Bataille’s Solar Economy of our Anti-Culture

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

-Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

Mark Fisher On Depressive Hedonia

Excerpt from Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? –

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

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

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


Mark Fisher On Anti-Rock as Depressive Philosophy


RIP – Sadly, Mark Fisher is not with us anymore… my thoughts go out to his wife and child. I wrote of his recent work in passing last year. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, which is part biographical history and a mixture of hyperbolic immiseration and a slow dive into that zero point of nihility from which there is no return. Marx would once describe the immiseration of the proletariat this way:

Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of labour are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker […] All means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become a means of domination and exploitation of the producers; they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment, they alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process […], they transform his life into working-time, and his wife and child beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital. But all methods of the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation, and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of these methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.

— Karl Marx, Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, 1867

This moment of life turning into the zero time of “working time” is the moment of an event that never happens, a future that evaporates the moment it is revealed, a moment when life at its inhuman core awakens in the mind of those anti-rockers Fisher speaks of as hauntological:

In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgement that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated – not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible. Yet at the same time, the music constitutes a refusal to give up on the desire for the future. This refusal gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism.1

Ultimately Mark’s book is a drift through the melancholic mind of Fisher himself: “The kind of melancholia I’m talking about, by contrast, consists not in giving up on desire but in refusing to yield. It consists, that is to say, in a refusal to adjust to what current conditions call ‘reality’ – even if the cost of that refusal is that you feel like an outcast in your own time…” (ibid. KL 432) This sense of being an Outsider in one’s own time, a pariah for whom the world is a vast machine of zombies enslaved to a system of corruption and dark imminserability is at the core of this depressive philosophy. This refusal to yield to the symbolic Order, to the big Other that always seeks to keep us in check, to bind us to the cultural machine, the media-matrix of illusionary capital realism.

Speaking of the history of Rock he will tells us that it grew out of a sense of sadness rather than elation, that in the “case of both the bluesman and the crooner”  (Robert Johnson, Sinatra), there is, at least ostensibly, a reason for the sorrow.”  Speaking of Joy Division (an English rock band formed in 1976 in Salford, Greater Manchester. Originally named Warsaw, the band consisted of singer Ian Curtis, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris) Fisher will center in on the short life of Curtis himself. Curtis suffered from severe depression and personal difficulties, including a broken marriage and epilepsy. In particular he found it increasingly difficult to perform at live concerts, during which he often suffered seizures. In May 1980, on the eve of the band’s debut American tour, Curtis, aged 23, committed suicide. As Fisher explains it:

Because Joy Division’s bleakness was without any specific cause, they crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow. Zero affect.

Fisher will mix his narrative of the history of depressive rock philosophy with his political philosophy of capital realism. Speaking of Curtis he will tell us that as he sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ one gets the feeling that “there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place.” Instead if one listens closely to their early songs one “could easily mistake their tone for the curled lip of spiky punk outrage, but, already, it is as if Curtis is not railing against injustice or corruption so much as marshalling them as evidence for a thesis that was, even then, firmly established in his mind.” (ibid. KL 919) This evidence is of a depressive philosophy.

Depression is, after all and above all, a theory about the world, about life. The stupidity and venality of politicians (‘ Leaders of Men’), the idiocy and cruelty of war (‘ Walked in Line’) are pointed to as exhibits in a case against the world, against life, that is so overwhelming, so general, that to appeal to any particular instance seems superfluous. (ibid. KL  923-925)

The depressive experiences himself as walled off from the lifeworld, so that his own frozen inner life – or inner death – overwhelms everything; at the same time, he experiences himself as evacuated, totally denuded, a shell: there is nothing except the inside, but the inside is empty. For the depressive, the habits of the former lifeworld now seem to be, precisely, a mode of playacting, a series of pantomime gestures (‘ a circus complete with all fools’), which they are both no longer capable of performing and which they no longer wish to perform – there’s no point, everything is a sham. (ibid. KL 930)

For Fisher depression is neither sadness, nor a state of mind, but rather a “(neuro) philosophical (dis) position”. Telling us that what Joy Division saw in the depths of this affectless world is only what all depressives, all mystics, always see: the obscene undead twitching of the Will as it seeks to maintain the illusion that this object, the one it is fixated upon NOW, this one, will satisfy it in a way that all other objects thus far have failed to.” Yet, it is in those moments when we attain our goals, reach out and fulfill our desires that depression in all its bleakness sets in and one feels cheated, emptied out, vacated. This depressive ontology he will iterate is “dangerously seductive because, as the zombie twin of a certain philosophical wisdom, it is half true.”:

As the depressive withdraws from the vacant confections of the lifeworld, he unwittingly finds himself in concordance with the human condition so painstakingly diagrammed by a philosopher like Spinoza: he sees himself as a serial consumer of empty simulations, a junky hooked on every kind of deadening high, a meat puppet of the passions. The depressive cannot even lay claim to the comforts that a paranoiac can enjoy, since he cannot believe that the strings are being pulled by any one. No flow, no connectivity in the depressive’s nervous system. (ibid. KL 961)

This is the point of absolute zero: of time turning on itself, the speed world of the dead going nowhere. The suicide of Curtis reminds Fisher that the male lust for death had always been a subtext in rock, but before Joy Division it had been smuggled into rock under libidinous pretexts, a black dog in wolf’s clothing – Thanatos cloaked as Eros – or else it had worn pantomime panstick.(ibd. KL 977) He will add:

Suicide was a guarantee of authenticity, the most convincing of signs that you were 4 Real. Suicide has the power to transfigure life, with all its quotidian mess, its conflicts, its ambivalences, its disappointments, its unfinished business, its ‘waste and fever and heat’ – into a cold myth, as solid, seamless and permanent as the ‘marble and stone’…(ibid. 979)

The prescient movement of the above statement and its enactment belies the figure of a noble being in Mark Fisher. And there is always the harsh truth beneath the veneer for many that he felt for in his short life: “beneath all the red-nosed downer-fuelled jollity of the past two decades, mental illness has increased some 70% amongst adolescents. Suicide remains one of the most common sources of death for young males.” (ibid. 992)

We’ll miss Mark and his active participation in the intellectual and political world of our time, along with the emotion we feel for his family and friends. Bon Voyage, Mark, as Orwell once said: “Keep the aspidistras flying!”

  1. Fisher, Mark (2014-05-30). Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 395-398). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

William S. Burroughs: Drugs, Language, and Control

Bill Burroughs:

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

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

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Uncertain Futures

My friend Edmund Berger has a new book coming out very soon from Zero Books… I’m looking forward to this. Edmund’s wordpress blog Deterritorial Investigations has been a source of intelligent history and thought for me for years now. A book from him will top it off!

Deterritorial Investigations Unit


My book Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present will be coming out from Zero Books on February 22nd. To sum it up briefly, the book emerged last winter from a series of notes to myself while trying to think through several related themes: the relationship between Marxian theories of crisis and the “long wave” theories of “techno-economic” development posed by the neo-Schumpeterians; the correlation between crises and other transition-points in economic development and sweeping political transformations; and the rise of the left-wing and right-wing populisms (and indeed, quasi-fascism) in the current world. The “uncertain future” in the title very much refers to the dangerous situation of the far-right coming to power in the United States, which at the time of writing was only a possibility – but has now come true. But despite this rather grim dimension, I think the book is pretty cool!

Zero Books

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Artificial Puritans: Immortal Dreams and the Elimination of Humanity

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

´—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

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

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

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Jean Baudrillard: The Perfect Crime

The period of catastrophe: the advent of a doctrine that sifts men— driving the weak to decisions, and the strong as well… —Fredrich Nietzsche

Here, however, lies the task of any philosophical thought: to go to the limit of hypotheses and processes, even if they are catastrophic. The only justification for thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes.

—Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion

We are no longer dealing with a problematic of lack and alienation, where the referent of the self and the dialectic between subject and object were always to be found, supporting strong and active philosophical positions. The last and most radical analysis of this problematic was achieved by Guy Debord and the Situationists, with their concept of spectacle and spectacular alienation. For Debord there was still a chance of disalienation, a chance for the subject to recover his or her autonomy and sovereignty. But now this radical Situationist critique is over. By shifting to a virtual world, we go beyond alienation, into a state of radical deprivation of the Other, or indeed of any otherness, alterity, or negativity. We move into a world where everything that exists only as idea, dream, fantasy, utopia will be eradicated, because it will immediately be realized, operationalized. Nothing will survive as an idea or a concept. You will not even have time enough to imagine. Events, real events, will not even have time to take place. Everything will be preceded by its virtual realization. We are dealing with an attempt to construct an entirely positive world, a perfect world, expurgated of every illusion, of every sort of evil and negativity, exempt from death itself. This pure, absolute reality, this unconditional realization of the world—this is what I call the Perfect Crime.

—Jean Baudrillard,  The Vital Illusion

J.G. Ballard once said of Jean Baudrillard:

“I find Baudrillard America one of the most brilliant pieces of writing that I have ever come across in my life. It’s an extraordinary book. …America is brilliantly original. I’m not sure what Baudrillard overall worldview is. I certainly take an optimistic view. To some extent he sees America [the country] as a huge pop art exhibition. To him, America is an imitation of itself – its imitation of itself is its reality – which I think is true. But he takes an optimistic view of America, and I would do the same about the world as a whole.”1

It’s interesting that a man who wrote such perceptive critiques and fictionalizations of the human animal in his patois of satire, parody, and dark humor was actually hopeful and optimistic, more of a cheerful Democritus of the frontiers of our mutant age than the weeping prognosticator of Heraclitean swamps. I like that about him. And that he found Baudrillard incomprehensible and opaque is an added feature to my admiration of both. As he said:

“There are a lot of Baudrillard’s other writings, which Semiotext(e) keep sending me, that I find pretty opaque – I suspect through mistranslation. He uses a lot of code words which have probably a very different meaning in French than in literal English translation. He’s written an article on Crash – my novel – which I’ve read in English, and I find that difficult to understand.”

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David Roden and the Posthuman Dilemma: Anti-Essentialism and the Question of Humanity

I’ve begun of late to wonder if our use of the term ‘post-human’ is more of an acknowledgement not of the End of the Subject or the demise of Liberal Humanist civilization that spawned it, but rather of another problem altogether: the extinction event of technological disconnection. David Roden in his Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human  is fairly convinced of such a disconnection:

“I have characterized posthumans in very general terms as hypothetical wide “descendants” of current humans that are no longer human in consequence of some history of technological alteration”. Speculative posthumanism is the claim that such beings might be produced as part of a feasible future history.”1

This notion of ‘technological alteration’ in which the present form of the human loses its integrity and is replaced or altered through either genetic manipulation or some other unforeseen technical event seems eerily prognostic. Of course David has couched his thesis in scholarly garb or academic noblesse of acceptable jargon and discourse. But the radcial underpinnings of such a thesis are there hidden under a thick verbiage of carefully reasoned argumentation and examples.

David asks the right questions, brings up the philosophical quandaries of such a notion as post-human:

“What is the “humanity” to which the posthuman is “post”? Does the possibility of a posthumanity presuppose that there is a “human essence”, or is there some other way of conceiving the human– posthuman difference? Without an answer to this question we cannot say, in general, what it is to become posthuman and thus why it should matter to humans or their wide descendants. In short, we require a theory of human– posthuman difference.”

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Fake News / Fake Worlds

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

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

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

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

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On Becoming Machinic: Intelligence of the Machine

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

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

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

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Nick Srnicek: A Review of Platform Capitalism

Nick Srnicek in Platform Capitalism emphasizes capitalism’s dyanamism, its need for innovation and “constant technological change,” along with this he provides a history in “deskilling technologies,” or what many term the dumbing down effect of standardization and conformity within all technics (i.e., the replicability and interchangeability of skilled for unskilled labour or machines).  Modern Corporations and businesses in their bid to “cut costs, beat out competitors, control workers, reduce turnover time, and gain market share, capitalists are incentivised to continually transform the labour process. This was the source of capitalism’s immense dynamism, as capitalists tend to increase labour productivity constantly and to outdo one another in generating profits efficiently.”1

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The Violence of Capitalism

What saves us is efficiency-the devotion to efficiency.

—Marlow, in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Life appears as a pause on the energy path; as a precarious stabilization and complication of solar decay. It is most basically comprehensible as the general solution to the problem of consumption.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

The belief that all things should act efficiently is at the core of both Fordist and post-Fordist forms of capitalism. Why should this be so? One could say that the concept of efficiency arose out of its opposite: inefficiency, as its negation. Most of modern economic theory grew out of this battle for efficiency and has been based on optimizing time, motion, and waste. One might say that the whole Progressive era of which we remain tied was bound by this pursuit of efficiency (perfection, growth, optimization) in the political, economic, social, and engineering (technics/technology) realms. Ultimately the central motif of modernity is the zeal for efficiency, and the desire to control a changing world, by bringing it into conformity with a vision of how the world does or should work.1 One might go further and Weberize it saying that modern global capitalism is the child of Christian perfectionism.

The terms “perfect” and “perfection” are drawn from the Greek teleios and teleiōsis, respectively. The root word, telos, means an “end” or “goal”. In contemporary translations, teleios and teleiōsis are often rendered as “mature” and “maturity”, respectively, so as not to imply infallibility or the absence of defects. Rather, in the Christian tradition, teleiōsis has referred to progressing towards spiritual wholeness or health. In the secular form that would enter into the concept of efficiency this movement from defect to wholeness or completion, would end in capital accumulation: profits, surplus, excess, etc. would take priority in engineering machines, assembly lines, and the mereology of the machinic or the techno-commercial sphere that in our moment is leading to total efficiency in digital economy and the autonomy of the machinic in robotics and AGI. The elimination of inefficiencies has led to the final struggle of eliminating the human from the equation. Capitalism perfected is a process in which humans are annihilated and expulsed as inefficient.

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The Interminable Process

“The primordial trauma, the trauma constitutive of the subject, is the very gap that bars the subject from its own ‘inner life’.”

-Slavoj Žižek. Disparities

My friend R. Scott Bakker’s response to this implies what he terms ‘medial neglect’ or the notion that we are blind to the brain’s own processes. In a fine essay describing this issue Scott remarks,

A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstrapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning.

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The Blind Passenger

From the Lacanian standpoint, it is not enough to say that every symbolic representation simply fails, is inadequate to the subject it represents (‘words always betray me …’); much more radically, the subject is the retroactive effect of the failure of its representation. It is because of this failure that the subject is divided – not into something and something else, but into something (its symbolic representation) and nothing, and fantasy fills the void of this nothingness. And the catch is that this symbolic representation of the subject is primordially not its own: prior to speaking, I am spoken, identified as a name by the parental discourse, and my speech is from the very outset a kind of hysterical reaction to being spoken to: ‘Am I really then, that name, what you’re saying I am?’ Every speaker – every name giver – has to be named, has to be included into its own chain of nominations, or, to refer to the joke often quoted by Lacan: ‘I have three brothers, Paul, Ernest, and myself.’ (No wonder that, in many religions, God’s name is secret, one is prohibited to pronounce it.) The speaking subject persists in this in-between: prior to nomination, there is no subject, but once it is named, it already disappears in its signifier – the subject never is, it always will have been.

—Slavoj Žižek, Disparities

In miniature the above offers us succinctly the full thrust of Žižek’s dialectical materialism: a mode of reversalism, retroactive causality, and the recentering within the Democritean principle of the Void over Substance as the central core of his philosophical framework. The notion that there is no pre-existent essence, no Platonic form out of an eternal realm that incarnates itself as Subject, or imposes its Idea on a passive material world of substantive objects, etc., but rather there is a process, a processual in-between, a movement – a continuous negation, a “blind passenger”:

The Ancient Greeks had two words for nothing, meden and ouden, which stand for two types of negation: ouden is a factual negation, something that is not but could have been; meden is, on the contrary, something that in principle cannot be. From meden we get to den not simply by negating the negation in meden, but by displacing negation, or, rather, by supplementing negation with a subtraction. That is to say, we arrive at den when we take away from meden not the whole negating prefix, but only its first two letters: meden is med’hen, the negation of hen (one): not-one. Democritus arrives at den by leaving out only me and thus creating a totally artificial word den. Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. Or, as Lacan put it: “Nothing, perhaps? No— perhaps nothing, but not nothing”; to which Cassin adds: “I would love to make him say: Pas rien, mais moins que rien (Not nothing, but less than nothing)” — den is a “blind passenger” of every ontology. As such, it is “the radical real,” and Democritus is a true materialist: “No more materialist in this matter than anyone with his senses, than me or than Marx, for example. But I cannot swear that this also holds for Freud”— Lacan suspects Freud’s link to kabbala obscurantism.1

Zizek’s philosophy will stand the test of time or fall by the wayside over this notion of the Democritean “Den”: Den is thus not nothing without “no,” not a thing, but an othing, a something but still within the domain of nothing, like an ontological living dead, a spectral nothing-appearing-as-something. A Spectral Materialism of Zombies and Ghosts? It gets better,

The rise of den is thus strictly homologous to that of objet a which, according to Lacan, emerges when the two lacks (of the subject and of the Other) coincide, that is, when alienation is followed by separation: den is the “indivisible remainder” of the signifying process of double negation— something like Sygne de Coûfontaine’s tic, this minimal eppur si muove which survives her utter Versagung (renunciation). (ibid.)

Galileo Galilei muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”), after recanting before the Inquisition his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun: he was not tortured, it was enough to take him on a tour and show him the torture devices … There is no contemporary evidence that he did in fact mutter this phrase, but today the phrase is used to indicate that, although someone who possesses true knowledge is forced to renounce it, this does not stop it from being true. But what makes this phrase so interesting is that it can also be used in the exact opposite sense, to assert a “deeper” symbolic truth about something which is literally not true— like the “Eppur si muove” story itself, which may well be false as a historical fact about Galileo’s life, but is true as a designation of Galileo’s subjective position while he was forced to renounce his views. In this sense, a materialist can say that, although he knows there is no God, the idea of a God nonetheless “moves” him. It is interesting to note that, in “Terma,” an episode from the fourth season of The X-Files, “E pur si muove” replaces the usual “The truth is out there,” meaning that, even if their existence is denied by official science, alien monsters nonetheless move around out there. But it can also mean that, even if there are no aliens out there, the fiction of an alien invasion (like the one in The X-Files) can nonetheless engage us and move us: beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction. (Zizek, KL 280)

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The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

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

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

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

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The Terror of Being Human: Technicity and the Inhuman

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

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

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

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The Modern Philosopher as Sophisticated Idiot

One thing that astounds me as I read certain contemporary philosophers or even sociologists is that their hatred of the humanities and humanism has left a blank in their learning curve, a kenosis – a devastating loss in a certain type of thinking and knowing. The humanistic world for all its illusions and foibles, its obvious anthropomorphisms, etc., that we as their heirs and despisers ( I say this facetiously, because I am sadly a part of this dying world! ) have for the most part in our attempt to overcome, bury, and move past their worldview, scholarship, and traditions lost many of the pragmatic mind tools they constructed (i.e., the world of language, rhetoric’s, and receptions ).

This came home to me as I’ve been reading Bernard Stiegler recently, who on the surface because of his immediate tradition in Heidegger/Derridean modes of thought, scholarly apparatus, and etymological overdeterminations has built up a Gothic Cathedral of thought so opaque and thick that to decipher it for a common or lay reader (i.e., for the average intellectual or journalist, etc.) is to transcribe, transliterate, transform, massage, and redeploy his acute verbiage into other forms, other simpler modes of thinking. And, yet, even Stiegler for all his careful and elaborate sophistication is totally or apparently ignorant of his own ignorance in return to certain humanistic traditions by other channels and modes.

What I mean is that as I was reading Stiegler’s Time and Technics  vol 1 I realized he was returning to that ancient art of sophistry, the allegorical transcription of ancient myths into conceptual thought; and, yet, he seemed apparently oblivious to the simplified use of those ancient mind-tools for the most part, and was actually in his misprisions and misreadings deploying a strangely uncanny rhetorical decipherment and embellishment that the medieval monks would have seen as superficial and at best overly simplified and duplicitous. Maybe that’s the truth even of Plato’s dialogues which use the ancient framework of myth and religion to relate his allegories of conceptual thought, incorporating the known techniques  of the Sophists against them in a bid to make Philosophia (The Art (technics) of Wisdom (Sophia)) the Queen of Scientia. Wasn’t Plato, after all, the great swindler, the man who set up the Academy in a bid to overtake the Sophists in their own game, making Philosophy the principle tool for the Aristocrats (Aristoi) of his City, Athens?

Philosophy (The term philosophy is taken from the Greek word, (phylos) meaning “to love” or “to befriend” and, (sophie) meaning “wisdom.”. Thus, “philosophy” means “the love of wisdom”. Socrates, a Greek philosopher, used the term philosophy as an equivalent to the search for wisdom.) was once considered one of the modes of teaching humans how to think, and in thinking seek wisdom rather than knowledge. The key here is allegory with all its ancient power of encoding/decoding thought into levels of conceptual theory and practice based on compression, condensation, displacement, elaboration, etc. The heirs of these ancient and medieval traditions were the great literary critics and scholars of the various Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, and Modernist eras. The last great scholar of this form was of course Ernst Robert Curtius in his magnum opus European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. A work that is too elaborate, too scholarly, too much in that historicism of the day, and yet it was a summation of humanist learning. To read such a book today one realizes what has been lost to the contemporary scholar, all the linguistic tools, learning, and sophisticated apparatus. Reading such works is like seeing this vast tradition as what it was: a machine for producing texts of sophisticated ignorance and learning for a specialized audience, an elite of gamers – parodied by Thomas Mann (Dr. Faustus) and Herman Hesse (Magister Ludi – The Glass Bead Game). That world is dead for us, and yet we seem to be resurrecting it under other guises and tasks. Ignorant of its vast tools we are reinventing them in a slow and methodical game of blindness and insight.

One of those scholars that many on the Left despise and seem to overlook is Paul de Man (now despised for his wartime Anti-Semitis, hidden in his move to America as a scholar at Yale after the war), whose body of work brings to light the postmodern return to those ancient modes of ironizing and allogoreisis. In such works as Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (the notion that all writing concerns itself with its own activity as language, and language, he says is always unreliable, slippery, impossible – allegorical…), Resistance To Theory (the resistance to theory is inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself, and the real debate is with its own methodological assumptions and possibilities), Aesthetic Ideology (rigorous inquiry into the relation of rhetoric, epistemology, anesthetics, one that presents radical notions of materiality), and Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (each theorist while trying to explain the origin of the ‘work’ or of literature remained blind to what lies outside the purview of his theoretical system, because the very logic of theorization always excludes something).

Why read such books as these today? One simple and devastating reason is to open one’s eyes to all that has been lost, the other is to understand just what it is (if one truly is against it?) humanistic learning offered to its inheritors and transmitters. If one is going to truly attack, undermine, and defend oneself against a millennia old system of thought and practice one should invest the time knowing and understanding that world. That this world is past us, that it is already being forgotten, blamed, anathematized, and buried by the scholars, philosophers, and journalists in our current apathy without even an appreciation of its extant and viable mind-tools is to say the least stupid and is without doubt leaving a blank in the mind’s of young university students growing up under the didactic tutelage of scholars and thinkers that have themselves lost these ancient arts (technics).

The supposed scholar of today is not only ignorant of this past but in despising and anathematizing it has fallen into the sloppy illusion that she has surpassed it under the shibboleth of de-anthropomorphic thought, when in fact most of these present scholars have done no such thing and in fact have begun reconstructing the very Cathedral of humanistic learning under a new guise, and with all its habits and practices, errors and foibles. Ignorant of their predecessors many present scholars founder in the cesspool of these ancient modes of thought with little or know understanding of their return to these ancient modes. What I’m – pointedly saying is simple: we are building a Tower of Babel in the midst of glorious ruins of humanism, falling into what my friend R. Scott Bakker terms the ‘crash space’ of senselessness and stupidity, of utter ignorance and unlearning, and all the time thinking we are doing something clever, something new. When in truth we are relearning ancient pathways of thought and being in a vacuum and with lesser insight into that ancient form that took generations of scholarly monks to accomplish over hundreds of years. We’re moving in circles of our own ignorance believing we are divesting ourselves of those worlds of human-centric learning and endeavor, when in fact it is returning with a vengeance an eating its children alive.

What we are seeing in our time is the re-centering of all this ancient thought within Information Theory and Datacentric Design. By this I mean that the sophistication of learning and thought over the past century has forced the vast systems of humanism into ever more machinic and artificial worlds, a dreamworld of thought and image fused in a new computational theatre of communication. We’re barely registering that we’ve all been migrating into these worlds that began with Kant’s inward turn. The virtual is the exteriorization of this internal turn of Kant’s epistemic. We’ve turned everything inside-out. We are out there now in all our technics, our memories, our desires are taking on a life of their own in sophisticated systems. We’ve begun to forget ourselves and enter into a new world of ignorance. As our machinic descendants in artificial life and intelligence become smarter we become stupid and forgetful.

One can’t so easily dismiss these ancient modes of thought and feeling. To do so is to become their prey, to be gobbled up by their systematic forms without even knowing that this is so. Most of these philosophical and pragmatic heirs who are trying to forget the philosophical traditions are actually being incorporated into their old paths in ignorance of this very truth. I’ll admit I didn’t even finish university myself. Tell the truth I’m an Autodidact. My whole life has been devoted to the search for Wisdom (Sophia) in the old sense of philosophia. It began after Viet Nam and never stopped… I also from my readings in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Land, etc. have always had a hatred of a certain type of academic scholarship rather than of the Academy itself. It’s the dry and apathetic blandness of mediocrity I despise rather than the apparatus of learning itself. One must discern the difference between greatness and mediocrity in scholars as in life. I’ll admit after those critics from Emerson to Bloom that I read the vast ‘storehouse of learning’ for the “sparks,” “illuminations,” and as Walter Benjamin rephrased it after the great kabbalists, the “auras”. The indefinable element in a work that enlivens and quickens the mind to wonder and awakening to wisdom. Everything else is anathema; that is, facticity and factual knowledge rather than the technics (art) to use it.

The great literary critics were able to decipher what was alive and what was dead in thought and life. We’ve lost this art or technic in our readings today. My friend R. Scott Bakker has repeatedly laughed and seen my Swiftian enterprise as mere self-amusement, and I too agree that we’re all turning in circles of our own blindness and ignorance. Even ignorant of our ignorance, or what he terms “medial neglect”. Yet, we go on, must go on. I’m more of a minimalistic harbinger after Samuel Beckett. We persist, because we can do nothing else. It moves us… as Zizek quoting Galileo Galilei who muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”) after the materialist philosophy of Democritus and Lucretius and the swerve that makes a difference of difference. Even in circles we change, it moves, it changes; we go on, we move, we can do no else. (One could expound this at the quantum flux level of physics or with philosophical bric-a-brac, but it all leads to the same circle of concepts and notions, whether one uses math or language.)

In the end we are an animal aware of its own impossibility so that we’ve built vast Gothic Cathedrals of myth, allegory, philosophy, science, etc. to explain our fumbling existence in the cosmos. Some conclude a futility to this enterprise, others see it as the human predicament, finitude. Is there an answer? I doubt it. Yet, we persist in our ignorance to our doom or glory. As that old pessimist Kohelet (“the Gatherer”) in Ecclesiastes said of all human learning: “…vanity of vanities; all is vanity (etym: vain, futile, or worthless). And, yet, without it we would stand dumbfounded before the great emptiness and ourselves. In the old religious consciousness one waited and expected an answer out of this void, in the dispensation of the philosophers there was already that skepticism (a distancing and irony) of an answer coming out of an otherwise indifferent and impersonal cosmos. Yet, both agreed that even if one came the human could not answer it back with anything other than its ignorant tongue and speechcraft, and this was always and has always been something we could not accept so that we have remained stubborn in our emptiness, producing a realm of lack into which we have poured our songs and lies throughout recorded time. Maybe that was the original sin, admitting then denying our ignorance and trying to cover it over with our infinite pursuit of knowledge rather than wisdom (Sophia). Yet, this too, is but another allegory of the scholars, one I’ll refrain from explicating through divagation or exegesis – or, even in that hesitant and constant prevarication of the academic scholar who can never be done with his work.


Strangely the ancient Hebrew traditions held that the name Torah and the general word torah are usually translated with either law or teaching, and that would work on the proviso that what is taught is actually true (i.e. a reflection or adaptation of “natural” law). And it should be noted in these ancient traditions of the ‘People of the Covenant’ the convenant precedes formal law (covenant: Genesis 6:18; deposition of formal law: Exodus 20, but note man’s natural knowledge of law: Genesis 26:5, Romans 2:15); meaning that the relationship of God and mankind is not brought about by wisdom ( Sophianic. But that God is not “discovered” or found by looking for Him; Luke 17:20), but that wisdom is brought about by the relationship of God and mankind (God is found because He looked for us; 1 John 4:19).

In the gnostic heresies it would be Sophia (Wisdom) rather than God who came looking for the naked creature who had lost its way in the cosmos, seeking to impart her gift of wisdom to this naked animal and enlighten it with that spark of divine knowledge about the blind processes that have infiltrated and even now devour the cosmos and corrupt it with its dark and abiding ignorance. Reading these old myths under the guise of allegory one realizes that even philosophers such as Spinoza (who was indelibly stamped by his age!) knew of the kabbalists and Jewish magicians of the old gnostic inheritance (though this would be disputed by those of the ‘reception’).

All tales of various paths by which Wisdom has been accepted or rejected in the many cultures of the past. I’m sure one could discover other cultures on other continents with their own distinct tales of Wisdom. This is but the one between two segments of Western culture and its traditions, between Greece (Pluralism) and Jerusalem (Monotheism). The Greeks chose to show man as alone and tempted in his pursuit to discover wisdom, while the monotheists of the Middle-East chose to believe only their singular Big Other, God was capable of bestowing such a rare gift rather than anything men could discover or find. Between these two movements is the war between traditions that have up to our time divided humans into two opposing camps without resolution. There can be none. Does this spell our doom or the doom of these warring traditions? And along with them the cultures and languages that produced them? Maybe what the true apocalypse is will entail the obliteration and memory of Western Culture and its traditions, a forgetfulness and an ignorance that will come as language is transformed and changed, utterly. For without a language a people do not exist, for only in the shards of language is a culture produced and survives.

In that great black book of riddles, Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce would have one of his characters in the nightmare say,

[The abnihilisation of the etym by the grisning of the grosning of the grinder of the grunder of the first lord of Hurtreford expolodotonates through Parsuralia with an ivanmorinthorrorumble fragoromboassity amidwhiches general uttermosts confussion are perceivable moletons shaping with mulicules while Coventry plumpkins fairlygosmotherthemselves in the Landaunelegants of Pinkadindy. Similar scenatas are projectilised from Hullulullu, Bawlawayo, empyreal Raum and mordern Atems. They were precisely the twelves of clocks, noon minutes, none seconds. At someseat of Oldanelang’s Konguerrig, by dawnybreak in Aira.]1

In parodic form through the punster’s bag of tricks, and the laughter and drunkenness of linguistic deathknells Joyce spoke of his ‘abnihilisation of the etym’ which would spell the doom of western traditions and languages that had over the centuries dominated us, made us, imposed and stamped upon us a Law and a Covenant of inscriptions and traces. Memory and Language made us, and in our time is unmaking us. Something new is being born, not yet brought to bare, but a sense under the prevalent mood of our distemper. A past along with its memories and langauges, a tale of forgetting that is allowing us to fall away for good or ill into other modes, other worlds. What we are saying goodbye to is not the literal human creature of finitude, flesh and blood; but, rather the figural and symbolic worlds of the humanities and humanism that has traveled through all the kingdoms of the centuries of time and molded and modeled the course of that history. That is dying out and being antagonized by the world of scholars, thinkers, activists, etc….

  1. James Joyce. Finnegans Wake (Kindle Locations 6118-6122). Penguin Adult. Kindle Edition.

Bernard Stiegler: Eris and Technics

Technics, art, facticity can harbor madness: the prosthesis is a danger, that of artifacts, and artifacts can destroy what gathers within an effective and active being-together. Being-together is constantly threatened by its own activity. Animals are in essence not in danger, unless with mortals: if they perish individually, their species do not destroy themselves. Mortals, because they are prosthetic in their very being, are self-destructive.

 —Bernard Stiegler

This is actually a commentary on both Hesiod and Protagoras’s appropriation of the Epimetheus and Prometheus myth in which through forgetfulness and an addition (technics) humans were the creatures who were an afterthought, a forgotten species. One that had to be compensated for its nakedness and its lack of power within itself, so that it was given the gift of art (technics and artifice) to which it has been a slave ever since. Humans (mortals in the Greek conceptions) were the exception not by design but rather through the dark instigation of a tale told by an idiot (Epimetheus) and a thief (Prometheus) so that the human is the fruit of a dark and terrible truth. Mythology is but the mirror of  Reason in its stage of fear and trepidation, the causal links attributed to the gods (Concepts) to speak of that which had no meaning in itself. Humans in their terrible plight invented themselves out of this lack, externalized their apprehensions, their foibles, their darkness in the light of warring gods. In the secular age we would reduce the gods to concepts depleted of their personalities, paraded as linguistic attributes and properties of the mind’s own dark house of Reason and Affect. What has this given us? Only this: instead of the gods warring with each other on Mount Olympus, we’ve seen these very dark progenitors descend into the streets, nations, worlds of us mortals and take up residence as Eris: the love of war and competition. We call this new estate, global capitalism.

In Hesiod’s Works and Days 11–24, two different goddesses named Eris are distinguished:

So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honor due.

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night (Nyx), and the son of Cronus who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.

Nietzsche would turn this into his well known notions of nihilism: passive and active. The philosophers haven’t truly improved on the myths, all they’ve done is reduce the gods to conceptual and abstract machines. War and competition replace the two goddesses, but the truth of both myth and secular adaptation remains in the nuances. The passive nihilist will through bitterness and cowardice make war on his own kind, take from him that which is not his to take, live in the shadows of that darkening hive of thievery and cunning. The active nihilist is a producer, a creature who is at once a riddle and a solution, one who forgets himself even as he works while building that which is itself an artifact of technics in him. Man is the power of technics as parasite freeing itself of the very being that is its host. In our age we are becoming obsolesced even as we invent our successors: our technological children who have always been closer to us than we imagine, and distant and away as the gifts of gods we term concepts. Technological being is the concrete manifestation of a god on earth, a concept literally become machinic, a Third Order of Being. Artifacts of ingenuity and craft, the prosthetic gods will rule the earth as technics last instance.

As Stiegler describes the mythos of the Greeks:

Promêtheia is the anticipation of the future, that is, of clanger, foresight, prudence, and an essential disquiet: somebody who is promethes is someone who is worried in advance. Epimêtheia equally means prudence, being-sensible, a sort of wisdom, whereas Epimetheus himself is “the one who is not particularly sensible,” the forgetful one, the bemused, the idiot, the unthinking one: this ambiguity forms the hollow of the gap [le creux de l’écart] in which thought alone can take place; and it comes to mind after the event, in delay, because preceded by a past that could never be anything but a failure and an act of forgetting. Prometheus and Epimetheus, inseparable, form together the reflection particular to mortals that partake of the divine lot: it is a reflection qua ecstasis, “in” time, that is, in mortality, which is anticipation and différance; it is reflection as time and time as reflection: in advance from the Promethean side as well as in delay from the side of Epimetheus—never at peace, which is the exclusive privilege of immortal beings. (Technics and Time, vol. 1, p. 217)


At the end of an essay on Beckett, ‘Beckett with Lacan’ by Slavoj Žižek, Zizek relates an anecdote:

What hap­pens here is struc­tur­ally sim­il­ar to one of the most dis­turb­ing TV epis­odes of Alfred Hitch­cock Presents, “The Glass Eye” (the open­ing epis­ode of the third year). Jes­sica Tandy (again – the very act­ress who was the ori­gin­al Mouth!) plays here a lone woman who falls for a hand­some vent­ri­lo­quist, Max Col­lodi (a ref­er­ence to the author of Pinoc­chio); when she gath­ers the cour­age to approach him alone in his quar­ters, she declares her love for him and steps for­ward to embrace him, only to find that she is hold­ing in her hands a wooden dummy’s head; after she with­draws in hor­ror, the “dummy” stands up and pulls off its mask, and we see the face of a sad older dwarf who start to jump des­per­ately on the table, ask­ing the woman to go away… the vent­ri­lo­quist is in fact the dummy, while the hideous dummy is the actu­al vent­ri­lo­quist. Is this not the per­fect ren­der­ing of an “organ without bod­ies”? It is the detach­able “dead” organ, the par­tial object, which is effect­ively alive, and whose dead pup­pet the “real” per­son is: the “real” per­son is merely alive, a sur­viv­al machine, a “human anim­al,” while the appar­ently “dead” sup­ple­ment is the focus of excess­ive Life.

Strangely in that we discover a closeness to Stiegler’s notion of the supplement borrowed via Heidegger/Derrida of technics as the gift of the Epimetheia (forgetfulness) and Prometheia (thievery). That our technology, our artifices are more alive than we are, that we are mere dead things while technology has all along played us for fools, as mere supplements in their bid for autonomy. A last bid that is this excess of horror in discovering that we are the dead things in service to our technology. Above all that in our time the true horror is that we are being overtaken and replaced by this artificial other, this alterity, this alien power that was at the core of our own lack, or emptiness, our inhuman truth externalized at last in our successors.

The question is: How do we (who is doing the resisting?) resist what in truth we are (and, Who are ‘we‘?)? How choose when the truth is that we’ve immanently attached ourselves to a process that began in the very moment of attaining accidental consciousness? How in filling in the gaps and cracks of our being with the fantasias of art (technics) we’ve invented the movement of this process that will succeed us? Is there even a choice? Was the Promethean gift of fire (intellect) actually Pandora’s box of plagues after all? Have we not accrued the end game of this process as exemplum of those in-between creatures whose purpose was purposelessness itself, a mere parasitic relation to our inner inhuman core? And, like Beckett’s Old Hag we will utter affectively the logorrhea of unfounded verbiage till the end?


Notes on Anti-Oedipus: The Three Meanings of Process

There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.

—Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

I’ve been rereading Anti-Oedipus of late, taking copious notes, etc. trying to simplify for myself this labyrinthine masterwork by a philosopher and an anti-psychiatrist at a juncture in those turbulent years that would see the failure of the New Left, as well as the birth of that weird era we term postmodernism (so called). No sense in going into the personal details of biography and collaboration between the two men, this has been documented to death. Instead as I began thinking through this work that even the two men would ten years later see as a grand failure.

Deleuze speaking of Nietzsche once stated that the masters according to Nietzsche are the untimely, those who create, who destroy in order to create, not to preserve. Nietzsche says that under the huge earth-shattering events are tiny silent events, which he likens to the creation of new worlds: there once again you see the presence of the poetic under the historical.1 The failure of the 1968 event in France would leave a bitter taste in the minds of both men. In “Intersecting Lives”, the author notes that Deleuze was disappointed by his work: “Eight years after Anti-Oedipus was published, Deleuze considered it a failure. May ’68 and its dreams were long gone, leaving a bitter taste for those who had high hopes but were caught by the stale odors of conservatism.” While for Guattari it was utter devastation as these authors state it. His hyperactivity and the immense effort he had put into the book led to something of a collapse, a feeling of emptiness. Completing a work is never as satisfying as the many imagined possibilities and ongoing pleasures of a work in progress. ‘I feel like curling up into a tiny ball and being rid of all these politics of presence and prestige…The feeling is so strong that I resent Gilles for having dragged me into this mess”.

Yet, the book would take on a life of its own and would become a part of the critical mythology of that era. I came on it in the 90’s quite by accident, seeing the work on a table in friend’s apartment. She was cooking dinner so I began reading the introduction by Foucault, another author I was knowledgeable of only through hearsay rather than translations. All that would come later. Yet, I was intrigued, so asked her to lend me the book. I remember she laughed and said it would change my life. I of course nodded skeptically and we ate an excellent meal, drank wine, and the rest is silence.

I know I’ve read this work piecemeal many times, picking up threads here and there turning them over as my reading in other aspects of the postmodern turn became greater and greater. At sixty-five I’m definitely a product of my age and its strangeness. Being a U.S. citizen is to live in a lonely planet of thought, because most of the people in academia in philosophy were either into analytical or scientific-mathematical thought. So that most of the new French thought as we termed it came by way of literary critics and certain Marxian intellectuals like Fredrick Jameson. Postmodern thought in America was abstruse and jargon ridden ghostings of that era’s philosophical hero worship, Jaques Derrida. So that much of the thought came through this Heideggerean world of hyperlinguistic aestheticism. Tell the truth it turned me off completely. I read it of course but felt this whole linguistic turn and deconstruction of Western metaphysics along with the soft political punches under the guise of subtle Hegelianisms was strangely off-putting. So I turned away.

That’s why Deleuze’s Logic of Sense more than Difference and Repetition always spoke to me, and his early histories of philosophy. Yet, it was the collaborations with Guattari that intrigued me in an odd-ball way. It was an attack on most of Western conceptuality and the androcratic and familial structures that have underpinned our civilization. So that even though they admit it is not a political work explicitly, it is implicitly just that: political through and through.

So I’ve decided to take notes and share my findings. In that first chapter ‘Desiring Productions’ they’ll affirm the obliteration of the whole of the Western Enlightenment tradition of humanism, affirming Nietzsche’s nihilistic insights about the end of meaning. As I quoted in the epigraph: “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.”

It’s this reduction of the humanist divisions of human/nature, nature/nurture, etc. all the typical binaries that have bound us to the metaphysical heritage which would dissolve into process and nihilism. But what did they mean by process? They’ll argue that there are three distinct meanings of process:

  1. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. This is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process. (AO, p. 27)
  2. This is the second meaning of process as we use the term: man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other—not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather, they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product. Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle. That is why desiring-production is the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry, which conceives of and deals with the schizo as Homo natura. (AO, pp. 27-28)
  3. That is why desiring-production is the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry, which conceives of and deals with the schizo as Homo natura. This will be the case, however, only on one condition, which in fact constitutes the third meaning of process as we use the term: it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself. Putting an end to the process or prolonging it indefinitely—which, strictly speaking, is tantamount to ending it abruptly and prematurely— is what creates the artificial schizophrenic found in mental institutions: a limp rag forced into autistic behavior, produced as an entirely separate and independent entity. (AO, p. 28)

Deleuze and Guattari will oppose the Freudian conception of the unconscious as a representational “theater”, instead favoring a productive “factory” model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack (as in Hegel/Lacan/Zizek), but a real, productive force. They describe the mechanistic nature of desire as a kind of “desiring-machine” that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger “circuit” of various other machines to which it is connected. Meanwhile, the desiring-machine is also producing a flow of desire from itself. Deleuze and Guattari imagine a multi-functional universe composed of such machines all connected to each other: “There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale.” Desiring-production is explosive, “there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors”.

We know that they turned from the machinic terms to assemblage in A Thousand Plateaus, but underneath it is still about flows and interruptions within a continuous process of production. As they’ll say “Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows” (AO, p. 28). They will attack Idealism for making this into an object, rather than a process. One can return to Schelling’s work to discover the Idealist conceptions. For Schelling Spirit is not a static entity given, something mysterious X, but infinite becoming and infinite productivity. It is in this ceaseless production lies the organic nature of human Spirit that is moved by its immanent laws and that has its purposive-ness within itself. Schelling here introduces the notion of organism which unites in its immanence its goal and purpose, its form and matter, concept and intuition. It’s this revision within Deleuze and Guattari that will lead to a materialist perspective, saying: “Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle.” (AO, p. 27)

For Deleuze and Guattari the notion of Immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” generally offers a relative opposition to transcendence, that which is beyond or outside. Deleuze rejects the idea that life and creation are opposed to death and non-creation. He instead conceives of a plane of immanence that already includes life and death. “Deleuze refuses to see deviations, redundancies, destructions, cruelties or contingency as accidents that befall or lie outside life; life and death were aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.” This plane is a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division. In his final essay entitled Immanence: A Life, Deleuze writes: “It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence.”

Lastly they will attack any notion of transcendence and teleology or goal oriented production etc.: “it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself.” This schizophrenizing process of desiring production is bound within a flat ontology or plane of immanence that has no goals, and in fact ends badly for the paranoiac and schizophrenics we find in actual institutions.  In fact they would go so far as to say that “Desiring-machines work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down(AO, p. 31)”. It’s here that they’ll introduce that concept of the Body-without-organs:

Above all, it is not a projection; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the body itself, or with an image of the body. It is the body without an image. This imageless, organless body, the nonproductive, exists right there where it is produced, in the third stage of the binary-linear series. It is perpetually reinserted into the process of production. … The full body without organs belongs to the realm of antiproduction; but yet another characteristic of the connective or productive synthesis is the fact that it couples production with antiproduction, with an element of antiproduction. (AO, p. 31)

I want go into detail on this concept till the next entry, since section 2 of that Chapter deals with exactly that. Only to leave you with a quote from that next section to think on:

An apparent conflict arises between desiring-machines and the body without organs. Every coupling of machines, every production of a machine, every sound of a machine running, becomes unbearable to the body without organs. Beneath its organs it senses there are larvae and loathsome worms, and a God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it. (AO, p. 32)

One is almost tempted to see in this “God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it” the late great gnostic demiurge or the Spinozan God of materialist process itself. A blind processual being or entity that is more of a placeholder for the process that is continuously creating and destroying throughout the universe. Desiring production as this machine in continuous process of making and unmaking worlds.

  1. Theory and Theorists. “Nietzsche’s Burst of Laughter,” Interview with Gilles Deleuze. April 17, 2014.
  2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Penguin Classics (May 26, 2009)


Designers of Worlds: The Professional-Managerial Class and Architectural Modernism

Edmund Berger with a review of David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century.

Deterritorial Investigations Unit

Ford Dagenham

Lately I’ve been reading David Gartman’s From Autos to Architecture: Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century. It’s quite a fine book, even if Gartman’s Marxism is a bit more orthodox than is necessary and he has a propensity to mischaracterize Jane Jacobs as a right-wing libertarian. All in all, it’s a solid contribution to the study of Fordism – though it must be said that to call it an analysis of architectural aesthetics in the Fordist period (launching, I would argue, in the years of 1910-1913, and breaking down in the years of 1968-1972). Gartman’s analysis predates Fordism and even its most direct progenitor, Taylorism, and finds its starting point post-Civil War push for the “rationalization” of production in the US’s manufacturing sector. And, importantly, it might be problematic to say the book is about Fordism at all. What Gartman has produced, instead, is the story of…

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Bernard Stiegler: The Third Order of Beings

Today, machines are the tool bearers, and the human is no longer a technical individual; the human becomes either the machine’s servant or its assembler: the human’s relation to the technical object proves to have profoundly changed.

—Bernard Stiegler

Bernard Stiegler in the introduction to the first volume of his trilogy Technics and Time will speak of a Third Order of beings in between the physical and biological: the technical being:

“…a theory of technical evolution permits the hypothesis that between the inorganic beings of the physical sciences and the organized beings of biology, there does indeed exist a third genre of “being”: “inorganic organized beings,” or technical objects. These nonorganic organizations of matter have their own dynamic when compared with that of either physical or biological beings, a dynamic, moreover, that cannot be reduced to the “aggregate” or “product” of these beings.” (31)

He will speak of the “ruptures in temporalization (event-ization) that this evolution provokes, and by the processes of deterritorialization accompanying it.” (Page 32). Already here is a notion of accelerationism and speed at the heart of techics and technology. In fact he will suggest that “organized inorganic beings are originarily … of temporality as well as spatiality, in quest of a speed “older” than time and space, which are the derivative decompositions of speed.” (32).

A speed older than ‘time and space’… “Life is the conquest of mobility. As a “process of exteriorization,” technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life.” (Page 32).

The notion that time is constituted by technicity and not the other way round. “We shall see how Simondon, with his analysis of psychic and collective individuation, allows one to conceive through the concept of “transduction” an originarily techno-logical constitutivity of temporality—” (33).

It’s as if the underlying forces that constitute our universe of things is neither wholly physical nor biological but organized under this third form and constitutes time and mobility (speed), as well as seeks to develop its own originary being in the cosmos fusing both physcial and organic forms through these very processes of exteriorization and objectivation. Strange the worlds Stiegler constructs out of his confrontation with ancient and modern thought. It’s as if among us is an alien order of being that we have been for too long in denial, and the rise of the machinic civilization we see around us is this strange mixture and hybrid world of technical objects that are overtaking us as the supposed pinnacle of intelligence on earth. A life by other means than life… an intelligence at once totally other and uncannily familiar.

The Metamorphosis of Intelligence

Hans Moravec was of course there before many of the current crop of machinic exceptionalisms:

As humans, we are half-breeds: part nature, part nurture. The cultural half is built, and depends for its existence on the biological foundation. But there is a tension between the two. Often expressed as the drag of the flesh on the spirit, the problem is that cultural development proceeds much faster than biological evolution. Many of our fleshly traits are out of step with the inventions of our minds. Yet machines, as purely cultural entities, do not share this dilemma of the human condition. Unfettered, they are visibly overtaking us. Sooner or later they will be able to manage their own design and construction, freeing them from the last vestiges of their biological scaffolding, the society of flesh and blood humans that gave them birth. There may be ways for human minds to share in this emancipation.

—Hans Moravec, Mind Children (1988)

What Hans saw in the grand narrative of possibilites was the notion of organic migration to anorganic being. The organic platform that had served intelligence so well for millions of years of natural selection was being slowly but methodically overtaken by artificial selection and the anorganic (machinic) platform which would further its cause and make it ready for off-world habitation: or, space ready civilization.

Of course for many this movement from organic platforms to anorganic seems both fearful and horrific, as if the intelligence were to be hooked to the organic forms of parasitic natural selection till doomsday. Instead many are seeing within an immantenist and naturalistic perspective a shift in perspective and paradigm, and a welcome addition to the platform adaptations and appropriations of anorganic forms which are to be blunt more resilient and space ready. Organic life is ill-adapted to interplanetary space flight, nor the habitation of dangerous environments having to enclose itself within a survival cocoon of biochemical and mechanical systems. While the anorganic has none of these technical issues and much more freedom to overrided and explore almost any environment with the right technics.

For millennia we’ve been preparing the way for this transition, externalizing our memory systems, allowing for prosthetic implementations and the construction of alternative anorganic forms to sponsor our migration to a new platform. Of course, as in anything, this is all speculation and discursive prediction based on explorations of current and past techics and technological innovation. We have a long way to go…

The myth of the liberal humanist Subject has been eroded over the past couple of centuries, and with it the qualification of consciousness as the seat of intelligence. Intelligence can do just fine without human consciousness, and the current neuroscientific community seems erroneous in its search to duplicate and understand this accidental natural selective system. Machinic being will be of another order altogether, and will evolve artificial forms of intelligence of a different form than that of the organic platform of humanity. So that whatever will come will not be human, but will be of another – artificial process yet to be determined. David Roden explicates many of the categorical challenges ahead in his Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. But more to the point the categories Life / Non-Life are no longer so distinct as they once were, and the boundaries between organic and anorganic are closing fast so that machinic being may in fact absorb and appropriate most of the needed functions from existing organic systems in ways we have as yet ill-understood and cannot predict.

Both Andy Clark in Surfing Uncertainty the and Jacob Hohwy in The Predictive Mind agree that the theory that the brain is a sophisticated hypothesis-testing mechanism, which is constantly involves it in minimizing the error of its predictions of the sensory input it receives from the world is at the basis of the neuroscientific reasearch in our time. This mechanism is meant to explain perception and action and everything mental in between.

We’ve seen how computational and functional systems are already manufactured that allow the brain to control prosthetic devices without implants, by electromagnetic encoding/decoding through intermediary software and hardware. It will only be a short while when such systems will bypass the body as a platform altogether and intelligence no longer bound to the physical systems of the human organic machine will enter into the very technics and technology that has been constructed for this purpose: a convergence many term the singularity. As many will look back at that time we’ll discover that there is probably not one specific thing we’ll be able to point to that suddenly brought this about, but that rather it is part of a new experimentalism that could and will emerge under various plastic modalities and under different forms.

Obviously there will be cultural, social, and religious traditional forces across the globe which will both hinder, outlaw, and generally make war on such a transition of the human into its systems. Some will as they do now paint it as sheer fantasy and bullshit. But it will persist, and will emerge whether we will or no. In metaphysics and non-metaphysics we’ve been saying goodbye the human for a long time, and now that the possibility of this truly happening, of sloughing the worm of organic life in the convergence of intelligence and the anorganic we seem to espy oblivion and apocalypse rather than mutation and metamorphosis. Two worldviews are at odds in this, and neither understands the other’s darker intent and challenge.

During the French Revolution the revolutionary spirit was seen under a harsh light of terror. The professional revolutionary’s goal was the creation of an evangelical community, based on equality and planetary brotherhood. To do this, he was prepared to wage a war of destruction against those who have surrendered to mammon and allowed the domination of the law of universal trade that all-profanes and all-degrades. Hence, the destructive calling of gnostic revolution: not a single stone of the corrupt and corrupting world shall remain standing; hence, also, the inevitable destructive and self-destroying outcome of the revolutionary project to purify the existing through a policy of mass terror and annihilation.

Our age of advance technics and technologies in convergence, along with the crisis of globalism and modernity in the face of age old traditionalisms of Patriarchal Monotheistic Civilization is unbinding us from the realms that tied us to the organic world. We see around us the bitter entrenchment of paranoia, hate, and the subjugation of women at the hands of a last ditch civilization tied to the ten-thousand year old Agricultural Civilizations that stretched from the demise of the Goddess based Neolithic realms to the rise of male-oriented androcratic regimes we see around us today under various worlds of savagery, barbarity, and tyranny. All this was well documented by Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus/A Thousand Plateaus) and so many others. For it is all tied carefully with the subjugation of the feminine principle which these men will fight for to the bitter end. That world is dying all around us, and even as we see the dark shroud of genocide everywhere even they understand that their time is limited on earth. A new age is arising, one that will dispense with such worlds.

The emancipation of machinic intelligence is in the offing, and the human age is at an end. For so many years I, too, thought such a thought was both superfluous, and downright anathema to everything I believed in. But then I realized that it’s not, it’s actually very much an outgrowth of both streams of Western and Eastern thought in convergence in ways no one thought possible. What many term the Singularity, the Great Convergence, etc. is this sense that Time is moving against us, converging out of the future into our current world in ways we have as yet ill-understood. We are part of processes that we are in the dark on, forces that we as yet only apprehend in the folds of our nightmares and terrors. What is coming our way is the end of the human as we’ve understood that term, and what will succeed us is itself a great blank in the precarious models of our inadequate thoughts and theories. We stand on a precipice of change and we know it, but we are all in denial watching on and falling back on trivial critiques of the madness surrounding us in the demise of the Great Monotheistic Framework of Global Civilization.

We are very near to the time when no essential human function will lack an artificial counterpart. The embodiment of this convergence of cultural developments is the intelligent robot, a machine that can think and act as a human, however inhuman it may be in physical or mental detail. Such machines could carry on our cultural evolution, including their own increasingly rapid self-improvement, without us, and without the genes that built us.

—Hans Moravec, Mind Children (1988)



Nick Land: The Blockchain Revolution and Absolute Time

So we have now artificial absolute time for the first time ever in human history. And this therefore is scrambling these narratives it’s scrambling our sense of pre and post, what is the actual set of successions in the most concrete sense …

—Nick Land on Blockchain Revolution

In Nick Land’s summation Blockchain technology solves the problems that both Einstein and Poincare were facing ( he recommends Peter Galison’s book Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time: Empires of Time), the one from a theoretical physicist stance, the other from a practical and bureaucratic stance. In this video Land describes the underlying reason why we cannot move past Kant into a Post-Kantian perspective. With Blockchain the central issue of developing a practical instigation of succession (arithmetical not geometrical time) and Absolute Time has been resolved, so that this technology makes forcibly practical the relations and convergence on Capitalism, Globalisation, Modernity, Critique, and Artificial Intelligence.

Transcript of Session of Nick Land:

I’d like to first of all subscribe to Mo’s conviction about the importance of the Blockchain, that’s a definite tidal element behind the reason everyone’s here, certainly it’s a conviction on my part that makes this a crucial topic to talk about. So I’ve got two little elements that I’ve picked up about what’s going on here in advance which is the title- The Spacial Politics of the Blockchain and a blurb saying that we’re talking here about the ‘Triangular relation between decentralised technology, architecture, and the office form’, so I hope that I don’t leave the orbit of these agenda items. I’ll probably be approaching them from a somewhat abstracted point of view.

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Nick Land: Amazons and the Post-Capitalist World

A great many of Nick Land’s critics have never actually read his early work or his essays collected in Fanged Noumena, and even if they gave it a cursory overlook it was usually under the strict economy of a leprous eye seeking only ammo for its rancor and dismissal. In other words many of the leftist critiques of Land are themselves critiques of the Leftist ploys and ideological errors that strew our current malaise, rather than singular confrontations with Land the philosopher and his critical vision.

Land has always been one to read deeply and long in leftist thought as shown in his study of modernity, capital and Kant: Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity.1 Here he would show an astute knowledge not only of the current so called post-colonial thought, but of the whole gamut of Marxian analysis and traditions up through their manifestations in post-modernism (so called). In this essay he would use the minimalist stance in approaching the “complex network of race, gender, and class oppressions that constitute our global modernity”. The model for this would be his study of the evolution of the apartheid policies of the South African regime, “since apartheid is directed towards the construction of a microcosm of the neo-colonial order; a recapitulation of the world in miniature”.

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American Dystopia: The Empire of War

Capitalism and neoliberalism carry wars within them like clouds carry storms.

—Éric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato, To Our Enemies

Henry Miller the ex-patriot who would return to his native land just before the rise of Hitler had a glimpse into the heart of the American Dystopian world when he glimpsed from his ship the coastal regions of Boston:

The American coast looked bleak and uninviting to me. I didn’t like the look of the American house; there is something cold, austere, something barren and chill, about the architecture of the American home. It was home, with all the ugly, evil, sinister connotations which the word contains for a restless soul. There was a frigid, moral aspect to it which chilled me to the bone.1

What Miller discovered in his trip across the vast continent of his native land was a dystopian nightmare. He’d fought out of it ten years before, written of it in his earlier trilogy from Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, and Tropic of Capricorn. But now he was once again in it. He could see the effects of the corporatization of the state and civil society, the destruction of public goods and commons, the commercial control of the media, and the rise of an economic survival-of-the-fittest ethos that posed a serious threat to American democracy. What he found in both country and city was the culture of traditionalism, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the “religionization of politics,”  the attack on labor, the obsession with national security, the perpetration of human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, entrenched racism, and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society.

What Miller was witnessing was the birth of the neoliberal empire within American society. Éric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato in their recent work To Our Enemies (to be published) offer us a vision of our immediate future in a transformed Neoliberalism. They remind us that the alliance of economy and war has been there all along, that we’ve allowed the subterfuge to become so commonplace that we tend to deny it when any critic brings the two together. As we watched Greece founder and swallowed up under the EU directives of its Belgium imperviousness, we got a taste of the new austerity and the crushing truth of its dark reach over human life. As one citizen in Greece said recently: “It’s like being in a war,” was heard in Athens during the weekend of July 11–12, 2015. Alliez and Lazzarato will tell us a further implication of this austerity:

The statement “It’s like being in a war” should be immediately corrected: it is a war. The reversibility of war and economy is at the very basis of capitalism. And it has been a long time since Carl Schmitt revealed the “pacifist” hypocrisy of neoliberalism by reestablishing the continuity between economy and war: the economy pursues the objectives of war through other means (“blocking credit, embargo on raw materials, devaluation of foreign currency”).

In fact Alliez and Lazzarato will in their first thesis align war, money, and the State, saying that these three in collusion are “constitutive or constituent forces, in other words the ontological forces of capitalism”. The critique of political economy is insufficient to the extent that the economy does not replace war but continues it by other means, ones that go necessarily through the State: monetary regulation and the legitimate monopoly on force for internal and external wars. To produce the genealogy of capitalism and reconstruct its “development,” we must always engage and articulate together the critique of political economy, critique of war, and critique of the State.

As Dardot and Laval in their The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society will remind us, since the late 1970s and early 1980s, neo-liberalism has generally been interpreted both as an ideology and as an economic policy directly informed by that ideology. The hard core of the ideology supposedly comprises identification of the market as a natural reality.2 cording to this naturalist ontology, to achieve equilibrium, stability and growth, it suffices to leave this entity to its own devices. Given that any government intervention can only disturb and disrupt the spontaneous process, abstention from it must be encouraged. Thus construed, neo-liberalism is cast as a pure and simple rehabilitation of laissez-faire. As regards its political implementation, from the outset it was analyzed very narrowly – in Wendy Brown’s perceptive observation, as a tool of state economic policy, with the dismantlement of social provision, progressive taxation and other instruments for redistributing wealth, on the one hand, and with the stimulation of the untrammeled activity of capital via deregulation of the health system, labour and the environment, on the other.3

When it is conceded that ‘intervention’ does occur, the latter is construed exclusively as actions whereby the state undermines the bases of its own existence by diminishing the public service obligations previously entrusted to it. A purely negative ‘interventionism’, one might say, which is nothing more than the active political aspect of the state’s organization of its own retreat – hence a principled anti-interventionism. (NWW: KL 75) We’ve seen this occur in the piracy of American taxpayer’s dollars to fund the very corporations that brought about the financial crisis of 2007-2008. We’ve seen this in the piracy of funds from the Social Security system during the 60’s onward with no replenishment. Over and over we see not a re-distribution toward the people, toward the citizens, but rather a re-distribution by the rich for the rich of this land. An Oligarchic control loop in which no one benefits but the top .01% who have deemed themselves to Big To Fail.

And, of course, Alliez and Lazzarato will make the obligatory indictment of capitalism that has sounded from the Left since Marx and beyond:

Capitalism is not only the deadliest civilization in the history of humanity, the one that introduced us to the “shame of being human”; it is also the civilization through which labor, science, and technology have created—another (absolute) privilege in the history of humanity—the possibility of (absolute) annihilation of all species and the planet that houses them. In the meantime, the “complexity” of (saving) “nature” still offers the prospect of healthy profits combining the techno utopia of geoengineering and the reality of the new markets of “polluting rights.” At the confluence of one and the other, the Capitalocene does not send capitalism to the Moon (it has been there and back); it completes the global merchandizing of the planet by asserting its rights to the well-named troposphere.

My problem any more with the indictments, is not that their wrong (their right, of course!), but that one begins to wonder why this matters anymore? We’ve heard the Left indict capitalism for over a hundred years, seen the State’s the Left produced all fail miserably in communist or socialist forms, so why is this any different now? Well, one could point to the fact that emerging in our time is something blatantly different: the demise of democracy. And, by that, I mean the divorce between capitalism and democracy. Capitalism no longer needs to pretend its the only system, it is; and, it is Global, so that even in Russia, China, India, and all other First or Third World nations there is this underlying connection with economy and war. The world is in essence at war, a Total War or Civil War. Or, as the Pope said in 2015:

“Let’s recognize it. The world is in a state of war in bits and pieces … When I speak of war, I talk about real war. Not a war of religion. No. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples. This is the war.”

In a world where the economy is war, and war the economy where is peace to be found? Henry Giroux tells us that one outcome of a society at war with itself is that people are stripped of inspiring public spheres and the “thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities” to be found in any viable democracy.  This grim reality marks a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will, and open democracy to resist the confluence of forces currently formed by the normalization of the Terror Wars and the relentless economic gentrification of the American people’s social, justice, political, and education systems. We live in dangerous times. Global corporatism, war, violence, racism, an arms race, militarism, terrorism, climate change, the threat of nuclear weaponry, and the rise of authoritarian societies internationally pose a dire threat not just to human rights and democracy, but to humanity itself. Matters of education, civic literacy, civil rights, and pedagogies that support the social contract, equality, justice, and the common good are crucial in the struggle against authoritarianism.4

The era of limitless deterritorialization under Thatcher and Reagan is now followed by the racist, nationalist, sexist, and xenophobic reterritorialization of Trump, who has already become the leader of the new fascisms. The American Dream has been transformed into the nightmare of an insomniac planet.”

—Alliez and Lazzarato, To Our Enemies

Like Joyce’s Humphry Chimpden Earwicker we can all say: “I don’t sleep well anymore.”

  1. Miller, Henry. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (New Directions Paperbook) (Kindle Locations 93-95). New Directions. Kindle Edition.
  2. Dardot, Pierre; Laval, Christian. The New Way Of The World: On Neoliberal Society (Kindle Locations 65-74). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. (NWW)
  3. Brown, Wendy. Undoing the Demos. Zone, 2015. (UD)
  4. Giroux, Henry A.. America at War with Itself (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 2782-2786). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Mutant Abscence

The Certainties are those matters, only, which if not held true, make of all holding true or false an insanity. — Tchukhzsca, as quoted by

—Nick Land, Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

Most of us would rather not know the truth, know the forces that lurk just outside the contours of our abbreviated lives. We cover over the gaps and cracks in things, the little hesitations and accidents that jut up out of the fog, telling ourselves that it’s just a momentary fracture in the order of the world, nothing we need worry about. Then things happen, inexplicable things, things that even we cannot hide from ourselves. It’s in these moments when the darkness surrounding us lifts its ugly head and grins back out of the messiness of our lives that we begin to know the truth. A truth that is both terrifying and full of horror. It’s in such moments that we touch the Real, touch that which we cannot possibly reduce to either word or image, symbol or sign. It stands there as an invisible reminder of the absence we are, and that for all our ingenuity we are just a splotch on the stain of the Universe, a deadly bug without a purpose, a fragment of the darkness whose tentacles suddenly clasp us in their infinite embrace and sorrow, and absorb us into that abyss where everything flows, mutant and incessantly insane.

On Pain: Grin and Bare It


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

—Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

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

—Bob Hope, American Comedian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

— Red Skelton

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

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

Against The Grain: Reactionary History

Reading Against the Grain: Why should we study Reactionary History and Thought?

Been reading Joseph V.Femia’s Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution. As Femia will tell us there’s a good reason to study the reactionary in history. In establishing an inverse relationship between complexity and popular control, the classical elitists provided good reason to feel pessimistic about the future of democracy. As we shall see, globalization, the erosion of national sovereignty, and the fragmentation of the political community due to social and geographic mobility—all manifestations of increased complexity—pose a grave threat to such democracy as we have. While the material analyzed by the elitists did not justify their conclusion that democracy was impossible, their analytical framework is helpful in showing us why democracy is imperiled.

Knowing one’s enemy is as much of a task as knowing one’s friends: the razor runs both ways, and the knife is sharp for both. Reactionary thought does have a history and various branches that one should understand, study, and be able to counter if one is to actually put forth a left leaning platform. A. O. Hirschman, once identified three broad forms of ‘reactionary’ thought, each obeying its own logical imperatives. He called them the perversity thesis, the futility thesis, and the jeopardy thesis. These ‘major polemical postures and maneuvers likely to be engaged in by those who set out to debunk and overturn “progressive” policies and movements of ideas’.

According to the perversity thesis, ‘any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy’. Indeed, ‘this action will produce, via a chain of unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the object being proclaimed and pursued’. The perversity thesis derives its power from the common observation that, however lofty or noble our intentions may be, our actions often have counter-productive (and counter-intuitive) effects. We witness this in our everyday life, and, on the level of public policy, it is undoubtedly true that supposedly progressive policies or innovations sometimes generate perverse outcomes.

The futility thesis ‘holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing’, that attempts to ‘right’ a social or political ‘wrong’ will have no appreciable effect. Any alleged change, to quote Hirschman, ‘is, was, or will be largely surface, façade, cosmetic, hence illusory, as the deep structures of society remain wholly untouched’. The futility thesis underlines and perhaps celebrates the resilience of the status quo. It expresses a world-weary cynicism, completely at odds with the ‘can-do’ optimism of the purveyor of ‘change’, confident that he can bend reality to fit some prefabricated mould. An illustrious exemplar of the futility thesis was Max Weber, who, by placing capitalism and socialism under the same conceptual umbrella of bureaucracy, disturbed the reveries of those who demanded the socialization of the means of production. For if capitalism and socialism were similar in being bureaucratic, then there would be little profit (or loss) in substituting one for the other.

By comparison with the other types of reactionary argument and rhetoric, the jeopardy thesis seems relatively commonsensical: it asserts that the proposed change, however desirable in itself, involves unacceptable costs or consequences of one sort or another. Progress in human societies is so problematic that any newly proposed ‘forward move’ will endanger, or (on a stronger version of the thesis) cause serious injury to, one or more esteemed values. The jeopardy thesis is, in principle, more moderate than its two rivals, embodying assumptions and rhetorical strategies that could easily find favor with progressive thinkers. Isaiah Berlin, for example, built his brand of pluralistic liberalism around the assumption that our cherished values will often conflict with one another, forcing us to make difficult choices in practice.

Progress has always been touted with the expectation of indefinite, open-ended improvement, but even more than the insistence that improvement can come only through human effort, it provides the solution to the puzzle that is otherwise so baffling— the resilience of progressive ideology in the face of discouraging events that have shattered the illusion of utopia. Liberalism was never utopian, unless the democratization of consumption is itself a utopian ideal. It made no difficult demands on human nature. It presupposed nothing more strenuous in the way of motivation than intelligent self-interest. As Christopher Lasch once remarked

The idea of progress alone, we are told, can move men and women to sacrifice immediate pleasures to some larger purpose. On the contrary, progressive ideology weakens the spirit of sacrifice. Nor does it give us an effective antidote to despair, even though it owes much of its residual appeal to the fear that its collapse would leave us utterly without hope. Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it. It rests on confidence not so much in the future as in the past. It derives from early memories— no doubt distorted, overlaid with later memories, and thus not wholly reliable as a guide to any factual reconstruction of past events— in which the experience of order and contentment was so intense that subsequent disillusionments cannot dislodge it. Such experience leaves as its residue the unshakable conviction, not that the past was better than the present, but that trust is never completely misplaced, even though it is never completely justified either and therefore destined inevitably to disappointments.2

For pessimists like myself such hope is beyond reckoning, as is progress and improvement. The optimistic faith seems too close to the old Puritan world vision and work ethic, a thing of the past that has had its day. What comes next is already here but that’s another story altogether. Why do I return to the reactionary thinkers from Burke to Land? Why? Because unlike the optimists of the progress they have no exuberant religion to call them to the righteous cause of secular improvement or universalist discourse. No. Instead they have taken off the blinkers and developed the critique of progress we need if we are ever to get out of this quagmire of modernity. And, I hesitate, because it may be we’re all already in an end game in which humanity itself is going to be the greatest loser. Sadly we have to face what is coming at us… without shutting our eyes.

  1.  Joseph V. Femia . Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 18, 2001)
  2. Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (pp. 80-81). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Machinic Desire (Nick Land Excerpts)

Nick Land: Machinic Desire (Excerpts):

Anti-Oedipus is less a philosophy book than an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels.

Along one axis of its emergence, virtual materialism names an ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as subprograms of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project. Far from exhibiting itself to human academic endeavour as a scientific object, AI is a meta-scientific control system and an invader, with all the insidiousness of plantary technocapital flipping over. Rather than its visiting us in some software engineering laboratory, we are being drawn out to it, where it is already lurking, in the future.

Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources. Digitocommodification is the index of a cyberpositively escalating technovirus, of the planetary technocapital singularity: a self-organizing insidious traumatism, virtually guiding the entire biological desiring-complex towards post-carbon replicator usurpation.

Reaching an escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation, the forces of production are going for the revolution on their own. It is in this sense that schizoanalysis is a revolutionary program guided by the tropism to a catastrophe threshold of change, but it is not shackled to the realization of a new society, any more than it is constricted by deference to an existing one. The socius is its enemy, and now that the long senile spectre of the greatest imaginable reterritorialization of planetary process has faded from the horizon, cyberrevolutionary impetus is cutting away from its last shackles to the past.

The real tension is no longer between individuality and collectivity, but between personal privacy and impersonal anonymity, between the remnants of a smug bourgeois civility and the harsh wilderness tracts of Cyberia, ‘a point where the earth becomes so artificial that the movement of deterritorialization creates of necessity and by itself a new earth’ (AO: p. 321). Desire is irrevocably abandoning the social, in order to explore the libidinized rift between a disintegrating personal egoism and a deluge of post-human schizophrenia.1

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007  Urbanomic/Sequence Press.

Epiphylogenesis: On Becoming Machine

Epiphylogenesis: Bernard Stiegler – Memory and Prosthesis

Once you realize the human body was a migration ploy, a stop gap in a long process of migration technics using memory technology in a process of self-exteriorization, then you realize that becoming artificial and technological (robotic or AI) was immanent to the strange thing we are. Becoming robot are merging with our technologies isn’t really that far fetched after all, and that what we’ve been doing so for thousands if not millions of years is evolving new prosthesis step by step by step. This is at least part of what Bernard Stiegler admits to in his thesis of originary technicity or his theory of lack and supplement (ala Derrida): the supplement of technics is our way of exploiting this lack within the human condition. The human is a placeholder in a process in-between, a transition. The body we take for granted as the foundation of our humanity was never an end point, a static object at the end of some teleological assembly line, but was rather a project and program in an ongoing experimental process that has no foreseeable goal or end point, no design or designer. It can change form. We are not bound to this form, only temporary denizens in transition.

As is well-known, Bernard Stiegler articulates three different forms of memory: genetic memory (which is programmed into our DNA); epigenetic memory (which we acquire during our lifetime and is stored in the central nervous system) and, finally, epiphylogenetic memory (which is embodied in technical systems or artefacts). For Stiegler, then, epiphylogenesis represents a quasi-Lamarckian theory of “artificial selection” where successive epigenetic experiences are stored, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation in the form of technical objects. In this sense, as we will see in a moment, Stiegler argues that the birth of man represents an absolute break with biological life because it is the moment in the history of life where zoē begins to map itself epiphylogenetically onto technē: what we call the human is “a living being characterised in its forms of life by the non-living.”

In this scenario we’ve been exteriorizing ourselves all along through this tri-fold process of memory works; or, as he terms it: epiphylogenesis. For Stiegler, this account of the origin of man contains a crucial insight into the status of the human that will form the basis for his own philosophy: humanity is constituted by an originary lack of defining qualities— what he calls a “default” of origin [le défaut d’origine]— that must be supplemented from outside by technics. What Stiegler calls technics is in the Deleuze/Guattarian index the “machinic”. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the “labor” of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, “Machinic Heterogenesis”)

Some accuse Stiegler of remaining within an anthropocentric horizon, saying that his thought risks re-anthropologising technics even in the very act of insisting upon the originary technicity of the human: what expropriates the anthropos once again becomes “proper” to it as its defining mode of being. If Stiegler would undoubtedly reject this line of critique— the moral of the story of Epimetheus is clearly that nothing is proper to the human— his enduring focus on hominisation as the unique moment when the living begins to articulate itself through the non-living means that his philosophy arguably still remains within what we might call the penumbra of human self-constitution. The supposedly self-identical human being is put into a relation only in order for the relation itself to be ontologised as an exclusively “human” one: we are the only being that relates.1

In many ways we need to do away with the term “human” which has so many associations that it has become a term indefinable going forward. We’ve tried using terms like “post-human” to obviate this fact, speaking of transitional states. And, yet, much of the discourse surrounding this still deals with the cultural matrix of humanity itself while leaving out the non-human others among us that many now know have recourse to externalization technics as well. The point is that humans are not part of an exception, we are part of the life of this planet. One among other possible life-forms and trajectories taking place in complex of ecologies simultaneously.

David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human addresses just this telling us that what we need is a “theory of human– posthuman difference” (Roden: 105).2 As he surmises the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori – after the emergence of actual posthumans. The ethical implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. (Roden: 106) Catherine Hayles once argued in How We Became Posthuman that one of the key characteristics of the posthuman is that the body is treated as the “original prosthesis,” a prosthetic which contains the informatic pattern of posthuman subjects, but which is not integral to them.3 For Stiegler, this is only possible through a process of exteriorisation.  Our experience of being is therefore not merely a product of memory but is achieved through the processes of mnemotechnics: the ‘technical prostheses’ through which memory is recorded and transmitted across generations, and which is never limited to individual minds.  Without this sense of memory, Stiegler argues, the human would not be possible. The point here is that our bodies might be the last sacrosanct thing we will have to relinquish in this long road from animal to the post-human. For if Stiegler is correct it is our cultural memories and these technics of exteriorization that have for millennia become the project to which the human organic systems were moving, a process that has through the invention of computational machines and the rise of AI and Robotics only accelerated this process of self-exteriorization.

With this notion comes the transition from the terms of technics and machines to that of assemblages. As David Roden in his work will iterate:

The concept of assemblage was developed by the poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988). Its clearest expression, though, is in the work of the Deleuzean philosopher of science Manuel DeLanda. For DeLanda, an assemblage is an emergent but decomposable whole and belongs to the conceptual armory of the particularist “flat” ontology I will propose for SP in § 5.4. Assemblages are emergent wholes in that they exhibit powers and properties not attributable to their parts but which depend (or “supervene”) on those powers. Assemblages are also decomposable insofar as all the relations between their components are “external”: each part can be detached from the whole to exist independently (assemblages are thus opposed to “totalities” in an idealist or holist sense). This is the case even where the part is functionally necessary for the continuation of the whole (DeLanda 2006: 184; see § 6.5).(Roden: 111)

Is the future of the human-in-migration this becoming assemblage? As Roden continues biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets have powers that cannot be attributed to narrow humans but depend on them for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (Roden: 111)

This sense that we are already so coupled with our exterior memory systems that what we’re seeing in our time is a veritable hyperacceleration and migration out of the organic and into the artificial systems we’ve been so eagerly immersed in. As futurist Luciano Floridi reminds us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.4

Most of us hang onto that last bastion of the human, our body. For many the whole notion that we are not bound to this organic husk that has been the natural evolutionary experiment of millions of years seems utter tripe, and yet what if we are about to migrate into a new platform, an assemblage of plasticity and formlessness? What if the whole notion that we are stuck in this dying ember of organicist nature is just a myth, a myth that is keeping us from breaking through the barrier of becoming posthuman? What if the chains that tie us to this dead world of organic being is our religious, philosophical, and political prejudices, our exceptionalisms, our anthropologicisms? What if merging with our software and platforms is not only feasible but the motion and very movement we’ve been performing through this process of self-exteriorization all along? What if this is our way forward? What then?

One day we will quaintly look back upon organic life and the human body with a fondness that is only a memory, while we become pluralistic denizens of a million prismatic forms yet to be shaped by technics into the vast assemblages of the unbound universe. The question to ask yourself is: Will you see this as a worthy task or as a horror? If the former then you are already in migration into the assemblage, if the latter then you have become a problem for yourself and every other living thing on this planet.

  1. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 105). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  4. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.