The Anti-God in the Sewers: Werewolves, Rats, and Poetry

“Let us not forget that philosophy is also primate psychology; that our loftiest speculations are merely picking through a minuscule region of the variegated slime encrusting a speck of dust.”      – Nick Land, Spirit and Teeth

“Your words, Euthyphro, are like the handiwork of my ancestor Daedalus; and if I were the sayer or propounder of them, you might say that my arguments walk away and will not remain fixed where they are placed because I am a descendant of his.”      – Socrates


Nick Land finds neither a god in the sewers and underworlds, nor even the ancient leprous visage of a comic Yahweh hiding in shadows, so much as he does his poseur, an imposter and fretful son, a shapeshifting shaman or Loki of the dark labyrinths – a werewolf and Rat King of an “inferior race” (Rimbaud). Such a creature is neither prodigal nor charmed, but rather the last fragmentary hope of a broken and threadbare messiah, not of truth and life, but of death and despair: a god of mud and slime living among the black and brown rats like a subterranean king in the cesspool of a tumorous thought. No longer the great god of the Old Testament, this forgotten shadow Yahweh mimicry lives among his own brethren and inferiors, regressed to his true form as the King of Rats and Werewolves: his vermin-core eating alive all those false religions and philosophies that still inhabit this dark bunghole of our globe.

This is the vision of poets, one such as Georg Trakl (the lycanthropic metamorphosis of god into beast, into rat, being fed by a young boy during those twilight moments between day and night):

“In the evening, the father became an old man; in dark rooms the mother’s face petrified, and the curse of the degenerated race weighed on the boy. Sometimes he remembered his childhood filled with sickness, terror and eclipse, secret games in the garden of stars, or feeding the rats in the dusking courtyard. From the blue mirror the narrow figure of the sister stepped and he fell as if dead into darkness. At night his mouth burst open like a red fruit and stars gleamed over his speechless grief. His dreams filled the ancient house of the fathers. In the evening he liked to walk over the ruined cemetery or watch the corpses in the dusking crypts, with green stains of rot on their beautiful hands” (Georg Trakl, Dream and Derangement).

Land tells us that “animality is not a state, essence, or genus, but a complex cross – cut by voyages of all kinds” (54). [1] This is the black world of dead-ends and stagnant sumps, open flows: a world in which things emerge multiple, fluid, unpredictable, shadow realms in which the enemy of humankind is a mutable excess metamorphosing, lupine and murine, a volcanic eruption of pure productivity without closure. As Land says, these “intensive sequences cannot be isolated or determined” (54). The darkness of one speaks to the darkness of the other. Meaning wanders from slime to slime like the hidden remains of strange creatures that have gone extinct only to emerge as something else, form within form evolving under the guise of some other form, masked only by the predatory gaze of their ferine eyes. Like everything else we have little time to ponder the niceties of either poetry or philosophy, Land explodes; and, in Trakl we discover the “lycanthropic vectors of  impatience, of twitch disease, because they are the virulent relics of an indecent precipitation, an abortion, a meteoric impact” (44). Dead a twenty-seven Trakl “took very little time over anything”, unlike philosophical purveyors of ‘spirit’ (Geist) like Derrida for whom time was an interminable trace of a trace never to be closed off.  For Derrida there is infinite patience, a staying off, a tomorrow into which one can spin the meanings of meaning, impress them in their moment of passage between the abyss and sky. With such a man there is no sense of urgency, only the “prescription of painstaking care, deliberation, conscientiousness, and reverential textual devotion” (44).

Languorous and methodical “inspired by principles of decency and justice. Everything is mediated by elucidations, re-elucidations, elucidations of previous elucidations, conducted with meticulous courtesy, but never inattentive to the complicity of the concept of elucidation with the history of metaphysics from Plato to the previous paragraph of De l’esprit” (44).  This is a man for whom even God must wait, be put off, stubbornly refused his day in the sun until just the right moment when the appropriate and appropriated words can be found: formed, shaped, and spun into a web of deceit, a lie against all anteriority, against both past and future – a staying of the hand of that impossible possible finitude (44), which only the interminable passage of ghosts can differ within the silence between two mourning alterity’s…

For Trakl and Rimbaud there is only the beast, the instinctive knowledge of the forest and the jungle, the emergence of slime in a dust born germ: the human into wolf, a darker force measuring itself against all darkness. The nihil gazing into the Void out of which the Nihil gazes back: a black thought in a black void silenced only by its own merciless capacity to destroy that which is not void. The broken dream of a broken god, a force that is at once life and death: the emergence of an entwined progeny – dueling twins warring against all that is, bringing with it the strange things that have no name or meaning. The positing of a non-meaning that gives rise to all meaning. Out of the gaze of humans emerges that which is not human, a force of the void that calls each to each from within the very core of a volcanic eruption that is our feral being: the ferocity of dust.

As Land tells us Derrida is not a werewolf (44). No. Werewolves “are dissipated within homolupic spiral that distances them utterly from all concern for decency or justice. Their feral physiologies are badly adapted to depressive states conducive to ethical earnestness. Instead they are propelled by extremities of libidinal tension which fragment their movements, break up their tracks with jagged discontinuities, and infest their nerves with a burning malaise, so that each gesture is baked in the kiln of ferocity” (44). Hermeneutics and deconstruction are of an other order than the dark materials of werewolves. No. One must follow the likes of Trakl to know the fast lane of the libidinal drivenness of werewolves, a philosophy of mutability and metamorphosis, a materiality that explodes all recursions to Geist. Or with Rimbaud one must affirm that one has always already been a subspecies “an inferior race” (45). As Rimbaud says: “I am not able to comprehend revolt. My race never stirs itself except for pillage: like wolves at the beast they have not killed” (45).

We werewolves of poetry are an “accursed race,” as Trakl told us; or, as his brother Rimbaud, we are a lost tribe “communicating its dirty blood in wilderness spaces of barbarian inarticulacy” 45). As Land tells us in one last dark epiphany: “Eternally aborting the prospect of a transcendental subjectivity, the inferior ones are never captured by contractual reciprocity, or by its attendant moral universalism” (45). These dark ones crave “pagan regressions”: it “is only with the greatest strictness that the superior ones repress the violent drives which lure them into inferior becomings; becoming female, black, irresponsible and nomadic, becoming an animal, a plant, a death spasm of the sun” (45). Only the cold bone moon can save such creatures from the dark nomadic wanderings of this feral abyss; the rest is Time’s cruel markings, the fragments of a void churning in an ocean of blackness:

The moon shines with such blue light
Upon the city,
Where a decaying generation
Lives, cold and evil –
I
cy winds quarrel in the darkness.

–  Georg Trakl, from both The Evening and The Rats

As Land would surmise in a sister essay,

The death of God is a religious event – a transgression, experiment in damnation, and stroke of antitheistic warfare – but this is not to say it is pre-eminently a crime. Hell has no interest in our debauched moral currency. To confuse reactive dabblings in sin with expeditions in damnation is Christian superficiality; the Dantean error of imagining that one could earn oneself an excursion in Hell, as if the infernal too was a matter of justice. Our crimes are mere stumblings on the path to ruin, just as every projected Hell on Earth is a strict exemplar of idolatry. Transgression is not criminal action, but tragic fate; the intersection of an economically programmed apocalypse with the religious antihistory of poetry. It is the inevitable occurrence of impossibility, which is not the same as death, but neither is it essentially different. (my italics)


  1. Of Derrida, Heidegger, and spirit ed. David C. Wood, Spirit and Teeth by Nick Land (Northwestern University 1993)

The Figure of the Fanatic: Kant’s End Game for Western Civilization

Reading Nick Land is always an exercise in honesty. He want pull he wool over your eyes. No. Instead he’ll strip you of all your illusions and delusions, leave you naked in the midst of a world of fanatics. In his essay ‘Delighted to Death’ he takes a quote from Emil Cioran writing about the differences between that ancient world of the Chinese Taoist, Lao Tzu whose practice of intense quietude is shown to be at war with the whole tradition of Western culture and civilization. Why? Simply put: Our culture is built upon the thirst for violent and ecstatic annihilation, we seek the total obliteration of all barriers to freedom, seek to overthrow all that upholds our minds, our hearts, our loves, our hates; we seek transcendence from the one thing we cannot transcend, our miserable lives.

As Land remarks,

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.1

In his A Short History of Decay Cioran would elaborate further, saying: “Far from diminishing the appetite for power, suffering exasperates it; hence the mind feels more comfortable in the society of a braggart than in that of a martyr; and nothing is more repugnant to it than the spectacle of dying for an idea. . . .”2 Land, a remarkable reader of Kant, would use that philosopher as the true figure of the fanatic, the culmination of our Western heritage in fanaticism. Kant would for Land typify the figure of the Secular Martyr – a fanatic for the universal:

It is worth remembering that a glimpse into Kant’s philosophy was sufficient to drive Kleist to suicide, and that Schopenhauer found in it the ethical imperative that existence be denied. Perhaps neither of these writers were ecclesiastical enough to enjoy the ghoulish cruelties that Kant explored. For Kant was a consummate saint, a cheerful man. He was not a stoic, but rather, faithful to his Christian heritage, a voluptuary of defeat.

A master of renunciation, a martyr of reason, a seeker of perfection and transcendence Kant would promote pain over pleasure, or to put it more succinct he would see in the perfection of pain the completed and satisfaction of pleasure. As Land echoes from Kant’s Anthropology, published in 1798, where Kant tells us:

Satisfaction is the feeling of the promotion; pain that of the obstruction of life. But life (of animals) is, as doctors have already noted, a continuous play of the antagonism of the two. Thus before every satisfaction there must first be pain; pain is always first. Because what would proceed from a continual promotion of living force, which does not let itself climb above a certain grade, other than a rapid death from delight?

Freud would learn a great deal from Kant and the suicidal poets that both feared and respected him. Yet, as Pierre Klossowski will tell us in his study of Nietzsche for whom Kant served as the figure of end game of Western culture and civilization:

A society believes itself to be morally justified through its scientists and artists. Yet the very fact that they exist – and that their creations exist – is evidence of the disintegrating malaise of the society; and it is by no means clear that they will be the ones to reintegrate the society, at least if they take their activity seriously.3

Decadence is at the heart of this pleasurable annihilation, a thirst that offers the organic animality within the human a return to its death driven dreams. Land commenting on this dark truth reminds us,

Uninhibited pleasure does not tend to the benefit of the organism, but rather, to its immolation. Or, more precisely, the enhancement of life is intrinsically bound to its abolition. Life is not consumed by death at its point of greatest depression, but at its peak, and inversely; it is only the brake provided by suffering that preserves the organism in its existence. It is pain that spares life for something other than an immediate and annihilating delight. So Kant suggests that pleasure is the combustion of life, and we survive by smouldering.

Ever a critic of the heritage of Christianity, Land will see in Kant the primal figure of the new religion of Capital, a religion that secularized the Christian art of martyrdom but promoting endless work and accumulation against the all too easy expenditure of pleasure and fulfillment. Rather Kant like a good Christian would have us renounce earthly pleasures of bodily love and endless delights in life for the never-ending delights of capital gain.  Commenting on Kant’s marriage of bourgeois capitalism with Christian fortitude and martyrdom says: “Only religion speaks the sort of language that could possibly affirm the conclusive loss of terrestrial pleasure, such as that which is represented by the subordination of consumption to the amassing of productive resources.” We would come to know it as the work ethic of the Germans which was adopted by the nations of this Western system of martyrdom and utilitarian dreams.

Land will cite several passages on the history of Christian martyrdom (which I’ll not quote) to make explicit the mindset of this old philosophaster from Konigsberg:

Kant learnt from Protestantism and secularism the necessity for internal discipline, so that, to a degree that was without philosophical precedent, he became the source of his own persecution. In the modem age, martyrdom has to become more systematic, independent of psychological and historical accident, or, to use Kant’s word, autonomous. Kant describes this new passional experience as sublime, and the theory corresponding to it is to be found in his Critique of Judgment.

Austerity.  A set of economic policies imposed on economies such as: cutting the state’s budget to stabilize public finances, restore competitiveness through wage cuts and create better investment expectations by lowering future tax burdens. Policies grouped under the term ‘austerity measures’ may include spending cuts, tax increases, or a mixture of both, and may be undertaken to demonstrate the government’s fiscal discipline to creditors and credit rating agencies by bringing revenues closer to expenditures.

In out time whole nations are forced into renunciation, bound within the secular martyrdom of Kant’s critique, flayed and immolated upon the dungeon heap of capitalism. We have all become martyrs in a secular religion that’s only goal is accumulation and profit. And, to top it off, we seem to relish our part in this grand pageant of secular subordination and self-flagellation. Schooled to it by two hundred years of liberal and utilitarian thought and ideology we cannot think outside its bounded vicious circle. We actually believe we deserve this state of affairs. We allow it, go with it, even cherish the painful pleasure of these austere systems of regulation and control.

In fact as Land relates it “if the subject is to find delight in the excruciation of its animality, it is the imagination that must bear the fury of holy passion, and this is indeed what Kant argues”:

that which, without our indulging in any refinements of thought, but simply in being apprehended, excites the feeling of the sublime, may appear to be frustrating for our powers of judgment, inappropriate to our faculty of presentation, and a violation of the imagination, but yet be judged even more sublime on that account.4

We relish our martyrdom within this secular pageant of Capital as if it were the only show in town: the only way, the truth, the life of our world. Like the religious fanatics of old we seek even more excruciating paths toward annihilation through the wars of politics, and the literal wars of ideology. The mediatainment façade gifts us with enemies, with the Western nations pitted against the East of Russian, China, Iran, N. Korea, etc.

For two hundred years we’ve been at school with that old master from Konigsberg, a demolition project about to be fulfilled in a final conflagration; not as one might suspect of the literal human animal and its planet, but rather of the immolation and destruction of our ancient animal cunning and natural intelligence. A martyrdom that only Kant could have dreamt up. As Land says of Kant’s new law,

Reason is something that must be built, and the site of its construction first requires a demolition. The object of this demolition is the synthetic capability that Kant refers to as the imagination, and which he exhibits as natural intelligence or animal cunning. This is the capability to act without the prior authorization of a juridical power, and it is only through the crucifixion of natural intelligence that the human animal comes to prostrate itself before universal law.

For the Romantic poets from Blake to Keats the Imagination was the figure of this animal cunning and natural intelligence innate within humans, and each of them would see in Kant’s dark immolation and imperative the destruction of the very means of poetry and life itself at the hands of philosophy. And, yet, the path of the Romantics was already a defeat at the hands of Kant, for the instigation of the Sublime was in itself only a detour into a final death at the hands of reason for the cunning intelligence of the animal and its drives under the universal law of morality. We’ve all become victims of this law of reason and martyrdom. Why? Because as Land admits,

…reason has programmatically deafened itself to the howls of the body, and it is only by means of the aesthetic detour of the sublime that the devastating effects of its sovereignty can come to be enjoyed.

We divert ourselves in the endless pursuits of inanity, our jaunts to music events, our endless hours of repetitive enjoyment of online gaming, our chit chat sessions on facebook, twitter, linked in, etc. We seek to forget ourselves, to immolate our selves, to let the drift of time flow by in immolating gestures of fanatic pleasures of pain through self-forgetting and mindless pursuits of accumulation under the secular gods of Capital. A system driven to appropriate us within its cycle of vicious violence and fanaticism. Or like those daredevils that parade before us the death defying feats of physical prowess, our Houdini’s, our Evel Knievel’s, our Philippe Petit’s, etc. who would defy the end game through temptation and glory. We, less able, allow ourselves only the immolation of unpleasureable pleasure: a life under the end game of Capital.

Squeamishness does not befit a moralist. A certain harshness is necessary if one would prevent life from being delighted to death. Such harshness, indeed, that the pathological lunge towards death rediscovers itself in the process of its own rigorous extirpation; sublimated into the thanatropic frenzy of reason. (Nick Land)


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 1745-1749). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. E.M. CIORAN. A Short History of Decay (Kindle Locations 135-137). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Klossowski, Pierre. Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. (University of Chicago Press, 1969)
  4. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, in Werksgaube, ed. W. Wieschedel, vol. 10 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1968), 14; for a recent English translation, see I. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. P. Guyer, tr. P. Guyer, E. Matthews (Cambridge/NY: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Introduction, II, 63. Ibid., 90; 129.

Metaloid Dreams of Mutant Intelligences

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

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

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

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

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

—Lyotard, Libidinal Economy

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

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Bataille’s Solar Economy of our Anti-Culture

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

-Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

Mark Fisher On Depressive Hedonia

Excerpt from Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? –

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

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


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

 

William S. Burroughs: Drugs, Language, and Control

Bill Burroughs:

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

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

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Artificial Puritans: Immortal Dreams and the Elimination of Humanity

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

´—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

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

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

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Fake News / Fake Worlds

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

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

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

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

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On Becoming Machinic: Intelligence of the Machine

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

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

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

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On Pain: Grin and Bare It

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

—Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

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

—Bob Hope, American Comedian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Red Skelton

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


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

The Last Man

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

-Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Friedrich Nietzsche


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our World a Hyperfictional Event

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

― Jorge Luis Borges

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

—William Blake

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

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

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

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

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

—William Blake

The Sly Wit Speaks

g-k-chesterton-faith

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

—G. K. CHESTERTON, ORTHODOXY

The Subtle Game

gaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Topsy-Turvy

saturnalia

It’s as if we’d stepped into Gibson’s Sprawl, but this time it’s no joke…

The world as a sandbox, a live action video game, an MMO for adults where reality becomes passé and fantasy becomes the order of the day. Over and over I keep thinking that it’s not paranoia we’re experiencing in these supposed post-truth days, rather it’s this feeling that the long awaited apocalypse happened yesterday but no one has yet awakened to that fact; and only now are we acknowledging that the world didn’t die in a bang or a whimper, but entered that static Disneyland of the mind where the only loser is reality itself.

Having closed the doors on reality the world is moving into hypertime. Now begins the age of magicians, a world where desire is meshed with its dreamscapes and people leave the Reality Studio behind for the Hall of Mirrors Funhouse. A realm of Saturnalia, a festival of madness, topsy-turvy land, where the Fool becomes President and the people run riot in the streets. Distraction and delirium set the pace of an accelerating festival of desire, and the wasteland of our collapsing civilization becomes the ultimate Reality TV show. One in which we are all guaranteed to become participants.

 

Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation – Afterthoughts…

hypernormalisatio

What I took away from Adam Curtis’s recent docu-film, HyperNormalisation was this:

The world around us is much too complex for our leaders to handle, so instead they’ve built up over the past hundred years or so a simplified vision of reality and the world and our place in it, a nice cartoon vision of the world filled with bad guys who need to be put down. Using Muammar Gaddafi Ronald Regan began a campaign against a boogeyman dictator so that he wouldn’t have to face dealing with the larger and more complex issue of Syria’s dictator – (whose son we’ve all read of in the past few years), who many in the European community of intelligence saw as the real culprit  behind many of the suicide bombings, plane bombs, and other bombings around the Middle-East and world ( a long history there!).

So instead the world’s leaders went along with the more simplified non-issue of using such figures as Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and others to blame their problems on, as stooges for whom they could carry out their illegal wars in the Middle-East, etc. of course Curtis goes into the whole system of immersive reality systems (Propaganda, Public Relations, Mind Control, manipulation galore, Rise of the Internet as a tool for command and control, algorithms and AI’s that develop and feed back the echo chamber of our current Twitter, FaceBook, echo-chambers wherein we only ever get back what we put in, etc. Radicalism democratic or otherwise being filtered away from the mainstream users into a black hole of oblivion – this later done in collusion with government and corporations, etc.).

Curtis obviously relies on sixty years of post-modern and other thought to develop his notions of HyperNormalisation – a Russian developed this concept (funny he never mentions who?): a notion that we’ve all been duped, a slow and methodical enchainment in illusionary worlds of techno-capitalism promoted by Academia, media, Corporate and Government, think-tanks, foundations, etc. A world where the future is controlled by computer modeling, closed off from us, a world simplified by algorithms that trap us in an echo-chamber of narcissism, a realm where all the feed-back mechanisms give us only our own thoughts and images back. A world where nothing changes, everything exists in an eternal now. A controlled world that even allows us to believe we are in control, that we are free, that we can change things.

Curtis went into the Arab Spring and Occupy movements detailing out our use of networks, mobiles, etc., but that not having a vision of change, of rule, of society, etc. that all of these movements ended in vacuums, leaderless and without any embodied realization of what a society based on freedom and equality would look like, etc. So many of the countries in which these uprisings occurred fell back into the hands of military or terrorist organizations instead. Or, like the Occupy movement were slowly allowed to echo themselves till people no longer could hear themselves in the echo… oblivion.

Curtis argues that an army of technocrats, complacent radicals and Faustian internet entrepreneurs have conspired to create an unreal world; one whose familiar and often comforting details blind us to its total inauthenticity. Not wishing to undersell the concept, Curtis begins the film with a shot of a torch shining limply into a thicket, so that viewers find themselves watching a flashlight in the darkness of our unknowing.

From there, HyperNormalisation tracks a course to the present day, allowing Curtis to weigh in on Trump, Putin and Syria. But those expecting a snappy crash course in our chaotic world clearly aren’t familiar with his methods. The film may address some of today’s most critical global issues, but it also allocates space to Jane Fonda, the fall of the Soviet Union and an interpellation of pre-9/11 disaster movies. And unlike Curtis’s earlier work for TV, HyperNormalisation immerses us in the illusions themselves that in our era now seem so antique and illusionary.

In some ways without ever saying it, Curtis moves back to the old school of thought that we have no clear vision of what we want. No notion of the Good Society. All we have is a varied set of grievances: all the myriad gender, race, and class bound issues under the rubric of current progressive politics. And, yet, when the democratic machine was put in office it, too, was shown to be under the thumb of the Corporate, Banking, and other financial institutions. This was the key to Curtis’s film: this notion that politics no longer matters in our world, and that most Governments are under the thumb of the Financial Dictatorship of Bankers, Lawyers, and Corporatist interests. We’ve been bound within a system of impersonalism and indifference in the US and EU in which Financial capitalism dictates to society, not democratic politics and the rule of the demos.

This is the age we have to decide whether security and safety (living in a static world controlled by computational algorithms, economics, and predictive AGI’s), outweighs our need for freedom. We’ve trapped ourselves in an immersive game of Security, a bargain with the devil of modern finance to keep the wolves at bay, but in the process we’ve allowed the world to become a Global Prison System run by impersonal agents of the Machine. Sadly the Machine is now gaining speed, accelerating past the human into an age of automation in which human’s themselves will become obsolete, obsolesced, and left out to pasture.

(I stop here, realizing that what comes next is a Vision of the Good Society. What do we want? That’s the big question… facing humanity: Security or Freedom? The good thing is that the Reality TV Show that Finance built – our Neoliberal World Vision – is crumbling around us: the Establishment does not have an answer, is foundering, no longer has a vision and its leaders are now seen for what they are: Clowns! We have a chance to revolt against this Reailty and Change it in our Generation if we will, but we need a Vision of The Good Society to which we tend… no one single thinker, artist, or creative person can come up with such a thing: now is the time when the people themselves in a collective project must come together and rethink our place in the universe for our time. This is a struggle, not a book. It’s our lives, not some fiction. We are the one’s living in a precarious age in which humans might go extinct. What will we decide? Or will we continue to blindly follow the Machine?)

The Subtractive Way


Humanity’s philosophy is additive, when it should be subtractive.

One of the reasons I’ve taken up a more Comic Pessimism is just that: as a young man I took all this so seriously, so horribly; suffered it all, etc. Then as I plundered literature, philosophy, sciences, art, politics, through all their various guises I realized that many have done the same: this is what secular culture is – this utter devastation that we were ever immersed in such fictions to begin with. And, yet, then one wakes up and realizes the same of Secularism itself; that it, too, is another grand narrative, a ficition to believe in no belief, etc.

To ironize all beliefs to the point that one is once again immersed in a belief system that one does not know is a belief. We call it believing in the truth, as if the Universe was meaningless (nihilism) to justify our escape into this new safety net. After this one comes upon that very realization and awakens to the truth that all truths are relative: the postmodern turn, that suddenly nothing is true, everything is allowed. All grand narratives are bullshit. But then again one enters a later stage and realizes that if nothing is true, or everything is true, the truth is null and void.

One enters depressive realism where one sees the nullity for what it is: a grand comedy of laughter. One becomes a trickster, a shaman, a dreamer for if we are in a mutant world where people and beliefs are malleble, changing, then what counts is one’s ability not to take any of these various systems as truth or static. But that they all represent various modalities of the human project: our drives of sex and power churning among the endless gambits of thought seeking answer to the inssoluable dilemma of being human.

Freedom is the release from the cage of our prisons: our beliefs, or disbeliefs. In the end one either goes totalliy mad, or one accepts that we are fallible animals with limited reasoning powers and will always be doing what we are doing now over and over and over again. Twain in a humorous moment said the best a writer can do is “dip his pen in hell”. Of which we partake, repetitively, compulsively, endlessly. This is life. Humans cannot remain without some guideposts, so there being no outer truth, we invent a thousand and one tales to add.

Humanity’s philosophy is additive, when it should be subtractive. If we subtracted all our human meanings, depleted the universe of the human what remains?

What happened to Democracy?

To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really?

– BBC, promotion of The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, the father of propaganda used Freud’s early work to shape the progressive era isolationists of the U.S. through manipulation of mass media of that era. With a media campaign full of lies and mythical stories Bernays presented story after story of half-truths through silent-films, newsprint, magazines, etc. to sway people from their isolationist policies. Working for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information, he was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. This slogan became the key component in his campaign and was attached to a myriad of products, labels, eye catching signs, ads in stores, in newpapers, etc. across the nation. He had awakened the emotions of the American popular imagination and released certain innate desires.

Bernays was influenced by the French writer Gustave LeBon, the originator of crowd psychology, and of Wilfred Trotter, who promoted similar ideas in the anglophone world in his book Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War. Bernays refers to these two names in his writings. Trotter, who was a head and neck surgeon at University College Hospital, London, read Freud’s works, and it was he who introduced Wilfred Bion, whom he lived and worked with, to Freud’s ideas. When Freud fled Vienna for London after the Anschluss, Trotter became his personal physician, and Wilfred Bion and Ernest Jones became key members of the Freudian psychoanalysis movement in England, and would develop the field of Group Dynamics, largely associated with the Tavistock Institute where many of Freud’s followers worked. Thus ideas of group psychology and psychoanalysis came together in London around World War II.

He would realize after the war that what had worked in shaping peoples imaginations to got to war would work just as well for businesses, so he created the first private public relations firm in the U.S. Realizing that the term propaganda had negative connotations he switched it to public relations to soften its power. He was able to influence the political, social, and business elite that his ideas and methods could be used to sale products and manipulate peoples desires to effect behavioral change. Walter Lippmann, a leading progressive intellectual would write a book Public Opinion to earmark a critical assessment of functional democratic government, especially the irrational, and often self-serving, social perceptions that influence individual behavior, and prevent optimal societal cohesion. The descriptions of the cognitive limitations people face in comprehending their socio-political and cultural environments, proposes that people must inevitably apply an evolving catalogue of general stereotypes to a complex reality. This notion that the mass man in the street was a full of contradictory and somewhat dangerous emotions, that he was in effect an irrational being that needed the guidance and governance of an elite of experts and public officials would guide both government and business practices in the coming decades. Some say such ideas still guide decision making processes around the globe.

Edward Bernays just before WWII would help his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to escape his native Austria, allowing him and his daughter Anna to go to England. As part of this gesture he was able to get his uncle to buy into publishing his complete works into English in the United States. Freud hated the U.S. but consented to the publishing of his works. It was from that time that the influence of psychoanalysis and the theories of Freud would become mainstream business in the U.S. Curtis in his documentary ties most of this history together in a narrative of power, influence, and control both political and corporate as different forces vied with each other to incorporate Freudian theory and practice into the new consumerist society arising in the U.S. and U.K.

In 1939 Freud would die of cancer and leave his legacy in the capable hands of his daughter Anna. She would become the iron leader of the psychoanalytic movement from that time forward, promoting her father’s work at every opportunity even to the point of covering up its underlying failures. What’s of interest in this tale as we follow Curtis’s narrative is the manipulation of humans by both governments and business without any sense of ethical oversight. At every step of the way the underlying mythology of Freud of the irrational sexual and aggressive nature of humans is never questioned. And, when it is done so by such Freudians as Wilhelm Reich, the power of the mythology of a pseudo-scientistic psychology becomes the arm of the State to expunge such dissidents and silence them through legal pressure. Isolated and alone, Reich would develop a set of liberatory theories based not on sex and aggression, but on desire and emancipation as the driving force within humans. This force he would give a name: orgone energy, another mythic icon, revealing the notion that humans did not as in Freud need to be constrained, repressed, and controlled because of their irrational emotions, but rather they needed just the opposite the release from those repressive constraints that warped their characters and forced them into molds and conforming restraints that turned innocence into the deadly monstrous demons of repression. He tried to show how leaders in Fascism had manipulated these repressed desires and channeled them toward other ends using ritual, myth, and sacred scapegoating techniques as old as humanity. Rene Girard and other scholars would later show how such behavior was based on mimetic techniques in all societies in one form or another.

Be that as it may, Reich was ousted from the Congress of Psychoanalysis by Anna Freud herself for his heresies. Curtis presents this and much more about Anna and her promotion of Freud’s theories across the Ocean. Bernays himself would be one of those that would use his own public relations firm to promote these ideas in lectures to businesses around the country, thereby informing and building the consumer society we see around us today. His early branding techniques and ad campaigns, along with trendy slogans, etc. would speak to the mass individual’s desires rather than reason They felt that one could bypass reason and go directly to peoples desires and manipulate them through attraction, allure, and other affective techniques to buy products. Such things did not go unnoticed by those in Germany in the thirties.

It would be Joseph Goebbels himself who would notice that “task of centrally leading both propaganda and education, uniting two concepts that are related but not identical, molding them into a unity that in the long term can serve the government and people.”1 Better than most Goebbels would cut to the core and realize the essential elements of the propaganda system:

Propaganda too has a system. It cannot be made any old way. In the long run, it can only be effective in the service of great ideals and far-seeing principles. And propaganda must be learned. It must be led only by people with a fine and sure instinct for the often changeable feelings of the people. They must be able to reach into the world of the broad masses and draw out their wishes and hopes. The effective propagandist must be a master of the art of speech, of writing, of journalism, of the poster and of the leaflet. He must have the gift to use the major methods of influencing public opinion such as the press, film and radio to serve his ideas and goals, above all in an age of advancing technology.

This notion of fusing propaganda, media and education would allow Goebbels to engender a new form of governance and social control; one he learned from Bernays and Lippmann. For as Guy Debord and so many others have recounted over the years, we are immersed in a propaganda machine, an infosphere of ideology that surrounds us like an invisible envelope, a transparent bubble of information and data that shapes us through powerful Information and Communications Technologies that have been naturalized for the most part in our lives like a seamless dream.

After WWII the consumer society would enter a new phase. With soldiers returning from war, with industry change over from war to civilian economies, with the need to build a new world in which the mass consumer would be taught to buy, consume, and discover the obsolescence of last years product and the need for this years. The capitalist utopia of conformity and compliance shifted gears into hyper-consumption and obsolescence, composition and decomposition, the endless cycle of production and consumption; profit over people. People wanted things, lots of things, a complete house and yard full of things. It was during this era that the greatest control device known to man up to that time was introduced: the television. Television created the couch potato, the passive citizen locked into watching endless cartoons, war films, romances, westerns, crime shows, etc. A world that could be controlled and manipulated by the elites for the elites, the perfect system in which to teach the new consumer society not only what to buy, but how to live, how to behave, how to become what the elites wanted them to become. One can go back and watch many of these early black and white shows from different venues around the web and study the power of this media to shape these fifties citizens. I don’t have time to go into a listing of shows, etc. William Boddy’s book Fifties Television: THE INDUSTRY AND ITS CRITICS gives an informed look at this history for those interested. Tons of related works on media theory and its use as control and propaganda system are available in sociological, psychological, and legal, marketing, and other literatures. Fascinating to see the hype of public opinion, and the actual workings in the backgrounds as elites controlled and manipulated the systems for economic and governmental agendas.

The slow process of remythologizing society over the past century has been a fascinating study in itself. The quirky systems of information management and public relations of Bernays became over a hundred years the emergence of an industry that’s only purpose is to deceive, manipulate, and entertain its consumers as producers of their own desires to consume endlessly.

Think of it with the new neurosciences big business is learning to intervene directly into your actual physical systems now. Just as the early marketers learned from Freud, then from the Human Potential Movement. The problem with the Matrix we live in is that it seems to be crumbling around the edges, it seems to be breaking down, and all the nuts, bolts, hype will never put it back together again.  So goes the story…

For Bernays, Goebbels, and any number of media relations propagandists and manipulators of Public Opinion the keys were to simplify, riddle the world dramatic, formulate the clichés that can bolster the most vibrant enthusiasm. Bernays once said of the average Joe on the street:

The mental equipment of the average individual consists of a mass of judgments on most of the subjects which touch his daily physical or mental life. These judgments are the tools of his daily being and yet they are his judgments, not on a basis of research and logical deduction, but for the most part dogmatic expressions accepted on the authority of his parents, his teachers, his church, and of his social, his economic and other leaders.

Most of us don’t want to believe we are less than individuals, that we’re closer to an amalgam of competiting opinions (doxa) and judgements not our own, and that for all our deep and abiding belief in the notion of the liberal individual Self / Subject what we are in the end is nothing but these floating bits of ideas circulating in that indistinct social assembly system we term society, culture, or —the Symbolic Order. The point here is that most humans are walking clichés, their minds riddled with thoughts and judgements not their own. Which brings us to the old argument of Copy and Simulacrum, or Originality and Plagiarism, Public and Individual Mind. Adding to the mix, postmodern literary theory reminds us that nothing is wholly original-that we depend on remixing and reusing the past, adding to or remaking old plots, insights, and ideas. Across disciplines and fields, we find that plagiarism is not a simple wrong; a full understanding of its role in contemporary intellectual life depends on a broad approach that includes notions of what is original and what role imitation plays in the creation of new texts, individuals, and societies.

It was Montaigne who noted that all knowledge is public property. Rousseau challenged the alternative notion of private property saying it was the cause of every major disaster to befall human society. In his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality he warned us to beware of the imposter who would have you believe property can be private, and admonished us lest we become lost and “forget that the fruit belongs to everyone, and the earth to no one.” Every legal notion of copyright is based on private property laws. But as Eliot once said, the “Originals were never original anyway,” then what is it that is private?

As numerous contributors remind us, at no time has copyright law guaranteed complete control over an individual work or property. All this reminded me of the recent suit brought by the country of Iceland against a British food chain, Iceland Ltd. for infringement on copyright law. As the Food Chain said in a statement: “While we will vigorously defend Iceland Foods’ established rights where there is any risk of confusion between our business and Iceland the country, we have been trading successfully for 46 years under the name Iceland and do not believe that any serious confusion or conflict has ever arisen in the public mind, or is likely to do so.”

The use of “public mind” as a legal defense in the above is almost hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious case and precedent. Yet, isn’t this at the heart of the essay: the distance between public/private has become indecipherable over the past couple hundred years. We used to hold that the barriers between public and private were essential for a democracy. But we’ve seen the barriers slowly erode and disappear in the past few decades to the point that the public and private as categories of political, or even legal systems means nothing anymore. In a world dominated by digital reproduction and mass replication of data we’ve entered a new era. “Piracy” has become a favorite word to describe even legal copying of material because in the digital age the potential arises to make millions of copies easily.

Even DNA/RNA has become a hot topic in the public/private debates. With cloning and replication, 3D Printers enabled to replicate anything from weapons to biosynthetic molecules we’re living in a realm of CRISPERS and DYI Genetics. The world is becoming strangers day by day, but so is the command and control systems. Surveillance or the replication of the ‘eye’ and ‘gaze’ of the legal and State machine to strip the world of all its hidden spaces and privacy is becoming more and more important in the larger megacities. Civilization is mutating at an accelerating pace into a multitude of niche markets and worlds as if sociocultural evolution was exploding beyond the old public/private distinctions.

If the public/private distinction no longer holds then what about democracy itself? Can we say that in the world where nothing is private and everything has become unoriginal and a copy of a copy to the point that individuality no longer exists and we’ve all become ‘dividuals’  – mere datablips in an organized Surveillance State then what remains of the Enlightenment dreams of Reason? Bernays would once admonish his readers: “The only difference between “propaganda” and “education,” really, is in the point of view. The advocacy of what we believe in is education. The advocacy of what we don’t believe in is propaganda. Each of these nouns carries with it social and moral implications. Education is valuable, commendable, enlightening, instructive. Propaganda is insidious, dishonest, underhand, misleading.”

But then again “belief” is in itself a question of Opinion, public or otherwise. So that GroupThink becomes the order of the day, and what one group believes becomes Law and Education. To hook such a notion to the State is insidiousness itself. Are we not seeing this in our own current and past governments. Hasn’t democracy been under such a dark and secret heritage from the beginning? Have we ever truly had a democracy in America, or was it a trick of propaganda and public relations all along? Socrates once admonished that he was an ignorant man, maybe this is a good place to acknowledge just how ignorant we have all become. That for all our modern and post-modern elitism most of our academics, scholars, intellectuals, philosophers, scientists are all under the illusion of living in a democracy when in fact its never been one but in name and myth. Is it time to wake up yet?


  1. Goebbels, Joseph (2009-05-31). Goebbels on the Power of Propaganda (Kindle Locations 34-35). Shamrock Eden Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Bernays, Edward L.. Crystallizing Public Opinion (Kindle Locations 962-968). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Feudalistic Corporate Empire vs. First Americans?

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Little has been represented in the Feudalistic Corporate Media of late on the dark encroachment of Oil upon the Sacred Burial Grounds on the Sioux Nation. Last night a tipping point was breached by the armed enforcers of that Corporate Empire that hovers over North Dakota like the forked tongued lies of a feudal empire. In sub-freezing cold tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and concussion grenades were deployed on 400 protesters trapped on the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806, just north of the main protest camp.

“They were attacked with water cannons,” said LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux tribe member and founder of the Sacred Stone camp. “It is 23 degrees [-5 °C] out there with mace, rubber bullets, pepper spray, etc. They are being trapped and attacked. Pray for my people.”

And, this in the supposed Land of the Free. No more. Big Oil applying its will and backed by the Feudal Empire of American Law and Justice stomps upon the rights of First Americans in their own lands.

Since the North Dakota Access Pipeline was first announced in 2014, opposition to it has slowly gathered momentum, culminating in high-profile protests last week.

The Reason it is being built?

The oil potential in North Dakota’s Bakken formation is huge. Oil was first discovered there in the 1950s and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the region holds an available 7.4 billion barrels of oil.

The 1,172-mile project is expected to carry nearly half a million barrels of crude oil daily—enough to make 374.3 million gallons of gasoline per day—from the hydrofracked sites in the Bakken formation in northwestern North Dakota  through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois. From Illinois, shippers can access Midwest, East Coast, and Gulf Coast markets. The project is also referred to as the Bakken Oil Pipeline, named for the oil-rich area in North Dakota.

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Applied Ballardianism: Satire & Parody

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How many people remember the great parodies of late modernism? I’m thinking of both Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlienspiel (or, Magister Ludi: The Glass-Bead Game), Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, or work from Italo Calvino, Stanislaw Lem, or even Jorge-Luis Borges. I remember both Hesse’s and Mann’s pseudo-biographies of fictional figures of their times were written and introduced by academic bores and pedants. Both men in their exchanged letters to each other even admitted the comic and parodic element in both fictions which many scholars even to this day take seriously rather than as comic satires on the state of knowledge and culture of their respective eras.

A new online work by Simon Sellars of Ballardian fame, which I assume will eventually be a published work in book form is coming to fruition that seems to fit that same gambit for our own time in comic relief and scholarly pastiche and parody; or, if not, then a work in process published on Applied Ballardianism. Simon Sellars is well known for his Ballardian site which gave us up to date interviews, critiques, exposes, fiction, and news, etc. on the late J.G. Ballard. The new site seems to take it a step further by presenting a pseudo-scholarly work and theory on Ballard in a fictionalize form and space of imaginal possibility.

In the section of the site under About we are introduced to a strange figure in the personage of a man (whose anonymity remains, his name is never disclosed) one who as the pseudo-scholar Dr Ricardo Battista, School of Specialisation in Cryogenics, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Hartwell University, Melbourne, Australia tells us left a work on J.G. Ballard named: Applied Ballardianism: A Theory of Nothing.

The said Dr Ricardo Battista as academic bore presents the figure of the anonymous theoretician as a mad man, an apophenic-schizophrenic whose ruminations in the first-person singular seem more like the conspiracist ravings of a fringe lunatic. As Battista describes it “‘Apophenia’, broadly speaking, describes a schizotypal cognitive condition—the mental state of perceiving patterns in meaningless, random and unrelated data. William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition brought apophenia to public attention.” The man who is never named once worked for the Dr as a research assistant. It was at that time he began to notice the subject’s – as he terms him – peculiarities,

For our subject, apophenia, filtered through his Ballardian lens, coloured his worldview so completely that he begin to perceive a paranormal element to Ballard’s work—the sense that the work was a conduit to other dimensions. He fell into the precise hell of the self-aware paranoiac, simultaneously ‘within’ and ‘without’ his inverted reality. He believed conspiracy theory to be the ‘people’s novel’—a chance for ordinary citizens to construct a fiction that opposed the dominant narratives of media, culture and politics.

Our interlocutor condemns at every turn the man’s writings, life, and work exposing his strange behavior and almost criminal fall into paranoia as he vanishes from at first the University, then his job at a local factory, then his wanderings that lead him to Australia’s outback. All that is left is the desultory task for the Dr to publish the work at hand because he alone was given the tedious task to executor of the man’s will. If not for this he’d of disowned the whole thing. As he says, snidely: “Our subject fancies himself a philosopher, yet his insight is too superficial and reckless to justify that stance. Thus, when his argument falls away, he reverts to first-person anecdotes out of a crippling sense of inadequacy and the document becomes a pathetic memoir again, yet it doesn’t work on that level either, being too self-indulgent and too larded with self-pity, even allowing for the excesses of that genre, to have any kind of literary merit.” So much so that his final words tell us:

While I highly doubt this book will be read by a great many people or that the ideas within it will be taken seriously by anyone working in Ballard Studies (given how cringeworthy and repellent the first-person material is, like the confessions of an imbecile, and how unscholarly and deranged the apophenic-paranormal elements are), with these final words I complete my obligation as the subject’s last academic employer, as decreed by his will, and beg my colleagues’ forgiveness for appearing within these pages.

May God have mercy on my soul.

The rest of the posts are snippets and fragments from the fictional theoretical work of the anonymous author. Under the first entry we see an encyclopedic list of influence machines moving from Ballard and William Gibson (SciFi) and ending in the Borges flowing through the said author. In Purple Light we see the young psychonaut wandering through Dubai “flattened under glass, observing this unborn dead city,” already in fusion between landscape and the mental states of some surreal mutation. One moves from there to a travelogue of entries that submerge the mind of the traveler in a world where the Ballardian flux and the Real seem to waver into each other, where one is never sure where the one ends and the other begins. Photographs from these travelgrams permeate each page in the cycle like amphibious beasts scuttling across the website revealing nothing so much as ‘nothing’ in particular. One is never sure if the image is image or a flash card for a new form of psychological warfare bringing with it new and vivid reminders of our ruinous age.

In the final installment, or the latest one? —we meet a paranoid tripster who enters the author’s life, a nurse masked bandit of psychic traumas. Our author, who seems in this place to be in Melbourne, Australia awakens from his strange journey like a fragmented Picasso painting, his “face was a bloody mess. My nose had been smashed to the side like a Picasso painting, my left ear was sliced almost in two and the lower half of my upper front teeth had sheared away.”

Like our own fragmented lives we are pitched into this tome without support or anchor, wandering through vignettes of a life that may or may not resemble actuality, but are assured to fit the world of our dark wastelands across a global disaster zone that has yet to find its apocalyptic finish. In the end maybe there is no end, only the fragments of a journey without beginning or end, a clock-work periodical of theory-fictions that dribble out of the madness of our age, encyclicals to the dementia and paranoia of our apophatic times.


One can find more on the new site: http://www.appliedballardianism.com/

 

Why Am I Writing Country Noir?

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Sometime I’m going to do a blog post on the Followmeter about watching my followers rise and fall according to if I’m writing essays, politics, stories, poetry, or philosophy… I get a laugh at how I gain or lose people following me based on assumptions.  It’s like a comedy meter for me watching people come and go so anonymously without ever knowing why … we live on the net in our private hells, and other lonely people wander by, sit for a while, listen to us patter about nonsense, then leave for parts unknown without ever leaving a trace except the little meter ball that flicks up or down… sad really that communication and community have become nothing more than a button pushed or unpushed; a like or not like button world, a sort of preview of the next wave of our automated society as the neutered minds of the mobile phone generation fade in or fade out based on whim. I joined Wattpad recently and was told to shorten all my stories into small chunks so all the millions of mobile phone users could flip through my stories easier. We’ve become a mobile nation that sees the 3 inch screen of a diode while the rest of the universe goes unnoticed and expelled from consciousness like a faded dream of reality that has been replaced by this plug’n play universe of text messages, and photomatrilia extravaganzas and youtube spawn casts… yet, a funny thing about technology, it comes back to bite you in the ass. Yes, it does. Now mobiles have become weapons and spies onto the corruptions of the world, letting the darkness seep into the viral plumage of this worldwide monster, with her webbing strung across nations and the planet to link the underworlds together in some nefarious three-ring circus of pornography, sex-slaves, and cyberwarfare. Now the world has come home to the small towns across this ancient land, dispersed its meth and heroin, its broken love and sweet promises of foreign dreams to buy and bring home to roost. Our world is no longer separate and alone, but very much overcrowded by monsters everywhere in this virtual nation of horrors. Now you can hide among the darkest corners of the darknet and commit acts of fatal madness and never leave your porch where the old hound dog is sleeping. Now the country is a hellzone for predatory minds everywhere, unbounded by the old causal chains of physical prowess it can move among the symbolic waves like a spring board to catastrophes never dreamed of in the pulp age.

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The Discontent of Our Desires

For Schopenhauer the labors of desire were never quenched, slaves of our needs we assume not only natural cravings, but unnatural or abstract ones as well: ambition, power, money…

As Frederick C. Beiser  informs us:

The main contention of [Schopenhauer’s] argument is that we inevitably acquire new needs, which grow in intensity, so that it becomes increasingly harder to satisfy them (V, 347). This adds a completely new dimension to the life of desire, because it is not only that the same needs regenerate but that we acquire new ones, which have no natural limit and which grow the more we satisfy them. Schopenhauer’s example for this kind of need is ambition. We are not satisfied with just a little recognition; we demand more and more, until we achieve fame; and once we are a little famous, we want to be more so. Schopenhauer could have chosen other examples, such as money and power, which were favorite targets of the Stoic and Epicurean traditions. Of these too we can say that the more we have of them, the more we want them, where there is no limit to how much we want. But the greater our wants, the harder it becomes to satisfy them, so that the feeling of discontent only grows.1

The amazing trick here is that capitalism hooked into this little trick of human need and desire, developing a whole consumer society based on it; and then set it loose upon the natural order of the world where it doesn’t exist. Thereby making of the natural an unnatural need of endlessly unsatisfied consumer products or abstract desires based on  obsolescence and the need for more and more all bound to the cycle of the eternal return of our secret cravings, thereby creating a cannibalistic society of self-consuming artifacts desiring greater and greater levels of satisfaction that cannot be fulfilled. Who needs hell when you have capitalism and consumer society promoting the discontent of desires that can never be quenched? The fires fueling hell are not so much below us as much as in us, the very force of our unnatural cravings for more and more and more… Capitalism is nothing more than a unified conduit that imprisons our cravings in a closed system of eternal return, a circulation of desire for profit that seeks only to continue its endless round of profit making at the expense of the desiring unit: the human. As Marx once stated: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” We are zombies (“death-in-Life”) of Capital, our desires the juice that fuels the unnatural machine of Capital, and line the pockets of those .01% who skim the top and keep the machines running and sucking on our dead labor.


  1. Frederick C. Beiser. After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900 (Kindle Locations 3018-3024). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Rethinking Conceptual Universes

Rethinking Culture and Metaphysical Schemes, etc.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro in his Cannibal Metaphysics argues the case that Amazonian and other Amerindian groups inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours—in which nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own—he presents the case for anthropology as the study of such “other” metaphysical schemes, and as the corresponding critique of the concepts imposed on them by the human sciences.

For me the writing of dark fantastic fiction is just such an exploration. It allows one to investigate the delusions within one’s own culture, to trace down the deliriums and phobias, the nightmares and aberrations that have guided our collective madness for centuries. The notion of insects seems to be a prime example of a nightmare scenario that one finds hidden in the lair of the monstrous within Western Civilization and Culture. One can harken back to ancient myths, dreams, fears, terrors of rats, insects, serpents, etc.; deep seated worlds of disgust that have shaped our religious and secular views of life, medicine, politics, and moral views.

As Peter Skafish asks: “Can anthropology be philosophy, and if so, how?” For philosophers, the matter has been and often remains quite simple: anthropology’s concern with socio-cultural and historical differences might yield analyses that philosophy can put to use (provided that it condescends to examine them), but only rarely does anthropology conceive its material at a level of generality or in relation to metaphysical issues in their positivity that would allow it to really do philosophy, especially of an ontological kind. Anthropologists, on the other hand, tend not to disagree, whether out of a preference for local problems or from the more canny recognition that even the best philosophers prove quite adept at mistaking modern ideological values for transcendental concepts. Such perspectives, however, are proving outmoded in the face of a now sizable group of thinkers, ranging from Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers to Marilyn Strathern to François Jullien, whose questions, concepts, objects and methods belong in different ways to both anthropology and philosophy, and who moreover propose that certain aspects of anthropology – analyses of scientific practices, knowledge of cultural variation, and an old thing called structuralism – are key to a new metaphysics as empirical, pluralistic and comparative as transcendental, unifying and general.

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Julia Kristeva and the Abject Grotesque

Julia Kristeva and the Abject Grotesque

Far in the distance the tugboat whistled; its call passed the bridge, one more arch, then another, the lock, another bridge, farther and farther … It was summoning all the barges on the river, every last one, and the whole city and the sky and the countryside, and ourselves, to carry us all away, the Seine too —and that would be the end of us.

-Celine, Journey to the End of Night

In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), Julia Kristeva describes the process of abjection as a form of expulsion and rejection of the Other, which she ties to the historical exclusion of women. Neither subject nor object, the abject, or the state of abjection, is articulated in, and through, grotesque language and imagery. The process of abjection is, then, associated with deformed bodies and oozing bodily fluids: blood, pus, bile, faeces, sweat and vomit break down the borders separating the inside from outside, the contained from the released. Abjection is a state of flux, where ‘meaning collapses’, and the body is open and irregular, sprouting or protruding internal and external forms to link abjection to grotesquerie.

“On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that seems to me rooted, no matter what its sociohistorical conditions might be, on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject” (Powers 207 ). “Not a language of the desiring exchange of messages or objects that are transmitted in a social contract of communication and desire beyond want, but a language of want, of the fear that edges up to it and runs along its edges” (Powers 38 ).

How do we align such a vision of exclusion, abjectness, borderline breakdowns, fear and terror of the Other to the current world of refugees and the wars of nations: economic slavery, austerity, and the darkening hatred and recurrence of fascist tendencies in our time? How speak to that hunger at the center of the void, the lack, the want of which Kristeva’s notions of the comedy of the Abject speak? Have the refugees, as well as women, the LGBTQ community, and many other aspects of our planetary society and civilization become the excluded Other of which we are now faced with the impossible dilemma of either inclusions or expulsion? Maybe these excluded others view us morbid parasites feeding off the global excess, as creatures of grotesque proportion whose shadow worlds of thought and culture are but the fetid apertures of a dying body, a civilization on the edge of destruction, chaos, and apocalypse? It’s as if the open wounds of the world body we are seeing is connected to an ancient curse of civilization, one that stretches back into the hinterlands ten thousand years ago when the first cities began accumulating, hoarding, and guarding their agricultural harvests against the nomadic wanderers and raiders of the outer reaches. This notion still seems still to pervade the modern psyche, as if civilization from the beginning was shaped by a dark and terrible deed, a grotesque system of dominion, slavery, and exclusion that has ever since haunted the mindscapes of every nation on earth.

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The Grand Illusionist: The Non-Existent Self

Sometimes in those insomniac nights of sleeplessness and ennui  I ponder the reams of paper or the interminable light-bits of datatrash – those computing algorithms that have gone into the veritable destruction of the Great Illusionist: the Subject as Self-Identity and Substance. Everything from the current philosophical speculators to the vanguard research of neurosciences tells us the Self is an illusion, that it doesn’t exist… and, yet, the illusion persists, we get up every morning, we wander into the bathroom, we wash our face, and then look at the sack of shit staring back at us out of the mirror and, say: “You’re just a figment of my imagination, an illusion and linguistic trick, an evolutionary display of memes, ideas, notions, errors all wrapped up in bullshit.” We blink, we laugh, we cry… it’s still there, whatever ‘it‘ is or is not; it want go away, disappear, fall off a cliff.. the illusion of Self persists; it endures your vituperative invective, your satirical jibes, your slow witted verbiage… it blinks back at you, defies you, challenges you to disbelieve in its existence. But it does not go away… this illusion of Self. No matter how many intelligent people show you in report after report, thesis after thesis, image after image that it is an empty thing, a dead concept, a parlor trick… nothing more. We cling to our ‘I’ – our sense of identity, our uniqueness, our eccentric and marginal belief that we are different, that we are singular, unique, and one-of-a-kind beings; that all those who would reduce us to a cipher, an automated process in a vast and complex system of algorithms shifting in the substratum of the brain’s own biochemical vat must be wrong. So that in the end we hang onto this illusion of Self – this self-reflecting nothingness, a mirror world of illusive memetic monstrosities we keep referring to as our intentions, our intentional self; both intelligent and willful. Illusion, as Freud once believed, is not so easily gotten rid of, even the illusion of self and identity.

Most of the great religious systems of the world were built around deprogramming this sense of Self. Buddhism is a veritable registry of this hollowing out of the illusion of Self and Things or Mindedness… One turns to the Gnostics, remembering Basiledes who said: “Show me your face before you were born.” Or, Monoïmus the Gnostic who would tell his followers: “Cease to seek the Self as Self, and sayeth: ‘My god, my mind, my reason, my soul, my body.’ And learn whence is sorrow and joy, and love and hate, and waking though one would not, and sleeping though one would not, and getting angry though one would not, and falling in love though one would not. And if thou shouldst closely investigate these things, thou wilt find the Void in thyself, one and many, just as the atom; thus finding from thyself a way out of thyself.”

One could recite a Thousand and One Nights of such quotes from both religious, philosophical, scientific and other literature. Robert Musil in The Man without Qualities would say of Self and self-reflection: “This non-plussed feeling refers to something that many people nowadays call intuition, whereas formerly it used to be called inspiration, and they think that they must see something suprapersonal in it; but it is only something nonpersonal, namely the affinity and kinship of the things themselves that meet inside one’s head.”

The notion that the sense of Self is a mere congeries of things floating in and out of the voidic hollow of one’s brain is an apt metaphor for out times – a time when we still believe in the notion of Self – of the hollow men and women we call Leaders who presume to represent other selves in a Government based on the illusion of Selves in Nations built on an outmoded liberal model of subject and subjectivity, representation and presence, an illusion of the stable and continuous Liberal Subject-as-Substance and Substance-as-Subject. Amazing, quite amazing…

The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self

In their book The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self: An Intellectual History of Personal Identity  Raymond Martin and John Barresi would trace this sordid history into all its nooks and crannies (at least into its Western Heritage and lineage). Yet, it was in Hume that the defining moment came to turn the mind’s scalpel onto that strange entity. In book 1 of the Treatise , the heart of his account is his argument that belief in a substantial, persisting self is an illusion.1 Hume addressed the task of explaining why people are so susceptible to the illusion of self. And in book 2 he explained how certain dynamic mentalistic systems in which we represent ourselves to ourselves, as well as to others, actually work, such as those systems in us that generate sympathetic responses to others. This was Hume the empirical psychologist at his constructive best. In these more psychological projects, Hume often seems to have taken for granted things that in book 1 he had subjected to withering skeptical criticism.(163)

Next we come to the work of Thomas Cooper (1759–1839). Cooper’s most important philosophical contribution was his Tracts, Ethical, Theological, and Political (1789). 53 In a chapter, “On Identity,” he first surveys the important eighteenth-century literature on personal identity, including Locke, Leibniz, Isaac Watts, Clarke, Collins, Butler, Priestley, Price, and Charles Bonnet. Cooper’s own view, which he expresses all too briefly after his leisurely survey of the views of others, is, in the language of our own times, that personal identity is not what matters primarily in survival. He argued that there is no evidence that people have immaterial souls and ample evidence that all of the matter out of which they are composed is constantly in the process of being replaced, with nothing remaining constant. (172)

Cooper would destroy (or so he hoped) the last metaphysical bastion of the afterlife – the notion of a Soul. In Cooper’s view, no one lasts even from moment to moment, let alone year to year. Rather, there is a succession of similar people, each of whom is causally dependent for its existence on its predecessors in the series. This similarity misleads people into supposing that identity is preserved, that is, that someone who will exist in the future is the very same person as someone who exists now. He concluded that personal identity is an illusion—at best a pragmatically useful notion with no adequate support in the nature of things. In response to the objection that “the man at the resurrection will, upon this system, be not the same with, but merely similar to the former,” he replied that similarity, rather than identity, is the most that can be got even in this life, which no one regards of any consequence. He concluded that maintaining identity should then be of no consequence in connection with the afterlife. (173)

Next we come to Schopenhauer whose notion of Will would replace this thing we call the ‘I’:

When you say I, I, I want to exist, it is not you alone that says this. Everything says it, absolutely everything that has the faintest trace of consciousness. It follows, then, that this desire of yours is just the part of you that is not individual—the part that is common to all things without distinction. It is the cry, not of the individual, but of existence itself; it is the intrinsic element in everything that exists, nay, it is the cause of anything existing at all. This desire craves for, and so is satisfied with, nothing less than existence in general—not any definite individual existence. No! that is not its aim. It seems to be so only because this desire—this Will—attains consciousness only in the individual, and therefore looks as though it were concerned with nothing but the individual. There lies the illusion—an illusion, it is true, in which the individual is held fast: but, if he reflects, he can break the fetters and set himself free. It is only indirectly I say, that the individual has this violent craving for existence. It is the Will to Live which is the real and direct aspirant—alike and identical in all things. (203)

Yet as Schopenhauer declared if our individual selves are at bottom an illusion, how can people overcome their egoistic concerns? Up to a point, he says, by developing the human capacity for sympathy and thereby becoming more virtuous. But what is really needed to overcome our self-centeredness is not mere sympathy but a “transition from virtue to asceticism,” in which the individual ceases to feel any concern for earthly things. In this “state of voluntary renunciation,” individuals experience “resignation, true indifference, and perfect will-lessness,” which lead to a “denial of the will to live.” Only then, when humans have become “saints,” are they released from insatiable Will. (204)

Of course as we know Schopenhauer was steeped in the new influx of translated works from both Hindu and Buddhist literature of that era in German scholarship so that his notions would meld the old Christian apophatic traditions with those of India to create a new deprogramming model for self-abnegation. Nietzsche would catch the drift of this and keep a wary eye on the old pessimist.

Yet, we need to turn back to those old Eighteenth century mechanists of the spirit, too. Among those whom influenced by such notions was Paul-Henri d’Holbach (1723–1789), who in System of Nature (1770) defended secular materialism. In it, d’Holbach argued, at the time sensationally, that humans are a product entirely of nature, that their moral and intellectual abilities are simply machinelike operations, that the soul and free will are illusions, that religion and priestcraft are the source of most manmade evil, and that atheism promotes good morality. (213)

The work of Nietzsche is well known so I want add examples here. A few—Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, for instance—had claimed that there is an irrational, unconscious part of the mind that dominates the rational. But Freud had a much more elaborate theory of how this happens, for which he claimed support from his psychotherapeutic and historical case studies, as well from his analyses of dreams and mental slips.

Freud claimed that most human behavior is explicable in terms of unconscious causes in the person’s mind, a view which he supported by appeal to ingenious interpretations of such things as slips of the tongue, obsessive behavior, and dreams. In short, the mind is like an iceberg, the bulk of which—the unconscious—lies below the surface and exerts a dynamic and controlling influence upon the part which is above the surface—that is, consciousness. It follows from this, together with a general commitment to universal determinism, that whenever humans make a choice, they are governed by mental processes of which they are unaware and over which they have no control. Free will is an illusion. Nevertheless, one can empower the ego by making the unconscious conscious. (256)

Freud had been interested in the process by which children become civilized, productive adults. He hoped that by bringing the contents of the unconscious into consciousness, repression and neurosis would be minimized, thereby strengthening the ego or self. His goal was the development of an ego that is more autonomous. In Lacan’s view, Freud’s goal is an impossible dream. Since the ego is an illusion, it can never replace or control anything, let alone the unconscious. Lacan’s theoretical interest was not in how children become civilized, productive adults but in how they acquire the illusion of self. (267)

Lacan in his notions of the mirror image would see in the child a sense of misrecognition as a category mistake that creates what Lacan called the “armor” of the subject, an illusion of wholeness, integration, and totality that surrounds and protects the child’s fragmented sense of its own body. This illusion of wholeness gives birth to the ego . That, in essence, is Lacan’s famous mirror theory . The idea that one is an ego or self, he said, is always a fantasy, based on an identification with an external image. (268)

Whereas the real is a realm of objects, the imaginary, which is prelinguistic and based in visual perception, is a realm of conscious and unconscious images. In this realm, the mirror image, an “ideal ego,” becomes internalized as the child builds its sense of self and identity. The fiction of a stable, whole, unified self that the child saw in the mirror becomes compensation for its having lost its original sense of oneness with the mother’s body. The child protects itself from the knowledge of this loss by misperceiving itself as not lacking anything. For the rest of its life, the child will misrecognize its self as an illusory other—an “image in a mirror.” This misrecognition provides an illusion of self and of mastery. (269)

In his recent work Antonio Damasio, a neurologist, has, on the basis of reports from his patients who have suffered brain damage, proposed the existence of a neural self . 45 He claims that these patients, deprived of current information about parts of their bodies, have sustained damage to the neural substrate of the self. By contrast, healthy people use their senses of self to access information about the slowly evolving details of their autobiographies, including their likes, dislikes, and plans for the future. They also use them to access representations of their bodies and their states. Damasio calls a person’s representations, collectively, his or her concept of self , which, he says, is continually reconstructed from the ground up. This concept is an evanescent medium of self-reference. It is reconstructed so often that the person whose self-concept it is never knows it is being remade unless problems arise. (291)

In a more recent book, Damasio, proposed that consciousness represents a relationship between the self and the external world. The self model that actually shows up phenomenologically as a more or less constant feature of our consciousness is not the robust self of our narrative reveries but what he calls the core self . It is a representation of a regulatory system in the brain and brain stem, the function of which is to monitor and maintain certain of the body’s internal systems, such as respiration, body temperature, and the sympathetic nervous system. He calls the system being represented, the protoself . In his view, all states of consciousness are bipolar in that they include a representation of the core self in relation to the external world. In this representation, he says, the core self remains relatively stable, while sensory input from the external world changes dramatically and often. Thus, in almost every conscious state, there is something relatively stable, namely the core self, and something changeable, the external world. This fact about consciousness, he claims, generates the “illusion” that there is a relatively constant self that perceives and reacts to the external world. (292)

Ultimately in the conclusion to their survey – dated in 2006 so lacking in current research, they suggest that our notion of a unified self-identity is not only an illusion, but that the disturbing realization that what we are characterized as a unified self is not something that we once had and then lost sight of but, rather, something that we never had to begin with. To whatever extent it may have seemed like we had it, this was an illusion. In this view of things, a better way of characterizing what happened as a consequence of the development of theory is not that we lost something valuable that we once had but that we became better positioned to shed an illusion and finally see what we had—and have—for what it truly is. Shedding an illusion, even the comforting one that there is a unified subject matter of self and personal-identity theory and we can grasp it whole, is a kind of progress. It is not progress of a sort that is internal to any theory but, rather, progress in gaining a better synoptic understanding of the development and current state of theory—metaprogress, if you will. Arguably, it is a sign of the importance of the shedding of the illusions of a unified self and of theoretical closure that it may be psychologically impossible to embrace wholeheartedly that there may be no knowable comprehensive truth about who and what we are and about what lies at the root of our egoistic concerns. (313)

Nevertheless, they argue, each of us seems to have a kind of direct, experiential access to him- or herself that makes the development of theories of the self and personal identity, however interesting, seem somewhat beside the point. This feeling of special access is what fueled Descartes’s contention that one’s own self is first in the order of knowing. The truth, however, seems to be that nothing is first in the order of knowing, that is, that there is no single privileged place to begin the development of theory, no single privileged methodology with which to pursue it, and no practical way to unify the theories that result from starting at different places using different techniques. This was not so apparent until recently, but it seems abundantly clear now. In sum, as “we have already suggested, if there is unity in sight, it is the unity of the organism, not of the self or of theories about the self”. (314)

Such are the quandaries of this strange history, a world built out of words and thoughts, lies and misrecognition, illusory at best; yet, a world that continues to build on such illusions as Self; its secret histories, battles, disjunctive sense of loss, even though we know it to be the Great Illusionist at the core of the human project. But, then again, are we even human anymore? We let the machines answer that, our future progeny may look back on our quandaries and laughingly click metal to metal as if to say, “Those fools who once shared our world and spent so much effort in creating us as the perfection of their dreams of Reason. Little did they know what it was they were doing…” or why?


  1. Raymond Martin and John Barresi. The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self: An Intellectual History of Personal Identity.  Columbia University Press (July 22, 2006) (Page 163).

(Note: I could have brought it up to current speed with both neuroscientific, philosophical and other literature after 2006, but thought it would make this post far too long …)

The Neon Demon: Decadence and the Art of Darkness

Since the most eloquent decadences edify us no further as to unhappiness than the stammerings of a shepherd, and ultimately there is more wisdom in the mockery of an idiot than in the investigations of the laboratories, is it not madness to pursue truth on the paths of time—or in books?

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

An interview is up for Nicolas Winding Refn’s – film director of Drive and Only God Forgives on Quietus by Phillipa Snow –  new movie The Neon Demon.

Is the neo-aesthete’s revival of an arch decadence? The artificial enclosure of violence and despair within the neon terror of a refined oblivion devoid of even nullity, a slow infestation of the sublime underbelly of death so vital it inhabits a posthuman futurism without the “post” or “human”?

“Neon is no longer anxious” Eleanor Courtemanche writes… as if anxiety and the uncanny no longer worked for us, as if Freud-Lacan and the Oedipalization were finally a myth of a past refined out of existence. Now the comedy of the nil can appropriate the cliché’s of kitsch within kitsch, expose the throbbing pulse of automated death at the heart of a devitalized voyeurism.

Pain as a commodity, the sacred as a moment between pain and ecstasy becomes in this new economy just one more sad conformity. Pain as the marketable ecstasy of those who have no emotion, the psychopath of devitalized robots and artificial denizens of an apocalyptic comedy at the end of human civilization. No longer the moral hijinks of an outdated derision or scornful hatred of the body, rather the undaunted acceptance of flesh as itself the excess of a last ditch effort to squeeze ecstasy from a devitalized world of cold and impersonal death.

Bear with me as I digress through both decadent literature and critique, gathering a thousand flowers along the way that may dip into that dark abyss of sacred pain and jouissance.

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A Short History of Decay

Percy Bysshe Shelley in his infamous poem On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery brought us the dark romanticism of terror as the breakaway sublime of a new form of Beauty when in his last refrain he stated:

‘Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror; 
  For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare 
Kindled by that inextricable error,  
  Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air 
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror 
  Of all the beauty and the terror there—
A woman’s countenance, with serpent locks,
Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks.

In his early The Romantic Agony Mario Praz would tells us of this new darker romanticism, saying of “Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror…” that these lines of pleasure and pain are combined in one single impression. “The very objects which should induce a shudder – the livid face of the severed head, the squirming mass of vipers, the rigidity of death, the sinister light, the repulsive animals, the lizard, the bat – all these give rise to a new sense of beauty, a beauty imperiled and contaminated, a new thrill.”1

That moralist Max Nordau in his castigation of those followers of Charles Baudelaire, the Decadents brought forward his harsh condemnation of this night school saying it “reflects the character of its master, strangely distorted; it has become in some sort like a prism, which diffracts his light into elementary rays. His delusion of anxiety and his predilection for disease, death, and putrefaction (necrophilia), have fallen…”2 As for Baudelaire himself, he once stated of modernity:

. . . it is much easier to decide outright that everything about the garb
of an age is absolutely ugly than to devote oneself to the task of distilling
from it the mysterious element of beauty that it may contain, however
slight or minimal that element may be. By ‘modernity’ I mean the
ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half
is the eternal and the immutable.3

In his study of this heritage, Daniel Pick, in Faces of Degeneration would analyze the various threads of this notion of cultural decline into the ugly.3 Degeneration was seen as a general decline in humanity from a previous age as seen in poverty, disease, destitution, degradation, and misery in general. Degeneration was seen as the opposite of progress (which occupied an alternative though rejected view of history) and was expressed as a theory to explain crime, poverty, and the lack of moral character by various European writers and thinkers. In particular, the thinkers Morel, Lombroso, Maudsley, and Nordau wrote extensively on the issue of degeneration as it applied to crime and art. Other European figures focused on the horror of the crowd (as seen in various revolutions in particular the French Revolution) or the rise of Social Darwinism and eugenics. Authors also focused on the themes of degeneration in their novels including those which mentioned the issues of mental deterioration, psychoanalysis, and the decline brought about by entropy. These ideas occupied a prominent place on both the political left among various proposals for socialism and the right which often advocated eugenics (and which came to emerge in the Nazi terror). Pick’s book considers these ideas as they developed in European thought during this period and their role in the continuing history of the twentieth century as it would impact both Communism and Fascism, as well as the medical community by way of Psychoanalysis and Freud’s scientism among other traces.

The social, scientific, and industrial revolutions of the later nineteenth century brought with them a ferment of new artistic visions. An emphasis on scientific determinism and the depiction of reality led to the aesthetic movement known as Naturalism, which allowed the human condition to be presented in detached, objective terms, often with a minimum of moral judgment. This in turn was counterbalanced by more metaphorical modes of expression such as Symbolism, Decadence, and Aestheticism, which flourished in both literature and the visual arts, and tended to exalt subjective individual experience at the expense of straightforward depictions of nature and reality. Dismay at the fast pace of social and technological innovation led many adherents of these less realistic movements to reject faith in the new beginnings proclaimed by the voices of progress, and instead focus in an almost perverse way on the imagery of degeneration, artificiality, and ruin.4

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The Mundane World of Sex

The man who proposes a new faith is persecuted, until it is his turn to become a persecutor: truths begin by a conflict with the police and end by calling them in; for each absurdity we have suffered for degenerates into a legality, as every martyrdom ends in the paragraphs of the Law, in the insipidities of the calendar, or the nomenclature of the streets.

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

In his interview Nicolas Winding Refn remarking on sex tells us  there’s something mundane about it, that “it’s something we all do – hopefully,” and “everyone has his own take on it”. Our obsession with porn, violence, necrophilia, rape, perversion, etc. is a way of moving the audience, the voyeuristic eye, the perverse need to observe the outer forms of sex, its visual cues and bodily imprint as if to quantify and measure its dark secrets. As Refn hones in on the key is not the direct visual participation that allows us to sensualize the filmic, but rather by “not showing sex, you’re actually much more sexy, because in not showing sex, you’re forcing the audience to have a very subliminal reaction to it, and everything becomes very specific [to them]”.

thM6HAWKstrawThe Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus  Bosch among the many bizarre and outlandish images, will find both a giant strawberry (a symbol of earthly pleasure in Medieval iconography; the fruit looks very tempting, but tastes of nothing), and a naked couple copulating within a glass vessel. What interests us about Bosch is not only his strange and beautiful painting, but also his supposed involvement with a heretical sect called the Adamites. This sect, according to de Perrodil’s Dictionnaire des hérésies, des erreurs et des schismes, saw it as their sacred duty to violate the laws which the Creator had given to man. This neatly encapsulates the Decadent impulse. They also wished to rehabilitate Adam and Eve by seeking inspiration from their conduct in the garden of Eden. Nudity and sexual games formed part of their ritual. The Adamites were of course condemned and brutally persecuted by vindictive ecclesiastical authorities.5

An 1893 poem by Albert Samain proclaims “the era of the Androgyne,” who mushrooms over culture like an antichrist. The sex-repelling Decadent androgyne is Apollonian because of its opposition to nature and its high mentalization, a western specialty. It is louring and enervated rather than radiant:

Musique – encens – parfums,… poisons,… littérature ! …
Les fleurs vibrent dans les jardins effervescents ;
Et l’Androgyne aux grands yeux verts phosphorescents
Fleurit au charnier d’or d’un monde en pourriture.

Aux apostats du Sexe, elle apporte en pâture,
Sous sa robe d’or vert aux joyaux bruissants,
Sa chair de vierge acide et ses spasmes grinçants
Et sa volupté maigre aiguisée en torture.

L’archet mord jusqu’au sang l’âme des violons,
L’art qui râle agité d’hystériques frissons
En la sentant venir a redressé l’échine…

Le stigmate ardent brûle aux fronts hallucinés.
Gloire aux sens ! Hosanna sur les nerfs forcenés.
L’Antechrist de la chair visite les damnés…

Voici, voici venir les temps de l’Androgyne.      

            And, my translation…

Music – incense – perfumes,… poisons,… literature! …
Flowers vibrate in the sparkling gardens;
And your large and androgynous
Phosphorescent green eyes flower
At the grave of gold of a world in decay.

To the apostates of sex, she brings in food,
Under her dress of green gold jewels rustling,
Acidic virgin of fleshy spasms squeaking
And his lean pleasure sharpened into torture.

The bow bites until the violins in the soul’s blood vibrate, an art –
General shaking of hysterical chills struggles
Coming in feelings of geometric defiance…

The frontal assault of ardent hallucinations burn in stigmatic splendor, 
Glory to the senses! Hosanna to the federalists nerves.
The Antichrist of the flesh visits the damned…

Behold, here comes the time of the Androgyny.

lsSidonie-Gabrielle Colette or just – Colette calls this type of androgyne “anxious and veiled,” eternally sad, trailing “its seraphic suffering, its glimmering tears.”

Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo (written in 1888 and published in 1908), in which the philosopher called himself “a decadent,” opens with a biographical section that resembles a psycho-medical case study of his delicate, morbid nature and physical ailments. The Case of Wagner (1888) treats degeneration and decadence as instantiations of a single discourse: “[T]he change of art into histrionics,” wrote Nietzsche, “is no less an expression of physiological degeneration (more precisely, a form of hystericism) than every single corruption and infirmity of the art inaugurated by Wagner.” He preceded this comment with the claim that Wagner is a decadent, “the modern artist par excellence,” embodying modernity’s sickness. Calling Wagner a “neurosis,” he wrote, “[P]erhaps nothing is better known today, at least nothing has been better studied, than the Protean character of degeneration that here conceals itself in the chrysalis of art and artist.”6 As Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, degeneration “explained how a heredity that was burdened with various maladies ([. . .] organic, functional, or psychical) ended by producing a sexual pervert.”7

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Late Romanticism: The Gothic Art of Darkness

David Punter in his excellent study The Literature of Pity reminds us that there is a great deal that could be said about the relations between pity and the dark worlds of Gothicism; indeed, “a radical view would suggest that the longstanding association between terror and Gothic has been in part a cover story which places us as readers in positions of power – identifying, for example, with the hero/villain – rather than allowing us to share in the no doubt pitiable plight of the victim/heroine”(107).8

This sense of the voyeuristic element of sex and power comes out in the interview of Refn when he speaks of the stereotyping of porn and violence coupled with the femme fatale, telling us “there is still a very heavily-stereotyped view about women and violence. It’s generally either very pornographic, where it’s sexualizing an act of a violent nature: either by degrading it, or by worshipping it, but in either case purely from a male perspective. And then there is the other version, which is a lot more complicated — that women can be vicious to women, and what’s so wrong with showing that? Because there’s nothing sexual in that viciousness.”

Janey Place writes that ‘[t]he dark lady, the spider woman, the evil seductress who tempts man and brings about his destruction is among the oldest themes of art, literature, mythology and religion in Western culture’ (1980, p. 35). The conspicuousness of the femme fatale in Western culture has waxed and waned; she features heavily in the tragic drama of the early seventeenth century and was something of an obsession for a number of poets and novelists in the nineteenth century and in popular art in fin de siècle France. She became ubiquitous in Hollywood film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, the genre with which the term femme fatale is most closely associated, as well as the neo-noir of the late 1980s and early 1990s.9

femme_fataleWoman as fatal to man has been the primary image in men’s discourse for two-thousand years or more. The more nature is beaten back in the west, the more the femme fatale reappears, as a return of the repressed. As Camille Paglia will remark, “She is the spectre of the west’s bad conscience about nature. She is the moral ambiguity of nature, a malevolent moon that keeps breaking through our fog of hopeful sentiment.”10 The femme fatale became the secret fear men had of women and the natural both within themselves and in nature, she would incarnate that dark power of both the unconscious and the externality of deterministic natural process that men in their religious and sacred mythologies had tried, vainly to surmount through at first philosophy by way of Platonic beauty or the Idea, a notion of the perfect world, a world beyond our delusional one; and, secondly, through the endless world of the grotesque, macabre, and bitter satires from Juvenal to Swift and beyond. With the Romantics things would bifurcate into the aesthetic of Beauty and of Terror, the sublime would seek transcendence or immanent revelation and excess (transgression). One might say that this tradition as a whole in which the path of light and that of darkness lead to a ‘literature of narcissism’. As Refn who directed this film with his daughter in mind, says:

We live in a society where we’re constantly being bombarded by the negativity of the future, the negativity of the digital revolution, the negativity of youth being self-absorbed — like my parents weren’t? I mean, they were hippies! So I think, well, my daughter will grow up into this world of amazing opportunities. And maybe the final frontier is no longer treating narcissism as a taboo, but — on the contrary — celebrating it as a natural evolution of the human psyche.

As Paglia would say, “The femme fatale is one of the refinements of female narcissism, of the ambivalent self-directedness that is completed by the birth of a child or by the conversion of spouse or lover into child. (ibid., 14)” Returning to the image of the Medusa Paglia suggests that “Medusa’s snaky hair is also the writhing vegetable growth of nature. Her hideous grimace is men’s fear of the laughter of women. She that gives life also blocks the way to freedom.” (ibid., 14)  The Divine Marquee de Sade once suggested that we have the right to thwart nature’s procreative compulsions, through sodomy or abortion. Paglia would go so far as to affirm that “male homosexuality may be the most valorous of attempts to evade the femme fatale and to defeat nature” (14-15). Suggesting that male homosexuals by turning away from the Medusan mother, whether in honor or detestation of her, had become one of the “great forgers of absolutist western identity” (15).

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Novalis and the Kiss of Death: A Poetics of the Baneful

The poet Novalis would develop a complete aestheticism of the voluptuosity, a secret and forbidden world of the sensuous and the mundane held within a an enclosure of the excess of the natural by way of a construction of the artificial. For Novalis himself initiates his account of the human body with the lips and the entire system of the mouth a complex system in which nourishment, elimination, sexuality, and speech are interrelated indeed, by an “anastomosis of discursive individuals” (2: 350). The system of the mouth subtends a “theory of voluptuosity”; yet it is also subject to the dire forces of nature. Nature, characterized by the expansive force of eros, is nevertheless often described in the notebooks in the way a voice in The Apprentices at Saïs describes it, namely, as “a terrifying death-mill,” ”a frightful, rapacious power,” “a realm of voracity and the wildest excess, an immensity pregnant with misery.” Novalis’s theory of voluptuosity culminates in a “poetics of the baneful.” The first kiss is always a kiss of death and the first thing to die is the concept of “firstness,” inasmuch as thaumaturgic idealism does not conjure up a theory of origins.11

Strangely, this poetics of the baneful and malignant would according to Novalis possibly bring about a metamorphosis within the human species and their culture is only we learned love our “illness or pain”:

Perhaps a similar metamorphosis would occur if human beings could come to love what is baneful in the world the moment a human being began to love its illness or pain, the most stimulating voluptuosity would lie in its arms the summit of positive pleasure would permeate it. Could not illness be a means to a higher synthesis the more horrific the pain, the higher the pleasure concealed within it. (Harmony.) Every illness is perhaps the necessary commencement of the more intense conjunction of two creatures the necessary beginning of love. Enthusiasm for illnesses and pains. Death a closer conjunction of lovers. (Krell, 61).

As the neurologist V. S. Ramachandran, “Pain is an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflexive response to an injury.”12 The notion of pain, self-inflicted or other inflicted, masochism or sadism is encrusted in human memory, violence, and the sacred:

Pain is not a simple matter: There is an enormous difference between the unwanted pain of a cancer patient or victim of a car crash, and the voluntary and modulated self-hurting of a religious practitioner. Religious pain, secular or institutional, produces states of consciousness, and cognitive-emotional changes, that affect the identity of the individual subject and her sense of belonging to a larger community or to a more fundamental state of being. More succinctly, pain strengthens the religious person’s bond with the divine and with other persons. Of course, since not all pain is voluntary or self-inflicted, one mystery of the religious life is how unwanted suffering can become transformed into sacred pain. (Glucklich, 6)

As Ariel Glucklich will suggest the task of sacred pain is to transform destructive or disintegrative suffering into a positive religious or secular, psychological mechanism for reintegration within a more deeply valued level of reality than individual existence. (Glucklich, 6) Georges Bataille who sought the intimacy of ecstasy within a secular or immanent mysticism was once gifted with some photographs of a Chinese man undergoing the lingchi method of torture and execution, in which flesh, organs, and limbs are slowly sliced from the still-living victim until he succumbs—“death by a thousand cuts.” Bataille meditated upon this “insane” and “shocking” image of “pain, at once ecstatic(?) and intolerable,” with the fervency of a monk contemplating the crucifi ed body of Christ. The meditation elicited an ambivalent spiritual convulsion whose reverberations carried into Bataille’s final days.13

In Inner Experience, Bataille sketches a set of practices that foster aimlessness by developing a particular kind of relationship to an unknown—but desirable—object. Bataille wants a project that will undo project, a program with the intention of dissolving intentionality, for the purpose of destroying purposiveness. In the process of discovering a secular form of jouissance Bataille will involve intimacy and  a “jouissance of otherness” distinct from masochistic jouissance, a jouissance that “owes nothing to the death drive.” (NE, 65) As Biles and Brintnall maintain this jouissance “has as its precondition the stripping away of the self” and can be described as an “ascetic . . . practice,” insisting that it is not masochistic and, in fact, requires, as an additional precondition, “a loss of all that gives us pleasure and pain in our negotiable exchanges with the world.” (ibid., 65)

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The Beauty of Decadence

I think “beauty is everything” is a heightened version of our potential future. I’m not critiquing, nor validating. I think you have to accept it in order to examine it. But surely our obsession with beauty is only going to increase. And longevity will only continue to shrink in our perception of beauty, and the ideal will continue to get younger. Those are facts. The question is, how do we deal with it?

-Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon an Interview

Umberto Eco will align the concept of the Beautiful with the Good tracing it back to that Platonic world of perfection and the real, saying,

‘Beautiful’—together with ‘graceful’ and ‘pretty’, or ‘sublime’, ‘marvellous’, Lucera, Museo Civico ‘ superb’ and similar expressions—is an adjective that we often employ to indicate something that we like. In this sense, it seems that what is beautiful is the same as what is good, and in fact in various historical periods there was a close link between the Beautiful and the Good.14 Notions of the Sublime have been with us at least since Longinus if not before. Harold Bloom, quoting Thomas Weiskel’s The Romantic Sublime relates:

The essential claim of the sublime is that man can, in feeling and in speech, transcend the human. What, if anything, lies beyond the human— God or the gods, the daemon or Nature— is matter for great disagreement. What, if anything, defines the range of the human is scarcely less sure.15

But is there an inverse to this? What of the grotesque, the ugly, the macabre? Is there a non-teleological and immanent (non-transcendent) form of the Sublime? Or, is this as some suggest rather the realm of the Ridiculous and Comic? For Baudelaire the arch-decadent would harbor the notion that nature is a living temple where confused words would sometimes slip forth from the mute stones releasing the symbolic confusion of human worlds, thereby breaking the Law of custom and habit and freeing the revelations that had been lying imprisoned within the depths of abysses and evil. For Arthur Rimbaud the visionary decadent must undergo a “lengthy, immense, and rational dissolution of the senses,” and would say in his A Season in Hell:

One evening, I seated Beauty on my knees.
– And I found her bitter.
– And I railed against her. …

I succeeded in erasing from my mind all human hope. Upon every joy, in order to strangle it, I made the muffled leap of the wild beast.16

Bataille in Erotism: Death and Sensuality (City Lights, 1986) would report

In  sacrifice, the victim is chosen so that its perfection shall give  point  to the full  brutality of  death. Human  beauty, in the union  of  bodies, shows the contrast  between the purest aspect  of  mankind and the hideous animal quality of the sexual organs. The  paradox  of  ugliness  and  beauty  in eroticism  is  strikingly expressed  by  Leonardo  da  Vinci  in his Notebooks:

“The  act  of  coition  and the  members employed are so ugly that  but for the beauty of the faces, the adornments  of  their partners and the  frantic urge,  Nature would lose the  human race.”

Leonardo does not see that the charm of a fair face or  fine clothes is effective  in that  that fair  face  promises  what  clothes  conceal.  The face and its beauty must  be  profaned, first  by  uncovering the woman’s secret  parts, and then  by  putting the male organ into them. (73).

Ultimately for Bataille Beauty’s cardinal importance in contrast to ugliness is that ugliness ‘cannot be spoiled‘, and to despoil is the essence of  eroticism. “Humanity implies  the  taboos, and  in  eroticism it and they are transgressed. Humanity is transgressed, profaned and besmirched. The  greater the  beauty, the more it is  befouled.” (73). So that when the director of The Neon Demon as quoted above states that “beauty is everything” is a heightened version of our potential future, we understand that as in Bataille that without Beauty there would be an end to desire and jouissance, that pleasureable pain of sacrifice and an eroticism that gives us the degradation of immanent corruption and evil bliss. The allurements of seduction, the energia of the abyssal darkness, the fleshy excess that invades us from within and without all fold us in a world of delusionary delirium, eroticism and death without end… an artificial paradise and a resplendent inferno of desire.

Laughter may not show respect but it does show horror.

-Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality

But you know all this, my sweet Beauty. Our only hope is that our present purgatory will come to an end one day: we rub along with it as best we can. What else is left to us? … And as Gozzi said, “We cannot be always laughing…”

-Garielle Wittkop, Murder Most Serene


  1. Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony. Meridian; Reprint Edition edition (1956)
  2. Nordau, Max. Degeneration. University of Nebraska Press; Reprinted edition (November 1, 1993)
  3. Pick, Daniel. Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848-1918 (Ideas in Context). Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (July 30, 1993)
  4. Marja Harmanmaa and Christopher Nissen. Decadence, Degeneration, and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siecle. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (November 19, 2014)
  5. Medlar Lucan. The Decadent Gardner (Kindle Locations 219-227). Dedalus. Kindle Edition.
  6. Friedrich Nietzsche. transl. Walter Kaufmann. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Vintage; Reissue edition (December 17, 1989)
  7. Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1:118.
  8. Punter, David. The Literature of Pity. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2014)
  9. Simkin, S. Cultural Constructions of the Femme Fatale: From Pandora’s Box to Amanda Knox. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (October 28, 2014)
  10. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 13). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  11. David Farrell Krell . Contagion: Sexuality, Disease, and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism (Studies in Continental Thought).  Indiana University Press (March 22, 1998)
  12. Glucklich, Ariel. Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul (p. 87). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  13. Jeremy Biles,Kent Brintnall (Editors). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP)  Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  14. Eco, Umberto. History of Beauty. Rizzoli; Reprint edition (September 21, 2010) (p. 7)
  15. Bloom, Harold. The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime (Kindle Locations 161-163). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  16. Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell and The Illuminations (Kindle Locations 373-374). Kindle Edition.

Synopsis of the Ideal Marriage

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She had accepted him as she would any marauding hunter. First she would try to kill him, but failing this give him food and her body, breast-feed him back to a state of childishness and even, perhaps, feel affection for him. Then, the moment he was asleep, cut his throat. The synopsis of the ideal marriage.

– J. G.Ballard, High-Rise: A Novel

The Intelligence

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The Intelligence

“Tell me, Mr. Barker…” He smiled. “You don’t mind me calling you, Ted, do you Mr. Barker?” The grin grew wider…

“No, no, of course not: ” his eyes, bloodshot, dribbled. “Why should I?”

The Detective watched Barker. “Tell me, Ted, when did you notice the anomaly for the first time?”

“Anomaly? It wasn’t a frecking anomaly,” His face grew pale, eyes blinking wildly. “it was a gawd dang roach sitting there watching me, studying me. Like you are now… intelligently. Unless you’re an idiot, and intelligence is an anomaly that only roaches have.”

“No, no…” He tried to calm the man, interrogations were always difficult with civilians. “I mean, exactly when did you notice the ‘roach’ was intelligent? What were you doing? Could you walk me through your day? Tell me about yourself, Ted, I’m interested in helping you…” He spoke calmly, reassuringly.

“You think I know what time of day it was? WTF? Who gives a crap what time of day it was? I tell you it was intelligent, it could think? Roaches aren’t supposed to think, only humans are; you understand? We’re different, their just frekking bugs…” He pulled a pack of cigs out of his right front pocket.

“I’m sorry, Ted, but you can’t smoke in here.” Firm, but kind…

“I don’t give a shite about your freking rules and regulations… I’m going to smoke. You get me? I’m going to smoke this whole pack, you understand? What kind of bimbo are you anyway?” He rambled on and on and on…

The Interview was over. Detective Boner picked up his notes, nodded. Walked out. Turned to the psyche and tech-comm, “He’s all yours, Doc. Not going to get much else out of him. How many does that make now? Two hundred? I thought these distributed systems were undetectable? You guys up in GovComm ought to get into another trade if you ask me.”

The two men said nothing. Boner knew what would happen next. It always did. Maybe it was best this way. The poor bastard wouldn’t need to know the truth. Who’d believe him anyway? Boner thought to himself: “Sometimes I wish they’d end it for me, too. Knowing this thing is out there now; alive, intelligent, out-of-control and deadly gives me the hibbie-jibbies. I mean who can you trust anymore? I don’t even trust myself.”


(Another spur of the moment piece of crap I’m working on… dribble from the inner cores…)

©Steven Craig Hickman, 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Arthur Kroker: Technopocalypse & Slow Suicide

Today, the emblematic signs of the technopoesis that holds us in its sway are symptomatic of a future that will be marked less by the violence of an always imaginary apocalypse than by slow suicide. While Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Heidegger, and Arendt can console us, and perhaps even guide us, nothing has really prepared us for a future that will be fully entangled in the new technopoesis of accelerate and drift, with a still undetermined, deeply intermediated, aftermath of spectacular creativity, fierce violence, and unexpected crashes. For example, digital devices, once thought safely outside ourselves, have now broken barriers of skin and mind, shaping from within the deepest recesses of consciousness, desire, perception, and imagination. Whether at the level of philosophical meditation or personal sensibility, nothing has really prepared us to live out a deeply consequential future prefigured by the specters of drones, algorithms, image vectors, distributive consciousness, artificial intelligence, neurological implants, and humanoid robotics. What is required, perhaps, is an ethical preparation for the slow suicide of technological end-times that are now only just beginning along the watchtowers of fascination and despair, righteous anger and pleasurable nihilism, of speechless moral incredulity at observing the cynical pleasure by which the powerful inflict pain on the powerless, the weak, the poor – all those bodies that don’t matter – and passionate, maybe even, complicit mass resignation.1


  1. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (pp. 20-21). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Arthur Kroker: Hyperstitional Gazer of Futurity

“Post-history has been ‘driftworks,’ an indeterminate and increasingly violent series of technological experiments on the horizon of existence itself: the acceleration of space under the sign of digital culture until space itself has been reduced to a ‘specious present,’ and the social engineering of time into a micro-managed prism of empy granulartities.”

– Arthur Kroker

As an maverick educator Arthur Kroker is a nexus of hybrid thought, a convergence of other scholars and philosophers, scientists and performativity thinkers and artists, yet he is able to take their thought and derive from it a glossalia of our hypercapitalist nihilism and hyperstitional memes, amplifying and simplifying them it into intelligible soundbytes for the hungry masses yearning for a meaning that has no meaning. In that he is typical of those singular drifters on the edge of our present apocalypse or ‘revealing’ moment, who jut ahead like vagrant poets of temporal dreams, his antennae always in the netwaves gathering the electronic thoughts from the hypervalent wires of futurity.

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker are writers and lecturers in the areas of technology and contemporary culture. Together they edit the electronic journal CTheory, where they’ve served up articles from a broad range of scholars, thinkers, scientists, innovators, etc. on technology and culture.

His latest work Exits to the Posthuman Future brings his base vision of driftculture into another phase. As he asks,

What if we were to think media theory as itself an artistic practice, that is, as a form of aesthetic imagination that seeks to directly enter the world of data nerves, network skin, and increasingly algorithmic minds with the intention of capturing the dominant mood of these posthuman times – drift culture – in a form of thought that dwells in complicated intersections and complex borderlands? In its essence, thinking with and against the larger technopoesis of accelerate, drift, and crash that holds us in its sway requires a form of media reflection that is itself an exit to the posthuman future.1

As I once said in Utopia or Hell: The Future as Posthuman Game Strategy Kroker will admonish that we seem to be on the cusp of a strange transition, situated at the crossroads of humanity, and the future presents itself now as a gigantic simulacrum of the recycled remnants of all that which was left unfinished by the coming-to-be of the technological dynamo – unfinished religious wars, unfinished ethnic struggles, unfinished class warfare, unfinished sacrificial violence and spasms of brutal power, often motivated by a psychology of anger on the part of the most privileged members of the so-called global village. The apocalypse seems to be coming our way like a specter on the horizon, not a grand epiphany of events but by one lonely text message at a time. (Kroker, 193)

My friend Edmund Berger of  Deterritorial Investigation Unit would add a little history to this saying “the Situationists had configured the drift as the derive, a “technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” This psycheogeographical voyage was to be implemented in the terrain of the urban landscape, the setting for strolls – often aided by intoxicating substances – through region reconditioned by the demands of capitalism modernization. The drift was to be an act of reclamation: the city would become a place of adventure, liberated from its overcoding as a site of so-called cultural production through the ritualistic act of consumption and other forms of exchange. Guy Debord’s onetime comrade in the days of Socialism ou Barbarie, Jean-Francois Lyotard, injected this method of drift into the odysseys of intellectual life. For Lyotard it is an act of not only grand subversion, but also one of excess and decadence; drifting amidst the dissolving grand narratives of modernity is a concern of both wanton destruction and gleeful creation.” (The Posthuman and Information Guerilla)

Bruce Sterling in his book The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things says late capitalism is in process of laying the infrastructure for tyranny and control on a global scale through the use of such optimistic drift culture:

Digital commerce and governance is moving, as fast and hard as it possibly can, into a full-spectrum dominance over whatever used to be analogue. In practice, the Internet of Things means an epic transformation: all-purpose electronic automation through digital surveillance by wireless broadband.

Yet, against this decadent scenario as Kroker suggests what if the counter were true, and the shadow artists of the future or even now beginning to enter the world of data nerves, network skin, and increasingly algorithmic minds with the intention of capturing the dominant mood of these posthuman times – drift culture – in a form of thought that dwells in complicated intersections and complex borderlands? He envisions instead an new emergent order of rebels, a global gathering of new media artists, remix musicians, pirate gamers, AI graffiti artists, anonymous witnesses, and code rebels, an emerging order of figural aesthetics revealing a new order, a brilliantly hallucinatory order, based on an art of impossible questions and a perceptual language as precise as it is evocative. Here, the aesthetic imagination dwells solely on questions of incommensurability : What is the vision of the clone? What is the affect of the code? What is the hauntology of the avatar? What is most excluded, prohibited, by the android? What is the perception of the drone? What are the aesthetics of the fold? What, in short, is the meaning of aesthetics in the age of drift culture?(Kroker, 195-196)

As Edmund reiterates Kroker’s response, the drift culture, takes place on a global level, as Hickman surmises: it is a “new emergent order of rebels, a global gathering of new media artists, remix musicians, pirate gamers, AI graffiti artists, anonymous witnesses, and code rebels, an emerging order of figural aesthetics revealing a new order, a brilliantly hallucinatory order, based on an art of impossible questions and a perceptual language as precise as it is evocative.” He seems to be invoking, then, the weirdness of the internet itself when the world first went wired, as the subcultures of the globe clashed and produced the mutated offspring that today is retrospectively referred to a “tactical media.” This transnational roster includes Kroker’s own CTheory, Nettime, The Thing, Laibach, the Neoists, I/O/D, Adilkno, the VNS Matrix, Afrika G.R.U.P.P.E, the Critical Art Ensemble, the unknown legions of Karen Eliots and Luther Blissetts – and later Wu Mings -, so on and so forth. Through each of these the newfound possibilities of communication exchange and interconnection collided with the compulsion to theorize wildy, conduct absurdist interventions, increase solidarity and even overt support with political struggles, and constantly interrogate the barriers and the intersections of the political with the aesthetics.

Kroker will add that now that the posthuman condition has revealed decadence – incredulous, excessive decadence – as the basic ontology of late capitalism, the point of a figural art that would “harden, worsen, accelerate decadence” would be precisely the reverse, that is to say, it would draw into a greater visibility those intangible, but very real, impulses to social solidarity and ethical probity that haunt the order of the real. (198) So Kroker is moving toward an affirmation of an accelerationist aesthetic that would unloosen the tendencies within the social not to further the capitalist agendas, but rather to disturb it and force its hand into other paths through collective and ethical change and transformation.


  1. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (p. 195). Wiley. Kindle Edition.