Have fun all… going to take a few weeks off and go up to my cabin in Wyoming/Montana region. Frolic in the snow, see friends, make merry, enjoy some flames on a hearth… hard to do that here in the desert. 🙂
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
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.
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!”
- Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (p. 52). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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: here) I 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.
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 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
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
- Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (pp. 21-22). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
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!”
- 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.
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.
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!
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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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
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.”
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.”
“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.
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).
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
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.
“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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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….
- James Joyce. Finnegans Wake (Kindle Locations 6118-6122). Penguin Adult. Kindle Edition.
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.
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)
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?
The oblivion of sun,
rain spun mist seeping,
grappling with this emptiness.
—Steven Craig Hickman ©2016
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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
- Theory and Theorists. “Nietzsche’s Burst of Laughter,” Interview with Gilles Deleuze. April 17, 2014.
- Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Penguin Classics (May 26, 2009)
Edmund Berger with a review of David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century.
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…
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