Reality Machines: The Composition of the World

The interest in Lovecraft’s fiction was motivated by its exemplification of the practice of hyperstition, a concept had been elaborated and keenly debated since the inception of the Cthulhu Club. Loosely defined, the coinage refers to ‘fictions that make themselves real’.

—Ccru: Writings 1997-2003

In Book 10 of Plato’s Republic the interlocutor in the dialogue tells us of corruption of men’s minds at the hands of the poets:

Speaking in confidence, for I should not like to have my words repeated to the tragedians and the rest of the imitative tribe—but I do not mind saying to you, that all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers…2

Plato’s war against Homer and the full gamut of poetic thought and its hold on the mind of Athens is well known. One could say that philosophy in his sense was a war against imitation and mimesis. Socrates feigning ignorance will as he always does in the various dialogues ask a question: “Can you tell me what imitation is? for I really do not know.” The naïve interlocutor thinking he has a handle on this not knowing that that old goat Socrates is laying a trap for him will speak of poets and painters as those who create appearances rather than realities, and that imitation is thrice removed from the truth of that reality it tries so artfully to imitate.  Socrates will intervene saying,

Then must we not infer that all these poetical individuals, beginning with Homer, are only imitators; they copy images of virtue and the like, but the truth they never reach?

Of course the interlocutor tongue-tied at that point can only agree with Socrates, adding that yes the poet is imitating a copy or semblance of a reality of which he is thrice removed so that he never has access to the truth of its existence. This of course will make Socrates happy and instead of gloating it will set him off in another direction, asking,

The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of true existence; he knows appearances only. Am I not right?

At this point Socrates will break down the mechanics of this imitative practice telling the interlocutor that there are actually three arts: those who use an object, those who make the real object, and those who imitate the maker (by representing the real object in some external medium: writing, painting, sculpture, etc.).  Which leads Socrates by circumambulation to summoning up so far his argument: “Thus far, then, we are pretty well agreed that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic poets, whether they write in iambic or in heroic verse, are imitators in the highest degree?” Again, the poor interlocutor will agree with this reasoning. What other recourse does he have? Socrates adept at such negative dialectics knows what he is doing. Socrates is seeking to show how the poets and imitators are liars and scoundrels, deceiving the populace. For as he says: “I conjure you, has not imitation been shown by us to be concerned with that which is thrice removed from the truth?” And, as we all know it is the ‘truth’ above all that seems to be Plato’s highest goal and at the heart of his attack on both imitation and the poets, Homer being the ultimate antagonist in this scenario. Why? Because it is Homer who has invented the mind of Athens, educated it in the arts of war and commerce, ritual and strategic history. All this through poetry and imitation rather than truth in Plato’s sense.

Plato through his mask, Socrates will conclude, saying,

This was the conclusion at which I was seeking to arrive when I said that painting or drawing, and imitation in general, when doing their own proper work, are far removed from truth, and the companions and friends and associates of a principle within us which is equally removed from reason, and that they have no true or healthy aim.

Plato’s ultimate dismissal of the poets and imitators is one of disgust and anathema when he sums it up in a pithy statement: “The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior, and has inferior offspring. … the imitative poet implants an evil constitution, for he indulges the irrational nature which has no discernment of greater and less, but thinks the same thing at one time great and at another small—he is a manufacturer of images and is very far removed from the truth.” The whole dialogue is a demolishen engine and critique of artists, poets, painters, and all creators of images or imitations of reality.

Finally, Plato comes to the crux of his argument and his attack on the poetasters of his day, saying,

Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life according to him, we may love and honor those who say these things—they are excellent people, as far as their lights extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, pleasure and pain will be kings in your state, and not law and the rational principle that is always judged best for the common interest.

It’s the attack on those imitative poets (“honeyed muse”) who sing outside the boundaries of Law and Reason that are his true enemies. For above all Plato sought to codify and regulate the education and life of Athens through the power of Law and Reason rather than the irrational musings of poets and tongue-twisted sophists. Ultimately Plato sought to control the thought and mind of Athens through the binding of truth and knowledge under Law, Logic and Reason. Everything outside this would henceforth be excluded and dismissed as irrational and untruth. Plato’s binding of reality to truth, and lies and irrationalism to appearance began that long process of regulating and fusing Western Civilization under a monolithic system of governance and manipulation. Ousting speech and enforcing the written (discursive, prose) would not only allow Plato to capture the mind of Athens it would externalize the perceptions and memories of its history, regulating its life across time through the codification of Law and Reason.

Erich Auerbach in his classic Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature reiterated the basic premises and axiomatic framework underlying Western Civilization’s conceptions of our representations of reality:

Imitation of reality is imitation of the sensory experience of life on earth— among the most essential characteristics of which would seem to be its possessing a history, its changing and developing. Whatever degree of freedom the imitating artist may be granted in his work, he cannot be allowed to deprive reality of this characteristic, which is its very essence.1

This notion of logic and reason working through time and history to enact and subordinate the human through processes of enslavement and capture by way of modeling (i.e., the imitation of patterns, images, representations, etc.) comes to a head in Kant’s systematics of modernity. As Nick Land argued “that with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Western cultural history culminates in a self-reflecting bourgeois civilization, because his thought of synthesis (or relation to alterity), and also the strangulation of this thought within his system, captures modernity as a problem. But the modernity thus symptomized by its philosophical exposition is not primarily the penultimate phase of a dialectic of society and production, it is rather the necessity that historically itself – expansionary social and economic development, or ‘synthesis’ – compromises with a profound continuity whose basic aspects are on the one hand patrilineal descent, and on the other a formal logic of identity that was already concluded in its essentials by Aristotle. These two aspects, the genealogical and the logical, are functions of a position of abstract masculine subjectivity coincident with the patronymic. This position is the proto-cultural fundament of everything that is able to count as the same.” 3

For Kant as Plato the great bugaboo is the unknown, the alterity of God, gods, noumenon, etc., all that lies outside human thought and cannot be reduced to our discursive systems of meaning. Susan Blackmore in her work The Meme Machine tells us, the Oxford English Dictionary defines meme as “an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation”.4 In his preface to Blackmore’s work Richard Dawkins would emphasize the viral infestation of these memetic imitations: “Memes travel longitudinally down generations, but they travel horizontally too, like viruses in an epidemic.” It would be William S. Burroughs who would view these memes, hyperstitions, words as viral agents of a galactic invasion, asking,

Is the virus then simply a time bomb left on this planet to be activated by remote control? An extermination program in fact? In its path from full virulence to its ultimate goal of symbiosis, will any human creature survive?5

For Burroughs the word virus was all pervasive, a producer and product of a Reality Studio that has captured our minds and weaved us into a system of enslavement and techno-commercial automatisms that are so subtle we are unaware of it. Quoting a Dr. Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz he tells us “It is worth noting that if a virus were to attain a state of wholly benign equilibrium with its host cell it is unlikely that its presence would be readily detected or that it would necessarily be recognized as a virus.” Burroughs suggests that the word is just such a virus. As he tells us “Dr. Kurt Unruh von Steinplatz has put forward an interesting theory as to the origins and history of this word virus. He postulates that the word was a virus of what he calls “biologic mutation” affecting a change in its host which was then genetically conveyed.” (JI)

In their notes on Hyperstition the Ccru assemblage would offer another extrapolation of this complex history,

In the hyperstitional model Kaye outlined, fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, reality is understood to be composed of fictions – consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective and behaviorial responses. Kaye considered Burroughs’ work to be ‘exemplary of hyperstitional practice’. Burroughs construed writing – and art in general – not aesthetically, but functionally, – that is to say, magically, with magic defined as the use of signs to produce changes in reality.6

From Plato to Zizek the realm of appearances, not reality is a project of collective and participative metafictional command and control. We are all enmeshed in illusory worlds of capture, bound by a temporal war that has produced illusory reality structures and replaced the natural order. We come up against the Real when things break down, when the fictional representations that intervene and shape the model of our perceptions and memories crumbles and falls away. It’s in such moments that the Authority bids us term it a schizophrenic episode, and its victims are diagnosed as diseased and in need of social control mechanisms, etc. The poets from Rimbaud to Trakl, Kleist to Philip K. Dick have ventured into this unregulated territory beyond he boundaries of Law and Reason.

As the Ccru metafictional crew will attest,

According to Kaye, the metaphysics of Burroughs’s ‘clearly hyperstitional’ fictions can be starkly contrasted with those at work in postmodernism. For postmodernists, the distinction between real and unreal is not substantive or is held not to matter, whereas for practitioners of hyperstition, differentiating between ‘degrees of realization’ is crucial. The hyperstitional process of entities ‘making themselves real’ is precisely a passage, a transformation, in which potentials – already-active virtualities – realize themselves. Writing operates not as a passive representation but as an active agent of transformation and a gateway through which entities can emerge. “[B]y writing a universe, the writer makes such a universe possible” (WV 321).

It’s this active participation in our own production of reality, of re-writing and re-programming the scripts of the Authority or System which is operative in the radical underground systems of counter-revolutionary poetry and other arts. Against the keepers of Reality we have termed the Authority (Reality Studio) these subversive agents have appeared across the ages here and there through the auspices of hermetic, magical, Kabbalistic, and other arcane lore and practices to supervene in and instigate emergency exits and escapes from the enclosure of the dark Reality Matrix. Such films as the Matrix idealize this and Romanticize it and thereby bring it back down into the imitative world of the Same and repetitive disallowing any true awakening from these structures into a functional disturbance. Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus will remind us,

For there simultaneously occurs upon the earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: stratification. Strata are Layers, Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strata are acts of capture, they are like “black holes” or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach. They operate by coding and territorialization upon the earth; they proceed simultaneously by code and by territoriality. The strata are judgments of God; stratification in general is the entire system of the judgment of God (but the earth, or the body without organs, constantly eludes that judgment, flees and becomes destratified, decoded, deterritorialized).7

What they term the “judgement of God” we acknowledge as the Authority or Reality Studio that has locked us in a cage of fictions, bled us of our desires and trapped us in a repetitive world of timeless presentism without a future.

I know that most of the above seems strange and conspiratorial, that it appears to align philosophers, scientists, sociologists, politicians, thinkers, etc. in a system of slavery and reality production. Crazy as it must be (and I’m sure many readers will see it as mere satire, spoof, and madness) it has certain truths that cannot be conveyed any other way.

I’ll continue tomorrow…

  1. Auerbach, Erich; Said, Edward W.. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton Classics) (p. 191). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Plato. Republic (Kindle Locations 6836-6838). Barnes&Noble. Kindle Edition.
  3. Land, Nick. eds. Ray Brassier/Robin Mackay. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007. (Urbanomic, 2011) FN (p. 60)
  4. Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (p. viii). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Burroughs, William S. The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 47-49). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  6. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 487-490). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
  7. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 1004-1010). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.