Zizek & Deleuze: On Desire

Of late I’ve been tracing down the two forms of desire that interplay through much of the past two-hundred years in discourse. I was rereading Zizek who is a student and epigone of Lacan/Hegel who both conceived desire as lack, while Deleuze on the other hand conceived desire as fully positive. I had discovered in Nick Land’s works this same sense of desire as in Deleuze. There is this undercurrent of philosophers that seem to battle between these conceptions of desire as if it were a central trope and mask for aspects of drive and energy that those following the transcendental Idealists despise with a passion. I’m just taking a few notes here and there as I trace this strange battle of the philosophers over conceptions of desire. It seems important.

 Below is a quote from Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences by Slavoj Zizek:

…Deleuze insists that desire has no object (whose lack would trigger and sustain its movement): desire is “a purely virtual ‘movement’ that has always reached its destination, whose moving is itself its own destination.” This is the thrust of Deleuze’s reading of masochism and courtly love— in both cases, not logic of sacrifice, but how to sustain the desire … According to the standard reading of masochism, the masochist, like everyone, also looks for pleasure; his problem is that, because of the internalized superego, he has to pay for his access to pleasure with the pain, to pacify the oppressive agency which finds pleasure intolerable. For Deleuze, on the contrary, the masochist chooses pain in order to

dissolve the pseudo-link of desire with pleasure as its extrinsic measure. Pleasure is in no way something that can only be reached via the detour of pain, but that which has to be delayed to the maximum since it is something which interrupts the continuous process of the positive desire. There is an immanent joy of desire, as if desire fills itself with itself and its contemplations, and which does not imply any lack, any impossibility.

And the same goes for courtly love : its eternal postponement of fulfilment does not obey a law of lack or an ideal of transcendence: here also, it signals a desire which lacks nothing, since it finds its fulfilment in itself, in its own immanence; every pleasure is, on the contrary, already a re-territorialization of the free flux of desire.

Of course Zizek goes ballistic at Deleuze’s insistence on the notion that desire lacks nothing… Zizek being a faithful child of Hegel gets exasperated and wants to say, ah ha, I got you Deleuze when he says:

Therein resides the ultimate irony of Deleuze’s critique of Hegel: when, against Hegel, Deleuze claims that creation “is immediately creative; there is no transcendent or negating subject of creation that might need time in order to become conscious of itself or otherwise catch up with itself,”  he thereby imputes to Hegel a substantialization-reification which is not there and, in this way, obliterates precisely that dimension in Hegel which is the closest to Deleuze himself. Hegel repeatedly insists that Spirit is “a product of itself”: it is not a pre-existing Subject intervening into objectivity, sublating-mediating it, but the result of its own movement, i.e., pure processuality. As such, it does not need time to “catch up with itself,” but simply to generate itself. (ibid, KL 169)

What’s truly ironic is that for Hegel ‘Spirit’ is a mask for desire, so that it is Zizek not Deleuze who is bound to a misprisioning of Hegel and Deleuze both. Zizek has a fetish for the self-reflecting nothingness at the center of his own empty being: what he calls subjectivity. He could not find desire there so he has been chasing after it through all the worlds of philosophy, film, art, trash, culture, Lacan, Hegel… will he find it? All he need do is give up his love of nothingness. But that’s the key he desires less than nothing so will continue to revolve in his own black hole of non-being.

Yet, if we remember from his opus Less Than Nothing the basic theme was on desire:

This book tries to demonstrate that the Freudian drive cannot be reduced to what Buddhism denounces as desire or to what Heidegger denounces as the Will: even after we reach the end of this critical overcoming of desire-will-subjectivity, something continues to move. What survives death is the Holy Spirit sustained by an obscene “partial object” that stands for the indestructible drive. One should thus (also) invert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of how we relate to the proximity of death in the Kierkegaardian sense of the “sickness unto death,” as the series of five attitudes towards the unbearable fact of immortality. One first denies it: “What immortality? After my death, I will just dissolve into dust!” Then, one explodes into anger: “What a terrible predicament I’m in! No way out !” One continues to bargain: “OK, but it is not me who is immortal, only the undead part of me, so one can live with it …” Then one falls into depression: “What can I do with myself when I am condemned to stay here forever?” Finally, one accepts the burden of immortality.2

And, of course, one realizes that Zizek is being beyond ironic in such statements since he is a purist of atheists. Zizek is after that “something continues to move”. The burden of life and immortality for Zizek is to be condemned to this life forever, to repeat it ad infinitum like Kafka’s surveyor in The Castle he is condemned to a novel that will never end because the author left the stage before it was completed. An irony too sweet to be missed: one can also conceive desire as a mode of avoiding the circularity of the drive: the self-enclosed rotary movement is recast as a repeated failure to reach a transcendent object which always eludes its grasp (Zizek, KL 5319). This is Zizek’s desire as lack. A sort of hell where one is condemned like Dante’s lovers to whirl in the winds of infinity just out of reach of each other, condemned to an eternity of longing that can never be fulfilled.

Deleuze will offer his own view on desire in which he will point out that desire always flows from within an assemblage. To desire is to construct and assemblage, to construct and aggregate – a dress, a sun ray, a woman or assemblage of a woman, a vista, a color, etc. To be abstract about it: desire is a constructivism. Everytime someone says they desire something, they first of all desire to construct an assemblage, to shape their desire around a mileu:


In the video he goes on to speak of the three points he and Felix Guattari had in disagreement with classic forms of psychoanalysis:

1) they were persuaded with the notion that the unconscious is not a theatre, a place where Hamlet and Oedipus continually play out their scenes. It’s not a theatre but a factory, a production… the unconscious produces, continuously produces… ;

2) the theme of delirium, which is closely linked to desire… to desire is to become delirious… it is opposite to what psychoanalysts discuss – it’s not about the father and mother… the great secret of delirium is that we desire about the whole world… one desires about history, geography, tribes, deserts, people, climates, etc. … it’s not about family, its about tribes and milieu, about one’s place within these…the determinants.

3) desire always constructs assemblages and establishes itself in assemblages, always putting several factors into play, while psychoanalysis is just the opposites and reduces the factors to a single factor: the father, the mother, etc.  While assemblages are a multiplicity, psychoanalysis is a reduction to the one. 

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-05-04). Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 156-169). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 313-321). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Jules Verne: Acceleration, Science, and the Future

jules verne

In 1863, the great novelist Jules Verne undertook perhaps his most ambitious project. He wrote a prophetic novel, called Paris in the Twentieth Century, in which he applied the full power of his enormous talents to fore-cast the coming century. His biographers have noted that, although Verne was not a scientist himself, he constantly sought out scientists, peppering them with questions about their visions of the future. He amassed a vast archive summarizing the great scientific discoveries of his time. Verne, more than others, realized that science was the engine shaking the foundations of civilization, propelling it into a new century with unexpected marvels and miracles. The key to Verne’s vision and profound insights was his grasp of the power of science to revolutionize society.1

Science as the engine of progress and development, of modernity as it has come down to us is central to the underlying myths of speed and accelerationism. Jules Verne could be considered the father of Accelerationism. Frank Borman an astronaut on Apollo 8 would comment: “In a very real sense, Jules Verne is one of the pioneers of the space age”. Books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras and An Antarctic Mystery, Mathias Sandorf, Journey to the Center of the Earth would each inspire scientists like pioneering submarine designer Simon Lake, and other maritime scientists: William Beebe, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and Robert Ballard, and Jacques Cousteau; rocketry innovators Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth; explorer Richard E. Byrd, after a flight to the South Pole; Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer; the preeminent speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel;  and others like Fridtjof Nansen, Wernher von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, and Yuri Gagarin.

Even Marx himself would understand that science is the engine of production and progress:

“…the entire production process appears not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science. [It is] hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment in this process. As with the transformation of value into capital, so does it appear in the further development of capital that it presupposes a certain given historical development of productive forces on one side – science too is among these productive forces – and, on the other, drives and forces them further onwards.”2

 This notion that the cycle of the production process is driven by applied science as a productive force, and that it is a continuous force driving it in a progressive form of continuous process is key to Marx’s understanding. Instead of capital as the driver of production as many assume, Marx would describe a combination of social labour and the “technological application of natural sciences, on the one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination of total production on the other side” (ibid). These two forces would ultimately lead capital to “its own dissolution as the form of dominating production” (ibid).

Marx as he begins to diagnose the power of science and machines tells us that at first the power of machines to take over human labour was martialed not by the machines, but by mechanizing the worker, but as he says the rise of machines in industry arose by “dissection – through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places. Thus, the specific mode of working here appears directly as becoming transferred from the worker to capital in the form of the machine, and his own labour capacity devalued thereby” (ibid).

Even now we hear many workers in the labour force worried that robots and intelligent systems will make them obsolete. In From Watson to Siri we discover that as in early Fordist era machine takeovers we’re facing it again:

“…in the infancy of the 21st century, a new revolution is reshaping the American economy, what we might call the “A.I. revolution.” … machines employing natural language processors, voice recognition software and other tools of artificial intelligence are proliferating, just as textile mills and, later, assembly lines proliferated and fundamentally altered the American economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, American workers won the race against machines by using advances in technology to usher in a new era of consumerism and mass production. This time … we must learn to co-exist with machines, rather than race against them.” (PBS/Need to Know)

It is also interesting, continuing with Marx’s essay, that real wealth creation depends less “on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology or the application of this science to production” (ibid). Again the engine of science and knowledge applied is the driver and engine of wealth creation in which the human worker become more of a “watcher and regulator” of the production process done for the most part by machines. What Marx is ultimately driving at is that humans as scientists and knowledge workers whose “understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence in the social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and wealth” (ibid, 62).

The point that Marx is making in contradistinction to many labour theorists is that wealth is produced by promoting less labour time and more free time for social individuals who thereby become artistic, scientific, educated in free time:

“The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of its penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created.” (ibid, 63)

 By this of course surplus labour is the labour performed in excess of the labour necessary to produce the means of livelihood of the worker (“necessary labour”). So that the exploitation of surplus labour or making individuals work more than is needed for their basic needs should be put to an end, and the input of wealth distributed to the mass of workers to further their education so that through their artistic and scientific creativity and inventions industry would benefit greatly. As Marx will pointedly tells us the capitalists have no clue, that instead of opening up free time for the workers and giving them an opportunity to further their artistic and scientific education, they force them to work longer hours than is necessary to survive:

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form: hence it posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question life or death – for the necessary.” (ibid, 63)

But remember Marx had previously told us that the development of the social individual is the “great foundation-stone of production and wealth”, not surplus labour nor labour time as the source of wealth. The point of the contradiction comes into play in that the capitalists use the powers of science, and the resources of nature as the engine of wealth creation in collusion with the social combination and social intercourse independent of labour time employed on it (ibid, 63). Yet, on the other hand they play the blind-man’s card and have us believe that labour time is the measuring rod for the social forces created, and limit it as the created value of value (ibid, 63).

Yet, Marx will almost surprised by his own analyses remind us that it is the human brain freed up to produce knowledge for the society that is the lynchpin of wealth, and that the “creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally” which leads to people being able to pursue artistic and scientific education etc. Yet, the capitalists in contradistinction to their own practices, invert this logic and take hold of the surplus labour to force workers not into free time for education, but to produce excessive material products for the market and as Marx suggests, if it succeeds too well it “suffers from surplus production, and then necessary labour is interrupted, because no surplus labour can be realized by capital” (ibid, 64). The point here is that the capitalist is his own worst enemy, and the cycles of bust and depression, inflation, etc. are brought about by the fantasia of the capitalists.

Ultimately Marx’s diagnosis would be that as the contradiction continues to produce these same cycles of boom and bust over and over and over again, it is up to the workers, not the entrepreneurs and bankers (Capital), to appropriate their own surplus labour (free time): Once they have done so- and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. (ibid, 65) This will lead Marx to his final point, that real wealth is the combined or total productive power of all workers, and the measure of wealth is not labour time but “disposable time”. Instead of the capitalist who bases wealth on labour time, on the exploitation of the worker beyond his necessary time he needs to support himself and his family, he is force to “work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools” (ibid. 65).

Instead as Marx will tell us what should occur is the saving of labour time, of turning it into free time, of education and productive time for family and life thereby allowing workers to ultimately accumulate knowledge for society: “this process is then both a discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming, and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society” (ibid, 66).

As we move into an era of artificial intelligence, smart cities, technocapitalism the need for creativity and higher performance and inventiveness has come more and more into play, and as Luis Suarez-Villa will tell us this is becoming a era in which creativity itself is becoming the greatest commodity: “The commodification of this most intangible and elusive human quality has characteristics separating it from the commodification of other resources in previous stages of capitalism.”3

In my next post I’ll introduce some of where Luis Suarez-Villa sees our brave new world of technocapitalism is taking us. All of this as lead in to Kaku and others as to the direction of capital, acceleration, and science as they merge and form the new worlds ahead.

1. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Random House, 2012)
2. Fragment on Machines. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. editors Robin Makay and Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
3. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 357-359). Kindle Edition.

Lucretius and The Making of Modernity

Karl Marx would relate in his essay on French Materialsm the “overthrow of the metaphysics of the seventeenth century could be explained from the materialistic theory of the eighteenth century only in so far as this theoretical movement was itself explicable by the practical shape of the French life of that time. This life was directed to the immediate present, to worldly enjoyment and worldly interests, to the secular world. It was inevitable that anti-theological, anti-metaphysical, materialistic theories should correspond to its anti-theological, anti-metaphysical, its materialistic practice. In practice metaphysics had lost all credit.”

In our time we’ve seen a resurgence in the other direction which seems to me a dangerous reversion to pre-critical thinking and practice. What was it that brought us to the materialist vision of reality and life to begin with? What seemed so attractive to those of the past few centuries that materialism came to the for rather than the continued dogmatic imposition of theology, metaphysics, and the humanist traditions? We see in such works as Words of Life: New Theological Turns in French Phenomenology (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) by Bruce Ellis Benson we see such philosophers as -Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Kevin Hart, Anthony J. Steinbock, Jeffrey Bloechl, Jeffrey L. Kosky, Clayton Crockett, Brian Treanor, and Christina Gschwandtner, Dominique Janicaud, Jean-Francois Courtine, Jean-Louis Chrtien, Michel Henry, Jean-Luc Marion, and Paul Ricoeur all enquiring into and revitalizing theological notions, concepts, and frameworks in their own theories and practices. And that’s just in the world of French philosophy and phenomenology in particular. I could name philosopher after philosopher from the Continental and even American Analytical streams who seem to be teasing with this supposed theological turn in philosophy.

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A Short History of Efficiency

Reading a fascinating history of the concept of efficiency by Jennifer Karns Alexander The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control. She begins telling us that efficiency was one of the foundational concepts of the modern industrial age. It was an industrial invention, created by engineers and physicists to measure the performance of machines, and, in particular, to relate a machine’s output to the inputs it had used.1 Several different notions surrounded the definition of this concept as applied during the latter 18th and early 19th Century. Two of these would come to dominate its use and construction for industrial intellectuals and engineers. One was an efficiency of balance, a static efficiency, the highest measure of which accounted for the conservation of measured elements. The other was a creative and dynamic efficiency, which allowed growth through careful management and brought as its reward not merely conservation but growth. These two meanings were woven together in what appeared to be a paradoxical rhetoric stressing both the conservative character of efficiency and its dynamic and creative potential. (ibid., KL 117)

Marx would see efficiency as a fixed, quantitative, or substantive power which he would mark as labor productivity. Technically, efficiency was indeed an exercise in quantification, measuring how much power or fuel a machine or human used and comparing that amount to how much work each did in a specific time interval. This notion of labor power being quantified by labor productivity was ultimately a measure of time and its quantification.

Our modem concept of efficiency resulted from the intersection of medieval religious theories of divine simplicity, economy, and power, with premodern output-input measures, and with a theory of immediate causal agency. Efficiency of the premodern sort was neither a measurement nor a comparison. It denoted power that was sufficient or adequate, rather than a precise match between resources and task. Efficiency carried this association with power, and especially causal agency, into its modern forms.(KL 221)

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Technocapitalism: Time, Value, and Labor

As it colonizes human society, nature, and the planet, corporatism degrades us, turning our most precious human qualities into commodities. Our creativity, our knowledge, and our learning thus become not qualities that emancipate but commodities that bind us to our alienation from the human condition, from society, and from nature. This degradation of human values is not grounded in technology, in and of itself. It is grounded in the character of a new kind of corporatism and its authoritarian control over technology. It is a new kind of corporatism that is more clever, rapacious, and invasive than any previous form and that is imperial in its quest for power and profit as it tries to control any and all aspects of the public domain.

– Luis Suarez-Villa. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism

It is not so much that, at a certain point in its development, capitalism begins to waste labor time on a massive scale — rather, the case is more horrifying: labor that is not social necessary (superfluous) is itself the direct aim of the capitalism mode of production from its very inception!

– Jehu, Can We Completely Abolish Labor, Right Now?

In the first volume of Capital Marx remarks that “the worker is nothing other than labour-power for the duration of his whole life, and that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and by right labour-time, to be devoted to the self-valorization of capital”.1 If this is true, and I think it is, then disposable time is the central issue for technocapitalism. As Marx explicitly states it capitalism:

…usurps the time for growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It haggles over the meal-times, where possible incorporating them into the production process itself, so that food is added to the worker as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, and grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, renewal and refreshment of the vital forces to the exact amount of torpor essential to the revival of an absolutely exhausted organism. It is not the normal maintenance of labour-power which determines the limits of the working day here, but rather the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which determines the limits of the workers’ period of rest. Capital asks no questions about the length of life of labour-power. What interests it is purely and simply the maximum of labour-power that can be set in motion in a working day. It attains this objective by shortening the life of labour-power, in the same way as a greedy farmer snatches more produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility. [my italics]

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Imperial Cities: Neocameralism, Androcracy, and Militant Feminism

A capitalist trading empire is a developed form of exogamic patriarchy, and inherits its tensions.

– Nick Land

We have yet to fully appreciate the underlying mechanisms that have already incorporated our planet within a systematic network of economic relations divorced from the human equation. Politics is shadowboxing in the dark, while the economic world litters the debris of our best thinkers across its transnational matrix like stars lost in a forgotten cosmos. Nick Land is neither prophet nor charlatan, but a creature turned outside in who wandered into the bitter zones of the enlightenment and found it wanting. The labor of that old charlatan, Immanuel Kant, was to find in Land a figure of impossible dreams constructed on a tissue of lies and deceit. Land found in Kant the figure of the philosopher as devil, a light-bringer who cut us off from reality and ensnared us in a world of speculative fictions:

Kant described his ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy as a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilization confronting an ambiguous dependence upon novelty.1

Kant brought us to nihilism, to the dark truth that words – the binary play of light and dark, night and day, noise and silence, etc. no longer capture anything outside us, instead these same fictions have become heuristic models or forms that can be applied not to reality but to the given, to that aspect of appearance that is for-us and is channeled by that mental faculty termed the understanding. In doing this Kant cut both himself and all that followed him off from knowing or understanding anything beyond appearance. Whatever reality is was from Kant on barred from knowledge. Knowledge is of appearances rather than of reality, and appearances are only apprehended through the mind’s faculty of understanding as if that too explained anything. In Kant we see the kernel of all those later threads of hatred and madness that would mark modernity with its dire creed of war and efficiency, death camps and apartheid:

Sociological fundamentalism, state worship, totalitarian paranoia and fascism, they all exhibit the same basic impulse; hatred of art, (real) freedom, desire, everything that cannot be controlled, regulated, and administered. Fascism hates aliens, migrant workers, the homeless, rootless people of every kind and inclination, everything evocative of excitement and uncertainty, women, artists, lunatics, drifting sexual drives, liquids, impurity, and abandonment.(Kindle Locations 2318-2321)

Which brings us to the first point of this essay, that whatever falls outside the purview of appearance and understanding is excluded from the economy of knowledge. As Land remarks,

What falls outside this recognized form is everything that resists commodification, the primordial independence that antedates the constitution of the destituted proletarian. As I have suggested, this inchoate mass of more or less explicit resistance to capital is isolated outside the metropolis by a combination of automatic economic processes (the concentration of poverty) and restrictive kinship practices. (Kindle Locations 950-953).

One could pick one’s example from several Imperial Cities across the planet: Shanghai, Singapore, New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Dubai, Bangalore, Arg e-Jadid, etc. Shining city-states of the new global economy, ‘dreamworlds’ of consumption, property, and power where the nouveau riche and neoplutocracy of wealth lives in realms divorced from the political reach of nations. While these ‘evil paradises’ of the neoliberal world order arise from the depths of surrounding cesspools of slums and migrant/temporary slave workers. In this authoritarian and radical reactionary utopia of the neoliberal order we discover “a program of the methodical destruction of collectives,” from trade unions and mill towns to families and small nations. (Kindle Locations 144-145).2 The new apartheid is developed within the neoliberal world order by extreme colonial patterns of residential segregation and zoned consumption. As Davis remarks: “On a planet where more than 2 billion people subsist on two dollars or less a day, these dreamworlds enflame desires—for infinite consumption, total social exclusion and physical security, and architectural monumentality—that are clearly incompatible with the ecological and moral survival of humanity” (Kindle Locations 224-226).

As Land suggests “[s]ystematic racism is a sign that class positions within the general (trans-national) economy are being distributed on a racial basis, which implies an effective, if not a juridical, apartheid” (Kindle Locations 958-959). Further noting:

It is only with the implicit recognition of the need for a systematic evacuation of rebellion from the metropolis by means of a geographically distorted labour market that racism arises in its contemporary form, which is ultimately that of a restricted franchise (on a national basis) over the political management of the global means of production. It is no longer a question of ‘taxation without representation’ (except by means of interest payments), but rather of a metropolitan capital seeking to abstract itself from all political reference, becoming ‘offshore’, although not to the extent that it loses its geopolitical condition of existence (the US war-machine). The increasingly rigorous differentiation of marriage from trade, or politics from economics, finds its ultimate conceptual definition in the thought of a moral agency which is utterly impervious to learning, communication, or exchange. (Kindle Locations 963-970).

These new Imperial City States are becoming free-zones divorced from political and juridical reach, exposed as realms for the new Corporate Elite as playgrounds for utopic desire in which control is the securitization of paradise where even the new feudal lords can be tamed by their own need for pleasure in a hedonistic paradise. That Kant was the first great theoretician of colonialism and empire as they’d come to be known is for Land central. “Kant’s practical subject already prefigures a deaf führer, barking impossible orders that seem to come from another world” (Kindle Locations 982-983). He goes on to state that if “the first Critique corresponds to appropriative economy or commodification, and the second critique corresponds to imperial jurisdiction, the third critique corresponds to the exercise of war at those margins of the global system that continue to resist both the market and the administration” (Kindle Locations 984-987). Ultimately the third critique for Land offered the future imperial elite the “global victory of capitalized reason as pure and exuberant ambition” (Kindle Location 999).


…the only conceivable end of Kantianism is the end of modernity, and to reach this we must foster new Amazons in our midst.

– Nick Land

No one knows at what point Nick Land turned away from original investment in leftist thought and instead imploded and reversed course and became a fierce androcratic technofuturist of the neoreaction. Only Land could answer that question. Yet, if one is a careful reader of his primal essays one gathers a deep critique of the enlightenment project and of Kantianism in particular that has guided both our economic, political, and socio-cultural heritage fro two centuries. Of late Land has been fond of Mencius Moldbug’s revitalization of Fredrick the Great’s cameralist project. Developed in the 18th century, cameralism was a German economic and social school of thought that held a primary function of state, in addition to maintaining law and order, was to promote collective prosperity through economic measures. To achieve the goal of collective prosperity, participation of the complete population in the service of the public good was necessary (“Germany,” 2007, p. 156). Under Frederick William I of Prussia (1713-40), cameralism was reflected in the implementation of aggressive policies to stimulate manufacturing and agricultural growth and reduce unnecessary state expenditures. The state had a supreme ruling body whose upper-level bureaucrats came from nobility closely aligned with the King. This centralized body directed all the state’s activities in industry, finance, internal affairs, and the military. Cameralism also reflected a societal work ethic of intense labor, frugal living and dutiful subservience to the state.

Mencius Moldbug’s updated version of this goes by the name ‘neocameralism’:

Let’s start with my ideal world – the world of thousands, preferably even tens of thousands, of neocameralist city-states and ministates, or neostates. The organizations which own and operate these neostates are for-profit sovereign corporations, or sovcorps. For the moment, let’s assume a one-to-one mapping between sovcorp and neostate. (from Neocameralism and the escalator of massarchy)

As suggested above many of the City States of the new Imperial Neoliberal Empire are already in place with many more being brought into the assemblage year by year. As Moldbug declares the new dramatis personae of this neocameral order would be based on the corporate model of the Sovcorp: agents, subscribers, and residents; as well as those excluded or disenfranchised minions outside the gate, suborgs and illorgs (i.e., NGO’s and illegal organizations, etc.). Those who form the elite plutocracy within the city-states are the residents: Residents fit into two classes: patron and dependent. Dependents are not legally responsible, and are under the authority of their patrons. There is no dependent without patron, although subcorps or suborgs may act as patrons. The neocameralist state is not a charitable organization, but it has no reason not to tolerate a genuinely apolitical charity. Run like Wall-Street the new City-States will have sponsors or extra-legal entities: the corporation is incorporated under the oversight of a sovereign protector, or sponsor. So in this sense each City-State is an extra-territorial entity or larger corporation that enfolds and protects its share of subcorps. I’ll not go into the complete details of this neocameral system which one can read in the above link to one’s heart’s content.

That this system of exclusion is based on a new form of fascism, one that is of racism and sexism under an androcratic regime is without doubt. As Land remarks:

Racism, as a regulated, automatic, and indefinitely suspended process of genocide (as opposed to the hysterical and unsustainable genocide of the Nazis) is the real condition of persistence for a global economic system that is dependent upon an aggregate price of labour approximating to the cost of its bare subsistence, and therefore upon an expanding pool of labour power which must be constantly ‘stimulated’ into this market by an annihilating poverty. (Kindle Locations 1001-1004).

For Land only a militant feminism can hope to offer any form of alternative to this global androcratic empire of exogamic racism and sexism of the patronymic elite. The dark powers of the androcracy have combatted this militant feminism by divesting “all the women who fall under it of any recourse to an ethno-geographical identity; only the twin powers of father and husband suppress the nomadism of the anonymous female fluxes that patriarchy oppressively manipulates, violates, and psychiatrizes. By allowing women some access to wealth and social prestige the liberalization of patriarchy has sought to defuse the explosive force of this anonymity, just as capital has tended to reduce the voluptuous excess of exogamic conjugation to the stability of nationally segmented trading circuits. (Kindle Locations 1012-1016).”

“The women of the earth are segmented only by their fathers and husbands. Their praxial fusion is indistinguishable from the struggle against the micro-powers that suppress them most immediately. That is why the proto-fascism of nationality laws and immigration controls tends to have a sexist character as well as a racist one. It is because women are the historical realization of the potentially euphoric synthetic or communicative function which patriarchy both exploits and inhibits that they are invested with a revolutionary destiny, and it is only through their struggle that politics will be able to escape from all fatherlands. (Kindle Locations 1024-1026).

He reminds us that it perhaps only Monique Wittig has adequately grasped the inescapably military task faced by any serious revolutionary feminism,10 and it is difficult not to be dispirited by the enormous reluctance women have shown historically to prosecute their struggle with sufficient ruthlessness and aggression (See especially M. Wittig, Les Guerillères (Paris: Minuit, 1969); tr. D. Le Vay (Chicago, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2007). This future revolution with its leadership base in militant feminism he comments on, saying:

The state apparatus of an advanced industrial society can certainly not be defeated without a willingness to escalate the cycle of violence without limit. It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell. It is this harsh truth that has deflected Western politics into an increasingly servile reformism, whilst transforming nationalist struggles into the sole arena of vigorous contention against particular configurations of capital. (Kindle Locations 1034-1038). [my italics]

Ultimately this will be an empowered and dynamic guerilla war, but it must go beyond such notions as replacing the existing leaders and institutions. It must destroy the power base of androcratic power itself and no longer allow men in power:

For as long as the dynamic of guerilla war just leads to new men at the top – with all that this entails in terms of the communication between individuated sovereignties – history will continue to look bleak. For it is only when the pervasive historical bond between masculinity and war is broken by effective feminist violence that it will become possible to envisage the uprooting of the patriarchal endogamies that orchestrate the contemporary world order. (Kindle Locations 1041-1044).

The important thing in the above it the breaking of the bond of war from androcracy through the power of militant feminism and the restablishment of matrilinear society— that is, one in which descent and inheritance is traced through the mother. Engels was one of the first to link the emergence of hierarchies and social stratification based on private property with male domination over women. Engels further linked the shift from matriliny to patriliny with the development of copper and bronze metallurgy.

Most Neolithic societies were matrilineal, and in Old Europe most were sedentary horticulturalists prone to live in large well-planned townships. The absence of fortifications and weapons attests the peaceful coexistence of this egalitarian civilization that was probably matrilinear and matrilocal. It was Augustine who described how the women of Athens lost the right to vote at the same time that there was a shift from matriliny to patriliny indicates that the imposition of androcracy marked the end of true democracy. One can find the egalitarian social systems over and over before the rise of men, war, and domination. Will we wake up from this long nightmare of domination and control at the hands of a few powerful elite, or shall we squander our hopes of a better future and allow ourselves to be enslaved by their promises of security and plenty? It we continue down the path we’re going the neocameral future in one form or another seems inevitable, but will we listen to the voices of women across our planet who are bound within socio-cultural systems in which they are no better than cattle to the men of their dark patriarchal systems of politics and religion?

Philosophy, in its longing to rationalize, formalize, define, delimit, to terminate enigma and uncertainty, to co-operate wholeheartedly with the police, is nihilistic in the ultimate sense that it strives for the immobile perfection of death. But creativity cannot be brought to an end that is compatible with power, for unless life is extinguished, control must inevitably break down. We possess art lest we perish of the truth.(Kindle Locations 2322-2326)

1. Land, Nick Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
2. (2011-07-16). Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism. New Press, The. Kindle Edition.

A Time Out of Joint: Franco (Bifo) Berardi

The time is out of joint—O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

– Hamlet

What is Time that it could ever go cockeyed? For Franco (Bifo) Berardi time as stored capital in banks is out of joint, and if we follow the trail into this time machine we discover there is a deep and abiding relation between money, language, and time.1

“But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future?” – Berardi

At first I was reminded of Philip K. Dick’s novel of that name A Time Out of Joint that describes a society at civil war with itself, a permanent war between earth and its tributary offspring on the moon. In this society only one man can stave off the impending collapse of society, one Ragle Gumm. But he has grown tired of intervention, of keeping at bay the time of disaster, of catastrophe. He hopes to escape the dominion of the neoliberal order of his day and fly  off to the moon colonies and become a part of its anarchic social and exploratory world. So he withdraws into a private fantasy world of his own making, a chapter out of his early childhood where everything existed in a primordial climate of paradise: the world of the 1950’s. The only problem with this is that the earthers, the neoliberal dictators of that era have discovered the truth of his dark fantasy and are using it against him to allow them to control his mind through an almost precursor of The Truman Show effect. The Terran masters create his idyllic town and populate it with mentalists to guide him in giving up his secrets willingly. What does he know? He has an ability to foresee the nuclear future of specific trajectories from moon thereby giving earth command the ability to countermand the weapons and destroy them. Ultimately this ruse by the neoliberal Terrans fails and Gumm slowly recovers his sanity because of the simulated modulations of the governments semantic failures. He notices things here and there in the fantasy that do not make sense, which accumulate and ultimately shift his mind toward the truth and meaning of what is being done to him. Sanity comes back as the fantasy world created by the Terran Empire fails to meet the madness criteria of Gumm’s realigns to the map of the real. It is the failure of the semantic web to meet Gumm’s expectations of a perfect ideal fantasy world that finally awakens him back to reality.

One may wonder why I harp on about a science fiction novel that is now dated, and compare it to Berardi’s essay but one must see the conflict at the heart of the two positions. Dick was portraying the world of neoliberal capital and its victims, showing the use of advanced mind techniques and neuroscience to manipulate time and people’s lives. It’s the interaction of Time and Capital that in Berardi that helps us understand our own world under the thumb of neoliberalism in a age of austerity. As Berardi following Baudrillard’s lead reminds us, it is in our contemporary age that financial capitalism has become essentially the loss of the relationship between time and value. What Berardi discovers between the older industrial age and our newer neoliberal information age is a seismic shift from the physical and material to the immaterial or semiological knowledge realm of cognitive work over the older bodily processes of labor. Of course I think he oversimplifies, since as we know the seismic shift from Factory to Mindhack is not everywhere, but exist solely in the top tier nations. The rest of the third world is still bound to the laws of production and machine labor time: the slavery of the body laboring under the infinite gaze of the time lords.

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Philip Mirowski: The Entrepreneurial Self

It is predominantly the story of an entrepreneurial self equipped with promiscuous notions of identity and selfhood, surrounded by simulacra of other such selves. It tags every possible disaster as the consequences of risk-bearing, the personal fallout from making “bad choices” in investments. It is a world where competition is the primary virtue, and solidarity a sign of weakness. Consequently, it revels in the public shaming of the failed and the hapless.

– Philip Mirowski,  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown

Philip Mirowski offers us a double vision or double critique of both the Neoliberal world view and of the baffled Left: on the one hand he exposes the underbelly history of the Neoliberal world itself, and on the other hand he gives a subtle critique of the Left who have allowed the neoliberals both the ammunition and the weapons of mass ignorance to be used against themselves. Mirowski over several books has explored the Neoliberal world from different angles of the economic spectrum and incorporates a multivalent view or window onto the dark contours of this powerful antagonist as it has under the cover of secrecy slowly shaped and guided an authoritarian vision of domination that has spread globally. Why? As in all things there is no simple answer to this dilemma, yet there is one central element:  the neoliberal machine slowly coopted the tools of the Left, intervening in funds, foundations, think tanks, academia, public media,  NGO’s, United Nations, and on the surface determined the discourse of the Left toward false projects. The notion that the Left itself has been infiltrated by a tribe of traitorous academics – chameleons of ideology and politics, intellectuals paid to twist and mold false critiques of society and provide instead of truth disinformation has been pointed out by a small subset of journals, writers, intellectuals outside the mainstream for years. Yet, these voices go unheeded for the most part because of the larger and well funded neoliberal machine. Many of the radical Left bewail the fate of public media: radio, television, newspapers, internet, etc. Telling us that the pressure of the financial sector is closing off intellectual thought in our age, etc.

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A Time of Hope?

His name is…

Will it ever come to me? There is a grand lapse of memory that may be the only thing to save us from ultimate horror. Perhaps they know the truth who preach the passing of one life into another, vowing that between a certain death and a certain birth there is an interval in which an old name is forgotten before a new one is learned. And to remember the name of a former life is to begin the backward slide into that great blackness in which all names have their source, becoming incarnate in a succession of bodies like numberless verses of an infinite scripture.

To find that you have had so many names is to lose claim to any one of them. To gain the memory of so many lives is to lose them all.

So he keeps his name secret, his many names. He hides each one from all the others, so that they will not become lost among themselves. Protecting his life from all his lives, from the memory of so many lives, he hides behind the mask of anonymity.

But even if I cannot know his name, I have always known his voice. That is one thing he can never disguise, even if it sounds like many different voices. I know his voice when I hear it speak, because it is always speaking of terrible secrets. It speaks of the most grotesque mysteries and encounters, sometimes with despair, sometimes with delight, and sometimes with a spirit not possible to define. What crime or curse has kept him turning upon this same wheel of terror, spinning out his tales which always tell of the strangeness and horror of things? When will he make an end to his telling?  

He has told us so many things, and he will tell us more. Yet he will never tell his name. Not before the very end of his old life, and not after the beginning of each new one. Not until time itself has erased every name and taken away every life.

But until then, everyone needs a name. Everyone must be called something. So what can we say is the name of everyone?

– Thomas Ligotti,  Grimscribe

If Self is an illusion, and I think it is, then is the name I use an illusion, too? I see my name in places that define me for the State: Birth certificate, Drivers license, Social-Security Card, Passport, Visa, Diplomas, Insurance, Car title, Home title, Bank account, etc. But is this me? Am I my memories? Am I the traces I leave in objects? Old postcards sent to friends from foreign ports, strange statues bought in some hidden jungle village, little rattles or drums bought high in the Andes, an old knock-about typewriter used for years in one country or another traveling: all these objects that were used by me or that used me? What of the film, pictures taken by family members, friends, office mates? Are all these traces of my body left in objects the truth of me? Is the self a tangible material thing that can be traced on old stone like an iconic image that some future being might discover on a fallen wall and think: “What sort of creature was this?”

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Antonio Negri: Reflections on Accelerazionista Policy of Williams and Srnicek

I noticed Edumund Berger on Deterritorial Investigations Unit had posted a snippet of Antonion Negri’s take on Williams and Srnicek #Acclerate Manifesto. I discovered a few snippets worth noting.

After a slight introduction Negri tells us that Williams and Srnicek return us to a Communist discourse for today. They offer a return of revolutionary thinking, a “new movement” in form – a discourse of power against power, biopolitics against Biopolitics. Theirs is a return to an emancipatory vision that takes as the basic subversive premise the notion of the “One divided into two”.

Negri sees in this a accelerationist move a return that would force a renovation of the operaista tradition with its notions of an “inside-against” refrain. In this tradition the concept of a hands-on investigation of class compostion came to the fore. It provided a detailed analysis of the real conditions of workers that is necessary to validate an analysis of contemporary capitalism, as well as its potential sites of struggle; only thus can the conceptsof immaterial and affective labour be useful politically. As Negri remarks: “The process of liberation may not be accelerating capitalist development, without however (this is important) confusing “acceleration speed”: because here the acceleration has all the characteristics of a device-engine, an experimental process of discovery and creation, within the space of possibilities determined by capitalism itself.” He also sees the need for the revitalization of the concept of “trend” within Marxian analysis and its insistence on “spatial analysis of the parameters of development” aligned with such notions as territorialisation and/or deterritorialization from Deleuze and Guattari.

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Convergence Technologies: NBIC and the Future

If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy.

– Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE

Dr. Mihail C. Roco Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation tells us that the convergence of knowledge and technology for the benefit of society is the core opportunity for progress in the 21st century, based on five principles:

  1. the interdependence of all components of nature and society,
  2. decision analysis for research and development based on system-logic deduction,
  3. enhancement of discovery, invention and innovation through evolutionary processes of convergence that combine existing principles and competencies, and divergence that generates new ones,
  4. higher-level cross-domain languages to generate new solutions and support transfer of new knowledge, and
  5. vision-inspired basic research embodied in grand challenges. It allows society to answer questions and resolve problems that isolated capabilities cannot, as well as to create new competencies, knowledge and technologies on this basis.

A book that will support this new progressive agenda tell us the convergence in knowledge, technology, and society is the accelerating, transformative interaction among seemingly distinct scientific disciplines, technologies, and communities to achieve mutual compatibility, synergism, and integration, and through this process to create added value for societal benefit. It is a movement that is recognized by scientists and thought leaders around the world as having the potential to provide far-reaching solutions to many of today’s complex knowledge, technology, and human development challenges. Four essential and interdependent convergence platforms of human activity are defined in the first part of this report: nanotechnology-biotechnology-information technology and cognitive science (“NBIC”) foundational tools; Earth-scale environmental systems; human-scale activities; and convergence methods for societal-scale activities. The report then presents the main implications of convergence for human physical potential, cognition and communication, productivity and societal outcomes, education and physical infrastructure, sustainability, and innovative and responsible governance. As a whole, the report presents a new model for convergence. To effectively take advantage of this potential, a proactive governance approach is suggested.  The study identifies an international opportunity to develop and apply convergence for technological, economic, environmental, and societal benefits.

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Metaphysics and the Sciences: The Journey to Reality

Have you ever asked yourself the question: What is reality? What is it like? I remember as a boy asking my father a thousand and one questions about such strange notions. It drove him crazy. Not literally crazy, but in a good way.

“What is this, Dad?”

“It’s a baseball, son.”

“What’s it for, Dad?”

“It’s used in a game, called Baseball, Son.”

“But why? Why do they use this and not something else.”

I remember my dad took me to my first baseball game and showed me concretely just what a baseball is and what it is like to use a baseball. Kids think in concrete terms, only later do we seem to ask such abstract questions as I first portrayed.

This kind of questioning of objects and things went on for what seemed to be my whole young life. My dad was always patient, inquisitive, and would sometimes explain in details not just what the objects is, but what it was used for, its purpose. I never questioned him about the purpose of things. I just excepted his answers as any young child would, and then went on to other endless questions about other things without really stopping and thinking about it. This was the process all children go through learning to attach names to things as they are growing up. By the time we reach a certain age we have this complete arsenal of names attached to their objects as if this was all natural. But is it? Is this a natural process? What is really happening here? This slow process learning provided by parents as well as one’s teachers in school goes by the name education. The etymology of the word is from Latin educatus, past participle of educare “bring up, rear, educate,” which is related to educere “bring out, lead forth”. This notion of bringing up and rearing a child by leading forth or drawing them out seems to imply that there is something within the child that must be drawn forth and educed into learning and acquiring knowledge. But whose knowledge? Do we know for sure that our parents and teachers really know the truth about all these things out there, all these objects we’ve attached names too? And why is it that so many other cultures see things differently?

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Philosophical Truth

Many people, if not most, look on literary taste as an elegant accomplishment, by acquiring which they will complete themselves, and make themselves finally fit as members of a correct society. They are secretly ashamed of their ignorance of literature, in the same way as they would be ashamed of their ignorance of etiquette at a high entertainment, or of their inability to ride a horse if suddenly called upon to do so. There are certain things that a man ought to know, or to know about, and literature is one of them: such is their idea.

– Arnold Bennett, Literary Taste: How to Form It With Detailed Instructions

When we read the above passage we notice right off the bat and from our vantage point how different the situation of literary taste, much less the need to ‘fit as members of a correct society’, has changed. Arnold Bennett was speaking to a particular well defined reader, a member of the upper classes within England who had both the money and the leisure time to afford such pursuits as literary taste. Yet, as Bennett reminds us, “[p]eople who regard literary taste simply as an accomplishment, and literature simply as a distraction, will never truly succeed either in acquiring the accomplishment or in using it half-acquired as a distraction; though the one is the most perfect of distractions, and though the other is unsurpassed by any other accomplishment in elegance or in power to impress the universal snobbery of civilised mankind”.1

For Bennett literature, instead of being an accessory, is the fundamental sine qua non of complete living. What if we replaced this statement with philosophy rather than literature: is philosophy the fundamental sine qua non of complete living? What is philosophy for us? Is it a matter of taste? Is it something else? How do you define philosophy? Is it instead the pursuit of truth? And what is truth?

For Nietzsche truth is a “mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins”.2 For Nietzsche truth is the Naked Emperor whose only authority is our blind allegiance.

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Idealism/Materialism: Is this dichotomy obsolete?

I’m down with using representations/maps/models to do/guide neuroscience research but as for actual “representations” in the brain, not so much…


In a recent post on the project of neuroscience philosopher William Bechtel I discovered from dmf and R. Scott Bakker that Bechtel is an Idealist, that he affirms representations as real entities or mental entities that exist in the mind. Being a materialist I’ve fought such notions for a while now, but something that Bakker said intrigued me:

This really is the mystery in his[Bechtel’s] work. Both he and Craver like to steer clear the ‘traditionally philosophical’ issues to better prosecute what they see as their superior ‘low altitude philosophy of science,’ where you begin with what scientists actually say and do and build from there rather than philosophical definitions and principles (as per the old covering law model).

So I pressed him after this very talk on this very subject, and I assure you he thinks representations are real entities, and that the ‘mental’ is more than a metaphor. He told me that anti-realism about content, if confirmed, would be ‘disastrous.’ I agreed, but asked what that had to do with science!

The last part of this statement that anti-realism about the existence of real entities in the brain not existing would be ‘disastrous’ spurred this post. Also I wonder, too, what this has to do with science?

In their book on the history of Idealism Iain Hamilton Grant defines Idealism as the “realism of the Idea”. By this Grant and his team explicate Idealism as:

The concrete universal, or the whole determined by the particular it generates and that differentiate it in turn, is the Idea exactly as Platonism conceived it: as the cause of the approximations of becomings to particular forms, and as the “setting into order of this universe” from disorder (ataxia), as organization. When idealism is therefore presented as realism concerning the Idea, this means: first, that the Idea is causal in terms of organization; second, that this is an organization that is not formal or abstract in the separable sense, but rather concretely relates part to whole as the whole; and third, therefore that such an idealism is a one-world idealism that must, accordingly take nature seriously.1

This notion of the Idea as causal in terms of organization, of the concrete relation of part/whole as whole, and the notion of naturalism as Idealism is the baseline of this philosophical perspective.

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R. Scott Bakker: The Last Magic Show

There always seems to be a fine line in commentary between teasing thoughts out of the mind of another, and the downright obliteration of those very thoughts by an insidious misappropriation and transformation or distortion that takes place in any philosophical commentary. Over the years – and, I’ve literally read thousands of commentaries of specific authors, books, etc. – I’ve come to the realization that most of us will probably never agree on the meaning of reality, that we all tend to differing conceptions due to culture, natural disposition, and the inexplicable and as of yet undefined modes of our specific existences. We are a mystery that will never be wholly explained. Even the idea that we are ‘critical thinkers’ has recently been called into question with the assertion that the ‘rationalizing brain’ is a thinking machine which is far too complex to be reduced to the older forms of subjectivity and intentionality. As my friend over at Three Pound Brain, R. Scott Bakker iterates over an over: we’re all blind to our own brain, and all the cultural and philosophical baggage coined under the term ‘intentional awareness’ is sham through and through. Scott even reminds us in his provisional manifesto (here) that those of our contemporary literati and philosophical radicals (so called) are actually quite conservative – still believing in the old terms, the old mythology of the Self as Subject even under the auspices of overthrowing such conceptual bric-a-brac, etc. :

Where the Old Theory discusses ‘fragmented subjectivities,’ cognitive science has moved on to fragmented intentionalities more generally, questioning the stability and reality of things–context, affect, normativity, perception, and so on–that the Old Theory still takes for granted. The Old Theory, in other words, continues to anthropomorphize its discursive domain, positing intentionalities that the sciences are now calling into serious question. Ignorant of the truly radical alternatives, it continues to service the same folk-psychological intuitions that underwrite the cultural status quo.

Science treats us as machines, and fragmented machines at best, broken mis-measurers of reality who blinded to their own partial knowledge or lack of such assume metacognitive appropriation of the real where none is to be had. “How many puzzles whisper and cajole and actively seduce their would-be solvers? How many problems own the intellect that would overcome them?” So begins Bakker’s The Last Magic Show: A Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness (here). Bakker already admits to his outsider status within the domain of scientific practice and discipline that he has chosen to stake his theoretical proclivities (here), but sees this as par for the course for any viable future theory which for him will embrace “the crank, the amateur, understanding that unprecedented answers tend to come from institutionally unconstrained sources–from the weeds outside our academic gardens.”

As I continue to read Scott’s blog I have slowly ingrained myself to his terminology, which seems to float through many disciplines in search of a key to tap others of like mind. He doesn’t mind the crankiness and quirkiness of his work, or even the castigation of it he receives. For him this is all par for the course of any new theory: the test is that people cannot remain neutral to its impact, they can only love or hate it – never sit on the fence with its conceptions. Scott is an avid reader of current literature dealing with ‘intentionality’ and the sciences and philosophy of mind and consciousness. Over time he has honed his arsenal of tools and approach to his own ignorance and Socratic path. I admire his tenacity and forthrightness. He seems like the proverbial dog of Diogenes always barking at the masters bitter truths realizing that what he sees both exasperates him and astounds him. Sometimes he wants to be kicked, hoping someone will disprove his hunches; yet, time and time again, the veritable panoply of oncomers fail to convince and fall by the wayside as he continues his search for the definitive martialing of his theory.

In the Last Magic Show he alludes to the discrepancy between the appearance and the scientific descriptive portrayal of consciousness, and of the need for a supplementary theory to tease out the appearance of consciousness. But before tackling such a theory one wants Scott to first explain what he means by appearance and consciousness. Should we assume these terms mean something specific for him or that they should be qualified by the history of their use in science or philosophy; or, even as partial of the accepted definitions (ie. the OED, etc.). Do we just assume a complicity between the writer and his audience that we all have the same understanding of these terms and their heuristic use in the text? Why should I even raise this as an issue? Shouldn’t the text itself in the movement of its words bring out the meaning of these two such important terms and their use as Scott continues his discourse.

Since he does not make explicit what he means by such terms up front, then we must continue our reading and see what he is up too. In the next paragraph he unloads a bomb: “The central assumption of the present paper is that any final theory of consciousness will involve some account of multimodal neural information integration.” He actually places a footnote for this (and of course we will assume for better or worse that this is a published paper for a specific audience, and not intended for the general reader who may or may not be knowledgeable of such terminology). And, of course in the footnote he informs us that the underpinnings of much of his theory are idealizations of other theoretical work in the sciences: “Tononi’s Information Integration Theory of Consciousness (2012) and Edelman’s Dynamic Core Hypothesis (2005). The RS as proposed here is an idealization meant to draw out structural consequences perhaps belonging to any such system.”

Tonino starts with phenomenology which ties him to the whole history of a specific set of philosophical presuppositions that I will not belabor. The point is that for Tonino consciousness is ‘integrated information’: a physical and quantifiable effect of the brain and not some substantive entity either immersed or transcendent of the brain. Our consciousness is generated out of neural processes for specific evolutionary reasons. One can see the full lecture:

For Edelman and Tonino on the Dynamic Core Hypothesis one can read their Consciousness and Complexity paper here. I’ll leave this to the reader to pursue. A blog post for the future could delve into both of these in depth but for the moment I’m dealing again with R. Scott Bakker’s proposal. Yet, since these two men’s work seem to underpin his essay it might be good to know just what they are proposing.

We propose that a large cluster of neuronal groups that together constitute, on a time scale of hundreds of milliseconds, a unified neural process of high complexity be termed the “dynamic core,” in order to emphasize both its integration and its constantly changing activity patterns. The dynamic core is a functional cluster –its participating neuronal groups are much more strongly interactive among themselves than with the rest of the brain. The dynamic core must also have high complexity — its global activity patterns must be selected within less than a second out of a very large repertoire.

The point being that consciousness is the effect of a specific set of interacting neurons termed the ‘dynamic core’ and its communicative processes in integrating messages or chemical transformations from the global brain as part of a  specific functionary dynamism of complex processes (feedback loops, energy transfer, chemical reactors, etc.). The crux of their goal is a theory that supports the “belief that a scientific explanation of consciousness is becoming increasingly feasible”. The point being for them is to have a scientifically valid theory that relates the phenomenology of consciousness to a “distributed neural process that is both highly integrated and highly differentiated”.

Now Bakker in his reading sees consciousness as the product of a “Recursive System (RS) of some kind, an evolutionary twist that allows the human brain to factor its own operations into its environmental estimations and interventions”(here). The use of the term ‘recursive system’ comes from the technical use made by Dynamic Core theory: “The dynamic core consists of a momentary subset of the thalamocortical system defined by active synapses.  Positive feedback/reentrant signals circulate in the network of the dynamic core. The active synapses comprising the dynamic core continually change as the dynamic core updates recursively on the basis of about 100 ms.” (here) For Bakker the subjective personal identity of first person is an illusion, a confusion of our experience of consciousness which is actually a machine of neuronal activity blind to its own emergent processes which become conscious only after these specific sub-neuronal processes have emerged from the function of the Dynamic Core.

Yet, I wonder, is our awareness of being aware an illusion of this process as well? Or is it part of the actual dynamic process in its ongoing neuronal activity, being only one phase of this process and not the whole gamut? Why are we aware of our awareness to begin with? Is it because of these recursive feedback-loops interacting at such high rates and complexity that we confuse the process for something else: a center of self and subjectivity? Knowing the facts of this brain activity does not take away the awareness of our awareness, so how explain this awareness of our consciousness to begin with? This so called science tries to describe the process not the outcome, but we are more interested not in the material processes that over the evolutionary strand have due to some quirk in our natural history brought about this blind brain. What we are interested in is an explanation of why we are aware at all? Why do we need consciousness to begin with? Why this confusion of self and world, this seeming sense of a self to begin with? If we accept that this is a lie, an illusion created by the process itself then is it something useful, a happy accident of evolution? Explaining it in scientific terms doesn’t really get at the heart of the confusion so far as I can see. Knowing that we are just the fabrication of a blind brain immersed in sub-neural and neuronal processes explains only the bare minimum of the brain itself, but this doesn’t really get at consciousness at all. Instead it just complicates the matter with more questions.

Why did evolution bring about consciousness in just this specific form in humans and not in other creatures? Why are other creatures not aware of their awareness? Why humans? What brought about this strange if complicated separation between the brain and its awareness, and of its ability to recursively process its own awareness? Why are there thinking minds to begin with? What in the evolutionary process brought the need for thinking to begin with? And, why just one specific species? If that is even true.

As Bakker informs us over and over we’re we “generally don’t possess the information we think we do!” Consciousness is just the tip of a great iceberg or abyss that we are completely unaware of. Ok I’ll bite, and realize we filter out almost 99% (of course we have no quantifiable measuring stick for this, scientific or otherwise) of the data below our conscious mind. We seem to thrive quite nicely on our ignorance and let the physical brain do the rest in unconscious bliss. But one does not need a rocket scientist to tell us that if we had all that information at our disposal in one moment we’d be unable to see the forest for the trees, we’d be lost in a maze of information. So what we discover is that consciousness is a filter, a selective center of a specific set of processes that integrates the information that is processed below the stream in the brain and brings to awareness only the specific information needed to get on with the physical process of life itself. Is this so hard to accept? Surely not! We all understand that we need only what will help us get on with our work. The crux is not in this, we only become aware of it as a problem when we are unable to retrieve the information needed, when the brain for medical or other reasons does not work, and in fact breaks down and is no longer able to integrate the information: then we call for either the medical or psychological teams to investigate.

Of course Bakker is not unaware of this quagmire:

..at some point in our recent evolutionary past, perhaps coeval with the development of language, the human brain became more and more recursive, which is to say, more and more able to factor its own processes into its environmental interventions. Many different evolutionary fables may be told here, but the important thing (to stipulate at the very least) is that some twist of recursive information integration, by degrees or by leaps, led to human consciousness. Somehow, the brain developed the capacity to ‘see itself,’ more or less.

This is where my own questions start? Why? What event or strange evolutionary process brought this about? Why us and not other animals as well? If recursivity is game then why did evolution see this for just one specific species? There needs to be something more concrete that a ‘fable’ to explain this? Bakker again has a guess for this in the wings “the RS is an assemblage of ‘kluges,’ the slapdash result of haphazard mutations that produced some kind of reproductive benefit (Marcus, 2008).” But this is more surmise than actual answer. Another scientific fable to confuse more that enlighten us about the fabric of consciousness and its specific form in the human animal.

Yet, Bakker admits to my own point saying “We have good reason to suppose that the information that makes it to consciousness is every bit as strategic as it is fragmental. We may only ‘see’ an absurd fraction of what is going on, but we can nevertheless assume that it’s the fraction that matters most …” Exactly! For whatever reason the information we get is what we need to get own with our work whatever that might be, and yet sometimes we need more we need to invent other avenues of information that the brain lacks. What then? If the brain does not give us what we need what then? Could this lead us to ask other questions as to why we formed a specific type of consciousness that we did? Is brain science the last answer, the be all end all of a physical apprehension of these processes?

Sometimes I get the feeling that Bakker sees consciousness as a bit player, as a passive pony in a parade that is for the most part hidden in the recesses of recursive processes totally out of its control of sway. But is this true? Is consciousness just a passive receptacle, a sort of central void where all these recursive processes finally integrate and divulge their long labors in the unconscious brain? –

The problem lies in the dual, ‘open-closed’ structure of the RS. As a natural processor, the RS is an informatic crossroads, continuously accessing information from and feeding information to its greaterneural environment. As a consciousness generator, however, the RS is an informatic island : only theinformation that is integrated finds its way to conscious experience. This means that the actual functions subserved by the RS within the greater brain —the way it finds itself ‘plugged in’—  are no more accessible to consciousness than are the functions of the greater brain. And this suggests that consciousness likely suffers any number of profound and systematic misapprehensions.

His use of the metaphor ‘plugged in’ as if this dynamic core were machine plugged into the greater databank of the brain with consciousness totally blank and devoid of knowledge of this specific engine it is connected too. I sometimes feel like we are reading a new Lovecraft novel written by a scientist rather than a literary fantasist. And of course Bakker is that as well (no pun intended).

So ultimately we come to crux of Bakker’s theory, BBT of Blind Brain Theory: “Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness simply represents an attempt to think through this question of information and access in a principled way: to speculate on what our ‘conscious brain’ can and cannot see.”

So his actual theory is quite specific more toned down that it’s actual portrayal in post after post on his blog. A speculative theory on the brains blindness and insight into its own recursive processes. Simple and sweet, yet infinitely complex in its actual goals. What I like about Bakker’s work so far is that he moves us beyond the quagmires of present philosophical literature. Current philosophy in it anit-representaionalist and representationalist literature Analytic or Continental deal with the extremes of Subject or Object. In Badiou and Zizek we start with the ‘Subject’, with others – such as the SR or OOO gang with ‘Objects’ and a multitude of those in between those two extremes measuring the world in processes. I simplify of course. But my drift is that those such as Zizek deal with the void of self, the abyss within around which consciousness like a satellite revolves in recursive formation; while others like Graham Harman consider objects as withdrawn and unknowable, as recursive dynamic systems that consciousness is totally blind too. Bakker on the other hand coming out of a naturalistic scientific philosophical background seeks scientific terminology of the newer brain sciences that try to move us beyond the use of Subject and Object altogether.

The next question that arises is ‘Time’, and specifically the now of our conscious mind, the first-person singular illusion he speaks of. As he says, “Any theory that fails to account for it fails to explain a central structural feature of consciousness as it is experienced. It certainly speaks to the difficulty of consciousness that it takes one of the most vexing problems in the history of philosophy as a component!” For RS theory time is nothing more that the integration point where the brain becomes conscious: this is the moment we experience as ‘now’.  As Bakker would have it “Our experience of  time is an achievement. Our experience of nowness, on the other hand, is astructural side-effect. The same way our visual field is boundless and yet enclosed by an inability to see, our temporal field – this very moment now –  is boundless and yet enclosed by an inability to time. This is what makes the now so perplexing, so difficult to grasp: it is what might be called an ‘occluded structural property of experience.’”

One could spend an essay or even a book on just what Time is and its relation to consciousness. Yet, it is one of the cornerstones of many philosophical debates. In the older Newtonian universe the spatio-temporal dimensions were extensive and contained in a passive receptacle. In recent time Whitehead offered a more dynamic cross-sectional theory. As most scientists know experiments that might serve as bases for the construction of a physical theory or that might serve as tests for the confirmation of a physical theory are subject to the demand that standard conditions prevail or that suitable correction factors be introduced to ensure the consistency and the comparison of the experimental results. Otherwise, the experimental results would be one-time reports with no significance beyond isolated experiments, certainly not beyond the domain of the peculiar conditions that do prevail in the experiments. Also, were there not an assumption of standard conditions, it would follow that theories would be constructed and confirmed with reference only to peculiar conditions prevailing in particular areas where the experimentation takes place.

I’m not a Whitehead expert but feel there is an important part of his work to be still investigated. In Process and Reality we discover that for him the physical and geometrical order of nature in were described in terms of “a hierarchy of societies” (PR 147-50, 506-08). Basically, a “society” is a grouping of events which manifest a common characteristic, the presence of that characteristic being guaranteed by the relations which the events sustain. The physical and geometrical order of nature is constituted by at least three societies, “the society of pure extension,” “the geometric society,” and “the electromagnetic society.” The point to be noted is the relationship of the geometrical society and the electromagnetic society. The latter is embedded, so to speak, in the former, so that a determination of the variable physical quantities which characterize the electromagnetic society is obtained against a background of relationships which comprise a uniform metric structure:

The whole theory of the physical field is the interweaving of the individual peculiarities of actual occasions upon the background of systematic geometry. (PR 507)

[T] hese diversities and identities are correlated according to a systematic law expressible in terms of the systematic measurements derived from the geometric nexus. (PR 150)

When I think of the recursive embedding of these differing hierarchies of societies I’m reminded of how consciousness too is embedded in a recursive nexus of processes of which it is unaware, but that can be measured through a determination of certain variable physical quanta through an analogous background of relationships that comprise the uniform metric structure of the global brain itself. The now being nothing more than one of those ‘actual occasions’ upon which the background is woven. If one applied the exactitude of such geometrical precision to the brain science one might actually be able to systematically measure the peculiarities of consciousness itself in a scientific way. A testable theory!

Without going into every detail of Bakker’s essay, which I could not begin to do full justice too in one blog post. I will instead leave you with his parting words:

I sometimes fear that what we call ‘consciousness’ does not exist at all, that we ‘just are’ an integrative informatic process of a certain kind, possessing none of the characteristics we intuitively attribute to ourselves. Imagine all of your life amounting to nothing more than a series of distortions and illusions attending a recursive twist in some organism’s brain. For more than ten years I have been mulling ‘brain blindness,’ dreading it–  even hating it. Threads of it appear in every novel I have written. And I still can’t quite bring myself to believe it.

This idea that we are machines, ‘integrative informatics processing’ machines at that, who have for so long assumed grandiose dribble about our personal worth and identity seems to be Bakker’s worst nightmare come true. What it seems to me is that he has discovered what is coming toward us, the future belongs to something else… something not quite human, yet born of our own strange informatics processes: the cyborgs and artificial intelligences that we may one day give birth too may look back quaintly at this troubled angel of flesh and blood and wonder just what all the fuss was about anyway. Maybe the last magic show is not for us but for our electronic children. Wouldn’t that be a recursive twist for the comic book heroes of an age to come… or is that age upon us? Nightmares indeed…

Modernity: Enlightenment or Anti-Enlightenment?

Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state. It sees the purpose of the state as being the wholly secular one of promoting the worldly interests of the majority and preventing vested minority interests from capturing control of the legislative process. Its chief maxim is that all men have the same basic needs, rights, and status irrespective of what they believe or what religious, economic, or ethnic group they belong to, and that consequently all ought to be treated alike, on the basis of equity, whether black or white, male or female, religious or nonreligious, and that all deserve to have their personal interests and aspirations equally respected by law and government. Its universalism lies in its claim that all men have the same right to pursue happiness in their own way, and think and say whatever they see fit, and no one, including those who convince others they are divinely chosen to be their masters, rulers, or spiritual guides, is justified in denying or hindering others in the enjoyment of rights that pertain to all men and women equally.

– Jonathan Israel,  A Revolution of the Mind

Think about it, read those words again a second, maybe even a third time. Then ask yourself this: What is at stake in this enlightenment project? Reason, universalism, and emancipation. The Age of the Enlightenment spawned our modern world, and still effects us with its contagious ideas on equality, liberty, race, gender issues, and, most of all the right to certain inalienable rights based on natural law. Yet, under the veneer, the surface of our histories is that other tradition, the darker modernity that some call the Counter-Enlightenment. Yet it is much more than a counter it is a deadly enemy, so needs a more forceful appellation: the Anti-Enlightenment. Some may well ask: Were there two modernities? A Radical and a Reactionary path to the modern world? And, are we still playing out the dark political history of this ancient battle? As we think through the issues surrounding modernism we should ask ourselves a simple question: Which modernity – the Enlightenment model or the Anti-Enlightenment model? There seems to be a confusion as to which modernity is more viable in our world today. The choice is before us, shall we side with the radical philosophes of the original Enlightenment; or, with their foes of the Anti-Enlightenment? For me the choice is clear: the tradition of the radical party of the Enlightenment traditions holds for me the only viable path forward as we think through issues of modernity and the politics it spawned. But why has the other modernity, the Anti-Enlightenment tradition displace the original Enlightenment project, how did it attain such an insidious hold over our world and spawn the neoliberal worldview? First we need an understand of just what the Enlightenment is, but more than that we need a better understanding of its enemies, the Anti-Enlightenment tradition which has for two hundred years from the time of Herder and Burke maligned both the philosophes and their ideas of reason, universalism, and emancipation.

If one could choose only three texts to typify the Radical Enlightenment which ones would you choose? For me it would be simple: John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Immanuel Kant’s Reply to the Question: What is Enlightenment?, and Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: each a refinement of the central dictum of the Enlightenment – the liberation or emancipation of men and women everywhere. Yet, it would be such revolutionaries as Robespierre and the Jacobins’s  who would castigate the original radical enlightenment philosophes complaining that the “modern philosophy” opposes “feeling,” and especially the sentiments of the ordinary person. Here, ironically, Robespierre’s Jacobinism closely converged with royalist Counter-Enlightenment ideology, both propagating the myth of the Enlightenment as a coldly clinical, unfeeling machine of rational ideas, brutalizing natural sentiment and destroying instead of furthering what is best in human life. This allegation was taken up internationally and became a stock theme of British attacks on the “modern philosophers” in the 1790s.1

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Architecture for the 21st Century: Postmodernism and Beyond

All architecture (and design) consists of nothing but communications. … Aesthetically it is the  elegance of  ordered complexity and the sense of seamless fluidity, akin to natural systems,  that is the hallmark of parametricism.

– Patrik Schumacher, Architecture’s Next Ontological Innovation (2012)

Looking back on recent postmodern architecture we discover a distinctive panoply of original thinkers: Robert Venturi, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, Nicholas Grimshaw, Aldo Rossi, Barbara Bielecka, Ricardo Bofill, John Burgee, Terry Farrell, Michael Graves, Helmut Jahn, Jon Jerde, Philip Johnson, Recardo Legorreta, Charles Moore, Boris Podrecca, César Pelli, Paolo Portoghesi, Siavash Teimouri, Antoine Predock, Tomás Taveira, Robert A.M. Stern, James Stirling, Mario Botta, Arata Isozaki and John C. Portman, Jr.. One could keep on going but this is enough for me.

Robert Venturi was at the forefront of this movement. His book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (published in 1966), was instrumental in opening readers eyes to new ways of thinking about buildings, as it drew from the entire history of architecture—both high-style and vernacular, both historic and modern—and lambasted overly simplistic Functional Modernism. The move away from modernism’s functionalism is well illustrated by Venturi’s adaptation of Mies van der Rohe’s famous maxim “Less is more” to “Less is a bore.” The book includes a number of the architect’s own designs in the back, including structures such as Guild House, in Philadelphia, that became major icons of postmodernism.

Yet, it was not until the computer came into play late in the 80’s of the last century that many of the underlying principles of both late capitalism and postmodernity fused in a complex post-structuralist aesthetic to produce strange new worlds from the architectural venue. At the forefront of this new strategy was Zaha Hadid. Often named as the most prominent contemporary female architect, or singled out for notice because of her Iraqi Arab background, Hadid is significant beyond these accidents of birth for her intellectual toughness, her refusal to compromise on her ideas even when very few of them were being realized in concrete and steel. For many years, her designs filled the pages of architecture periodicals but were dismissed as impractical or as too radical, and Hadid even thought about giving up architecture after she suffered a major rejection in her adopted homeland of Britain in 1995. Her star began to rise internationally when her design for Cincinnati, Ohio’s new Center for Contemporary Art was selected and built, earning worldwide acclaim. By the mid-2000s Hadid employed nearly 150 people in her London office and was working hard to keep up with new commissions that were coming in, offering her a chance to help reshape the world architectural landscape. (here and here)

Her Directors in this architectural world are themselves well known architects in their own right (here). But one in particular seems to have made an impact of recent philosophical speculation. That is, of course, the work and teachings of Patrik Schumacher. I have only recently begun reading his two volume architectural masterpiece and manifesto for a new style in architecture to surpass modernism forever with Parametricism, The Autopoiesis of Architecture: A New Framework for Architecture. His work is heavily influenced by complexity theory as well as Niklaus Luhman’s theories of society  and communication. As parametricism becomes a tool more designers turn toward it may slowly redefine the basic frameworks of our social spaces, offering a world where humans once again begin to intermingle and communicate rather than rush through the world like zombies on steroids.  In an effort to identify our architectural style to allow it to be recognized, Patrik Schumacher, a partner at Zaha Hadid, has communicated his beliefs in his Parametricist Manifesto. “As a style, parametricism is marked by its aims, ambitions, methodological principles, and evaluative criteria, as well as by its characteristic formal repertoire.”

Parametricism is a methodologically justified style that takes the concept of using parametric form design from the production of a one-off building and applying it to a cityscape. Architecture and urbanism should be tackled as a set of linked design criteria which form a complete “system” in a building, from urbanism down to the smallest details.  Parametric design links all this information in a way similar to a spreadsheet so that a change in one value creates a corresponding change in all other values. biological systems, organisms, from the microscopic to the macroscopic… these kinds of inputs stay in the repertoire. There’s also mathematics – new mathematics – topological patterns and also what is having a impact is new modeling tools and more recently parametric modeling, parametric fields and scripted fields, a new sensibility with respect to orders of iteration. Looking through these new tools there’s a kind of intricacy of overall arrangement with a very high degree of coherence. There’s a lot of internal laws of correlation; everything relates to everything else. It’s a continuous change but it all fits together. It’s not random or arbitrary.

The life process of society consists of a rich,  diversified panoply of institutions and communicative situations. In order to  communicate within specific situations, the relevant participants have to first  find each other and gather in particular settings, be brought into particular  spatial constellations, and be enveloped by specific atmospheres    that prime and prepare the participants  with respect to the appropriate moods and modes of communication to be  expected. This sorting, ordering, orienting, and framing is achieved by the  designed or built environment. To get a grasp of the importance of the ordering  capacity of a complex built environment, we might consider the following  thought experiment: imagine that the population of a metropolis like London is  thrown naked onto an undifferentiated tarmac surface. Nobody would know where  to go or what to do. Nobody would even know who they were anymore. What is  being erased is all the visible information about society’s order and  institutions. The built environment is society’s material memory. It functions  as a slowly evolving system of signification. (here)

While some disagree with the notion of categorizing work to fit into a style, Schumacher calls for a conceptual reconstruction, meaning that we must disregard style as a matter of appearance, and move to understand style as “a design research program conceived in the way that paradigms frame scientific research programs.”

“Although aesthetic appearance matters enormously in architecture and design, neither architecture as a whole nor its styles can be reduced to mere matters of appearance…The new style poses many new, systematically connected design problems that are being worked on competitively within a global network of design researchers. Over and above aesthetic comparability, it is this widespread, long-term consistency of shared design ambitions and problems that justifies declaring a style in the sense of an epochal phenomenon,” explains Schumacher.

Niklas Luhmann is a distinct influence on Schumacher. Luhmann was especially interested in systems which operate on the basis of “meaning,” in particular, systems of human communication. He regarded society not as a network of individuals united by shared beliefs, but rather as the totality of all communications. But in modern societies many kinds of communication were highly “differentiated,” which meant essentially they operated independently according to the specific functions they served. The bulk of Luhmann’s work consisted of systematic analyses of these kinds of communication (especially those organized in the form of full-fledged institutions, such as education and law) using a set of basic conceptual tools he developed beginning in the 1960s. Economic communication by means of money (rather than exchange in kind) was a case in point; it made possible interaction between buyers and sellers and laid the foundation for a whole economic system with its own specifically economic functions.

Like money, trust also served as a specific medium in modern societies, for example in interaction between professionals and laypersons: on some issues we had to accept the judgment of competent experts without checking its validity. Without some such trust, many social relationships would break down very quickly. Even love was now a specialized kind of communication, made possible by the passion exchanged between individuals who were supposed to treat each other as lovers without regard to their other social roles.

Like many social theorists before him, Luhmann analyzed the implications of the transition from traditional to modern society. In older, stratified societies the various functions that had to be performed were arranged in a hierarchy, from the aristocracy down to the peasantry. By contrast, modern societies have separated various social tasks in a “horizontal” fashion, a pattern Luhmann called functional differentiation. This had many advantages; for example, institutions handled more complex problems and individuals generally enjoyed greater opportunities. But it also raised new problems. Institutions (such as religious ones) that in the past played a broad role must now redefine and limit that role. Also, since all institutions now focused on their own function and performance, certain societal problems may be neglected because everyone can claim it was “none of their business” according to Luhmann, this was one source of the current environmental crisis. (more here)

Schumacher points out that the architecture of today is more of a world architecture, where every work is quickly compared or contrasted to other projects.  We experience this constantly as we compare a project to something another firm would have created and argue over which was more successful.  Schumacher explains that this “merely implies a consistency of principles, ambitions, and values to build upon so that different efforts compete constructively with each other and can establish the conditions for cumulative progress rather than pursue contradictory efforts.” As Theory against Theory explains it:

Schumacher’s view of architecture is Hegelian: evolutive stages of civilisation correspond to certain styles in architecture. He divided entire history of architecture in several dominant styles. In his system, not all recognised styles are epochal. Some of them, such as gothic style, represent merely a transitional stage, but not the big style with its articulated discourse. He claims that modernism still operates as the dominant paradigm, even though postmodernism has been exercised allot in the past few decades. By introducing parametricism as a new style and strongly claiming that it is inevitably going to become mainstream within the next twenty years, Schumacher is predicting the future. He is not only announcing the new style, he is also announcing the new epoch, a new stage in the evolution of the human kind: “When we analyse history, we can see that the built environment always had vital role in building societal order. Social order needs spatial order. Society can progress only within a built environment and the entire world of artefacts. That is why I put architecture and design in the same category.” (here)

What is exciting about this new style is that parametricism offers a flexible set of components to manipulate from simple algorithms, which leads to an infinite amount of variation in fluid dynamics.  While in the past, there was a strong allegiance for rigid geometrical figures, now, a conceptual definition of parametricism shows that “the new primitives are animate, dynamic, and interactive entities—splines, nurbs, and subdivs—that act as building blocks for dynamic systems.” (Above review: The Architect’s Newspaper) As Schumacher says:

“Twenty first century brought about drastic changes and we now live in the network society where communication is crucial. Architecture should increase interaction and information exchange, and can no longer insist on physical separation as it did until now. Moreover, we should not push people through passages like cattle, but make sure they navigate quick and easy. This allows them to self-organise in complex matrix of differentiated spaces and enables multiple communication scenarios. This is an ambitious project of ordering social processes in space. Each space is in fact a communication. It invites its visitors to participate and gives them clues on how they should behave, what to do. But people are no longer satisfied with simple ordering of space with rigid forms and strict compartmentalisation. They need to communicate with each other and move swiftly. This is why rooms should not be separated but rather interconnected. Spaces should be constructed in such a way that everyone can easily see, find and communicate with everyone else. Accordingly, the role of an architect should be understood in this sense: we are constantly making ever more complex matrixes for ever more complex social processes that unfold within. This is portrayed through free flow of lines, whether it is a parking space, library or a business company. The point is that wherever you are you see many different things going on. Many things are in view simultaneously because you don’t want to miss anything. As you move through space you have many options what to select next. Conversely, when running down the corridor where you see nothing, you know nothing and miss everything.”

Ultimately this new ontology follows a parametric semiology:

This implies that the  meaning of the architectural language can enter the design medium (digital  model). The semiological project implies that the design project systematizes  all form-function correlations into a coherent system of signification. A  system of signification is a system of mappings (correlations) that map  distinctions or manifolds defined within the domain of the signified (here the  domain of patterns of social interaction) onto distinctions or manifolds  defined within the domain of the signifier (here the domain of spatial  positions and morphological features defining and characterizing a given  territory) and vice versa.  The system of  signification works if the programmed social agents consistently respond to the  relevantly coded positional and morphological clues so that expected behaviors  can be read off the articulated environmental configuration. The meaning of  architecture, the prospective life processes it frames and sustains, is  modeled and assessed within the design process, thus becoming a direct object  of creative speculation and cumulative design elaboration

If as Le Corbusier suggested the “house is a machine for living,” then for Patrik Schumacher the house is a machine for communicating. Recently Graham Harman was at the The Architecture Exchange seminar series ‘Is there an Object Oriented Architecture?’ at the Swedenborg Society in London. Graham Harman, one of a group of contemporary philosophers arguing for an object oriented ontology spoke, answering criticism and questions posed to him by previous architectural speakers in the series. For an outline of the whole series go here or here. As Lindsay Bremner of Westminister and on the blog geoarchitecture remarks Harman opposed Schumacher’s use of Luhmanian communicative theory:

Harman turned to passing some remarks about Patrik Schumacher’s adaption of Luhmann to architecture. The problem he said, is that in Schumacher’s reading, Luhmann is all about communicative systems, not non-communicative ones; and therefore not about objects. Heidegger’s tool analysis is not a theory of tools and equipment, but of broken tools and equipment. We only know about objects when systems break down. Architectural objects, like any objects, are not parts of systems, but are anti-systems, what disturbs or disrupts the system. They are not about relations, but about non-relationality, unique places, singularities. (here)

As another critic Steve Parnell (here) comments on Schumacher’s polemic to let the style wars begin stating that Parametricism is ‘the great new style after Modernism’. As Parnell explains:

Prompted by Luhmann, Schumacher’s inspired move is to apply autopoiesis to the institution of architecture as a sociological entity. This would be a promising avenue of research for the theory, as architecture is forever trying to assert its institutional autonomy. However, its application here is confused by the obsession with Parametricism, as the book attempts to be an all-encompassing and unifying theoretical framework for the institution of architecture, and manifesto for this ‘great new style’ (Schumacher’s words). At 450 pages (and with only 18 images) it’s the first of a proposed two-volume work, making it surely the longest and, quite possibly, the most opaque manifesto in architectural historiography.

The theoretical framework and the manifesto are so closely intertwined that it is difficult to discuss one without the other. The link between the two is, of course, theory. Schumacher claims that ‘only theoretically informed building design constitutes architecture’. But he does not offer any definition of theory, or address what qualities a theory needs to qualify as the validator of architecture, only that innovation requires it and the status quo doesn’t. Instead we are subjected to a quasi-historical and confused account, which states that architectural theory began in the Renaissance – hence the beginnings of architecture at that point. Only three pages previously, however, Vitruvius’ treatise was cited as ‘the first emergence of architecture’ that ‘remains closely tied to religion and to the political order’. (see here)

Needless to say Schumacher does not fare well with either Harman or Parnell in the above. I haven’t had a chance to read through his essays completely, nor his two books on Parametricism and the new Architecture he proposes to replace modernism and postmodernism, but from a cursory reading of his essays I get a feeling that Schumacher is doing for architecture what others have done and are doing for philosophy, moving things forward into new zones of possibility.

Other reviews of Patrik Schumacher’s work:

Architectural Review: The Autopoiesis of Architecture dissected, discussed and decoded by Peter Buchanan
Academis.edu: Authorship in Algorithmic Architecture: from Peter Eisenman to Patrik Schumacher by Eleftherios Siamopoulos
Icon Magazine: Douglas Murray: here
The Guangzhou Opera House: An Architectural Review

Videos by Schumacher on Parametricism: here
Perltreees vids on Parametricism: here

Le Corbusier: Modernism’s High Priest of Architecture

It has been said that Le Corbusier’s buildings violate the street…

– Ada Louise Huxtable, On Architecture

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret known better as Le Corbusier gave us the shape of ideas in things, awakened out of stone, wood, glass, and a zoological plenum of other materials a new world of form and beauty. As Huxtable would say years later on seeing Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts,

Le Corbusier’s buildings are a curious and characteristic blend of the deliberately rugged and the artfully primitive, from a mind of unusual subtlety and sophistication. This one is frankly a workshop; there are no slick finishes or rich materials to seduce the viewer. New England should not object; it shares, with the French, the tradition of austerity.1

As his biographer Nicholas Fox Weber remarked “Compassionate, arrogant, generous, selfish, Calvinist, hedonistic, proud, enraged, ecstatic, sad, Le Corbusier the man was as provocative, and unique, as the buildings with which he changed the visible world.”2 Most of what we know of the revealed self of Le Corbusier is from his letters to his mother Marie Charlotte Amélie Jeanneret-Perret lived to the age of one hundred. As Fox tells us these letters unfold the man: “The intimacy with which Le Corbusier wrote to her about his taste in women is extraordinary. The intensity of his program to change the world, the leaps and plunges of his spirit, the rapidity of his mood swings, and the relentlessness of his emotional needs and professional ambition: all these emerge unmasked.” Continue reading