A Short History of Necropunk Philosophy
Decided to move this from my last post on my work-in-progress Savage Nights.
Thinking of Capitalism as a necropunk invasion from the future, driven by death-drives, cannibalizing through crisis, collapse, catastrophe is at the core of what Bataille and Nick Land after him would term “base materialism” converging on the closure of history into a posthuman future. Or, what my friend Scott Bakker would term the ‘crash space’ of the Semantic Apocalypse.
Chronicles of the High Inquest by S.P. Somtow
Working a new near future Grunge or Necropunk Noir Science Fiction I began collecting information regarding past uses of this notion. For me the master stylist of this genre remains Richard Calder with his Dead Girls/Dead Boys/Dead Things trilogy. (see review) He lived in Thailand 1990-1996 and later in the Philippines until returning to London in the first years of this century – who began publishing sf with “Toxine” in Interzone. Yet, there is also S.P. Somtow whose works may or may not have influenced Calder’s fusion of decodence, decadence, and necrotical politics and socio-cultural inflections, yet have at their bases the necropunk style and philosophy that seems to infect, contaminate, and corrupt this genre through its hyperstitional, memetic, and egregore enactments and disclosures of the was in which the future infects and bleeds into the past through slippage.
The work of composer, horror, and science fiction S.P. Somtow and his High Inquest Tetralogy which I read years ago and is once again in print (yea…) fuses his Buddhistic background with advanced netotech visions. Once referred to by the International Herald Tribune as “the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world,” Somtow Sucharitkul is no longer an expatriate, since he has returned to Thailand after five decades of wandering the world. He is best known as an award-winning novelist and a composer of operas. Born in Bangkok, Somtow grew up in Europe and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music. His earliest novels were in the science fiction field but he soon began to cross into other genres. In his 1984 novel Vampire Junction, he injected a new literary inventiveness into the horror genre, in the words of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, “skillfully combining the styles of Stephen King, William Burroughs, and the author of the Revelation to John.” Vampire Junction was voted one of the forty all-time greatest horror books by the Horror Writers’ Association, joining established classics like Frankenstein and Dracula. In the 1990s Somtow became increasingly identified as a uniquely Asian writer with novels such as the semi-autobiographical Jasmine Nights. He won the World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade given in the world of fantastic literature, for his novella The Bird Catcher. After becoming a Buddhist monk for a period in 2001, Somtow decided to refocus his attention on the country of his birth, founding Bangkok’s first international opera company and returning to music.
But there is Zombie music and fiction already in this sub-genre, as well as various music groups…) after the dark and fatalistic music of that name: Black Metal, an extreme subgenre of Heavy Metal known for its dark lyrical themes of darkness, despair, and misanthropy, as well as an individualist and anti-authoritarian agenda. The first Black Metal bands came from Britain and Mainland Europe in the 1980’s, and included Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Mercyful Fate. Glossator Journal Volume 6 took a philosophical angle on this… and, although I reject the neo-Nazi sub-cult in the genre, I do see the provacational aspects of the atheistic and Satanist aspects as iconic potentiality rather than actual reality… much like many Vampiric, Zombie, and other Leftwing/Rightwing political allegories to date, falling out of the religious and into the political and socio-cultural struggles…), set in a subset of Steampunk and Decopunk world… thought I’d share the opening… a little foul language so be warned! A cross between Alice in Chains and Babes in Toyland. A broken world full of our own world’s truths: violence, political chaos, socio-cultural and climatological collapse, sex-slavery, etc..
Slippage: Non-Logical Difference
The notion of slippage has its roots in the Lucretian trope “swerve,” to slip, escape, move softly and quickly, glide, slide, through slime; stick and slippery as mattering slips through the net or evades detection by turning aside, deviating from a straight course; rove, roam, or stray from the norm. Yet, there is also a notion of rub, scour, file away, grind away, and wipe off:- to annihilate memory or thought from its stable place, to disturb and destabalize.
All of these notions will converge on our era with the NBIC technologies of nanotech, biotech, and information and communication technologies: all dealing with the human condition, of developing base matter as a quantum matrix of possibilities that will mutate, transform, and reprogram both the physical infrastructure and socio-cultural superstructure of the Symbolic Order of our Global Civilization. A Culture of Death or the necrotic and entropic insisting on a merger of human and machine, along with the medical and military transhumance of a necropunk system of homogeneity. At the same time is the resistance to all forms of system or homogeneity, the heterogeneous forces of disruption and exit, struggle and escape. Progressive civilization promised enlightenment and peace, but has instead brought us war, death, and enslavement. We continue to ride the tide of modernity as if it was an unstoppable juggernaut. We face the insurmountable pressure of environmental impacts that we as of yet little understand but that infect our literatures, comic book philosophies, and everyday mediatainment politics of apathy and malaise. We have become so atomized and fractured that we cannot see the forest for the trees. We stand alone among the failing truths of a world out of control, knowing that it is so yet unable to do anything to change either ourselves are the process taking us toward a point of no return.
Michelle Kendell in explicating Bataille’s notion of “slippage” shows us the first of Bataille’s writings, “College of Socratic Studies,” highlights “slipping,” one of Bataille’s favorite and, I think, too frequently overlooked notions. This piece also emphasizes a number of familiar and important terms Bataille worked with over time: inner experience, expenditure, slippage, contestation, impossible, chance, the sacred, a beyond, irony, nonknowledge, isolation, communication, anguish, and method. There is an end, temporary, to isolation, which is where communication happens, but there is no out. A beyond, but no out. A beyond that is immense and proximate, and impossible. Hence contestation, and surprisingly, prayer. As we reach a limit they cannot express. It is in this methodical practice is where the slippage toward real communication happens. (see here) Yet, Bataille would discover from his friend Blanchot that slippage occurs when a subject encounters an object in all its complexity. (see here pdf)
In his Documents’ “critical dictionary” Bataille suggests that the power of formless (informe) is the slippage and the effect of shocked surprise that it produces, and its value as an operation. According to his definition, “‘formless’ is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.” (see here) Hence the battle between Idealists who seek substantive formalism and the base materialist a comic nihilism of mattering that is formless and void.
Bataille’s formless is the slippage (lapsus), while further continuing that by etymology falling due (cadentia) has the same origins as chance: it is the chance of how the dice fall. The operation of the formless challenges the rational model of the subject: it is the chance, the luck of the fall. The Lucretian swerve or Einstein’s exasperation with Quantum Theory “God does not place dice with the world!” No, but the world plays dice with God and Man. Without slippage and the swerve of non-logical difference there would be no change in the universe, and everything would be still and dead, silent and cold. Slippage is the force of disturbance, the death-drive of that non-logical difference that approaches absolute zero but like a record with a scratch in the groove of the vinyl keeps playing the same tune without ever reaching a final end. Death as the energetic movement of creativity, the never-ending restlessness of matter in the void. Yet, it is that very slippage and swerve of non-logical difference that brings about through its ever so slight movement from homogeneity to heterogeneity change and difference that makes a difference. The productivity at the core of things; its intelligence and creative spark, immanent and unbound. Things slip toward each other and swerve through the void but never yield to transcendence.
What happens in a world where the excluded can be sold into an ultra form of enslavement as necroservs: their minds wiped by combinations of biogenetic pharmaceutical and neurotech implants, and re-programmed to serve specialized nanotech neurotransmitter encoding/decodings – programmable algorithms of a Master AI technology elaborated by ICT’s information and communications? What of a world where those outside the protective barriers of the Assemblages (havens for the wealthy and their minions) live on bare existence, bound to the wastes of City State Corporations? How to not only survive but to rebel and revolt? Is such a thing possible after the ruins of current accelerated trends in social and economics take us far beyond the point of no return? A world of apocalypse in medi res? In this first novel of a projected tetralogy I hope to begin the opening salvo onto such questions, and even though it will not answer the questions it will at least raise many of our current socio-cultural and political, scientific and philosophical, ethical and metaphysical questions concerning such a near future world of exclusion and Singularity.
What we discover in such and oppositional world was worked out by Georges Bataille in his Base Materialism and reinforced by Nick Land in his commentary A Thirst for Annihilation. For Bataille the Sublime of Idealism is never purified of its connections to base matter, rather it is dependent on it for its very sense of thought and being. Rather than as in Marx’s inversion or reversal of Hegelian Dialectic, Bataille would follow Nietzsche’s notion of the non-dialectical operator as disruption as against dialectic. Against both scientific materialist notions of “dead matter,” or the Hegelian notion of matter within the dialectic, Bataille rather would reintroduce those ancient and monstrous dualisms of Gnosticism in which matter was intelligent, the archontes as the powers and dispositional forces of disruption within the heart of matter. Not a dualist system but rather a resistance to both ‘system and homgenity’. Thought cannot be reduced to being, nor being to thought, high > low, or low < high; rather these forces are both heterogeneous to each other in a dualism of “non-logical difference”. (see Benjamin Noys)
To put this in terms of politics, it means that in my necropunk socio-cultural geoscape the Corporate City oligarchs need and are dependent on the base masses, and even though they have technologies of command and control they cannot use them over all the populace without destroying their own life support systems. Same for the base masses, who need the cooperation of the Corporations for their life support and survival. It’s this co-dependency and its oppositional operations of disruption from both sides that structures the premises of the novel.
With the notion of Necropunk I can add in motifs from Vampiric / Zombie / Cannibalistic / Dark Capitalism etc. into the mix and push it into an accelerationist agenda that fuses Nick Land’s vision of hyperstition with the dark elements of Gothic and High Modernism, etc. A realm of AI’s retrofitting the past with egregores, memes, and hyperstitions to bring about their own technshaman and technovoodo realms. A monstrous revision of H.P. Lovecraft for the 21st Century. A descendent of Burroughs, Pynchon, Ballard, Dick, DeLillo, and other mainstream authors into a crossover genre of horror and science fiction.
Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. A place full of meat-puppets: emptied husks of former freezone excluded sold into human enslavement, mindless workers constrained by AI enforcement through implants. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society. Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. Evil is Energy unleashed, creativity from the bottom-up, gutwise. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers.
More and more trying to invest into my fictions the various aspects of my blog’s proclivities, and will probably begin writing less and less posts over the rest of this year as I concentrate on these various projects. I’ll still be posting from time to time, but more in line with my pursuits in world building and organization of socio-cultural, aesthetic, political, scientific, and philosophical aspects of my fictive pursuits.
This is a world divided literally between haves and have nots, a realm of pure exclusion based on Grungepunk, and a world of inclusion based on Decopunk. Most of the current YA style dystopian fiction and even adult forms whitewashes the near future. And supposed post-apocalyptic fiction seems to lie in a amnesiac’s realm beyond memory. I’m trying to enter the gap in-between, register the utopian/dystopian cross-overs of a culture just the far side of the Rubicon, but yet still on the edge of falling into utter ruination. What would people really do when faced with catastrophe, climate change, over-population, the bitter fruits of an accelerated capitalism in runaway mode where most of the populace has been excluded from the resources of the planet. Where only the rich and their minions, as well as the technological NBIC tech and techniques run things from Security to Factory? How would we react, survive, and battle to exit, escape, or fight against such a world of command and control?
Think of The Grimnoir Chronicles by Jake Sullivan with a slight twist, set more in a near future inscape or alternate retrofuture of Grungepunk and Decopunk worlds, where the anarchic and excluded element lives outside the Decopunk enclaves, etc. A close approximation of Ellison’s Transmopolitan world of Spider Jerusalem on steroids.
Grunge punk a subset of Dieselpunk (the aesthetics of the diesel-based technology of the interwar period through to the 1950s with retro-futuristic technology) came to be associated with a particular kind of Pacific Northwest band in the late-1980s, seen first in a press release for the band Green River: “Gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation.” Its style, music, and attitude defined a particular region and generation whose influence reverberates even now. Working class stiffs, poor, outcast, a little anarchic and asocial in one aspect, and close-knit and protective in another. Part ethnopunk or divided group orientation and identities, and at the same time trying to break down those barriers between outcasts. Basically throw people into a world where they must live on salvage (Salvagepunk), yet show it from one specific vantage point of that subworld: Grunge. Other cultural aspects will be apparent but will be seen from the outside… An even darker version of the Steampunk world from a specific angle of vision.
From subculture to mass culture, the trend time line gets shorter and faster all the time. It was just over a year ago that MTV began barraging its viewers with the sounds of Seattle “grunge rock,” featuring the angst anthems and grinding guitars of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In 1988, a fledgling Seattle record label called Sub Pop released a three-boxed set called “Sub Pop 200.” It was a compilation of bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, and it came complete with a 20-page booklet packed with pictures by Charles Peterson, the photographer credited with creating grunge’s hair-sweat-and-guitars look. Sub Pop also sent a catalogue to the nation’s alternative-rock intelligentsia describing its bands’ punk-metal guitar noise as “grunge,” the first documented use of the now-ubiquitous term. “It could have been sludge, grime, crud, any word like that,” said Jonathan Poneman, a Sub Pop founder.
This generation of greasy Caucasian youths in ripped jeans, untucked flannel and stomping boots spent their formative years watching television, inhaling beer or pot, listening to old Black Sabbath albums and dreaming of the day they would trade in their air guitars for the real thing, so that they, too, could become famous rock-and-roll heroes. “Kurt Cobain was just too lazy to shampoo,” said Charles Cross, the editor of the Seattle music monthly The Rocket, talking about Nirvana’s lead singer. Mr. Cobain’s matted sheep-dog mop became a much-emulated cut when his band’s first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” hit last year. A native of Aberdeen, Wash., Mr. Cobain was also “dirt poor,” Mr. Poneman said. He looked like (and was) a guy who slept on friends’ couches or under a bridge, and bought his clothes at thrift shops.
A world on the way out… ruled by a oligarchic society of Decopunks…
Decopunk and Decodence
Decopunk or decodence (“embraces the styles and technologies of the era; it rejoices in a prolonged Jazz Age ambience characterized by great enthusiasm and hopes about the future.” ) is the aristocratic and utopian element of the rich and oligarchic society of the advanced retro-technonecrotic civilization of sleek and streamline versions of Modernity. A sub-genre of Steampunk it based in high-style Art Deco combined with capitalist accelerationism, etc. A sort of optimistic Flash Gordon world of aristoi (Greek aristocratic The term literally means “best”, with the denotation of best in terms of birth, rank, and nobility, but also usually possessing the connotation of also being the morally best. The term in fact derives similarly with arete: “The root of the word is the same as aristos, the word which shows superlative ability and superiority, and “aristos” was constantly used in the plural to denote the nobility.) Think of the Bioshock game and the proposed movie Sky Captain. steampunk author Sara M. Harvey made the distinctions “…shinier than DieselPunk, more like DecoPunk”, and “DieselPunk is a gritty version of Steampunk set in the 1920s-1950s. The big war eras, specifically. DecoPunk is the sleek, shiny very Art Deco version; same time period, but everything is chrome!”
To both versions I’ve offered a variation: instead of nostalgia let’s project this into near future with the added use of our era’s NBIC technologies included so that past and present interoperate as in pomo intertextuality, but with a base materialist recursion to an energetic and vital universe of monstrous formlessness vs. elegant form, etc.
Of course I’ve made a few poetic adjustments and cross-fertilizations with both Grungepunk and Decopunk into my own version of Necropunk to say the least. The opening is in the excluded outer zones where chaos and street world violence and survival reign. More like the Salvagepunk of Miéville and others…. (see Salvage Perspectives)