On Becoming the Alien Thing We Are

The real horror of identity politics is that people begin to reduce themselves to a set of labels, define themselves as part of some collective community without ever truly recognizing that each of us is already a community: the self being for all intents and purposes non-existent, we must realize this thing we are is a multiplicity rather than a monistic monastery for isolated monks of thought and feeling. Without becoming this becoming we lose ourselves in other’s images of life and politics, never attaining that awareness of our own alien otherness. For in the end we are that alien thing, that inhuman creature we have feared for far too long; and, to accept the thing we are, to accept this alien core of our own otherness is to suddenly break free of all those imposed labels we’ve been given from birth onwards by parents, friends, and State. To walk free of the names we have known is to enter the unknown world of our alien being, to become posthuman is to leave the very core of our cultural prison and its labels forever.

Bataille’s Negative Vitalism

Georges Bataille populates his writings with the imagery of torture and murder. His fiction revels in sexual assault. He speaks of evil as having a sovereign value for humanity. He speaks of there being intimacy between the sacrificers and the victims in human sacrificial rituals. He compares sex to human sacrifice. He describes himself meditating on photos of a man being dismembered and recounts his ecstatic experiences of joy and anguish in doing so, going so far as to call the wounded victim beautiful. He holds forth violation and transgression as things that reveal our true nature.

– Stephen Bush, Sovereignty and Cruelty Self-Affirmation, Self-Dissolution, and the Bataillean Subject

Sometimes I think critics are shocked by Bataille. What’s even more interesting is for all their delving into Bataille’s thought they forget he is the last great decadent, a late Romantic in the line that stretches from Baudelaire to Ratchilde and beyond… as Paglia emphasizes,

“Decadent art is ritualistic and epiphanic. Its content: Romantic sexual personae, the hierarchs, idolators, and victims of daemonic nature. Even depicting episodes from poetry, Decadent art is never mere illustration. It dramatizes dominant western image and sexual subordination of the aggressive eye. Decadent art makes hostile claims on the viewer. Its style is pagan spectacle and pagan flaunting. Behind the trashiest Decadent painting are complex Romantic assumptions about nature and society overlooked by textbook accounts of nineteenth-century art.”1

Let’s face it Bataille was a true Sadean, whose life like Rimbaud sought to dissolve the Subject-Agent in the impersonal, and like his Gnostic forbears he used the extremes of ascetic and libertine excess to awaken that inner sense of ecstatic terror and horror of existence to produce an aesthetics of pleasure-pain; one based not on lack and need (Lacan), but rather on excess (Blakean) and transgressive intelligence and will (in the Nietzschean sense of Will-to-Power) . For Bataille, like Blake, evil is energy – the absolute vitality of the will-to-destruction that one sees in Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Balzac’s criminal vitalist, Vautrin, and Comte de Lautréamont’s Maldoror… One could even return to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, whose destructive vitalism overpowered six of her husbands, sending them all to that dark cadaverous world of zero. But unlike those vitalist harbingers, Bataille’s vitalism is born of absolute negativity rather than any positive energetic libidinalism; no, Bataille dissolved energy in an entropic vat of self-lacerating annihilation beyond which there could be nothing left but nothingness and the abyss. Bataille like other decadents would descend into the maelstrom, the womb of archaic night. Man, infantilized, is entombed in mother nature’s bower, the ultimate Decadent closure. Nature gives and nature takes away, letting her curtain fall upon her self-sacrificial son, whose ultimate sovereignty and sacrifice is self-immolation.

As a student of Nietzsche, Bataille understood the ‘art of cruelty’ all too well. If we take a look at Nietzsche’s notions concerning cruelty we begin to see a conceptual fabric emerge (below some notes and quotes from Beyond Good and Evil):

There is a great ladder of religious cruelty, and, of its many rungs, three are the most important. People used to make human sacrifices to their god, perhaps even sacrificing those they loved the best – this sort of phenomenon can be found in the sacrifice of the firstborn (a practice shared by all prehistoric religions), as well as in Emperor Tiberius’ sacrifice in the Mithras grotto on the Isle of Capri, that most gruesome of all Roman anachronisms. Then, during the moral epoch of humanity, people sacrificed the strongest instincts they had, their “nature,” to their god; the joy of this particular festival shines in the cruel eyes of the ascetic, that enthusiastic piece of “anti-nature.” Finally: what was left to be sacrificed? In the end, didn’t people have to sacrifice all comfort and hope, everything holy or healing, any faith in a hidden harmony or a future filled with justice and bliss? Didn’t people have to sacrifice God himself and worship rocks, stupidity, gravity, fate, or nothingness out of sheer cruelty to themselves? To sacrifice God for nothingness – that paradoxical mystery of the final cruelty has been reserved for the race that is now approaching: by now we all know something about this. –

(BGE 86).

This is my claim: almost everything we call “higher culture” is based on the spiritualization and deepening of cruelty. The “wild animal” has not been killed off at all; it is alive and well, it has just – become divine. Cruelty is what constitutes the painful sensuality of tragedy. And what pleases us in so-called tragic pity as well as in everything sublime, up to the highest and most delicate of metaphysical tremblings, derives its sweetness exclusively from the intervening component of cruelty.

We clearly need to drive out the silly psychology of the past; the only thing this psychology was able to teach about cruelty was that it originated from the sight of another’s suffering. But there is abundant, overabundant pleasure in your own suffering too, in making yourself suffer, – and wherever anyone lets himself be talked into self-denial in the religioussense, or self-mutilation (as the Phoenicians or ascetics did), or into desensitization, disembowelment or remorse in general, or into puritanical penitential spasms, vivisections of conscience or a Pascalian sacrifizio dell’intelletto– wherever this is the case, he is secretly being tempted and urged on by his cruelty, by that dangerous thrill of self-directed cruelty. Finally, people should bear in mind that even the knower, by forcing his spirit to know against its own inclination and, often enough, against the wishes of his heart (in other words, to say “no” when he would like to affirm, love, worship), this knower will prevail as an artist of cruelty and the agent of its transfiguration. Even treating something in a profound or thorough manner is a violation, a wanting-to-hurt the fundamental will of the spirit, which constantly tends towards semblances and surfaces, – there is a drop of cruelty even in every wanting-to-know.

(BGE 229).

…the spirit’s not quite harmless willingness to deceive other spirits and to act a part in front of them belongs here too, that constant stress and strain of a creative, productive, mutable force. What the spirit enjoys here is its multiplicity of masks and its artfulness, and it also enjoys the feeling of security these provide, – after all, its Protean arts are the very things that protect and conceal it the best! – This will to appearances, to simplification, to masks, to cloaks, in short, to surfaces – since every surface is a cloak – meets resistance from that sublime tendency of the knower, who treats and wants to treat things in a profound, multiple, thorough manner. This is a type of cruelty on the part of the intellectual conscience and taste, and one that any brave thinker will acknowledge in himself, assuming that he has spent as long as he should in hardening and sharpening his eye for himself, and that he is used to strict discipline as well as strict words.

(BGE 230).

Those three forms of religious cruelty that underpin the human: sacrifice to God; self-sacrificial mortification of instincts by way of acedia, and the ultimate sacrifice of God himself as the gate to nihilism and absolute freedom from the dominion of the Absolute. This sense of tragic cruelty at the core of all higher cultural praxis, a heroic core of sublime acceptance, of amor fati: the primal joy in the tragic “love of one’s fate” to all eternity, the fatalism of eternal recurrence as one’s right and justification, one’s honesty toward the cruelty at the heart of Being and becoming forever. Yet, this is not some passive fatalism, rather it is the active acknowledgement of the creative force at the heart of things, a cold hardening of the intellect in the face of the monstrousness of existence.

It’s this subtle ‘Art of Cruelty’ that Bataille would see in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty as well, a communication beyond words, a figural dance of flesh and bitter-sweet honesty, the masked creativeness of unbounded cruelty. What Artaud primarily means by cruelty is “rigor, implacable intention and decision, irreversible and absolute determination.” Such determination is in service of a “blind appetite for life capable of overriding everything” in its aim to wake people up—jolt them out of complacency—and put them in touch with vital forces of creativity that cannot but upend settled patterns of thought and conduct.2

Are the Sadean cruelty that Maurice Blanchot would uncover in his essays on the divine Marquise. One of the principal points about Sadean cruelty that Blanchot wants to make is that whereas in Sade cruelty finds its initial expression in the actions and impulses of people who gratify their own desires with total disregard for the suffering they inflict on others, the ultimate goal is to become so committed to cruelty and crime that one acts not for self-gratification but for the sake of cruelty as an end in itself. This is the height of cruelty, cruelty for the sake of cruelty, even when it destroys not just the victim but the perpetrator too. (ibid., 42)

For Bataille the art of cruelty was based on destruction, a force that disrupts us from our settled patterns of conduct, thought, and emotion. It desensitizes us from our cultural worldview, from the ideological structures that bind us, enslave us to the orthodoxy and dominion of the real. In many ways it is a form of de-programming our reality matrix, of cutting through the reality studio (Burroughs) and exposing the chaos of the true world outside our cultural prison. As Bush puts it Bataille seeks to break out of the prison house of culture and attain sovereignty:  “Bataille understands sovereignty to be a condition in which one is subject to no external authority: neither the authority of persons, institutions, texts, norms, or laws.” (NE, 44)

In Sovereignty, Bataille explicates the concept in these terms: it is that which is “opposed to the servile and the subordinate.” The sovereign “does not depend on anything.” The sovereign is the one who refuses to submit. Sovereignty is “the negation of prohibition.” Above all else, to be sovereign is to be in a state in which one is not a means to an end. Not to others’ ends and not to one’s own future ends. To be sovereign is to be in the present moment, subject to nothing and no one else. (NE, 45).

One coming on Bataille’s writings for the first time might see this tendency for cruelty as self-contradictory. How can one be at once self-denying and self-affirming? This affirmation of cruelty that leads one toward both self-destruction and creativity seems at best a fool’s game. But is it? As Bush reminds us,

Bataille’s aim is not to offer specific instructions on how to live. His aim is to shape the subject for and through ecstatic experiences. These experiences are ends in themselves for Bataille, but in my reading, the ecstatic experiences shape people’s character for their social lives when they have exited ecstasy. And for that process, he thinks what is called for is exposure to the extremes. Bataille wants ecstasy to expose the subject to extreme forces of absolute self-denial and absolute self-affirmation. Th e result is to bring about lasting changes in the subject so formed.

(NE, 48).

It’s this refusal of subservience that is the key to both cruelty and sovereignty in Bataille’s thought. This form of cruelty seeks to overcome the law of sacrifice that was the religious praxis, for religious cruelty sought the dominion and subjection of sovereignty over others in the name of the Orthodoxy. Rather for Bataille the art of cruelty does not seek the subservience of the other but its release into sovereignty. This is the task of the cruelty of freedom. No longer bound to God or Man the sovereign individual stands amidst his fellows cold, cruel, and alone; and, yet, in this solitude is attained that intimacy of communication such as was never attained under the dominion and tyranny of communal habit and custom.

(This post is already too long, but one will need to understand what Bataille meant by ‘intimacy’ to understand both the notions of sovereignty and communication. I’ll address that at some future time…)

  1. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 490). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jeremy Biles (Editor), Kent L. Brintnall (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy). Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)

Antonin Artaud: I Am Not In This World

The reader must believe in a genuine sickness, not just a phenomenon of the times, in a sickness which is near to the nature of man and his main expressive potential and applicable to a whole life. A sickness affecting the soul in its most profound reality, poisoning its expression. Spiritual poison. Genuine paralysis. Sickness robbing us of speech and memory, and uprooting thought.

Where then does this sickness stem from, is it really something in the spirit of the times, a miracle floating in the air, an evil cosmic prodigy or the discovery of a new world, a genuine extension of reality? Nevertheless it is still true they do not suffer and I do, not only mentally but physically, in my everyday soul. This lack of application to an object, a characteristic of all literature, is a lack of application to life in my case. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say I am not in this world…

– Antonin Artaud: Vol 1 Collected Works

The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

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

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

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

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

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

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Rethinking Conceptual Universes

Rethinking Culture and Metaphysical Schemes, etc.

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

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

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

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Work in progress…


Accelerating Capital

Society, Speed, and Catastrophe in the Age of the Anthropocene

Abstract Coming…


Memetic Theory, Viral Agents, and Hyperstitional Entities



The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse:
A Short History of the Future

      1. Communication and Control Societies
      2. Technology and Desire – Sex, Crime, and Psychopathy
      3. Transhuman Gnosis and the Apocalyptic Imagination
      4. Geotrauma and the End of Man in the Anthropcene
      5. Crossing the Rubicon of Alternative Futures

Interlude: The Posthuman Blues


Modernity, Violence and the Myth of Progress:
How the West was Lost?

      1. Abstract Aesthetics: Abject Horrorism and Hauntologies of Excess
      2. Time, Motion, and Control: Mantra of Efficiency, Calculation, and AI
      3. Assemblages and Networks: Social and Technological Accelerationism – Diagnosing Capitalism at the Edge of Singularity
      4. Sovereignty, War, and Exclusion: Exceptionalism, Austerity, and Slavery in an Age of Diminishing Returns


Discipline and Control:
Surveillance Capitalism, Code/Space, and the Inhuman Future

      1. Beyond the Subject: Subjectivation, the Dividual, and the Network Society
      2. The World is a Prison: Refugees, Prisons, and the Post-Digital Divide
      3. The Rise of the Machines: Automation, Work, and the Post-Democratic Future
      4. The Extinction Hypothesis: Catastrophism and the Genealogy of Collapse

Interlude: Genesis Redux – After Nature, After History?


The Infrastructure:
The Stack, Logistics, and the Flow of Things

      1. The Engine of Creation: Neuroscience, Politics, and Creativity
      2. The Day the World Stopped: Energy, Resources, and Alternative Visions
      3. The Infosphere: Information, Technology, and Economics in the 21st Century
      4. Mutant Visions: Comics, Cinema, and Media Sociopathy

Postlude: Intelligence, Climate Politics, and Communication in the 21st Century

Last Thoughts – Utopia or Dystopia: The Shape of Hope and Fear


© Steven Craig Hickman 2016 (May not be reproduced without permission)



Kurt Gödel, Number Theory, Nick Land and our Programmatic Future

Read an interesting experiment in programing using Kurt Gödel’s number theories: (Norman H. Cohen. Gödel numbers: A new approach to structured programming. SIGPLAN Notices 15, No. 4 (April 1980), pp. 70-74; download pdf at bottom part of page):

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My reason for researching this had to do with another investigation into Nick Land’s use of Gödel. As Mackay and Brassier note,

One of the tasks of schizoanalysis has now become the decrypting of the ‘tics’ bequeathed to the human frame by the geotraumatic catastrophe, and ‘KataςoniX’ treats vestigial semantic content as a mere vehicle for code ‘from the outside’: the ‘tic’ symptoms of geotraumatism manifested in the shape of sub-linguistic clickings and hissings. Already disintegrated into the number-names of a hyperpagan pantheon, syncretically drawing on the occult, nursery rhyme, anthropology, SF and Lovecraft, among other sources, the ‘subterranean current of impressions, correspondences, and analogies’(Artaud) beneath language is now allowed uninhibited (but rigorously-prepared) development, in an effort to corporeally de-engineer the organicity of logos.

The element of these explorations remains the transformed conception of space vividly exhibited in Gibsonian cyberpunk and which is a crucial component in Land’s writings, a powerful bulwark against Kant’s architectonic ambition to subsume all space under unity. Coding and sequencing mechanisms alone now construct intensive space, and this lies at the core of Land’s typology of number, since dimensionality is a consequence of stratification. Naming and numbering converge in counting, understood as immanent fusion of nomination and sequencing. No longer an index of measure, number becomes diagrammatic rather than metric. From the perspective of Land’s ‘transcendental arithmetic’, the Occidental mathematisation of number is denounced as a repressive mega-machine of knowledge – an excrescent outgrowth of the numbering practices native to exploratory intelligence – and the great discoveries of mathematics are interpreted as misconstrued discoveries about the planomenon (or plane of consistency), as exemplified by Gödel’s ‘arithmetical counterattack against axiomatisation’.Land eschews the orthodox philosophical reception of Gödel as the mathematician who put an end to Hilbert’s dream of absolute formal consistency, thus opening up a space for meta-mathematical speculation. More important, for Land, are the implications of Gödel’s ‘decoded’ approach to number, which builds on the Richard Paradox, generated by the insight that numbers are, at once, indices and data. [my italics]

The Gödel episode also gives Land occasion to expand upon the theme of the ‘stratification’ of number: according to the model of stratification, as the ‘lower strata’ of numbers become ever more consolidated and metrically rigidified, their problematic component reappears at a ‘higher’ strata in the form of ‘angelic’ mathematical entities as-yet resistant to rigorous coding. A sort of apotheosis is reached in this tendency with Gödel’s flattening of arithmetic through the cryptographic employment of prime numbers as numerical ‘particles’, and Cantor’s discovery of ‘absolute cardinality’ in the sequence of transfinites.

Thus for Land the interest of Gödel’s achievement is not primarily ‘mathematical’ but rather belongs to a lineage of the operationalisation of number in coding systems that will pass through Turing and into the technological mega-complex of contemporary techno-capital.

By using arithmetic to code meta-mathematical statements and hypothesising an arithmetical relation between the statements – an essentially qabbalistic procedure – Gödel also indicates the ‘reciprocity between the logicisation of number and the numerical decoding of language’, highlighting a possible revolutionary role for other non-mathematical numerical practices. As well as reappraising numerology in the light of such ‘lexicographic’ insights, the mapping of stratographic space opens up new avenues of investigation – limned in texts such as ‘Introduction to Qwernomics’ – into the effective, empirical effects of culture – chapters of a ‘universal history of contingency’ radicalising Nietzsche’s insight that ‘our writing equipment contributes its part to our thinking’. The varieties of ‘abstract culture’ present in games, rhythms, calendrical systems, etc., become the subject of an attempt at deliberate, micro-cultural insurrection through number, exemplified in the CCRU’s ‘hyperstitional’ spirals and the ‘qwertypological’ diagrams that in the end merge with the qabbalistic tracking of pure coding ‘coincidences’. Ultimately, it is not just a question of conceiving, but of practicing new ways of thinking the naming and numbering of things. Importantly, this allows Land to diagnose the ills of ‘postmodernism’ – the inflation of hermeneutics into a generalised historicist relativism – in a manner that differs from his contemporaries’ predominantly semantic interpretations of the phenomenon, and to propose a rigorous intellectual alternative that does not involve reverting to dogmatic modernism.1

Against Badiou and his followers of Platonic materialist measure, Land’s insight is to follow Deleuze and Guattari: “No longer an index of measure, number becomes diagrammatic rather than metric. From the perspective of Land’s ‘transcendental arithmetic’, the Occidental mathematisation of number is denounced as a repressive mega-machine of knowledge – an excrescent outgrowth of the numbering practices native to exploratory intelligence – and the great discoveries of mathematics are interpreted as misconstrued discoveries about the planomenon (or plane of consistency), as exemplified by Gödel’s ‘arithmetical counterattack against axiomatisation’.


This leads to a notion of a-signifying systems as opposed to signifying, which brings us back to Land’s “No longer an index of measure, number becomes diagrammatic rather than metric.” We learn from Deleuze’s and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature that the minor writer engages ‘a machine of expression capable of disorganizing its own forms, and of disorganizing the forms of content, in order to liberate pure contents which mingle with expression in a single intense matter’ (K 51).

Exactly how this revolutionary practice works is not clearly delineated in Kafka, for Deleuze and Guattari offer no satisfactory examples of the process of transformation which leads from deterritorialized sound to a dissolution and reconstruction of content. Some clarification of this process may be gained, however, from a consideration of Deleuze’s analysis of Francis Bacon’s approach to painting in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981). Deleuze notes that for modern artists, the blank canvas is not a tabula rasa, but the space of unconscious visual preconceptions and received conventions of representation, which the artist brings to the canvas and which he struggles against and tries to vanquish, escape, or subvert. For Francis Bacon, the moment of subversion comes during the process of painting when a chance stroke of the brush introduces a small locus of chaos, a limited catastrophe that Bacon calls a ‘diagram’.

‘The diagram’, says Deleuze, ‘is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but also a seed of order or of rhythm’ (FB 67). Bacon follows the suggested form, colour or line of this diagram and uses it as a generative device for constructing an intensive set of relations within the painting itself, which simultaneously deform the figure he started to paint and form a new figure of that deformed figure. Deleuze contrasts Bacon’s practice with that of abstract formalists, such as Mondrian and Kandinsky, and abstract expressionists, such as Pollock. The danger of abstract formalism is that the constraints of representation may simply be replaced with those of an abstract code, in which case the diagrammatic possibilities of chaos or catastrophe are banished from the canvas. The danger of abstract expressionism is that the diagram may cover the whole canvas and result in nothing but an undifferentiated mess. Bacon’s strategy is to paint portraits and studies of human figures, and hence to remain in a certain sense within the confines of representation, but to allow the diagram in each painting to deterritorialize the human subject, to introduce ‘a zone of Sahara into the head’, to split ‘the head into two parts with an ocean’ (FB 65), to make a leg melt into a puddle of purple or a body start to turn into a piece of meat. One finds resemblances between the configurations of paint and human figures, deserts, oceans, puddles, and rolled roasts, yet such resemblances are no longer productive, but simply produced. A resemblance may be said to be produced rather than productive ‘when it appears suddenly as the result of entirely different relations than those which it is charged with representing: resemblance then surges forth as the brutal product of non-resembling means’ (FB 75).1

An abstract machine is characterized by its matter – its hecceities, or relations of speeds and affects – but also by its function. The abstract machine of panopticism, for example, consists of a ‘pure matter’, a human multiplicity, and a ‘pure function’, that of seeing without being seen. What is important to note is that this function is neither semiotic nor physical, neither expression nor content, but an abstract function that informs both the expression-form of the discourse on delinquency and the content-form of the prison. Such an abstract function, characteristic of every abstract machine, Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘diagram’. Semioticians generally classify diagrams as simplified images, or icons, of things. But as Guattari points out, the image represents both more and less than a diagram; the image reproduces numerous aspects which a diagram does not retain in its representation, whereas the diagram brings together the functional articulations of a system with much greater exactitude and efficacy than the image. (Bogue, p. 135)

Visual graphs and charts are diagrams, but so are mathematical formulae, musical scores, and models in particle physics; and the more abstract the diagram is, the less it represents any particular thing, and the less it can be conceived of in terms of expression and content.  Mathematical equations articulate a self-referential system of relations which may be embodied in diverse contexts. Musical scores, although heavily ‘coded’ in traditional music (specific designations of instruments, tempi, and so on), in much electronic music function as abstract diagrams of differential speeds and intensities which a synthesizer embodies in various sounds. Models in particle physics fuse mathematical theories and experimental particles (theories isolating particles and particles generating theories) to such an extent that one may speak no longer of particles or signs, but of ‘particle-signs’, units in a self-referential experimental-theoretical complex. The function of an abstract machine is a diagram of this sort, a function ‘which has only “traits”, of content and expression, whose connection it assumes: one can no longer even say whether a trait is a particle or a sign’ (MP 176). Thus, in an abstract machine, content and expression yield to ‘a content-matter which presents only degrees of intensity, resistance, conductibility, heatability, stretchability, speed or slowness; an expression-function which presents only “tensors”, as in a mathematical or musical notation’ (MP 176-7). (Bogue, p. 135)

Indices and Data

So in the above when Bogue speaks of deterritorializeingthe human subject we should thinkg ‘decoding’ which is at the heart of Landian non-dialectical materialism. Land eschews the orthodox philosophical reception of Gödel as the mathematician who put an end to Hilbert’s dream of absolute formal consistency, thus opening up a space for meta-mathematical speculation. More important, for Land, are the implications of Gödel’s ‘decoded’ approach to number, which builds on the Richard Paradox, generated by the insight that numbers are, at once, indices and data. (Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007, ed. Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier).

This notion of numbers as ‘indices and data’ underlies the diagrammatic a-signifying theories of information of our digital age, and go to the heart of Deleuze’s conceptions of Societies of Control that modulate both individual and dividual by way of both the older form of discipline (Foucault) and newer forms of control (Deleuze). Such works as Ronald E. Day’s ‘Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data’ and others support as shift in the production of subjectivity showing the transition as indexes went from being explicit professional structures that mediated users and documents to being implicit infrastructural devices used in everyday information and communication acts. Doing so, he also traces three epistemic eras in the representation of individuals and groups, first in the forms of documents, then information, then data. Day investigates five cases from the modern tradition of documentation. He considers the socio-technical instrumentalism of Paul Otlet, “the father of European documentation” (contrasting it to the hermeneutic perspective of Martin Heidegger); the shift from documentation to information science and the accompanying transformation of persons and texts into users and information; social media’s use of algorithms, further subsuming persons and texts; attempts to build android robots — to embody human agency within an information system that resembles a human being; and social “big data” as a technique of neoliberal governance that employs indexing and analytics for purposes of surveillance. Finally, Day considers the status of critique and judgment at a time when people and their rights of judgment are increasingly mediated, displaced, and replaced by modern documentary techniques.

  1. Bogue, Ronald (2008-03-07). Deleuze and Guattari (Critics of the Twentieth Century) (p. 120-122). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.


  1. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 620-627). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

Short History of Necropunk Philosophy

A Short History of Necropunk Philosophy

Decided to move this from my last post on my work-in-progress Savage Nights.

Thinking of Capitalism as a necropunk invasion from the future, driven by death-drives, cannibalizing through crisis, collapse, catastrophe is at the core of what Bataille and Nick Land after him would term “base materialism” converging on the closure of history into a posthuman future. Or, what my friend Scott Bakker would term the ‘crash space’ of the Semantic Apocalypse.

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Chronicles of the High Inquest by S.P. Somtow

Working a new near future Grunge or Necropunk Noir Science Fiction I began collecting information regarding past uses of this notion. For me the master stylist of this genre remains Richard Calder with his Dead Girls/Dead Boys/Dead Things trilogy. (see review) He lived in Thailand 1990-1996 and later in the Philippines until returning to London in the first years of this century – who began publishing sf with “Toxine” in Interzone. Yet, there is also S.P. Somtow whose works may or may not have influenced Calder’s fusion of decodence, decadence, and necrotical politics and socio-cultural inflections, yet have at their bases the necropunk style and philosophy that seems to infect, contaminate, and corrupt this genre through its hyperstitional, memetic, and egregore enactments and disclosures of the was in which the future infects and bleeds into the past through slippage.

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Out of the Evening Land


We always knew ours as the twilight land,
       The sheets of sun splayed across the sky’s emblazon,
The inflamed crimson peaks dashing upward against night’s victory;
       A world indifferent to our loves or hates,
Spurred fire springing like mustangs galloping across the dark horizon.

He said we should not look back, seek out the wisdom
       Of ancient sages and poets, but strike out
Toward the setting sun, our evening land of outer calm;
       Discover among the silences and deserts a new way forward,
A glimpse of things to come, of futurity without end; an openness.

The poor and poverty stricken will inherit the earth, her songs
       The grass tongued anthems of a new world;
A place where the human face is at once itself and other:
       A cause for celebration and murder, a violence that brings peace;
That turns armaments to cherished plowshares feeding all.

Paradise is but a thought of home, a place where friends gather,
       Break bread and listen to the stories of the day;
Where each man, woman, and child live in harmony with this chaos,
       Learn to accept death with an equanimity without redress;
Know with the knowing of things known: to question and be free.

Time is a river without beginning or end, a way into and out of things,
       A coursing through the light and dark alike;
We who have come lately into this darkness seek more than we can know;
       But this too is as it should be, a path sounding its way,
Swerving with and against the tide: the flow, the breaks and confusion.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Roughneck’s Labors


He remembered the years of oil:
running pipe and chain, clasp and spin
across ice-bound derrick slicks;
hooked galleons of stained oblivion,
great lengths of steel heaved
out of a dark pit of silted earth;
men who wore grease like a badge,
suffered sleepless nights, rhythmically
pushing or pulling the hole, seeking
under the dead sea-bed below a sign –
the pitch and blend, salty exuberance;
long soaked, sweat tanged bodies;
up and down, slipping mud, sipping
salted taps of ancient oceans;
waiting for the call, a merciless flood:
rising, expanding, blowing the roof-
stench jacket to kingdom-come
and back till the primed loafer crawls
the jet-lined tube to extreme fire;
those jetted plumes, plants and dinosaurs,
resurrections pyre – fluid to flame:
out of their invisible lairs, carbon junkies
reading the tapes, moment accosting,
tampering against the cold and deeds
of steeled awareness, pain resolvers,
prided interlopers of the hell-bound heart.
Such men as these dug deep down clean,
brought forth good earth riches, black gold;
blend and mold, rigged accomplices
quick to fight, yet lovers all; whiskey
men flotilla bound, gifted with sublime
disgust only an explosion calms:
pop the cork, blast the cap; spew and gush
old glory till she shines all night, flamed and tapped.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Many may or may not know I grew up on Odessa in West Texas during the heyday of the Oil boom era of the 50’s. I worked alongside my Great-Grandpa, Grandpa, Uncles, cousins, etc. for years in the various aspects of the oil business. Knew it first hand. Men who worked hard and played hard. A forgotten era… yet, the same kind of men that worked the derricks then still do it around the world. To these working men I dedicate this one.

Georges Bataille’s Refutation of Hegel


from a letter to Alexandre Kojève by Bataille:

If action (‘doing’) is – as Hegel says – negativity, the question arises as to whether the negativity of one who has ‘nothing more to do’ disappears or remains in a state of ‘unemployed negativity’. Personally, I can only decide in one way, being myself precisely this ‘unemployed negativity’… I imagine that my life – or, better yet, its aborting, the open wound that is my life – constitutes all by itself the refutation of Hegel’s closed system.

Giordano Bruno: The Lucretian Revival and Epicurean Materialism


Slowly but surely gathering pieces of a puzzle together stretching from the early rise of scientific culture and the different threads of an energetic materialism that would inform such later thinkers as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Deleuze, Land and others. More and more the Renaissance revival of learning and translation of ancient Greek and Roman texts would form the basis of what we would come to know as Modernity. This is all fairly well scoped out through many histories, science studies, biographies, philosophical studies of the various eras. Yet, it does seem that certain individuals became catalysts within this emergence of science. Giordano Bruno beyond Copernicus and the other usual suspects seems a part of this inner thread of influence.

Stephen Greenblatt in his study of the emergence of Lucretius into scientific culture would attest to Bruno’s importance, saying:

One answer in the sixteenth century was a diminutive Dominican monk, Giordano Bruno. In the mid-1580s, the thirty-six-year-old Bruno, who had fled from his monastery in Naples and had wandered restlessly through Italy and France, found himself in London. Brilliant, reckless, at once charmingly charismatic and insufferably argumentative, he survived by cobbling together support from patrons, teaching the art of memory, and lecturing on various aspects of what he called the Nolan philosophy, named after the small town near Naples where he was born. That philosophy had several roots, tangled together in an exuberant and often baffling mix, but one of them was Epicureanism. Indeed, there are many indications that De rerum natura had unsettled and transformed Bruno’s whole world.1

He go on to report of Bruno in England telling us that during his stay in England, Bruno wrote and published a flood of strange works. The extraordinary daring of these works may be gauged by taking in the implications of a single passage from one of them, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, printed in 1584. (p. 41) This work which would be informed by hermeticism, magic, early science, religious dialogue, parody, etc. would conjure up in hallucinatory detail the hamlet where he was born, and Bruno would stage a philosophical farce, designed to show that divine providence, at least as popularly understood, is rubbish. (p. 44) This strange series of dialogues would show forth Bruno’s indebtedness to the Lucretian view. In Bruno’s view Nature is not an abstract capacity, but a generative mother, bringing forth everything that exists. We have, in other words, entered the Lucretian universe. (p. 45) As Greenblatt would say:

That universe was not for Bruno a place of melancholy disenchantment. On the contrary, he found it thrilling to realize that the world has no limits in either space or time, that the grandest things are made of the smallest, that atoms, the building blocks of all that exists, link the one and the infinite. “The world is fine as it is,” he wrote, sweeping away as if they were so many cobwebs innumerable sermons on anguish, guilt, and repentance. It was pointless to search for divinity in the bruised and battered body of the Son and pointless to dream of finding the Father in some far-off heaven. “We have the knowledge,” he wrote, “not to search for divinity removed from us if we have it near; it is within us more than we ourselves are.” And his philosophical cheerfulness extended to his everyday life. He was, a Florentine contemporary observed, “a delightful companion at the table, much given to the Epicurean life.” (p. 45)

Outspoken and obstinate, Bruno hated the bigoted and superficial culture of the church and would ultimately pay the price for his open and unwavering search for the truth. On February 17, 1600, the defrocked Dominican, his head shaved, was mounted on a donkey and led out to the stake that had been erected in the Campo dei Fiori. He had steadfastly refused to repent during the innumerable hours in which he had been harangued by teams of friars, and he refused to repent or simply to fall silent now at the end. His words are unrecorded, but they must have unnerved the authorities, since they ordered that his tongue be bridled. They meant it literally: according to one account, a pin was driven into his cheek, through his tongue, and out the other side; another pin sealed his lips, forming a cross. When a crucifix was held up to his face, he turned his head away. The fire was lit and did its work. After he was burned alive, his remaining bones were broken into pieces and his ashes— the tiny particles that would, he believed, reenter the great, joyous, eternal circulation of matter— were scattered. (pp. 48-49)

Some of the better works on Bruno available in English:

  1. Greenblatt, Stephen (2012-09-04). The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (p. 41). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Georges Bataille: The Excremental Vision as Solar Ecstasy


Max Ernst: Birdhead

Waking up I associate the horror of rats with the memory of my father correcting me… this has the effect of reminding me that my father being young would have wanted to do something atrocious to me with pleasure.
………– Georges Bataille, The Dream

Parody and wit are central to Bataille’s vision of the world: “It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.”1 This sense that nothing is what it seems, that appearances are deceptive, that the world is – as Vladimir Nabokov once observed: “Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” A world lost in the game of time, bound within an endless labyrinth of signs: a floating sea of inference and parodic display where vision and language are tied together in a false totality, connected and connecting word to word  in an endless stream of linguistic copulas to Ariadne’s thread moving further and further into the darkness of a receding abyss. Yet, it was against this false semblance of Idealism that Bataille would lop the head of reason in favor of an interior journey into the labyrinths of the physical body itself, down into the sacred precincts of cruelty, sex, and violence. A voyage into the Solar Anus where love and life are conjugated with “continuous circular movement,” and the “surface of the earth is the image of a continuous metamorphosis”. (Bataille, p. 7)

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The Occult Revival – Literature, Hermeticism, Magic and Philosophy


In the night, in solitude, tears,
On the white shore dripping, dripping, suck’d in by the sand,
Tears, not a star shining, all dark and desolate…
………. – Walt Whitman, Sea-Drift

ISIDORE DUCASSE, who wrote the Chants de Maldoror under the pseudonym ‘Comte de Lautréamont’, considered by many the progenitor of Surrealism – a connoisseur of evil and death, a decadent with a penchant for vitriol and numbers; a flamboyant self-indulgent and excessive delight in the necrophilic and erotic affiliation of late romantic death and decadence, the bizarre, and the black comedy of revolt and disgust. Writing under the guise of a “sublime literature that sings of despair” he strove only to awaken in the dead reader a remembrance of the Good is itself a part of the gallows humor he was prone too, a devilish mixture of rage and despair brought to a high pitch of fierce and virulent nihilism: one that brokered the complete annihilation of progressive enlightenment values and politics.

I hail you, old ocean!
……– Comte de Lautréamont, Maldoror

Lautréamont’s great Hymn to the Ocean is still a strange and disquieting paean to the power of Nature over man, to his subservience; a late romantic motif and parodic satire of Romantic Nature and the Sublime. He sought to convey a counter-sublime and a religious inversion of the Romantic poets into perverse decadence, whose dark measure of sex and violence would conclude in the pages of Maldoror. Against the implacable majesty of the Ocean as Romantic Nature he offered us a beautiful and deadly Vampire Queen, a cannibal mistress of deserts and the abyss, against the fetid progeny of a landlocked hollow ape whose demented civilizations were mediocre and deliquescent at best: “The great universal family of men is a utopia worthy of the most mediocre logic”.1

Like those decadent Satanists from Baudelaire to Huysmans (convert to Catholicism) Lautréamont’s dabbling in this downward mythos would be more titillation and symbolic than real. A master of the parodic sublime he would offer a perverse entry into an aesthetic appreciation of the gothic and its dark cousin, the macabre: “Tell me, then, if you are the abode of the Prince of Darkness. Tell me… tell me, ocean (only me, so as to cause no grief to those who till now have known only illusions), tell me if it is the breath of Satan that creates the tempests which whip your salt-water cloud-high. You must tell me, for I would rejoice to know that hell is so near to man.” (KL 629-631). He would like many follow the song of opiates: “The magic poppies of an ineffable drowsiness envelop, like a veil filtering the light of day, the active power of my senses and the tenacious strength of my imagination.” (KL 1124-1125). What Lautréamont’s work sought above all was a Lucretian cosmos, an atheistic return of the pregnant cosmos of vital matter where the natural in man would once again be attuned to the immanent powers of the universe in all its monstrous glory.

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The Excess of Matter: Bataille, Immanence, and Death


But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others we know not of.
– from Hamlet, Shakespeare

How do we face the inevitable? Death, the “undiscovered country” of which Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks? As a poet of the will Shakespeare’s naturalism aligns well with that Epicurean Titus Lucretius Carus. Shakespeare whose “erotics of being” would ensconce what R. Allen Shoaf in Lucretius and Shakespeare on the Nature of Things would term the naturalism of “great creating nature,” (The Winter’s Tale). For Shakespeare death was not of essence since the fecundity of Nature is endless. Death is but a fragmentary entombing, a little sleep and silence. What matters is the mattering of productive and energetic nature from womb to tomb and back again. The eternal round and return from beginnings to endings, cycles upon cycles a sounding out of the depths of time as time’s return through its own mattering formlessness; a continuous play of life in the shadows of oblivion.

Lucretius would tell us in his stark and poetic response that “death is nothing to us“: “Nil igitur mors est ad nos. . .”. We should not fear it, it is the natural in us fulfilling its destiny; nothing more. There is no unique meaning, no need for constructing fabulous paradises or hells to plunge ourselves beyond the truth of animal death. Death is non-meaning: meaningless in itself, a final terminus of life lived out in a natural universe. Then why do people fear and dread death?

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Nick Land: On Schopenhauer


Kant’s critical philosophy is the most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth!

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land unlike Badiou or Zizek will tell us that it is to Schopenhauer that we should return, not Kant or Hegel. “With Schopenhauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as an energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic.”1

This sense of a diagnostic philosophy rather than a speculative, phenomenological, or meditative steers us into that other materialist tradition that has for the most part seamlessly vanished from site in the past few years, while luminaries of the left will follow such dematerialist materialisms under the sign of the Lacanian ‘Gap’ or ‘Lack’ as Alain Badiou (Mathematization of Being) and Slavoj Zizek (Self-Relating Nothingness) uphold. Land admonishes us to know that before such speculative materialists as Quentin Meillassoux with his notion of the contingency of things and his anarchic obliteration of the principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer had already laid the groundwork. Schopenhauer considers “the principle of sufficient reason or logicality of being to have a merely superficial validity” (Land, p. 9). In other words for Schopenhauer the principle of sufficient reason is not so much an objective truth, as it is a heuristic device – an exploratory mind-tool that serves a particular function in the philosopher’s tool-bag.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism reverses the typical hierarchy of intellect and will, and opts for will as the primary relation and volitional act of a representing subject, and redefines this notion as the ‘desire’ that shapes our actions from a pre-representational movement of blind reckoning and pulsation. Against any form of speculative thought which for Schopenhauer and Land is seen under the sign of optimism and the ‘logic of social progress’, both seek a pessimism of unconditional revolt instead. (ibid., p. 12) Against history and historicism Schopenhauer will enunciate an inhuman discourse that obliterates the semantic concerns of a humanistic world as typified in the Kantian notion of finitude and limits. Rather than a speculative mode that seeks to sustain or take-over and master the world, politically motivated to spawn terror and revolutions; pessimism seeks to escape the exploitative and confined constraints that the State and Church impose; and that of all authoritarian systems based in external forms of normativity. Yet, as Land will describe it Schopenhauer was not political per se, he had no real plan or political programme, and was in tendency closer to a reactionary than a progressive in our modern sense. As Land will tell us Schopenhauer’s plan was an exit plan, a mode of “departure in the mode of renunciation, which is to say, he lacked a nomadology, or failed to explore the delirial antilogic that leads out of the maze.” (Land, p. 13) In the end Schopenhauer will serve for Land as enunciating a full blown pessimism which became among other things the “first truly transcendental critique, operated against being, and in particular against the highest being, by the impersonal negativity of time or denial.” (Land, p. 14) In other words a truly atheistic materialism.

1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)