibid. p. 127)

What Land seems to be doing is to apply such a theoretic to the City as an Abstract Machine, one that extends the application of dynamical systems theory in order to explain how these assemblages arise, mutate, and dissolve through the temporal concept of urbanomy. In fact, as he suggests the evolutionary processes of urbanomy applied to the study of Cities “appear extraordinary, and even uncanny, because they seem to run backwards, against the current of time”. As Land will admit humans, do to their evolutionary neurological makeup tend to make category mistakes when it comes to their understanding of temporality. As he suggests our notions of scientific time – as the ‘arrow of time’, a one way ticket with no return (entropy and the Laws of Thermodynamics, etc.); and, our notions of Progress, that things evolve, improve over time rather than leading to disorder and chaos, etc. These two notions of time seem to be at odds. As he will put it we seem to be like the Zombies in most horror films, living in an “intermediate zone, of the ‘living dead’, that can be entered from either direction [of time: forward and backward], triggering an archaic revulsion from monstrosity – the most fundamental of all things that should not be. Horror fiction dwells almost entirely in this twilight world of categorical slippage.”

What D&G describe as the interactions of attractors and bifurcational processes, and redefined as urbanomic processes by Land, produce a keen sense of this strange tension at the core of the City: its spontaneous emergent order “seems”, as he states it, “like magic (in the ancient, soul-seizing sense), and panicked spectators reflexively grasp for the hidden agents of ‘animistic’ or religious interpretation, compelled by categorical intuitions far older than the human species”.

Land has other follow ups and introduces his further revisions and extensions under the heading of Templexity on his site and in his book.

I continue my thoughts in J.G. Ballard: Chrontopia and Post-Consumerist Society

(Note: I may add further thoughts on this … In my next two posts I will revisit two stores from J.G. Ballard and Jorge-Luis Borges that introduce this sense of a deflationary cosmos: a cosmos in which the entropic forces of decay and devolution intercept and redefine the eternal optimism of the Kingdom of Progress in ways both fantastic and realist, incorporating many of the motifs we will later see in such philosophers as Deleuze-Guattari, Land; as well as the sciences of complexity, non-linear dynamics, and chaos theory.)

1. John Johnston. The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI (p. 127). Kindle Edition.

16 thoughts on “Nick Land: Chronogenesis & Urbanomy

    • Are you asking a question: or, observing the process of self-organization as a qualified notion of city/human intraaction? Do cities always entail ‘humans’ in their self-organization? Couldn’t we imagine cities without humans: cities of robots, perhaps? Of other self-organizing systems on alien planets, perhaps? Is this a question of ‘humans’? Of a question of forms of self-organization? And how does the notion of time play in this question?


      • As you may remember, ihave difficulty with this kind of non-fiction fiction. 😉The universe is self organizing . Is it really difficult to imagine that things of the universe reflect its operation? So we frame frames ? Machine, city. My difficulty is it doesnt seem to me to be philosophy. Thats all really. It appears to me more like political conversation, or at minimum science fiction imagination. Its interesting like a Tolkien book can be applied to reality ‘philosophically’. Sorry. I should just not comment on these ones. And just absorb the possibility.


      • Strange. Sciences and other philosophers and non-philosophers discuss the underpinning notions all the time. Maybe you need to expand your horizons?


      • Yes. And i do enjoy your blog. You have a capacity that i do not. Even if my house is small, i can still look at the castles. Lol.


      • Oh. And i dont think i agree with the method that adjusts terms to yield new things to talk about, as if theres some essetial truth in the new phrase that is any different that the old framing. It may be so, i just dont agree with it. Like taking coffee or tea black. Or with sugar.


      • I assume that we will not come to an understanding then? That’s fine, my thoughts are, as such… my own. You are quite able to disagree with them… I’ll not try to dissuade you from your own thoughts.


  1. I looked backto ur Notes on Deluze: i always leapbefore i look : : so do you think Land is saying that a city is one of these abstract machines? This take over power that really has and can occur in this globalism: that the power has asserted itself? What do you say?


    • No Land isn’t saying this directly at all. I’m showing how ideas mesh, not who is manifesting them. I’m comparing, not extrapolating or suggesting an equalization of this notion. There is a difference. One needs to take into consideration the full range within the work of Deleuze/Guattari in how this concept is deployed, rather than suggesting that it is bound to any one particular instantiation of its coneptuality. “Abstract Machine” is an overarching notion within which the concepts of “attractor” and ” bifurcation” deploy its movement. What I’m suggesting is not a reduction of Land’s work to this, but rather an amplification of Land’s basic thematic in relation to other forms of conceptual enunciations. This notion of the Abstract Machine being one of them…


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