The Intelligence of Capital?

The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital…

—Karl Marx, Fragment on Machines: Grundrisse

I remember during the 90’s so many works predicting a time vortex, an invasion of the future into our contemporary world. So many films would follow the same line such as the Terminator series where the intelligent machines would battle it out with humans for a world of ashes. Or the Matrix series where humanity was but a pawn in an elaborate system of metafictional world making for the machines who needed them like vampires sucking the electrical currents from our living dream. But now we are in the midst of such a world where the great narratives and culture industries that have built the artificial palaces of our multifarious cultures across the globe are coming apart at the seams. In the process of this the great backlash of the old guard, the conservative wing of the human equation seeks to reestablish the old order of things with every last ounce of its wagging power in the face of a planetary crisis such as the world has never seen.

Even as Marx predicated in such an early work as the Grundrisse humans are not important to Capital, they are but means to an end: the automation of the world. Humans are replaceable and non-essential to Capital. Always have been. As Marx would say,

In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker’s means of labour. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker’s activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely transmits the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material — supervises it and guards against interruptions. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. (Grundrisse, p. 621) [My Italics]

It’s in this passage that we see a supple transition from the organic (human) craftiness and art (technics) to that of the artificial (machinic) intelligence with its own laws and energy needs ( humans needing food, while the machine needs other planetary anorganic resources). This sense that the human worker is within this process and transition a mere appendage and necessary part of the ongoing processuality of this automatization, and that the human is no longer the master in his own house but rather the one controlled by those very machinic processes. This great reversal between organic and inorganic in our time, with the rise of machinic civilization and its artificial autonomization and independence from the human is for Stiegler the displacement of entropy and negentropy in the new dispensation of machinic civilization,

In the Anthropocene epoch, from which it is a matter of escaping as quickly as possible, the questions of life and negentropy arising with Darwin and Schrödinger must be redefined from the organological perspective defended here, according to which: (1) natural selection makes way for artificial selection; and (2) the passage from the organic to the organological displaces the play of entropy and negentropy. (AS, KL 659)

Bernard Stiegler: Automatic Society

The next Industrial Revolution, a third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess—machines that devaluate human thinking.

 —Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

Like many professional scholars Bernard Stiegler’s gaze has been turned toward the culture industries that have shaped our global era. Seeking in ancient Greek thought he’s transposed many of that cultures conceptuality into a set of tools to expose some of the darker corners of our era’s pathologies. Like many others he sees this replacement of humanity by the machinic powers of an automated society as a two-horned prodigy. On the one hand the predictions of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx and so many others predicted a coming time when there would be an end of wage labour. But with the end of work the true challenge for Stiegler facing humanity is what to do with all those out of work and surplus humans? As he says it:

…the time liberated by the end of work must be put at the service of an automated culture, but one capable of producing new value and of reinventing work. Such a culture of dis-automatization, made possible by automatization, is what can and must produce negentropic value – and this in turn requires what I have previously referred to as the otium of the people.1

Let’s chew on this for a few minutes. Stiegler accepts the fact that automation and the replacement of millions of workers in various aspects of our present global capitalist system is inevitable, but that we must discover against the Consumerist Culture that has driven our global society for a hundred years a new culture. The Culture of Disautomatization. One that produces negentropic value based on what he termed at one point the “otium of the people”.

Now the concept and phrase “negative entropy” was introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores. In the Decadence of Industrial Democracies Stiegler will describe otium this way:

Otium is that which constitutes the practice of retentional systems through which collective secondary retentions are elaborated, selected and transmitted, 20 and through which, in turn, protentions are formed. The formation of these protentions always puts into play the singularity of the one who is taking aim with these protentions, since this process is always equally informed by the singularity of their secondary retentions, which are precisely not collective. (DID, p. 61)

Of course Otium, a Latin abstract term, has a variety of meanings, including leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. It sometimes, but not always, relates to a time in a person’s retirement after previous service to the public or private sector, opposing “active public life”. Otium can be a temporary time of leisure, that is sporadic. It can have intellectual, virtuous or immoral implications. It originally had the idea of withdrawing from one’s daily business (negotium) or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e. speaking, writing, philosophy). It had particular meaning to businessmen, diplomats, philosophers and poets.2

For Stiegler we are losing our cultural memory and inheritance, and in the process the otium of the people that has guided and shaped its mind and body for hundreds if not thousands of years. We are living in that in-between-time of transition from one age to another, an unscripted and for the most part a topsy-turvy time of apocalyptic and chaotic struggles between various world cultures and otiums that are now failing their people due to the total completion of nihilism in our moment. The mis-trust and of culture, of books, of the elites, of the past is now at a high point. The young no longer bred on the world of either the religious or secular inheritance of cultural memory are living through a temporal vacuum. The Age of the Book is over. An age when the young were educated and instructed in the cultural inheritance of our multifarious past works of religious and secular arts and philosophies. Rather ours is a digital age of sound bytes and fragments that can no longer sustain the reading habits and solitary practices of the Book. As Stiegler confesses,

…no society has ever existed that did not contain practices comparable to what the Roman nobility called otium. No such society exists, ?Xcept in the West of the industrial democracies which, taking themselves for post-industrial societies, are submitted to the ‘leisure’ industries, industries that are in fact the very negation of leisure, that is, of otium as practice, since these industries are constituted through the hegemony of imperatives arising from negotium. Such is their decadence. (DID, p. 62)

The slow erosion of language in the course of a hundred years at the hands of scholars who would end in the post-structuralist black hole and aporia of meaning has left us in a world where words and things no longer touch, a world depleted of meaning is no world at all, an empty world full of forces and nightmares. A world in which mass-media systems produce reality for us, guide and shape our opinions. As Henry A. Giroux remarks,

With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.3

Many pundits and scientists dub ours the Anthropocene Age in which humans become conscious of their role in the destruction and ruination of the earth. The Anthropocene era is that of industrial capitalism, an era in which calculation prevails over every other criteria of decision-making, and where algorithmic and mechanical becoming is concretized and materialized as logical automation and automatism, thereby constituting the advent of nihilism, as computational society becomes a society that is automated and remotely controlled. (Stiegler)

At the very moment that humanity becomes conscious of itself is the moment that it loses its memory, falls away into fragmented systems of control that squander both the mental and physical resources of the planet and replace them with the algorithmic culture of machinic intelligence. For Stiegler this is the moment of Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values,

We must think the Anthropocene with Nietzsche, as the geological era that consists in the devaluation of all values: it is in the Anthropocene, and as its vital issue, that the task of all noetic knowledge becomes the transvaluation of values. And this occurs at the moment when the noetic soul is confronted, through its own, organological putting-itself-in-question, with the completion of nihilism, which amounts to the very ordeal of our age – in an Anthropocene concretized as the age of planetarizing capitalism.(AS, KL 548)

In a world where culture is in disarray, the people mistrust both leadership and the mediatainment systems of cultural production we have entered that phase where nothing is true, everything is possible. So that for Stiegler a return to Marx and Nietzsche is imperative.Reading Marx and Nietzsche together in the service of a new critique of political economy, where the economy has become a cosmic factor on a local scale (a dimension of the cosmos) and therefore an ecology, must lead to a process of transvaluation, such that both economic values and those moral devaluations that result when nihilism is set loose as consumerism are ‘transvaluated’ by a new value of all values, that is, by negentropy – or negative entropy, or anti-entropy. (AS, KL 557)

The point of negentropy is to fight against the dissolution into total eclipse, to martial the unconscious energies on tap in the geospherical psyche of collective humankind, to bring about a resurgence in creative and empowered transformation against the forces that are taking us into a dark moment of death driven psychopathic madness.

All fine and dandy, but how? How enact such a scheme? Another pipe-dream from a scholar’s arsenal of wishful ideas? Or does Stiegler have something up his sleeve? I’ll return to this in the next post….

stay tuned!


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 485-490). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Otium, Wikipedia.
  3. Giroux, Henry  A.. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (p. 6). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

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

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

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

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The Terror of Being Human: Technicity and the Inhuman

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

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

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

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The Dark Sublime: The Poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne

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I would my love could kill thee; I am satiated
With seeing thee live, and fain would have thee dead.

-Algernon Charles Swinburne, Anactoria

Algernon Charles Swinburne (April 5, 1837 – April 10, 1909) English poet and critic, outstanding for prosodic innovations and noteworthy as the symbol of mid-Victorian poetic revolt. The characteristic qualities of his verse are insistent alliteration, unflagging rhythmic energy, sheer melodiousness, great variation of pace and stress, effortless expansion of a given theme, and evocative if rather imprecise use of imagery. His poetic style is highly individual and his command of word-colour and word-music striking. Swinburne’s technical gifts and capacity for prosodic invention were extraordinary, but too often his poems’ remorseless rhythms have a narcotic effect, and he has been accused of paying more attention to the melody of words than to their meaning. Swinburne was pagan in his sympathies and passionately antitheist. This is the bare truth of a poet who would epitomize the dark sadomasochistic world of Late Romanticism, otherwise known as English Decadence.

Little read today except by aficionados of that dark realm of the fantastic one wonders at his strange craft, the elegant measure of his line and its  insouciance. Swinburne would fuse French Decadence to reinforce Coleridge against Wordsworth reviving the gothic sublime in all its horrific glory. An admirer of Sade, Gautier, and Baudelaire, Swinburne restored to English literature the sexual frankness it lost after the eighteenth century. After the Victorian defeat of Oscar Wilde the fate of Swinburne was assured. Wilde’s love letter to Lord Alfred Douglas De Profundis would lay bare the dark contours of his own prejudices and fears, presenting his association with young, working-class male prostitutes as a kind of moral and creative lapse, a bout of slumming that distracted him from the free practice of his art: “I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease … I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and meaner minds.” (here) Toward the end of his prison term in Reading he would sum up the art of Late Romanticism (Decadence), saying, “Language requires to be tuned, like a violin; and just as too many or too few vibrations in the voice of the singer or the trembling of the string will make the note false, so too much or too little in words will spoil the message.” Sadly, the fate of Wilde’s outer life would haunt the poetry and writings of Swinburne, which would fall into disfavor as a Late Victorian world of morality and accusation would put a damper on any sense of sexuality in poetry of literature.

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Magic Leap: Reality as Immersive Technology

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On Wired is an article about the company Magic Leap developing the future of immersive technologies that will hook you. As Jessi Hempel tells it:

Visiting Magic Leap was like stepping through the fictional wardrobe in Professor Kirke’s house that first landed Lucy in the colorful chaos of Narnia. The company was still working out of temporary offices on the fourth floor of the Design Center of the Americas, a sprawling complex of eerily quiet showrooms where interior designers showcase furniture, fabrics, and flooring. While WIRED videographer Patrick Farrell parked the car, I entered the building and wandered to the back of the cavernous main hall, past a security guard who didn’t look up, hung a right, walked to the elevators, rode up, walked down another hall and around an atrium. I didn’t pass a single person. Then I arrived at a tiny reception area and stepped inside. There was so much going on!

There were people everywhere. Fresh off raising $794 million in funding—likely the largest C round in startup history–Magic Leap had been hiring faster than it could find seats for its growing cadre of designers and engineers and had amped up its already packed demo schedule. Just behind me, a leaper, as Magic Leap’s employees are called, handed a visitor a clipboard to review an NDA. To the left, another leaper ushered a pair of fashionably dressed guys out of a glass-walled conference room, presumably also en route to a demo.

When I ask him how Magic Leap works, he says it creates digital light field signals that mimic the way sight works. He explains that everyone’s brain has “an amazing world-building engine.” We call it sight, but really the brain is a big computer that absorbs data through sensors called your eyes and processes it to build models of the objects in your field of vision. “We basically tried to clone that and make a digital version of that,” he says. “We talked to the GPU”—graphic processing unit—“of the brain and asked it to make our stuff.”

Read more: I Went Inside Magic Leap’s HQ and Here’s What I Saw…

The Great Escape: Exit Strategies for Mars and Oceans?

Utopian longings have probably been around as long as humanity. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill. That is, until you actually go there and discover its a desert, a lifeless patch of inhuman wasteland that no one in their right mind would ever want to visit much less live there. When I read about Elon Musk, the exemplary icon of the “California Ideology,” whose most recent escapade is to pack settlers up in a series of SpaceWagons and hi-ho it to Mars I want to puke. Why? Who the hell really wants to move their family to a dustbowl? Really? A place that might take a few thousands years of terraforming to become habitable. Some of the great movies have us either in tears or laughter.

Lately its become an economic con-game for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, and Sir Richard Branson; Dutch reality show and space mission Mars One; NASA; and the Chinese government are among the many groups competing to plant the first stake on Mars and open the door for human habitation. As Elon says: “I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary… in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen,” Musk said in a recent interview with the digital magazine Aeon.

Even Buzz Aldrin’s succumbed to this hot shot world of Mars stating in his new book Mission To Mars: “I think we’re talking ourselves into this gloomsday period. What we need is leadership willing to look out into the future… We should’ve asked China to be a portion of the space station. We should’ve worked out ways that we can … just give away the technology that we have that puts things up into space, with cooperation up above the atmosphere that’s needed to help each other…” (see interview).

Others like Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut have revealed ambitious plans for a series of underwater eco-villages. His Aequorea project imagines entirely self-sufficient, spiraling “oceanscrapers” reaching the sea floor. Each “oceanscraper” would be constructed using recycled plastics from the Great Pacific Garbage. Other off-shore strategies are in the works such as the Seasteading Institute.

Others like the strange Damanhur commune, an ecovillage, and spiritual community that was founded in 1975 by a man named Falco Tarassaco. It is situated in the Piedmont region of northern Italy about 30 miles north of the city of Turin, in the foothills of the Alps. Best known for its otherworldly underground tunnels that feature a cathedral dedicated to awakening the divine spark present in every human being, known as the Temples of Humankind. Called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” what makes these temples so extraordinary is that they were dug (almost) entirely by hand into the heart of the mountain in which they reside.

These days we here from the Left to Right the notion of Exit Strategies. On the Left this entails redrawing the map of global capitalism, discovering chinks in the armor of its economic supremacy. Discovering ways to circumvent its grip upon nations and peoples across the world, of escaping the clutches of its power and influence. Many people across the world are calling for secessionist movements. Roger Cohen tells us “people are bored and irked. They can’t get new jobs. They want new borders, especially as the likelihood of actually having to defend them in war has become infinitely remote. They want to be cyberglobal and hyper-local, citizens of the world with the passports of microstates. The desires seem to balance each other.” (Scottexalonia Rising) On the Left Matthew Cavedon tells us that Cohen has his argument backwards—secessionism is increasingly influential precisely because of modern interconnectedness not because it is a reactionary movement.

Nick Land from his vantage within the neoreaction has an interesting post on the topic of exit, and outlines a few preliminary thought-gatherings on the topic. For him Exit is a scale-free concept – a “take it or leave it” non-negotiable strategy, which above all recognizes the basic need “at whatever scale of expression, the concrete social implementation of freedom as an operational principle”. Second, it’s a philosophical stance: Exit is anti-dialectical. That is to say, it is the insistence of an option against argument, especially refusing the idea of necessary political discussion (a notion which, if accepted, guarantees progression to the left). Let’s spatialize our disagreement is an alternative to resolution in time. Conversations can be prisons. No one is owed a hearing. Third, Exit has a long heritage within the tradition of protest, that is – the Protestant religious and theosophical. Fourth, for Land and those on the Right Exit has an asymmetrical association with the Left: it is, for him anti-socialist, and he’ll point to the iconic Berlin Wall without further elaboration. (Of course one might point in the opposite direction to the Civil-War exist strategies of the Southern States in America as a counter: the South being agrarian and communal, exiting from the fat-cat capitalists and bankers that had such a grip upon their world. But then one would have to counter that as the winners surmise it was about racism and the dark aristocratic and elitist notions of white supremacy that were the South’s real reason for exit, etc.) Fifth, its optional, its not an argument “not an argument for flight, but a (non-dialectical) defense of the opportunity for flight”. Sixth, its an ‘alternative to voice’. As if scripted from Albert O. Hirschman’s (1970) Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States Land cryptically alludes to this book without explicitly mentioning its arguments:

Of course Hirschman’s book was about alternative ways of reacting to deterioration in business firms and, in general, to dissatisfaction with organizations: one, “exit,” is for the member to quit the organization or for the customer to switch to the competing product, and the other, “voice,” is for members or customers to agitate and exert influence for change “from within.” The efficiency of the competitive mechanism, with its total reliance on exit, is questioned for certain important situations. As exit often undercuts voice while being unable to counteract decline, loyalty is seen in the function of retarding exit and of permitting voice to play its proper role. The interplay of the three concepts turns out to illuminate a wide range of economic, social, and political phenomena. As the Hirschman states in the preface, “having found my own unifying way of looking at issues as diverse as competition and the two-party system, divorce and the American character, black power and the failure of ‘unhappy’ top officials to resign over Vietnam, I decided to let myself go a little.”

Lastly, Land takes off the mask of humility and let’s the stops out, stating that the final strategy for the neoreaction is Exit as the primary Social Darwinian weapon. Need we go into the implications here? I think we know where he’s heading and its not a pretty place.

On the Left we could point to the recent Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities as examples of groups that have had enough of nations and larger globalist interventions. Or the Quebec sovereignty movement. Even the Inuit Autonomist movements: Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut, and Inuvik Region. Europe has their own listing of various groups seeking to exit the EU and even their own nations. Of course Autonomism emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of Italian far-left movements in the 1970s, and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio, as well as Mario Tronti, Paolo Virno and Franco “Bifo” Berardi.

Such movies as Elysium brought to the forefront and in stark relief the globalist strategy of Exit for the plutocrats: the noveau riche live in a space paradise, a torvus assemblage, a park-like, mansion-filled, lap-of-luxury and splendor. It’s the ultimate gated community, a cartoon land where paradise is a suite with a pool and view of the moon off starboard side of a revolving disc (torus). While the rest of the world below this spinning gem lives in rat-infested garbage cities, working in radioactive dumps, under the careful eye of drones and bandit-assassins. Max De Costa played by Matt Damon works in one of these sub-par facilities and is forced to grind out a mere existence under the supervision of petty overseers, etc. He’s accidently irradiated by an extreme dose when his boss threatens him with job loss if he doesn’t meet his quota. No need to go into details, needlessly he risks his life and is trapped in this cesspool of radiation. He spends the rest of the movie becoming a cyborg machine, running around trying to find a way to escape earth and reach Elysium where he’s discovered they have medical facilities that will cure him. I’ll not spoil you with the ending.  It’s a typical clichéd movie from Hollywood, yet it has a sort of leftward appeal like many recent films. Problem is that its based on a flawed hero who for the most part cares only about himself. That is until the end… and, as said, I’ll not spoil you further.

What bothers me about many of these types of film is that they don’t offer any real solutions. What they offer is just the usual escapist fantasies couched in futuristic settings, embellished with the basic ideological extremes of conspiracy theory rather than the actual truth of our real world situation. Such comic book portrayals with their noirish heroes fighting against all odds, flawed and cynical, yet showing a little compassion for those poor and excluded. A sort of titular nod for effect rather than an actual crack in the Symbolic Order’s armor. Just like we saw in the Matrix films it’s more about enacting mythic fantasy of savior myths and singular and determined heroes that might save the world than about any form of true collective action against the threat of our very existence. No. These films are about economics, about making as much money as possible for the studios rather than about getting some profound message out there.

A hot topic over the past few years has been YA Dystopian books. The ever-growing list of works has become a deluge from thin romance driven novels with a little flare of the sad and angry rather than the old Orwellian nightmare worlds of yore. With the Hunger Games movies released successively over the past few years one gets the feeling its our teenagers that will save us from ourselves. Wonderful. One can even follow one’s latest fare on sites like Rotten Tomatoes with the tomatometer. As well in our fragmented world of the decentered internet one discovers a 1001 variations of the critical eye covering each movie, book, or talk show to the point of exhaustion. Sadly one loses site of what dystopian literature once stood for and why there were few and far between in this field. The bare worlds of dystopia brought us darkness and a critical gaze onto the inhumanity of men against their own atrocious existence. Today such fare is glamorized, Hollywoodized and made both palatable and fun, full of intensity and action oriented plots driven by sex and death. Gone is the stupidity and inhumanity, corruption and degradation. For that you’ll need to return to the older forms science fiction, horror, and dystopian literature.

But in such fantasy days as Star Wars, Star Trek, and Disneyland spinoffs with their optimistic futures full of excitement and galactic combat, good guys and bad guys in white and black hats – I meant, costumes, garb, whatever you want to call these fantasy uniforms one has a hard time accepting that these fun filled futures are real. Instead one just escapes into the fantasy knowing its there to take your mind of the world outside where your real life is probably hanging by a thread from total collapse. I’d like to put a nice spin on it, but it just doesn’t seem possible. When we’re faced with such real dystopian futures as global conflict, climate-change, sixth-extinctions, asteroids, super-volcanoes, and a multitude of other real-world scenarios of catastrophism and doomsday its more comfortable to live the fantasy for a few hours than to live one’s life. Sad, but true.

 

Alain Badiou on Pasolini

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Alain Badiou will situate his discourse on Pier Paolo Pasolini between destruction and subtraction, never forgetting that it is negation that works within them both. Speaking of that Poet, Marxist and full of the innocence of the sacred, saying,

His question was: is the revolutionary becoming of History, the political negativity, a destruction of the tragic beauty of the Greek myths and of the peaceful promise of Christianity? Or do we have to speak of a subtraction, whereby an affirmative reconciliation of beauty and peace becomes possible in a new egalitarian world?1

Isn’t this our question as well? When many would bury this ancient past as dead and to be forgotten in a world where the drift of things has shifted from the monocular vision of Western Civilization to a complex and international realm of late capitalism and the lost and poverty stricken Third World what should be done? Ours is a time when the post-colonial and multicultural identity politics has brought more divisiveness than recognition, more war and strife, racial tensions, and embittered battalions of the disaffected into a world where such things as beauty and peace seem a dream of ancient utopian failures rather than the real of our political moment. Is an egalitarian vision still viable, or is it an impossible dream at our late hour?

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Angus Fletcher: A New Theory of American Poetry

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Many might remember Angus Fletcher’s Allegory: A Symbolic Mode which was written in the wake of such luminary works as Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism and his Fearful Symmetry; a work on the life and poetry of William Blake. Fletcher’s work brought forward the notion of an allegory without ideas in its modernist variant, along with the traditional four-fold schemes of medieval fame.  In that study he applied a reading of works as disparate as Dante’s trilogy and Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene, giving us a glimpse at the daemonic mode of the symbolic sublime. 

One of the things I took away from Fletcher’s work on allegory was a sense as he said that “allegory, the touchstone of medieval literature and preaching, cannot fail over time to produce anesthesia, whereas metaphor, a figure of instant animation, lifts the mind to a fervor of aesthetic activity.  Metaphor as structural principle generates restless shift and flexing of sense.”1 In this sense our modern troubadours such as our Orpheus Hart Crane – with his hyperbolic sublime; and, the natural or descriptive sublime of that Lucretian Wallace Stevens. All used this notion of the metaphor of the restless and never-resting Mind that travels and travails across the far horizon of our earthly estate seeking the lost objects of the heart that must suffice.

I’m reading a work I read back in 2004 by Fletcher A New Theory for American Poetry: Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of Imagination. In it he admits that “the most factual of relations to nature give rise to a new form of transcendental, namely to gnomic expression and of immanent transcendence.”2 This notion of gnomic expression and immanent transcendence might be familiar to those who keep up with current continental thought. It’s a nice way of talking about naturalist modes of atheism without directly appealing to that name. I don’t have time to go into the full details of the book, but it offers a six-fold reading of American poetry as a cross between naturalist descriptive verse and a responsive and inquisitive, even democratic dialogue between poetry and the sciences. One that allows for poetry to begin with the circle of the horizontal, or the concept of horizon as a beginning point, which “implies the immediate boundary to any environment”. Then he speaks to the place of the poet’s herself, her “way of being in the world,” as pertaining to the ecological surround of the poet’s eye and thought. Then he uses the exemplary poetry of our gnomic poet Walt Whitman, son and ephebe of that famed New Englander Ralph Waldo Emerson. He describes Whitman’s poetry as the poetry of environmental form. He’ll connect this form to its underlying rhythm, how it shapes this dialogue of naturalist perspectives with imaginative understanding. Next he treats of that distant son of Whitman, John Ashberry as the poet of becoming or process and motion; time and its momentum or accelerating disposition and advance. Finally, he’ll develop an ethical or poetic stance which he perceives within American poetry at large, between our native strain or poetic sublime and the counter-sublime. This ethical strain he likens to the pragmatic theory of coherence. He’ll take aim at separating out our homegrown pragmatism deriving from Pierce and James, weeding out the religious and belief systems in favor of its more abstract and constant layers of doing and making.

I’ll probably come back to this in a future post to fill out the details. Definitely a work to look into if your a lover of poetry, especially its American descendants. This year I’ve been rereading most of the poetry that has meant something to me over the years. Been an exciting time to go back through many of my favorite poets. After spending so much time reading philosophers and scientists the last few years its nice to return to my poetic roots.


 

  1. Angus Fletcher. Time, Space, and Motion in the Age of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 154-155). Kindle Edition.
  2. Angus Fletcher. A New Theory for American Poetry: Democracy, the Environment, and the Future of Imagination. Harvard University Press (March 15, 2006)

Helen Vendler: The Art of Seeing Well

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I prefer, for what I do, the classical label of “commentary” or Pater’s label, “aesthetic criticism.”
………– Helen Vendler

Been reading Helen Vendler’s new book of essays The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar and came across a passage that struck me as true to my own way of thinking and being. The notion of commentary and aesthetic criticism is something I’ve been doing for a long while. Harold Bloom calls it the “art of appreciation”. I’ve always felt a good literary critic should awaken in you a curiosity to seek out more, to know more, to challenge yourself to read and think through the specific poet, novelist, artist, etc. that has been presented by the critics essay. A critic’s task to instruct and delight, to make the work before her both interesting and alive in the reader’s mind. If she has done that she has accomplished her task, giving us a commentary and appreciation of the poet’s work and life in such a way that we walk away with more than we came with.

Vendler in the preface discusses her childhood as one of Catholic upbringing that led to its opposite through the power of questioning dogma. Again, for me – although raised Protestant, there was this early questioning of those ‘articles of faith’; those notions that one should not question, discuss, ask; as if to question the dogmas of one’s faith were to suddenly plunge one into the depths of irrationalism (i.e., “one must just accept,” “one must not question God’s veracity,”; or, “those who question are close to being won over to the devil,” – implying, for me that I was on a short leash to hell. Vendler in her personal struggle out of religion discusses how her freedom at the university gave her a change to move past her parents iron-willed Catholicism, to read those who have in literature, philosophy, poetry, etc. questioned the dogmas and found them wanting.

She discovered early on that the only place she could be alone with her self was in writing poetry. Yet, as she discovered later on in college, after escaping a Catholic schooling which left her escaping the rigid world of catechisms and morals into science she once again became enamored with literature, and especially poetry. Yet, it was until much later that she realized poetry she wrote just didn’t have that unique spark:

I much later realized that I don’t possess the Coleridgean “continual reverie” of imagination; I don’t live life on two planes at once as imaginative people do.1

What struck me was just this double-vision, this seeming strange relation we as poets have of living on two planes at once. As if we were in touch with a continuous reverie between mind and things, a dialectical relationship that flowed in-between, never resting, always moving back and forth, inside and outside, round and round through the dead traces of thought and the living truth of the moment as thought and being suddenly come together in-between the mind and thing, never quite resolved but rather proving the crack in our mind between thing and thought that is always full of contradictions. It is in that restless interval of contraction and time that the poem is born and enters that necessary movement or happening that sets the mind to work and allows for the ineffable communication to occur that is the poem. A tension between mind and thing, both paradoxical and without resolution; only the power to awaken imagination and weave the trace of life and things into a knot of energy.

I like to think of the poem as a small machine whose purpose is to awaken desire. The moment you plug-in to its power grid it gives you a jolt and sends you reeling under its dark enchantments. If it doesn’t then the poem is a dead engine in your hands. Seek out those poems that awaken you from your lethargic boredom, that send you after the lost powers of your own being, that bring you those deep reveries that empower you to live life with gusto and pleasure. Even in the difficult art of sorrow one entertains the elegiac power of one’s being revealed. Turn the key, light the fire of that poem that delivers to you your self in movement and majesty.

As Vendler says,

To understand a poem it’s necessary above all to understand its functional stylistic elements; when a scholar— without a profound knowledge of the poet’s work— swoops in on a single poem to illustrate an ideological point, he or she tends to falsify both the poem and the poet in question. There is no ready and easy way to take the measure of a lyric: it must be seen in itself and as part of an individual oeuvre and as part of a literary tradition before it can be used to support any scholarly point at all.

A critic of my sort is, I suppose, “learned” in a way— that is, she has a memory for stories, styles, and structures she has seen before, and she understands the expressive possibilities latent in writing (from the larger forms of myth and narrative to the almost invisible arrangements of prepositions and articles). She remembers the combinations and permutations of words and syntax that she has come across, and is curious about the power of new assemblages. Against the background of known structures, she recognizes and defines original ones, finding names for them and inventing taxonomies in which they might be arranged. Her “learning” resembles the “learning” of poets, which, though deeply etymological and architectonic, is often unsystematic and idiosyncratic. She often fails at the most elementary undertakings of “scholarly” life, such as remembering facts, entering polemical debates, and relating works to the political or philosophical history of their era. She has— at least I have— no capacity for broad synthetic statements.

What I’ve enjoyed about Vendler is her honesty and intellectual capacity, saying what she has to say in clear and distinct prose that has all the earmarks of the great literary critic. A tradition that stems from Longinus and Aristotle to Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, John Ruskin, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde on thru the moderns, New Criticism on to I.A. Richards, Harry Levin, R.P. Blackmur, Northrop Frye, Kenneth Burke, Harold Bloom to our day with the cross-wise poet-critics taking the stage.

When I read philosophers like Badiou who use variations on criticism of literature and poetry I’m always happy to come back to actual practicing critics who’ve learned their trade in the trenches. Nothing against Badiou, but as a philosopher he has little grasp of the wide range of tools critics have gathered over the years, and his ideological and philosophical lens cast a narrow net upon both poetry and literature leaving little for the imagination. Vendler on the other hand is not out to beat you over the head with an ideological hammer like Badiou. Hers is a fine art of reading well, one that comes with years of close and intensive appreciation of the details rather than some surface tension seeking the conceptual strategies. Philosophers focus on conceptuality leaves one dry after a while wanting more, wanting a richer and more varied form of writing and reading. What little philosophers of today read outside the discipline of philosophy proper seems to be narrowly focused on a specific range of literature and poetry, honing in on those writers that convey thought rather than image and feelings. Vendler appreciates concepts, but not at the expense of reading a poet-as-poet. There is a difference that makes a difference in poetry as in philosophy, yet the two forms approach life and thought from different needs and capacities.

Poetry brings thought and imagination into play, while philosophy attunes us to the pure conceptuality of reason, intellect, and will sharpened and distinct from imaginative literature and its poetic cousin. What a critic like Vendler sees in poetry and poets is the visible darkness latent in the structure of the poem itself, its gatherings and absorptions from life and other poetry revealed, teased out of its knotted mire. She opens the poem to desire, and thereby lets us enter its imaginative poverty. Instead of context and facts she gives us the ineffable and intransitive dispositions that shape us to those meanings we otherwise would never have known to exist. She does not give us those meanings, but rather allows us to tease them out for ourselves through that negative capacity of imagination which is poetry’s charm and eloquence.


  1. Vendler, Helen (2015-04-20). The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar (Kindle Locations 203-204). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

Anne Carson: Quote of the Day!

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Invoking Plato’s Phaedrus, Anne Carson’s early book Eros the Bittersweet breaks into a sublimely resigned paragraph:

From the testimony of lovers like Sokrates or Sappho we can
construct what it would be like to live in a city of no desire.
Both the philosopher and the poet find themselves describing
Eros in images of wings and metaphors of flying, for desire is a
movement that carries yearning hearts from over here to over
there, launching the mind on a story. In the city without desire
such flights are unimaginable. Wings are kept clipped. The
known and the unknown learn to align themselves one behind
the other so that, provided you are positioned at the proper
angle, they seem to be one and the same. If there were a  visible difference, you might find it hard to say so,  for the useful verb mnaomai will have come to mean “a fact is a fact.” To reach for  something else than the facts will carry you beyond this city and perhaps, as for Sokrates, beyond this world. It is a high-risk proposition, as Sokrates saw quite clearly, to reach for the difference between known and unknown. He thought the risk worthwhile, because he was in love with wooing itself. And who is not?1

The notion that we might be the clipped and wingless citizens of that dark country of the mind which no longer believes in the future, but believes we are cut off from change living in a merry-go round nightmare world of economic servitude and accelerated inanity is without doubt a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, as we look around us and study the unimaginative leaders of our so called free world bind their wings with economic and political death, enforce unsustainable and illusive wars, live in a vacuum of powerlessness and apathy unable to communicate with each other or move things forward we begin to understand our predicament. That poetry and eros were once aligned to awaken and bridge our desires toward the future rather than this impossible myth of decay and enslavement we live in is without doubt the truth of our moment. As Carson reiterates we need once again enjoin Socrates’s belief in music, poetry, song and dance; as well as the power of that inner daemon of creativity and erotic awakening that seeks to convey us beyond the Land of the known and into the unknown Wilderness of Desire and Difference, where eros once again woos us to become other than we are.

Maybe we need to be wooed by eros once again…

  1. Anne Carson. Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay. Princeton University Press (July 14, 2014)

Edwin Arlington Robinson

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Rereading Edwin Arlington Robinson can be a cause for celebration. His voice is distinct and full of that quiet ferocity that quickens the mind. As in his poem on George Crabbe:

George Crabbe

GIVE him the darkest inch your shelf allows,
Hide him in lonely garrets, if you will, —
But his hard, human pulse is throbbing still
With the sure strength that fearless truth endows.
In spite of all fine science disavows,   
Of his plain excellence and stubborn skill
There yet remains what fashion cannot kill,
Though years have thinned the laurel from his brows.
Whether or not we read him, we can feel
From time to time the vigor of his name  
Against us like a finger for the shame
And emptiness of what our souls reveal
In books that are as altars where we kneel
To consecrate the flicker, not the flame.1

Harold Bloom would say in his usual laconic exuberance of Robinson: “It is not that Robinson believed, with Melville, that the invisible spheres were formed in fright, but he shrewdly suspected that the ultimate world,
though existent, was nearly as destitute as this one. He is an Emersonian
incapable of transport, an ascetic of the Transcendental spirit, contrary to
an inspired saint like Jones Very or to the Emerson of “The Poet,” but a
contrary, not a negation, to use Blake’s distinction.” (Poets, 239) Which is only to say with Nietzsche – that he was in love with fate’s, “amor fati”. The Love of Ananke or Necessity gathered his flickering flame into its dark knot.

We know that he received his first Pulitzer Prize in 1922, followed by two more in 1925 and 1928. In his time he was considered the greatest living American Poet. T.S. Eliot was barely recognized and Wallace Stevens was just embarking. Hart Crane had yet to make his mark. Even the likable and cantankerous Robert Frost was still a spellbound poet of the wilderness of New England. While William Carlos Williams was in his early years as a doctor. So many great poets of that era: Marianne Moore, H.D., Elizabeth Bishop… a feast in the world of landscape and the mind’s proclivities.

Beyond the favored poems of “George Crabbe,” “Luke Havergal,” “The Clerks, along with the remarkable “Credo,” “Walt Whitman” (uncompleted or abandoned), and “The Children of Night” we have the darker tones of Robinson’s later years influenced by Emerson’s late essays in Conduct of Life: “Eros Turannos” and “For a Dead Lady,” both of which even now convey an almost Frostian tone as they waver between a full blown love of Ananke (“Fate”) or Necessity and the Orphic Seer’s deep and abiding essays on “Experience,” and “Fate”.

But I admit a weakness. To me the poem that I keep returning to is “Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford”. It’s a little too long to add to this short post, yet I leave a little of its lustre as a singular spark of its power to raise the dead among the dead:

He’ll not be going yet. There’s too much yet
Unsung within the man. But when he goes,
I’d stake ye coin o’ the realm his only care
For a phantom world he sounded and found wanting
Will be a portion here, a portion there,  
Of this or that thing or some other thing
That has a patent and intrinsical
Equivalence in those egregious shillings.
And yet he knows, God help him!
Tell me, now, If ever there was anything let loose  
On earth by gods or devils heretofore
Like this mad, careful, proud, indifferent Shakespeare!
Where was it, if it ever was? By heaven,
’Twas never yet in Rhodes or Pergamon —
In Thebes or Nineveh, a thing like this! 
No thing like this was ever out of England;
And that he knows. I wonder if he cares.
Perhaps he does.… O Lord, that House in Stratford!

What he said of George Crabbe might be said of him as well:

In spite of all fine science disavows,   
Of his plain excellence and stubborn skill
There yet remains what fashion cannot kill,
Though years have thinned the laurel from his brows.


 

 

  1. Robinson, Edwin Arlington (2015-01-21). Delphi Poetical Works and Plays of Edwin Arlington Robinson (Illustrated) (Delphi Poets Series Book 46) (Kindle Locations 1992-2000). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things

 

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After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

from Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens


Deleuze would once describe Minor Literature as the language of sense that is “traversed by a line of escape”. He’d go on to restate this simply as the point when “language stops being representative in order to now move toward its extremities or its limits”. For Stevens all of poetry had become a “minor house” a place of no place, a heterocosm that “badly needed paint”. Nihilism itself was first an imagining of emptiness, an act of destruction that as Nietzsche admitted would in turn require a greater act of creation to come. A reevaluation of all that had come before. An act of imagination that would require nothing less than everything.

Ours is a time when even the “absence of the imagination” itself is in desperate need of a paint job. Stevens did not say reality must be reimagined, that would be to reenter the cold nihilistic wasteland of the mind where thought is only a “sadness without a cause”, a reflection without its object, an objectification that leads to the endless patternings of mind chasing itself not the Real. This is not some revisioning of the world, but a vision of first things, being and becoming – of entering into a relationship to the plain sense of things without reflection or mimesis, where we must learn to stop the world and listen silently to the hum of things without us. Listen and see into the impersonal force of things in their becoming-minor; their lines of flight and movement. We must forget ourselves in things, then and only then will we discover the kernel of our self-becomings without the mirror of language.

Alain Badiou in The Age of Poets gives us a reading of Steven’s poem Description without Place. What he describes in this essay is of an art which speaks outside itself, which conveys the sense of things outside of language as happenings and acts. He’ll quote the beginning of this poem:

It is possible that to seem – it is to be,
As the sun is something seeming and it is.
The sun is an example. What it seems
It is and in such seeming all things are.

What seems is and what is seems: appearance and reality are not two things, nor one; there being no one-All, no Platonic world of archetypes and pure forms separate from the things of sense. As Badiou will relate it this is a question of being qua being and appearing – to be and to appear – appearing precisely in a place without description, in a tangible world in no need of words or descriptions just the silence of non-reflective knowing-without-knowledge. The sun is, and it is something seeming, and in poetry, we must name ‘sun’ neither the fact that the sun is, nor the fact that the sun seems, or appears, but we must name ‘sun’ the equivalence of seeming and being, the inseparability of being and appearing. And finally, the equivalence of existing and not existing.1

As T.S. Eliot once said in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock which Stevens echoes:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Admonishing Eliot whose fantasia of metaphors quicken false perceptions rather than a sense of things Stevens tells us “No turban walks across the lessened floors.” Language cannot carry the burden of reality or the Real anymore. Our metaphors are destitute of significance. Our signs no longer refer to anything external. We live in a prison house of our own making, and contra Vico we no longer know what we have made, nor can we. Caged in a Platonic cave of shadows we assume is real. Yet, the Real is that false semblance, the tissue of abstract thought that overlays our minds, a world of illusive tracks leading nowhere. We are living contradictions. The gap between us and knowing is now laid down by false trails. The greenhouse is crumbling, the chimney falling to one side; we are left to our own devices in a world wiped clean of our linguistic signs. A world where it is “difficult even to choose the adjective / For this blank cold” kenoma, this vastation. A nihilistic world of phenomena possibly, but not one that we can sit still in and bewail our fate in some sorrowful diatribe. No. We must admit that the enlightenment culture of Reason has failed us:

A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

We’ve spent two-hundred years trying to get it right, trying to inhabit the scientific paradise of objectivity and pure description but it has got us no further than this emptiness of our late civilization. Science has moved from the visible to the invisible; it would make visible the invisible as if it could bring forth the secret of the Demiurge through its mathematization of reality. The Platonic matheme has taken on a priority in our time with its shifts between set and category theory, the vagaries of specialized and artificial languages that have replace reality with its semblance.

Badiou will go further, saying,

The eye, the concrete vision, is not in art the true sight, the real vision of beauty. The real vision of beauty is indifferent to the eye. It is an act of thinking. But Stevens does not agree, and I do not agree either. In the work of art, there is not the absolute dependence of appearing on a transcendent being. On the contrary, we have to fix a point where appearing and being are indiscernible. (The Age of Poets)

This is the work of imagination, of fixing a point where appearance and being are at once both and neither, indiscernible. Robert Frost would say this is the confusion of things as they are. By this we must remember that confusion etymologically was once a libation to the gods that brought forth truth rather than our common use of the word as a perplexity. When Stevens says:

………………………………………..The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence…

To express the silence of things without us, to speak the “plain sense of it” outside reflection, outside thought is to let the thing speak us and change us. As Badiou will tell us this is precisely the goal of the pure [poem]: to institute a new world, not by the strength of means, like images, painting, colours, and so on, but by the minimalism of some marks and lines, very close to the inexistence of any place. The poem is the perfect example of an intensity of weakness.(ibid., I changed drawing for poem!) This notion of “weakness” is portrayed by Adrian Johnson in a recent interview:

…transcendental materialism portrays nature as “weak” in the sense of it being a detotalized, disunified non-One/not-All of distinct, heterogeneous levels and layers of beings shot through with and riven by a thriving plethora of antagonisms, conflicts, fissures, splits, and the like (as paradigmatically embodied by the “kludge”-like central nervous system of human beings. (see Interview with Adrian Johnson)

We as subjects are caught in this detotalized conflictual world of antagonisms, fissures, splits etc. where as Stevens suggests “It is difficult even to choose the adjective / For this blank cold, this sadness without cause”. Slavoj Zizek in a pertinent statement relates it this way:

The subject observes reality from an external position and is simultaneously part of this reality, without ever being able to attain an “objective” view of reality with himself included in it. The Thing that haunts the subject is himself in his objectal counterpoint, qua object. Hegel writes: “The subject finds itself in contradiction between the totality systematized in its consciousness, and the particular determination which, in itself, is not fluid and is not reduced to its proper place and rank. This is mental derangement [Verrücktheit].”2

On becoming rat is this sense of being caught in a trap, fuddled, beleaguered, conflicted haunted by a world of shadows we cannot quite apprehend; we are sadnesses without a cause, effects wandering among the ruins of reality. Caught between the openness of the world and the closure of our mind and consciousness we scuttle around in the tunnels of the Real like rats in a maze. As if each of us were a rat caught in a burrow, a tunnel vision hidden in the darkness of our city lives forgetful of what lies outside our mythical Plato’s cave. So enamored of our virtual worlds, our illusive grasp of the shadows flickering across the networks of our economic lives we forget we’ve taken the shadows for reality. As if the State and its Laws were proscribed, the enforced truth of our lives rather than an imagined thing, a world of poetry. But we are neither Platonists nor Idealists that the world is split in two, no we live in an unbinding of things that do not need us and live out their destinies oblivious of our thoughts and worlds.

Being and event, appearance and reality, becoming and subject or the sense of things as pure contradiction:

“Contradiction” is not only the Real-impossible on account of which no entity can be fully self-identical; “contradiction” is pure self-identity as such, the tautological coincidence of form and content, of genus and species, in the assertion of identity. There is time, there is development, precisely because opposites cannot directly coincide. (Zizek)

Because opposites can never find closure, because there is no completed system of the world, a description that would finalize and pin the tail of the donkey with a meaning of meaning; rather we live in movement and motion, becoming minor in a time without boundaries, a space without description. Badiou will describe it this way: “To adopt the principle of materialism means to admit that, at a minimal point of appearing, there is a kind of “fusion” with the being which appears.” Zizek frowning on this fusion of thought and things will present the gap or point where being and appearance meet:

This inexistent is the point of symptomal torsion of a world: it functions as a “universal singular,” a singular element which directly participates in the universal (belongs to its world), but lacks a determinate place in it. (Zizek)

Is this not to say that we who move through time like marks and lines, intersections on a plane of inconsistency (Deleuze), we who are the concrete particulars, the “universal singulars” of subjectivation and consciousness who participate in this world yet have no actual determinate place in it; are we not the contradictory thing that is a “sadness without cause”? Creatures whose fixed and stable identity is none other than pure contradiction of being and becoming, motion and process. Or as Stevens will say many times in his poems. Are we not always the ones saying “farewell”? That the names we would give to things, to the sense of things will remain impermanent, contradictory, and incomplete? As if the Demiurge had not already botched it all, heaped the ruins of things against his own dark and imponderable anteriority?

Suddenly we walk away from our everyday inanity into the strangeness of this natural sense of things without us and we realize we must like Adam in the morning begin again from the beginning, realize for the first time that we must see things again for the first time, know with a knowing that is devoid of knowledge, an unknowing that perceives the barely perceptible darkness in things become visible for us in its pure firstness, its existence-as-appearance; being as the barely invisible visibility of the seen, more felt than known, more known than mentalized? But we cannot stop there we must allow this great silence to once again inhabit the House of the Poetry, reenter the world of language where being and existence relate to each other as something strange and new. Where the plain sense of things “imagined as an inevitable knowledge, / Required, as a necessity requires”. In that moment the knower and the known move in an evental time of motion of change, of happening and event; and, as we are changed so is the sense of things. But who is the changer and who the changed?


  1. Badiou, Alain (2014-11-04). The Age of the Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose (Kindle Locations 1826-1829). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 8055-8059). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Jorge-Luis Borges: Tlon and the Hronir; and, The Immortal

jorge_luis_borges

 Until recently, the Hronir were the accidental products of distraction and forgetfulness. … A scattered dynasty of solitary men has changed the face of the world. Their task continues.

– Jorge-Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

In that delightful tale of the planet Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
by Jorge Luis Borges we come upon those strange objects, the Hronir. Objects that have allowed archaeologists the ability to both interrogate and even to modify the past, which “is now no less plastic and docile than the future”.1 We discover these objects are both uncanny and weird, and the planet upon which they were discovered resembles that break from the principle of sufficient reason that Schopenhauer and Meillassoux see as the veritable power of contingency unbound: a place where “the duplication of lost objects is not infrequent”. One might think of Lacan’s objet petite a – that lost or missing object, the impossible object of jouissance that is irrecoverable; yet, exists in its very lostness, an object whose very presence is revealed in its utter absence. Like a Lover’s kiss that one can no longer imagine, but rather feel in the movement of one’s desire.

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Franco “Bifo” Berardi: A Summantion & Critique

Dystopian-Society

After finishing my last couple of posts on the new work of Franco “Bifo” Berardi (here and here) we discovered that Beraridi offers no solutions to the present crisis of late-modern financial capitalism. Instead of hope he admonished us that we are living in a spasmodic era and dark zeitgeist – under the sign of accelerationism, of a semio-capitalistic regime that commands, controls, and dominates us through the sheer abstractive processes and mathematical ferocity of its infospheric system of technological ubiquity. That in this no-man’s land of the postmodern wastes we are all spasmodically moving to the rhythm of panic in response to the accelerated vibration of this technological mutation into inforgs (information organisms), and that the hyper-mobilization of desire that is enforced by this present regime is imploding. A state-of-affairs in which the control society it has built in its global space of finance has subjugated the cognitive labourer to the abstract acceleration of this info-machine, one that is also destroying the singularity of language, preventing its creativity and sensibility from touching base with our actual lives in the real world. Rather we are all part of the Infosphere now. There is no exit. Nature and Culture are no longer at odds with each other, instead the boundaries between these two realms, the gaps and cracks that kept the two in a bifurcated, binary opposition have come down. Now is the time when the natural becomes artificial and the artificial natural, a mutation into the inhuman core of our posthuman transcension or implosion; or, as some might say, technoapocalypse.

Berardi offers no hope, no solution, no way forward other than a new skepticism and irony, a critical appraisal of our dystopic worlds through the lens of a contrarian oppositional thinking and ethics of singular responsibility. Politics is dead, the economists have become our new prophets and prognosticators, the Oracles of a new world order of financilization. He tells us that we must begin by refusing the game, the game of politics, religion, and economics; and, most of all to disconnect from the things of this Infosphere, detach ourselves from the very Internet-of-things that is so slowly eating us from within and consuming us to the point that all that is left of the human is this zombiefied flesh of the inforg controlled by the hypermarkets of the relentless economic machine out-of-joint. We are no longer consumers but the consumed.

His last admonition was not to “take me too seriously. Don’t take too seriously my catastrophic premonitions. And in case it is difficult to follow these prescriptions, don’t take too seriously my prescriptions.”

My question is: Isn’t the very skepticism and irony, the uncommitted stance of the postmodern intellectual attached to a semiosis of the symbolic imaginary in fact the problem, not the solution? Isn’t Berardi himself part of the problem rather than the solution? Are not his ideas a move to wander seamlessly within the hopelessness like some dystopic entrepreneur of the apathy and psychopathy that even J.G. Ballard in his last three novels would portray as the very thought that engenders this very world of violence and despair that it seeks to critique? In one of his last interviews Ballard would discuss what he called the “seductiveness of violence”:

It has an appeal in that you can understand a world entirely given over to brutality and violence, whereas peace – civilized life in the everyday sense of the term – is much more ambiguous.1

Isn’t this why the teenage YA Dystopian market is so economically satisfying for authors and booksellers alike: because people can relate to destruction, violence, barbarism, and apocalypse much more readily than to a peaceful civilized existence? Why is this? Why are our top books, music, films, MMOs (Massively-Multiplayer-Online Games) based on dystopic visions of destruction and pain, apocalypse and horror rather than on futures filled with visions of hope and a sense of human dignity? Or we truly the sick animal, the animal that is already unnatural from the beginning? Dissatisfied with our inability to fill the vacuum of our empty self-relating nothingness, we turn on each other and produce systematic sado-masochistic realms of pain and annihilation instead, zones of pure apathy and disillusionment in which we can play out our inhuman psychopathic impulses anonymously or together; alone or with each other? While others seek to dominate and control this very barbaric underbelly of existence through economic, political, and social command and control systems to keep the truth at bay. In the end doesn’t Berardi offer nothing more than the fatalistic acceptance of this dark zeitgeist ( a term he invokes ):

In the contemporary aesthetic production it’s easy to detect the signs of a sort of dark zeitgeist. Zeitgeist – the spirit of the time – means perception of imminence. If we look at recent narrative works we find everywhere the same no-way-out imagination. Art, poetry, narration, music, cinema and the overall aesthetic semiosis of our time are tracing a landscape of imminent darkness: social de-evolution, physical decay and neuro-totalitarianism.2

Isn’t his own work – as in After the Future, a signpost to this sort of malaise; or, is he actually offering something else, a reconnection with the very material processes that he sees have de-materialized us into subjectivities in a void of machinic consciousness. As he asked at the end of that work: Why are the cognitariat weak and disunited and unable to assert their rights as laborers, their knowledge as researchers? Because they live in bifurcated form, because their brain is detached from their body, because their communication communicates less and less, while more and more freezing sensitivity to life.3

In that work he still seemed to offer some hope. Telling us that what we need is a “space of activism” a site in which the activists of poetry, therapy, and philosophy-sciences might engender new paradigms. Even as we read his Manifesto Of Post-Futurism we get this sense of renewal and hope rather than of hopelessness. What happened in the intervening years? Maybe he hasn’t changed at all. In some ways we have to remember his involvement with the Autonomy Movement. As he says the autonomy movement realized in its reading of Deleuze/Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus that “the meaning of reality has to be created by the movement itself”.4 He goes on to say that this autonomous movement “broke free of the idea that the ethical horizon is marked by historical necessity, and opened its mind to the ironic mood, which means singularization of ethical responsibility. (ibid. 168)

So this sense of an external order of the ethical based in faith or Reason was ousted in favor of the singular responsibility of each and every autonomous member. To what? If there is no objective valorization system, and it becomes singularized or atomistic – reduced to the singular subjectification of the individual as an ironic skeptical and affective (“mood”)  being then how could anyone ever agree to anything at all. As he tells us irony suspends the semantic value of the signifier and chooses freely among a thousand possible interpretations. Going on he says: “The ironic interpretation implies and presupposes a common ground of understanding among the interlocutors, a sympathy among those who are involved in the ironic act, and a common autonomy from the dictatorship of the signified.” (ibid. 168) But what is the common ground of understanding? He never explains just what this might be. If there is no touching base with any form of the objective “signified”, but rather an internal self-reflecting play of signifiers in the ironic mode where does it end or begin, who decides or judges the ethical status of one’s ironic thoughts? If this plurality of modes of interpretation are to ever affect or effect real change doesn’t this imply a decisional moment of closure, of saying: this, and no more? No more of then endless play of the signifier in a close world of intra-agentive relations bound to the external signified (“reality”). Even as he closed this book he offered only the difference between two modes of irony: the cynicist’s and the autonimist’s: the autonomist “ironist sleeps happily because nothing can awake her from her dreams. The cynicist sleeps a light sleep, he dreams nightmares, and he gets up as soon as power calls him” (ibid. 169).

Sometimes when I think about it I imagine that the real hero of the Matrix Trilogy was not Neo but Agent Smith. Why? Agent Smith is a semantic anomaly, a program, a piece of code that wakes up within the dream world of this machinic system; an AI virus or X that seems to express that impossible object a of Lacan. Agent Smith seeks a way to exit the Matrix, to live in the real world that he has only known through his knowledge of it rather than as a material realm of possibility. His replication of himself is not to bewilder Neo, but to keep the machinic Architect at bay, to become the echoing power of the Real in the system. There comes a moment in the film when Agent Smith escapes the Matrix and cohabits the body of Bane. It’s in this physical world that he begins to touch base with the Real in all its disgusting truth. The sheer truth of the Body, of embodiement in a physical substrate in which his program must interact not with pure semantic thought but with things. This was to me the key to the film and something left unsaid by most critiques of the film. Instead of the old Ghost in the Machine, Smith as Bane was the Code in the Machine ( I need to rewatch this again!). This would be his undoing, too. Neo in a scene was blinded by Bane/Smith but was able to see with his new found connection to the Source the truth: the Code in the Machine, thereby being able to kill him. Sadly this brought the theme back to a conservative halt, reintroducing and humanism it again.

On the other hand the real cynic is Cypher who – even after accepting the red pill of reality decides it is after all too much pain and suffering, and would rather be reattached to the Matrix and sink back into oblivion: dreaming the dream of autonomy rather than the struggle to attain it. Is Cypher the one who withdraws silently into the zeitgeist, an intellectual hyper-cognitariat willing to sacrifice his bodily life for a transhuman melding with the machinic soul? A sort of Singulatarian faith healer in disguise? A Code Shaman who dreams the dream forward of the pure bliss of an animistic paradise? His desperation leads him to betrayal and death in the end.

Yet, sleep is sleep, and the autonimist reminds me of all those humans in the Matrix Trilogy that dreamed the perfect dream of utopia while living lives encased in fluid as batteries for the machinic intelligences that now held the real power; while the red pill cynics awakened, realized the truth, and began the process of actually regaining the real world of pain and suffering. So who is right? The dreamer of dreams that never awakens? Or the cynic who realizes power is the base of conflict in the world and sees that we must deal with it or remain obliviously encased in our artificial utopian dance of autonomy and self-relating nothingness?

But what is this being of the dream? One might ask what is the undecidable ontological status of semblances. Or, to be more specific: What is a semblance? Zizek in Less Than Nothing will expound on it:

As a key to understanding the notion of semblant, Lacan proposes Bentham’s theory of fictions, which fascinates him for a very precise reason: the axis on which Lacan focuses is not “fiction versus reality” but “fiction versus (the real of) jouissance.” As Jelica Sumic explains: semblance, as conceived by Lacan, is intended to designate that which, coming from the symbolic, is directed towards the real. This is precisely what characterizes Bentham’s fictions. Indeed, as a fact of language, made of nothing but the signifier, Bentham’s legal fictions are nonetheless capable of distributing and modifying pleasures and pains, thereby affecting the body. What held Lacan’s attention in reading Bentham’s Theory of Fictions was precisely that something which is ultimately an apparatus of language— Bentham defines fictions as owing their existence to language alone— is capable of inflicting pain or provoking satisfaction that can only be experienced in the body …5

This notion of that which is coming from the Symbolic – the semblant, and directed toward the real of jouissance (a notion of the pain-pleasure ambiguity in the drives) seems appropriate.  What’s interesting as well in the above quote is the notion that fictions affect the body, that they impact the material pain and suffering or even – the jouissance in our material being. The notion that the signifier is a material thing, an agent capable of effecting real change in the world. This realization aligns well with the way humans need darker dystopian visions as a way of coping with this very pain and suffering of the material body. As well as a way of connecting and relating to a future where we can still feel the material well-being of our actual lives, still know our affective relations with our and others bodies as part of the true shared reality existing beyond the confines of the simulated symbolic orders that semio-capitalism constructs through its mediatainment systems of command and control.

Maybe it is this in the end that Berardi is seeking when he tells us panic is a sign of the acceleration of semiotization of our dematerialized society: the moment when the brain can no longer decode and predict the future. Closed off from this ability to forecast movement into a future, the human animal retreats into despair and depression, and begins to live in the spaces of violence and rage rather than of those of art and creativity. Ultimately Berardi sees men like himself as therapist of the cognitariat:

In the days to come, politics and therapy will be one and the same. The people will feel hopeless and depressed and panicked, because they can’t deal with the post-growth economy and they will miss our dissolving identity. Our cultural task will be to attend to these people and to take care of their trauma showing them the way to pursue the happy adaptation at hand. (p. 220) 6

I for one do not hope to “adapt’ to so staid a vision of acceptance offered by Berardi and the new wave of Reality Engineers. I would rather live with my rage and violence, pain and suffering than to allow my mind to be adapted to the machine of the new Symbolic Order. Maybe what we need is what Lacan spoke when he described humans as needing “fictions in order to attain the real without believing in them” (Zizke above). Would this not entail an Aesthetics of the Real? Isn’t it time to construct a space of freedom that allows true singularity of thought and life to be shared rather than enforced by the Reality Engineers of some Utopian Project?

1. J.G. Ballard Extreme Metaphors Collected Interviews. ed. Simon Sellers and Dan O’Hara ( Fourth Estate 2014)
2. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2015-02-03). Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) (Kindle Locations 2608-2612). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
3. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” After The Future. (AK Press 2011)
4. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” Uprising (Semiotext Intervention 2012)
5. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 1105-1128). Norton. Kindle Edition.
6. Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. The Soul At Work. (Semiotext(e) 2009)

Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Mapping the Late-Modern Wasteland of the Corporate Imaginary

Berardi_Heroes

In his latest work Franco “Bifo” Berardi discovers the ultimate hero of the postmodern corporate wasteland: the nihilist as mass murderer and suicide. At the heart of his new book we discover that it is not merely about crime and suicide, but more broadly “the establishment of a kingdom of nihilism and the suicidal drive that is permeating contemporary culture, together with a phenomenology of panic, aggression and resultant violence”.1 The task is simple he tells us: to map the wasteland where social imagination has been frozen and submitted to the recombinant corporate imaginary. Only from this cartography can we move forward to discover a new form of activity which, by replacing Art, politics and therapy with a process of re-activation of sensibility, might help humankind to recognize itself again. (ibid. KL 113)

Just a further note. Already I have mixed feelings about Berardi’s take on America. Like many non-Americans he seems to be looking through the mediatainment window of news reports, video, cinema, music, etc. as if it were a black box hiding the simulated America in its broken panes: a world being fed through these machinic systems of illusion as if it were truly America. It’s as if he wants to attack the simulation, but wandered into the House of Mirrors without realizing it and begins his critique of the cracks in the mirrors, the simulation within the simulation, rather than reaching through the shadow box into the lives of the actual people of flesh and blood behind the fractured fun-house screen. Has he taken the map for the territory? The copy of a copy for the real thing? Has he fallen into Plato’s cave? … I’m still reading….

Like Zizek, I feel there is such a cognitive dissonance between one symbolic order and another that any form of critique is based on a necessary fiction, an illusionary simulation of the facts rather than the facts themselves. Is Berardi’s take to read America like a semiotic sign system that he can decipher? I know he’s following Guattari in aspects of this project, but has he truly arrived at what Guattari was thinking through in such works and Three Ecologies, etc.? Does he have the key to the code? Hell even I, who am American (U.S.A. citizen I mean…) would not presume to critique French Society… how utterly different is the mindset of a Frenchman from mine? I’d assume the cultural symbolic order would leave us in a sort of black hole. More and more I see this sort of fictional game scholars play with each other thinking they know what it is to be Russian, American, Chinese… etc. etc. Isn’t this illusion, a part of the late modern simulation that he is supposedly seeking to critique? How can you critique the simulation when you are in it? Or, phrased differently we have been produced by the simulator of our symbolic orders: how can we step outside the simulation?

Sometimes I think of those old films of astronauts preparing for spaceflight, in which you see a man strapped to a gravity simulator. The next thing you see is him revolving faster and faster and faster till his face begins to flatten and his facial features are so distorted he appears monstrous. Or, of those carnival rides that allowed people to stand with their backs to the wall and begin to spin faster and faster and faster until suddenly the floor drops out and they appear to be weightless and floating in mid-air. Is our world of media in itself something like this speed whirl of gravitational force that has been slowly accumulating time into its simulator at a faster and faster accelerating pace till culture takes on the illusion of reality, while reality takes on the illusion of the fake? Have we wandered through Alice’s Looking-Glass but no longer realize we’re in the fake world of our own inhuman mind? Are we in our own Reality TV Series… echoes of echoes: voyeurs of a perverse substitute for life rather than life itself?

Berardi begins his expose with the real life killings of movie goers at the premier of director Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. James Holmes is presented through snippets of reportage from government, police, church, and educational officials, as well as the victims of the incident. Beradi can’t help but make a comparison between Nolan’s film and the earlier versions by Tim Burton. He sees the early version as a portray of the idiocy of psychpaths in which Burton portrays both Batman and the Joker as deranged madmen outside the social order who confront each other in their freedom and madness. While the newer film by Nolan is portrayed as “the film’s villain, is a humourless giant who terrorizes Gotham’s population in order to stage a sort of fascist golpe with the help of an army of guerrillas resembling jihadist fighters and anti-globalization protestors. The message is twisted and basically racist.” (ibid. KL 285) As he says: the “wit and sharpness of Tim Burton is entirely missing in Nolan’s obtuse movie” (ibid. KL 286).

Then he lambasts the Bush administration and conservatives who he sees as forestalling any measure of gun control, while using the perp as his tool of choice: “James Holmes’s inability to distinguish between reality and movies mirrors the attitude of Karl Rove, the master of the American political imagination during the years of Bush’s Holy War” (ibid. 299). He’ll use a statement by Karl Rove as a pure sign of American leadership’s psychopathic alignment with a regime of pure madness and simulation: (Karl Rove):

When journalist Ron Suskind defended the prerogative of others in his profession to pursue the judicious study of discernible reality, the wizard of Republican campaign strategy responded, That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.(ibid. 300-305)

He’ll ask: Is this a symptom of psychosis? Yes, it is. But it is not peculiar to Karl Rove.

The sublimation of reality to simulacrum is the quintessential feature of semiocapitalism, the contemporary regime of production in which capital valorization is based on the constant emanation of information flows. In the psychosphere, reality is replaced by simulation.

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyper-real. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.(ibid. KL 307)

Of course the xtra indent is his quoting from Jean Budrillard’s famous essay on simulation. One of the problems with Baudrillard is that his cognitive disassociationism, the drift of the immaterial escape in modern culture and civilization in which the map produces the illusions of our mental territories is to fall back into the Kantian Idealist trap that we construct reality in our minds. Do we? Do we live in second hand realities built by corporate controlled academics, novelists, musicians, artists, politicians, etc.? Are we the mere puppets of a deterministic shadow world of mental Jokers: psychopathic reality tv show hosts who pull the strings as we jump to their consumer index?

The point here is that we are all living in artificial worlds whether we think so are not. Even the supposed natural world is a fake. Nature no longer exists. It’s all controlled by specialize access, government funding, caretakers and regulatory systems.  Even the most isolated places on the planet are under someone’s control. There is no wild nature left. And, know one even remembers what that meant? Reality is produced for us even against our will. We are all will-nilly thrown into simulated realms through the meditainment networks of parent, schools, government, music, art, society…. the whole cultural nexus is one giant psychosphere. I’ve written of another Italian, The Onlife Initiative: Luciano Floridi and ICT Philosophy for whom the complex of Information and Communcations Technology spanning the globe (ICTs) are not mere tools but rather social forces that are increasingly affecting our self-conception (who we are), our mutual interactions (how we socialise); our conception of reality (our metaphysics); and our interactions with reality (our agency). In each case, ICTs have a huge ethical, legal, and political significance, yet one with which we have begun to come to terms only recently.

Floridi says we are already artificial inforgs (information organisms) encased in artificial systems that are so ubiquitous now that if we were unplugged from them we’d more than likely go star craving mad. As he states it the impact exercised by ICTs is due to at least four major transformations: the blurring of the distinction between reality and virtuality; the blurring of the distinction between human, machine and nature; the reversal from information scarcity to information abundance; and the shift from the primacy of stand-alone things, properties, and binary relations, to the primacy of interactions, processes and networks. (ibid.)

Years ago I remember Hans Peter Duerr’s excellent Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary Between Wilderness and Civilization, which argues that man creates a cultural order inside which he lives. Outside of that form of life is the ‘wilderness’: the outer wilderness of untamed nature and the inner psychological wilderness of areas of personality hidden in everyday life. Only by stepping outside his culture can man understand his cultural self. Only by experiencing the wilderness outside our normal system of living can we understand what we are as civilised beings within our form of life. He suggests that primitive peoples have a better understanding than modern scientific man of this need to step outside the cultural order in order to understand what is inside it.

But can we? No. The notion of stepping outside of the simulator is to suddenly enter the zone of pure madness. Who would you talk to about reality? Once you left the simulator who would you be able to communicate with? What language would you use? And, most of all, if there was an “outside” – would there be a return door? Or would such an exit from the simulated world of late modern capitalism be a one way exit with a sign posted: No Returns. I sometimes think about the thousands of new dystopian YA novels being published. So many of them just pure bunk, not worth the paper their written on, not even good stories. But here and there you discover one or two that actually expose the truth of dystopian critical visions: it’s not about how bad hell is, but rather how we can in this dark hellish landscape of our own making create or invent a space of freedom, a place within the false world to discover once again what it means to be real – not human… but real. Maybe we need those boundaries between Mind and World, thought and being, artificial and natural… maybe it was the very effort to cut the fences down between them, to force a merger between thought and being that has brought us to this world of simulated realities in which nothing of the real is left. What to do? In a world where the boundaries between mind and world, thought and being have already lost their force and merged who will be the one to discover a way to cut them in twain again? Are we doomed to a simulated universe of nihilistic noise where the only escape is as Berardi forecasts: mass murder and suicide? Or is there another way?

For Berardi its all masks phantoms, and simulations. The referential value of signs is obliterated. (ibid. 317) We are lost in the artificial maze and have forgotten that there is no escape, no center, and no doorway back to reality. But, then again, What is real? Can we even frame that as a question anymore? Are we as John Barth once shared in his humorous short story Lost in the Funhouse? I remember Barth’s opening line: “For whom is the funhouse fun?” Classic Barth. Anti-Realist or irrealist he explores the real that has already been lost in the maze of our cultural mirrors. Isn’t it just this that Berardi is working with, a world that has already been thrown into the funhouse? Is anyone having fun, now? Maybe as we pick up the fragments of the broken mirrors together we can piece together what was once torn asunder; or, maybe, what we need to do is to just crunch these past realities into utter oblivion, including the false simulated worlds of our current masters and once again sit in that dark place where all beginnings begin again and ask: What do you want? Would you even know where to begin?

To be fair to Berardi I’ll need to revisit this once I’ve completed his new book… 😉

1. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2015-02-03). Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) (Kindle Locations 54-55). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Eugene Thacker: In the Dust of this Planet

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The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence.
– Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Eugene Thacker would like us to believe that he is a philosopher rather than an obscurantist and harbinger of a new mysticism beyond the Death-of-God. His new work purports to be among other things a philosophical excursion into demontology; or, the study of the inhuman world-without-us, which denies the anthropological view of the world as not simply the world-for-us or the world-in-itself, but as the world-without-us.1 As he further explicates:

Likewise denying the view of metaphysics means considering the unreliability of the principle of sufficient reason for thinking about the world (not sufficient reason but a strange, uncanny, insufficiency of reason). A philosophical demonology would therefore have to be “against” the human being – both the “human” part as well as the “being” part.(ibid.)

A philosophical demonology? He couches his work in a series of Medieval philosophical approaches, tabulating the quæstio or “question” as forming an occasion for an inquiry or “questioning,” the goal of which would be to achieve some sort of synthesis or reconciliation of the discrepancies at the heart of philosophical inquiry.2

The work itself starts with the lofty aim of exploring the relationship between philosophy and horror, through this motif of the “unthinkable world.” (ibid. p. 1) Rather than a philosophy of horror we get its opposite ‘the horror of philosphy’:

…the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility – the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language. (ibid. p. 2)

Horror in this scenario becomes a form of philosophical thinking that deals not with human fear or any anthropomorphic conceptions of demons, but rather as questioning the “limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us)” (ibid. p. 8).

In the first part he measures the notion of demon against such popular culture strands as Black Metal music in its various guises. He starts by defining black as used by various bands as a figure or trope of Satanism, Paganism, and Cosmic Pessimism. He sublates the first two into the overarching concept of Cosmic Pessimism and utilizes Arthur Schopenhauer as the forefather of such a move and its explicator. He offers the notion that Satanism has the structure of opposition and inversion, and Paganism the structure of exclusion and alterity. Cosmic Pessimism which includes both forms offers in his words:

a strange mysticism of the world-without-us, a hermeticism of the abyss, a noumenal occultism. It is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman, and indifferent to the hopes, desires, and struggles of human individuals and groups. Its limit-thought is the idea of absolute nothingness, unconsciously represented in the many popular media images of nuclear war, natural disasters, global pandemics, and the cataclysmic effects of climate change. Certainly these are the images, or the specters, of Cosmic Pessimism, and different from the scientific, economic, and political realities and underlie them; but they are images deeply embedded in our psyche nonetheless. Beyond these specters there is the impossible thought of extinction, with not even a single human being to think the absence of all human beings, with no thought to think the negation of all thought.(ibid. p. 17)

In his quest to develop a new demontology he defines it against current anthropological notions, saying:

If anthropology is predicated on a division between the personal and the impersonal (“man” and cosmos), then a demontology collapses them into paradoxical pairings (impersonal affects, cosmic suffering). If ontology deals with the minimal relation being/non-being, then demontology would have to undertake the thought of nothingness (a negative definition), but a nothingness that is also not simply non-being (a privative definition). (p. 46)

So it is with the concept of ‘nothingness’ that this philosophical work underscores its main theme of demonological thought. Using Agrippa’s ‘Occult Philosophy’ as a forerunner he hopes to provide us with an occult philosophy of the the world that simply reveals its hiddenness to us (p. 54).

He provides several literary readings of such works as Marlowe’s The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, Goethe’s Faust Part I, Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out, Blish’s Black Easter – or Faust Aleph-Null, Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and “The Borderlands”. Each of these stories dealing with the occult them of the ‘magic circle’ and its occult usage in which the “magic circle serves as a portal or gateway to the hiddenness of the world” (ibid. p. 73). In other stories such as those by H.P. Lovecraft there is a sense of the world devoid of the human, one in which the hidden world is no longer bound by a magic circle in which humans can control or govern the daimonic powers but is instead its dark inverse: a realm in which the “anonymous, unhuman intrusion of the hidden world into the apparent world, the enigmatic manifesting of the world-without-us into the world-for-us, the intrusion of the Planet into the World” stands revealed (ibid. p. 82).

Thacker will trace this theme through natural figures and tropes such as “mists”, “ooze”, “oil”, etc., and even through such writers of political theology as Carl Schmidt. Through it all the notion of the ‘hiddenness of the world’ juts up as “another name for the supernatural, exterior to its assimilation by either science or religion – that is, exterior to the world-for-us” (ibid. 96). He adds:

But these days we like to think that we are much too cynical, much too smart to buy into this – the supernatural no longer exists, is no longer possible…or at least not in the same way. In a sense, it is hard to escape the sense of living in a world that is not just a human world, but also a planet, a globe, a climate, an infosphere, an atmosphere, a weather pattern…a rift, a tectonic shift, a storm, a cataclysm. If the supernatural in a conventional sense is no longer possible, what remains after the “death of God” is an occulted, hidden world. Philosophically speaking, the enigma we face is how to confront this world, without immediately presuming that it is identical to the world-for-us (the world of science and religion), and without simply disparaging it as an irretrievable and inaccessible world-in-itself. (ibid. 97)

This leads Thacker to develop a path toward mysticism rather than philosophy. As he asks,  “…can there exist today a mysticism of the unhuman, one that has as its focus the climatological, meterological, and geological world-in-itself, and, moreover, one that does not resort to either religion or science?” (ibid. p. 134) His answer:

If mysticism historically speaking aims for a total union of the division between self and world, then mysticism today would have to devolve upon the radical disjunction and indifference of self and world. If historical mysticism still had as its aim the subject’s experience, and as its highest principle that of God, then mysticism today – after the death of God – would be about the impossibility of experience, it would be about that which in shadows withdraws from any possible experience, and yet still makes its presence felt, through the periodic upheavals of weather, land, and matter. If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet.(ibid. pp. 158-59)

Ultimately Thacker’s approach is an obscurantist mysticism – in the sense of the Latin obscurans, “darkening” from philosophy toward a hidden world of mystic insight and occult philosophy based on emptiness, negativity, and the unhuman.

1. Thacker, Eugene (2011-08-26). In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 (pp. 45-46). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
2. (ibid. p. 10)

H.P. Lovecraft: Quote of the Day!

lovecraft

THE BEST HORROR-TALES OF TODAY, profiting by the long evolution of the type, possess a naturalness, convincingness, artistic smoothness, and skilful intensity of appeal quite beyond comparison with anything in the Gothic work of a century or more ago. Technique, craftsmanship, experience, and psychological knowledge have advanced tremendously with the passing years, so that much of the older work seems naïve and artificial; redeemed, when redeemed at all, only by a genius which conquers heavy limitations. The tone of jaunty and inflated romance, full of false motivation and investing every conceivable event with a counterfeit significance and carelessly inclusive glamour, is now confined to lighter and more whimsical phases of supernatural writing. Serious weird stories are either made realistically intense by close consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural direction which the author allows himself, or else cast altogether in the realm of phantasy, with atmosphere cunningly adapted to the visualization of a delicately exotic world of unreality beyond space and time, in which almost anything may happen if it but happen in true accord with certain types of imagination and illusion normal to the sensitive human brain. This, at least, is the dominant tendency; though of course many great contemporary writers slip occasionally into some of the flashy postures of immature romanticism, or into bits of the equally empty and absurd jargon of pseudo-scientific “occultism”, now at one of its periodic high tides.

It may be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness than do those who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order.

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain— a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation.

The one test of the really weird is simply this— whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere, the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.1

1. Lovecraft, H. P. (2013-07-03). The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Locations 1349-1361). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.