David Roden: Becoming Inanimate


Been having an interesting discussion with Dr. David Roden of Enemy Industry on his new theory fiction: Becoming Inanimate. In this short narrative he explores the notion of an entity no longer human and no longer organic, that has for reasons unknown merged with a body in a world we will assume is Earth. In the second paragraph he states:

He was interloper in this body, floating on its echoes and tides. Becoming unhitched from the animal. Its ending was nothing like death. During his increasingly rare visits to the clinic, he sensed the weariness he induced in the staff. They would glance at him furtively or frame responses to things his body had said in his absence. They complimented him on his insights or returned physical intimacies he had never initiated. They complained about the lack of pathology. He left the building feeling vindicated somehow.

This sense of being an “interloper” in an organic substratum, of “floating on its echoes and tides” hints at an unknown, of something that cannot be named, an ineffable thing. Yet, as we know an interloper etymologically speaking is

1590s, enterloper, “unauthorized trader trespassing on privileges of chartered companies,” probably a hybrid from inter- “between” + -loper (from landloper “vagabond, adventurer,” also, according to Johnson, “a term of reproach used by seamen of those who pass their lives on shore”); perhaps from a dialectal form of leap, or from Middle Dutch loper “runner, rover,” from lopen “to run,” from Proto-Germanic *hlaupan “to leap” (see leap (v.)).

This sense of trespass, not authorized, a hybrid manifestation, inter-between – a traveler between temporal zones – interzone transgressions; a leap from one state of being (immaterial?) to another (organic?); a possible alien manifestation, or a psychosis; a dimensional time-traveler seeking asylum from futurial catastrophes? We are left in that uncertain state of non-being, an in-betweenness: a wavering gap or abyss opening inward, unable to define whether this is real or irreal/unreal; or, if the narrator is reliable or not – left with the notion that as in skepticism we should possibly suspend judgment and allow the narrative to continue without letting certainty – a reaching after hard facts, intervene and close down meaning, etc.. Yet, we understand that this organic being, whether interloper or something else has been visiting a clinic, and seems to be producing effects on the staff of “weariness,” there dis-ease and dis-quiety glances and furtive gestures and responses to this thing – that, if the narrator is reliable have been done while he (whoever he/she? is has been absent). And, this other – the narrator, who seems to have returned to his organic being (but where did he go?) is offered no sense of relief, but is told he is perfectly normal, no pathologies found.

In the next sentence we get this sense of absent while present, an almost Heraclitean notion: “The night might lead nowhere. He would find himself standing on a bridge looking upriver to the hastily assembled barrages, dimly aware of the reasons for their construction; not minding either way.” A sense of impersonalism, of apathy, of a distance from both emotive and organic registries.

We know that the modernists were already keyed in on such impersonalism. One variant of this tendency might be termed an impersonal subjectivism or a subjectivity without a subject. In this form of dehumanization (common in novels by Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, and Nathalie Sarraute, among others), there is a fragmentation from within that effaces reality and renders the self a mere occasion for the swarming of independent subjective events—sensations, perceptions, memories, and the like. The overwhelming vividness, diversity, and independence of this experiential swarm fragment the self, obliterating its distinctive features—the sense of unity and control.1

In the next paragraph we are introduced to “C”. Who is this being? The narrator, the thing, or someone else?

“C said the future could not be this indifferent. That it might be cancelled yet. But nobody believed her. By whatever aberrant causal loop, now obtained beyond the sea walls and patrols, it was coming back. She was accused of all manner of deviations in this period – of clinging to charms and gimcracks.”

Is the narrator remembering a past conversation? Does it matter? Is the important thing the statement about the future, a statement that offers an opinion from that future, one looking back at that conversation, realizing that the future might yet be changed, a retroactive engagement with the past that might yet cancel such futures? The narrator remarks that no one believed her – the clinic, the doctors, friends, associates? And, yet, there seems to be a temporal element, an “aberrant causal loop” – a return or retroactive action from elsewhere “beyond the sea walls and patrols”? And, C herself is presumably accused of being abnormal, a deviationist of the current reality matrix, accused by the guardians of the Reality Laws of this “period” of ludicrous attachments (“clinging to charms and gimcracks”). Why?

Suddenly in the next paragraph a conspiracy is introduced. Who is this “he”? Who accuses him of his involvement in a cabal in which he seems to be a blind devotee, seduced by a temptress with all the gothic puppetry of mechanical doll – “tinny machine sounds,” repetitions of ritual invocations…. as if he were being “inducted into something”. But what exactly? –

He was somberly informed of his involvement with one of the cabal who passed for rulers here, a woman of no reputation. He sometimes recalls the passions she indulges: a double door at the top of milk white stairs; a slit of artificial light dividing it from the warm glow of the scented candles. A tinny machine sound, masking a low voice repeating some verbal formula or prayer. He was being inducted into something.

This seems more nightmare vision than a reality, a decadent reweaving of gothic themes. And, yet, the sense of fragmentation, the dislocation, the lack of reliable information. In Discognition, Steven Shaviro tells us “Sentience, whether in human beings, in animals, in other sorts of organisms, or in artificial entities, is less a matter of cognition than it is one of what I have ventured to call discogniton. I use this neologism to designate something that disrupts cognition, exceeds the limits of cognition, but also subtends cognition. My working assumption is that fictions and fabulations are basic modes of sentience; and that cognition per se is derived from them and cannot exist without them.”2

Can we say that David’ theory fiction enacts this sense of discognition? As David in a comment section of this post suggested to me:

I seem to be coming at this problem from different angles, but they probably have as much in common with aporetics of deconstruction, phenomenology or even Laruellian non-philosophy (which I don’t claim to understand) as naturalistic ontology, or the considerations adduced by speculative realists. If one’s going to defend scientific realism, for example, you need to push for an ontology of contemporary natural science – e.g. along the lines of Ladyman and Ross (though not necessarily in the form they recommend).

I haven’t the depth of knowledge to be honest. I’m ultimately more interested in the way anti-realist or correlationist attempts to order the world break down – what I used to call “constitutive inefficacy” in relation to holist theories of language, for example.

If frameworks like phenomenology, holism, etc. are constitutively inefficacious, then correlationism is false not because realism is true, but because nothing (not language, not subjectivity) has the hard determining needed to make the correlation work. The fantastic or Weird is one way of figuring this broken correlation – the subject exists but the object no longer plays ball, no longer abides by constitutive principles that knit objects and worlds.

One way, I’ve argued, this works is in my critique of (analytical) pragmatism. This is roughly that itm requires an account of practice and the best account of this is interpretationist. We can say little more about what a practice beyond its susceptibility to interpretation under ideal conditions or our background speech habits. But then even Brandom must presuppose an interpreting subjectivity that falls outside the explanatory scope of his system.

The subject is not represented but presupposed and its nature and bounds are not given: a dark precursor, a thinking nature, obscure from the perspective of the discourses that, at the same time, render it minimally thinkable (a nature that we cannot think as such, as Scott might say – opening the account to a kind of enclosure paradox maybe). It is an extra-subject, a supplement or remainder- alien to the speaker to the person, perhaps in the way Lacan suggests. But rather than follow Lacan (and Stiegler) in arguing for an aporetic subject constitutively exteriorized without origin, I think we need to take this aporia as a contingent mark of the limit, a screw up – as Fodor might say. Fictive exploration is part of that, a way of mapping our relationship to the inhuman that we are.

So in the sense above David is still working within the Idealist metaphysics of the Subject and its disquisitions. He is hanging on to this terminological systems of subject/object even if striving with its realist/anti-realist variants in the phenomenological and post-phenomenological, and even – in his mention of R. Scott Bakker – of current neuroscientific theory and practices. This sense of arguing for an “aporetic subject”. Aporetic etymology suggesting a notion of lack, loss, impassable, impracticable, difficult, etc. A sense of the self as void or lack, of an undecidability at the core of the organic (human?); a waif, a perplexity or difficulty, an inclination to doubt and uncertainty concerning the state or mode of being of this aporetic subject:

c. 1600, from French aporetique, from Greek aporetikos, from aporeein “to be at a loss,” from aporos “impassable, impracticable, very difficult; hard to deal with; at a loss,” from a-, privative prefix.

Or – The Oxford English Dictionary includes two forms of the word: the adjective, “aporetic” which it defines as “to be at a loss,” “impassable,” and “inclined to doubt, or to raise objections”; and the noun form “aporia,” which it defines as the “state of the aporetic” and “a perplexity or difficulty.” The dictionary entry also includes two early textual uses, which both refer to the term’s rhetorical (rather than philosophical) usage.

Just here we see an emphasis either on the loss of the feeling that reality is external or on the loss of reality’s aura of significance. It’s this double meaning and undecidability, a wavering between these two that leaves us in the uncertainty of this aporetic subject.

Which aligns well with the next two fragments in David’s theory fiction:

As if acting in one’s private capacity is not sufficient. Or rather it is a legal fiction. Something she was bitterly dedicated to emptying. Plato might take her for an ideal ruler, if she had wanted anything beyond the venom. Maybe it was coming for them, as it had already for the Broken.

The fragility that had terrified the adult was to be celebrated. He wondered if he ever killed for her, or if she would ask him to kill her. She was, in his fitful memories, rarely so direct. The disease analogized in the body politic. Maybe he wanted this as much as she.

As sense of playfulness – “as if” – a dramaturgy of playing out, masking, imposing a “legal fiction” which “she” (C?) is “bitterly dedicated to emptying” – this sense of the masked persona or social role / self as others define or reduce her too. But why would Plato see her as the Philosopher King… and, then her ironic and sardonic witticism and dismissal of such a thought as if she needed “anything beyond the venom”? And, what is it that is “coming for them” – and, who are they? – and, the “Broken” – we’ve heard nothing of them, no explanation, history, fantastic or otherwise? Another reflection from the future, a memory of the future? We are left with a sense of terror, of the “he” in the next paragraph wondering if he has killed or murdered (C?), or if she would suggest a suicide by murder? Is the “she” from the future or the past? Is he the entity or the other? Is this like Chuang Tzu’s paradox of the butterfly dreaming it is a man or the man dreaming it is a butterfly? Memories like so many nightmares… the disease of personal organism, or the metaphor “body politic” of the social? And, what does he want? Suicide, death… a finality?

But of course the last paragraph:

For his own part, he collated the medical indices. Most cancers were inarticulate, or at least asocial: he was told these talked to one another. There was evidence of a circuit, a parallel nervous system for which distortion and aberrances were the preferred stimuli. It wasn’t hard to persuade Sax to loan him the scanning microscope. A simple matter to make its data available to the processes he had set in train.

Is he a machine after all, an advanced alien intelligence, an Artificial intelligence sent back from the future, an infobomb sent to destroy the illusions of an organic species? Communication among cancerous biotics or inforgs (information oranisms?). A duality: a parallel nervous system… an alternate mode of being and consciousness, an optimized intelligence arriving from the future… and, who is Sax, one of the clinicians… and, what processes is he setting in train? Uncertainty, temporal diagesis, gender transformation, transgender mutations and immanent or transcendent reversals?

Like all fantastic narratives we are left with more questions than answers, caught in the mesh of disquieting thoughts, unable to move toward a definitive resolution toward the marvelous or the uncanny; a movement of actual alien intelligence, or a psychotic breakdown or breakthrough? Who can say or no? The author being as unreliable as the narrative leaves fragments and gestures that point in both directions at once, a Janus-faced image not of temporal dislocation but of a (trans)gendered sea of impossible possibilities – a ‘mutant thought’, or a hyperbolic dance between shifting realities? And, yet, this is the point after all, that we are in a moment, a time wavering between, in-between human and inhuman, or posthuman formulations with no clear path forward; yet, at a loss, aporetic, unable to call on knowledge itself: the knowledge base of Western Civilization being useless in its apprehension of this transitional mutation we all seem to be undergoing and suffering.

  1. Sass, Louis Arnorsson. Madness and modernism : insanity in the light of modern art, literature, and thought (Kindle Locations 642-646). New York, NY : BasicBooks. Kindle Edition.
  2. Shaviro, Steven. Discognition (Kindle Locations 2925-2929). Watkins Media. Kindle Edition.

5 thoughts on “David Roden: Becoming Inanimate

  1. Thanks so much, Craig. I had suspected anything dashed off so hurriedly could merit a commentary longer than itself. As I say, I think you pull me in directions better than those I intended, though perhaps intentions, as with my perspectiveless character, are somewhat moot here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The references to the “Broken” is part of a kind of imaginary topos, a weird reimagining of Antonioni’s L’Avventura among other thing. The “Broken” may be a continent. It may be a condition. We may already be “broken” in the relevant sense. I love being unreliable.

    Liked by 1 person

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