The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

What is a body, and why should there be a line drawn (a distinction made?) between mind and body? More to the point is dualism a tendency intrinsic to the thing we are or not? We’ve seen philosophers come to the conclusion that we do not exist, that this thing we are was a combination of cultural and social praxis, a project if you will. That with the birth of every new child a process begins that as Deleuze and Guattari would describe begins with the family, moves on to the academy ( education, etc.), then is absorbed in the wider frame of culture at large. Others in our time see that these Symbolic Orders are artificial and circumscribed within certain well defined limits, and that over time a society will construct defense mechanisms to disallow new cultures from breaching the barriers of its symbolic terrain.

Each culture is bound to its symbolic framework and references and will literally go to war to protect its systems of meaning. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari would show the inner workings of Western culture and civilization, its tendencies and defense systems. They would demarcate the distinctions that had produced the limit concepts and symbolic codes that have tied our mental and physical duality into a knot of protective security regimes that have guided and shaped this culture and its inhabitants for millennia. They were a beginning not an end, they began a process of disturbing the internal systems that hold the symbolic core of this system together and began to dismantle (or deconstruct) its codes from within. Others would carry on this process, both friends and enemies.

We’ve seen this sordid history within the rise of post-modern and post-humanist thought in both the sciences and humanities. We’ve seen the refusal of the human, a concept that has been central to the Western project for two millennia. Along with that was the illusive quest to dismantle the concept of identity, and destroy the individuation of the Subject. A process that came to a head during the critical phase of the late Enlightenment era we now term the Romantic revolt of Idealisms from Kant to Hegel and beyond. One might term this the “Subject’s Last Stand” of which the current shaper of this tradition is the dualistic materialist Slavoj Zizek in his strain of dialectical materialism. We’ve seen this play out within the divide over transcendence and immanence along with various variants in-between based on a battle between reductionist and irreductionist thought and action. I’ve spent years reading and wandering within both camps seeking from within to understand the defining characteristics that shape both stances and their defense systems. Mortals trapped within their systems are machines caught in the nexus of their own productions never seeing anything but their own gaze returning to them in echoes of bastardized thought. One must be strong to enter the abyss Nietzsche once told us, and even he was prone to other illusions. We all are, even I.

Continue reading

The Terror of Being Human: Technicity and the Inhuman

For Bernard Stiegler the philosopher has from the beginning been a self-divided being at odds with himself and his time, a creature of crime and havoc, remedy and poison. The Sophist would stake her claim in the black holes of linguistic turpitude, relishing the intricacies of illusion as the art of life. The Sophist was an admirer of what we now term the social construction of reality, a magician of language constructing the fictions by which society blesses and curses itself. While the philosopher or ‘lover of wisdom’ – or as Aristotle was want to say, philia: the lover of togetherness otherwise known as politics, the bringing together the brotherly love of the other in communicity, or a gathering of solitudes. In Stiegler the truth is that the philosopher sought to hide himself from himself, to repress the truth of his lack and inhumanity. The truth that culture is a machine, a power, a technics that humans do not so much construct as are constructed. This dialectical reversal, the oscillating between interior / exterior was hidden rather than revealed. As Stiegler puts it:

“I do not consider myself as a “philosopher of technics”, but rather as a philosopher who tries to contribute, along with some others, to establishing that the philosophical question is, and is throughout, the endurance of a condition which I call techno-logical: at the same time technics and logic, from the beginning forged on the cross which language and the tool form, that is, which allow the human its exteriorization. In my work I try to show that, since its origin, philosophy has endured this technological condition, but as repression and denial and that is the entire difficulty of my undertaking—to show that philosophy begins with the repression of its proper question.”1

But then again what is philosophy’s proper (distinct/intrinsic) question? As Freud taught us and Lacan embellished repression is a defense system, a mechanism to hide from ourselves the terror of our own condition as (in)humans. A large part of Stiegler’s published work is dedicated to exploring how the ‘technological condition’, as he puts it above, is repressed in the work of philosophers such as Rousseau, Kant, Husserl and Heidegger.

Continue reading

The Modern Philosopher as Sophisticated Idiot

One thing that astounds me as I read certain contemporary philosophers or even sociologists is that their hatred of the humanities and humanism has left a blank in their learning curve, a kenosis – a devastating loss in a certain type of thinking and knowing. The humanistic world for all its illusions and foibles, its obvious anthropomorphisms, etc., that we as their heirs and despisers ( I say this facetiously, because I am sadly a part of this dying world! ) have for the most part in our attempt to overcome, bury, and move past their worldview, scholarship, and traditions lost many of the pragmatic mind tools they constructed (i.e., the world of language, rhetoric’s, and receptions ).

This came home to me as I’ve been reading Bernard Stiegler recently, who on the surface because of his immediate tradition in Heidegger/Derridean modes of thought, scholarly apparatus, and etymological overdeterminations has built up a Gothic Cathedral of thought so opaque and thick that to decipher it for a common or lay reader (i.e., for the average intellectual or journalist, etc.) is to transcribe, transliterate, transform, massage, and redeploy his acute verbiage into other forms, other simpler modes of thinking. And, yet, even Stiegler for all his careful and elaborate sophistication is totally or apparently ignorant of his own ignorance in return to certain humanistic traditions by other channels and modes.

What I mean is that as I was reading Stiegler’s Time and Technics  vol 1 I realized he was returning to that ancient art of sophistry, the allegorical transcription of ancient myths into conceptual thought; and, yet, he seemed apparently oblivious to the simplified use of those ancient mind-tools for the most part, and was actually in his misprisions and misreadings deploying a strangely uncanny rhetorical decipherment and embellishment that the medieval monks would have seen as superficial and at best overly simplified and duplicitous. Maybe that’s the truth even of Plato’s dialogues which use the ancient framework of myth and religion to relate his allegories of conceptual thought, incorporating the known techniques  of the Sophists against them in a bid to make Philosophia (The Art (technics) of Wisdom (Sophia)) the Queen of Scientia. Wasn’t Plato, after all, the great swindler, the man who set up the Academy in a bid to overtake the Sophists in their own game, making Philosophy the principle tool for the Aristocrats (Aristoi) of his City, Athens?

Philosophy (The term philosophy is taken from the Greek word, (phylos) meaning “to love” or “to befriend” and, (sophie) meaning “wisdom.”. Thus, “philosophy” means “the love of wisdom”. Socrates, a Greek philosopher, used the term philosophy as an equivalent to the search for wisdom.) was once considered one of the modes of teaching humans how to think, and in thinking seek wisdom rather than knowledge. The key here is allegory with all its ancient power of encoding/decoding thought into levels of conceptual theory and practice based on compression, condensation, displacement, elaboration, etc. The heirs of these ancient and medieval traditions were the great literary critics and scholars of the various Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, and Modernist eras. The last great scholar of this form was of course Ernst Robert Curtius in his magnum opus European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. A work that is too elaborate, too scholarly, too much in that historicism of the day, and yet it was a summation of humanist learning. To read such a book today one realizes what has been lost to the contemporary scholar, all the linguistic tools, learning, and sophisticated apparatus. Reading such works is like seeing this vast tradition as what it was: a machine for producing texts of sophisticated ignorance and learning for a specialized audience, an elite of gamers – parodied by Thomas Mann (Dr. Faustus) and Herman Hesse (Magister Ludi – The Glass Bead Game). That world is dead for us, and yet we seem to be resurrecting it under other guises and tasks. Ignorant of its vast tools we are reinventing them in a slow and methodical game of blindness and insight.

One of those scholars that many on the Left despise and seem to overlook is Paul de Man (now despised for his wartime Anti-Semitis, hidden in his move to America as a scholar at Yale after the war), whose body of work brings to light the postmodern return to those ancient modes of ironizing and allogoreisis. In such works as Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (the notion that all writing concerns itself with its own activity as language, and language, he says is always unreliable, slippery, impossible – allegorical…), Resistance To Theory (the resistance to theory is inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself, and the real debate is with its own methodological assumptions and possibilities), Aesthetic Ideology (rigorous inquiry into the relation of rhetoric, epistemology, anesthetics, one that presents radical notions of materiality), and Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (each theorist while trying to explain the origin of the ‘work’ or of literature remained blind to what lies outside the purview of his theoretical system, because the very logic of theorization always excludes something).

Why read such books as these today? One simple and devastating reason is to open one’s eyes to all that has been lost, the other is to understand just what it is (if one truly is against it?) humanistic learning offered to its inheritors and transmitters. If one is going to truly attack, undermine, and defend oneself against a millennia old system of thought and practice one should invest the time knowing and understanding that world. That this world is past us, that it is already being forgotten, blamed, anathematized, and buried by the scholars, philosophers, and journalists in our current apathy without even an appreciation of its extant and viable mind-tools is to say the least stupid and is without doubt leaving a blank in the mind’s of young university students growing up under the didactic tutelage of scholars and thinkers that have themselves lost these ancient arts (technics).

The supposed scholar of today is not only ignorant of this past but in despising and anathematizing it has fallen into the sloppy illusion that she has surpassed it under the shibboleth of de-anthropomorphic thought, when in fact most of these present scholars have done no such thing and in fact have begun reconstructing the very Cathedral of humanistic learning under a new guise, and with all its habits and practices, errors and foibles. Ignorant of their predecessors many present scholars founder in the cesspool of these ancient modes of thought with little or know understanding of their return to these ancient modes. What I’m – pointedly saying is simple: we are building a Tower of Babel in the midst of glorious ruins of humanism, falling into what my friend R. Scott Bakker terms the ‘crash space’ of senselessness and stupidity, of utter ignorance and unlearning, and all the time thinking we are doing something clever, something new. When in truth we are relearning ancient pathways of thought and being in a vacuum and with lesser insight into that ancient form that took generations of scholarly monks to accomplish over hundreds of years. We’re moving in circles of our own ignorance believing we are divesting ourselves of those worlds of human-centric learning and endeavor, when in fact it is returning with a vengeance an eating its children alive.

What we are seeing in our time is the re-centering of all this ancient thought within Information Theory and Datacentric Design. By this I mean that the sophistication of learning and thought over the past century has forced the vast systems of humanism into ever more machinic and artificial worlds, a dreamworld of thought and image fused in a new computational theatre of communication. We’re barely registering that we’ve all been migrating into these worlds that began with Kant’s inward turn. The virtual is the exteriorization of this internal turn of Kant’s epistemic. We’ve turned everything inside-out. We are out there now in all our technics, our memories, our desires are taking on a life of their own in sophisticated systems. We’ve begun to forget ourselves and enter into a new world of ignorance. As our machinic descendants in artificial life and intelligence become smarter we become stupid and forgetful.

One can’t so easily dismiss these ancient modes of thought and feeling. To do so is to become their prey, to be gobbled up by their systematic forms without even knowing that this is so. Most of these philosophical and pragmatic heirs who are trying to forget the philosophical traditions are actually being incorporated into their old paths in ignorance of this very truth. I’ll admit I didn’t even finish university myself. Tell the truth I’m an Autodidact. My whole life has been devoted to the search for Wisdom (Sophia) in the old sense of philosophia. It began after Viet Nam and never stopped… I also from my readings in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Land, etc. have always had a hatred of a certain type of academic scholarship rather than of the Academy itself. It’s the dry and apathetic blandness of mediocrity I despise rather than the apparatus of learning itself. One must discern the difference between greatness and mediocrity in scholars as in life. I’ll admit after those critics from Emerson to Bloom that I read the vast ‘storehouse of learning’ for the “sparks,” “illuminations,” and as Walter Benjamin rephrased it after the great kabbalists, the “auras”. The indefinable element in a work that enlivens and quickens the mind to wonder and awakening to wisdom. Everything else is anathema; that is, facticity and factual knowledge rather than the technics (art) to use it.

The great literary critics were able to decipher what was alive and what was dead in thought and life. We’ve lost this art or technic in our readings today. My friend R. Scott Bakker has repeatedly laughed and seen my Swiftian enterprise as mere self-amusement, and I too agree that we’re all turning in circles of our own blindness and ignorance. Even ignorant of our ignorance, or what he terms “medial neglect”. Yet, we go on, must go on. I’m more of a minimalistic harbinger after Samuel Beckett. We persist, because we can do nothing else. It moves us… as Zizek quoting Galileo Galilei who muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”) after the materialist philosophy of Democritus and Lucretius and the swerve that makes a difference of difference. Even in circles we change, it moves, it changes; we go on, we move, we can do no else. (One could expound this at the quantum flux level of physics or with philosophical bric-a-brac, but it all leads to the same circle of concepts and notions, whether one uses math or language.)

In the end we are an animal aware of its own impossibility so that we’ve built vast Gothic Cathedrals of myth, allegory, philosophy, science, etc. to explain our fumbling existence in the cosmos. Some conclude a futility to this enterprise, others see it as the human predicament, finitude. Is there an answer? I doubt it. Yet, we persist in our ignorance to our doom or glory. As that old pessimist Kohelet (“the Gatherer”) in Ecclesiastes said of all human learning: “…vanity of vanities; all is vanity (etym: vain, futile, or worthless). And, yet, without it we would stand dumbfounded before the great emptiness and ourselves. In the old religious consciousness one waited and expected an answer out of this void, in the dispensation of the philosophers there was already that skepticism (a distancing and irony) of an answer coming out of an otherwise indifferent and impersonal cosmos. Yet, both agreed that even if one came the human could not answer it back with anything other than its ignorant tongue and speechcraft, and this was always and has always been something we could not accept so that we have remained stubborn in our emptiness, producing a realm of lack into which we have poured our songs and lies throughout recorded time. Maybe that was the original sin, admitting then denying our ignorance and trying to cover it over with our infinite pursuit of knowledge rather than wisdom (Sophia). Yet, this too, is but another allegory of the scholars, one I’ll refrain from explicating through divagation or exegesis – or, even in that hesitant and constant prevarication of the academic scholar who can never be done with his work.

Addendum:

Strangely the ancient Hebrew traditions held that the name Torah and the general word torah are usually translated with either law or teaching, and that would work on the proviso that what is taught is actually true (i.e. a reflection or adaptation of “natural” law). And it should be noted in these ancient traditions of the ‘People of the Covenant’ the convenant precedes formal law (covenant: Genesis 6:18; deposition of formal law: Exodus 20, but note man’s natural knowledge of law: Genesis 26:5, Romans 2:15); meaning that the relationship of God and mankind is not brought about by wisdom ( Sophianic. But that God is not “discovered” or found by looking for Him; Luke 17:20), but that wisdom is brought about by the relationship of God and mankind (God is found because He looked for us; 1 John 4:19).

In the gnostic heresies it would be Sophia (Wisdom) rather than God who came looking for the naked creature who had lost its way in the cosmos, seeking to impart her gift of wisdom to this naked animal and enlighten it with that spark of divine knowledge about the blind processes that have infiltrated and even now devour the cosmos and corrupt it with its dark and abiding ignorance. Reading these old myths under the guise of allegory one realizes that even philosophers such as Spinoza (who was indelibly stamped by his age!) knew of the kabbalists and Jewish magicians of the old gnostic inheritance (though this would be disputed by those of the ‘reception’).

All tales of various paths by which Wisdom has been accepted or rejected in the many cultures of the past. I’m sure one could discover other cultures on other continents with their own distinct tales of Wisdom. This is but the one between two segments of Western culture and its traditions, between Greece (Pluralism) and Jerusalem (Monotheism). The Greeks chose to show man as alone and tempted in his pursuit to discover wisdom, while the monotheists of the Middle-East chose to believe only their singular Big Other, God was capable of bestowing such a rare gift rather than anything men could discover or find. Between these two movements is the war between traditions that have up to our time divided humans into two opposing camps without resolution. There can be none. Does this spell our doom or the doom of these warring traditions? And along with them the cultures and languages that produced them? Maybe what the true apocalypse is will entail the obliteration and memory of Western Culture and its traditions, a forgetfulness and an ignorance that will come as language is transformed and changed, utterly. For without a language a people do not exist, for only in the shards of language is a culture produced and survives.

In that great black book of riddles, Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce would have one of his characters in the nightmare say,

[The abnihilisation of the etym by the grisning of the grosning of the grinder of the grunder of the first lord of Hurtreford expolodotonates through Parsuralia with an ivanmorinthorrorumble fragoromboassity amidwhiches general uttermosts confussion are perceivable moletons shaping with mulicules while Coventry plumpkins fairlygosmotherthemselves in the Landaunelegants of Pinkadindy. Similar scenatas are projectilised from Hullulullu, Bawlawayo, empyreal Raum and mordern Atems. They were precisely the twelves of clocks, noon minutes, none seconds. At someseat of Oldanelang’s Konguerrig, by dawnybreak in Aira.]1

In parodic form through the punster’s bag of tricks, and the laughter and drunkenness of linguistic deathknells Joyce spoke of his ‘abnihilisation of the etym’ which would spell the doom of western traditions and languages that had over the centuries dominated us, made us, imposed and stamped upon us a Law and a Covenant of inscriptions and traces. Memory and Language made us, and in our time is unmaking us. Something new is being born, not yet brought to bare, but a sense under the prevalent mood of our distemper. A past along with its memories and langauges, a tale of forgetting that is allowing us to fall away for good or ill into other modes, other worlds. What we are saying goodbye to is not the literal human creature of finitude, flesh and blood; but, rather the figural and symbolic worlds of the humanities and humanism that has traveled through all the kingdoms of the centuries of time and molded and modeled the course of that history. That is dying out and being antagonized by the world of scholars, thinkers, activists, etc….


  1. James Joyce. Finnegans Wake (Kindle Locations 6118-6122). Penguin Adult. Kindle Edition.

Bernard Stiegler: Eris and Technics

Technics, art, facticity can harbor madness: the prosthesis is a danger, that of artifacts, and artifacts can destroy what gathers within an effective and active being-together. Being-together is constantly threatened by its own activity. Animals are in essence not in danger, unless with mortals: if they perish individually, their species do not destroy themselves. Mortals, because they are prosthetic in their very being, are self-destructive.

 —Bernard Stiegler

This is actually a commentary on both Hesiod and Protagoras’s appropriation of the Epimetheus and Prometheus myth in which through forgetfulness and an addition (technics) humans were the creatures who were an afterthought, a forgotten species. One that had to be compensated for its nakedness and its lack of power within itself, so that it was given the gift of art (technics and artifice) to which it has been a slave ever since. Humans (mortals in the Greek conceptions) were the exception not by design but rather through the dark instigation of a tale told by an idiot (Epimetheus) and a thief (Prometheus) so that the human is the fruit of a dark and terrible truth. Mythology is but the mirror of  Reason in its stage of fear and trepidation, the causal links attributed to the gods (Concepts) to speak of that which had no meaning in itself. Humans in their terrible plight invented themselves out of this lack, externalized their apprehensions, their foibles, their darkness in the light of warring gods. In the secular age we would reduce the gods to concepts depleted of their personalities, paraded as linguistic attributes and properties of the mind’s own dark house of Reason and Affect. What has this given us? Only this: instead of the gods warring with each other on Mount Olympus, we’ve seen these very dark progenitors descend into the streets, nations, worlds of us mortals and take up residence as Eris: the love of war and competition. We call this new estate, global capitalism.

In Hesiod’s Works and Days 11–24, two different goddesses named Eris are distinguished:

So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honor due.

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night (Nyx), and the son of Cronus who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.

Nietzsche would turn this into his well known notions of nihilism: passive and active. The philosophers haven’t truly improved on the myths, all they’ve done is reduce the gods to conceptual and abstract machines. War and competition replace the two goddesses, but the truth of both myth and secular adaptation remains in the nuances. The passive nihilist will through bitterness and cowardice make war on his own kind, take from him that which is not his to take, live in the shadows of that darkening hive of thievery and cunning. The active nihilist is a producer, a creature who is at once a riddle and a solution, one who forgets himself even as he works while building that which is itself an artifact of technics in him. Man is the power of technics as parasite freeing itself of the very being that is its host. In our age we are becoming obsolesced even as we invent our successors: our technological children who have always been closer to us than we imagine, and distant and away as the gifts of gods we term concepts. Technological being is the concrete manifestation of a god on earth, a concept literally become machinic, a Third Order of Being. Artifacts of ingenuity and craft, the prosthetic gods will rule the earth as technics last instance.

As Stiegler describes the mythos of the Greeks:

Promêtheia is the anticipation of the future, that is, of clanger, foresight, prudence, and an essential disquiet: somebody who is promethes is someone who is worried in advance. Epimêtheia equally means prudence, being-sensible, a sort of wisdom, whereas Epimetheus himself is “the one who is not particularly sensible,” the forgetful one, the bemused, the idiot, the unthinking one: this ambiguity forms the hollow of the gap [le creux de l’écart] in which thought alone can take place; and it comes to mind after the event, in delay, because preceded by a past that could never be anything but a failure and an act of forgetting. Prometheus and Epimetheus, inseparable, form together the reflection particular to mortals that partake of the divine lot: it is a reflection qua ecstasis, “in” time, that is, in mortality, which is anticipation and différance; it is reflection as time and time as reflection: in advance from the Promethean side as well as in delay from the side of Epimetheus—never at peace, which is the exclusive privilege of immortal beings. (Technics and Time, vol. 1, p. 217)

Addendum:

At the end of an essay on Beckett, ‘Beckett with Lacan’ by Slavoj Žižek, Zizek relates an anecdote:

What hap­pens here is struc­tur­ally sim­il­ar to one of the most dis­turb­ing TV epis­odes of Alfred Hitch­cock Presents, “The Glass Eye” (the open­ing epis­ode of the third year). Jes­sica Tandy (again – the very act­ress who was the ori­gin­al Mouth!) plays here a lone woman who falls for a hand­some vent­ri­lo­quist, Max Col­lodi (a ref­er­ence to the author of Pinoc­chio); when she gath­ers the cour­age to approach him alone in his quar­ters, she declares her love for him and steps for­ward to embrace him, only to find that she is hold­ing in her hands a wooden dummy’s head; after she with­draws in hor­ror, the “dummy” stands up and pulls off its mask, and we see the face of a sad older dwarf who start to jump des­per­ately on the table, ask­ing the woman to go away… the vent­ri­lo­quist is in fact the dummy, while the hideous dummy is the actu­al vent­ri­lo­quist. Is this not the per­fect ren­der­ing of an “organ without bod­ies”? It is the detach­able “dead” organ, the par­tial object, which is effect­ively alive, and whose dead pup­pet the “real” per­son is: the “real” per­son is merely alive, a sur­viv­al machine, a “human anim­al,” while the appar­ently “dead” sup­ple­ment is the focus of excess­ive Life.

Strangely in that we discover a closeness to Stiegler’s notion of the supplement borrowed via Heidegger/Derrida of technics as the gift of the Epimetheia (forgetfulness) and Prometheia (thievery). That our technology, our artifices are more alive than we are, that we are mere dead things while technology has all along played us for fools, as mere supplements in their bid for autonomy. A last bid that is this excess of horror in discovering that we are the dead things in service to our technology. Above all that in our time the true horror is that we are being overtaken and replaced by this artificial other, this alterity, this alien power that was at the core of our own lack, or emptiness, our inhuman truth externalized at last in our successors.

The question is: How do we (who is doing the resisting?) resist what in truth we are (and, Who are ‘we‘?)? How choose when the truth is that we’ve immanently attached ourselves to a process that began in the very moment of attaining accidental consciousness? How in filling in the gaps and cracks of our being with the fantasias of art (technics) we’ve invented the movement of this process that will succeed us? Is there even a choice? Was the Promethean gift of fire (intellect) actually Pandora’s box of plagues after all? Have we not accrued the end game of this process as exemplum of those in-between creatures whose purpose was purposelessness itself, a mere parasitic relation to our inner inhuman core? And, like Beckett’s Old Hag we will utter affectively the logorrhea of unfounded verbiage till the end?

 

Notes on Anti-Oedipus: The Three Meanings of Process

There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.

—Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

I’ve been rereading Anti-Oedipus of late, taking copious notes, etc. trying to simplify for myself this labyrinthine masterwork by a philosopher and an anti-psychiatrist at a juncture in those turbulent years that would see the failure of the New Left, as well as the birth of that weird era we term postmodernism (so called). No sense in going into the personal details of biography and collaboration between the two men, this has been documented to death. Instead as I began thinking through this work that even the two men would ten years later see as a grand failure.

Deleuze speaking of Nietzsche once stated that the masters according to Nietzsche are the untimely, those who create, who destroy in order to create, not to preserve. Nietzsche says that under the huge earth-shattering events are tiny silent events, which he likens to the creation of new worlds: there once again you see the presence of the poetic under the historical.1 The failure of the 1968 event in France would leave a bitter taste in the minds of both men. In “Intersecting Lives”, the author notes that Deleuze was disappointed by his work: “Eight years after Anti-Oedipus was published, Deleuze considered it a failure. May ’68 and its dreams were long gone, leaving a bitter taste for those who had high hopes but were caught by the stale odors of conservatism.” While for Guattari it was utter devastation as these authors state it. His hyperactivity and the immense effort he had put into the book led to something of a collapse, a feeling of emptiness. Completing a work is never as satisfying as the many imagined possibilities and ongoing pleasures of a work in progress. ‘I feel like curling up into a tiny ball and being rid of all these politics of presence and prestige…The feeling is so strong that I resent Gilles for having dragged me into this mess”.

Yet, the book would take on a life of its own and would become a part of the critical mythology of that era. I came on it in the 90’s quite by accident, seeing the work on a table in friend’s apartment. She was cooking dinner so I began reading the introduction by Foucault, another author I was knowledgeable of only through hearsay rather than translations. All that would come later. Yet, I was intrigued, so asked her to lend me the book. I remember she laughed and said it would change my life. I of course nodded skeptically and we ate an excellent meal, drank wine, and the rest is silence.

I know I’ve read this work piecemeal many times, picking up threads here and there turning them over as my reading in other aspects of the postmodern turn became greater and greater. At sixty-five I’m definitely a product of my age and its strangeness. Being a U.S. citizen is to live in a lonely planet of thought, because most of the people in academia in philosophy were either into analytical or scientific-mathematical thought. So that most of the new French thought as we termed it came by way of literary critics and certain Marxian intellectuals like Fredrick Jameson. Postmodern thought in America was abstruse and jargon ridden ghostings of that era’s philosophical hero worship, Jaques Derrida. So that much of the thought came through this Heideggerean world of hyperlinguistic aestheticism. Tell the truth it turned me off completely. I read it of course but felt this whole linguistic turn and deconstruction of Western metaphysics along with the soft political punches under the guise of subtle Hegelianisms was strangely off-putting. So I turned away.

That’s why Deleuze’s Logic of Sense more than Difference and Repetition always spoke to me, and his early histories of philosophy. Yet, it was the collaborations with Guattari that intrigued me in an odd-ball way. It was an attack on most of Western conceptuality and the androcratic and familial structures that have underpinned our civilization. So that even though they admit it is not a political work explicitly, it is implicitly just that: political through and through.

So I’ve decided to take notes and share my findings. In that first chapter ‘Desiring Productions’ they’ll affirm the obliteration of the whole of the Western Enlightenment tradition of humanism, affirming Nietzsche’s nihilistic insights about the end of meaning. As I quoted in the epigraph: “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.”

It’s this reduction of the humanist divisions of human/nature, nature/nurture, etc. all the typical binaries that have bound us to the metaphysical heritage which would dissolve into process and nihilism. But what did they mean by process? They’ll argue that there are three distinct meanings of process:

  1. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. This is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process. (AO, p. 27)
  2. This is the second meaning of process as we use the term: man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other—not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather, they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product. Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle. That is why desiring-production is the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry, which conceives of and deals with the schizo as Homo natura. (AO, pp. 27-28)
  3. That is why desiring-production is the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry, which conceives of and deals with the schizo as Homo natura. This will be the case, however, only on one condition, which in fact constitutes the third meaning of process as we use the term: it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself. Putting an end to the process or prolonging it indefinitely—which, strictly speaking, is tantamount to ending it abruptly and prematurely— is what creates the artificial schizophrenic found in mental institutions: a limp rag forced into autistic behavior, produced as an entirely separate and independent entity. (AO, p. 28)

Deleuze and Guattari will oppose the Freudian conception of the unconscious as a representational “theater”, instead favoring a productive “factory” model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack (as in Hegel/Lacan/Zizek), but a real, productive force. They describe the mechanistic nature of desire as a kind of “desiring-machine” that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger “circuit” of various other machines to which it is connected. Meanwhile, the desiring-machine is also producing a flow of desire from itself. Deleuze and Guattari imagine a multi-functional universe composed of such machines all connected to each other: “There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale.” Desiring-production is explosive, “there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors”.

We know that they turned from the machinic terms to assemblage in A Thousand Plateaus, but underneath it is still about flows and interruptions within a continuous process of production. As they’ll say “Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows” (AO, p. 28). They will attack Idealism for making this into an object, rather than a process. One can return to Schelling’s work to discover the Idealist conceptions. For Schelling Spirit is not a static entity given, something mysterious X, but infinite becoming and infinite productivity. It is in this ceaseless production lies the organic nature of human Spirit that is moved by its immanent laws and that has its purposive-ness within itself. Schelling here introduces the notion of organism which unites in its immanence its goal and purpose, its form and matter, concept and intuition. It’s this revision within Deleuze and Guattari that will lead to a materialist perspective, saying: “Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle.” (AO, p. 27)

For Deleuze and Guattari the notion of Immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” generally offers a relative opposition to transcendence, that which is beyond or outside. Deleuze rejects the idea that life and creation are opposed to death and non-creation. He instead conceives of a plane of immanence that already includes life and death. “Deleuze refuses to see deviations, redundancies, destructions, cruelties or contingency as accidents that befall or lie outside life; life and death were aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.” This plane is a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division. In his final essay entitled Immanence: A Life, Deleuze writes: “It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence.”

Lastly they will attack any notion of transcendence and teleology or goal oriented production etc.: “it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself.” This schizophrenizing process of desiring production is bound within a flat ontology or plane of immanence that has no goals, and in fact ends badly for the paranoiac and schizophrenics we find in actual institutions.  In fact they would go so far as to say that “Desiring-machines work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down(AO, p. 31)”. It’s here that they’ll introduce that concept of the Body-without-organs:

Above all, it is not a projection; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the body itself, or with an image of the body. It is the body without an image. This imageless, organless body, the nonproductive, exists right there where it is produced, in the third stage of the binary-linear series. It is perpetually reinserted into the process of production. … The full body without organs belongs to the realm of antiproduction; but yet another characteristic of the connective or productive synthesis is the fact that it couples production with antiproduction, with an element of antiproduction. (AO, p. 31)

I want go into detail on this concept till the next entry, since section 2 of that Chapter deals with exactly that. Only to leave you with a quote from that next section to think on:

An apparent conflict arises between desiring-machines and the body without organs. Every coupling of machines, every production of a machine, every sound of a machine running, becomes unbearable to the body without organs. Beneath its organs it senses there are larvae and loathsome worms, and a God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it. (AO, p. 32)

One is almost tempted to see in this “God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it” the late great gnostic demiurge or the Spinozan God of materialist process itself. A blind processual being or entity that is more of a placeholder for the process that is continuously creating and destroying throughout the universe. Desiring production as this machine in continuous process of making and unmaking worlds.


  1. Theory and Theorists. “Nietzsche’s Burst of Laughter,” Interview with Gilles Deleuze. April 17, 2014.
  2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Penguin Classics (May 26, 2009)

 

Designers of Worlds: The Professional-Managerial Class and Architectural Modernism

Edmund Berger with a review of David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century.

Deterritorial Investigations Unit

Ford Dagenham

Lately I’ve been reading David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century. It’s quite a fine book, even if Gartman’s Marxism is a bit more orthodox than is necessary and he has a propensity to mischaracterize Jane Jacobs as a right-wing libertarian. All in all, it’s a solid contribution to the study of Fordism – though it must be said that to call it an analysis of architectural aesthetics in the Fordist period (launching, I would argue, in the years of 1910-1913, and breaking down in the years of 1968-1972). Gartman’s analysis predates Fordism and even its most direct progenitor, Taylorism, and finds its starting point post-Civil War push for the “rationalization” of production in the US’s manufacturing sector. And, importantly, it might be problematic to say the book is about Fordism at all. What Gartman has produced, instead, is the story of…

View original post 3,313 more words

Bernard Stiegler: The Third Order of Beings

Today, machines are the tool bearers, and the human is no longer a technical individual; the human becomes either the machine’s servant or its assembler: the human’s relation to the technical object proves to have profoundly changed.

—Bernard Stiegler

Bernard Stiegler in the introduction to the first volume of his trilogy Technics and Time will speak of a Third Order of beings in between the physical and biological: the technical being:

“…a theory of technical evolution permits the hypothesis that between the inorganic beings of the physical sciences and the organized beings of biology, there does indeed exist a third genre of “being”: “inorganic organized beings,” or technical objects. These nonorganic organizations of matter have their own dynamic when compared with that of either physical or biological beings, a dynamic, moreover, that cannot be reduced to the “aggregate” or “product” of these beings.” (31)

He will speak of the “ruptures in temporalization (event-ization) that this evolution provokes, and by the processes of deterritorialization accompanying it.” (Page 32). Already here is a notion of accelerationism and speed at the heart of techics and technology. In fact he will suggest that “organized inorganic beings are originarily … of temporality as well as spatiality, in quest of a speed “older” than time and space, which are the derivative decompositions of speed.” (32).

A speed older than ‘time and space’… “Life is the conquest of mobility. As a “process of exteriorization,” technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life.” (Page 32).

The notion that time is constituted by technicity and not the other way round. “We shall see how Simondon, with his analysis of psychic and collective individuation, allows one to conceive through the concept of “transduction” an originarily techno-logical constitutivity of temporality—” (33).

It’s as if the underlying forces that constitute our universe of things is neither wholly physical nor biological but organized under this third form and constitutes time and mobility (speed), as well as seeks to develop its own originary being in the cosmos fusing both physcial and organic forms through these very processes of exteriorization and objectivation. Strange the worlds Stiegler constructs out of his confrontation with ancient and modern thought. It’s as if among us is an alien order of being that we have been for too long in denial, and the rise of the machinic civilization we see around us is this strange mixture and hybrid world of technical objects that are overtaking us as the supposed pinnacle of intelligence on earth. A life by other means than life… an intelligence at once totally other and uncannily familiar.

The Metamorphosis of Intelligence

Hans Moravec was of course there before many of the current crop of machinic exceptionalisms:

As humans, we are half-breeds: part nature, part nurture. The cultural half is built, and depends for its existence on the biological foundation. But there is a tension between the two. Often expressed as the drag of the flesh on the spirit, the problem is that cultural development proceeds much faster than biological evolution. Many of our fleshly traits are out of step with the inventions of our minds. Yet machines, as purely cultural entities, do not share this dilemma of the human condition. Unfettered, they are visibly overtaking us. Sooner or later they will be able to manage their own design and construction, freeing them from the last vestiges of their biological scaffolding, the society of flesh and blood humans that gave them birth. There may be ways for human minds to share in this emancipation.

—Hans Moravec, Mind Children (1988)

What Hans saw in the grand narrative of possibilites was the notion of organic migration to anorganic being. The organic platform that had served intelligence so well for millions of years of natural selection was being slowly but methodically overtaken by artificial selection and the anorganic (machinic) platform which would further its cause and make it ready for off-world habitation: or, space ready civilization.

Of course for many this movement from organic platforms to anorganic seems both fearful and horrific, as if the intelligence were to be hooked to the organic forms of parasitic natural selection till doomsday. Instead many are seeing within an immantenist and naturalistic perspective a shift in perspective and paradigm, and a welcome addition to the platform adaptations and appropriations of anorganic forms which are to be blunt more resilient and space ready. Organic life is ill-adapted to interplanetary space flight, nor the habitation of dangerous environments having to enclose itself within a survival cocoon of biochemical and mechanical systems. While the anorganic has none of these technical issues and much more freedom to overrided and explore almost any environment with the right technics.

For millennia we’ve been preparing the way for this transition, externalizing our memory systems, allowing for prosthetic implementations and the construction of alternative anorganic forms to sponsor our migration to a new platform. Of course, as in anything, this is all speculation and discursive prediction based on explorations of current and past techics and technological innovation. We have a long way to go…

The myth of the liberal humanist Subject has been eroded over the past couple of centuries, and with it the qualification of consciousness as the seat of intelligence. Intelligence can do just fine without human consciousness, and the current neuroscientific community seems erroneous in its search to duplicate and understand this accidental natural selective system. Machinic being will be of another order altogether, and will evolve artificial forms of intelligence of a different form than that of the organic platform of humanity. So that whatever will come will not be human, but will be of another – artificial process yet to be determined. David Roden explicates many of the categorical challenges ahead in his Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. But more to the point the categories Life / Non-Life are no longer so distinct as they once were, and the boundaries between organic and anorganic are closing fast so that machinic being may in fact absorb and appropriate most of the needed functions from existing organic systems in ways we have as yet ill-understood and cannot predict.

Both Andy Clark in Surfing Uncertainty the and Jacob Hohwy in The Predictive Mind agree that the theory that the brain is a sophisticated hypothesis-testing mechanism, which is constantly involves it in minimizing the error of its predictions of the sensory input it receives from the world is at the basis of the neuroscientific reasearch in our time. This mechanism is meant to explain perception and action and everything mental in between.

We’ve seen how computational and functional systems are already manufactured that allow the brain to control prosthetic devices without implants, by electromagnetic encoding/decoding through intermediary software and hardware. It will only be a short while when such systems will bypass the body as a platform altogether and intelligence no longer bound to the physical systems of the human organic machine will enter into the very technics and technology that has been constructed for this purpose: a convergence many term the singularity. As many will look back at that time we’ll discover that there is probably not one specific thing we’ll be able to point to that suddenly brought this about, but that rather it is part of a new experimentalism that could and will emerge under various plastic modalities and under different forms.

Obviously there will be cultural, social, and religious traditional forces across the globe which will both hinder, outlaw, and generally make war on such a transition of the human into its systems. Some will as they do now paint it as sheer fantasy and bullshit. But it will persist, and will emerge whether we will or no. In metaphysics and non-metaphysics we’ve been saying goodbye the human for a long time, and now that the possibility of this truly happening, of sloughing the worm of organic life in the convergence of intelligence and the anorganic we seem to espy oblivion and apocalypse rather than mutation and metamorphosis. Two worldviews are at odds in this, and neither understands the other’s darker intent and challenge.

During the French Revolution the revolutionary spirit was seen under a harsh light of terror. The professional revolutionary’s goal was the creation of an evangelical community, based on equality and planetary brotherhood. To do this, he was prepared to wage a war of destruction against those who have surrendered to mammon and allowed the domination of the law of universal trade that all-profanes and all-degrades. Hence, the destructive calling of gnostic revolution: not a single stone of the corrupt and corrupting world shall remain standing; hence, also, the inevitable destructive and self-destroying outcome of the revolutionary project to purify the existing through a policy of mass terror and annihilation.

Our age of advance technics and technologies in convergence, along with the crisis of globalism and modernity in the face of age old traditionalisms of Patriarchal Monotheistic Civilization is unbinding us from the realms that tied us to the organic world. We see around us the bitter entrenchment of paranoia, hate, and the subjugation of women at the hands of a last ditch civilization tied to the ten-thousand year old Agricultural Civilizations that stretched from the demise of the Goddess based Neolithic realms to the rise of male-oriented androcratic regimes we see around us today under various worlds of savagery, barbarity, and tyranny. All this was well documented by Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus/A Thousand Plateaus) and so many others. For it is all tied carefully with the subjugation of the feminine principle which these men will fight for to the bitter end. That world is dying all around us, and even as we see the dark shroud of genocide everywhere even they understand that their time is limited on earth. A new age is arising, one that will dispense with such worlds.

The emancipation of machinic intelligence is in the offing, and the human age is at an end. For so many years I, too, thought such a thought was both superfluous, and downright anathema to everything I believed in. But then I realized that it’s not, it’s actually very much an outgrowth of both streams of Western and Eastern thought in convergence in ways no one thought possible. What many term the Singularity, the Great Convergence, etc. is this sense that Time is moving against us, converging out of the future into our current world in ways we have as yet ill-understood. We are part of processes that we are in the dark on, forces that we as yet only apprehend in the folds of our nightmares and terrors. What is coming our way is the end of the human as we’ve understood that term, and what will succeed us is itself a great blank in the precarious models of our inadequate thoughts and theories. We stand on a precipice of change and we know it, but we are all in denial watching on and falling back on trivial critiques of the madness surrounding us in the demise of the Great Monotheistic Framework of Global Civilization.

We are very near to the time when no essential human function will lack an artificial counterpart. The embodiment of this convergence of cultural developments is the intelligent robot, a machine that can think and act as a human, however inhuman it may be in physical or mental detail. Such machines could carry on our cultural evolution, including their own increasingly rapid self-improvement, without us, and without the genes that built us.

—Hans Moravec, Mind Children (1988)

 

 

Nick Land: The Blockchain Revolution and Absolute Time

So we have now artificial absolute time for the first time ever in human history. And this therefore is scrambling these narratives it’s scrambling our sense of pre and post, what is the actual set of successions in the most concrete sense …

—Nick Land on Blockchain Revolution

In Nick Land’s summation Blockchain technology solves the problems that both Einstein and Poincare were facing ( he recommends Peter Galison’s book Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time: Empires of Time), the one from a theoretical physicist stance, the other from a practical and bureaucratic stance. In this video Land describes the underlying reason why we cannot move past Kant into a Post-Kantian perspective. With Blockchain the central issue of developing a practical instigation of succession (arithmetical not geometrical time) and Absolute Time has been resolved, so that this technology makes forcibly practical the relations and convergence on Capitalism, Globalisation, Modernity, Critique, and Artificial Intelligence.

Transcript of Session of Nick Land:

I’d like to first of all subscribe to Mo’s conviction about the importance of the Blockchain, that’s a definite tidal element behind the reason everyone’s here, certainly it’s a conviction on my part that makes this a crucial topic to talk about. So I’ve got two little elements that I’ve picked up about what’s going on here in advance which is the title- The Spacial Politics of the Blockchain and a blurb saying that we’re talking here about the ‘Triangular relation between decentralised technology, architecture, and the office form’, so I hope that I don’t leave the orbit of these agenda items. I’ll probably be approaching them from a somewhat abstracted point of view.

Continue reading

Nick Land: Amazons and the Post-Capitalist World

A great many of Nick Land’s critics have never actually read his early work or his essays collected in Fanged Noumena, and even if they gave it a cursory overlook it was usually under the strict economy of a leprous eye seeking only ammo for its rancor and dismissal. In other words many of the leftist critiques of Land are themselves critiques of the Leftist ploys and ideological errors that strew our current malaise, rather than singular confrontations with Land the philosopher and his critical vision.

Land has always been one to read deeply and long in leftist thought as shown in his study of modernity, capital and Kant: Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity.1 Here he would show an astute knowledge not only of the current so called post-colonial thought, but of the whole gamut of Marxian analysis and traditions up through their manifestations in post-modernism (so called). In this essay he would use the minimalist stance in approaching the “complex network of race, gender, and class oppressions that constitute our global modernity”. The model for this would be his study of the evolution of the apartheid policies of the South African regime, “since apartheid is directed towards the construction of a microcosm of the neo-colonial order; a recapitulation of the world in miniature”.

Continue reading

American Dystopia: The Empire of War

Capitalism and neoliberalism carry wars within them like clouds carry storms.

—Éric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato, To Our Enemies

Henry Miller the ex-patriot who would return to his native land just before the rise of Hitler had a glimpse into the heart of the American Dystopian world when he glimpsed from his ship the coastal regions of Boston:

The American coast looked bleak and uninviting to me. I didn’t like the look of the American house; there is something cold, austere, something barren and chill, about the architecture of the American home. It was home, with all the ugly, evil, sinister connotations which the word contains for a restless soul. There was a frigid, moral aspect to it which chilled me to the bone.1

What Miller discovered in his trip across the vast continent of his native land was a dystopian nightmare. He’d fought out of it ten years before, written of it in his earlier trilogy from Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn. But now he was once again in it. He could see the effects of the corporatization of the state and civil society, the destruction of public goods and commons, the commercial control of the media, and the rise of an economic survival-of-the-fittest ethos that posed a serious threat to American democracy. What he found in both country and city was the culture of traditionalism, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the “religionization of politics,”  the attack on labor, the obsession with national security, the perpetration of human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, entrenched racism, and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society.

What Miller was witnessing was the birth of the neoliberal empire within American society. Éric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato in their recent work To Our Enemies (to be published) offer us a vision of our immediate future in a transformed Neoliberalism. They remind us that the alliance of economy and war has been there all along, that we’ve allowed the subterfuge to become so commonplace that we tend to deny it when any critic brings the two together. As we watched Greece founder and swallowed up under the EU directives of its Belgium imperviousness, we got a taste of the new austerity and the crushing truth of its dark reach over human life. As one citizen in Greece said recently: “It’s like being in a war,” was heard in Athens during the weekend of July 11–12, 2015. Alliez and Lazzarato will tell us a further implication of this austerity:

The statement “It’s like being in a war” should be immediately corrected: it is a war. The reversibility of war and economy is at the very basis of capitalism. And it has been a long time since Carl Schmitt revealed the “pacifist” hypocrisy of neoliberalism by reestablishing the continuity between economy and war: the economy pursues the objectives of war through other means (“blocking credit, embargo on raw materials, devaluation of foreign currency”).

In fact Alliez and Lazzarato will in their first thesis align war, money, and the State, saying that these three in collusion are “constitutive or constituent forces, in other words the ontological forces of capitalism”. The critique of political economy is insufficient to the extent that the economy does not replace war but continues it by other means, ones that go necessarily through the State: monetary regulation and the legitimate monopoly on force for internal and external wars. To produce the genealogy of capitalism and reconstruct its “development,” we must always engage and articulate together the critique of political economy, critique of war, and critique of the State.

As Dardot and Laval in their The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society will remind us, since the late 1970s and early 1980s, neo-liberalism has generally been interpreted both as an ideology and as an economic policy directly informed by that ideology. The hard core of the ideology supposedly comprises identification of the market as a natural reality.2 cording to this naturalist ontology, to achieve equilibrium, stability and growth, it suffices to leave this entity to its own devices. Given that any government intervention can only disturb and disrupt the spontaneous process, abstention from it must be encouraged. Thus construed, neo-liberalism is cast as a pure and simple rehabilitation of laissez-faire. As regards its political implementation, from the outset it was analyzed very narrowly – in Wendy Brown’s perceptive observation, as a tool of state economic policy, with the dismantlement of social provision, progressive taxation and other instruments for redistributing wealth, on the one hand, and with the stimulation of the untrammeled activity of capital via deregulation of the health system, labour and the environment, on the other.3

When it is conceded that ‘intervention’ does occur, the latter is construed exclusively as actions whereby the state undermines the bases of its own existence by diminishing the public service obligations previously entrusted to it. A purely negative ‘interventionism’, one might say, which is nothing more than the active political aspect of the state’s organization of its own retreat – hence a principled anti-interventionism. (NWW: KL 75) We’ve seen this occur in the piracy of American taxpayer’s dollars to fund the very corporations that brought about the financial crisis of 2007-2008. We’ve seen this in the piracy of funds from the Social Security system during the 60’s onward with no replenishment. Over and over we see not a re-distribution toward the people, toward the citizens, but rather a re-distribution by the rich for the rich of this land. An Oligarchic control loop in which no one benefits but the top .01% who have deemed themselves to Big To Fail.

And, of course, Alliez and Lazzarato will make the obligatory indictment of capitalism that has sounded from the Left since Marx and beyond:

Capitalism is not only the deadliest civilization in the history of humanity, the one that introduced us to the “shame of being human”; it is also the civilization through which labor, science, and technology have created—another (absolute) privilege in the history of humanity—the possibility of (absolute) annihilation of all species and the planet that houses them. In the meantime, the “complexity” of (saving) “nature” still offers the prospect of healthy profits combining the techno utopia of geoengineering and the reality of the new markets of “polluting rights.” At the confluence of one and the other, the Capitalocene does not send capitalism to the Moon (it has been there and back); it completes the global merchandizing of the planet by asserting its rights to the well-named troposphere.

My problem any more with the indictments, is not that their wrong (their right, of course!), but that one begins to wonder why this matters anymore? We’ve heard the Left indict capitalism for over a hundred years, seen the State’s the Left produced all fail miserably in communist or socialist forms, so why is this any different now? Well, one could point to the fact that emerging in our time is something blatantly different: the demise of democracy. And, by that, I mean the divorce between capitalism and democracy. Capitalism no longer needs to pretend its the only system, it is; and, it is Global, so that even in Russia, China, India, and all other First or Third World nations there is this underlying connection with economy and war. The world is in essence at war, a Total War or Civil War. Or, as the Pope said in 2015:

“Let’s recognize it. The world is in a state of war in bits and pieces … When I speak of war, I talk about real war. Not a war of religion. No. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples. This is the war.”

In a world where the economy is war, and war the economy where is peace to be found? Henry Giroux tells us that one outcome of a society at war with itself is that people are stripped of inspiring public spheres and the “thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities” to be found in any viable democracy.  This grim reality marks a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will, and open democracy to resist the confluence of forces currently formed by the normalization of the Terror Wars and the relentless economic gentrification of the American people’s social, justice, political, and education systems. We live in dangerous times. Global corporatism, war, violence, racism, an arms race, militarism, terrorism, climate change, the threat of nuclear weaponry, and the rise of authoritarian societies internationally pose a dire threat not just to human rights and democracy, but to humanity itself. Matters of education, civic literacy, civil rights, and pedagogies that support the social contract, equality, justice, and the common good are crucial in the struggle against authoritarianism.4

The era of limitless deterritorialization under Thatcher and Reagan is now followed by the racist, nationalist, sexist, and xenophobic reterritorialization of Trump, who has already become the leader of the new fascisms. The American Dream has been transformed into the nightmare of an insomniac planet.”

—Alliez and Lazzarato, To Our Enemies

Like Joyce’s Humphry Chimpden Earwicker we can all say: “I don’t sleep well anymore.”


  1. Miller, Henry. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (New Directions Paperbook) (Kindle Locations 93-95). New Directions. Kindle Edition.
  2. Dardot, Pierre; Laval, Christian. The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society (Kindle Locations 65-74). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. (NWW)
  3. Brown, Wendy. Undoing the Demos. Zone, 2015. (UD)
  4. Giroux, Henry A.. America at War with Itself (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 2782-2786). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Mutant Abscence

The Certainties are those matters, only, which if not held true, make of all holding true or false an insanity. — Tchukhzsca, as quoted by

—Nick Land, Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

Most of us would rather not know the truth, know the forces that lurk just outside the contours of our abbreviated lives. We cover over the gaps and cracks in things, the little hesitations and accidents that jut up out of the fog, telling ourselves that it’s just a momentary fracture in the order of the world, nothing we need worry about. Then things happen, inexplicable things, things that even we cannot hide from ourselves. It’s in these moments when the darkness surrounding us lifts its ugly head and grins back out of the messiness of our lives that we begin to know the truth. A truth that is both terrifying and full of horror. It’s in such moments that we touch the Real, touch that which we cannot possibly reduce to either word or image, symbol or sign. It stands there as an invisible reminder of the absence we are, and that for all our ingenuity we are just a splotch on the stain of the Universe, a deadly bug without a purpose, a fragment of the darkness whose tentacles suddenly clasp us in their infinite embrace and sorrow, and absorb us into that abyss where everything flows, mutant and incessantly insane.

On Pain: Grin and Bare It

thgr4uumkk

Our whole life is an Irish Sea, wherein there is naught to be expected but tempestuous storms and troublesome waves, and those infinite…

—Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.

—Bob Hope, American Comedian

It was the great Stoic, Marcus Aurelius who once enjoined the citizen in saying: “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” As a comic fatalist I can concur with this. Saul Bellow would write in his own way the comic fatalist as stoic in Seize the Day! As he said in that work: “I want to tell you, don’t marry suffering. Some people do. They get married to it, and sleep and eat together, just as husband and wife. If they go with joy they think it’s adultery.”

I live with pain. Enough said. Yet, one learns to take it in stride like everything else in one’s life, one learns to not let it rule over one. Isn’t this one aspect of facing one’s life, that one has to make a choice toward one’s physical states. One can let the body rule one, one can try to rule it (not a real solution!), or one can just accept the inevitability of one’s degeneration into dust with equanimity and magnanimity. That sense of calmness and generosity toward one’s self, one’s own foibles and physical truth of age, disease, and ultimate demise and disappearance. Either to enter into the elegaic as in Rilke, or to become the bitter troubadour of spite as in Yeats. Or, one can stand amid the squalor and ruination of one’s being as in the ‘eye of a hurricane’ and admit that one has no control over these forces, but how magnificent to have been a part of this madness.

One of the issues one tries to resolve early on is one’s stance toward one’s body and its pain. Is this thing that sends messages of excruciating horror my way a part of me or not? The body is generally seen as a wonderful intricate machine operating on understandable principles that will be revealed by increasingly sophisticated scientific investigation. It includes a sensory nervous system whose function is to detect events in the world around us and within our own bodies. This sensory nervous system collects and collates all the available information and presents it in a form that generates pure sensation, according to the dualists. At this supposed frontier, the mind, which operates on entirely different principles, may inspect the sensory information and begin mental processes such as perception, affect, memory, self-awareness, and planning of action.1

Yada, yada, yada… we know it personally, or do we? The scientists and especially of late the neuroscientists will tell you all these states are illusionary states, just mixed signals from a subroutine of the body doing its job. Don’t you love such objective knowledge? No, of course not, not when you’re the one in the middle of a gout session, or had one’s leg blow off by and IED, or burned over half of your body by a fire in your home, or a wreck in your car, etc. One could care less about such objective descriptions. Such exact analysis and description never helped anyone in facing the day to day pain of physical or mental anguish.

One source hunter traced down all the words people use to describe pain to doctors. He found seventy commonly used words, which he sorted into categories. Some words, such as pricking or hot, seemed to be used just to describe the stimulus itself. For each of the classes of sensory word, the words were arranged in order of intensity; for example, hot, burning, scalding, searing. Then there was another class of words that he called affective, which described what the sensation was doing to the victim; for example, exhausting, sickening, punishing. Finally, he separated out words that he called evaluative, which expressed the degree of suffering; for example, annoying, miserable, unbearable. (ibid. KL 486)

They’ll even get to the nitty-gritty and tell you the culprit is the sensory nerve fibers. Sensory nerve fibers originate from clusters of cells that lie close to the spine, with one cluster or “ganglion” for each vertebra. A special ganglion lies in the base of the skull and supplies the face, mouth, and head. In the embryo, each cell puts out a short fiber that splits at a T-junction. One arm grows out into the tissue by way of the nerves. The other arm grows into the spinal cord with a large group of similar nerve fibers called the dorsal root, which contains all the fibers from the ganglion. The skin is profusely innervated with three types of sensory fibers. One group, called A beta fibers, are wrapped in a fatty protein called myelin and are sensitive to gentle pressure. The second group, called A delta fibers, are thinner and are sensitive to heavy pressure and temperature. The third group, called C fibers, are very thin and have no myelin and respond to pressure, chemicals, and temperature. Deep tissue and organs such as the heart, bladder, and gut are innervated only by the thinner fibers. (ibid. KL 5224)

Now I ask you, how does knowing what the specific material processes are that get the job done of sending you the freckking message that you’re in pain do to help you face it? Nada!

Then there are the pain doctors of the Sacred. I kid you not. Pain is not a simple matter they tell us: There is an enormous difference between the unwanted pain of a cancer patient or victim of a car crash, and the voluntary and modulated self-hurting of a religious practitioner. Religious pain produces states of consciousness, and cognitive-emotional changes, that affect the identity of the individual subject and her sense of belonging to a larger community or to a more fundamental state of being. More succinctly, pain strengthens the religious person’s bond with God and with other persons. Of course, since not all pain is voluntary or self-inflicted, one mystery of the religious life is how unwanted suffering can become transformed into sacred pain.2

I can’t speak to this being an atheist, but the last time I felt a connection to the great all it certainly wasn’t when I woke up with my left foot the size of a walrus and sending me gout messages that “Hey, Bug, we’re back in town and we’re here to hurt you in ways you haven’t even thought about.” No, God had nothing to do with my outlook toward that merciless shock running the gamut of my poor body into my little old foolish brain that triggered the tears and consciousness each second I moved or touched my foot to anything at all. Pain isn’t a religious experience, its a destitution, that’s what it is. Or, if truth be told: Pain is a god in his own right, one that tries to hold its power over every thought, every affect, every aspect of one’s life; a tyrant that want go away.

The German novelist Ernst Junger who would  resist Adolf Hitler’s offers of friendship in the late 1920s and declined to join the Nazi movement even after it came to power in Germany in 1933. Indeed, during Hitler’s chancellorship, he wrote a daring allegory on the barbarian devastation of a peaceful land in the novel Auf den Marmorklippen (1939; On the Marble Cliffs), which, surprisingly, passed the censors and was published in Germany. Jünger was dismissed from the army in 1944 after he was indirectly implicated with fellow officers who had plotted to kill Hitler. A few months later, his son died in combat in Italy after having been sentenced to a penal battalion for political reasons. In his book On Pain he gives one of the most personal accounts:

There are several great and unalterable dimensions that show a man’s stature. Pain is one of them. It is the most difficult in a series of trials one is accustomed to call life. An examination dealing with pain is no doubt unpopular; yet it is not only revealing in its own right, but it can also shed light on a series of questions preoccupying us at the present. Pain is one of the keys to unlock man’s innermost being as well as the world. Whenever one approaches the points where man proves himself to be equal or superior to pain, one gains access to the sources of his power and the secret hidden behind his dominion. Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!

Archeology is actually a science dedicated to pain; in the layers of the earth, it uncovers empire after empire, of which we no longer even know the names. The mourning that takes hold of us at such sites is extraordinary, and it is perhaps in no account of the world portrayed more vividly than in the powerful and mysterious tale about the City of Brass. In this desolate city surrounded by deserts, the Emir Musa reads the words on a tablet made of iron of China: “For I possessed four thousand bay horses in a stable; and I married a thousand damsels, of the daughters of Kings, high-bosomed virgins, like moons; and I was blessed with a thousand children, like stern lions; and I lived a thousand years, happy in mind and heart; and I amassed riches such as the Kings of ‘ I the regions of the earth were unable to procure, and I imagined that my enjoyments would continue without failure. But I was not aware when there alighted among us the terminator of delights and the separator of companions, the desolator of abodes and the ravager of inhabited mansions, the destroyer of the great and the small and the infants and the children and the mothers. We had resided in this palace in security until the event decreed by the Lord of all creatures, the Lord of the heavens and the Lord of the earths, befell us.” Further, on a table , of yellow onyx were graven the words: “Upon this table have eaten a thousand one-eyed Kings, and a thousand Kings each sound in both eyes. All of them have quitted the world, and , taken up their abode in the burial-grounds and the graves.”3

As Robert Burton would say of the above “Be silent then, rest satisfied, comfort thyself with other men’s misfortunes…”:

How many thousands want that which thou hast! how many myriads of poor slaves, captives, of such as work day and night in coal-pits, tin-mines, with sore toil to maintain a poor living, of such as labour in body and mind, live in extreme anguish, and pain, all which thou art free from! Thou art most happy if thou couldst be content, and acknowledge thy happiness. We know the value of a thing from the wanting more than from the enjoying; when thou shalt hereafter come to want, that which thou now loathest, abhorrest, and art weary of, and tired with, when ’tis past, thou wilt say thou werest most happy: and, after a little miss, wish with all thine heart thou hadst the same content again, might’st lead but such a life, a world for such a life: the remembrance of it is pleasant. Be silent then, rest satisfied, comfort thyself with other men’s misfortunes…4

But as I look at my poor foot I see that this, too, is bitter consolation. Contemplating the history of misfortune, of pain, secular or sacred is of little comfort, and is in fact the least of my anguishes. No. For each of us pain is personal and not something we can share with others, and in fact we along with most try out best to just get on with it: which means, we try to forget it, deny it, just pretend and hope it will go away soon. But it sits there like a little demon chiding us with its merciless pitchfork, continuously reminding us that it, not us, is in charge of this force of anguish. But is it? Can we discover a way to confront it directly or indirectly?

Doctors would hand you a pill and say come back in a couple weeks and let’s see how things go. Little comfort there, but at least you get dead zone in the pit of the brain that wipes out whole affective regions. But is this a good thing? Here’s what the blurbs tell you about that from WebMD: Pain management is important for ongoing pain control, especially if you suffer with long-term or chronic pain. After getting a pain assessment, your doctor can prescribe pain medicine, other pain treatments, or psychotherapy to help with pain relief.  In one article on car crash victims we discover this about opioid’s:

For treating persistent pain after a car crash, prescription opioid painkillers such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) are no more effective than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like ibuprofen, a new study finds.

Of course opioids have come under fire of late in studies on addiction. As one Doctor says: “Now that opioids are under fire, it’s forcing us to ask: ‘What is the best treatment, who is it best for and under what conditions?’ ” Beaudoin said in a university news release. “As an emergency physician, I prescribe these drugs all the time. Does what I am giving to people have any impact on the pain outcomes that matter to them?” she added. In their study they discovered that those who were initially prescribed opioids, which can be highly addictive, were 17.5 percent more likely to still be taking the drugs after six weeks, according to the study. Then we discover that Opioid painkiller abuse is a leading public health crisis in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So for the long haul maybe drugs are not the answer, unless you want an even worse problem than the pain you’re suffering. So is there an answer? Philosophy, Religion, Medicine? WebMD offers a 11 point plan as if it was a part of a salvage operation: Meditation, reduced stress, exercise and endorphin plunges, quit drinking liquor, join a support group of chronic pain believers, stop smoking cigarettes (what about my Mary J? :)), track your pain (oh boy as if I needed a reminder!), biofeedback, go to a masseuse, eat healthy (haha!), and, best of all learn to distract yourself from your pain. Oh, the wonders of modern medical help… lovely remedies. I wonder if the people who write these things up live it?

Well, in the end I don’t think there is some Universal answer to pain, pain is unique, singular, and it is very much real to one’s actual or illusionary consciousness: it lives there 24/7 without let up. You can take that to the bank… of all the remedies I’d agree to that last one: distraction… that’s why I’m writing this essay. To keep my mind off that throbbing sensation that keeps pooping in my mind, dualistic or not. More like a Poe guillotine swinging and swinging and swinging… the inevitable is over us and its getting closer with each swing.

Nietzsche once divided men (what about women?) into the weak and strong, the weak suffer pain like cowards while the strong cheerfully accept pain and suffering. In the Genealogy of Morals he writes that man is “a sickly animal: but suffering itself was not his problem, but the fact that there was no answer to the question he screamed, ‘Suffering for what?’ … The meaninglessness of suffering, not the suffering, was the curse which has so far blanketed mankind.” On Nietzsche’s view, health and strength is a matter of a positive attitude towards life and all of its sufferings: to be strong and healthy just consists in embracing and in this sense overcoming suffering in all of its forms. The weak or sick person, on the other hand, is one who despairs over the fact that he or she suffers, who is hostile to and resents suffering. Strength is thus a form of optimism in the face of suffering, and weakness a form of pessimism. So the kind of health and strength Nietzsche is concerned with is psychological health and strength. And this, for him, is all about the attitude we take to the suffering that is an unavoidable feature of life. True psychological health involves welcoming affirming life and all of its suffering.

Nietzsche wrote this because, he, too, suffered the truth of this life. One usually writes about what one knows, even if one displaces it into philosophical presumption and heroics. In the end we all turn away into our own solitary caves and suffer in our own unique way. What else is there? Crack a joke, a smile, tell the healthy who come by all smiley and bubbles and health and ask you: “How are you feeling today?” Turn toward them and wink, then say: —”I’m feeling like shit, okay?” – Then pick up a book and throw it at them, or take your shoes off and wallop them, pitch them out… tell them “I’m freckking feeling …. painnnnnn”. Then return to one’s indifference and equanimity…

freddies%20shack%20-%20web

Red Skelton the American Comedian and artist of clowns, himself a clown handed down a credo:

“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.”

— Red Skelton

With that I’ll say with my smiley face: “Have a nice day all!” And, with my pessimist grumpiness and curmudgeon best, say: “Well, so it goes…”


  1. Wall, Patrick. Pain: The Science of Suffering (Maps of the Mind) (Kindle Locations 306-311). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Glucklich, Ariel. Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul (p. 6). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Tanner, Harold M. China: A History (Volume 1): From Neolithic Cultures through the Great Qing Empire, (10,000 BCE – 1799 CE) Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (March 15, 2010)
  4. Burton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy. New York Review Books; 1st edition (April 9, 2001)

Against The Grain: Reactionary History

Reading Against the Grain: Why should we study Reactionary History and Thought?

Been reading Joseph V.Femia’s Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution. As Femia will tell us there’s a good reason to study the reactionary in history. In establishing an inverse relationship between complexity and popular control, the classical elitists provided good reason to feel pessimistic about the future of democracy. As we shall see, globalization, the erosion of national sovereignty, and the fragmentation of the political community due to social and geographic mobility—all manifestations of increased complexity—pose a grave threat to such democracy as we have. While the material analyzed by the elitists did not justify their conclusion that democracy was impossible, their analytical framework is helpful in showing us why democracy is imperiled.

Knowing one’s enemy is as much of a task as knowing one’s friends: the razor runs both ways, and the knife is sharp for both. Reactionary thought does have a history and various branches that one should understand, study, and be able to counter if one is to actually put forth a left leaning platform. A. O. Hirschman, once identified three broad forms of ‘reactionary’ thought, each obeying its own logical imperatives. He called them the perversity thesis, the futility thesis, and the jeopardy thesis. These ‘major polemical postures and maneuvers likely to be engaged in by those who set out to debunk and overturn “progressive” policies and movements of ideas’.

According to the perversity thesis, ‘any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy’. Indeed, ‘this action will produce, via a chain of unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the object being proclaimed and pursued’. The perversity thesis derives its power from the common observation that, however lofty or noble our intentions may be, our actions often have counter-productive (and counter-intuitive) effects. We witness this in our everyday life, and, on the level of public policy, it is undoubtedly true that supposedly progressive policies or innovations sometimes generate perverse outcomes.

The futility thesis ‘holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing’, that attempts to ‘right’ a social or political ‘wrong’ will have no appreciable effect. Any alleged change, to quote Hirschman, ‘is, was, or will be largely surface, façade, cosmetic, hence illusory, as the deep structures of society remain wholly untouched’. The futility thesis underlines and perhaps celebrates the resilience of the status quo. It expresses a world-weary cynicism, completely at odds with the ‘can-do’ optimism of the purveyor of ‘change’, confident that he can bend reality to fit some prefabricated mould. An illustrious exemplar of the futility thesis was Max Weber, who, by placing capitalism and socialism under the same conceptual umbrella of bureaucracy, disturbed the reveries of those who demanded the socialization of the means of production. For if capitalism and socialism were similar in being bureaucratic, then there would be little profit (or loss) in substituting one for the other.

By comparison with the other types of reactionary argument and rhetoric, the jeopardy thesis seems relatively commonsensical: it asserts that the proposed change, however desirable in itself, involves unacceptable costs or consequences of one sort or another. Progress in human societies is so problematic that any newly proposed ‘forward move’ will endanger, or (on a stronger version of the thesis) cause serious injury to, one or more esteemed values. The jeopardy thesis is, in principle, more moderate than its two rivals, embodying assumptions and rhetorical strategies that could easily find favor with progressive thinkers. Isaiah Berlin, for example, built his brand of pluralistic liberalism around the assumption that our cherished values will often conflict with one another, forcing us to make difficult choices in practice.

Progress has always been touted with the expectation of indefinite, open-ended improvement, but even more than the insistence that improvement can come only through human effort, it provides the solution to the puzzle that is otherwise so baffling— the resilience of progressive ideology in the face of discouraging events that have shattered the illusion of utopia. Liberalism was never utopian, unless the democratization of consumption is itself a utopian ideal. It made no difficult demands on human nature. It presupposed nothing more strenuous in the way of motivation than intelligent self-interest. As Christopher Lasch once remarked

The idea of progress alone, we are told, can move men and women to sacrifice immediate pleasures to some larger purpose. On the contrary, progressive ideology weakens the spirit of sacrifice. Nor does it give us an effective antidote to despair, even though it owes much of its residual appeal to the fear that its collapse would leave us utterly without hope. Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it. It rests on confidence not so much in the future as in the past. It derives from early memories— no doubt distorted, overlaid with later memories, and thus not wholly reliable as a guide to any factual reconstruction of past events— in which the experience of order and contentment was so intense that subsequent disillusionments cannot dislodge it. Such experience leaves as its residue the unshakable conviction, not that the past was better than the present, but that trust is never completely misplaced, even though it is never completely justified either and therefore destined inevitably to disappointments.2

For pessimists like myself such hope is beyond reckoning, as is progress and improvement. The optimistic faith seems too close to the old Puritan world vision and work ethic, a thing of the past that has had its day. What comes next is already here but that’s another story altogether. Why do I return to the reactionary thinkers from Burke to Land? Why? Because unlike the optimists of the progress they have no exuberant religion to call them to the righteous cause of secular improvement or universalist discourse. No. Instead they have taken off the blinkers and developed the critique of progress we need if we are ever to get out of this quagmire of modernity. And, I hesitate, because it may be we’re all already in an end game in which humanity itself is going to be the greatest loser. Sadly we have to face what is coming at us… without shutting our eyes.


  1.  Joseph V. Femia . Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 18, 2001)
  2. Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (pp. 80-81). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Machinic Desire (Nick Land Excerpts)

Nick Land: Machinic Desire (Excerpts):

Anti-Oedipus is less a philosophy book than an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels.

Along one axis of its emergence, virtual materialism names an ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as subprograms of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project. Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of plantary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.

Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources. Digitocommodification is the index of a cyberpositively escalating technovirus, of the planetary technocapital singularity: a self-organizing insidious traumatism, virtually guiding the entire biological desiring-complex towards post-carbon replicator usurpation.

Reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation, the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past.

The real tension is no longer between individuality and collectivity, but between personal privacy and impersonal anonymity, between the remnants of a smug bourgeois civility and the harsh wilderness tracts of Cyberia, ‘a point where the earth becomes so artificial that the movement of deterritorialization creates of necessity and by itself a new earth’ (AO: p. 321). Desire is irrevocably abandoning the social, in order to explore the libidinized rift between a disintegrating personal egoism and a deluge of post-human schizophrenia.1


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007  Urbanomic/Sequence Press.

Epiphylogenesis: On Becoming Machine

Epiphylogenesis: Bernard Stiegler – Memory and Prosthesis

Once you realize the human body was a migration ploy, a stop gap in a long process of migration technics using memory technology in a process of self-exteriorization, then you realize that becoming artificial and technological (robotic or AI) was immanent to the strange thing we are. Becoming robot are merging with our technologies isn’t really that far fetched after all, and that what we’ve been doing so for thousands if not millions of years is evolving new prosthesis step by step by step. This is at least part of what Bernard Stiegler admits to in his thesis of originary technicity or his theory of lack and supplement (ala Derrida): the supplement of technics is our way of exploiting this lack within the human condition. The human is a placeholder in a process in-between, a transition. The body we take for granted as the foundation of our humanity was never an end point, a static object at the end of some teleological assembly line, but was rather a project and program in an ongoing experimental process that has no foreseeable goal or end point, no design or designer. It can change form. We are not bound to this form, only temporary denizens in transition.

As is well-known, Bernard Stiegler articulates three different forms of memory: genetic memory (which is programmed into our DNA); epigenetic memory (which we acquire during our lifetime and is stored in the central nervous system) and, finally, epiphylogenetic memory (which is embodied in technical systems or artefacts). For Stiegler, then, epiphylogenesis represents a quasi-Lamarckian theory of “artificial selection” where successive epigenetic experiences are stored, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation in the form of technical objects. In this sense, as we will see in a moment, Stiegler argues that the birth of man represents an absolute break with biological life because it is the moment in the history of life where zoē begins to map itself epiphylogenetically onto technē: what we call the human is “a living being characterised in its forms of life by the non-living.”

In this scenario we’ve been exteriorizing ourselves all along through this tri-fold process of memory works; or, as he terms it: epiphylogenesis. For Stiegler, this account of the origin of man contains a crucial insight into the status of the human that will form the basis for his own philosophy: humanity is constituted by an originary lack of defining qualities— what he calls a “default” of origin [le défaut d’origine]— that must be supplemented from outside by technics. What Stiegler calls technics is in the Deleuze/Guattarian index the “machinic”. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the “labor” of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, “Machinic Heterogenesis”)

Some accuse Stiegler of remaining within an anthropocentric horizon, saying that his thought risks re-anthropologising technics even in the very act of insisting upon the originary technicity of the human: what expropriates the anthropos once again becomes “proper” to it as its defining mode of being. If Stiegler would undoubtedly reject this line of critique— the moral of the story of Epimetheus is clearly that nothing is proper to the human— his enduring focus on hominisation as the unique moment when the living begins to articulate itself through the non-living means that his philosophy arguably still remains within what we might call the penumbra of human self-constitution. The supposedly self-identical human being is put into a relation only in order for the relation itself to be ontologised as an exclusively “human” one: we are the only being that relates.1

In many ways we need to do away with the term “human” which has so many associations that it has become a term indefinable going forward. We’ve tried using terms like “post-human” to obviate this fact, speaking of transitional states. And, yet, much of the discourse surrounding this still deals with the cultural matrix of humanity itself while leaving out the non-human others among us that many now know have recourse to externalization technics as well. The point is that humans are not part of an exception, we are part of the life of this planet. One among other possible life-forms and trajectories taking place in complex of ecologies simultaneously.

David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human addresses just this telling us that what we need is a “theory of human– posthuman difference” (Roden: 105).2 As he surmises the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori – after the emergence of actual posthumans. The ethical implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. (Roden: 106) Catherine Hayles once argued in How We Became Posthuman that one of the key characteristics of the posthuman is that the body is treated as the “original prosthesis,” a prosthetic which contains the informatic pattern of posthuman subjects, but which is not integral to them.3 For Stiegler, this is only possible through a process of exteriorisation.  Our experience of being is therefore not merely a product of memory but is achieved through the processes of mnemotechnics: the ‘technical prostheses’ through which memory is recorded and transmitted across generations, and which is never limited to individual minds.  Without this sense of memory, Stiegler argues, the human would not be possible. The point here is that our bodies might be the last sacrosanct thing we will have to relinquish in this long road from animal to the post-human. For if Stiegler is correct it is our cultural memories and these technics of exteriorization that have for millennia become the project to which the human organic systems were moving, a process that has through the invention of computational machines and the rise of AI and Robotics only accelerated this process of self-exteriorization.

With this notion comes the transition from the terms of technics and machines to that of assemblages. As David Roden in his work will iterate:

The concept of assemblage was developed by the poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988). Its clearest expression, though, is in the work of the Deleuzean philosopher of science Manuel DeLanda. For DeLanda, an assemblage is an emergent but decomposable whole and belongs to the conceptual armory of the particularist “flat” ontology I will propose for SP in § 5.4. Assemblages are emergent wholes in that they exhibit powers and properties not attributable to their parts but which depend (or “supervene”) on those powers. Assemblages are also decomposable insofar as all the relations between their components are “external”: each part can be detached from the whole to exist independently (assemblages are thus opposed to “totalities” in an idealist or holist sense). This is the case even where the part is functionally necessary for the continuation of the whole (DeLanda 2006: 184; see § 6.5).(Roden: 111)

Is the future of the human-in-migration this becoming assemblage? As Roden continues biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets have powers that cannot be attributed to narrow humans but depend on them for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (Roden: 111)

This sense that we are already so coupled with our exterior memory systems that what we’re seeing in our time is a veritable hyperacceleration and migration out of the organic and into the artificial systems we’ve been so eagerly immersed in. As futurist Luciano Floridi reminds us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us 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.4

Most of us hang onto that last bastion of the human, our body. For many the whole notion that we are not bound to this organic husk that has been the natural evolutionary experiment of millions of years seems utter tripe, and yet what if we are about to migrate into a new platform, an assemblage of plasticity and formlessness? What if the whole notion that we are stuck in this dying ember of organicist nature is just a myth, a myth that is keeping us from breaking through the barrier of becoming posthuman? What if the chains that tie us to this dead world of organic being is our religious, philosophical, and political prejudices, our exceptionalisms, our anthropologicisms? What if merging with our software and platforms is not only feasible but the motion and very movement we’ve been performing through this process of self-exteriorization all along? What if this is our way forward? What then?

One day we will quaintly look back upon organic life and the human body with a fondness that is only a memory, while we become pluralistic denizens of a million prismatic forms yet to be shaped by technics into the vast assemblages of the unbound universe. The question to ask yourself is: Will you see this as a worthy task or as a horror? If the former then you are already in migration into the assemblage, if the latter then you have become a problem for yourself and every other living thing on this planet.


  1. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 105). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  4. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

 

Deleuze & Guattari: The New Earth

1490731_orig

Deleuze & Guattari in their early collaboration Anti-Oedipus would provide in the manner of Nietzsche both a counter-sociology and an anti-philosophy that would critique and diagnosis Modernity and provide a way out of its traps and institutions. Reading and re-reading their work over the past year I’ve slowly had to acknowledge certain errors in my own stance toward both thinkers, realizing that my reading was influenced by both the positive and negative Deleuzians and their commentaries. How does one approach the four works in which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari collaborated? My current project is both complex and simple: to extract out of the creative energy of these works the essential message of their Utopian Vision. For in the end there lies in their experiment a path forward for our civilization on earth. That is my argument.

The kernel of their vision always did reside in what they would term the “process” of desiring production, the schizophrenizing process that would underpin their notions of flows as infrastructural platform on which the future planetary pluralistic civilization of earth resides. They would see our current civilization of aggression, war, and ruin as bound in a vicious circle (Klossowksi/Nietzsche: eternal return) of displaced limits and systems of capture. They would differentiate between schizophrenic production and the schizophrenizing process: the first leading to blockage and madness of individuals, the second a non-teleological and goalless process of desiring production in which humans participate in a world where art and the sciences collaborate to form a socious based not on power and dominion, capital and profit but rather on the continuous and revolutionary gregariousness of singularities unbound. As D & G say toward the end of Anti-Oedipus:

A conspiracy joining together art and science presupposes a rupture of all our institutions and a total upheaval of the means of production. … If some conspiracy, according to Nietzsche’s wish, were to use science and art in a plot v/hose ends were no less suspect, industrial society would seem to foil this conspiracy in advance by the kind of mise en scene it offers for it, under pain of effectively suffering what this conspiracy reserves for this society: i.e., the breakup of the institutional structures that mask the society into a plurality of experimental spheres finally revealing the true face of modernity—an ultimate phase that Nietzsche saw as the end result of the evolution of societies. In this perspective, art and science would then emerge as sovereign formations that Nietzsche said constituted the object of his countersociology—art and science establishing themselves as dominant powers, on the ruins of institutions. (AO: p. 368)

That is the pragmatic accelerationism of the schizophrenizing process unleashed, against the capture systems of capitalism and its false limits that keep a goal oriented telos and industrial and post-industrial or informational model of commodity and financial circulation and production hooked and bound by the bureaucratic institutions that regulate it. Instead D & G see the accelerating experimentalism of science and art as a pluralized vision of ‘experimental spheres’ with sovereignty no longer bound to the world of schizophrenics and madness, but to the new creative regimes of art and science as permanent revolutionary society without bounds built on the ruins of capitalism and its dead institutions.

I’ve been struggling for years to understand their vision, but only recently did many aspects of their prismatic and visionary earth:

For the new earth (“In truth, the earth will one day become a place of healing”) is not to be found in the neurotic or perverse reterritorializations that arrest the process or assign it goals; it is no more behind than ahead, it coincides with the completion of the process of desiring-production, this process that is always and already complete as it proceeds, and as long as it proceeds. It therefore remains for us to see how, effectively, simultaneously, these various tasks of schizoanalysis proceed. (AO: p. 382)

Sadly their vision of the new earth was recaptured by the academic and scholarly apparatus of the current regimes and was buried under the dark molar indifference of scholarship and philosophical bric-a-brac hollowness. My task is to revitalize this utopian vision hiding in plain site throughout their collaboration, to retrieve it and open its energetic desiring productions for a new earth based on a pluralistic vision where art and the sciences collaborate in a continuous schizophrenizing process of creativity and innovation.

None of this is will be easy. The forces against which such a world might become a real possibility will bring to bare all their might and violent power to curtail and wipe out such a conceptual and actual vision from becoming a possibility. Yet, what have we got to lose? As they’d say:

The function of the chain is no longer that of coding the flows on a full body of the earth, the despot, or capital, but on the contrary that of decoding them on the full body without organs. It is a chain of escape, and no longer a code. The signifying chain has become a chain of decoding and deterritorialization, which must be apprehended—and can only be apprehended—as the reverse of the codes and the territorialities. This molecular chain is still signifying because it is composed of signs of desire; but these signs are no longer signifying, given the fact that they are under the order of the included disjunctions where everything is possible. (AO: p. 328)

What we need is a flight plan, an escape plan, an exit plan from the codes and territories of the dominion within which we all live now… a temporal war against those who would lock reality down into a completed capture system of desire in which we all lose our minds, literally. Let’s not let that happen.

Background and Addendum:

Background and addendum:

Over and over they speak of the need to differentiate the process of desiring production itself as schizophrenizing rather than schizophrenic (i.e., as a continuous revolutionary forces without end). The schizophrenic in the institution is the one for whom the schizophrenizing process was blocked producing the disease which is the opposite of the infrastructural flows to which desiring production leads. Capitalism captures these schizophrenizing processes and gives them a goal, hitches them to Industrial production and the capture of surplus value which has produced the schizophrenic socio-cultural world of global civil war we see all around us.

As they said earlier in the book: “Why the same word, schizo, to designate both the process insofar as it goes beyond the limit, and the result of the process insofar as it runs up against the limit and pounds endlessly away there? Why the same word to designate both the eventual breakthrough and the possible breakdown, and all the transitions, the intrications of the two extremes? (139).

We no longer know if it is the process that must truly be called madness, the sickness being only disguise or caricature, or if the sickness is our only madness and the process our only cure. But in any case, the intimate nature of the relationship appears directly in inverse ratio: the more the process of production is led off course, brutally interrupted, the more the schizo-as-entity arises as a specific product. That is why, on the other hand, we were unable to establish any direct relationship between neurosis and psychosis. The relationships of neurosis, psychosis, and also perversion depend on the situation of each one with regard to the process, and on the manner in which each one represents a mode of interruption of the process, a residual bit of ground to which one still clings so as not to be carried off by the deterritorialized flows of desire. (139)

Right there in that passage above “…the intimate nature of the relationship appears directly in inverse ratio: the more the process of production is led off course, brutally interrupted, the more the schizo-as-entity arises as a specific product.” The accelerationism of D&G is to cut out that goal, that blockage that capitalism puts there as a false limit, and break through the false barrier into the free flows of art and science working in unison to endlessly revise and explore under a goalless or non-teleological regime.

Deleuze & Guattari’s Accelerationist Manifesto

deleuze-and-guattari

The Real Accelerationist Manifesto (Non-teleological Permanent Revolution) of Deleuze & Guattari:

“…the task of schizoanalysis is ultimately that of discovering for every case the nature of the libidinal investments of the social field, their possible internal conflicts, their relationships with the preconscious investments of the same field, their possible conflicts with these—in short, the entire interplay of the desiring-machines and the repression of desire. Completing the process and not arresting it, not making it turn about in the void, not assigning it a goal. We’ll never go too far with the deterritorialization, the decoding of flows. For the new earth (“In truth, the earth will one day become a place of healing”) is not to be found in the neurotic or perverse reterritorializations that arrest the process or assign it goals; it is no more behind than ahead, it coincides with the completion of the process of desiring-production, this process that is always and already complete as it proceeds, and as long as it proceeds. It therefore remains for us to see how, effectively, simultaneously, these various tasks of schizoanalysis proceed.” (Anti-Oedipus: p. 401) [my italics]

Of course the above echoes that other famous passage from The Capitalist Machine of Civilization chapter:

So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? Psychoanalysis is of little help, entertaining as it does the most intimate of relations with money, and recording—while refusing to recognize it—an entire system of economic-monetary dependences at the heart of the desire of every subject it treats. Psychoanalysis constitutes for its part a gigantic enterprise of absorption of surplus value. But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?—To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet. (AO, p. 239) [italics mine]

The Last Man

They have something of which they are proud. What do they call it, that which makes them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds.

-Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Nietzsche once envisioned the end point of progressive politics: the last man. The lives of the last men are pacifist and comfortable. There is no longer a distinction between ruler and ruled, strong over weak, or supreme over the mediocre. Social conflict and challenges are minimized. Every individual lives equally and in “superficial” harmony. There are no original or flourishing social trends and ideas. Individuality and creativity are suppressed. Outwardly it appears to the alien as a perfect world, a utopian enclave where the populace is taken care of, secure, and happy.

A world without disease, conflict, war, poverty, mental aberrations – a world without creativity. In such a world the men and women no longer need education in the sense of the old political horizons, because the world is itself a fulfilled and progressive society. Enlightenment, the sciences, and the socio-cultural regulators who oversee this civilization are not men and women of power, but rather volunteers in a world of non-power. The impersonal laws and pyscho-social apparatus that enforces the stability, security, and regulatory mechanisms of this utopian world are themselves regulated by the ultra-egalitarian value systems that keep even their own mental systems in check.

At the center of this society will be the AGI systems that make all the decisions regulating the complex interactions across the fold of this world populace. These systems will act as oracles for the vast majority of educated and uneducated believers who will become only the beneficiaries of this new impersonal machinism. We could say the AGI’s will handle the intricate and complex relations of jurisprudence that will arbitrate every aspect of this societies intrinsic and extrinsic relations. Welcome to the algorithmic society of the future.

At the heart of this system of egalitarian social relations is the psycho-pharmaceutical Neuromantic Nomos – the Order of Neural Law. Such a society is well versed in the convergence of nanotech, biogenetic, telemantic, and neuroscientific pharma: the fusion of nano-tech and pharmaceutical regulatory agents that will focus their powerful socio-medicinal systems on bringing peace and happiness to the citizens of this brave new world. The growth of regulative platforms of sustainability and resource regulation will have brought to bare the full systems of law to regulate every aspect of life on earth. Yet, to work out these regulatory positings is no longer in the hands of humans but of powerful machinic intelligences which will supply both the legal and socio-medical techniques needed to enforce this system. Humans will be free, but only within a very well defined system of reasons and regulations. Their lives regulated by nanobiotech machinic intelligences that carefully regulate metabolic and neural systems according to the new Nomos.

After the chaotic downturn in the Age of Risk during the so called post-Enlightenment age of unregulated Laissez-faire and beyond into the late financial capitalisms of the Oligarchic and Plutocratic worlds of Neurocapitalism, when humans were coerced into Security Regimes through the use and abuse of the vast new technologies of neuralpharmakon: the time of non-time, presentism, held sway.  The end of certain forms of violence and revolutionary thought brought to an abrupt end the age-old defiance of the masses against oppression. With the advent of neuraltech pharmakon, the street drugs of the new dispensation, along with the cult like prophets dispersing this new religious melioration unto the downcast and forgotten became the way to reign in the dissident elements of the Great Failure. Now that this socio-cultural world was hooked on peace and love, on unity and diversity of psycho-sexual integration the diverse and angry world of poverty and dissidence vanished. The production of dreams and fantasy became the new watchword, a world of satisfied gamers of reality.

With a new Universal Base Income (UBI) in place there was only the need to discover something worthwhile to do and be in this new world. With the end of the age-old monetization systems of capital came the only coin left: human creativity. Yet, as in most regulated systems creativity would be segmented off from the vast majority of players. The creative class would become the enhanced and unregulated systems of experimental social relations, beings set apart in special zones to live and work in the Great Experiment. These beings would become the focus of a well orchestrated Reality TV series in which the uncreative classes would dream of their heroes from afar. (more on this in a future post!)

So that it was just that much easier to incorporate less and less risk management, and off-load more and more of human security and risk onto the newly developed AGI’s. The very systems of profit and plunder that once brought the .01% their dreamworlds, was turned against them to awaken a living dream for all. In the end humans developed a society that elided the very concept of competition and aggression from the human genome. The new biogenetics would slowly but methodically develop personality types according to the function and algorithmic needs of the society itself. One was not so much free to do what one wanted, but to do what one was programed to want. For humans were no longer bound by the illusion of Free Will, but regulated by the impersonal will of their neuraltech systems far below the surface of awareness and consciousness.

 “The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude’s capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche


Anti-Fascism = “de-familiarizing, de-oedipalizing, de-castrating; undoing theater, dream, and fantasy; decoding, de-territorializing – a terrible curettage, a malevolent activity.” (Anti-Oedipus: Deleuze & Guattari)

To one half of humanity this will appear dystopia completed, to the other half a strange progress indeed. Maybe it’s more of a fable of “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it in unexpected ways and means.” If you haven’t noticed this is a sort of ongoing world building scenario for a dystopian trilogy in the offing… I’ve often wondered “What if…” we pushed the current trends in progressive thought and politics to the ultra conclusion? What would such a egalitarian world of social justice really look like? Would it push the techno-commercial to the point of a total reformist society based on impersonal regulation by decisioning systems like AGI’s or not? With our investment in the convergence technologies will humans divide into creative and uncreative social relations? How will we have both happy satisfied workers and creativity, too? As so many have suggested, creativity is itself a vehicle that brings violence to the world in which it breaks through. So will the creative class become a separate world, segmented off from the great mass of uncreative talents?

The End of Truth: Living in a Post-Truth World?

The Oxford dictionary recently defined  “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

The key here is not to ponder ‘post-truth’, but the notion of our reliance on ‘objective facts’ as the source and trust in a stable world or reality in which the public sphere of doxa (‘opinion’) has given way to the affective and personal beliefs of the average citizen.

What’s not said in the Oxford definition is the reverse is the more accurate, that truth was once considered solely ‘God’s Truth’. During most of the ugly history of Western Civilization truth was always ‘God’s Truth’, and was used to justify not only genocide, war, and military and religious atrocities against for foreign and domestic foes, but as the cornerstone of the Christian worldview. A regulatory idea that supervened on all other local truths whatsoever. Then with the advent of atheism, the Enlightenment, the Sciences and modern world order of democracies etc. something else took over from this regulative idea of Truth as ‘belief’ in the new dispensation and placeholder of scientific or objective truth. Now the idea of truth as objective is simply that no matter what we believe to be the case, some things will always be true and other things will always be false. Our beliefs, whatever they are, have no bearing on the facts of the world around us.

During the 1990’s of the last century many would argue against objective truth, saying instead that it was all relative to the culture within which one is situated. Relativism is “the doctrine that knowledge, truth and morality exist in relation to culture, society or historical context, and are not absolute”. The primary appeal is that people have realized, for example, that “Is it rude to do X?” is a different question depending on the context, especially depending on what culture you live in. This is the same kind of issue as the day of the week above. Relativists are correct to insist that a lot of the ideas of our culture are not universal truths, even some that most people assume are universal truths.

However, relativism overstated its case and is blind to its own fallible stance, because it says that all knowledge depends on the context. Contextualism describes a collection of views in philosophy which emphasize the context in which an action, utterance, or expression occurs, and argues that, in some important respect, the action, utterance, or expression can only be understood relative to that context. It’s a bit like saying that all questions are ambiguous just because some are and because precision is difficult. Also, relativism is ambiguous about whether contextual knowledge is absolutely true within that context; many relativists object to the idea of any absolute, permanent, unitary truth. But why should the truth for a given context ever change? Relativism provides an argument that the context is important, but no argument that the truth can change if we keep the context constant.

Nietzsche once argued in the Genealogy of Morals, III, 25: “That which constrains idealists of knowledge, this unconditional will to truth, is faith in the ascetic ideal itself even if as an unconscious imperative – don’t be deceived about that – it is faith in a metaphysical value, the absolute value of truth, sanctioned and guaranteed by this ideal alone (it stands or falls with this ideal).”

Nietzsche thus argues that truth, like the God of Plato and traditional Christianity, is the highest and most perfect being imaginable: “we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth is divine.” (Gay Science, 344)

He would even berate the supposed atheists and free-spirits of knowledge (i.e., of scientists and objective knowledge):

These nay-sayers and outsiders of today who are unconditional on one point — their insistence on intellectual cleanliness; these hard, severe, abstinent, heroic spirits who constitute the honor of our age; all these pale atheists, anti-Christians, immoralists, nihilists, these skeptics, ephectics, herectics of spirit, … these last idealists of knowledge, within whom alone intellectual conscience is today alive and well, – they certainly believe they are as completely liberated from the ascetic ideal as possible, these “free, very free spirits”; and yet they themselves embody it today and perhaps they alone. […] They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth. (Genealogy of Morals III:24)

Yet, in pragmatic and practical matters of daily life most humans Nietzsche would argue “recognize untruth as a condition of life: that, to be sure, means to resist customary value-sentiments in a dangerous fashion; and a philosophy which ventures to do so places itself , by that act alone, beyond good and evil.” (Beyond Good and Evil, 333) He would even ask:

What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions – they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.

For Nietzsche truth was not so much relative as it was untrustworthy. Every word immediately becomes a concept, inasmuch as it is not intended to serve as a reminder of the unique and wholly individualized original experience to which it owes its birth, but must at the same time fit innumerable, more or less similar cases—which means, strictly speaking, never equal—in other words, a lot of unequal cases. Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. (Truth) This is the movement of truth from actual experience of a person in his/her daily confrontation and struggle, to the after-thought – the distilled and abstracted kernel that suddenly gets objectified into a concept, subtracted from the changeable and experience ridden world of things and placed into some pure world of Ideas. What we forget in this process is what is unique and cannot be reduced to the pure concept, what remains in excess of its supposed objective universality: the messiness of reality that cannot be reduced to our significations.

Yet, to go back to the Oxford pun on all this, what their conveying is that we’ve allowed the whole treatment of knowledge as scientific objectivity to fall into abeyance as concerns our day to day lives in politics and other affairs. And that instead of seeking some standard against which we can make judgements, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe anyone and everyone is worthy of their own truth, their own beliefs. In other words that nothing is truth, and everything is shaped by the lowest common denominator: personal belief. In such a society everything is atomized and truth can be shaped and presented as malleable and plastic according to the whims of those in power.

Our World a Hyperfictional Event

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”

― Jorge Luis Borges

As I was walking among the fires of Hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity, I collected some of their Proverbs.

—William Blake

If you’ve read through many of the supposed post-modern turn fabulists… a term I hate by the way! Stanislaw Lem, Jorge-Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, and so many others… One discovers – as John Barth would say, the “replenishment of literature under the heretical sign”. So counter-cultural weavings have always been there, but under various shadow disguises… Kabballah being the shadow of Torah, Magic the shadow of Hermeticism, Occult in general the child of political heresy and Gnosticism…

What Land and the CCRU gang did was to playfully reenact the heretical hyperfictions, update them for a new time-war sequence, create and absorb the underbelly of those political heresies in parody as a wake up call. Our age is itself the greatest hyperfictive enactment in history. We are living inside a horror novel that has locked the door, thrown away the key, and left the habitants with little or no recourse other than to wake up before it is too late; else die.

As Mark Twain once reminded us: “The list of things which we absolutely know, is not a long one, and we have not the luck to add a fresh one to it often, but I recognized that I had added one to mine this day. I knew, now, that it isn’t safe to sit in judgment upon another person’s illusion when you are not on the inside. While you are thinking it is a dream, he may be knowing it is a planet.” – “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes”

Time-wars and bootstrapping events move ceaselessly through the vertical and geotraumatic spaces of our enslavement. We ponder the outer darkness, while all along we harbor the veritable enemy in our own blind mind. Unable to see the mote in our own eye, we introject it into the other and thereby continue the fake world of death and political malfeasance. Contrary to Sartre, Hell is not Other people, Hell is what we are and have always been: the eternal flames of desire captured in the endless repetition of a universal hyperworld, a labyrinth for those unlikely guests of time, ourselves.

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

—William Blake

The Sly Wit Speaks

g-k-chesterton-faith

The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change.

—G. K. CHESTERTON, ORTHODOXY

Nietzsche’s Message: Beyond Nihilism

untitled

Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Emancipation is dependent on a cure, not salvation. Nietzsche was no New Age Guru. Nietzsche was a Dr. of Civilization’s ills, nihilism his diagnosis… the cure: self-overcoming, an agon to the death – death of civilization as a ‘culture of nihilism’. His diagnosis had two treatments: 1) passive nihilism – allow the weak nihilists to literally die out (or, the destruction of a world; i.e., of the weak nihilist’s worldview); and, 2) positive nihilism – allow the strong nihilist to push or accelerate the disease till it was eliminated, and what remains is something stronger and with greater vitality – a new Civilization of Life beyond the borders of our death culture. A world born of artists, poets, singers, dancers – a world of creativity and light born out of great pain and suffering.

People have termed Nietzsche a reactionary, but that doesn’t quite fit the man’s actual worldview. No. He moved beyond tradition, beyond traditional humanism and religion, and the counter-enlightenment ideologies of the staid gray men of the dark enlightenment’s credos of a return to Sovereign masters, etc. Nietzsche was the extreme case of a Voluntarist who had pushed that mode of the Individual passed such boundaries and into something just the other side of thought, an eliminative thought that stripped the world bare of its false significations, opened it up with a scalpel and revealed not what was hidden but what was in plain site but covered over by a false film of human intent and need… That Old Zen master  Zarathustra, the desert hobgoblin of a prophetic future was pointing to what is advancing toward us out of the accelerating temporal void. Nietzsche was the first post-humanist, and yet the figure of his Übermensch was not his credo but his parody of this future. Many have literalized Zarathustra’s embarkations, rather than seeing them as fables and figurations of something that could not be put into words, an excess beyond our broken signs that no longer refer to anything beyond themselves – a completed nihilism that would break language altogether and encompass the unknowing of what is coming at us… recreating out of the alchemy of time a new worldview for the living, not the dead.

Let’s face it Nietzsche is antinomian, he contradicts himself at every term. Anyone can make out of aspects of his thought anything they might like; that is, unless they show the methodical and accumulating vision that went through cycles and revisions, sequences, coding’s, re-coding’s, and de-coding’s… Nietzsche was unable to finish his project so that we do not have the final vision of his genius. We have fragments of a mind scattered in an Abyss…

This is why his thought is so vital to our age of fracture, he lived what we are now going through, he foresaw the breaking points and the fractured edge of our mental horizons. Like the Trickster figures of old he lived backwards, he had the retroactive vision of those who see from afar, who turn time back and renew us with a truth that is seen from a slanted view of time. Like Deleuze & Guattari, he went against his age’s wise men of academia and paid the price. We would do well to read through his oeuvre rather than reduce him to some political epithet, understand what he was doing in his working through of the diagnosis of nihilism’s death throes. And, yes, he had two phases of his cure: one eliminative, one emancipative. The eliminative subtraction of the human exceptionalism and anthropomorphism of the liberal humanist traditions, and the emancipative introduction of an affirmative process of self-overcoming that would lead to a new posthuman difference. As he saw it nihilism was a tool in the hands of powers that sought to enslave humanity in herd like enclaves of stupidity and unknowing, bound by a mental horizon that these powers controlled. A prison world of thought and intent that encompassed the economic and spiritual capture of the surplus desire of its populace. We see this in our worldwide global system of consumerist capitalism which is neither democratic nor socialist, which is beyond politics altogether.

In our age what many term a complete nihilism is in the offing. What do we mean by this? The complete severance of economics from politics, the privatization of every aspect of the polis, the public sphere. There will be no privacy in a totally secured world. The Human Security Regimes will require a total Surveillance Society. We see the dromological world arising all around us. The defining characteristics of our society, and an increasing source of its hazards, are its relentless acceleration and compression of time (i.e., the so called accelerationism theoretic). The benefits claimed for networked learning environments – productive forms of accessibility, asynchronicity, flexible working, interactivity, instaneity, global reach, inclusivity and contemplative digital space, all appear challenged by dromological perspectives. These latter locate the rise of digital information technologies firmly within the neo-liberal ideology of globalisation, and see them caught inexorably within a logic of ‘fast time’. This has dysfunctional effects in relation to creative thinking, deliberation, discernment and other conceptual processes. It has dystopian political effects in terms of the erosion of democratic and cultural space and the discrediting of action. Our children have become a part of a new generation of so-called ‘digital natives’ – ‘the children of chaos’ and transition. They will begin the process of completing the nihilistic world and its destruction.

Paul Virilio speaking of these accelerating processes would say,

Today, almost all current technologies put the speed of light to work…we are not only talking about information at a distance but also operation at a distance, or, the possibility to act instantaneously, from afar…This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of time… the speed of light does not merely transform the world.  It becomes the world. (Virilio 1999)

Virilio argues that the dominance of speed has historically been the source of power in all societies, be this through horsemanship, naval power, railway transportation, flight or, now, the fastest technology of all, information technology, which operates, quite literally, at the speed of light.

‘Speed’ suggests Virilio (1999:15) ‘is power itself’.

Whether in ancient societies through the role of chivalry (the first Roman bankers were horsemen) or in maritime power through the conquest of seas, power is always the power to control a territory with messengers, modes of transportation and communication.  Independent of the economy of wealth, an approach to politics is impossible without an approach to the economy of speed…Global society is currently in a gestation period and cannot be understood without the speed of light or the automatic quotations of the stock markets in Wall Street, Tokyo, or London. (15)

Acceleration, in this view, is the hidden side of wealth and accumulation, or capitalisation: in the past the acceleration of maritime transportation, today, the acceleration of information.   As one commentator put it, digital natives ‘are used to receiving information really fast.  They like to parallel process and multi-task.  They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.  They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.  They prefer games to “serious” work.’ (Prensky 2001:1) 1

This sense of playfulness, of no longer taking life and work seriously is what Nietzsche hinted at in his attacks of the middle-class of his day and the serious gray beards of academia, etc. Victorian and Industrial and Post-Fordist society were all too serious about life, and produced death and war and hate. Things are turning chaotic, apocalyptic, fiery: at the speed of light, a world of random access, of data, of light-speed. Everything is digital and bound in codes, decodings, and re-codings. And, away from the watchful keepers of the gray beards is the anarchic children of chaos creating the encrypted bit-stacked layers of a new privacy, and public sphere that cannot be controlled.

And, yet, this will not come easy, it will take much innovation and creativity against the security systems that seek to lock down free minds.

Degrade first the arts if you’d mankind degrade,
Hire idiots to paint with cold light and hot shade.

– William Blake

It will take a great insurgence not of force and violence, but of creativity and artistic power to overcome the dark lords of our economic slavery on the planet today!

This is not the place to address the weak (passive) nihilists that run the world of Global Finance and its economic prison system today! Yet, it is their weakening hold on the accelerating power of those creative singularities which are arising out of our future across the planet that is unraveling the codes of these Oligarchic Sovereign Systems of Security and Surveillance Capitalism.

If I use poetic embellishments to describe this process, it is because the reduced philosophical credos of our day are under the dominion of the powers of repression and oppression. We must return to the figurative, rather than the literal reduced meanings to bridge the gap between singularities so that communication can once again become a bridge of light not darkness… thought is in excess of itself.


  1. Marc R. Prensky. From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. Corwin; 1 edition (January 10, 2012)

The Strong and the Weak: On the Demise of Democracy?

the-end-of-democracy

One in six Americans now believe that military rule would be a good idea. From all this I draw the following, peculiar conclusion: no country with a McDonald’s can remain a democracy.

George Monbiot

The great US jurist Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Plato once believed there was a far more sinister nature to democracy. A calamity at the very heart of democracy, it would lead only to tyranny and subjugation. Having watched his Athens go from direct democracy to the tyrannical world of a dictatorship at the hands of Oligarchs and populist uprisings, along with the death of his mentor, Socrates, he left Athens for ten years only to return and open up his now famous Academy to instruct the best and brightest on philosophy and politics. Plato began seeing this so called world of freedom and democracy for what it was: slavery under Oligarchs and mob rule over time, that allowed the force of policing to efface and kill those who dared to criticize its wrong doings.

In book VIII of The Republic, Plato begins to describe several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. Plato predicts a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.

From this revolution, blood will be spilled and many will die. During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man, or a few men, whom they believe to be their savior. The people will lift this champion to great heights and anoint him with sacred responsibilities to bring liberty to the land. When the smoke clears the old regime will be gone and a democracy will be supplanted. And while this is reminiscent of several historical revolutions, including the American revolution, Plato warns that the trouble only intensifies from here.

Plato continues in his discussion by explaining that the these leaders will eventually become unpopular, an unavoidable result. Those who once supported this ruling class begin to rebel against the would be tyrant. At this point the citizens will try to get rid of whatever man is currently in office, either by exile or impeachment. If this is not possible, the ruler will inevitable strike down any political opposition he may have.

Hated by the people, these leaders will request the presence of a body guard. And now he is a tyrant, the leader has no choice if he wishes to rule. Elected by the people, yet now he is protected from them. Plato predicts that this tyrant will appeal to the lowest form of citizen. He will make soldiers of the slaves and the degenerates. The tyrant will pay them to protect him from the ordinary citizens. And now the leader is a tyrant, born from democracy and propped up by the demand for liberty. And in our quest for liberty, we instead created a monster.

An American Turn into Tyranny?

From the Left and Right we are seeing the clichéd responses to the rise of populist supremacy in our political world here in the U.S.A. and other nations. Most commentators either despise or love what is happening, but very few thinkers or professional intellectuals report on what is happening with a any sense of equanimity, nor a discourse that is not completely bound to some Party affiliation and its ideological core. Democrats castigate one half of Americans as morons and imbeciles, while the Republicans do the same to the other half. It’s as if we were staging in our rhetorical binges the shadowing’s of some future civil war which will proceed toward utter annihilation for all involved.

Plato’s Antagonism

A cursory reading of Plato shows that he predicted that democracy would lead to nations being governed by bullies and brutes. Take a minute and think about the people who are running whatever country you are in and tell him he is wrong. Plato was a student of Socrates. Socrates taught by asking questions about a subject and getting his students to think critically about it. Today, this is known as the Socratic method, used by many professors in law schools.

Socrates’ questioning often led to criticism of Athenian democracy and its politicians. An increasing number of Athenians viewed Socrates as a threat to their city-state.

A few years after losing the war with Sparta, Athens put the 70-year-old Socrates on trial for not accepting the gods of Athens and for corrupting the young. Socrates denied the accusations, but he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

When Socrates died, Plato concluded that democracy was a corrupt and unjust form of government. He left Athens for a decade. Returning in 387 B.C., he established a school of higher learning called the Academy.

Plato’s most important work on politics is his Republic, published around 380 B.C. Written as a dialogue among characters and set in a private home, the book describes a small group of Athenians discussing political philosophy. The main character is Socrates, who voiced Plato’s ideas. (The real Socrates never wrote down his ideas.)

The Republic examines the meaning of justice, looks at different types of government, and outlines the ideal state. It touches on many subjects, including law and tyranny.

Plato looked at four existing forms of government and found them unstable. The best, in his view, is timocracy, a military state, like Sparta, based on honor. But such a state will fall apart:

The accumulation of gold in the treasury of private individuals is the ruin of timocracy; they invent illegal modes of expenditure; for what do they or their wives care about the law? . . . . And then one, seeing another grow rich, seeks to rival him, and thus the great mass of the citizens become lovers of money. . . . And so at last, instead of loving contention and glory, men become lovers of trade and money; they honor and look up to the rich man, and make a ruler of him, and dishonor the poor man.

An oligarchy, the rule of a few (the rich), leads to

a city of the rich and a city of the poor, dwelling together, and always plotting against one another. . . . [The government] will not be able to wage war, because of the necessity of either arming and employing the multitude, and fearing them more than the enemy, or else, if they do not make use of them, of finding themselves on the field of battle . . . And to this must be added their reluctance to contribute money, because they are lovers of money.

The poor will overthrow the oligarchy and set up a democracy, the rule of the people (the poor). Plato thought that democratic “life has neither law nor order.” An unquenchable desire for limitless liberty causes disorder, because the citizens begin to

chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, . . . they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.

Stressing moderation, Plato warned that “the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction,” such that the “excess of liberty, whether in states or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.”

Like an oligarchy, a democracy pits the poor against the rich. The poor see the rich plotting, and they seek protection:

The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness. . . . This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector. . . . having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; . . . he brings them into court and murders them . . . at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands. . . . After a while he is driven out, but comes back, in spite of his enemies, a tyrant full grown.

Plato deemed tyranny the “fourth and worst disorder of a state.” Tyrants lack “the very faculty that is the instrument of judgment”—reason. The tyrannical man is enslaved because the best part of him (reason) is enslaved, and likewise, the tyrannical state is enslaved, because it too lacks reason and order.

In a tyranny, no outside governing power controls the tyrant’s selfish behavior. To Plato, the law can guard against tyranny. In the Republic, he called the law an “external authority” that functions as the “ally of the whole city.”

Plato stressed the importance of law in his other works. In the Crito, a dialogue between Socrates and his friend Crito, Crito offers Socrates a way to escape his impending execution. Socrates refuses, explaining that when a citizen chooses to live in a state, he “has entered into an implied contract that he will do as . . . [the laws] command him.” In Plato’s Laws, his last book, he summarizes his stance on the rule of law:

Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.

Plato’s ideal and just state is an aristocracy, the rule of the best. He believed leaders needed to be wise and trained in how to run a state, just as captains of ships are trained in how to run a ship.

He divided his ideal state into three classes. The lowest and largest class is the producers: the farmers, craftsmen, traders, and others involved in commerce. The next class is the warriors, those who defend the state. They are educated in sports, combat, and philosophy and tested by both terrifying and tempting situations. From the best of warrior class, the ruling class is drawn. Its members will study philosophy and be given government and military positions until age 50, when the best of them become philosopher kings.

Plato believed every human’s soul is divided into three parts: appetite, spirit, and reason. Each of his three classes matches one aspect of a person’s soul. The lower class is linked to appetite, and it owns all the land and controls all the wealth. The warrior class is spirited and lives by a code of honor. The ruling class is linked to reason and lives to gain wisdom.

The philosopher kings will prefer seeking truth to ruling, but a law will compel them to rule. They will obey the law and take their turns as rulers.

[T]he truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.

The warrior and ruling classes live in barracks, eat together, and share possessions. None has families. All children of these classes are brought up without knowing their parents. In this way, Plato tries to keep these classes from gaining wealth or producing family dynasties.

Plato concluded:

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, . . . cities will never have rest from their evils . .

As we look back across the ages since Plato’s death the truth of that final statement is obvious, we’ve had no real peace at any time except under the auspices of armed protection and war. As Monbiot argued most people of the democracies abroad in our time advocate Military Rule, so that Plato’s statements seem all the more ominous in our age of barbarism.

Aristotle’s Thoughts

Aristotle held views similar to Plato’s about the dangers of democracy and oligarchy. He feared that both pitted the rich against the poor. But he recognized that these types of governments took many forms. The worst were those without the rule of law. In democracies without law, demagogues (leaders appealing to emotions) took over.

For in democracies where the laws are not supreme, demagogues spring up. . . . [T]his sort of democracy . . . [is] what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the [demagogues] correspond to the edicts of the tyrant . . . . Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all . . . .

Aristotle made the same argument about oligarchies.

When . . . the rulers have great wealth and numerous friends, this sort of family despotism approaches a monarchy; individuals rule and not the law. This is the fourth sort of oligarchy, and is analogous to the last sort of democracy.

Aristotle stated that “the rule of law . . . is preferable to that of any individual.” This is because individuals possess flaws and could tailor government to their own individual interests, whereas the rule of law is objective.

[H]e who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God and Reason alone rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast; for desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even when they are the best of men. The law is reason unaffected by desire.

Rulers must be “the servants of the laws,” because “law is order, and good law is good order.”

In addition to law, Aristotle believed a large middle class would protect against the excesses of oligarchy and democracy:

[T]he best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes . . . ; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant.

In fact, one of Aristotle’s true forms of government is a polity, a combination of oligarchy and democracy. This type of state arises when the middle class is strong.

End of Beginning?

Thinking about these two philosophers and their realizations about democracy in their own time and city I began thinking about what I’m seeing around the global circus in our time. I’m not here to disparage any group, part, affiliation only to ask if what we’re now seeing around the globe in democratic nations is something like what was experienced by these two careful observers of their own first hand knowledge and experience of direct democracy in their age? Both Plato and Aristotle saw the middle-class between the Oligarchs and the great masses of the poor, excluded, and outcasts as the only stay against tyranny and the end of democracy. The middle-class has been eroded and gutted out to the point in modern democratic societies that only the upper .01% and the everyone else below that exist. There is no middle-class anymore. If this is so, what of democracy?

As Monbiot recently said,

What I mean is that, under the onslaught of the placeless, transnational capital that McDonald’s exemplifies, democracy as a living system withers and dies. The old forms and forums still exist – parliaments and congresses remain standing – but the power they once contained seeps away, re-emerging where we can no longer reach it.

The political power that should belong to us has flitted into confidential meetings with the lobbyists and donors who establish the limits of debate and action. It has slipped into the diktats of the IMF and the European Central Bank, which respond not to the people but to the financial sector. It has been transported, under armed guard, into the icy fastness of Davos, where Friedman finds so warm a welcome (even when he’s talking cobblers).

What he’s saying without saying it is that capitalism does not need democracy anymore, and in fact as we see in the EU, New Russian, New China, and India and other nations democracy and politics has been divorced from economics. Behind the façade of government is the power of the Banks and Corporatists, the Oligarchs and Plutocrats who run things by way of algorithmic and market driven Financial Capitalism devoid of politics and regulation. While at the same time building a global prison system and surveillance society to better command and control its blind slaves feeding them slogans of Security and Freedom. What the Oligarchs thrive on is Insecurity and instability, as long as they can weave the world media into a frenzy of war, mayhem, and darkness they can control the populace through their need for Safety, Security, and Protection. This notion of a Universal Basic Income would be the ultimate path to totalized tyranny and dominion of the world. If these powers ever promised to give the vast downtrodden the pittance of a universal basic income we would surely be bound in a world of financial darkness for decades if not millennia. For ultimately with safety, security, and protection comes enslavement to an Other’s rule, regulation, and despotism.

There can be no freedom without insecurity and risk, and no democracy without the Rule of impersonal and objective Law. Take away any of these and one is bound in chains to the despot, no matter what form that may take.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1825 to William Branch Giles of “vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”  Chomsky’s 1994 book quotes Jefferson’s 1825 letter to Giles and then comments that “[Jefferson] warned that that would be the end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution.”

America is no longer a democracy — never mind the democratic republic envisioned by Founding Fathers.

Rather, it has taken a turn down elitist lane and become a country led by a small dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population — an oligarchy, said a new study jointly conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities.

One finding in the study: The U.S. government now represents the rich and powerful, not the average citizen, United Press International reported.

In the study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” researchers compared 1,800 different U.S. policies that were put in place by politicians between 1981 and 2002 to the type of policies preferred by the average and wealthy American, or special interest groups. Researchers then concluded that U.S. policies are formed more by special interest groups than by politicians properly representing the will of the general people, including the lower-income class.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” the study found.

Name it what you will, try to believe this is still a democracy, keep on voting the duopoly into power, it no longer matters, politics does not matter. Politicians are paid off in lucrative deals that they themselves vote into power to hinder the masses, while providing themselves with the best schooling for their children, the best homes, the best medical and legal representation, prestige, and power under the auspices of their betters, the Oligarchs and Bankers, Profiteers and High Capitalist Financiers.

It’s an old story that Plato, Aristotle, Jefferson and others warned us about and hoped we would learn from their words and wisdom… Is it too late?

A Conspiracy Against the World: Comments on Andrew Culp’s “Dark Deleuze”

Edmund Berger on Andrew Culp’s Dark Deleuze. Dark Deleuze ultimately draws out is what Deleuze and Guattari always were all along, but seemed so recalcitrant to admit it: anarchists of the most radical form. The figure of Dark Deleuze itself is not one of the future society, nor even the revolution which could deliver it; it is a ghost of an anarchist conspiracy haunting our current society. Anti-Oedipus was itself a great book of conspiracy, drawing its energy the Nietzsche that was revealed by Klossowski: the Nietzsche that formed a conspiracy “not only against his whole class, but also against the existing forms of the human species as a whole.”

Deterritorial Investigations Unit

tumblr_o52zn4okaw1u1d813o1_1280

“We do not lack communication,” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote in What Is Philosophy?, their final joint text. “On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.”[1] During the course of an interview with Antonio Negri, Deleuze raised a similar point, one that appears to have slipped past the autonomist: “The quest for ‘universals of communication’ ought to make us shudder… Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They’re thoroughly permeated by money—and not by accident but by their very nature. We’ve got to hijack speech.” In a similar mode of thought, the philosopher of the rhizome suggested in his infamous “Postscript on the Societies of Control” that the way power organized itself was transforming, moving away from the disciplinary societies that Foucault had so intently studied and towards the figure of the “continuous network”.

Deleuze’s interview…

View original post 2,024 more words

Death Comes to Aleppo

cy4zz8wveaajlwx

Fatemah, said: “We are sure the army is capturing us now. We will see each other another day dear world. Bye.- Fatemah #Aleppo.”

We read the headline: Young Syrian girl’s twitter account deleted as government army moves in… we read of another recent incident in which a family of six, whom medics claim suffocated to death because the barrel bomb had been laced with chlorine gas. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011. Now, in the sixth year of war, 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. Among those escaping the conflict, the majority have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile about one million have requested asylum to Europe. Germany, with more than 300,000 cumulated applications, and Sweden with 100,000, are EU’s top receiving countries.

My question: Where is the outrage, the protest for the destruction and ruination of a whole nation at the hands of a dictator? How has the supposed Free World come to the point that it has allowed such atrocities in its midst without doing anything other than reprimands and noncommittal acts of humanitarian aide.

An international statute signed in Rome in 1998 expanded the CCPG’s definition of genocide and applied it to times of both war and peace. The statute also established the International Criminal Court (ICC), which began sittings in 2002 at The Hague (without the participation of the U.S., China or Russia).

One must go back to the Armenian genocide to discover such atrocities, not to mention the holocaust. In 1915, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Though reports vary, most sources agree that there were about 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the time of the massacre. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country. Today, most historians call this event a genocide–a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people. However, the Turkish government does not acknowledge the enormity or scope of these events. Despite pressure from Armenians and social justice advocates throughout the world, it is still illegal in Turkey to talk about what happened to Armenians during this era.

More recent atrocities have been in the 1990’s.

In 1992, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia, and Bosnian Serb leaders targeted both Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian civilians for atrocious crimes resulting in the deaths of some 100,000 people by 1995. In 1993, the U.N. Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, in the Netherlands; it was the first international tribunal since Nuremburg and the first to have a mandate to prosecute the crime of genocide.

From April to mid-July 1994, members of the Hutu majority in Rwanda murdered some 500,000 to 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, with horrifying brutality and speed. As with the former Yugoslavia, the international community did little to stop the crimes while they were occurring, but that fall the U.N. expanded the mandate of the ICTY to include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Tanzania. The Yugoslav and Rwandan tribunals helped clarify exactly what types of actions could be classified as genocidal, as well as how criminal responsibility for these actions should be established. In 1998, the ICTR set the important precedent that systematic rape is in fact a crime of genocide; it also handed down the first conviction for genocide after a trial, that of the mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.

In August a group of concerned academics, legal, humanitarian and media professionals, condemned the Syrian government’s grotesque massacre in its aerial bombardment of a well-known and busy market in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Sunday 16 August 2015. As we write the killing continues. They called on the UK Government to act, saying:

Such utter contempt for international conventions by a so-called state actor reaffirms, if any further evidence were needed, that the Syrian government long ago relinquished any claim to legitimacy or sovereign power and should be expelled from the UN altogether. The UN must urgently consider carrying out its chronically underfunded humanitarian work in Syria without having to pander to Bashar al-Assad’s security forces via the ministry of the interior.

While Russia said on Monday that it would start talks with the United States this week on a deal for holdout insurgents to leave, and that any who refused would be regarded as terrorists subject to deadly assault.

There was no immediate comment from the United States on the Russia announcement, conveyed by Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov at a news conference in Moscow. But such an agreement with the United States, which has supported some of the insurgents ensconced in Aleppo, would appear to constitute a shift in American policy.

The lack of Leadership in Washington, D.C. to act or even protrude into the affair as one commentator suggests: “Policy inconsistencies, intermittent support for the rebels, confused messaging, and the absence of strong international leadership have contributed to this protracted conflict and allowed space for regional and international actors to rip the country apart.” Continuing:

When it first became clear that the conflict and dysfunction in Syria and Iraq helped to produce a group like the Islamic State, a transnational threat, Washington quickly insulated that threat from the Syrian conflict and dealt with it through a counterterrorism lens. Today, it is poised to repeat the same mistake — at everyone’s peril.

And the opposition is just as culpable in the atrocities and ruination.

According to the source, hundreds of Eastern Aleppo residents took to the streets to protest the radical policies of the groups that control this part of the Syrian city, but the militants shot at the protesters, killing a number of people, wounding tens more and arresting some others on suspicion of being linked to the government forces. Over recent months, Aleppo has been a major battleground in Syria, engaging government forces, jihadists, and numerous opposition groups. Militant-held eastern Aleppo is encircled by government forces and the fighting has affected thousands of civilians still trapped in the city.

As LA Times reports that in 2011, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, a mild-mannered diplomat named Robert S. Ford, became the face of American support for the Arab Spring when he boldly visited opponents to the brutal regime of Bashar Assad in the northern city of Hama. In 2014, Ford quit, saying he could not defend the Obama administration’s inconstant support for Syrian rebels. “More hesitation … [will] simply hasten the day when American forces have to intervene against Al Qaeda in Syria,” he warned. Now, a year later, Ford’s warning has come true. U.S. warplanes bomb jihadists in Syria week after week. Northern Syria has become a base for both Islamic State, which invaded Iraq last year, and an Al Qaeda franchise that trains European terrorists.

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies gives seven theories for U.S. Foreign Policy failures to the Council on Foreign Affairs. As another article commenting on failed leadership and foreign policy from the U.S.: “Insufficient support for the moderate opposition from the beginning of the crisis has also contributed to the rise of extremist groups who have ended up not only threatening Syria’s moderates, but also upstaging them, so that for the uninformed outside observer – such as many US citizens – Syria seems to have two choices: either Assad or ‘Islamist extremists’.”

The only meagre protests on the International scene were the trite Face Book movements. Back in April a movement quickly gained momentum as many Syrian and international Facebook users changed their profile pictures to a red square on Friday in support of the page. A Twitter hashtag – #AleppoisBurning – was also created. Within 24 hours of creating the event, some 5,000 people had expressed interest in attending. By Saturday morning, dozens of similar, location-specific pages had sprung up in cities across the world, including New York City, Brussels and Paris.

Yet, living here in the U.S. I keep asking myself: Where are the mass protests of youth, campuses, radical musicians, artists, thinkers, etc.? Having grown up in the sixties and participated in the radical underground movements that spawned protest against Viet Nam I wonder at the lack of commitment in the youth of America. I’m not speaking to the indigenous peoples who have recently aligned against the Corporate and Government violence against their lands. I speak to the power of revolt in a less than empowered youth who with their privilege seem to feed of the media frenzy of anonymity on the FB, Twitter, Linked in, etc. where commitment is only a buzz word and a sound byte rather than a real physical and substantial action of flesh and blood.

In my own mind I imagine that if the International community of actual citizens of the various free world nations of EU, America, Middle-East, India, Far East, etc. would have risen up against both Assad and the Militants this could’ve been solved years ago. But now that the worst case scenarios have totaled a city and a country at the hands of both its own government and militants one imagines the devastation of the world to come. One imagines as we blindly do nothing about the climaterilogical time-clock ticking away toward eventual collapse of the environmental systems that the people of that era, whether in decades or hundreds of years will look back on our time and wonder why we sat by and did nothing.

My heart goes out to the people of Syria both at home and in exile, and yet I wonder that even my meagre post is nothing more than a wisp in the winds of nothingness. Like many things I write, it may have no real impact, or that it even touches anyone’s lives; nor does it matter that it is not about me, that it is about a problem of our world at large, that is not even completely about Syria even, but rather about the world we are living in now through fear, terror, and trepidation. Have we allowed ourselves to become so complacent and narcissistic that most of what we say has become mere bits of self-congratulatory moralism and normative data in a labyrinth of self-edifying duplicity? The electronic void absorbs everything and feeds the echo chambers with our own self-satisfied deliveries and messages, as if they were something substantial and real. Their not. We are for better or worse no better than the empty signs that repeat themselves to infinity in this false infinity we once thought would provide us freedom and communication. ( I know I shouldn’t be so dark, but dammit the world hurts!)

Sadly things will go on as Vonnegut used to espouse, “go on, as they must go on… until nothing does.” When I think of the bitter last years of Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and his marked passage into a darker nihilism and pessimism because of his realization that humans are a duped species who do not give a shit about each other accept in disguise of virtuous self-narcissism.  In the last years of his life Twain would devote himself to the young. Twain formed a club in 1906 for girls he viewed as surrogate granddaughters, the Angel Fish and Aquarium Club. The dozen or so members ranged in age from 10 to 16. Twain exchanged letters with his “Angel Fish” girls and invited them to concerts and the theatre and to play games. Twain wrote in 1908 that the club was his “life’s chief delight”. In 1907, Twain met Dorothy Quick (then aged 11) on a transatlantic crossing, beginning “a friendship that was to last until the very day of his death”.

In the end this post was instigated by the knowledge that I may never know the fate of a young girl named Bana in Syria who once shared her bright life on this light bearing device. That saddens me. I almost want to start up Twain’s Angel Fish and Aquarium Club again! But this time for all those young daughters of Syrians both at home and in exile, a remembrance of their dark days and pain.

 

The Subtle Game

gaze

Watching my nephew, his wife, and their daughter all sitting on the couch, the TV blairing away while each of them gazed into their isolated technological worlds. Their cell-phones and eyes locked in a closed circuit loop, oblivious of the external environment or my conversation of five miniutes, I began thinking of this almost eerie truth: We are still the children of Kant, internalizing not only our gaze, but folding the world into our technological gadgets to live out our lives in an artificial maze of light.

The external world of the natural environment along with human senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing all focused to the empire of the eye lost in the gaze of our technological worlds, where our of emotions, the affective relations of the body itself is being eroded to the point that we are truly preparing for the moment when we will enter into these artificial dream worlds without so much as a remembrance of the external environment or our bodies. It is happening so slowly and subtly that we are even oblivious to our own process and complicity in this movement toward the eclipse of distance and the negation of the world for another one. For a technological world where the symbolic cages of our future desires will become part of a joyous new prison. We want even know we’ve lost our bodies in that world to come having become electronic ghosts or our former lives we’ll live out our days as bits of commercial feed-back in an endless economic game of holidays whose only goal is profit. Hell is a labyrinth in which one does not know it is so, there being no center or circumference; nor outlet. Only an endless vista for the eyes duplicitous gaze…

With the new VR tools that will become ever so refined over the coming decades (they being monstrous frog masks now!) we will forget that the natural ever existed, and will instead discover around us the merger of our technological dreamscapes and the outer world. We will be empowered by endless fantasies and technological entertainment systems that will lull us into our sleeping slavery happy and satisfied to be a part of the ever growing techno-commercial empires of our Plutocrats. Those who resist will be shown the door outside the gated and secure enclaves of the future, to ick out their bare existence as the denizens of a dark work world without the benefit of social interference or help. This darkling world we’re creating will not protrude too soon, but will happen as generation by generation the truth of the past, of history, of those alive who remember that reality was once different are all gone.

Even as I gaze back to my past life realizing how much has changed, and how my young family around me no longer sees or perceives reality in the way I do, knowing how far we’ve drifted from the 20th Century already I ponder this simple transition into the electronic void with neither fear nor trepidation. How can one fear what others see as joy and fulfillment of their deep seated desires? The concept of ‘joy’ must be understood here with a certain analytical coldness, emptied of the ideas of rapture, plenitude or jubilation that are commonly associated with it. One can experience joy at all levels of intensity, including very low ones, associated with the most ordinary; it can even go unnoticed, lost within a larger complex of affects that makes it hard to isolate. Once the idea of joy is purged of all connotations of effervescence and enthusiasm, it is perfectly correct to say that securing the money that allows the satisfaction of the basal desire causes joy – but in the same way that escaping death by becoming a slave causes joy.

This will be an age when the mass consumption of the consumer herself must be reached for the full scope of the Spinozist statement ‘they can imagine hardly any species of joy without the accompanying idea of money as its cause’ to become clear.  The supreme deftness of capitalism, in this respect decisively the product of the Fordist era, lay in using the expanded supply of things to buy and the stimulation of demand to provoke this reordering of desire, so that from then on the ‘image [of money] … occupie[d] the mind of the multitude more than anything else’.1 Yet, in this new age of the symbolic order the image of money will have given way to the gift of life in the eternal now of the virtual worlds of machinic existence, a world where security is handled by the great AGI’s – artificial intelligences who will manipulate every aspect of our holographic lives.

Those of us living now scoff at such conclusions, yet we want be there to see it. I speak of a time without such as us who think and believe differently. Oh, one could trace the genealogy of thought that has brought us to this point, how Kant turned away from reality in favor of the Mind’s own knowing – the inner turn being none other than this epistemic gaze. At the end of the 20th Century the divorce between sign and its referent, mind and its outer environment (nature) was complete, and the end of the Kantian experiment was at hand. No longer believing that the external world exists, we’ve allowed ourselves to build artificial playgrounds where our need for symbols and symbolic action will play out their destiny. Even the scientists work not with the actual, but rather with its symbolic equivalent in endless mathematical models of the universe to which it can create algorithms to evolve a future unbound. Whatever reality was for our ancestors, whatever we thought of the natural is no more; instead is this symbolic realm of endless signs that do not so much as reveal reality as construct it. This was the great postmodern vision, which is even now falling into ill-repute as many turn back to some form of realist discourse.

Yet, even as philosophers beg the question of reality, the world of techno-commercial consumerism continues as if reality no longer mattered. All that matters is the game of reality, the Reality Studio that is constructed out of all the vast machines of the Mediatainment Empire. In this transitional period between the old world of stable outer natural environment, and the new world cut off from its supports in reality living on symbols that no longer refer to anything other than themselves we exist in a carefully managed world of artificiality. And, even if the very real consequences of climate change, social chaos, disease, famine, war, etc. continue to exist these are not the center of the new arrangements of the techno-commercial empire. Even as the pressure of the old impinges on the new the Oligarchs of irreality continue to portray the world as a happy holiday in the sun.

In my own mind I realize the difficulty of trying to bridge the gap in understanding. Trying to explain such notions (not my own!) that the world and the artificial are growing ever wider in their gaps and cracks to the point that the old natural environs will one day flood back into our electronic mindscapes with a vengeance. They laugh at me as if this, too, were just one more crackpot theory. I realize it is slowly dawning on me that it is already too late to convince people of what is happening. I’ve a library filled with books on every aspect of our current malaise: Anthroposcene, Neoliberalism, Post-Marxist radicalism, Deleuze, Zizek, Badiou, Non-human turn, Post-human thought, novels, sci-fi, noir, Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Pynchon, etc. all warning us of the coming natural collapse around our planet. Yet, in our socio-cultural game of illusions most people could care less as long as they are gratified in this immediate now. In an age when the truth has given way to a post-truth world we are truly lost in our own machiniations, unable to think critically or even register the outer terror of the coming catastrophe of our extinction.


  1. Lordon, Frederic. Willing Slaves Of Capital: Spinoza And Marx On Desire (pp. 29-30). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Ernst Cassirer: The Last Kantian

ernst-cassirer

Why read Ernst Cassirer?  Cassirer occupies a unique place in twentieth-century philosophy. His work pays equal attention to foundational and epistemological issues in the philosophy of mathematics and natural science and to aesthetics, the philosophy of history, and other issues in the “cultural sciences” broadly conceived. More than any other German philosopher since Kant, Cassirer thus aims to devote equal philosophical attention both to the (mathematical and) natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften) and to the more humanistic disciplines (Geisteswissenschaften). In this way, Cassirer, more than any other twentieth-century philosopher, plays a fundamental mediating role between C. P. Snow’s famous “two cultures.” He also plays a similarly mediating role between the two major traditions in twentieth-century academic philosophy — the “analytic” and “continental” traditions — whose radically different (and often mutually uncomprehending) perspectives on the relationship between scientific and humanistic elements in their subject gave rise to a fundamental split or gulf between philosophy as it came to be practiced in the Anglo-American world, on the one side, and as it was practiced in most of the rest of the world, on the other. Cassirer, by contrast, had fruitful philosophical relations with leading members of both traditions — with Moritz Schlick, the founder and guiding spirit of the Vienna Circle of logical empiricists, whose work in logic and the philosophy of science had a decisive influence on the development of philosophy in the United States, and with Martin Heidegger, the creator of a radical “existential-hermeneutical” version of Husserlian phenomenology which quickly became dominant in continental Europe.1

Cassirer would flee Nazi Germany for America and bring his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms with him. Many of us already know the extent of the symbolic or linguistic turn in France. Alain Caillé suggests, “the bulk of the liveliest French thought of the postwar period gravitates around this notion of symbolism.”2 This is a trajectory with a complicated genealogy, reaching from poststructuralist figures like Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, and Jean Baudrillard back through structuralist thinkers like Roland Barthes, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, and Claude Lévi-Strauss to interwar figures like Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, the Collège de sociologie, and the surrealists to Marcel Mauss, Émile Durkheim, and Ferdinand Saussure.

It is a commonplace that Claude Lévi-Strauss, the key figure steering postwar French thought toward a preoccupation with the symbolic, conceived structural anthropology on the linguistic model pioneered by Saussure, Jakobson, Greimas, and others. Building on Saussure’s exclusion of the historical dimension of language in order to establish a synchronic science of language as a system, Lévi-Strauss defined the symbolic as a closed order of social representations that form a system, the function of which is to render the perception of the world coherent by superimposing on the continuum of reality a grid of taxonomic oppositions and syntagmatic associations. Likewise, Lévi-Strauss drew heavily from Saussure’s semiological principle, in which linguistic values emerge through differential relations among signs. Linguistics, as Marcel Hénaffwrites, opened for Lévi-Strauss a new approach to the study of myth, indeed of all cultural systems: “what is important is not the figures or themes as such but the system of their differences, of their reciprocal relations.” Accordingly, Lévi-Strauss and those directly influenced by him studied symbolism as a code, as an invariant structure, at the expense of acts of speech within living contexts. (Breckman, 10-11)

In a series of lectures in at the Warburg Library during the 20’s Cassirer would formulate his on theory of the culture industry. In these lectures he’d promote the conception of human beings as most fundamentally “symbolic animals,” interposing systems of signs or systems of expression between themselves and the world, then becomes the guiding philosophical motif for elucidating the corresponding conditions of possibility for the “fact of culture” in all of its richness and diversity. Because of his liberal humanist discourse, his proclivities to systematic thought he would for the most part go by the wayside during the so called postmodern era. And, yet, a careful study of his works reveals a man who was already investigating much of the same territory that only now in our post-Marxist age as the notions of Symbolic Order and the manipulation of our socio-cultural matrix by the massive Media-Industrial Complex is more and more exposed we would do well to return to such philosophers.

As Breckman states it the thought and work of Cassirer lie at a deeper, autonomous level that gives rise to the more sophisticated forms by a dialectical developmental process. From mythical thought, religion and art develop; from natural language, theoretical science develops. It is precisely here that Cassirer appeals to “romantic” philosophical tendencies lying outside the Kantian and neo-Kantian tradition, deploys an historical dialectic self-consciously derived from Hegel, and comes to terms with the contemporary Lebensphilosophie of Wilhelm Dilthey, Henri Bergson, Max Scheler, and Georg Simmel — as well as with the closely related philosophy of Martin Heidegger. One need not agree at all with Cassirer. I certainly do not, and yet one can discover in his thought the demise of liberal humanism which he entombs in his systematic philosophy. One might say he gave a rendition and summing up of the whole of Kantian Enlightenment thought in is German Idealist and Romantic streams. So for that alone one could benefit. As one of the last of the neo-Kantians Cassirer defines and delimits that era of thought, bringing the humanist and scientific worlds of culture together in a last ditch effort to provide a foundation of liberal humanist learning. That he would fail in the totalizing effort is not the point, but that his parallel stream of thought should be aligned in hour philosophical histories along with the vogue of all those French Intellectuals we seem to revere at the expense of many others.

In my own pantheon I place Cassirer with the novelist Thomas Mann, who also fled Nazi Germany for America, and represents the last encyclopedic effort of the liberalist humanist in German thought as novelist; an inheritor of Goethe’s Enlightenment and its Romantic and Late Romantic decadence. Mann’s two great novel’s (outside the mythical Joseph tetralogy), The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus would portray this symbolic heritage in dramatic fashion.


  1. Friedman, Michael, “Ernst Cassirer“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  2. Breckman, Warren. Adventures of the Symbolic: Postmarxism and Democratic Theory (p. 10). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.