The Epoch of the Neganthropocene: Exiting the Toxic Wastelands of Modernity

The Anthropocene is a singular organological epoch inasmuch as it engendered the organological question itself. It is in this way retroactively constituted through its own recognition, where the question this period poses is how to make an exit from its own toxicity in order to enter the curative and care-ful – and in this sense economizing – epoch of the Neganthropocene. What this means in practical terms is that in the Neganthropocene, and on the economic plane, the accumulation of value must exclusively involve those investments that we shall call neganthropic.1

Opening the future again to a sense of newness, to a sense of hope beyond the depredations of our era of death and apocalyptic forebodings is at the heart of Bernard Stiegler’s work. I doubt he would consider himself an optimist, but rather a realist and thereby a cautious pessimist in the sense that gazing toward what is coming at us is not at all clear but closer to that proverbial gesture of Saint Paul: “I see through a mirror darkly…”. That our era has been debt driven, bound to a entropic machine of accumulation and entropic dissipation is assured. Look around you and see the cracks in the seeming reality of this global civilization and one finds not hope but the oldest of fears and horrors: war, famine, disease, corruption, and a planetary civilization on the peak of utter chaos and ruination of the very basis of all life itself. We are marked and stained by our inaction, by out inability to face the universe without us. We live in our local defense leagues (Nations) castigating the rest of the world, fearing its demise, roping and chaining off our artificial borders with security walls of barbed wire or steel cages, dogs and armed soldiers. A bunker civilization that is withdrawing into its shell trying to stave off a nightmare it has itself created through its own economic and social mastery.

To keep us occupied and entertained we are allowed to satirize and demean a cartoon President or other world leaders as part of the Roman Circus of our modern age of mediatainment. As long as you are just passively or actively protesting a non-player on the world stage the real evil can continue on its way doing what it does behind the scenes: ripping and stripping the world of its last remaining resources, enclosing the minds and hearts of the world social in a new enclosure of the commons, putting them so far in debt that they’ll be working for the masters of hundreds of years and passively accepting this as the ‘state of affairs’. Modern slavery has no bars, it’s name is Freedom. All you need to do is conform, bend to the popular will of the elite, the masters of our economic systems who hide their own ignorance within a couched rational and mathematical world of fictions.

The word ‘Neoliberalism’, a cliché that has no meaning anymore, overly used by pundits to the point that its intent is a target that no longer exists in reality but rather in a autonomous mythic world of economics. Book after book speaks of the causes and effects of this supposed system that has brought us into this era of chaotic and planetary collapse. Yet, one reads book after book and discovers no where a vision of how to exit this era and its toxicity.

Bernard Stiegler will offer a vision of a transition from the toxic wastelands of the Anthropocene, an era of entropic decay and waste, dissipation and horror in his latest work Automatic Society: The Future of Work. This notion of the Anthropocene which was first used by Soviet environmentalists in the 1960’s was popularized by Paul J. Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch. As Stiegler tells it the  question of the Anthropocene, which bears within it its own overcoming, and bears the structure of a promise, is emerging at the very moment when, on the other hand, we are witnessing the establishment of that complete and general automatization made possible by the industry of reticulated digital traces, even though the latter seems to make this promise untenable. To hold fast, that is, to hold good to this promise, means beginning, precisely, from those neganthropic possibilities opened up by automation itself: it is to think this industry of reticulation as a new epoch of work, and as the end of the epoch of ‘employment’, given that the latter is ultimately and permanently compromised by complete and general automatization. And it is to think this industry as the ‘transvaluation’ of value, whereby ‘labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value’, and where the value of value becomes neganthropy. Only in this way can and must the passage from the Anthropocene to the Neganthropocene be accomplished. (AS, KL 678)

This old Marxian dream of the end of work is at the heart of both the toxic theorists of modern capitalism, and also of those like Stiegler who would harness its energies not in the name of entropic accumulation and dissipation but rather in a new creative society based on neganthropic principles. To envision such a post-Nietzschean world of transition into a true transvaluation of values would indeed be a feat of stupendous effort and imagination, reason and a logic of radical labour and love (caring). Is it possible?

Jehu of The Real Movement blog spells out much of this in his hypothesis that describes what happens when capitalism finally collapses premised on the assumption that this collapse can occur in two separate and distinct phases: a lower phase, which we can refer to as the collapse of production based on exchange value; and a higher phase, which I will call the collapse of production based on wage labor. These two phases more or less reflect the dual character of capitalist commodity production: that capital is a form of commodity production which specifically aims to produce surplus value. (Read: Towards a hypothesis of the final collapse of capitalism). What’s interesting as Jehu points out that Marx himself in all fifty or so volumes of his collected works never predicts the collapse of capitalism, only the specific “collapse of production based on exchange value, i.e., the conditions of simple commodity production” (Jehu).

He’ll point out another passage in Das Capital Vol 1, Chapter 32 where Marx predicts the demise of capitalist private property, and yet as Jehu maintains “Marx never actually says the proletariat expropriates capitalist private property; instead, he limits his prediction to the expropriation of capitalist private property by some unnamed subject”. As Jehu in another section explains it,

In Capital, (v1, c32), Marx is looking ahead to a major event that had two possible outcomes. The first, more familiar outcome for us is a proletarian socialist revolution that overthrows the existing state. The second, less well understood and almost never discussed outcome is that the state is forced by events to expropriate capitalist private property and undertake the direction of production, to function as the national capitalist, the direct exploiter of the proletarians. This second possible outcome is what Luxemburg labeled barbarism.

We’ve all heard about the first of these two outcomes, but very little about the second in Marxist literature. For me as I see what is happening in the world today it makes more and more sense that the plundering of market capitalism and its degradation of the ecological and social fabric of our planet will force the governing powers of nations to put an end to this exploitative corruption. We know this will go under the banner of saving the planet, etc., a new marketed environmental horror story will be driven into the psyche of the mass minds of all citizens who will in seeking security from the coming devastation gladly allow their lives to become enmeshed in the local and global tyrannies of the State to come.

Jehu for his part explains that his “hypothesis depends on the claim that production based on exchange value, what is commonly referred to as simple commodity production, can collapse without necessarily leading to the collapse of what I have here called production based on wage labor, i.e., capital proper”. As we see in the movement of capitalist technocrats of our era and their bid to oust workers from production and replace them over the coming decades with automation and intelligent machines that a new form of capitalist takeover is in the offing. That humanity itself as surplus labour and value is no longer a factor in this future. The vast underemployed mass of humans will no longer be needed, and will be excluded from the world of these capitalist schemes. The end of wage labor is assured, but does that not also mean the end of the wage laborer as well. Are we as workers becoming expendable? If so is it in their future a world cleansed and purified of the vast majority of the human population? Are these fascistic tendencies about to produce the very apocalyptic dreams of ancient monotheisms at the behest of the very powers who would exclude us from our jobs?

Either way the aspect left out of Marx is the collapse of the environment itself as one of the very retroactive forces that will bring about the State takeover of private property. As the environment (if you accept the Sixth Extinction and Environmental collapse theories of scientists around the world) begins to show more and more extreme collapse through deforestation, ice cap melting, gases rising from the ocean floors, the ocean conveyor belt slowing, the threat of so many shortages of rain…. etc., one will be offered solutions and security from the State. At this time humanity will either take on its own revolution and take the bull by the horns, or it will go passive and allow dictators and tyrants to enact martial law and impose dark legislation of social and political control over the planet and its resources. The future is uncertain and we see a crisis blooming all around us on this late great planet earth. Stiegler says there is an alternative…

As he explains it since 1993, a new global technical system has been put in place. It is based on digital tertiary retention and it constitutes the infrastructure of an automatic society to come. We are told that the data economy, which seems to be concretizing itself as the economic dynamic generated by this infrastructure, is the inevitable destiny of this society. We shall show, however, that the ‘destiny’ of this society of hyper-control is not a destination: it leads nowhere other than to nihilism, that is, to the negation of knowledge itself. And he will show, first with Jonathan Crary (24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep), then with Thomas Berns and Antoinette Rouvroy (Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance), why this automatic society to come will be able to constitute a future – that is, a destiny of which the negentropic destination is the Neganthropocene – only on the condition of overcoming this ‘data economy’, which is in reality the diseconomy of a ‘dis-society’. (AS, KL 690)

I’ll continue this series in another essay tomorrow. Stay tuned.


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 668-673). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Last Man

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

-Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Friedrich Nietzsche


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

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

Nietzsche’s Message: Beyond Nihilism

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Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Emancipation is dependent on a cure, not salvation. Nietzsche was no New Age Guru. Nietzsche was a Dr. of Civilization’s ills, nihilism his diagnosis… the cure: self-overcoming, an agon to the death – death of civilization as a ‘culture of nihilism’. His diagnosis had two treatments: 1) passive nihilism – allow the weak nihilists to literally die out (or, the destruction of a world; i.e., of the weak nihilist’s worldview); and, 2) positive nihilism – allow the strong nihilist to push or accelerate the disease till it was eliminated, and what remains is something stronger and with greater vitality – a new Civilization of Life beyond the borders of our death culture. A world born of artists, poets, singers, dancers – a world of creativity and light born out of great pain and suffering.

People have termed Nietzsche a reactionary, but that doesn’t quite fit the man’s actual worldview. No. He moved beyond tradition, beyond traditional humanism and religion, and the counter-enlightenment ideologies of the staid gray men of the dark enlightenment’s credos of a return to Sovereign masters, etc. Nietzsche was the extreme case of a Voluntarist who had pushed that mode of the Individual passed such boundaries and into something just the other side of thought, an eliminative thought that stripped the world bare of its false significations, opened it up with a scalpel and revealed not what was hidden but what was in plain site but covered over by a false film of human intent and need… That Old Zen master  Zarathustra, the desert hobgoblin of a prophetic future was pointing to what is advancing toward us out of the accelerating temporal void. Nietzsche was the first post-humanist, and yet the figure of his Übermensch was not his credo but his parody of this future. Many have literalized Zarathustra’s embarkations, rather than seeing them as fables and figurations of something that could not be put into words, an excess beyond our broken signs that no longer refer to anything beyond themselves – a completed nihilism that would break language altogether and encompass the unknowing of what is coming at us… recreating out of the alchemy of time a new worldview for the living, not the dead.

Let’s face it Nietzsche is antinomian, he contradicts himself at every term. Anyone can make out of aspects of his thought anything they might like; that is, unless they show the methodical and accumulating vision that went through cycles and revisions, sequences, coding’s, re-coding’s, and de-coding’s… Nietzsche was unable to finish his project so that we do not have the final vision of his genius. We have fragments of a mind scattered in an Abyss…

This is why his thought is so vital to our age of fracture, he lived what we are now going through, he foresaw the breaking points and the fractured edge of our mental horizons. Like the Trickster figures of old he lived backwards, he had the retroactive vision of those who see from afar, who turn time back and renew us with a truth that is seen from a slanted view of time. Like Deleuze & Guattari, he went against his age’s wise men of academia and paid the price. We would do well to read through his oeuvre rather than reduce him to some political epithet, understand what he was doing in his working through of the diagnosis of nihilism’s death throes. And, yes, he had two phases of his cure: one eliminative, one emancipative. The eliminative subtraction of the human exceptionalism and anthropomorphism of the liberal humanist traditions, and the emancipative introduction of an affirmative process of self-overcoming that would lead to a new posthuman difference. As he saw it nihilism was a tool in the hands of powers that sought to enslave humanity in herd like enclaves of stupidity and unknowing, bound by a mental horizon that these powers controlled. A prison world of thought and intent that encompassed the economic and spiritual capture of the surplus desire of its populace. We see this in our worldwide global system of consumerist capitalism which is neither democratic nor socialist, which is beyond politics altogether.

In our age what many term a complete nihilism is in the offing. What do we mean by this? The complete severance of economics from politics, the privatization of every aspect of the polis, the public sphere. There will be no privacy in a totally secured world. The Human Security Regimes will require a total Surveillance Society. We see the dromological world arising all around us. The defining characteristics of our society, and an increasing source of its hazards, are its relentless acceleration and compression of time (i.e., the so called accelerationism theoretic). The benefits claimed for networked learning environments – productive forms of accessibility, asynchronicity, flexible working, interactivity, instaneity, global reach, inclusivity and contemplative digital space, all appear challenged by dromological perspectives. These latter locate the rise of digital information technologies firmly within the neo-liberal ideology of globalisation, and see them caught inexorably within a logic of ‘fast time’. This has dysfunctional effects in relation to creative thinking, deliberation, discernment and other conceptual processes. It has dystopian political effects in terms of the erosion of democratic and cultural space and the discrediting of action. Our children have become a part of a new generation of so-called ‘digital natives’ – ‘the children of chaos’ and transition. They will begin the process of completing the nihilistic world and its destruction.

Paul Virilio speaking of these accelerating processes would say,

Today, almost all current technologies put the speed of light to work…we are not only talking about information at a distance but also operation at a distance, or, the possibility to act instantaneously, from afar…This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of time… the speed of light does not merely transform the world.  It becomes the world. (Virilio 1999)

Virilio argues that the dominance of speed has historically been the source of power in all societies, be this through horsemanship, naval power, railway transportation, flight or, now, the fastest technology of all, information technology, which operates, quite literally, at the speed of light.

‘Speed’ suggests Virilio (1999:15) ‘is power itself’.

Whether in ancient societies through the role of chivalry (the first Roman bankers were horsemen) or in maritime power through the conquest of seas, power is always the power to control a territory with messengers, modes of transportation and communication.  Independent of the economy of wealth, an approach to politics is impossible without an approach to the economy of speed…Global society is currently in a gestation period and cannot be understood without the speed of light or the automatic quotations of the stock markets in Wall Street, Tokyo, or London. (15)

Acceleration, in this view, is the hidden side of wealth and accumulation, or capitalisation: in the past the acceleration of maritime transportation, today, the acceleration of information.   As one commentator put it, digital natives ‘are used to receiving information really fast.  They like to parallel process and multi-task.  They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.  They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.  They prefer games to “serious” work.’ (Prensky 2001:1) 1

This sense of playfulness, of no longer taking life and work seriously is what Nietzsche hinted at in his attacks of the middle-class of his day and the serious gray beards of academia, etc. Victorian and Industrial and Post-Fordist society were all too serious about life, and produced death and war and hate. Things are turning chaotic, apocalyptic, fiery: at the speed of light, a world of random access, of data, of light-speed. Everything is digital and bound in codes, decodings, and re-codings. And, away from the watchful keepers of the gray beards is the anarchic children of chaos creating the encrypted bit-stacked layers of a new privacy, and public sphere that cannot be controlled.

And, yet, this will not come easy, it will take much innovation and creativity against the security systems that seek to lock down free minds.

Degrade first the arts if you’d mankind degrade,
Hire idiots to paint with cold light and hot shade.

– William Blake

It will take a great insurgence not of force and violence, but of creativity and artistic power to overcome the dark lords of our economic slavery on the planet today!

This is not the place to address the weak (passive) nihilists that run the world of Global Finance and its economic prison system today! Yet, it is their weakening hold on the accelerating power of those creative singularities which are arising out of our future across the planet that is unraveling the codes of these Oligarchic Sovereign Systems of Security and Surveillance Capitalism.

If I use poetic embellishments to describe this process, it is because the reduced philosophical credos of our day are under the dominion of the powers of repression and oppression. We must return to the figurative, rather than the literal reduced meanings to bridge the gap between singularities so that communication can once again become a bridge of light not darkness… thought is in excess of itself.


  1. Marc R. Prensky. From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. Corwin; 1 edition (January 10, 2012)

Pierrot & the Dandy: Figures of Decadence

No one was more reproachful than he of a pose, a “cassure,” to use a vulgar word which exactly expresses our thought, whether in a dandy or in a voyour, in a great lady or in a daughter of the people. He possessed in a rare degree the sense of modern corruptions, in high as in low society, and he also culled, under the form of sketches, his flowers of evil.

-Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, His Life

Here is a description by Théophile Gautier in his biography or monogram of his young protégé, Charles Baudelaire:

His appearance was striking: he had closely shaved hair of a rich black, which fell over a forehead of extraordinary whiteness, giving his head the appearance of a Saracen helmet. His eyes, colored like tobacco of Spain, had great depth and spirituality about them, and a certain penetration which was, perhaps, a little too insistent. As to the mouth, in which the teeth were white and perfect, it was seen under a slight and silky moustache which screened its contours. The mobile curves, voluptuous and ironical as the lips in a face painted by Leonardo da Vinci, the nose, fine and delicate, somewhat curved, with quivering nostrils, seemed ever to be scenting vague perfumes. A large dimple accentuated the chin, like the finishing touch of a sculptor’s chisel on a statue; the cheeks, carefully shaved, with vermilion tints on the cheek-bones; the neck, of almost feminine elegance and whiteness, showed plainly, as the collar of his shirt was turned down with a Madras cravat.

His clothing consisted of a paletot of shining black cloth, nut-colored trousers, white stockings, and patent leather shoes; the whole fastidiously correct, with a stamp of almost English simplicity, intentionally adopted to distinguish himself from the artistic folk with the soft felt hats, the velvet waistcoats, red jackets, and strong, disheveled beards. Nothing was too new or elaborate about him. Charles Baudelaire indulged in a certain dandyism, but he would do anything to take from his things the “Sunday clothes” appearance so dear and important to the Philistine, but so disagreeable to the true gentleman.1

Continue reading

Decadent Europe’s Islamist Dystopia

A great write up by Rick Searle on the decadent Eurocentric perspective on Islam…

Utopia or Dystopia

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Sometimes I get the feeling that the West really is intellectually and spiritually bankrupt. I take my cue here not from watching Eurovision or anything like its American equivalent, but from the fact that, despite how radically different our circumstance is from our predecessors, we can’t seem to get beyond political ideas that have been banging around since the 19th century. Instead of coming up with genuine alternatives we rebrand antique ideas. After all, isn’t  “fully automated luxury communism” really just a technophilic version of communism which hopes to shed all association with breadlines or statues of strapping workers with hammers in their hands? Let’s just call the thing Marxism and get it the hell over with.

Yet perhaps nothing that’s in fact sclerotic and is trying to pass itself off as new is as bad as the so-called “alt-right” (personally I liked the term neo-reactionaries so much better)…

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The Neon Demon: Decadence and the Art of Darkness

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

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

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

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

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

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

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

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A Short History of Decay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mundane World of Sex

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

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voici, voici venir les temps de l’Androgyne.      

            And, my translation…

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

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

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

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

Behold, here comes the time of the Androgyny.

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

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

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Late Romanticism: The Gothic Art of Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Beauty of Decadence

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

-Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon an Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laughter may not show respect but it does show horror.

-Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality

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

-Garielle Wittkop, Murder Most Serene


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

Arthur Kroker: Hyperstitional Gazer of Futurity

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

– Arthur Kroker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

In Search of Perfection – Fantasy or Satire?

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We’ve seen it come and go, this ephemeral quest for Beauty. With the invention of such genome-engineering tools as CRISPR, a technology that could allow researchers to perform microsurgery on genes, precisely and easily changing a DNA sequence at exact locations on a chromosome, we’re seeing the beginnings of a revolution in cosmetic Augmentation before our eyes.

Beyond the medical breakthroughs which are already forecast, one will begin to see those who seek perfection, the self-editing or techno-makeover industry will take the next step in editing out those blemishes and micro-deficiencies, all those disgusting aspects of one’s fleshly existence that have for so long troubled one’s sense of beauty.

CRISPR and the other new tools also give scientists a precise way to delete and edit specific bits of DNA—even by changing a single base pair. This means they can rewrite the human genome at will. Someday vast digital libraries of CRISPRs, each of which targets a different human gene will become marketable. These vast collections, which account for nearly all the human genes, have been made available to other researchers. The libraries promise to speed genome-wide studies of genetics.

Cut and patch technologies will become the stock and trade of a new wave of Augmentation Specialists, equipped with the vast encyclopedia of beatific forms, a typology of Beauty that can compute and edit ones genome in one sitting, the cosmetic augmentation specialists of tomorrow will splice and dice one’s flesh with subtle variations like a musical score played by a Maestro. A Symphony of fleshly delights that will have you looking like your own Barbie Doll in no time.

(I wrote this as a spoof, reflecting on the usual culprits, the panoply of applications to which such technology could be adapted too, since as one scientists stated CRISPR and other technologies “will likely only be limited by our imagination“.)

The whole notion of metamorphosis, transformation, editing out the imperfections in the human genome is based on a typical fallacy that we can edit out the Other. One will imagine a future of clones and typology of advanced sleeves – a sort of immortalist factory model of Sameness. As in Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi trilogy, where humans can resleeve or change bodies through a process of transplanting etc. Obviously fantasy at our moment, but imaginal projection for those singulatarians who surmise such things.

Already we see CRISPR being used in China for experimental purposes on human embryos. They’ve only used embryos that were to be destroyed so far, but one wonders about rogue governments and black ops projects that might already be developing such augmentation and mutations. What will occur when such editing of the human genome is brought to fruition? When the first experimental embryos are born after such editing procedures?

In an article published in the journal Science, leading biologists warned about the dangers of altering the human germline (meaning permanent changes to the egg, sperm, or embryo that can be passed on to future generations). They note that the “enormous opportunities” of such genetic engineering come with “unknown risks to human health and well-being.”

As Carl Zimmer notes in National Geographic, there were several major problems with the work, including the fact that the CRISPR technique often missed its target, inserting the DNA into the wrong place in the genome. “Such a misfire wouldn’t just fail to fix a disease,” writes Zimmer. “It could create a disease of its own.” He adds that despite this and other mistakes, there was nothing in the researchers’ work that was a “conceptual deal-breaker” for using CRISPR to edit human genes.

read more on the Verge: Scientists in China edit human genome in embryos for the first time

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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John Barth: The Elegance of Exhausted Possibilities

While finishing my cigar I made a few more idle notes for my Inquiry, which was, you understand, open again. They are of small interest here — which is to say, they are of some interest. It occurred to me, for example, that faced with an infinitude of possible directions and having no ultimate reason to choose one over another, I would in all probability, though not at all necessarily, go on behaving much as I had…
……….– John Barth, The Floating Opera

Prose that ambles, wandering with thought along the river of the mind, careless, yet sure of its strength, its fervor, its desire, yet also knowing life is a floating opera drifting into time and muddy rivers like a gangly crew of misfits seeking both escape and a little vagrant fun for a few hours… much like myself after a long stint in the cold icy world of speculative philosophers.

John Barth, one of my favorite authors to read for the sheer zaniness of his irrealist quest to push past James Joyce and enter that fabled river of Livy through the American river of the Potomac that wanders lazily into the Chesapeake Bay. I’d read his first two novels The Floating Opera and The End of the Road at the behest of a high-school teacher Chuck Mitchell, a bald little fat man with big glasses and a voice that boomed across our class like a fog horn, usually waking the sleeping football players in the back row – of which, yours truly was one. Both of these works left their trace on my young mind, like a firecracker thrown into a dark alley. Both were a little dark and full of the existential despair, but they were alive, too. Something quirky about his ambling through history, culture, and the twisted minds of our psychotic age captured me. I wanted more…

I picked up both of them off my shelf tonight, taking a break from my usual mad forays into various philosophical, scientific, and miscellany and once again was replenished. Laughing and glad I’d shut the door on my taxed mind, put the cold labors of philosophy away in a box, hid it in my closet next to my basketball, footballs, and golf-clubs (all long unused and rusty, deflated, and holding only the memories of former glories), shut – no, slammed the sliding door and fell back into my old worn and chapped learther chair, flipped the TV off and wandered down the river chasing stage scenes of a bygone era, a crew of wandering minstrels, and Barth’s ministrations among the legal and torn ruins of a world gone mad…

The Floating Opera is the first novel he’d become a part of those magicians of the era, the fabulists like Navokov, Borges, Calvino, Lem and others who seemed to love writing novels about writing within novels about characters who were writing novels about novels in a novel about a character floating down a river chasing the Ocean of Story to the roots of narrative, speech, and the abyss of human novelty.

To carry the “meandering stream” conceit a bit further, if I may: it has always seemed to me, in the novels that I’ve read now and then, that those authors are asking a great deal of their readers who start their stories furiously, in the middle of things, rather than backing or sidling slowly into them. Such a plunge into someone else’s life and world, like a plunge into the Choptank River in mid-March, has, it seems to me, little of pleasure in it. No, come along with me, reader, and don’t fear for your weak heart; I’ve one myself, and know the value of inserting first a toe, then a foot, next a leg, very slowly your hips and stomach, and finally your whole self into my story, and taking a good long time to do it. This is, after all, a pleasure-dip I’m inviting you to, not a baptism. (TFO, p. 4)1

So page by page I plunged through every novel, story, and essay Barth wrote as he explored the -as he’d tell it, the “quackery of my undertakings,” roaming through the declivities of his passions and virtuosity. Ultimately he set himself the task to “turn the felt “ultimacies of our time” into material and means for his work – paradoxically, because by doing so he “transcends what had appeared to be his refutation, in the same way tha the mystic who transcends finitude is said to be enabled to live, spiritually and physically, in the finite world” (Friday Book, p. 71).2 This sense of a baroque style, of a literature of exhausted possibilities, of constructing texts out of other texts as if one were not writing an original work – there being no such things left as “originality,” everything already having been done, and done better long ago. Now there was only the great art of annotation, commentary, being a writer that was faithful to an amanuenses of the spirit: a librarian of ideas, artifice, memories lost and found, the master of a universe of texts whose dust was about to be lost under the burden of electronic forgetfulness. To enter the borderlands of parody and caricature, tease out the endless divagations, twists, and turns; the nuances, the strange contours of hidden scripts and side-bar brokering between scribes, kings, and the women of a harem or sea captain’s caught in the loneliness of the wide ocean surfing through old stories, maps, treasuries of broken kingdoms of another age.

Barth would go on to write greater and even quirkier fare. Like Giles Goat-Boy – a little dated now, but not if you just like the weird rumblings from a fabulist age in a America, a parallel world where a Goat boy would enter university, guided through the lemmings of a moral education as if Kant’s imperative were part of the curriculum in Hell. Like Theseus in the dark labyrinth listening to the moans and groans of that great beast at its center, feeding in and out the thin scarlet thread between himself and Ariadne the writer wanders into and out of the Ocean of story, book upon book, shelf by shelf, dusting off here and there a work that has not been read or seen the light of day for a thousand years or nights, listening to the ancient voice of humans dead and gone, buried among the ruins of buried cities. Scheherazade or her sister, Dunyazade telling a 1001 Nights tales till the world ends… Sinbad the last sailor, now an old man in a hospital bed in Barth’s home town telling the author (yes, a character in his own novel) about all those wondrous voyages and sexcapades… Letters a novel written by letter writers from his previous novels gossiping about each other, echoing the world around them as if language truly could replace the reality…

Barth’s may be one of the last heroes of literature, a writer’s writer whose writing on writing, books within books about books, and texts inventing themselves whole cloth out of thin air: a wizard wandering in and out of his own inner labyrinth of desire where the simple, yet elegant possibility of something new and marvelous, suddenly juts its head out of the ink stained world of his books, making a difference that is a difference.

That the age of anti-realism seems to be dimming is beside the point, when one looks back and sees so much talent flying in the face of our bland and terrible universe of enslavement and death termed for no better reason – the 21st Century. When I look back at the irreal worlds of Barth, copies of copies, they seemed more real than the neoliberal death chants of global capitalism as it gobbles up the world in its farcical jaws.


 

  1. Barth, John. The Floating Opera. (Bantam, 1972).
  2. Barth, John. The Friday Book: Essays and Other Non-Fiction (John Hopkins, 1984)

Martin Rees: Machines will Inherit the Future

Martin Rees: How soon will robots take over the world?

Let me briefly deploy an astronomical perspective and speculate about the really far future – the post-human era. There are chemical and metabolic limits to the size and processing power of organic brains. Maybe humans are close to these limits already. But there are no such constraints on silicon-based computers (still less, perhaps, quantum computers): for these, the potential for further development could be as dramatic as the evolution from monocellular organisms to humans. So, by any definition of “thinking”, the amount and intensity that’s done by organic human-type brains will, in the far future, be utterly swamped by the cerebrations of AI. Moreover, the Earth’s biosphere in which organic life has symbiotically evolved is not a constraint for advanced AI. Indeed, it is far from optimal – interplanetary and interstellar space will be the preferred arena where robotic fabricators will have the grandest scope for construction, and where non-biological “brains” may develop insights as far beyond our imaginings as string theory is for a mouse.

Abstract thinking by biological brains has underpinned the emergence of all culture and science. But this activity – spanning tens of millennia at most – will be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the inorganic post-human era. So, in the far future, it won’t be the minds of humans, but those of machines, that will most fully understand the cosmos – and it will be the actions of autonomous machines that will most drastically change our world, and perhaps what lies beyond.

 

Théophile Gautier: Posthuman Decadence and the Philosophy of Closure

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…where is the image for longing? – A.R. Ammons

“Travel is perhaps a dangerous element to introduce into your life, for if some circumstance or duty prevents you from leaving, it profoundly disturbs you and causes distress like that of birds of passage held prisoner at the time of their migration. You realize that you will expose yourself to fatigue, deprivation, boredom, and danger even, and that you must bear the cost of renouncing fond habits of body and soul, leaving behind your family, friends, and relations for the unknown.”1

This sense of leaving the known for the unknown is at the heart of decadence and closure, a need to close one circle while opening another into the unexpected and the new – an exoticism of the eye that seeks in the other nothing more nor less than the pure art object. Théophile Gautier whose theory of “l”art pour l”art”, art for art’s sake would subtract itself from the utilitarian philosophies of the bourgeoisie for a more subtle and colorful, sensual exoticism of the eye – provide a seeing that would float upon the surface of things like a desiring machine whose longing was to discover the image of its own unquenched fires.

The style of decadence for Gautier was none other than “Art arrived at that point of extreme maturity that determines civilizations which have grown old; ingenious, complicated, clever, full of delicate hints and refinements, gathering all the delicacies of speech, borrowing from technical vocabularies, taking color from every palette, tones from all musical instruments, contours vague and fleeting, listening to translate subtle confidences, confessions of depraved passions, and the odd hallucinations of a fixed idea turning to madness.”

This was the style which a decadent would use to summon the extreme motion of life, through a “language already veined with the greenness of decomposition, savoring of the Lower Roman Empire and the complicated refinements of the Byzantine School and the last form of Greek Art fallen into deliquescence; but such is the necessary and fatal idiom of peoples and civilizations where an artificial life has replaced a natural one and developed in a person who does not know his own needs. Contrary to classical style, it admits of backgrounds where the specters of superstition, the haggard phantoms of dreams, the terrors of night, remorse which leaps out and falls back noiselessly, obscure fantasies that astonish the day, and all the soul in its deepest depths and innermost caverns conceals the darkness, deformity, and horror, move together nervously.”

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Camille Paglia will tell us that Gautier looks forward to the posthuman or even inhuman art of the future synthetic being. “It looks forward to modern avant-garde narrative, where it is quite permissible and even desirable for nothing whatever to happen. But we sense in Gautier the cold immobility of the object so meticulously dissected, as if by autopsy. Since he dwells so much on the external, there is no one to identify with. The treatment of persons as art objects is present as an ambition in Maupin but is not technically realized until A Night with Cleopatra. (p. 418).” This sense of the android, the robot, the golem and art object that we see in many Japanese Geminoids was first described in this decadent immersion of the human as art object.

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This history of manufactured beings has yet to be written in full details, but from Paglia we see the first entry of the hermaphrodite, the android, the sexless being whose allure and double articulation as a machine made of synthetic materials begins with the bust of Nefertiti:

The proper response to the Nefertiti bust is fear. The queen is an android, a manufactured being. She is a new gorgoneion, a “bodiless head of fright.” She is paralyzed and paralyzing. Like enthroned Chephren, Nefertiti is suave, urbane. She gazes toward the far distance, seeing what is best for her people. But her eyes, with their catlike rim of kohl, are cold. She is self-divinized authority. Art shows Akhenaten half-feminine, his limbs shrunken and belly bulging, possibly from birth defect or disease. This portrait shows his queen half-masculine, a vampire of political will. Her seductive force both lures in and warns away. She is western personality barricaded behind its aching, icy line of Apollonian identity.  (pp. 68-69).

The android as Hermaphrodite, an “ardent chimera” or “charming monster” of “accursed beauty,” that is both provocative and reclusive, it is a ritual cult-object to which gifts are brought. The Hermaphrodite is separated from society and nature. It is a Late Romantic freak, symbol of the impossible. “Dream of poet and artist,” “supreme effort of art and pleasure,” it is an artificial sex. Its “multiple beauty” unites the art object’s sexual duality with the multiplicity of response art generates in its audience. (p. 413).

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