The Difficulty of Laughter

Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.

—Jonathan Swift

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.

—Mark Twain

Split between Swift and Twain, Satire and Humor, the world seems to drift in a haze. Attaining either political satire or humor is difficult and not to be taken lightly, and yet it has its place. The difficulty resides not in the subject matter or content, but in the actual conceptual framework of the critical gaze. Attaining the gaze that bites and instructs is the most difficult art; for all humor is didactic and entertaining instruction in laughter, and it is to unburden resentment and enter into the graciousness of a serpent’s gaze that brings such pithy marksman to bare.

 

Silver Lining on the Horizon or a Blotted Sun?

As any number of radical theorists from Brecht through to Foucault and Badiou have maintained, emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.

– Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?

The American Left rather than digging into its own failures is displacing it, creating in a mediablitz saturation a multiplicity of metanarratives to replace that real and actual failure of the party, through a series of well coordinating obfuscations against Russia, Trump, the alt-right gang, etc. all in the name of clearing the Democratic Party of any responsibility for its own mistakes and failures. Rather than in creating a critical appraisal, diagnosis, and cure of its own misguided platforms it will for the next four years just continue to turn a blind eye toward itself, and program its constituents to see the rest of the world through the fictional lens of fascism, real or invented. This is not to say there want be a need for it, yet what I’m saying is that it will become overkill and a displacement of what it truly needed, which is a transformation of the Democratic Party’s own platform, along with the outmoded ideas and problematique of its current leadership.

In the book mentioned in the epigraph by Mark Fisher he describes Capitalist realism as that which cannot be confined to art or to the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action. Our mediatainment industrial complex pervades the atmosphere as a mediator between the real and virtual worlds of politics in our world. From the mainstream Reuter’s to the most obvious examples of the Guardian (UK) to New York Times (US) to Washington Post (US) to any number of television and broadcasting stations, along with the various online ensembles of Facebook, Twitter, etc. A list that could grow into all the various international and nationalist news organizations around the globe.

Most average citizens do not have time to critically appraise every facet of the news, but rather take it all in stride: part cynical, part fantasy. It almost goes without saying that most people realize that the news is bent, is ideological in the sense that it is narrated through the lens of a specific viewpoint of political and social ideas and programs. That certain reporters are obviously of the Left or Right, and that people love to take sides with this sort of vague and undefined world of media crafted more for capturing attention blips for advertising dollars. Sensationalism is the order of the day, the more one can bash the other political party the better the ratings. So we’ve come to expect exaggeration and invective from our favorite media pundits, it just goes without saying. Yet, in the process of knowing this we pretend with ourselves that we don’t know this, so that we accept at face value what is reported as confirmation of our political hobby-horse. We love it to find out all the dirty details of an enemy opponent to satisfy our glib and cynical take on politics as usual. What this does is pacify us, turn us into cynical and passive normal who expect the world to continue down its course without us being able to change a thing. We just accept that the world is too complex and the leaders are all fools anyway, so what are we to do? We believe its all circus and clowns, so we just laugh and turn a blind eye; or, we sit on the sidelines our gaze turned toward the endless parade of media tomfoolery as if what is being portrayed is indeed reality. It’s not, and we know it, but we are too busy trying to survive in our actual real lives to do much about it. We see the protests and the violence and say: “See, there it is, violent youth blowing up banks, breaking glass… burning limousines…,” and shake our heads. And, do nothing, because we don’t think anything can be done. Isolated, alone, stuck in our separate cells, privatized and singular we feel helpless that anything will change. So fear pervades it all…

We ask ourselves is there a solution to this stupidity? We know there is, but we also know that we’ve been left out of the equation. That what we term representative democracy is a charade, it isn’t that at all. We are no longer represented by our leaders, all they do is spout slogans and in their actions do just the opposite. What we term holding them accountable is but to continue to vote for change the next time: an eternal rotation of useless leaders always spouting how they’ll change things for us, make our lives an easy road, bring us jobs, salvation, redemption… more bullshit as usual.

All the academic scholarship for the past hundred years has spoken to this in one way or another, but none have ever come up with a solution. Not one. Oh, they offer panaceas, certain reforms (isn’t that what the Progressive part is… the Reform party?). But what happens is that the reforms do not benefit the people but the Oligarchs, Corporations, and Bankers who back the politicians. People have almost begun to accept this, too. Sadly. As Mark will tell us in his book:

The result is a kind of postmodern capitalist version of Maoist confessionalism, in which workers are required to engage in constant symbolic self-denigration…. But don’t worry… any self-criticisms we make are purely symbolic, and will never be acted upon; as if performing self-flagellation as part of a purely formal exercise in cynical bureaucratic compliance were any less demoralizing.1

Of course he’s speaking of the politics of work and bureaucracy here, but one can read this as a fable of all politics. We have been taught that it is us, not the politicians that are responsible. Rather than a public forum, everything has been privatized, even the old notion of the Public. As Mark suggests “‘Being realistic’ may once have meant coming to terms with of a reality experienced as solid and immovable. Capitalist realism, however, entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment.” (CR, p. 54) He’ll explain it as a fungible world, a world where the media acts a mediator between us and the Real, imposing its ideological screens as overlays to guide and instruct, indoctrinate and channel our desires for products, entertainment, and politics. As he’ll say it: “The ‘reality’ here is akin to the multiplicity of options available on a digital document, where no decision is final, revisions are always possible, and any previous moment can be recalled at any time.” (CR, p. 54)

Most people in our current blip culture no longer have the attention span of a mouse, everything becomes boring after a few sound bytes or images, much less the attention span needed to actually read or write something more than the space of a Twitter twit. Fake news has become more real than the actual truth of a story, people would rather believe a lie than the truth; and, in fact recently pundits argue that ours is a post-truth society. In a world that no longer has the distance or attention span to critically appraise the truth or validity of its news we are already living in a virtual tyranny controlled by powers over which we have no control.

Yet, we have to admit that a part of this is the blame of the very academics left that spawned the so called postmodern turn which undermined the whole tradition of critical reason itself. It’s attack on Kant and the undermining of classical metaphysics from Plato to now in deconstruction etc. was to end in an endless undecidability about anything whatsoever. Left in a world cut off from reality, the linguistic turn left us without an ability to think or even know what thinking is. Groundless and dancing in a figural sophistry of endless paradox and difference we’ve spawned the very fictional world we’re now living in. A refined skepticism, cynicism of irony endlessly churning in tis own surface world on non-meaning and virulent nihilism we’ve come to an end game where reality has turned inside out, and allowed the darkness outside in.

As Mark describes it:

If the Real is unbearable, any reality we construct must be a tissue of inconsistencies. What differentiates Kant, Nietzsche and Freud from the tiresome cliché that ‘life is but a dream’ is the sense that the confabulations we live are consensual. The idea that the world we experience is a solipsistic delusion projected from the interior of our mind consoles rather than disturbs us, since it conforms with our infantile fantasies of omnipotence; but the thought that our so-called interiority owe its existence to a fictionalized consensus will always carry an uncanny charge.(CR, pp. 55-56)

We’ve come to expect the scripts of reality to be written for us now in this late age. Rather than seeking truth for ourselves, we’d rather accept the scripted worlds of mediatainment fictions, realizing its more fun that way – we can laugh and joke at it and say it’s all entertainment, not real. But then we live through that moment of forgetting when in the quiet of our homes, staring at the face in the mirror we ask ourselves: “What is real? Am I real anymore?”

The point here is that the privatization of culture has blighted us. We are in that in-between state where everything is fiction, everything is narrative. Our cultural history, our memories are all mediated, filtered, spin crafted ideological positing’s that have no touch with reality, but are rather massaged and transformed in the lens of carefully crafted discourse and image narratives controlled by a blind bureaucracy that is faceless and out of site.  In fact we’ve been under siege for a while now. The cultural forgetting of Western culture and civilization has been part of the academic left’s curriculum and project for a hundred years. The total annihilation of this two-thousand year old cultural matrix of concepts, ideas, and history has for years been under revision, castigation, modification, and deconstruction all leading to its demise. What we term humanism and humanity is a project for the Left in obsolescence. And, yet, there is nothing on offer to replace it but a slippery post-humanism that seems to wander through a thousand and one categories of if’s without any actual end  in site. And, even then scholars can’t agree on just what this new beast is or will be.

Mark will suggest we are in that paradoxical in-between state of fear and terror of the present, because we can no longer make memories:

The memory disorder that is the correlative of this situation is the condition which afflicts Leonard in Memento, theoretically pure anterograde amnesia. Here, memories prior to the onset of the condition are left intact, but sufferers are unable to transfer new memories into long term memory; the new therefore looms up as hostile, fleeting, un-navigable, and the sufferer is drawn back to the security of the old. The inability to make new memories: a succinct formulation of the postmodern impasse…. (CR, p. 60)

This sense of living in a timeless present cut off from past or future is at the heart of our malaise. Comforted by a nostalgia for imaginary pasts we harbor childhood memories of a culture that never was, while living in a wasteland of impossible fictions in which nothing true can be retained or bound to a supportable memory. Because of this most people rely on the State not as either an Orwellian Big Brother, or as some kind of Paternal figure, but rather as a Nanny: “Although excoriated by both neoliberalism and neoconservativism, the concept of the Nanny State continues to haunt capitalist realism. The specter of big government plays an essential libidinal function for capitalist realism.” (CR, p. 62) This sense of someone who will just baby sit the world for us, who is there in the background picking up the pieces, setting things to right, cooking our meals, wiping our asses, doing everything but open our mouths and spoon-feed us.

But with the installation of Trump in the hot seat of the Presidency the Nanny State has gone bye bye, and now comes the age old Father returned from oblivion instilling the authority of the ancient lineage of power brokers: the androdominator as power monger who will now takeover and fix everything for us. Rather than the quiet smiley face of the Nanny State under Obama, we have the power brokers of yesteryear, the business and corporate efficiency of the black suit New Yorker who will rebuild the world from the ground up, or so the story goes…

Nietzsche in the 19th Century proclaimed the death of God. Foucault in the 20th Century proclaimed the dead of the Subject. Now we proclaim the death of the human itself at the hands of anti-human scholars. Yet, we are still here. Or are we? How can we know what to do about politics when we’re continuously told we no longer exist, that it is all passé, that the human Subject is but a neuroscientific illusion and delusion of a kludgy brain that through processes unknown entered into a an accidental production of consciousness (of which no neuroscientific or philosopher of Mind can speak to or definitely describe).  We are told that this is nihilism: the age when all values are dispersed in a blank world of valueless judgments. Nietzsche prophesied and end to it when it would have completed itself. Which  I assume he meant when everyone proclaims the end of all values and the acceptance that the world around us doesn’t give a shit one way or the other about humanity because it doesn’t even know we exist. Why? Because the universe is an agency, there is no Subject behind the screen, no fake Wizard of Oz of God speaking out of thunderstorms or mountains lighting rods of fire and brimstone. We are absolutely alone in a dark room with each other in a realm utterly devoid of answers or solutions. So this is ground Zero, the place of no place, the place from which we begin again… but this time with the knowledge of our utter desolation. Not despair as some assume, but desolation: the “condition of being ruined or wasted,” which is neither a place of despair or hope, but of reality. It’s from this desolation that we must begin and begin again to test the world against our words, our meanings. To wipe away the tears and sadness of our fictional ploys and narratives that have done much to lead us into this mess. We must build our words out of this desolation, for only then can we touch reality’s face and produce a community of shared values in a valueless universe.

At the beginning of the twentieth century W.B. Yeats said the “center cannot hold,” at the beginning of the twenty-first century the center is empty, the power and subject has vacated the premises and left a black hole of undecidability in its place. Politics is that black hole that the populism of Trump is supposedly a stuffing. But this center that cannot hold cannot be stuffed with supreme fictions or Reality TV stars. It will need something else… possibly just an acceptance that we don’t need the center anymore, we don’t need the Father, Mother, or Nanny to take care of us… that we are quite capable of pulling ourselves up by the sit of our pants and doing and thinking about what we really want rather than being told what we will get. Is this at all possible? Or, will we always depend and be dependent on some great Big Nobadday or Big Other to do for us what we will not do for ourselves?

As I finished that last sentence I added a question mark, realizing how much twaddle it was to expect people to ever free themselves of their delusions, desires, and deliriums, rather what will happen is the age old faltering and scapegoating of the other, of blame, of castigation and seeking someone to place the evil eye on; of displacement of responsibility and failure on the Other – whoever that other happens to be in the eyes of the media at any one moment. We are lazy and shiftless, we want our cake and eat it too. We’d rather depend on someone else to take on the responsibility of the world and our lives than we would. This is truth, too.

So for now the Left will place the Evil Eye on Trump because he is an easy target, a Reality TV bimbo billionaire that pop-starred his way into power through the very mechanisms of the Left’s mediatainment empire of signs. Rather than take on the responsibility to clean its own house, the Left would rather just dirty up the Trump house and fill it with all the evil under the rug of its resentment and shock at having been ousted from the seat of power (lessness). My mother used to tell my sister and I to look for a silver lining in the clouds after a storm, that that was a sign of hope in a dark time. My problem was that growing up in West Texas I’d look up after a hail storm and twisters to see not some silver lining on the black edged clouds, but rather the blotted face of a scorched red sun. I’d ask Mom about that, and she’d just whisper: “It’s a mystery!”


  1. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (p. 52). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

 

Metaloid Dreams of Mutant Intelligences

Cioran quotes Lao Tsu’s maxim ‘the intense life is contrary to the Tao’, and compares the tranquility of the modest life with the thirst for annihilating ecstasy that has possessed the Western world. However, acknowledging the compulsion of his Occidental heritage, he remarks ‘I can pay homage to Lao Tsu a thousand times, but I am more likely to identify with an assassin’. Our culture, he argues, is essentially fanatical.

—Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Strip the world of its illusions and delusions and you’ll only hasten the suicidal tendencies we’ve already as a species acquired. Predatory though we are, we are more prone to annihilating ourselves in a bout of self-mutilating hatred and pure religious fervor than not. Religious dogmatism – and, I count the Secular Church of Atheism in this – is the cornerstone of an anthropathological condition that breeds purity as the obliteration of all enemies. If only we could inhabit the enemies perspective would we realize the mirror of our hatred is itself impure.

We have yet to escape our Puritan heritage. Capitalism itself is this beast of purity spread across the face of the earth like an omeba, gobbling everything in its path, immolating the commodities and resources of the planet to the futurial disciplines of technics that have yet to find their slime festivals embarkation. Like fetid worms we are habitues of intricate foreplay, our sexual ecstasies bounded only by our murderous crash sequences with technology. Formulating and garnering an ultimate plan for inhuman takeover we bid the human species a grand bon voyage, stripping ourselves of the last veneer of humanistic entrapments we devote ourselves to the extreme experimental psychopathologies which will produce a final solution. Our closure of nature in this age and the irruption of the artificial as lifestyle has led us into that end game in which nothing natural will remain on earth.

No need to do a critique of metaphysics (or of political economy, which is the same thing) , since critique presupposes and ceaselessly creates this very theatricality; rather be imside and forget it, that’s the position of the death drive, describe these foldings and gluings, these energetic vections that establish the theatrical cube with its six homogenous faces on the unique and heterogeneous surface.

—Lyotard, Libidinal Economy

Once again the most unnatural creature on the planet triumphs, but in an unexpected way: it will stand atop the ruinous folds of a billion skulls screeching in the technomic voices of those who have become the thing they most dreaded: machinic gods of the metalloid Void. Brokered in a hell of abstract horror, these inheritors of the primal scream will walk the dead earth in what remains of the dustbowl windlands and scorched cities along the black sands of depleted oceans and lakes, where hybrid creatures scuttle in the shadows of temporal wars; and, deforested wastelands of spiked acropolises, and necromantic anti-life scurries amid the crumbling decay of human civilization: – like the visitors of an alien enlightenment, each singing in an oracular voice with the angelic pitch and plum disharmonics of solar sirens beckoning us toward the far shores of an anterior futurity.

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Anti-Philosophy: Unbinding the Void

It is always a difficulty writing on an other’s work in that one usually begins by clarifying something that captures your own thought, and then trying to isolate an aspect of it, abstract it out, seek to understand whether it is viable or not, living or dead; and, then, whether one can either appropriate and incorporate it into one’s own ongoing project or exclude it and – yes, critique it. Sometimes as a commentator I plunder other’s works for my own ongoing project, which I’m sure as many on my blog have pointed out comes into conflict with the actual and real meaning or… and, I hate to use the word, “intentions” of the author, since I no longer believe or accept the essentialist argument of there being an author behind the work, etc.. There being nothing essential behind the mask of the name or title other than the fictional appellation or designation which is bound to the cultural logics and legalisms we are captured by. No intentional being resides there behind the mask of author, but rather a process of thinking connected to the traditions of symbolic accord that travel across time through processes of externalization, memory, and technology (i.e., print, trace, etc.). (Much more on this in the future!)

Once one has left the fold, no longer believes in the property or proprietary intentions of an author… that all writing is technics and technology… one lives in a alter-framework. An alterity that blows away the metaphysical structures underpinning our legal and secular regimes. Even as I write these words the illusion of my own Self/Subject persists, yet what do we trace in an author’s work: Do we ever know what is behind the work, or are we more concerned with what that work offers us as challenge or confirmation of our own stance and thoughts in regards of the wider frame of culture? There is no singular language, therefore no singular vision or collective being, self, etc., we are all already collective processes rather than beings operating in and on an external world or symbolic order. Detached from any conception of metaphysical Being one is rather a writing, and being written by impersonal forces of which one is barer or victim. That is all.

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The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

Once again I return to Bataille. In the preface to Accursed Share Vol 1 he describes the disconcerting experience of being confronted with the question of his work – the why of it:

“…the book I was writing (which I am now publishing) did not consider the facts the way qualified economists do, that I had a point of view from which a human sacrifice, the construction of a church or the gift of a jewel were no less interesting than the sale of wheat. In short, I had to try in vain to make clear the notion of a “general economy” in which the “expenditure” (the “consumption”) of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object.”

This sense of coming at economics not as some narrow system of capital expenditure and profit, but rather as the ‘general economy’ of the system of the world itself – the Solar Economy – is this bewilderment we feel in realizing his conceptual reversal of modern economic theory based on the object of production rather than that of expenditure and waste (“consumption”). As he’ll tell it “This first essay addresses, from outside the separate disciplines, a problem that still has not been framed as it should be, one that may hold the key to all the problems posed by every discipline concerned with the movement of energy on the earth – from geophysics to political economy, by way of sociology, history and biology.” For underpinning it all was a materialist conception of force, drives, and energetics:

“Writing this book in which I was saying that energy finally can only be wasted, I myself was using my energy, my time, working; my research answered in a fundamental way the desire to add to the amount of wealth acquired for mankind.”

In his iconic affirmation that “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” he reminds us such comparisons follow from considerations of an energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy, but requires instead a thinking on a level with a play of forces that runs counter to ordinary calculations, a play of forces based on the laws that govern us. In short, the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions reveal their meaning, propositions according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.”

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Corporatism: The Soft Fascism of America

mussolini-quote

Decided to republish this essay I wrote over a year ago… still worth rethinking.

Naomi Wolfe’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot outlined ten steps taken in the past by what she termed “closing societies” — such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia — in their long descent into fascism. For both the State was one grand corporation in which the prols or workers were but the fodder for its schemes and machinations. These steps, Wolf claims, are being observed in America now.

The steps are:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Cast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason.
10. Subvert the rule of law.

J.G. Ballard in an interview mentions that our current consumer societies with their celebrity stars of Hollywood, Sports, and the Variety tabloids has entered the plutocracy of excess and abundance. “What I’m saying is that, left on its own consumer society is becoming a soft fascism. Because consumerism makes inherent demands, it has inherent needs, which can only be satisfied by pressing the accelerator down a little harder, moving a little faster, upping the antes. In order to keep spending and keep believing, we need to move into the area of the psychopathic.” 1

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Edmund Berger: Uncertain Futures a Review

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Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present will be coming out from Zero Books on February 22nd. To sum it up briefly, the book emerged last winter from a series of notes to myself while trying to think through several related themes: the relationship between Marxian theories of crisis and the “long wave” theories of “techno-economic” development posed by the neo-Schumpeterians; the correlation between crises and other transition-points in economic development and sweeping political transformations; and the rise of the left-wing and right-wing populisms (and indeed, quasi-fascism) in the current world. The “uncertain future” in the title very much refers to the dangerous situation of the far-right coming to power in the United States, which at the time of writing was only a possibility – but has now come true.

-Edmund Berger, Deterritorial Investigations Unit

As I finished Edmund’s new book Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present (Get it: hereI realized why I’ve followed his blog Deterritorial Investigations Unit for the past few years: keen intelligence, an encyclopedic breadth of vision encompassing an ethical commitment to the real movement of change, and a loquacious and gracious scholarly acumen and sense of excellence stylistically and in regards of other thinkers place within our cultural history. Critical, observant, detailed – a thinker whose historical sense is not overburdened by a false historicism, but peers into that dark mirror of our near future as if his diagnosis and cure of our ailing civilization were neither a swan song to its demise, nor a belabored undermining of its forward movement into ruin and decay, but rather as a physician of time – a creature from the far flung future seeking to retroactively elide the toxic effects of our dark modernism.

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On Jehu of The Real Movement

The Real Movement blog has been a part of my daily fare for a few years now, it’s unique vision of the world seen through the lens of Jehu’s critical vision of political economy has always been unique and penetrating. Jehu is a man who speaks from his own singular and aggressive vision of the world. His essays dig down into the delusive kernel of the Marxian heritage, bringing to light the hidden nuggets of that worldview which have been covered over by orthodox and critic alike. I like that. Unafraid of criticism from Left or Right, he speaks his own truth, unabashedly. An investigative thinker who challenges the prevalent shibboleths of Leftist orthodoxy along with his own brand of deep and abiding critique of Marxian thought and literature he brings us a unique vision that probes and reveals the underlying malaise of our present era. Channeling the world through the political and economic vision of one steeped in a rejection of the current hoaxers of Leftism he brings to light the fallacious and troubling conceptual paradoxes at the heart of our contemporary systems of delusion. That he has become a curmudgeon of certain factions of the Left and its spin doctors is already well known, that he is untroubled by the hatred of orthodox and radical alike is probably an understatement: it would be more apropos to say he couldn’t care less what people think of his project, he writes the only way any true thinker writes – to clarify for himself and others the stupidity of our age, reveal the errors of certain well trod illusions, and expose and judge those thoughts that are dead against those that are alive and worthy of continued reflection. Unabashed, unafraid, he speaks and judges the world from a vision of political economics that no longer replicates the authorities, but challenges all authority. It’s from such creatures as this that we can learn something, and begin the real movement of change against the entropic decay.

Laughter Against the Night

In my own life the dark cycles come and go, and when they come I return to the comic worlds of laughter to assuage the pain of such suffering doubts and mental anguish. I read Cervantes Don Quixote and Aristophanes plays, along with Moliere’s and Shakespeare’s comedies. Listen to stand-up comedians and generally walk away from the dark thoughts that send me down the nihilist pipe and death-spin. It’s not for everyone, but it’s my only recourse. I know I have a dark pessimistic side to my mind that tends to reinforce itself with the political and social malfeasance I see around me, but dwelling on it too long can send you into a state of becoming which can act like a strange attractor pulling you toward an abyss and sink hole. It’s not good to go there.

I’ve often thought life is a constant war against gravitas – the inertia and entropic effect of gravity on our planet. We struggle against it daily in our cycles of sleep and waking, we feel its power against us as we rise in the morning, the aches and kinks in muscle and bone (especially at age 65!) begin to repeat there impossible gestures to which we exercise, stretch, walk, etc. Yet, it’s a cycle that daily gets more difficult to bare and confront. I imagine some people weigh the options and decide its just not worth it anymore. The other side is not just the physical pain of gravity’s well, but the social and political wells of gravity around us that seem to accumulate such dark and disturbing, hate ridden abysses. The struggle against these powers in high places is a life-long task, and one that as well takes its toll.

I even return to old Emerson at times. I just wish I could always follow such advice:

I find the gayest castles in the air that were ever piled, far better for comfort and for use, than the dungeons in the air that are daily dug and caverned out by grumbling, discontented people. I know those miserable fellows, and I hate them, who see a black star always riding through the light and colored clouds in the sky overhead: waves of light pass over and hide it for a moment, but the black star keeps fast in the zenith. But power dwells with cheerfulness; hope puts us in a working mood, whilst despair is no muse, and untunes the active powers. A man should make life and Nature happier to us, or he had better never been born.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life

Bataille’s Solar Economy of our Anti-Culture

Bataille interprets all natural and cultural development upon the earth to be side effects of the evolution of death, because it is only in death that life becomes an echo of the sun, realizing its inevitable destiny, which is pure loss. … Poetry, Bataille asserts, is a ‘holocaust of words’. A culture can never express or represent (serve) capital production, it can compromise itself in relation to capital only by abasing itself before the philistinism of the bougeoisie, whose ‘culture’ has no characteristics beyond those of abject restraint, and self-denigration. Capital is precisely and exhaustively the definitive anti-culture.

-Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

Mark Fisher On Depressive Hedonia

Excerpt from Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? –

Reflexive impotence amounts to an unstated worldview amongst the British young, and it has its correlate in widespread pathologies. Many of the teenagers I worked with had mental health problems or learning difficulties. Depression is endemic. It is the condition most dealt with by the National Health Service, and is afflicting people at increasingly younger ages. The number of students who have some variant of dyslexia is astonishing. It is not an exaggeration to say that being a teenager in late capitalist Britain is now close to being reclassified as a sickness. This pathologization already forecloses any possibility of politicization. By privatizing these problems – treating them as if they were caused only by chemical imbalances in the individual’s neurology and/ or by their family background – any question of social systemic causation is ruled out.

Many of the teenage students I encountered seemed to be in a state of what I would call depressive hedonia. Depression is usually characterized as a state of anhedonia, but the condition I’m referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as it is by an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that ‘something is missing’ – but no appreciation that this mysterious, missing enjoyment can only be accessed beyond the pleasure principle. In large part this is a consequence of students’ ambiguous structural position, stranded between their old role as subjects of disciplinary institutions and their new status as consumers of services. In his crucial essay ‘Postscript on Societies of Control’, Deleuze distinguishes between the disciplinary societies described by Foucault, which were organized around the enclosed spaces of the factory, the school and the prison, and the new control societies, in which all institutions are embedded in a dispersed corporation.1


  1. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (pp. 21-22). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

 

Mark Fisher On Anti-Rock as Depressive Philosophy

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RIP – Sadly, Mark Fisher is not with us anymore… my thoughts go out to his wife and child. I wrote of his recent work in passing last year. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, which is part biographical history and a mixture of hyperbolic immiseration and a slow dive into that zero point of nihility from which there is no return. Marx would once describe the immiseration of the proletariat this way:

Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of labour are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker […] All means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become a means of domination and exploitation of the producers; they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment, they alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process […], they transform his life into working-time, and his wife and child beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital. But all methods of the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation, and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of these methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.

— Karl Marx, Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, 1867

This moment of life turning into the zero time of “working time” is the moment of an event that never happens, a future that evaporates the moment it is revealed, a moment when life at its inhuman core awakens in the mind of those anti-rockers Fisher speaks of as hauntological:

In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgement that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated – not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible. Yet at the same time, the music constitutes a refusal to give up on the desire for the future. This refusal gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism.1

Ultimately Mark’s book is a drift through the melancholic mind of Fisher himself: “The kind of melancholia I’m talking about, by contrast, consists not in giving up on desire but in refusing to yield. It consists, that is to say, in a refusal to adjust to what current conditions call ‘reality’ – even if the cost of that refusal is that you feel like an outcast in your own time…” (ibid. KL 432) This sense of being an Outsider in one’s own time, a pariah for whom the world is a vast machine of zombies enslaved to a system of corruption and dark imminserability is at the core of this depressive philosophy. This refusal to yield to the symbolic Order, to the big Other that always seeks to keep us in check, to bind us to the cultural machine, the media-matrix of illusionary capital realism.

Speaking of the history of Rock he will tells us that it grew out of a sense of sadness rather than elation, that in the “case of both the bluesman and the crooner”  (Robert Johnson, Sinatra), there is, at least ostensibly, a reason for the sorrow.”  Speaking of Joy Division (an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Originally named Warsaw, the band consisted of singer Ian Curtis, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris) Fisher will center in on the short life of Curtis himself. Curtis suffered from severe depression and personal difficulties, including a broken marriage and epilepsy. In particular he found it increasingly difficult to perform at live concerts, during which he often suffered seizures. In May 1980, on the eve of the band’s debut American tour, Curtis, aged 23, committed suicide. As Fisher explains it:

Because Joy Division’s bleakness was without any specific cause, they crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow. Zero affect.

Fisher will mix his narrative of the history of depressive rock philosophy with his political philosophy of capital realism. Speaking of Curtis he will tell us that as he sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ one gets the feeling that “there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place.” Instead if one listens closely to their early songs one “could easily mistake their tone for the curled lip of spiky punk outrage, but, already, it is as if Curtis is not railing against injustice or corruption so much as marshalling them as evidence for a thesis that was, even then, firmly established in his mind.” (ibid. KL 919) This evidence is of a depressive philosophy.

Depression is, after all and above all, a theory about the world, about life. The stupidity and venality of politicians (‘ Leaders of Men’), the idiocy and cruelty of war (‘ Walked in Line’) are pointed to as exhibits in a case against the world, against life, that is so overwhelming, so general, that to appeal to any particular instance seems superfluous. (ibid. KL  923-925)

The depressive experiences himself as walled off from the lifeworld, so that his own frozen inner life – or inner death – overwhelms everything; at the same time, he experiences himself as evacuated, totally denuded, a shell: there is nothing except the inside, but the inside is empty. For the depressive, the habits of the former lifeworld now seem to be, precisely, a mode of playacting, a series of pantomime gestures (‘ a circus complete with all fools’), which they are both no longer capable of performing and which they no longer wish to perform – there’s no point, everything is a sham. (ibid. KL 930)

For Fisher depression is neither sadness, nor a state of mind, but rather a “(neuro) philosophical (dis) position”. Telling us that what Joy Division saw in the depths of this affectless world is only what all depressives, all mystics, always see: the obscene undead twitching of the Will as it seeks to maintain the illusion that this object, the one it is fixated upon NOW, this one, will satisfy it in a way that all other objects thus far have failed to.” Yet, it is in those moments when we attain our goals, reach out and fulfill our desires that depression in all its bleakness sets in and one feels cheated, emptied out, vacated. This depressive ontology he will iterate is “dangerously seductive because, as the zombie twin of a certain philosophical wisdom, it is half true.”:

As the depressive withdraws from the vacant confections of the lifeworld, he unwittingly finds himself in concordance with the human condition so painstakingly diagrammed by a philosopher like Spinoza: he sees himself as a serial consumer of empty simulations, a junky hooked on every kind of deadening high, a meat puppet of the passions. The depressive cannot even lay claim to the comforts that a paranoiac can enjoy, since he cannot believe that the strings are being pulled by any one. No flow, no connectivity in the depressive’s nervous system. (ibid. KL 961)

This is the point of absolute zero: of time turning on itself, the speed world of the dead going nowhere. The suicide of Curtis reminds Fisher that the male lust for death had always been a subtext in rock, but before Joy Division it had been smuggled into rock under libidinous pretexts, a black dog in wolf’s clothing – Thanatos cloaked as Eros – or else it had worn pantomime panstick.(ibd. KL 977) He will add:

Suicide was a guarantee of authenticity, the most convincing of signs that you were 4 Real. Suicide has the power to transfigure life, with all its quotidian mess, its conflicts, its ambivalences, its disappointments, its unfinished business, its ‘waste and fever and heat’ – into a cold myth, as solid, seamless and permanent as the ‘marble and stone’…(ibid. 979)

The prescient movement of the above statement and its enactment belies the figure of a noble being in Mark Fisher. And there is always the harsh truth beneath the veneer for many that he felt for in his short life: “beneath all the red-nosed downer-fuelled jollity of the past two decades, mental illness has increased some 70% amongst adolescents. Suicide remains one of the most common sources of death for young males.” (ibid. 992)

We’ll miss Mark and his active participation in the intellectual and political world of our time, along with the emotion we feel for his family and friends. Bon Voyage, Mark, as Orwell once said: “Keep the aspidistras flying!”


  1. Fisher, Mark (2014-05-30). Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 395-398). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

William S. Burroughs: Drugs, Language, and Control

Bill Burroughs:

The writer does not yet know what words are. He deals only with abstractions from the source point of words. The painter’s ability to touch and handle his medium led to montage techniques sixty years ago. It is to be hoped that the extension of cut-up techniques will lead to more precise verbal experiments closing this gap and giving a whole new dimension to writing. These techniques can show the writer what words are and put him in tactile communication with his medium. This in turn could lead to a precise science of words and show how certain word combinations produce certain effects on the human nervous system. (The Job Interviews)

Burroughs believed language to be the first and foremost control machine. A machine that constructed and shaped the naked ape called man into its present form, and that any future exit from the human would incorporate a breakup of this control machine and its present system of signs. The normalization and comforming of the human child through a series of modulated cycles of cultural and social enducements begins at childbirth. Nothing new here, except that for most of human history this went on unconsciously for the most part, but at some point certain tribal members realized that words harbored power over the minds and hearts of people. These shamans became the keepers of this knowlege of power, inventing relations between tribe and word these dreamkings began to bridge the unknown and known in a linguistic web of power relations that would become the cultural background of a time-machine.

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Uncertain Futures

My friend Edmund Berger has a new book coming out very soon from Zero Books… I’m looking forward to this. Edmund’s wordpress blog Deterritorial Investigations has been a source of intelligent history and thought for me for years now. A book from him will top it off!

Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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My book Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present will be coming out from Zero Books on February 22nd. To sum it up briefly, the book emerged last winter from a series of notes to myself while trying to think through several related themes: the relationship between Marxian theories of crisis and the “long wave” theories of “techno-economic” development posed by the neo-Schumpeterians; the correlation between crises and other transition-points in economic development and sweeping political transformations; and the rise of the left-wing and right-wing populisms (and indeed, quasi-fascism) in the current world. The “uncertain future” in the title very much refers to the dangerous situation of the far-right coming to power in the United States, which at the time of writing was only a possibility – but has now come true. But despite this rather grim dimension, I think the book is pretty cool!

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Artificial Puritans: Immortal Dreams and the Elimination of Humanity

The specter that haunts genetic manipulation is the genetic ideal, a perfect model obtained through the elimination of all negative traits.

´—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

Genetics is the foster child of eugenics a quasi-science and mythology of constructing the perfect species through technological progress and the perfection of human nature. The word “eugenics” was coined in 1883 by the English scientist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton, who pioneered the mathematical treatment of heredity, took the word from a Greek root meaning “good in birth” or “noble in heredity.” He intended it to denote the “science” of improving human stock by giving “the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable.”1 This notion is steeped in the hierarchical fantasy of our Puritan ancestors dreams of human perfection – a notion as old as Plato.

In our Western heritage the notion of perfectibility whose origins lay in the cults of perfectionism of the Pythagorean world became in Plato part of the discursive and textural outlay of our cultural memory. Plato distinguishes between technical perfection and the perfection of human nature. In the Republic he proposed a new class of beings to rule and govern the polis. The “philosopher-kings,” as he calls them, are not perfect because they rule perfectly; they are perfect because they have seen “the form of the good” and rule in accordance with it. As John Passinore in his classic Perfectibility of Man comments, “in the end, the whole structure of Plato’s republic rests on there being a variety of perfection over and above technical perfection-a perfection which consists in, or arises out of, man’s relationship to the ideal.”‘ Passmore goes on to point out that other Western thinkers including Luther, Calvin, and Duns Scotus follow Plato in talking about technical perfection in terms of one’s vocation or calling. But the perfecting of oneself in the performance of the role in life to which one is called is not sufficient by itself to ensure one’s perfection as a human being.2

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Jean Baudrillard: The Perfect Crime

The period of catastrophe: the advent of a doctrine that sifts men— driving the weak to decisions, and the strong as well… —Fredrich Nietzsche

Here, however, lies the task of any philosophical thought: to go to the limit of hypotheses and processes, even if they are catastrophic. The only justification for thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes.

—Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion

We are no longer dealing with a problematic of lack and alienation, where the referent of the self and the dialectic between subject and object were always to be found, supporting strong and active philosophical positions. The last and most radical analysis of this problematic was achieved by Guy Debord and the Situationists, with their concept of spectacle and spectacular alienation. For Debord there was still a chance of disalienation, a chance for the subject to recover his or her autonomy and sovereignty. But now this radical Situationist critique is over. By shifting to a virtual world, we go beyond alienation, into a state of radical deprivation of the Other, or indeed of any otherness, alterity, or negativity. We move into a world where everything that exists only as idea, dream, fantasy, utopia will be eradicated, because it will immediately be realized, operationalized. Nothing will survive as an idea or a concept. You will not even have time enough to imagine. Events, real events, will not even have time to take place. Everything will be preceded by its virtual realization. We are dealing with an attempt to construct an entirely positive world, a perfect world, expurgated of every illusion, of every sort of evil and negativity, exempt from death itself. This pure, absolute reality, this unconditional realization of the world—this is what I call the Perfect Crime.

—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

J.G. Ballard once said of Jean Baudrillard:

“I find Baudrillard America one of the most brilliant pieces of writing that I have ever come across in my life. It’s an extraordinary book. …America is brilliantly original. I’m not sure what Baudrillard overall worldview is. I certainly take an optimistic view. To some extent he sees America [the country] as a huge pop art exhibition. To him, America is an imitation of itself – its imitation of itself is its reality – which I think is true. But he takes an optimistic view of America, and I would do the same about the world as a whole.”1

It’s interesting that a man who wrote such perceptive critiques and fictionalizations of the human animal in his patois of satire, parody, and dark humor was actually hopeful and optimistic, more of a cheerful Democritus of the frontiers of our mutant age than the weeping prognosticator of Heraclitean swamps. I like that about him. And that he found Baudrillard incomprehensible and opaque is an added feature to my admiration of both. As he said:

“There are a lot of Baudrillard’s other writings, which Semiotext(e) keep sending me, that I find pretty opaque – I suspect through mistranslation. He uses a lot of code words which have probably a very different meaning in French than in literal English translation. He’s written an article on Crash – my novel – which I’ve read in English, and I find that difficult to understand.”

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David Roden and the Posthuman Dilemma: Anti-Essentialism and the Question of Humanity

I’ve begun of late to wonder if our use of the term ‘post-human’ is more of an acknowledgement not of the End of the Subject or the demise of Liberal Humanist civilization that spawned it, but rather of another problem altogether: the extinction event of technological disconnection. David Roden in his Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human  is fairly convinced of such a disconnection:

“I have characterized posthumans in very general terms as hypothetical wide “descendants” of current humans that are no longer human in consequence of some history of technological alteration”. Speculative posthumanism is the claim that such beings might be produced as part of a feasible future history.”1

This notion of ‘technological alteration’ in which the present form of the human loses its integrity and is replaced or altered through either genetic manipulation or some other unforeseen technical event seems eerily prognostic. Of course David has couched his thesis in scholarly garb or academic noblesse of acceptable jargon and discourse. But the radcial underpinnings of such a thesis are there hidden under a thick verbiage of carefully reasoned argumentation and examples.

David asks the right questions, brings up the philosophical quandaries of such a notion as post-human:

“What is the “humanity” to which the posthuman is “post”? Does the possibility of a posthumanity presuppose that there is a “human essence”, or is there some other way of conceiving the human– posthuman difference? Without an answer to this question we cannot say, in general, what it is to become posthuman and thus why it should matter to humans or their wide descendants. In short, we require a theory of human– posthuman difference.”

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Fake News / Fake Worlds

“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see, the thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception.” —Don DeLillo

“Looking at this more closely, what have we produced that is more original, more specific, than this idea of nothingness, of absence? It is in the final analysis our most obvious cultural contribution. It is precisely this absence that I wish to interrogate, where is this void?” —Paul Virilio

What’s sad is the Left and Right political spectrum both assume all news is fake. We live in a cancelled age, a sit-com world that no longer provides canned music or laughs. A time in-between null and null, caught in a cycle of road kills we wander the maze of our own lures and allurements as the last guests at a death banquet for the West. Postmodern progressives suffer unresolved contradictions, while Traditional republicans live in a shoebox world built out of a 50’s noir thriller full of lust and paranoia. Progressive thinkers exalt post-individualism and freedom from Self or Subject Identity, while the reactionary turns into narcissist cartoon advocates in the lip service world of alt-right.

Ours is an age of untruth – or, in the parlance of our contemporary pundits, post-truth. Another euphemism to harbor unthinking thought on a world of chaotic and clichéd disinformation in which fake news is attributed to each team of the opposition, and all players hold a deck of cheats (facts). Even the fact-check sites are falsified by the political shibboleth, and depending on which team one is own: Left or Right, one is bound by the rumor mill of false witness and purveyors of politically correct arbitration.

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On Becoming Machinic: Intelligence of the Machine

Urban Future drew my attention to an article on the Wall Street Journal about Google’s AI beating the best GO players of China. Being an in-debted man I am unable to afford the luxury of a subscription to the Journal so found Nature’s rendition to my satisfaction. In Google reveals secret test of AI bot to beat top Go players Elizabeth Gibney reports:

A mystery player causing a stir in the world of the complex strategy game Go has been revealed as an updated version of AlphaGo, the artificial-intelligence (AI) program created by Google’s London-based AI firm, DeepMind.

What’s always amazing is this notion that technics and technology, and especially the thinking machines we’ve lately pursued are not human: technics and technology is the inhuman core of our being, so that these intelligent systems are nothing but an extension of our core inhumanity. Rather than there being some dualism between human and machine, which is what such articles continue to suggest, we should acknowledge that the emergence of intelligent machines is in truth what the transitional being we’ve termed the ‘human’ was all along, and that in the long heritage of growth in intelligence, its optimization and extension, externalization of memory and technique has been part of the off-loading our inner core into external prosthesis from the beginning of recorded history. These external systems reveal our inner nature, mirror our actual and virtual desires, show us as we are and are becoming machinic (Deleuze/Guattari).

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Nick Srnicek: A Review of Platform Capitalism

Nick Srnicek in Platform Capitalism emphasizes capitalism’s dyanamism, its need for innovation and “constant technological change,” along with this he provides a history in “deskilling technologies,” or what many term the dumbing down effect of standardization and conformity within all technics (i.e., the replicability and interchangeability of skilled for unskilled labour or machines).  Modern Corporations and businesses in their bid to “cut costs, beat out competitors, control workers, reduce turnover time, and gain market share, capitalists are incentivised to continually transform the labour process. This was the source of capitalism’s immense dynamism, as capitalists tend to increase labour productivity constantly and to outdo one another in generating profits efficiently.”1

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The Violence of Capitalism

What saves us is efficiency-the devotion to efficiency.

—Marlow, in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Life appears as a pause on the energy path; as a precarious stabilization and complication of solar decay. It is most basically comprehensible as the general solution to the problem of consumption.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

The belief that all things should act efficiently is at the core of both Fordist and post-Fordist forms of capitalism. Why should this be so? One could say that the concept of efficiency arose out of its opposite: inefficiency, as its negation. Most of modern economic theory grew out of this battle for efficiency and has been based on optimizing time, motion, and waste. One might say that the whole Progressive era of which we remain tied was bound by this pursuit of efficiency (perfection, growth, optimization) in the political, economic, social, and engineering (technics/technology) realms. Ultimately the central motif of modernity is the zeal for efficiency, and the desire to control a changing world, by bringing it into conformity with a vision of how the world does or should work.1 One might go further and Weberize it saying that modern global capitalism is the child of Christian perfectionism.

The terms “perfect” and “perfection” are drawn from the Greek teleios and teleiōsis, respectively. The root word, telos, means an “end” or “goal”. In contemporary translations, teleios and teleiōsis are often rendered as “mature” and “maturity”, respectively, so as not to imply infallibility or the absence of defects. Rather, in the Christian tradition, teleiōsis has referred to progressing towards spiritual wholeness or health. In the secular form that would enter into the concept of efficiency this movement from defect to wholeness or completion, would end in capital accumulation: profits, surplus, excess, etc. would take priority in engineering machines, assembly lines, and the mereology of the machinic or the techno-commercial sphere that in our moment is leading to total efficiency in digital economy and the autonomy of the machinic in robotics and AGI. The elimination of inefficiencies has led to the final struggle of eliminating the human from the equation. Capitalism perfected is a process in which humans are annihilated and expulsed as inefficient.

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The Interminable Process

“The primordial trauma, the trauma constitutive of the subject, is the very gap that bars the subject from its own ‘inner life’.”

-Slavoj Žižek. Disparities

My friend R. Scott Bakker’s response to this implies what he terms ‘medial neglect’ or the notion that we are blind to the brain’s own processes. In a fine essay describing this issue Scott remarks,

A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstrapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning.

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The Blind Passenger

From the Lacanian standpoint, it is not enough to say that every symbolic representation simply fails, is inadequate to the subject it represents (‘words always betray me …’); much more radically, the subject is the retroactive effect of the failure of its representation. It is because of this failure that the subject is divided – not into something and something else, but into something (its symbolic representation) and nothing, and fantasy fills the void of this nothingness. And the catch is that this symbolic representation of the subject is primordially not its own: prior to speaking, I am spoken, identified as a name by the parental discourse, and my speech is from the very outset a kind of hysterical reaction to being spoken to: ‘Am I really then, that name, what you’re saying I am?’ Every speaker – every name giver – has to be named, has to be included into its own chain of nominations, or, to refer to the joke often quoted by Lacan: ‘I have three brothers, Paul, Ernest, and myself.’ (No wonder that, in many religions, God’s name is secret, one is prohibited to pronounce it.) The speaking subject persists in this in-between: prior to nomination, there is no subject, but once it is named, it already disappears in its signifier – the subject never is, it always will have been.

—Slavoj Žižek, Disparities

In miniature the above offers us succinctly the full thrust of Žižek’s dialectical materialism: a mode of reversalism, retroactive causality, and the recentering within the Democritean principle of the Void over Substance as the central core of his philosophical framework. The notion that there is no pre-existent essence, no Platonic form out of an eternal realm that incarnates itself as Subject, or imposes its Idea on a passive material world of substantive objects, etc., but rather there is a process, a processual in-between, a movement – a continuous negation, a “blind passenger”:

The Ancient Greeks had two words for nothing, meden and ouden, which stand for two types of negation: ouden is a factual negation, something that is not but could have been; meden is, on the contrary, something that in principle cannot be. From meden we get to den not simply by negating the negation in meden, but by displacing negation, or, rather, by supplementing negation with a subtraction. That is to say, we arrive at den when we take away from meden not the whole negating prefix, but only its first two letters: meden is med’hen, the negation of hen (one): not-one. Democritus arrives at den by leaving out only me and thus creating a totally artificial word den. Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. Or, as Lacan put it: “Nothing, perhaps? No— perhaps nothing, but not nothing”; to which Cassin adds: “I would love to make him say: Pas rien, mais moins que rien (Not nothing, but less than nothing)” — den is a “blind passenger” of every ontology. As such, it is “the radical real,” and Democritus is a true materialist: “No more materialist in this matter than anyone with his senses, than me or than Marx, for example. But I cannot swear that this also holds for Freud”— Lacan suspects Freud’s link to kabbala obscurantism.1

Zizek’s philosophy will stand the test of time or fall by the wayside over this notion of the Democritean “Den”: Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. A Spectral Materialism of Zombies and Ghosts? It gets better,

The rise of den is thus strictly homologous to that of objet a which, according to Lacan, emerges when the two lacks (of the subject and of the Other) coincide, that is, when alienation is followed by separation: den is the “indivisible remainder” of the signifying process of double negation— something like Sygne de Coûfontaine’s tic, this minimal eppur si muove which survives her utter Versagung (renunciation). (ibid.)

Galileo Galilei muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”), after recanting before the Inquisition his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun: he was not tortured, it was enough to take him on a tour and show him the torture devices … There is no contemporary evidence that he did in fact mutter this phrase, but today the phrase is used to indicate that, although someone who possesses true knowledge is forced to renounce it, this does not stop it from being true. But what makes this phrase so interesting is that it can also be used in the exact opposite sense, to assert a “deeper” symbolic truth about something which is literally not true— like the “Eppur si muove” story itself, which may well be false as a historical fact about Galileo’s life, but is true as a designation of Galileo’s subjective position while he was forced to renounce his views. In this sense, a materialist can say that, although he knows there is no God, the idea of a God nonetheless “moves” him. It is interesting to note that, in “Terma,” an episode from the fourth season of The X-Files, “E pur si muove” replaces the usual “The truth is out there,” meaning that, even if their existence is denied by official science, alien monsters nonetheless move around out there. But it can also mean that, even if there are no aliens out there, the fiction of an alien invasion (like the one in The X-Files) can nonetheless engage us and move us: beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction. (Zizek, KL 280)

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