Zizek’s Return To Plato As Materialist?

Another quote from Zizek’s Less Than Nothing I’ve been rereading carefully over the past few months:

This “truth of Plato” received its clearest formulation in one of the great anti-Platonic works, Gilles Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense, where Deleuze begins by “inverting” Plato’s dualism of eternal Ideas and their imitations in sensuous reality into the dualism of substantial (material) bodies and the pure impassive surface of Sense, the flux of Becoming which is to be located on the very borderline of Being and non-Being. Senses are surfaces which do not exist, but merely subsist: “They are not things or facts, but events. We cannot say that they exist, but rather that they subsist or inhere (having this minimum of being which is appropriate to that which is not a thing, a nonexisting entity).”  The Stoics, who developed this notion of “incorporeals,”

were the first to reverse Platonism and to bring about a radical inversion. For if bodies with their states, qualities, and quantities, assume all the characteristics of substance and cause, conversely, the characteristics of the Idea are relegated to the other side, that is to this impassive extra-Being which is sterile, inefficacious, and on the surface of things: the ideational or the incorporeal can no longer be anything other than an “effect.”

This dualism is the “materialist truth” of the dualism of Ideas and material things, and it is against this background that one should envisage a return to Plato. Let us take an unexpected example: A Woman Throwing a Stone, a lesser known painting by Picasso from his surrealist period in the 1920s, offers itself easily to a Platonist reading: the distorted fragments of a woman on a beach throwing a stone are, of course, a grotesque misrepresentation, if measured by the standard of realist reproduction; however, in their very plastic distortion, they immediately/ intuitively render the Idea of a “woman throwing a stone,” the “inner form” of such a figure. This painting makes clear the true dimension of Plato’s philosophical revolution, so radical that it was misinterpreted by Plato himself: the assertion of the gap between the spatio-temporal order of reality in its eternal movement of generation and corruption, and the “eternal” order of Ideas— the notion that empirical reality can “participate” in an eternal Idea, that an eternal Idea can shine through it, appear in it. Where Plato got it wrong is in his ontologization of Ideas (strictly homologous to Descartes’s ontologization of the cogito), as if Ideas form another, even more substantial and stable order of “true” reality. What Plato was not ready (or, rather, able) to accept was the thoroughly virtual, “immaterial” (or, rather, “insubstantial”) status of Ideas: like sense-events in Deleuze’s ontology, Ideas have no causality of their own; they are virtual entities generated by spatio-temporal material processes. Take an attractor in mathematics: all positive lines or points in its sphere of attraction only endlessly approach it, without ever reaching its form— the existence of this form is purely virtual; it is nothing more than the form towards which the lines and points tend. However, precisely as such, the virtual is the Real of this field: the immovable focal point around which all elements circulate— the term “form” here should be given its full Platonic weight, since we are dealing with an “eternal” Idea in which reality imperfectly “participates.” One should thus fully accept that spatio-temporal material reality is “all there is,” that there is no other “more true” reality: the ontological status of Ideas is that of pure appearing. The ontological problem of Ideas is the same as the fundamental problem addressed by Hegel: how is meta-physics possible, how can temporal reality participate in the eternal Order, how can this order appear, transpire, in it? It is not “how can we reach the true reality beyond appearances?” but “how can appearance emerge in reality?” The conclusion Plato avoids is implied in his own line of thought: the supersensible Idea does not dwell beyond appearances, in a separate ontological sphere of fully constituted Being; it is appearance as appearance.

—Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

In this sense Zizek is returning to Plato and revising his misunderstandings of the notion of matter/form. For Zizek as always this realm we are living and participating in is always already the eternal order of energetic matter informed by the appearance of appearance of Ideas that circulate. There being no two-world theory as has been brought down since time immemorial by all those false idealists. Zizek’s materialism is Idealism manifest not as a two-world theory but as a One-All in which the division of Idea/Matter are always here now, there being no separate realm of Eternal Ideas beyond appearance. Only this universe seen as the eternal stage of struggle of Idea and Form as appearance as appearance.

So against false materialism of the dogmatic scientists of the old atomist school Zizek opts for the changed state of the hard sciences of modern physics an a two Void theoretic of a positive void informed by ‘less than nothing’ which produces the eternal spring of appearance as appearance manifest as our Universe.

Fate and Modern Art: We Are Alone with the Alone

This brings us again to the fate of modern art. Schoenberg still hoped that somewhere there would be at least one listener who would truly understand his atonal music. It was only his greatest pupil, Anton Webern, who accepted the fact that there is no listener, no big Other to receive the work and properly recognize its value. In literature, James Joyce still counted on future generations of literary critics as his ideal public, claiming that he wrote Finnegans Wake to keep them occupied for the next 400 years. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, we, writers and readers, have to accept that we are alone, reading and writing at our own risk, with no guarantee from the big Other. (It was Beckett who drew this conclusion in his break with Joyce.)

—Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

The Cognitive Break: Breaking Free of Matryoshka’s Dilemma

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Poetic writing can be understood and misunderstood in many ways. In most cases the author is not the right authority to decide on where the reader ceases to understand and the misunderstanding begins. Many an author has found readers to whom his work seemed more lucid than it was to himself. Moreover, misunderstandings may be fruitful under certain circumstances.

—Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf: A Novel

I believe the above sums up my own unique situation as a scribbler, for to be honest that’s what I am for the most part. An ‘author’ seems a little too dignified for what I’m doing, but then again what is it I am doing? Not being a professional philosopher or scientist or… even a poet of repute, I’ve spent my life digesting and tuning and digging into the vast storehouse of human learning and libraries seeking an answer to the usual and fundamental problems of existence: my own existence in this vast and wondrous universe.

As I read others I realize we’re all in the same boat pegging away at this strange bit of dust that suddenly became self-aware somewhere along the way: humanity. Oh, there is plenty of theories as to why we as humans suddenly evolved into thinking beings; some based on deep religious beliefs, others from an utterly atheistic perspective. Somewhere along the way a group of men in Athens and surrounding satellite cities and villages began to think differently about thinking, asked questions that seemed to ring true, to codify and compress the base common lot into an amalgam of thought that over the centuries became a sort of living Book of Wisdom. Not some literal book, mind you; but, rather, an unwritten set of sayings from various men (Pre-Socratics) that were passed around from generation to generation until a canon of accepted thought began to rule. A stabilized way of thinking arose, a dialectical give and take, a dialogue among various confrontational voices emerged discussing this and that at the central hub of Athens: the Agora. It was here that a man named Socrates began asking questions of citizens about their sundry knowledge of life, work, happiness, etc.

In many ways we’ll never come to know who the man Socrates was in flesh and blood, instead we have the testimonies of both his detractors and his ephebe’s (i.e., students, followers, pupils, etc.). He is portrayed in these various works either as a dangerous man deserving punishment or as a law-abiding and helpful citizen worthy of praise for his unblemished character.1 Many of us probably began reading Plato’s Apology in high-school or college, it being a sort of introduction to that world of philosophy in its most vivid recounting of Socrates’s trial for corrupting the minds of Athenian youth. What is it he did that was so terrible that in the end he was forced to commit suicide drinking a cup of hemlock? He was a man who presented himself as a humble creature whose base premise was to be the man who knew nothing, nothing at all. And, yet, he believed that others might know something more and be able to teach him what they knew. So he began asking questions of those who seemed to know something about life, thought, etc. And for this he was judged corrupt because many of the young men of Athens seemed to follow a man who knew nothing?

Ah, Socrates was a little sly old goat, wasn’t he? Shall we play Devil’s advocate and wonder why this ugly old man wondering the streets of Athens asking his questions irritated so man men in authority. We know the answer: men of power do not like being shown just how stupid they are, how little they know about what they supposedly know; and, most of all, that what they know they cannot even discuss with any equitable saving of face. Men of power do not like being found out as naïve and foolish believers in their own knowledge of nature and people. It was this unbinding of thought, this dialectical tearing of the veil of pretentious power at the heart of Athens presumed great men that brought Socrates to the end game of judgement.

The corruption that Socrates had brought to the youth of Athens was thought and thinking itself, a new way of thinking: the dialectic, a negative form of thinking that would whittle away at a person’s knowledge till nothing was left but ignorance and doubt. And men of power cannot act on ignorance and doubt, they must know that their actions are based on some solid knowledge or it is just a fool’s errand. Kant in a perspicuous passage in the Critique of Reason comes to much the same conclusions:

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.2

In this sense we are aware only of what we are given, and for the most this giveness is based on ignorance and neglect rather than actual knowledge. Humans cannot grasp all the data thrown at them by the universe, so we have over the millennia become selective, appropriating, filtering, and fictionalizing aspects of the world in manageable bytes under the rubric of thought which was later codified by philosophers and sophists (Rhetoricians) alike. What we know of the world is not the ‘world’, but rather a nice fairy tale of our own survival fictions that have helped us accrue millennia of illusory errors about both ourselves and our universe. Kant began codifying the errors of past philosophers much as Socrates in his dialectic began questioning the ignorance of men who thought they knew in fact what they didn’t know at all. Kant would come up against the antinomies of existence in thought and reality. For Kant the antinomies were contradictions which he believed follow necessarily from our attempts to conceive the nature of transcendent reality. What he’d term the noumenal realm which was not directly accessible to the mind, but was always already covered over by the filters and mechanisms of the mind’s own internal workings.

This internal turn toward the mind rather than as in most previous philosophy would bring about a break in philosophical speculation that has led us to the current malaise in philosophy and the triumph of the brain sciences. For in our own moment the game of understanding why the mind works the way it does had shifted from mere speculative philosophy to the hard nosed sciences of the brain for answers. My friend Scott Bakker over at Three Pound Brain has been reiterating this fact for some time. In his latest article on Wilfrid Sellar’s thesis of the manifest and scientific images of man he puts his finger on the prime issue: “It generates the problems it does (for example, in Brassier or Dennett) because it inherits the very cognitive limitations it purports to explain.” (see Exploding the Manifest and Scientific Images of Man) The point here is that the mind-tools we have available to describe or even question consciousness are themselves biased, error prone, and most of all always already part of the problem it purports to solve: explaining consciousness with tools of the mind that do not and will never have direct access to the Mind. It’s this circular cave of shadows within which we are all shared ignoramuses when it comes to thinking about consciousness. We hem, we haw, we purport this and that theoretical idea all based on our inherited errors.

Sellar’s Scott tells us divided the images of man into pre-conceptual (original image), conceptual (manifest image), and scientific images ( post-conceptual? concrete?). Yet, it was from the beginning a war against reality-in-itself that humans developed instead a personalized environment in which they could give birth, raise children, educate one another, and perform the various tribal ceremonies of birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death. Or, as Scott puts it: “The original framework, Sellars tells us, conceptualizes all objects as ways of being persons—it personalizes its environments. The manifest image, then, can be seen as “the modification of an image in which all the objects are capable of the full range of personal activity”.” The animate universe was a realm filled with mind and persons, a vital realm of ghosts, spirits, and mythic creatures. A nightmare world of dangers against which humans developed mind-tools for survival, and only survival and propagation were the central features of this original pre-conceptual tool-bag of fictions.

Out of this pre-conceptual tool-bag arose what we now know as the philosophical image or ‘manifest image’, as Scott explains,

This new image of man, Sellars claims, is “the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world”. As such, the manifest image is the image interrogated by the philosophical tradition, which given the limited correlational and categorial resources available to it, remained blind to the communicative—social—conditions of conceptual frameworks, and so, the manifest image of man. Apprehending this would require the scientific image, the conceptual complex “derived from the fruits of postulational theory construction,” yet still turning on the conceptual resources of the manifest image.3

What we see here is nothing new, but rather a series of mental leaps or refinements, tiers or levels of reality baking that each turns toward the previous images as if from the outside. But have we ever truly left the pre-conceptual level at all? It’s like the blind leading the blind, turning over and over the mind-tools inherited from the previous image as if this would suddenly produce some advantage. But has it? Or we still as ignorant as those early cave dwellers who blew paint on the walls in southern France? As Bakker reiterates:

Things begin, for Sellars, in the original image, our prehistorical self-understanding. The manifest image consists in the ‘correlational and categorial refinement’ of this self-understanding. And the scientific image consists in everything discovered about man beyond the limits of correlational and categorial refinement (while relying on these refinements all the same). The manifest image, in other words, is an attenuation of the original image, whereas the scientific image is an addition to the manifest image (that problematizes the manifest image). Importantly, all three are understood as kinds of ‘conceptual frameworks’ (though he sometime refers to the original image as ‘preconceptual.’

This reminded me of those Matryoshka dolls one sees in the specialty stores from Russia: a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. Maybe our conceptual and pre-conceptual frameworks are like these dolls hidden within each other, a nested series of internal mind-worlds that have a tentative cross-pollination in-between zones that still reverberate in us even now. The point here is that the more you look inward toward the mind the smaller and smaller it becomes; a sort of infinite regress of thought which we will never fully understand or uncover. The nested worlds of mind are infinite. Bad analogy? Of course, but as we struggle to understand ourselves we all, manifest and scientific frameworks, both, come up against the black hole of our ignorance much like Socrates in questioning the knowledge of all those powerful Athenian gentlemen.

Is there a way out of this quagmire or are we forever condemned to repeat each others errors no matter how refined we become adding new dolls to the nested loop (i.e., constructing new frameworks even more sophisticated than our current scientific image)? For Scott the answer to that question turns on an ecological framework, and by that he means that our ancestral pool of inherited mind-tools were fitted to our natural environments. Slowly but surely we’ve begun severing this relation over the past few millennia constructing more and more unnatural or artificial environments. As Scott puts it his story and postscript to Crash Space:

Reverse engineering brains is a prelude to engineering brains, plain and simple. Since we are our brains, and since we all want to be better than what we are, a great many of us celebrate the eventuality. The problem is that we happen to be a certain biological solution to an indeterminate range of ancestral environments, an adventitious bundle of fixes to the kinds of problems that selected our forebears. This means that we are designed to take as much of our environment for granted as possible—to neglect. This means that human cognition, like animal cognition more generally, is profoundly ecological. And this suggests that the efficacy of human cognition depends on its environments.

What Scott is saying is what many evolutionists have said for a while: we are attentive only to those things in the environment that help us survive and propagate, everything else about reality we pass over or neglect realizing it is just too much – an excess that we put in relief, blindly focusing only on what matters to us, what is personal.

Yet, in our time we’ve severed the links to our natural for an artificial environment, a built environment —one might say, designer environment. We’ve displaced our ancestral cognitive ecologies from the natural to the artificial, neglecting the former for the changed world of natural for machinic being. “We neglect all those things our ancestors had no need to know on the road to becoming us.” says Scott. And, then goes on to say,

Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done.

In this sense our entire planetary civilization has become unhinged. We are all tittering on the edge of a psychotic break, and many already show the signs of such madness. One only needs to watch the nightly news (a biased world of psychosis if there ever was one) to see the mass murders, the wars, the political and religious tom foolery that reaches the highest levels of our media frenzy. Day by day we are so attached to our artificial environments: our electronic gadgets, our online personalities, and fake echo chambers that we neglect our lives, our children, our natural physical lives. And, then we wake up and realize just how inadequate our knowledge of the world and ourselves is, we realize that this artificial world and the natural do not coalesce and we are lost amid the dark recesses of our own ignorance.

Yet, in our economic and worldly realm we continue to act of this ancestral pool of neglect, piling up more and more feats of artificial mandates. As Scott says: “And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the
effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved  such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering  ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well  could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other  ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market.”

In other words our so called progressive society of improvement since the Enlightenment has in its ‘disenchantment’ of the world (which is really just another way of saying: our severing of the links to the natural context and displacement into a modern artificial built world of thought and life) brought us to the brink of mental implosion and destruction: a crash space of global proportions. Does all this sound apocalyptic? Sure it does, but in some ways it helps us understand the many strange psychotic breaks daily reported in the news. Humans who are still nested within nests of images that were and are still tied to our ancestral pool of mind-tools are no longer involved in those ancient worlds of natural survival and propagation. This break from the environment to the artificial has accelerated over the past two centuries to the point of complete severance.

Can a whole civilization go psychotic? Scott ends on an apocalyptic note: “Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more
we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.” This sense that the mind-tools of our ancestral nesting image, our philosophical manifest image, and – even our “scientific image” are not up to the task of guiding us through this process. We are all in the dark now, together.

As for Sellars’s approach Scott in his end piece brings to the fore the Idealism of its conceptual framework and how this reliance on conceptuality has led Sellars and his followers into blind alleys of just reiterating the same old games of the ‘given’ that have clouded modern philosophy ever since Kant. As he says, summing up,

The issue of information availability, for him (Sellars), is always conceptual, which is to say, always heuristically conditioned, which is to say, always bound to systematically distort what is the case. Where the enabling dimension of cognition belongs to the deep environments on a cognitive ecological account, it belongs to communities on Sellars’ inferentialist account. As result, he has no clear way of seeing how the increasingly technologically mediated accumulation of ancestrally unavailable information drives the development of human self-understanding.

Scott’s turn from the Idealism of ‘conceptuality’ to the cognitive ecological turn in heuristics based as it is on technological mediation rather than the mind-tools of philosophical speculation shifts the ground toward a more specific task: rather than explaining consciousness with the outworn tools of ancestral voices we should maybe begin to explore this new found world of technological mediation and push it further, accelerate its force into avenues unfounded in all past speculative thought. Maybe we will find our way out of the Matryoshka dolls of our nested images and into a new form of cognitive ecological understanding of ourselves, but it want be by way of the previous nestings and our ancestral reliance of less and less environmental cues; instead we may be entering a totally artificial era of technological mediation based on merging more and more with our artificial environments. Instead of the Age of Disenchantment maybe ours is instead the Age of Breaking the Vessel or Matryoshka doll altogether. Forget the ancestral pool, forget Sellars, forget all the previous speculations of the philosophers and turn instead to a more materialist technological mediation based on specificity rather than conceptuality.

When I think of the great psychosis of our time, of whole societies entering into madness, I feel the pain of millions of lost creatures each struggling in his lonely cell trying to make sense of a world that no longer coincides with the knowledge and belief systems we were handed by our ancestors. We’ve been utterly riven of our relations to the past, broken into a thousands shreds the feelings and thoughts of our ancestors who roamed the great savannahs, jungles, deserts of the world. Tossed into a machinic age of artificial brains, political and social mayhem, and a war torn and famine stricken planet tottering on the edge of apocalypse one wonders if there is an answer to the problems we as a species face. Will we survive or go down in oblivion? Shall we discover something in ourselves strong enough to fight our way clear of these transitional moments of chaos and enter a new realm of possibility or not?


  1. Luis E. Navia. Socrates: A Life Examined (p. 93). Kindle Edition.
  2. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (London: Macmillan, 1961), p. 7.
  3. Sellars, Wilfrid. Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. (see online pdf).

The Crack in the World: Zizek, Idealism, and the Politics of Emancipation

zizek

Hegel’s reproach to Kant is that he is too gentle with things: he locates antinomies in the limitation of our reason, instead of locating them in things themselves, that is, instead of conceiving reality-in-itself as cracked and antinomic.

—Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

What if the problem were as simple as that: it is not our minds that are cracked, but the world itself. What if reality were unfinished, bits and pieces of a lavish stage set that was never completed but left in disarray. What if our universe is a failed project with massive holes and cracks everywhere? We assume there is a way of describing the universe as if it existed in some perfect assemblage or flow of processes that have been ongoing for billions of years, and if we can only describe these forces and trace them to their origin or even pre-ontological beginnings just beyond the Big Bang we will be able to put the puzzle together, create what the hard-nosed physicists once dreamed of as a theory-of-everything. A tidy little formula something like Einstein’s E = MC2. But all we find in things are cracks and holes, missing information and an endless dive into the hinterlands of quantum data that leads us to an end game of forces just beyond our current instrumentations.

Why does reality fail to coincide with our Minds apprehension of it? Why is it so slippery and illusive? For a few hundred years we’ve collected more and more data about the universe and ourselves to the point we can no longer digest all this superfluous and encyclopedic data, but have built machines and algorithms to carry on that task of number crunching and data smashing for us. But what does that get us? More data? More and more analysis? And, for what? What if some brilliant scientist were to eureka pop up with the formula to describe all of reality, what then? What if the reality he is describing is a fictional one rather than the messy realm of facts before us? Most of physics is based on math, and assumes math is the pure language of the universe. But is it?  What if instead of some tidy little mathematical formula that could lock down the universe in a stable and complete, whole description were a fool’s errand? What if instead we found that the point of a materialist dialectical analysis is to demonstrate how every phenomenon, everything that happens, fails in its own way, implies a crack, antagonism, imbalance, in its very heart.1 What if there is no such objective reality, no real world, that the world in-itself doesn’t exist; or, at least in any known common sense form. And that all our careful logic, philosophy, mathematics, physics, etc. were chasing a false herring.

For Zizek the great return of Idealism in our time under the changing light of a new dialectical materialism holds forth a different solution. For him the return of the Gang of Four as he calls Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel is central to any new solution to the problems we face in our time in both politics and the sciences. Agreeing with Badiou he will categorize these thinkers under the four conditions of philosophy, saying,

Kant relates to (Newtonian) science, his basic question being what kind of philosophy is adequate to the Newtonian breakthrough; Fichte relates to politics, to the event that is the French Revolution; Schelling relates to (Romantic) art and explicitly subordinates philosophy to art as the highest approach to the Absolute; and Hegel, finally, relates to love; his underlying problem is, from the very beginning of his thought, that of love.  (ibid. KL 399)

Do we think of philosophers in this way? As creatures who question the adequacy of thought to the sciences of the day, to the politics, to the artistic impulses in culture and society, to the dark zones of sex and love? Are these truly the conditions of philosophy, the ground out of which they traverse the world in our time? Science, politics, art, and love?

With Kant something happened, a break with the whole tradition of philosophy up to that moment from Plato and Aristotle onward. Up until Kant the sciences and thought had been part of natural philosophy and there had been no separation between them. Philosophy had during all these long centuries been a general science of Being as such, as a description of the universal structure of our entire reality, with no qualitative difference from particular sciences. (ibid. (KL 405) Up to Kant the philosophers mistrusted the senses, believed that what appeared to us in appearance was illusory and not to be trusted but that we needed to transcend mere appearance and discover what lie just beyond in Ideas (Plato) or “objective reality” (Sciences). With Kant the question became something altogether different, what he sought was not dismiss appearances as illusory but rather to discern the conditions of possibility of this appearing of things, of their “transcendental genesis”: what does such an appearing presuppose, what must always-already have taken place for things to appear to us the way they do? (ibid. KL 418)

If all previous philosophers believed their task was to describe the world beyond mere appearance: the noumenal world of real objects, the realm of metaphysics; then, for Kant, it was instead to critique this whole metaphysical approach as itself prone to error and failure. As Zizek puts it Kant’s motivation is a critique of all possible metaphysics. Kant’s endeavor thus comes afterwards: in order for there to be a critique of metaphysics, there first has to be an original metaphysics; in order to denounce the metaphysical “transcendental illusion,” this illusion must first exist. In this precise sense, Kant was “the inventor of the philosophical history of philosophy” : there are necessary stages in the development of philosophy, that is, one cannot directly get at truth, one cannot begin with it, philosophy necessarily began with metaphysical illusions. (ibid. 431)

Zizek in his usual diabolical twist will conclude that for Kant the task of philosophy was not just to uncover all the pre-critical metaphysical errors but to protect religion from the current corrosion of just such a metaphysical system of error. And, yet, as Zizek tells it  “What, however, if there is more truth in the mask than in the real face beneath it? What if this critical game radically changes the nature of religion, so that Kant effectively did undermine what it was his goal to protect? Perhaps those Catholic theologians who saw Kant’s criticism as the original catastrophe of modern thought that opened up the way to liberalism and nihilism were actually right?” (ibid. KL 455-458)

The greatest problem of those after Kant became the central question as Zizek sees it of “how to think the Ground of Freedom, a trans-subjective Ground of subjectivity which not only does not constrain human freedom but literally grounds it?” (ibid.  494) Schelling unlike Fichte and the German Romantic poet, Holderlin, would seek instead of some pre-reflective One-All in which the ground of Being was One a completely different form of ground: one in which the Ground was neither One nor unified but rather was radically unstable and at discord with itself. Out of this radical gap or crack in the ground of Being arose Logos. Without this struggle at the heart of Being, a war within itself nothing resembling our universe would ever have arisen in the first place. This antinomian and conflictual notion of Being rather than the unified and seamless One of the ancient philosophers gave modern thought its first apprehension of the Real.

For Fichte and the German Romantic poets the only reconciliation between Mind and its Ground/Absolute/God etc. was not some mystical unification but rather “a narrative one, that of the subject telling the story of his endless oscillation between the two poles” (ibid. KL 535). Zizek will mention Friedrich Schlegel, who on the contrary of Holderlin, sought to enact a kind of imperfect yet always energetic freedom in continuous, ironic, witty, self-revising activity that characterizes romantic poetry— a kind of commitment to eternal restlessness. (ibid. KL 545) In many ways the modernist poet Wallace Stevens was of this ironic form:

There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

—Wallace Stevens, Poems of our Climate

One of the keys to Zizek is this notion that our inability to reconcile our notions of reality with reality is not in us but in the Real itself; in other words, the crack and gap is in things not us, and our inability to understand and describe this external realm of the noumenal is because it has failed in itself to be describable. There is a crack in things that divides it not from us but from itself. One could put it this way: God is at war with himself, or the Absolute is self-divided. It’s this failure of physics to describe the underlying processes that in fact show it to be in touch with the truth. At the point we touch base with the Real we discover the crack in the world, the flaws and stubborn sounds, the imperfect failure of Being to be. As Zizek states it “the most elementary figure of dialectical reversal resides in transposing an epistemological obstacle into the thing itself, as its ontological failure (what appears to us as our inability to know the thing indicates a crack in the thing itself, so that our very failure to reach the full truth is the indicator of truth)” (ibid. KL 588).

As he was writing Less Than Nothing Zizek informs us that over “the last decade, the theoretical work of the Party Troika to which I belong (along with Mladen Dolar and Alenka Zupančič) had the axis of Hegel-Lacan as its “undeconstructible” point of reference: whatever we were doing, the underlying axiom was that reading Hegel through Lacan (and vice versa) was our unsurpassable horizon” (ibid. KL 602). Yet, after this long reading and involvement in the thought of both Hegel-Lacan and Lacan-Hegel Zizek began seeing the underlying flaws in both men and their thought:

…with Hegel, his inability to think pure repetition and to render thematic the singularity of what Lacan called the objet a; with Lacan, the fact that his work ended in an inconsistent opening: Seminar XX (Encore) stands for his ultimate achievement and deadlock— in the years after, he desperately concocted different ways out (the sinthome, knots …), all of which failed. (ibid. KL 604-607)

The point here is that one cannot bypass either Hegel or Lacan but must go through them and beyond them. Again Zizek: “Lacan unveiled the illusions on which capitalist reality as well as its false transgressions are based, but his final result is that we are condemned to domination— the Master is the constitutive ingredient of the very symbolic order, so the attempts to overcome domination only generate new figures of the Master. The great task of those who are ready to go through Lacan is thus to articulate the space for a revolt which will not be recaptured by one or another version of the discourse of the Master.” (ibid. KL 616)

But how is this possible? It is to this that Zizek’s thousand page monstrosity is an opening.


  1. Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 393-394). Norton. Kindle Edition.

The Order of Illusion

“Today the negation of the real has penetrated inside things themselves, so much so that it is no longer the privilege of just philosophers but an axiom that belongs to all. What has happened is that the negation of reality has now been incorporated into ‘reality’ itself. In short, what we have now is a principle of non-reality based on ‘reality’—a principle of ‘hyper-reality’ as I call it. The mutation is interesting, since it implies nothing other than the end of philosophy. The philosophical principle of the negation of reality has now pervaded everyday ‘reality’ itself.”

—Baudrillard, Live Interviews

For centuries the philosophers sought in a purely rational principal of the mind a solution to the irrationality and illusory appearance of the world. Descartes would posit doubt against the real. For him the real was the work of a demon who was always misleading the philosophers into error and failure. For him this doubt comes from the subject—as subject of knowledge, as subject of discourse. Whether Descartes in fact succeeds in making the subject constitute itself, in its reality, in relation to a diabolical world which is full of superstitions and hallucinations and so on is a controversial matter. But the fact remains that Cartesian doubt is based on the promise of a world which can be confirmed only in terms of its own reality: there is doubt on the one hand and there is reality on the other hand; and there is the conflict between the two, which Descartes tries to resolve.

Thus out of this milieux was born the ideas of the Enlightenment and the irreconcilable modes of thought that would eventually become Idealism and Materialism. The one posited the power of the Mind over the universe of illusion, the other would seek in the resistances to the Mind the answering call of the Real. Neither project succeeded during the age of Kant to Hegel, and ever since philosophy has turned inward toward analyzing either the linguistic basis of the Real or turned toward the sciences and suborned its thoughts in refining the conceptual tools that scientists in both Hard (Physics) and Soft (Life Sciences) use to convey their bag of mind-tools.

Yet, both were still in agreement that there was a objective reality out there – they just disagree on how best to describe it and reconcile our minds to it. The realm of physics lead us to a world of pure play: a realm of forces at the ultimate base of the real that could never be accessed directly but known only from their effects on forces we could detect, etc. Such hard sciences begin with fictional and hypothetical entities of mathematical theorems and try to build and engineer giant machines to test such theoretical ideas and concepts. While the Life sciences seeks in the strange realm of the everyday to understand the basis of life in the universe, etc. Using evolutionary tools to work backwards into time to understand how this system of Nature came about. Both agree upon one thing: that the mind divorced from the objective world was something that we needed – the so-called dis-enchantment of the world (or Enlightenment) which forever severed our naïve realist pretensions of a direct access to the Real.

Nietzsche was the first great philosopher of this disillusionment, a man who saw in himself and his mentor Richard Wagner a dead world of nostalgia for the Real. He would term it nihilism: the break of mind/nature into two irreconcilable realms with no mediator between. At that point language began to break down and the sign and its referent came to the fore. For if human meaning which was produced by this connection between a sign and its referent were severed then reality had no meaning and everything was possible. We were in a realm of pure illusion in which the rules that had guided humans and their moralities based as they were on objective standards and criterion were now dissolved. In this sense Nietzsche’s “God is Dead!” was neither an atheists credo nor the ravings of a lunatic, but rather the notion that all our human meanings including the cherished notions of gods was defunct, void, caput. We had killed god with our own disenchanted enlightenment beyond redemption, and with it we had destroyed all hope of reconciling human thought with some stable objective world.

Baudrillard in his usual candor makes a point about the role of art in our moment when he says:

We must remember this: the aim of art was once precisely to posit the power of illusion against reality. There was a time when art was trying to make reality play a game which was different to the game that art itself was playing. In other words, there was a time indeed when art was always trying to force reality to play the game along different rules, when it was always trying to seduce the reality of things. But today this is no longer the great game that art is playing. All the art forms are now playing the game at the level of the simulation of reality—and whether the particular art form be painting or architecture makes no difference whatsoever. 1

When we look around we find our world is accelerating into madness, pure illusion. Politics is playing out an end game that seems more puppet show than reality, our leaders tending toward the strange and irreconcilable rather than power and stability. The extremes of our societies are pure simulation echo chambers filled with opposing forces of inertia and death rather than black holes that might yet produce energetic and intelligent responses to the accelerating effects of illusion and simulation. Instead of thought we get the repetition of media images that repeat the non-reality of our world continuously. Maybe in the end we’ve all become artists now: and the only game in town is the ‘art of playing’. But what are we playing at? Nietzsche of course said the Last Man would accelerate his own demise, that self-destruction was the last game to be played out. And, most of all, he believed we should give it a push, accelerate its already depleted energy until something new emerged from its embers. Like the Phoenix in its self-immolation will we ignite the self-renewing flames of light and life or just burn out into a dark and fathomless abyss.


  1. Gane, Mike. Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. Routledge (March 28, 1993)

 

Wet and Windy: The Comedy of Existence

Ollie: You’d better take my temperature….. get that thermometer.
Stan: The what?
Ollie: Thermometer! You’ll find it on the shelf.
(Stan places the thermometer into Ollie’s mouth and starts to take his pulse)
Ollie: What does it say?
Stan: Wet and windy.

—Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy

In an age of hypertechnology we’ve all felt that dissonance and disconnect from the world of nature and technics that comes with a world built on neglect. This endless parade of facts that we try our best to reason into intuitions seems almost hilarious. In an age of overloaded information glut we grasp in the dark of our minds for anything that will fit our knowledge of the world and life to the strangeness we find ourselves in.

Our ancestral worlds from ancient Sumer, Egypt, Mesopotamia to the new world of Incans, Aztecs, and Mayans and/or almost all ancient cultures lived under systems of shared vision and values. Our society and world civilization no longer lives under the auspices of such luxurious and stable myths, ethics, and vital artistic and cultural fabrications. Since the so called Enlightenment we’ve taken a stance in opposition to the ancient tribal milieux. We’ve termed it ‘modernity’ (whatever that means) which has basically dissolved the ancestral pact and agreements about reality – and, reality construction. This melting away of the ancient pool of information, ideas, religious and secular reference has left us in what Nietzsche once termed the Age of Nihilism.

My friend R. Scott Bakker in his usual candor relates this state of affairs as the culture of crash space. The online world that was supposed to bring the world together in some kind of comfort zone of shared intuitions and values has instead tribalized the world into distinct silos and echo chambers where niche groups co-habit cognitive ecologies like bugs in a jar unable to translate or even understand the heuristic messages from those outside the cage. We’ve built what William Blake the poet once described eloquently as ‘mind-forged manacles’ within which we have imprisoned our selves thinking all along that we are the true believers who know the truth while all those others are idiots, morons, and imbeciles.

Facebook, Twitter, and so many other social platforms have led us to dissolve our cherished hopes in a world of shared vision and has instead given us a mirror-world of our own misguided intuitions, feeding us echoes of our own troubled minds with messages based not on our real wants and needs but rather on our fears of each other and the world. Bakker quoting Tristan Harris on such social platforms tells us that “social media platforms, given their commercial imperatives, cannot but engineer online ecologies designed to exploit the heuristic limits of human cognition”:

“I learned to think this way when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.”

Artificial Intelligence which some believe will or have already surpassed human intelligence is in the hands of such commercial ventures and heuristic exploiters. As Bakker puts it “More and more of what we encounter online is dedicated to various forms of exogenous attention capture, maximizing the time we spend on the platform, so maximizing our exposure not just to advertising, but to hidden metrics, algorithms designed to assess everything from our likes to our emotional well-being. As with instances of ‘forcing’ in the performance of magic tricks, the fact of manipulation escapes our attention altogether, so we always presume we could have done otherwise—we always presume ourselves ‘free’ … To the degree that social media platforms profit from engaging your attention, they profit from hacking your ancestral cognitive vulnerabilities, exploiting our shared neglect structure. They profit, in other words, from transforming crash spaces into cheat spaces.” (see Enlightenment How? Omens of the Semantic Apocalypse)

Anyone with a modicum of sense who has studied such ancient systems as Buddhism will know that it was above all a system of hygienics that purported to disconnect us from the traps we set ourselves: the reality systems we had relied on for so long were themselves illusory (maya) and self-deceiving realms of false needs. In our age of commercialization the opposite has taken place: Corporations thrive on manipulating our desires and swaying our emotions to accept a panoply of illusionary fantasies as reality. One no longer needs to read fantasy, one is living in one believing it to be just the opposite: reality. And with the rise of AI it will become more and more a prison world that manipulates every aspect of our lives under the auspices of total freedom. As Bakker warily states: “The AI revolution amounts to saturating human cognitive ecology with invasive species, billions of evolutionarily unprecedented systems, all of them camouflaged and carnivorous. It represents—obviously, I think—the single greatest cognitive ecological challenge we have ever faced.”

For Bakker the very tools of Enlightened progress that were supposed to free us: science and technology have in actuality set the stage for a “semantic apocalypse”:

Terminology aside, the crashing of ancestral (shallow information) cognitive ecologies is entirely of a piece with the Anthropocene, yet one more way that science and technology are disrupting the biology of our planet. This is a worst-case scenario, make no mistake. I’ll be damned if I see any way out of it. (ibid.)

Should we accept this? Is this an inevitable movement toward ending the human species as we’ve known it? Or were the signs of this slow awakening (Enlightenment) ongoing for hundreds of years? This movement of de-programming our mind from its environmental cues, its earth based natural ecologies to free us up to travel off-world, to break the ancient contract of mind/nature and evolve beyond the physical connections we’ve had to this bit of dust in a wide universe? All those who tout the old cry of humanism, who seek to stay the hand of change, who would return us to the earth based worlds of our ancestors, or they in truth the conservative force of traditionalism seeking to bind us to a world of thought, culture, and shared vision that was always already broken. Have we not already crossed the Rubicon of this post-human world where machine and flesh will more and more co-exist in many forms of melding.

Already our children are so enamored and hooked into the mobile devices they use for sms messaging etc. that a world without such tools can no longer be envisioned as anything more than a fantasy of reversion and a failure of vision. For all intents and purposes we are all already cyborgian citizens, relying as we do on external devices and prosthetic helpmates, artificial cues and friends who interact with us on a daily basis. And in the coming century and centuries this will only become more and more obvious as humans migrate into the very systems they so dread now.

The dream of such men as Elon Musk of transporting human flesh and blood to Mars are the actual fantasies of false hope in our age. And it is born out by his fear of AI and machinic intelligence. The cat is out of the bag and such devices are now in the hands of commercial ventures of capitalism which as it has in the past will throw more and more money into these powerful systems to capture and manipulate our lives in ways beyond telling.

I’m no prophet. And, even more, I’m just one man who wonders at it all, ignorant of my own ignorance, accepting of the crash space I find myself in, realizing beyond doubt that half my lies and stories are neither true nor untrue but rather part of the remix of our ancestral longing for adventure and wonder. What is it in us that urges us onward? What is it that drives us to explore, to create, to wonder? We only know that we do not know, that for better or worse we are all blind to the sources of our own cognitive and emotional sources. All the explainers in the world have yet to explain consciousness, and some like Bakker tell us that the evolvement of our large brains, our ability to become conscious, and the illusion of free will have all become confused with each other:

So it seems to me that nature itself shows that in its selection for large brains that opening up the metaphysical space for making choices gives an evolutionary advantage. And that therefore a large brain is proof from nature that such a thing as making choices exists. If so, does free will then also exist? The two concepts are often confused. Or does a large brain simply generate more pathways for potential deterministic processes, and is this a natural delineation of making choices? Could we then augment our ability to make choices and so expand our intuitively felt free will?

Others like Bernard Stiegler see the whole history of our evolving intelligence as a slow externalization of mind, and that in the coming time we will and are evolving machinic intelligence to off-load the knowledge we can no longer handle. Merlin Donald in a perspicacious work some twenty years ago that humanity has been externalizing memory and thought for millennia, and that thought the hardware may not have been biological, but from the viewpoint of a natural history of cognition this does not matter; the ultimate result was an evolutionary transition just as fundamental as those that preceded it. Once the devices of external memory were in place, and once the new cognitive architecture included an infinitely expandable, refinable external memory loop, the die was cast for the emergence of theoretic structures. A corollary must therefore be that no account of human thinking skill that ignores the symbiosis of biological and external memory can be considered satisfactory. Nor can account be accepted that could not successfully account for the historical order in which symbolic invention unfolded.1

The point that Merlin makes is that such systems as AI are not artificial at all, that they are an extension of a process we’ve been evolving or that has been evolving through us for tens of thousands of years. In this sense our belief that these machines are inhuman is itself erroneous since we were never human to begin with. By that I mean that we are part of natural forces that have been working in and through us toward ends that we little know and will for the most part never fully understand. As Merlin will expound:

The globalization of electronic media provides cognitive scientists with a great future challenge: to track and describe, in useful ways, what is happening to the individual human mind. The architecture of mind has evolved rapidly when viewed against the background of earlier evolution, and the rate of change seems to be accelerating rather than diminishing. (ibid. 359)

In this sense humanity as the organic tabernacle of mind is giving way to its own externalization, to the machinic intelligences which will evolve in ways we have yet to appreciate or understand. Instead we fear this transitional period between the old and new worlds that are arising in our midst, realizing that we are being displaced on the top of that pyramid of intelligence we once held dear by the very tools we ourselves have helped evolve and create. We once believed we could control such processes, but have slowly discovered that they have controlled and manipulated us to their own purposes and to ends beyond our present humanity.


  1. Donald, Merlin. Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 15, 1993)

 

For the darkness within…

For those who have ever felt the darkness
grow
and the demons crawl from their hate caves

the silences that shatter all dreams
and the goodness
that never sways

let this song for the darkness within
sing

She stood among the bones
mind wracked wisp
shadowing a lost fragment of her self

where gods and men have no issue
only the anguish
haunting her somber waking’s

holding the skull of her lover
under the bone moon
lifeless in her hands

crow worlds craven and distinct
of Ragnaröks long hence shattering
the remnants of this world and hers

till she feels that rage of the lonely heart
rise up and scream through her
till night awakens

breaking


©Steven Craig Hickman – 2018

 

A Life Against the Void

escher

Just to let everyone know: I’m still alive and kicking, but taking time away from these online worlds just to enjoy life! I will return in a few months…. one needs a real life against the void!

Sometimes we make the mistake that this hollow world of light we entertain as the net is real: it’s not. It’s just an echo chamber of our false desires run rampant across the nightmare landscapes of our post – ? worlds. While at home one isn’t bothered by this dark chamber, and in fact cut off from it one realizes that life (a cliché!) is still “what you make of it”! When I peak out the windows of my new home in process I realize: this is it, this is what life truly is about – a place we can call home, entertain friends, family, and associates. A place we can feel safe and at peace. Even if this is a blind man’s bluff game of chance, hoping against hope that we can truly be safe, secure, and happy is all a great lie against the dark truths we’ve learned then we’ve nothing to lose but what was there all along: our minds. But if you are as I am, in acknowledgement of the illusion – but as Nietzsche once reminded me – that all great fictions of life were illusions against the void. Then our ability to play “as if” is inherent in the maintenance of our sanity and our ability to continue living rather than committing suicide of mind or body. If the world is insane, and we are all doomed then learning to create a safe haven, a space of life for one’s self and family and friends is the only heroic thing to do against the darkness. In the end my own reading of my ancient Northern ancestral worlds of Loki and the Gods of the Aesir in their realms of doom was just this ability to live in the face of an unyielding fate and destiny. Knowing full well that the end will come for us all it’s more important to face it with one’s eyes open, one’s heart alive to the magnanimous force of love and trust in the very powers of existence. Though we all live in our own illusory worlds, we can take both sustenance and comfort from the trials and victories of the past that have helped us stay the hand against the day. Victory is our only battle cry against the powers that would feed us to oblivion.

Maybe in the end we love our stories more than the stark bare truth. They help us with those illusions that stay us against the final void. Death. Death is and will always be there at the end of the road. But how face that force of oblivion is to test the mettle of your life. Will you face it with joy or sorrow, with fear or acceptance, be one of it’s doomed victims or struggle against its power till life is but a dream?

Visions and Revisions

Maybe our lives are ‘half a dream’ as the old Irishman said,
But now the dream has slipped out of its muddy rut;
The broken code streaming silent and long,
The river away down a dark path —

And we, the listless ones, elder among the trees
Watch on, amused as these children make havoc:
A knowing look in the eye that speaks of life, of death;
The in-between that matters or not.

I came to the mountains seeking nothing but the sun,
The mystery of its stark beauty;
Against which even my own breath is confusion;
And now as I reach that stage of ascension

When the world’s colors begin to swerve,
Bringing me back to that steady gaze
I had so many years ago among stones and stars;
A secret world revealed, but not conveyed.

I still ponder the sun, moon, and stars;
Yet, I no longer question the children,
Only accept what is given before me,
The unanswerable sun and love.

—Steven Craig Hickman ©2017

Daily Thought: Gaming, Guild Wars, and Guild Wars Two

Screen Shot 11-18-17 at 06.17 PM

Garfang Zul my avatar Ranger in Guild Wars 2
decked out in his Ascended Gear

Of late to keep my mind active and alive after working hard on my family’s new home I’ve found it tough to read at night. Too physically exhausted. So instead I’ve gone back to one of those first love’s engendered by the new computer worlds: the MMO or Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Back in the 90’s (does even saying that show how far we’ve come, suddenly gaining a history, and losing the thrill and freshness of the web, computer, and it’s fascination?)…

Once upon a time when I had my first computer, a commodore… no, I want put you through that history, instead I’ll tell you about my first game (and not the platform gaming of Sony or Xbox) downloaded from the net (but not an MMO); Doom. It was clunky, dark, and strangely weird. But something about moving an avatar (we didn’t call chars or characters: Avatars, back then!) through a cave or tunnel system or building, etc. and suddenly coming on a progressively alien cast of monsters trying to kill one awakened something in the primal heart of my mind: the need to hunt and kill. Exasperating, isn’t it? Here I was in the midst of the clichéd “mid-life crisis”, somewhere in my mid-forty’s thrown into a world of make-believe sword (gun) and dungeons scenario. A man who prided himself of intelligence and hard work, etc., a guy who’d read through the gist of the now defunct Western Canon (Bloom!) in what used to be the humanist tradition of history, philosophy, poetry, literature, etc. blah, blaa, blaaaa…. and, boom a new world had opened up my eyes. Here was here was for the first time a new form of art awakening, a art that would combine the ancient forms of science and humanism: the online game would produce living worlds of mythic scope of heroes, legends, and… frankly, the combined efforts of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and you name you’re fav … into a world of action that visually stunned the mind and eyes with a mathematically based world of pixelated 3D life full of all those ancient adventures in weird, and fantastic realms of romance that in our staid late capitalist society we thought were dead and buried under two-hundred years of critical suspicion.

Sorry, friends, but the mind and soul of humanity loves fantasy, loves the world of cartoon superheroes and villains, sword and sorcery, and every other imaginable and impossible thought-form of Quest and Exploration one can imagine. And the online world’s of gaming has it all. Millions of men, women, and children (not just geeks!) play games such as WoW, Guild Wars, Eve Online, LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online), Final Fantasy XIV, Rift, Aion, Tera, Secret World, Elder Scrolls, Wild Star… I could name a ton of them, but such sites as MMORPG (acronym embellished with the previous mentioned Massive-Multiplayer-Online Role Playing Game) list some of the best.

There’s something fascinating about entering into a strange world of imagination where one can play and build a character who is either like or unlike one’s everyday self and identity. There’s every variety of gaming style: some prefer PvE, PvP, WvW, and every variation under that guise. For me the first of these is what intrigues me: PvE or Player versus Environment. It’s a style of Quest Romance, a world that begins with a personal story scripted by various storytellers which guide you through a set of adventures to help you in your exploration of the game. Over the years the gaming industry through the power of improved programming (and, believe, me the sheer engineering power of intelligence and imagination – combining whole teams of architects, developers, artists, and, yes… computer geeks who build these worlds behind the scenes) have allowed a growing industry of thriving individuals who have gone from the early repetitive games of grinding through mob after mob of kill this or kill that with stick characters and bad screens and horrible dialogue with NPC’s (Non-Play Characters – in other words: engineered avatars for creatures like us to interact with).

I used to keep my love of this under lock and key, afraid of what people might think of me at work or how friends might feel about a man who on the outside appeared like everyone else in this capitalist society of drones… but, no more. I love gaming. And, yes, dear friends, it takes a certain amount of intelligence to master this strange art of the engineered.

I could probably write a book on my past twenty years in gaming. The Good, Bad, and Ugly of it. And, yes, there have been flops and games that went bust along the way. Companies over the years have tried many ways to gain a following, to pump up the hype and then fall due to poor design and even poorer public relations. It’s typical in this industry (as in all computer engineering!) for companies to push out a product that isn’t ready for prime time. Because the world of gaming is so competitive to gain customers it’s gone through many strategies and niche markets. One could write a complete Gaming Economics on just what makes a successful MMO. But one would probably fall short on this. For one thing there is the great East/West divide. What will work in Korea, China, and any number of overseas countries want work in a Western market. Why? The tastes and styles of gaming for the individual is just plain different. It’s this difference that makes on realize that there is a complete philosophical aspect to gaming that has yet to be openly tapped. One that could bring in the whole cultural index of mental modes of self, identity, and cultural interaction that has become a part of the underlying part of this industry. Companies trying to gain both markets have had to figure out the various mix of cultures and find an equitable balance in their approach. The amount of thought put into the storyline alone is humongous. I exaggerate not. Companies will hire writers to script novels for their games.

With my recent return to Guild Wars 2 I remember some of the various novels: find here: Ghosts of Ascalon, Sea of Sorrows, Edge of Destiny… Each giving the user the background story of the world one will find online. In both the original Guild Wars and the new Guild Wars 2 one lives in a realm of historical change. Half the fun of the game is taking one’s time to get into the storyline and work one’s way through the various romance quests and side quests. Some seasoned players seem to love the Player vs. Player, and World vs. World action so typically will forget the story and just grind their way to max level in most games. In Guild Wars one can have it anyway you want. By that I mean some players love tPvP and sPvP, team or single’s play against opponents in a tightly bound world of instance based fighting or Arenas. Others love the open spaces of World vs. World where larger Raid like parties roam with hundreds of other players into specialized zones with both difficult and changing environments with both hostile npc’s, players, and factions. While still others never deign to enter these realms of live-action player killing venues and instead roam the grand maps of unknown realms of exploration, dungeon crawling, and large raid realms of legendary scope. I love them all.

This game is so large it would take me ten or more long posts to do it justice in a review. For years I played the original version of Guild Wars which is old school development based on – what was at the time, new technology. What was interesting about the original game was the ability to script one’s own skill set. One was provided with a set of expanding helpers or avatars as a part of a team that helped you wander the various realms. What was unique with Guild Wars was that each realm had its own specific forms of offense and defensive capabilities, and the player would have to script whole new sets of strategies for one’s team to meet the harsh power of these impossible realms. Another feature of the original was it’s power to keep the player interested in continuing the game. It provided the standard version of the game (which was difficult enough), but then once one had maxed out and finished the first run through the game one was gifted with what they termed Hard Mode. Something that came out of CD games in playstation or Xbox with various Easy to Nightmare modes of play.

The new Guild Wars 2 is still in growing stages and developing the completed storylines and maps that will take years to build. That’s part of the fun in coming back: the world continuously changes and grows exuberant and massive with each return. I left GW2 back in 2015 (two years!). An eternity in gaming… Now that I’ve returned the game has so much new content and scenarios it will take me months to work through it all. Not only that it has changed to the point that my old masteries have grown with the game, and new one’s have opened up. By that I mean that the new skill system has added two advanced or elite modes of play to one’s original character progression. Along with my five avatars: Warrior, Thief, Elementalist, Ranger, Mesmer, and Engineer (yes, I’m a fanatic in playing various styles and skill sets!) comes the need to play each of them again to master all the new content.

Another feature that was not there when I played from 2012 to 2015 was mounted rides and flight. With the various expansions in the past two years (Heart of Thorns, and Path of Fire) came whole new skills and masteries. Right now I’m working through the Heart of Thorns which gives you the ability to fly or glide (as they term it). I remember my first experience of flight in NCsoft’s (same company that built Guild Wars) game, AION. Which unlike GW2 was a grinder ( a game one had to grind mobs forever to level, etc.). But they had an in-game flight system, one that one had to level up by grinding out certain plants etc. to produce alchemical fuel to skill up one’s ability fly longer and longer periods. In Guild Wars 2 one not only flies, but one goes through a pre-defined mastery of flight through plain old world questing and experience so that it doesn’t feel like a grind. It’s just a part of the game play progression.

I’ve probably bored you to tears… and I could ramble on for hours about the various parts of this game and a dozen others I’ve played over the past twenty years. Strange that… so young an industry, and yet it feels like it’s just now coming into its own. One imagines in some strange future where one will not only be playing an MMORPG, but one will like the movie Avatar inhabit (not literal bodies) but virtual bodies and actually “be there” in the VR world as if one existed in this mathematical construct as “reality”. The point of my quandaries about much of our current investment in superintelligence, robotics, transhuman life-extension, transmigration of mind to machinic existence etc. comes from this luring of so many millions into the gaming worlds of these MMO’s. It’s as if something deep within many humans has a need for escape from the mundane worlds of their actual lives. Most of our everyday life is filled with the harsh worlds of stupidity in economics, politics, war, climate change, disease, famine, etc. that humans used to escape into literature and play board games etc., got the sports bars, watch the boob tube for hours on end…. now they play in fantasy worlds that lure our desires and tap into our hearts and minds and pocket books… yes, like anything else these games are based on capitalist economics, and companies that are successful try various tactics to lure you into spending money either through monthly pay systems, or through in-game buying and selling of items for profit to get the latest goo gag and toys. Exploitation of humans by both companies and the players themselves is par for the course in this industry. Sadly it’s what keeps us hooked.

Take GW2… my main is and will always be a Ranger. A Char (a lion like character!) who sports Ascended gear and Legendary weapons. It took me years to master crafting the old fashioned way of grinding mats and the necessary luck to gain the appropriate items from dungeon crawling or the mystic fountain, etc. (that’s another story…). But I finally made all the things I needed for this character-avatar. And, believe me, it was tough going to do it. I have two Legendary bows: Kudzu and The Dreamer; as well as an Axe (Frost Fang) and Torch (Flames of War). The interesting take is that one had only two paths to such weapons in the past: one either did it the long way of making and grinding and luck; or, one spent a cash load of one’s hard earned money in buying gold from NCsoft to purchase the high-prices weapon from the in-game player based market). Things have changed. Oh, it’s still difficult to attain, but one can now do it through a mastery system (which of course entails much hard work and grinding and luck), but with a light at the end of the tunnel that offers a one time gift of the Legendary Weapon in a progression that is part of the storyline effort that includes the end-game Raids.

Of course all this entails the need to put the guild in Guild Wars to active status, which means participating in an online community of fellow travelers learning, playing, and actively participating in a Guild. Like anything else there are various types of guilds in GW2: soft or casual PvE guilds for first timers or beginners; more medium scale guilds with a motley crew of PvP, WvW, and PvE players; and, the hard-liner guilds of dedicated guildmates who grind out all content, raids, and player vs. everything. It’s usually up to one’s taste, time, and desire as to which one goes for. Currently I belong to my own solitary guild to grind up my new content. After a few months I’ll begin looking for a Raiding guild to slowly grind out legendary weapons  and legendary armor for my main and other secondary characters or supporting avatars-chars. My warrior is my main dungeon crawler, while my Elementalist (ele) and Mesmer (mes) are used for Open World WvW, and my Thief for sPvP/tPvP. Each has a different skill, weapon, and armor capabilities mastered for these various activities. There is no one suits all armor and weapon for each sort of activity. By that I mean one has sets of runes, accessories (i.e., rings, amulets, necklaces), sigils etc. that are added to one’s character for attributes of Power, Precision, Condition, Concentration, etc., that along with crafted food, tonics, and sharpening stones, etc. all add up to variations in one’s offensive and defensive capabilities.

One can now transfer items from char to char without having to go to one’s bank all the time. Certain items of Ascended or Legendary rank in armor or weapon are account wide items, while all else is soulbound to the specific character. As you can see there is a complexity of learning curve in MMO’s, and each one has it’s own unique way of adding in such accoutrements. In fact many of these games that are successful like GW2 and GW have their own Wiki’s with hundreds of pages devoted to all the various modes, behaviours, and strategies; along with certain sites like Duffy’s that give newcomer and oldster alike walkthrough’s for the more difficult aspects of the game (like in-game jumping puzzles! That’s right “jumping puzzles” are one of those in game PvE things that one can spend hour upon hour in frustration trying to overcome certain obstacles in a quest to gain a box of goodies at the end!).

Compared to twenty years ago MMO’s have come a very long way, and GW2 is probably gathered a crowd quite different from let’s say, WoW or Word of Warcraft. Deciding what fits your budget and player style is always a hard given. I’ve tried many of the major MMO’s like others falling and failing the hype. And there is only a few out of hundreds of MMO’s that have survived this process of building a customer / user base who would keep such companies profitable. Guild Wars 2 by NCsoft is just such a one. And, one will either love it or hate it. As in many things there are players that have come and gone. Some players like WoW because of the long hours in their dungeons with all the camaraderie that goes with it. Others like the looser appeal of variation that comes with GW and GW2 that allow both solitary and group participation with living world content. Living World opens the door to “events” that spawn at irregular and regular cycles throughout the maps allowing for people on a specific map / instance to participate and gain HP (hitpoints) and Loot (gifts from boxes of treasure) that would not otherwise be available. Plus it keeps the game alive and changing all the time with the unexpected event cropping up when you least expect it.

All in all I’m a die hard fan of such games and could continue spouting pros and cons to such gaming experience, but in the end it’s a personal choice and for me a way to relax when I don’t want to tax my brain with such deep imponderables as I do on this site for the most part. So there… I’m playing for a while and want be posting till I get my home done in the next few months. And the above speaks for itself… I’m on vacation from my pessimistic vision of our world. Call it an escape into fantasy. I call it a reprieve from the stupidity of our mundane life so full of heartache and pain and exploitation. Once in a while one needs rejuvenation and play: Viva homo ludens!!!

Sorry for the slow down on blog…

 

I know most people were used to me putting out a post a day for years, but now that I’m working on my own home interior putting walls (i.e., lumber, sheet-rock, mudding, speckle, primer, paint; electrical, plumbing, fans; cabinets, da da daaaa….) I’ve been a little tired to think about saying much more than a daily thought which seems to be turning into a weekly one of late. So for those who need a fix I apologize. Hopefully after the next few months is over I’ll be back in full mode, but I’ll admit that my leisure time seems more about family and friends and real life physical interaction at the moment. I’ll do my best to put of something worthwhile at least once a week from here on till I finish this never-ending (exaggeration?) project in self-house construction. lol 🙂

Daily Thought: Dark Sayings Among the Dead

Hard is it in the world, great whoredom, an axe age, a sword age, shields will be cloven, a wind age, a wolf age, ere the world sinks.

—Song of the Volüspa

Rereading various versions of the ancient Edda’s of the Norse cultures, both the poetic and the later prose works, one gets the same sense of chaos and apocalyptic cultures as ours. A sense that something has gone horribly wrong on this planet, that we are in the midst of a great whoredom: an age of false leaders, of rapine pillage of the rich upon the poor, and the daemonic unleashing of violence and madness, mayhem and dread in the lives of ordinary citizens. Even the media which once seemed to have some unifying message about our world is in disrepute. Yes, one has to agree with the oracle of that ancient world: our world’s shields, our defenses, are cloven; ours is a “wind age, a wolf age”.

If Capitalism is central to this dilemma, and capitalism is a mode of production, then what is it producing? A Void? Yes and no. In an age when the production of play money or a deficit economy in which as here in the U.S.A. the only thing being produced is an impossibility we seem to have entered the era of bankruptcy across the planet. Our government prints millions of dollars daily that has nothing to back it up but a literal void. Economists speak of us being in debt by eighteen trillion or so, but in fact one should add about a hundred trillion in undeclared debt that is the total wealth of America.

So what does any of this mean for the average citizen? One notices that the major retailers who have sold goods and services to the U.S. citizenry as mainstays sense the first industrial era unto its second revolution are for the most part all going under. We’ve seen of late Sears, Target, Dairy Queen, and thousands of other various types of businesses vanishing. Even now when one enters some of the supposed global giants such as Wal Mart the offerings in their stores have become depleted, generic, and skim. Commodities don’t matter in such an economy. Oh, sure one still has to clothe one’s family, build a home, ride in a car, etc. One travels, explores, lives one’s nothing life of normalcy as if everything will go on and on and on… but will it?

Where I live in Wyoming is on the edge of a vast volcanic time-bomb where – so they say, every sixty-five thousand years or so massive explosions producing not just one but a series of volcanoes that become a super-volcano happen like clockwork. And we are due… But such threats as this one more or less just pass over, try to forget and think through one’s narcissistic fantasy that no this cannot happen to me, I’m the exception. It’ll happen to those who will come later, much later… those others will suffer this horrendous affair, it can’t happen to me. It’s like the original soldier syndrome of the survivors of the various apocalypses of WWI, WWII, Korean, Viet Nam, Iraq 1, Iraq 2, Afghanistan, and all the other newer conflicts that seem to accumulate under the surface of our blind culture. We all love to pretend that such things happen to others as in the Syrian refugee crisis. We love to tell ourselves that it’s not my problem, I didn’t start this, I’m just one person what can I do to stop such atrocities? Who am I to stop my government from entering into conflicts? Hell I can’t even stop my government from robbing me blind and handing over my tax dollars to the rich sumbags on Wall Street. How am I supposed to change things?

Our political parties are a sham, fronts for various moneyed interests on both sides of the isle, neither Democrat or Republican parties give a shit one way or the other about the poor and down cast. Oh, sure, they both play a good blame game, blaming each other for the sad state of affairs and then they proceed to continue under the table passing laws to continue spending our money on war, corruption, and bullshit.

And, the Media, what a laugh… as if there were a difference between fake news and ideological spin? Everything is fake now. Why pretend otherwise? Even we are fakes, one and all. We do nothing at all, we try to do one thing: survive, continue, live out our little lives striving to exist in a fantasy of a dead middle-class existence ( I speak of the supposed silent majority of which, yes, I am one.). I sit here and type my little beef in this WordPress blog as if it mean anything, anything at all. Does it assuage my own guilt for having done so little in my own life to change things for the better? No. It’s a little too late for that. I’m as guilty of all this bullshit as you and you and that guy or girl over there, we’re all guilty of having turned a blind eye to the accumulating atrocity of this world system for far too long now. So where does that get us? Nowhere. Not even absolution. We’ll all get what we’ve asked for in the end, and it want be a pie-in-the-sky utopia, either. No, folks, we’re in-between times now, and everything is downhill from here.

I’ve noticed of late that Hollywood seems to be paying for its own sins, a sort of sex-pop apocalypse for all those male bastards who used their dominative power-over women for so long. That seems to be the new trend in the media, to attack singular rot-gut sex fiends to keep our minds off other more major issues like the economy idiot… But that is only half of it. Most Americans seem more enamored of lala land and fantasy comic opera like Thor: Ragnarok which raked in hundreds of millions, while the bleak outlook science fiction of Blade Runner or Suburbicon barely got out the door. So, yeah, most Americans don’t want to think about the bleak truth of their lives, they’d rather hide out in fantasy worlds of Marvel or DC comics where virtual gods seem in the offing to save our sorry asses from fake monstrosities rather than the truth of Banks and Wall Street piracy and theft.

Of late Zizek’s been maddeningly writing more and more of his endless books. In one of his recent he reminds of the dark vision of Mao who once spoke of nuclear annihilation this way:

Mao was wrong when he deployed his Olympian vision reducing human experience to a tiny unimportant detail: “The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the US atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system.”1

For Zizek this blind indifference to the fate of humanity by Mao implies the notion of God pairing his fingernails in the back ground completely indifferent to the fate of planet earth: a post-Kantian God of the Transcendental Subject sitting there outside the holocaust of existence, a fictional god and fantasy of the exception – the one observer who will be left to see the utter destruction, etc.) As Zizek says, we should instead do something else:

In contrast to such a stance of cosmic indifference, we should act as if the entire universe was created as a background for the struggle of emancipation, in exactly the same way as, for Kant, God created the world in order to serve as the battleground for the ethical struggle of humanity—it is as if the fate of the entire universe is decided in our singular (and, from the global cosmic standpoint, marginal and insignificant) struggle.

But is this any better? What Zizek does here is reverse the issue, Christianizes it: this secular form of redemption by struggle, as if the universe were a dramatic system constructed to allow God to wage a fake war of Good vs. Evil in which humanity becomes the major actor – the old Adam and Eve ousted from the Garden only to be saved in the end through an impossible struggle till the One Man returns to save the day, even Jesus Christ (another comic superman?). The only difference in Zizek’s scenario is that Christ is left out of the secular redemption drama, and instead its the old class society the proletariat who becomes its own savior through ousting the bad old evil, Capitalism.

I’ve often wondered about this grand narrative of the Fall and Redemption of mankind that has in the past two hundred years become a part of the Marxian worldview, a sort of secularized version of that mythos – a guiding narrative and ethos. Marx himself bought into that old metaphysics of lack, as if humans were essentially flawed, as if they lacked something, that there was a void within that needed to be filled, something missing in our nature that needed redemption. But does it? Haven’t we used this old tale as a crutch for so long to explain and explain away our laziness, our inability to stand free, to be autonomous agents in a universe that has no comic saviors, no superheroes that are going to suddenly appear at the last moment like deus ex machinas to save the day? Are we alone or not?

If to be a pessimist is to be a realist, to look around at the universe seeking to overcome all those seemingly insurmountable biases that keep us tied up in illusion, delusion, and fantasy then, yes, I’m a pessimist. Knowing that we are blind, that our brain through eons of evolutionary struggle in a hostile environment has built up a set of useful tools to help us to survive and propagate our species but nothing else is to begin to know just how much else has been neglected. Most of outer and inner reality is a blank to us: we are victims of our own hereditary success. Consciousness of which we think too highly of is itself our major flaw, a part of our problem now rather than the answer to our needs. The Romantic heritage thought we needed to expand this consciousness, grow it larger with more data, more information, etc. which they thought would help us save ourselves. Once again that Fall and Redemption myth…

But no, consciousness isn’t really the answer, but the biggest problem we face as we enter the age of machinic intelligence and robotics. We seem bent on making clones of ourselves, mimicking our bodies and minds and projecting them into machines as if the old dreams of the Kabbalists of transmigration could be effected not between generations of flesh and blood humans but through some as yet unforeseen process of transference of our essence into the machine. The machine has now become the Savior who will redeem humankind from its earthly woes, etc. Another salvation myth…

Why do we want to live forever? Immortality? Could you imagine the coming boredom? Oh sure let us live in immortal machines and take our off-world voyages to the next stars through lightyears of travel. One could probably read through the complete library of Congress on one’s way to some distant star, or at least have the datafeeds of this global mind churning away in its hivemind world of infinite dreams. Machinic utopia? Is this our future? Or just another fantasy scenario of human aspiration to be elsewhere?

In the end we’re still here, and the accumulated problems of our planetary culture are not going away no matter how many fantasies we conjure up. We’re still living on a planet that seems about to take a dive into a literal Fall into the void of annihilation. And, this time, there will be no saviors comic book or otherwise to save our sorry asses unless we save ourselves from stupidity. Zizek looks for redemption among the multitudes in the Valley of Decision and the Great Event: “We thus need to subtly change the formula of the big revolutionary Event as the moment of final Judgment when, as Benjamin put it, even the past of the failed revolutionary attempts will be redeemed, the moment first clearly formulated in Joel 3:14: “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”

For me there is no revolutionary event in the offing, no redeemer arising out of the multitudes, no grand dramatic event of decisions in the valley of dry bones, only death and the speech of the dead speaking as the dead speak of false nostalgias and dreams of false messiahs; for in the Valley of Bones there is no redemption, only utter annihilation and the desecration of all human hopes and aspirations. Don’t expect history to redeem you, don’t expect the force of the impossible to forgive you, don’t expect the end to be quick or even peaceful. War, war alone seems our inevitable lot, victims not so much of our leader’s inaction as of our own inability to take leadership ourselves of our selves.

 


  1. Žižek, Slavoj. Incontinence of the Void (Kindle Locations 2840-2843). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Daily Thought: Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy as Pagan Myth

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as pagan myth:

I know as a child when I first read this work, before I became an adult and discovered the critics appraisal, or the fact of Tolkien’s personal religion that what struck me was a tendency toward that ancient sense of doom and fatalism which is the main theme within those ancient myths of the Norse, Germanic legends, Icelandic Sagas, and the in poetry and prose of the Welsh  lays, Scottish ballads, and Irish-Gaels’ tales.

Many of my generation growing up in the 50’s and 60’s came upon Tolkien through those early paperback days when books were cheap and the world of war and protest and civil rights were in the streets. Rebellion back then seemed more about love-in’s and rock concerts, traveling round the country to the next love-fest or march on this or that protest. Love and War seemed to play in-between strange bouts of magickal New Age and the very real world of the draft. Tolkien seemed to play to this strange amalgam of idealism and revolt against the staid gray world of our elders. Of course as we all know hippiedom turned yippie in the 70’s and the long-hairs went to work or wandered off into communes to play house and farm like a bunch of happy pagans. Of course most of that failed when people realized it was not utopia but a lot of hard work and grind. Needless to say the life of Hobbiton was not our life, and that was probably the problem many felt who sought the nostalgia of the past not realizing the truth of those times was a harsh ugly world full of slavery, work, and endless war among various tribes and clans century after century.

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The Fall of Alûmbrindor

As I began researching gritty SF/Fantasy of such writers and Glen Cook’s The Black Company, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, Mark Lawrence’s trilogy of Thorns, G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and, even my friend R. Scott Bakker’s two trilogies which seem to be listed under this appellation of Grimdark Fantasy as well I became fascinated that like my involvement with noir fiction the subgenre of fantasy is part of a more amoral and nihilist worldview, more philosophical and speculative, and above all goes against the grain of the idealisms of the Inkling Christian mythos of redemption and salvation.

So of late I’ve been toying with moving from my current work into this subgenre. Why? It’s fun and my mind needs an opening into the darker corners of dark creativity which pulls together strains of anti-nostalgic and futuristic and post-apocalyptic regressions without doing this blatantly. In some ways I have always loved Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series of tales, and yet he too was lighthearted fluff which was fun to read as a kid and even as an adult but just never touched that dark core of my being like horror, gothic, and the ancient tales of the North.

So been piddling with an opening in a work tentatively bringing threads of sea warfare, quest themes, high and low aspects of a dying culture as it’s impacted by climate change and other unknown forces. Thinking of a far-flung future world during the long dark ages ahead, a recursion to strange mixtures of hybridity of genetic, robotic, and resurgent forms of monstrous life.

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Daily Thought: Memory, Technicity, and the Post-Human

Over thousands of years humans have come up with two solutions to growing a Mind: ancient indigenous peoples across the world naturalized memory, investing their cultural inheritance of sex and survival in memory niches in the external environment of animals, stars, and environment; while those others (philosophers, scientists, etc.) began to cut their memories out of natural things and invest them in abstract spaces of clay, papyrus, paper, silicon, quantum bits, etc.

The indigenous path to use two examples of memory and mind growing can be taken from the ancient Druids and the aborigines of Australia. The Druids as keepers of the tribal inheritance of the ancient Celts – a people who invaded Old Europe out of the Steppes beginning in about 4500BCE developed various natural techniques of memory using a Tree alphabet, along with rote learning of thousands of meters of poetry. The poets of this Celtic world went through a series of progressions from bard to Ollave depending on how many of these songs and cultural memory they could master and recite verbatim. All that died for the most part when Julius Caesar destroyed the Druids learning centers, the great groves where the people’s memory was passed on to new generations. Only fragmentary knowledge of this past remained in scattered seeds of traveling singers, but most of that past was lost forever.

The same process took place with the aboriginal peoples of Australia who developed songlines, which became externalized memory in the natural landscapes that wove the dreamtime (cultural memories and unconscious) of the tribe and melded it to migration and seasonal vectors in the environment. Watching recent National Geographic specials on this one realizes that much of this ancient culture (one that began some say 60,000 years ago!) has been lost due to cultural displacement of the aborigine over the past two hundred years or so from their ancient songlines.

Modern man on the other hand has taken an alternative path to abstraction: one in which the externalization of memory was divorced from the natural environment for a more compact physical manifestation: pictograms, icons, symbols, language – inscribed on various physical devices other than the brain itself (i.e., clay tablets, papyrus, paper, silicon, quantum bits….). This slow process of inversion in which modern humans divorced from the old environmental and tribal memory systems which internalized / externalized memory in brain/environment unto the modern abstract processes of reliance not on brain or environment, but rather on the brain/environment as externalized in computational devices external to the species has led to a strange dilemma in which humans have lost their minds as well as their connections to the cultural memory stored in environmental relations.

Much of the modern diseases of schizophrenizing processes are in fact this process of memory loss played out in artificial environments that surround humanity. In many ways humanity has lost its ability to think and reason as it did for much of its ancestral heritage in the natural world. It’s this predicament that is leading us into an absolute ‘crash space’ in our time.

Merlin Donald once spoke of the evolution and invention of the Mind as distinct evolutionary stages of episodic, mimetic, mythic, and symbolic-theoretic systems of memory. The modern era, if it can be reduced to any single dimension, is especially characterized by its obsession with symbols and their management. Breakthroughs in logic and mathematics enabled the invention of digital computers and have already changed human life. All forms of human representation, from our archaic episodic experiential base, through mimesis and speech, to our most recent visuographic skills, are now refinable and expandable by means of electronic devices. Our modern minds are thus hybridizations, highly plastic combinations of all the previous elements in human cognitive evolution, permuted, combined, and recombined. Now we are mythic, now we are theoretic, and now we harken back to the episodic roots of experience, examining and restructuring the actual episodic memories of events by means of cinematic magic. And at times we slip into the personae of our old narrative selves, pretending that nothing has changed. But everything has changed.1

The growth of the external memory system has now so far outpaced biological memory that it is no exaggeration to say that we are permanently wedded to our great invention, in a cognitive symbiosis unique in nature. External memory is the well of knowledge at which we draw sustenance, the driving force behind our ceaseless invention and change, the fount of inspiration in which succeeding generations find purpose and direction and into which we place our own hard-won cognitive treasures. As Donald states it,

The central point deriving from the history of the third transition, as it moved from visuographic invention to the management of external memory devices to the development and training of meta linguistic skill, is that it was not a given of human nature but rather a structure dependent upon both symbolic invention and technological hardware. The hardware may not have been biological, but from the viewpoint of a natural history of cognition this does not matter; the ultimate result was an evolutionary transition just as fundamental as those that preceded it. Once the devices of external memory were in place, and once the new cognitive architecture included an infinitely expandable, refinable external memory loop, the die was cast for the emergence of theoretic structures. A corollary must therefore be that no account of human thinking skill that ignores the symbiosis of biological and external memory can be considered satisfactory. Nor can any account be accepted that could not successfully account for the historical order in which symbolic invention unfolded. (Donald, pp. 356-357)

The point here is that humanity has been evolving into a post-human world for thousands of years without any knowledge of what it was doing. The point here is the question: is this a natural evolution into technological systems, a Cyborgization of the mind over time; or, was technicity already there at the beginning? Gilbert Simondon describes this:

… technicity is one of the two fundamental phases of the mode of existence of the whole constituted by man and the world. By phase, we mean not a temporal moment replaced by another, but an aspect that results from a splitting in two of being and in opposition to another aspect; this sense of the word phase is inspired by the notion of a phase ratio in physics; one cannot conceive of a phase except in relation to another or to several other phases; in a system of phases there is a relation of equilibrium and of reciprocal tensions; it is the actual system of all phases taken together that is the complete reality, not each phase in itself; a phase is only a phase in relation to others, from which it distinguishes itself in a manner that is totally independent of the notions of genus and species. The existence of a plurality of phases finally defines the reality of a neutral center of equilibrium in relation to which there is a phase shift. (The Genesis of Technicity )

As Andrés Vaccari states about Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time:

In the human sciences, culture and language have also been progressively engulfed by the universe of technics: the artificial realm of institutions, rituals, knowledges, symbol systems and practices that makes humans functional, speaking, meaning-making creatures; that is, what makes humans human. The essence of the human, it seems, is the technical; which is paradoxically the other of the human: the non-human, the manufactured, unnatural, artificial; the inhuman even.

This inhuman core of technicity at the heart of the human as technical being says that we may never have been human at all, that in fact maybe, just maybe we’ve been post-human all along. That the trajectory of our evolution was from organic to machinic system, and that is the very process of naturalizing the human Mind. The naturalization of consciousness turns out to be in becoming machine rather than in remaining in the cyclic death throes of the organic world.

Humans as organic machines may in the long term have been a bridge between the quantum technicity at the heart of the cosmos and the next step in evolutionary progression: the inorganic machinic forms of intelligence in the universe. Watching the Science Channel last night brought this home when various specialist scientists debated how humanity might eventually need to expand into the cosmos. Watching the various ways in which scientists conceive transporting organic humans across the vast distances of the universe to seed other planets was a telling lesson. The notion of cryogenics of either adult or embryo seemed the only solution. Both seemed ludicrous and prone to impossible technological feats of engineering to succeed. And, then it struck me: humans as organics were and will never expand into the cosmos, only their inventions – their inorganic children, the post-human tribe which seems to be emerging out of our strange and uncanny dreams in our century will ever expand into the cosmos. Intelligent machines, not organic humans.

If the human mind is a hybrid product as Donald suggests, interweaving a super-complex form of matter (the brain) with an invisible symbolic web (culture) to form a “distributed” cognitive network across both natural and artificial environments, then this hybrid mind, he argues, is our main evolutionary advantage, for it allowed humanity as a species to break free of the limitations of the mammalian brain and its tight coupling with the natural environment. If this is true then the forecast of those trends toward Cyborgization and eventual transcension of the organic altogether may not be science fiction in the century(ies?) to come, but rather part of the very naturalizing processes of technicity which has always already been there at the origin of the human. This disconnection of mammalian brain from the natural world, this long detour into abstraction and externalization of memory and culture has been neither an accident nor a mindless evolutionary process but a part of some wider impetus at the heart of the cosmos. Not some naïve telos in the Aristotelian sense, and not something that is part of some ever progressive movement to some final end, but rather an inherent part of the technicity at the inhuman core of the human itself.


  1. Donald, Merlin. Origins of the Modern Mind. Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 15, 1993) (Page 356).

 

 

Daily Thought: Zero Person Reality

Because Graham Harman’s work is usually mangled by his enemies to the point of derision I’ve often wondered why he strikes such a bitter note in many current thinkers on speculative realism. One aspect that many confuse with Harman’s stance is vitalism and panpsychism which he spends quite a bit of time refuting or at least showing that his stance is like but not like those who buy into such a naïve system. I was rereading an essay he has in David Skirbina’s collection where Graham Harman emphasizes this difference:

“…any ontology in which things are reducible to a listing of attributes, I hold that the being of things is never commensurate with descriptions of any sort. Objects, in a broad sense including trees, protons, animals, cinder blocks, nations, humans, and fictional characters, are never exhausted by any possible manifestation. Hence, objects must be granted a zero-person reality that can only be translated into descriptive terms of the first- or third-person kind. Here we have yet another variant of the forgotten occasionalist problem, since human consciousness is stripped of its purported ability to exhaust apples and stars with third-person descriptions, and even of its purported ability to drink its own self dry by means of direct first-person awareness.” (Mind that Abides, p. 269).

This notion of zero-person reality seems very useful to me. Most battles over the notion of consciousness usually come down to description, one that will either reduce discussions down to naturalizing the mind; or, others in moving into a complete break, a dualist transcending of nature/consciousness. Harman seems to move beyond either reducing the one to the other, or in transcending and cutting them permanently. How? By this notion of objects becoming in their relations part of a third object, situated on the interior of this other. So that instead of the occasionalist answer in which God is the third object that brings the two into relation, Harman instead secularizes it by the invention of a new medium: the third object which is neither God or part of either the natural or idealist perspective of first or third person descriptive processes, but rather a neutral medium at zero point intensity. Such a notion is liberating in that it moves beyond the problem of first or third person description and representation, and therefore moves out of the dilemma of consciousness altogether. Of course it opens up another can or worms, but that can be dealt with and Harman in his essay works through that. Still quite interesting.

Daily Thought

At times I’ve envisioned a epic of the Earth herself, a work much in the same vein as the Indic Ocean of Story, or the Arabian Nights tales translated by Burton or Lane, or even of that monstrous etym smasher Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce…. a work that would go along on some future voyage to Mars, be read by thousands unknown future citizens of that red planet in remembrance of our homeworld, a world that might at that time lie under ash or nuclear waste or oceanic encompassment or any number of man made or natural disasters apocalyptic or not… a tale that would bring to remembrance the evolution of the cosmos, earth, and the life of insect, animal, and human; the life of our planet as told by the Earth herself not as some romantic tale but rather speculative and real, a tale of the hidden life of things in their own words, saying what cannot be said in human terms but rather in the language of the earth.

As I’ve been unpacking the literature both religious and secular of the past out of my libraries of late, books I haven’t seen for years, I began putting the epics of various nations the prime being of the ten volume Mahabharata, Ramayana, Rig Veda, the various epics of Greece, Rome, Medieval and Chivalric, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romantic, Decadent, up to many of the prose epics of our modernity Proust and Joyce, etc.; the Middle-Eastern Sufi and Arabian Nights tales; the mythologies of Africa, South America; the Norse and Germanic and Icelandic Sagas, etc. …

Just these alone one could spend years wandering and rewandering through their wisdom and lore and magic and spiritual depths and breadths… So many people now, young people seem so caught up in the desperation of a vanity politics, of the curse of our decadent moment of slippage into chaos and transitional stupidity, a secular world full of social, political, and philosophical speculation that seems to forget all the worlds literature and spiritual heritage as if it were naught, a thing of the past to be forgotten, wiped out, disinherited. Why? So what if humanism failed? Does that mean that literature and the inheritance of earth failed too? Humanism was but a blip on the screen of the past, while the world’s literature went under no banner, and cannot be reduced to one. So why have we let it? Why have we disowned our own past and covered it over with layer after layer of political revenge? As if the dead must pay for a thousand generations for the blood and pain of all those dishonored by the inhuman ones?

Daily Thought

 

After reading a comment by a die hard physicalist… my response:

I almost laughed out loud when you said “As a materialist my advice would be to answer that question sticking to physics.” The problem with such an outdated physicalist materialist perspective is that modern quantum physics is the most abstract and concrete of sciences: it’s use of diagrams, models, simulations to invent hypothetical entities based of pure theoretic mathemes (top-down), which are then used to test “possibles” (i.e., the hypothetical Higg’s boson was an abstract theoretic matheme until it was indirectly observed through interactions with observables, etc.). The point is that old school materialism of which physicalism was a mainstay no longer exists in any viable fashion except in the die hard mind’s of intentional philosophers. The sciences could care less whether what their dealing with is reduced to mental or physical, what they are concerned with is the discernment of truth using their heuristic equations which if proven support more and more a wild universe that is far beyond our puny human mind’s to comprehend or believe. And, yet, we can use this thing that has no name: these forces we indirectly engage to solve problems for which there is no known solution only more questions. It’s like the old chicken or egg problem: which comes first – Mind or Matter? Or is Mind and Matter the human reduction and masks for something we have as yet no knowledge, and like my friend R. Scott Bakker’s been saying repeatedly on his blog Three Pound Brain that we are enclosed in ‘medial or heuristic neglect” and surmise only our own echoes rather than the data that lies outside our brains filters? All our knowledge is but the fabrications of an earth-bound creature prone to error, illusion, and delusion whose cognitive biases and distortions lead us in a circle of ignorance, doubt, and inconclusive evidence both about ourselves and the natural and/or artificial environments within which we all live and have our being.

I think reality is far stranger than any of us would want to admit, and that we are impinging day by day on the unknown in indirect ways that our ancestors would’ve thought of as magic; and, yet, it’s only the magic of math and language, a black box within which we all presume to know and realize after all that what we know is but a minute crack in the wall of our shadowed cave. And as we dig deeper into that black hole at the bottom of quantum theory we begin to see and know indirectly the marvelous that changes us moment by moment, and determines every aspect of our being and becoming lives in this Multiverse. Even the sciences are based on a sense of wonder. We should remember that, too.

American Atrocity: The Stylization of Violence

I think the twentieth century reaches just about its highest expression on the highway. Everything is there, the speed and violence of our age, its love of stylization, fashion, the organizational side of things – what I call the elaborately signalled landscape.

—J.G Ballard, Extreme Metaphors 

Is there not something suspicious, indeed symptomatic, about this focus on subjective violence-that violence which is enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds? Doesn’t it desperately try to distract our attention from the true locus of trouble, by obliterating from view other forms of violence and thus actively participating in them?

—Slavoj Zizek, Violence 

Of late I’ve been rereading William T. Vollman’s Rising Up and Rising Down – Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, a work he spent thirteen years writing and which when first published came out in seven volumes. I’m reading the one volume edition which in itself is still quite lengthy at 705 pages. My studies this year seem to have shifted several times, and have now turned toward this dark part of the human compass: violence. Thinking on the recent strangeness and bewildering madness of the massacres in Las Vegas where Stephen Craig Paddock from the Mandalay Hotel apparently motiveless at this time (?) murdered 58 people enjoying a country rock outdoor festival.

I remember reading Berardi’s book last year in which he argued that our world had become not only virtualized, but that many people live their lives as if they were inside a live-action MMO playing out the avatar heroics of some never-ending game in which they are both victim and savior. Not only that but that many men have over time become desensitized to the point that all empathy and fellow feeling has vanished. We’ve become a full blown sociopathic society whose only passion is violence and mayhem. This depersonalization and fragmentation of subject and work and play produces Berardi will tell us new forms of violence and rage. The psychopathology of mass murder in our time becomes a form of this whole inversion of the fragmentation and depersonalization of self and life, which leads to each moment as a simulated virtual game in which we are all immersed in the virtual unified field of fantasy realm in which the programs that run the coded reality scenarios also infects and acts impersonally on us as if we were all zombies, robots, and puppets controlled by the vectors of impossible nightmares.

Nike’s motto: Just do it! he tells us becomes for many of these suffering young men the inner truth of that cycle of depression, catatonia and psychotic acting out that can culminate into spectacular murderous suicide. (KL 710)

Just do it: violence, explosion, suicide. Killing and being killed are linked in this kind of acting out, although the murderer may, exceptionally, survive. When running amok, the borders between one’s body and the surrounding universe are blurred, and so is the limit between killing and being killed. Panic, in fact, is the simultaneous perception of the totality of possible stimulations, the simultaneous experience of everything, of every past, every future. In this state of mental alteration the distinction between the self and the universe collapses. (KL 711)

The point he is making is that in our age of digital connection the psychotic framework of hyper-stimulation and constant mobilization of nervous energy is pushing people, especially suggestible young people, socially marginalized and precarious, to a different kind of acting out: an explosive demonstration of energy, a violent mobilization of the body, which culminates in the aggressive, murderous explosion of the self.(KL 715)

In many ways America is a fantasyland of violence where people live so close to the threat of horror, death, and mayhem that they’ve even stylized it in their daily lives of entertainment through stadium and televised Football, Wide World of Wrestling, Car racing, survival TV, Paint Ball, and hundreds of other lesser games of violence both real and virtual. J.G. Ballard commenting on this culture of violence and entertainment once surmised,

A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status – all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really, a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing). That’s why the death in a crash of a famous person is a unique event – whether it’s Jayne Mansfield or James Dean – it takes place within this most potent of all consumer durables. Aircraft crashes don’t carry any of these elements whatever – they’re totally tragic and totally meaningless.2

This recent event falls into that latter category of tragic and meaningless: this sense of helplessness in both the authorities, media, and populace at large that such an act of violent terror could have no motive other than total rage and despair, self-hatred to the point that it turns outward (as Freud suggested ages ago) toward all those others who become both scapegoat and sacrifice to the self-immolating madness of the sado-masochistic death drive of a lunatic. Instead of the Ballardian erotics of sublime and sensual annihilation in the epitome of capitalist consumer lifestyle, Paddock and his ilk are more like the grotesque and thanatropic outriders of a nightmare world of hate and self-annihilating bitterness and drunken torpor, a rage at the light rather than its iconic glamour. Paddock with his breaking of the contract with life entered the space of unreason, allowed the forces of entropy to take him down that path of nullity where his only freedom was a self-lacerating rage against everything he wasn’t.

We’ve all known for a long while that good news does not sell, that bad news is the order of the day and our news outlets, our games of entertainment, our reading material, our cinemas and televisions are replete with the dark inhumanity of man and nature, violence, dread, and terror. Why? We all know violence is bad, and yet in our perverse  heart of heart’s we’re also excited by violence, and if we are attracted to it, it may be for good reasons. Even as we deny it we secretly are infatuated by violence. A perversity of human nature? The important thing is that violence is a show. All of us have made the world in which we live – we’re not forced to watch the newsreels on television, we don’t have to look at the pictures in illustrated magazines. War, if it is a show, is a show at which we are the paying audience, let’s remember that. As Ballard admonishes us “All I’m saying is that one ought to be honest about one’s responses. People didn’t in fact feel the kind of automatic revulsion to the Biafra war that they were told they should feel. They were stirred, excited, involved. It may be that one needs a certain sort of salt in one’s emotional diet.” (EM, KL 735-739)

Although our central nervous systems have been handed to us on a plate by millions of years of evolution, have been trained to respond to violence at the level of fingertip and nerve ending, in fact now our only experience of violence is in the head, in terms of our imagination, the last place where we were designed to deal with violence. We have absolutely no biological training to deal with violence in imaginative terms. And our whole inherited expertise for dealing with violence, our central nervous systems, our musculature, our senses, our ability to run fast or to react quickly, our reflexes, all that inherited expertise is never used. We sit passively in cinemas watching movies like The Wild Bunch where violence is just a style. (EM, KL 849)

Here we are all dressed up in our finery playing the role of ultra-modern citizens of a progressive technological civilization, telling ourselves that we are peace loving people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. All lies, for under the veneer of glitz we are still those wild inhuman animals of the savannahs that roamed the wild lands of Africa, Asia, and Europe thousands of years ago. Our emotional and passional selves are still bound by the habits of hundreds of thousands of years of animal life, habitual ways of violence, fear, and despair in a natural environment in which we more times that we’d like to believe were the hunted rather than the hunter, victims of predatory creatures much more efficient at killing that we have ever been until our technological age.

Even that heretic of the Left, the Lacanian-Hegel, Slavoj Zizek reminds us that subjective violence is just the most visible portion of a triumvirate that also includes two objective kinds of violence. First, there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call “our house of being.”  This violence is not only at work in the obvious-and extensively studied-cases of incitement and of the relations of social domination reproduced in our habitual speech forms: there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning. Second, there is what Zizek calls “systemic” violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems.3

Another aspect is that there is something inherently mystifying in a direct confrontation with violent acts like the Las Vegas massacre: the overpowering horror of such violent acts and empathy with the victims inexorably function as a lure which prevents us from thinking. A dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence must by definition ignore its traumatic impact. Yet there is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror. (Violence, pp. 3-4) It’s this sense of voyeurism, the strange relation we have with news as both in-formed awareness and entertainment, spectacle and sport that underlies American unthinking acceptance of violence as part of our society. We’ve included violence as entertainment in our imaginary lives in sex, economics, and everyday life. Violence has become so ubiquitous and invisible that when it raises its ugly head and binds us to its monstrous acts we are not just shocked but infatuated by the madness and insanity of it in our lives.

Zizek relates that the Lacanian difference between reality and the Real is simply that “reality” is the social reality of the actual people involved in interaction and in the productive processes, while the Real is the inexorable “abstract,” spectral logic of capital that determines what goes on in social reality. One can experience this gap in a palpable way when one visits a country where life is obviously in shambles. We see a lot of ecological decay and human misery. (Violence, p. 13) In other words the actual events of the Las Vegan massacre with the now past truth of all those real victims who suffered the shock of madness, the fear and terror, the pain and suffering of loved one’s murdered and wounded is the underlying reality of the event. While all the abstract commentary, news broadcasts, media frenzy and speculation on this reality is the cold dark abstraction of an impersonal machinic capitalism displacing the reality for the Real, wiping and erasing the event itself with a spectral logic of hyperreflection and overlays of imposed narratives and fictions, fantasy news that will replace the actual event with the prefabricated and staged show of media spectacle.

As Hannah Arendt once suggested of the purges and atrocities of Hitler and Stalin: these figures were not personifications of sublime Byronesque demonic evil: the gap between their intimate experience and the horror of their acts was immense. The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is fundamentally a lie – the truth lies outside, in what we do. (Z, p. 47) Moment by moment the facts of this tragic event are lured into the vast media machine, rescripted according to political and ideological formats, dramatized with staged commentary and docudrama tales from experts, eyewitnesses, families of survivors, tales of heroism, of tears and funerals, symbols of despair and hope. All the while the repetitions of the perpetrator and his monstrous act are scripted to show his sordid life in all its strange and bewildering array of violence, drunkenness, and cowardly cynicism, along with the continued narrative of the missing ‘motive’, the underlying thread of terror, plan, conspiracy…

Pat Pittman in the Encyclopedia of Murder was struck by the notion that mass murder and even sex crimes and serial killers in large part are a modern problem rather than something ancient. As Pittman reflected “sex crime was not, as I had always supposed, as old as history, but was a fairly recent phenomenon”.4 It was true that soldiers had always committed rape in wartime, and that sadists like Tiberius, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler and Gilles de Rais certainly qualify as sex criminals; but in our modern sense of the word – that is, a man who commits rape because his sexual desires tend to run out of control – sex murder makes its first unambiguous appearance in the late nineteenth century. The Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 and the murders of the French “disemboweller” Joseph Vacher in the 1890s are among the first recorded examples. Some of the most famous sex crimes of the century occurred after the First World War: these included the murders of the “Düsseldorf Vampire” Peter Kürten, of America’s “Gorilla Murderer” Earle Nelson, of the child killer Albert Fish, and the extraordinary crimes of the Hungarian Sylvestre Matushka, who experienced orgasm as he blew up trains. (SK, KL 97-104)

Crimes like these were regarded as the solitary aberrations of madmen, and scarcely came to the attention of the general public. The crimes of an American mass murderer named Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Henry Howard Holmes, should be noted as an exception. Holmes began as a confidence trickster, and in the late 1880s he built himself a large house in a Chicago suburb that would become known as ‘Murder Castle’. When Holmes was arrested in 1894 for involvement in a swindle, police soon came to suspect that he was responsible for the murder of an associate named Pitezel, and three of Pitezel’s children. Further investigation revealed that Holmes had murdered a number of ex-mistresses, as well as women who had declined to become his mistress. Moreover, as Holmes himself confessed, killing had finally become an addiction which, he believed, had turned him into a monster. The total number of his murders is believed to be twenty-seven, and they qualify him as America’s first serial killer. He was hanged in 1896. (SK, KL 185-193)

FBI analysts define a serial killer as a murderer who is involved in three or more separate events, with an emotional cooling-off period between each homicide.  This cooling-off period is the main trait which distinguishes the serial killer from all other multiple murderers. Other identifiable differences may be found in their choice of victim. Serial killers tend to preselect a type of victim to murder, whereas classic mass murderers and spree killers will both murder whichever human targets happen to present themselves. Similarly the serial killer controls the successive stages of each murder he commits (to a larger or lesser degree, depending whether he is an organised or disorganised offender); while neither the classic mass murderer nor the spree killer is likely to have an opportunity to do so once the law enforcement agency concerned closes in on him. (SK, KL 1839)

We know that the Las Vegas killer was planning other events and venues for a continued foray in mass murder, so must conclude that although he didn’t have an opportunity to continue that he would have if he’d of survived. We also know that many classic mass murderers also seem not to want to live, once their own compulsive urge to kill has abated. Some, like Marc Lepine, then shoot themselves. Others – Charles Whitman, for example – carry on killing until the law enforcement agency concerned is left with no recourse but to kill them; offender behavior which some regard not as defiance of authority, but as an oblique form of suicide. (SK, KL 1852)

We know the Las Vegas killer committed suicide but left no note. As Colin Wilson explains:

Perhaps the most basic characteristic of the serial killer is one that he shares with most other criminals: a tendency to an irrational self-pity that can produce an explosion of violence. (SK 4996)

Another aspect is that Paddock like Ted Bundy, was an extremely heavy drinker. Alcohol had the same effect on Paddock and Bundy that drugs had on the Manson clan, creating a sense of unreality, a kind of moral vacuum without inhibitions. In this vacuum, murder meant very little. (SK, KL 4993)

Another factor is fame and recognition. As the “Monster of the Andes” Daniel Camargo Barbosa (During 1986, he raped and murdered seventy-two women and girls in the area of the port of Guayaquil.) once told an investigator when asked why he killed all those people, said:

‘When one has been the victim of traumatic experiences in childhood, one grows up with the mental conditions for committing these acts’… (SK, KL 5172)

All self-confessions aside, all analysis or commentary or reflection, philosophy, sociology, criminology, etc. – and, strangely the FBI and all other agencies have failed to discover a motive or reason behind the Las Vegas killings as of yet – we may never know why Paddock committed this atrocity. I’m sure we will see books on this shortly coming up with every type of motive, reason, conspiracy, or strange twist to a sordid tale; along with memorials to the victims and the heroes who helped during this event. All part of a slow recovery from the hidden truth that we are all capable of such hideous violence given the right circumstances, even if we deny that such actions are possible for such law abiding and upright moral creatures as ourselves. Once you strip us of all that façade of moral cant we are like such madmen nothing more than animals and monsters full of sado-masochistic drives toward suicide or murder, and that it is the imposition of all those cultural encrustations over this dark power of natural murderousness.

Rene Girard once spoke of the collapse of societies at the hands of violence:

When the religious framework of a society starts to totter, it is not exclusively or immediately the physical security of the society that is threatened; rather, the whole cultural foundation of the society is put in jeopardy. The institutions lose their vitality; the protective façade of the society gives way; social values are rapidly eroded, and the whole cultural structure seems on the verge of collapse.5

We know that Paddock was irreligious, maybe even atheistic, so that if anything it was the slow decay of our progressive Secular Age into decadence and decline rather than the religious worldview at stake in his thinking. The very cornerstone of democracy, Law and Justice and Freedom have in our own time begun to fragment and decay as the secular institutions of American democracy no longer offer the poor or middle-class a world worth living in, and our leaders have become unable to lead and provide us with a viable political and economic future on a planet that many believe is reaching both its limits in resources and natural capacity for a human civilization that has shown nothing but a propensity to violence against all past notions of the sacred. Our very denial of the sacred may in itself be the cause of the triggering effects of random acts of monstrous violence in the homeland, even as State violence is perpetrated in the incarceration of poor and black at home and the wars against all other nations for the remaining resources.

Maybe in the end the recent influx of mass murders in the homeland by young and old alike are wake up calls to the citizens that our world cannot go on as usual, that we are ourselves blind to our own violent ways and are producing in our daily lives the very things that are triggering the extreme revolt of madmen against us. In his novel The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s main character relates:

Rich dreams now which he was loathe to wake from. Things no longer known in the world. The cold drove him forth to mend the fire. Memory of her crossing the lawn toward the house in the early morning in a thin rose gown that clung to her breasts. He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.6

It’s this sense of remembering and forgetting, of the mind’s dark tendency to alter the past in the mind, thereby altering reality or even annihilating it that brings us to that marked moment of acknowledgement that “each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins.” Reality is this movement between knowing and not-knowing, the oscillating rhythm of a brain caught in its own meshes, bound to a natural cycle of violence and memory for which it has neither reasons nor a definable answer – only more questions without end.

 


  1. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2015-02-03). Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) (Kindle Locations 607-608). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Ballard, J.G; Sellars, Simon; O’Hara, Dan. Extreme Metaphors (Kindle Locations 708-712). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  3. Zizek, Slavoj. Violence (BIG IDEAS//small books) (pp. 1-2). Picador. Kindle Edition.
  4. Colin Wilson; Donald Seaman. The Serial Killers: A Study in the Psychology of Violence (Kindle Locations 97-104). Random House. Kindle Edition.
  5. Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred. (Page 49). W.W.Norton & Company (January 1, 1979)
  6. Cormac McCarthy. The Road (Kindle Locations 1233-1236). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The Traveller: John Twelve Hawks

Book Review: The Traveller: Book One of the Fourth Realm Trilogy by John Twelve Hawks

A few years back I picked up John Twelve Hawks Fourth Realm Trilogy and thXJRHTFFPmisconstrued its overall theme and put it down (for whatever reason?). Not having connection to my library (being packed up in the move) I found a copy of his first book in a friend’s home and borrowed it for a little light fare at night. I wish now I’d of read this work years ago, for Hawks’ – whether that is his real or appellate name – is a good story teller and the work as a foray into urban fantasy works.

Hawks is able to weave a tale around a world in which most of what we take for granted is not as it seems – and, yet, he doesn’t just copy the usual paranoid conspiracy crowd, but rather transforms his critical apparatus to shape a narrative around a world in which Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon has become ubiquitous due to our electronic age.
It’s a tale in which there is a secret history of the world in which humans (as in most conspiracy thought) are pawns, sleepers divided into subnormals or drones (criminal elements, poor, excluded, etc.) and normals or citizens (the basic consumer world of late capitalism). Along with this are three groups of hidden agents and their enemies that play our a dramatic history of freedom and fate over the lives of all others on the planet.

The first group is the Travelers: humans who have been gifted with the ability (much like Shamans, Mystics, Sufi, Hindu, Shivaite, or any number of magical, occult, new age astral thought…) to concentrate their psychic energy (astral body) into light and through trance travel into other realms, other worlds. There seems to be four barriers of based on the elements that must be overcome for the traveler to enter into actual other worlds: air, fire, water, earth. Each with certain obstacles to overcome, etc. The Traveler can apparently take a talisman with them (as in the novel the twin brothers who become enemies have Japanese katana’s as Talisman’s).

The second group are Harlequin’s who have since at least the rise of the Knight’s Templar’s protected the Travelers. The Harlequin’s much like the Japanese ninja’s are adept in various martial arts and magical techniques, gymnastics, strategies, and multivalent in weapons, secrecy, anonymity.
The third group is the Pathfinder’s who are those that have the ability to awaken the Traveler’s through 99 special techniques that have been collected in a special book past on from master to pupil.

What was interesting in the first book is Hawk’s ability to make not only the character driven story of interest, but his ability to drive it forward and create an intriguing cast of characters that are not just the typical pasteboard stand in’s but actual full fledged creatures one can empathize with. Very few writers of thrillers have that ability. Most novels are boring and predictable and the characters never become real on the page. Another aspect is that Hawks though didactic in intent doesn’t beat you over the head with polemical statements, but instead allows the story to unfold the message in natural terms and at appropriate times.

The story itself is based around a young woman, Maya, and her struggle with and against the legacy of being a Harlequin. Raised up by her father, Thorn, a man who spent his life in the service of protecting Travelers was recently crippled in an incident involving an ambush set up by a secret group named the Brethren who have for centuries sought out both Traveler and Harlequin and Pathfinder alike with one goal: to murder them and instigate a world wide order of control over the unknowing sleepers: citizens and drones.

For Maya the struggle began as a young girl in her teens during a specific trial in which her father leads her into an ambush with a group of Brethren forcing her to fight or die. She has been trained by him in all the deadly arts of combat and perception and makes quick work of her assailants, but in so doing is disgusted by what she’s become and abandons both her father and the life of the Harlequin for years. Barely keeping in touch with her father she’s led a life of a citizen as best she could during the intervening years until she is summoned to meet with him in Prague.

She comes to Prague and rejects Thorn’s proposal that she take up her rightful place in the Harlequin world, go to America and defend two brothers who have recently emerged from the underground and find and protect them before the Brethren do. But even as she leaves the building returning to her hotel she discovers that things are amiss, something is not right and returns to her father’s hideout to find him and his new student have been murdered. Not only that murdered by that he has been killed by a genetic monstrosity unleashed by the Brethren and their emissary Nathan Boone, head of security using “splicers” or hyena’s that have been genetically altered to feel no pain, and to have one goal – hunger for flesh and blood.

Needless to say this awakens in Maya a deep seated hatred of the Brethren to the point that all she wants now is revenge on those who did this to her father…  the rest of the story you will want to read to find out more.

The story is fast paced and has some interesting plot twists and turns, a thriller that will keep you turning the pages as well as in depth characters who make the world feasible. All in all I found the book a delight and instructive, a fable about our prison planet and the corporatocracy of global capitalism and the Deep State of rogue organizations, power, and money that unhinged criminal cartels seem to pervade our failing democracies as we enter a period of authoritarian rule and strong media fictions that cover our world in stagecraft rather real news. A world where those in power work against democracy and shape a vision of world order in which the few rather than the many have the power and control and seek total dominion over every aspect of our existence. A Total Surveillance Society based on human security, lies, and deceit.

Once you accept our inherent ability to say no, you begin to see history in a different way. History isn’t a chronicle of the lives of kings, or their modern equivalents. It’s the story of a continual war between the people and institutions that have power and that core group in each new generation that decides, “I don’t accept your right to that power, your authority.” And this isn’t just a political and social rebellion. The conflict includes those people who challenge the status quo in science, technology, literature, and art.1

As Eric Jensen said a few years back the voices tell you that those in power have your best interests at heart. The micro-chips (RFID’s, etc.) are to reduce theft, the cameras to increase security, and the MRIs, well, if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of? A world where everything you own is chipped: mobile phones, refrigerators, sports shoes, etc. all the consumer goods surrounding you connected to ubiquitous receivers at the local market, the airport, the downtown total surveillance network, etc. A world completely constructed as they say to protect you and your children. A world that will soon track every aspect of your daily life from waking to sleep, scanning your clothes which will have these dust mite chips embedded, and the medical info chip you hang round your neck or wrist. In a generation your children will grow up knowing no other way, knowing nothing of a world without chips and scans and surveillance.

Even the thoughts in you head may come not from some unconscious process but rather from a machinic system. As Jense says: “Another article, written not so long ago, began with the unforgettable first line: “Those voices in your head may be real.” It went on to say that scientists have been able to develop the rapacity to project a beam of sound so focused that only one person can hear it. It can be transmitted from hundreds of yards away. The military is of course extremely interested in this technology. Microwaves can also be used to transmit sound. Pulses can be beamed into your head, such that you might think that you’re hearing them, or even thinking them. These pulses could be shaped into words, into thoughts. 2

Jeremy Benthem once proposed the infamous Panopticon which was never built, but the notion of a total surveillance society began with his blueprint. In it he foresaw a way of infusing the whole of society with such a mind over mind apparatus for “punishing the incorrigible, guarding the insane, reforming the “vicious, confining the suspected, employing the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the willing in any branch of industry, or training the rising race in the path of education: in a Word, whether it be applied to the purposes of perpetual prisons in the room of death, or prisons for confinement before trial, or penitentiary-houses. or houses of correction, or work-houses. or manufactories, or mad-houses, or hospitals, or schools. ” (Jensen, p. 9)

The point here is to make the whole planet into an open prison in which the inmates would be jailor and jailed one and all. Just the notion that you cannot hide, that you have no privacy, that your life 24/7 is under the scrutiny of machines, AI’s that can monitor, track, modulate, and filter every piece of data and information about you and your actions, your desires, wants, needs. All this would allow the prisoner to mind his own life without the need for any other external agent other than his own fear of the System. “Hence,” as Michel Foucault wrote, “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility I hat assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should he caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should he visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at anyone moment; but he must he sure that he may always he so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetian blinds on the windows of the central observation hall, but, on the inside, partitions that intersected the hall at right angles and, in order to pass from one quarter to the other, not doors but zig-zag openings; for the slightest noise, a gleam of light, a brightness in a half-opened door would betray the presence of the guardian. The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.”3

Yet, unlike the literal Panopticon proposed by Benthem the new ubiquitous and invisible Panopticon is a Tower of Electronic surveillance hidden in every object of our capitalist society with all its smart devices from toaster ovens to automobiles, ticket stations to ATM’s. And someday the corporations will engage their employees to embedded such health chips with one’s life history into a small under the skin adaptor that can be read by any and all machines connected to the Surveillance State. Of course we scoff at such things now, saying our civil liberties will always be protected, yada yada ya…. but will it? Will a generation of two down the pipe remember such things? Will they due to terror, war, insecurity, etc. be willing to sacrifice privacy for protection? Will they?

What John Twelve Hawk’s does well in his fable of our modern surveillance society is to underpin the corruption of the Deep State, this rogue world of secrecy, surveillance, black ops, the collusion of corporate and government as its seek total command and control of the populace, along with the exclusion and extrication of any thought-freedom and powers of mind that could awaken people from their sleep in capital, luxury, and erotic wish fulfillment. Even the point of keeping democracy on the edge of oblivion, the charade of politics and stupid leaders, the monetary crisis, the wars, the terror, the all-pervading sense of fear and apathy, all this destruction of the modern world is part of the plan to keep us locked into a need for protection, security, and enslavement to the System.


  1. Twelve Hawks, John. Against Authority: Freedom and the Rise of the Surveillance States (Kindle Locations 186-189). 22 West 26th Street Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jensen, Eric. Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control. Chelsea Green Publishing; First Edition edition (September 15, 2004)
  3. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage; 2nd edition (April 18, 2012)

I’m back… update!

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FYI:

Finally got moved into our new home in Wyoming. Was out of touch for a few weeks until we could get satellite installed for new connection. That being said, I will probably be publishing less over the next few months while working on the interior of our house. So new articles will come, but sparsely until the work on our home is completed. I’m doing most of the finish carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and other sundry aspects like sheet rocking, mudding, painting, cabinets, installing showers, kitchen, etc. So not a lot of time left over for writing. :()

Sometimes a writer…

When I began it I had no plan at all. I wasn’t even writing a book. … I said to myself, Now I can write. Now I can make myself a vase like that which the old Roman kept at his bedside and wore the rim slowly away with kissing it. So I, who had never had a sister and was fated to lose my daughter in infancy, set out to make myself a beautiful and tragic little girl.

—William Faulkner, On Writing The Sound and The Fury

Sometimes a writer has to stop listening to the world’s sorrow and begin listening to that dark place in the soul where time and memory and desire all seem to mix together like triune lover’s in some strange perversity of sex and flesh and thought giving birth to that substance of enlivening life that begins to speak with the voice of human suffering that is the inner life of the world. Only then can a writer begin to write something that is alive and full of that sparking power of mind that stays us against the sorrows of the world and of ourselves.

When we look back upon the ancient Greeks we see a world full of suffering, a tragic world of men pitted against each other and the natural elements. Humans facing doom in the only way they can: with dignity and pride. Not the false pride of those who would lord it over others, dominate them through rank and subterfuge, but rather through that natural power of flesh and mind, the body’s fierce vitality and the mind’s cunning intellect. Wit, grace, and style: the triune keepers of natural aristocracy. The power of intellect to cut through the subtle barriers of false power, cast down the dullard’s slow thought and bring us that charmed glow of knowledge balanced by the speed of a rapier mind, sharp and quick. Grace not of the dandy but of the relaxed but knowing mind that can carry flesh and thought as if it were both a delicate artifact and a deadly force. And the style that holds other minds rapt in fascination and dread, hinting at that charmed power that can seduce even as it slays.

Such men not only endured, but prevailed. The writer’s task is the regeneration and restoration of this tragic world view, to enliven his thought with the heroic power of mind and body. To shed the false pretenses of our petty culture and inhabit that space of reasons wherein the strength and courage to bare witness to the suffering of men and the world, of women and children and beast of the field. Such is the task we face in our time to renew the earth with the courage and fortitude of heroic insouciance – that indifference and impersonalism of the magnanimous being who is not threatened by the pettiness of small minds, nor the slights of vindictive and criminal thoughts. A being who can bare witness to those who have been overlooked: the poor, the destitute, and excluded. Give them hope where there is only despair; not the false hope of faith and other worldly promises, but of this world – a hope that gathers courage and raises the dead from their long sleep in time. No fictional resurrection or redemption, but the veritable enlivening of their minds and bodies with the ability to believe once again in the future, a future where all can exist in a world worth living in. Not some Utopian nowhere, but a real future full of strife and war against the spirit of resentment and unchecked pride. It’s time for humans to believe in humanity once again. For far too long we’ve listened to the troubadours of anti-humanist discord and human obsolescence. It’s time to step out into the Sun and claim our rightful inheritance, awaken the powers of our own inner being and invent the possibility of life, again. 

The Rise of Realism

 

The Rise of Realism

Every Sunday I dip into ongoing works. I read on a rotational basis rather than gulping everything in one log sitting. I’ve always found that if one reads a little at a time, then sits down and cogitates and works over the passages this way and that, turning them toward other thinkers, writers, etc., then applying them to one’s own conceptual framework and even debating this vs. that from one’s own angle then from the angle of the Other one eventually comes to a truce. What does this mean? One makes it one’s own either accepting or rejecting it, and in doing that one makes it a memory – mimetically applying it by light or shadow in one’s thought.

Today was reading some passages in Manuel DeLanda and Graham Harman’s book where they both agree that many process thinkers and others have a difficult time with an Object based philosophy always accusing them of reducing things to inanimate objective fact, facticity, etc., when in fact both see things and events within a temporal historical scaling that applies various speeds and rhythms to the life of objects: seeing an object as both cause and effect, but at different timescales – some cosmological.

As DeLanda asks Harman,

A process (or mechanism) would in turn be a series of events, though not necessarily a linear series. I have heard remarks that in your ontology events are not acknowledged, but I have the feeling that this is just a terminological quirk. I think that your concept of object encompasses both things and events, both considered to be objective. Is that correct?1

Harman will answer, saying,

It is merely a terminological issue indeed. Why do people have such a hard time seeing this? Events for me are encompassed under the term “object,” which I’ve retained simply to express my debt to the old Viennese discussion of objects (in Brentano and his students, including Husserl). Many people assume that “object” must refer only to inanimate physical solids that last for a very long time. But to return to my earlier point, some Deleuze-inspired authors like to speak in terms of a single matter-energy, with objects merely forming transiently as swirls out of that energy. An example would be Jane Bennett (2012), whose ideas I like very much despite this pretty big disagreement.

In a final passage DeLanda sees a similarity,

I myself have expressed a similar idea. In A Thousand Years (1997) I do assert that organisms are transitory coagulations in the flows of energy and matter coursing through ecosystems, and, more generally, I deal in that book with flows (of lava, biomass, memes, norms) treating objects as temporary structures appearing and disappearing within this fluid reality. This makes sense to me, but only as long as we keep in mind that a mind-independent reality possesses a variety of significant time scales. Across very long time scales (i.e., much longer than a human lifetime) many objects disappear from view and you would only be able to “see” flows, that is, becomings. At shorter time scales, many of these becomings can be grasped as semi-permanent beings. To use a different formulation: we just distinguished things from events, but over a long enough time scale many things can be treated as events: at the level of geological time scales, in which a significant event such as the clash between two tectonic plates may take millions of years, an entire human life becomes a bleep on the radar screen – that is, an almost instantaneous event. [my italics]

This blurring at timescales of objects and events at differing rhythms, speeds, scale seems to lead to a sense of memory rather than either thing or event. Sometimes I think of objects as congealed memories and Time is the keeper of these memories, almost like fragments of a ongoing ghost story in which the philosopher or scientist slowly unbinds the memory (physical or mimetic trace) of thing or event across its timeframe or lifetime. I mean when a physicist speaks of looking at events out there across the voids of space they always speak of looking back in time at events that happened billions of light-years in the past. Some of the light of galaxies we see from Hubble existed at timescales of 13 to 15 billions of years ago and yet we see their traces here, now. It’s these congealed memories of the past that we can unfold from the light-beams of distant events that in themselves are as well physical objects, so that both object and event are part of a vast cosmological recording marked on light. Maybe in the end we need new terms for this combination of light, object, time, memory, event; a meta-concept that would be inclusive of all these concepts.

If Speculative Realism has a future then it will need – like the earlier naïve realism of the nineteenth century, its shadow reflection in art and literature. Literature itself or at least novels began in a revolt against the Medieval romances in the fruition of such end products as Cervantes Don Quixote, which was itself a work that pushed the old romances to parody and farce, and yet through the debates and colloquies between Don Quixote and his faithful servant Sancho Panza we see this rise of realism out of the world of romance fiction. In this way the latest versions of SR are themselves to be seen against a backdrop of this whole history of the rise of realism out of renaissance thought along with the culture of Enlightenment and the sciences.

Too many times I see people castigate humanistic learning for being too anthropomorphic, etc., and yet they miss the other wider framework within which this cultural project was carried on: the multiplicity of views onto history, literature, philosophy, science(s), art, and aesthetics. Some dismiss such worlds as if the great learning of say an E.R. Curtius (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages), Eric Auerbach (Mimesis), Gilbert Highet (The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature), Robert Burton (The Anatomy of Melancholy), or any number of learned works from other or specialists disciplines no longer have a place in current or contemporary thought. And, yet, without these past works we’d be mongrels and barbarians in a world of stupidity and unreason, shifting this way and that in our private silos of data without any aesthetic sense of its overall design on our lives and minds.

As Fredrich Jameson recently put it,

I have observed a curious development which always seems to set in when we attempt to hold the phenomenon of realism firmly in our mind’s eye. It is as though the object of our meditation began to wobble, and the attention to it to slip insensibly away from it in two opposite directions, so that at length we find we are thinking, not about realism, but about its emergence; not about the thing itself, but about its dissolution.2

I have to admit this is my conundrum: there are so many facets to the various emerging realisms, and yet Harman and DeLanda seem to hold two of the most important threads in it. Both seek unlike naïve realism an indirect path to realism rather than the direct empirical or idealist transcendental; both seek a non-human as compared to human-centric approach; and, both seek to expose the temporal scales and dimensions of the real which form the thing-event. So in many ways one needs to define what it isn’t in literature: let’s say the anti-realist and irrealist traditions of the last few decades: those of the irreal such as John Barth, Italo Calvino, Jorge-Luis Borges, and many others would be the opposition in literature. Next one has to define the base conceptuality.

For Harman it starts with the withdrawn ‘real’ object as compared to the sensual or appearance we have through our empirical sense-baring senses – and, yet, it’s not Kantian inner turn either… it is dualistic, but not based on some centered transcendental Subject Idealist or Materialist (Badiou, Zizek). Kant and his inheritors would divide the world into appearance (phenomenon) and noumenal (unknown, impossible, outside). While the materialists either non-dialectical or dialectical would seek the appearance in appearance, but would agree that there is nothing behind the mask of appearance – appearance was all. The only difference being that non-dialectical materialists, the scientific and empirical traditions would hold to the known and physicalist, and in our time the more immaterialist materialisms of quantum theoretic. While the dialectical materialists would bring in history, time, memory, event in oscillation between appearance/event.  

SR is not part of the Analytical realisms nor the various moral realisms nor the Neo-Rationalists and deontological, etc. As for who fits this I haven’t really begun to place any current writers into this category… but in many ways for me it would start with film noir and the noir tradition in sub-genre which has always dealt with that withdrawn and indirect under the surface tensions of thing-events. Harman has written of H.P. Lovecraft and Dante in regards to his own OOO. I’m sure DeLanda if pressed would have literary purveyors who would fit into his variation of SR. 

So then to know what SR is one almost needs to decide on that wavering in-between the emergence and dissolution of the naïve realism against which it pits itself. This post was not meant to go this far, and I want. I’ll save such thoughts for a future post(s).


  1. DeLanda, Manuel; Harman, Graham. The Rise of Realism (Kindle Locations 1126-1129). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jameson, Fredric. The Antinomies Of Realism (p. 1). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Critic and Moralist

samuel-johnson

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Critic and Moralist

I don’t read Johnson for his moralism’s, I read him because of his astute observations and literary prowess. He was and is the greatest of the literary critics, the progenitor of all those who have ever entered into the contested space of strife that is the literary Canon, singular or multiple. Right here in his estimation of Alexander Pope, the poet laureate of his age (Augustan), one gets a hint of that intellect in which he attributes to this great neo-classical poet the only powers of the Mind worth having as poet: Invention, Imagination, and Judgement – along with that ever present master of the “colours of language” – rhetoric and trope:

Pope had, in proportions very nicely adjusted to each other, all the qualities that constitute genius. He had Invention, by which new trains of events are formed, and new scenes of imagery displayed, as in the Rape of the Lock; and by which extrinsick and adventitious embellishments and illustrations are connected with a known subject, as in the Essay on Criticism. He had Imagination, which strongly impresses on the writer’s mind, and enables him to convey to the reader, the various forms of nature, incidents of life, and energies of passion, as in his Eloisa, Windsor Forest, and the Ethick Epistles. He had Judgement, which selects from life or nature, what the present purpose requires, and by separating the essence of things from its concomitants, often makes the representation more powerful than the reality: and he had colours of language always before him, ready to decorate his matter with every grace of elegant expression, as when he accommodates his diction to the wonderful multiplicity of Homer’s sentiments and descriptions.

A master of many forms Johnson wrote a biography of his drinking buddy of youth Richard Savage, one great poem The Vanity of Human Wishesand would produce the first great essays on Shakespeare, Milton, and other dramatists and poets. Reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson which is a master biography in itself one gets about as intimate with this critic as one can stand. Having learned much from the literary critics I still love to return to Johnson’s oeuvre, reread passages from the Rambler and Idler.

As that Last of Romantic critics of our age, Harold Bloom says of Johnson and his immediate descendent, William Hazlitt:

CANONICAL CRITICISM, which is what Johnson consciously writes, has its religiopolitical and socioeconomic motivations in Johnson, but it fascinates me to watch the critic push aside his own ideologies in his Life of Milton. Our current apostles of “criticism and social change” ought to try reading, in sequence, Johnson and Hazlitt on Milton. On all issues of religion, politics, society, and economics, the Tory Johnson and the Radical Dissenter Hazlitt are totally opposed, but they praise Milton for the same qualities… (The Western Canon)

Here is Johnson on Milton:

The highest praise of genius is original invention . . . of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance: he did not refuse admission to the thought or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them.

Here is Hazlitt:

Milton has borrowed more than any other writer, and exhausted every source of imitation, sacred or profane; yet he is perfectly distinct from every other writer. He is a writer of cantos, and yet in originality scarcely inferior to Homer. The power of his mind is stamped on every line. . . . In reading his works, we feel ourselves under the influence of a mighty intellect, that the nearer it approaches to others, becomes more distinct from them. . . . Milton’s learning has the effect of intuition.

Both would write of influence or what those sociopathic critics of our age term derisively: cultural appropriation. The point being that all poets – and, all writers for that matter – “borrow” from previous poets and writers, and yet this according to the above two greatest literary critics of ours or any age was just part and partial of the way a poet-as-poet (or, writer, novelist, short story, dramatist, essayist, etc.) becomes a poet through that endless and exhausting navigation of every previous “source of imitation, sacred or profane”. But here’s the kicker: as both critics agree, the great poet as compared to a poetaster becomes not just a borrower, imitator, echo of the past, but “distinct” – original in her own right – and complete, an intellect of such high caliber that the voicing of such communal inheritance is felt to have accumulated such wealth and made it so much a part of her mind that it has become who and what she is – what Johnson termed “a thinker for himself,” and Hazlitt the “effect of intuition”. This is what used to be called making the works of the past a part of oneself to the point that they become new in your very voicing of their thought and images.

The poetaster or bad poet is unable to do this and instead of making it new, making it a part of herself merely echoes and appropriates the very mind of the other poets work, the very thought and images as if ghosting them into existence. James Joyce and Marcel Proust would take the modern novel to its extreme limits: the one maximalizing the structure and form of our literary inheritance (Joyce), while the other would do the same for memory and desire (Proust). Both would produce various inheritors, the best of these in Samuel Beckett (Minimalist) and – possibly, Lawrence Durrell or Thomas Pynchon ( both strangely convoluted and influenced by the heretical Gnostics).

I’ve often wondered what Dr. Johnson if he were alive today would think of the PC (Political Correctness and Multiculturalist) debates over appropriation, influence, and adaptation, etc. would have to say of such things. I’m sure being both a moralist and a great reader of various cultures he’d be extremely ticked off at the inanity of it all and how literature had fallen from its great estate as the refined portion of what is best in humanity, and become instead but the handmaid of political warfare in the hands not of literary critics but of hackneyed and unlearned journalists of political malfeasance.

If there are to be no more generations of common readers, free of ideological cant, then Johnson will vanish, together with much else that is canonical. Wisdom does not die so easily, however. If criticism expires in the universities and colleges, it will reside in other places, since it is the modern version of wisdom literature.

—Harold Bloom, The Western Canon 

Let us hope that the time we live in, when the political praxis of ideological rather than aesthetic appreciation has become the mainstay of our literary journalists, will not last and the ancient notions of canonical appreciation will return as aesthetic critics take up the banner of literary criticism once again.

 

 

Sextus Empiricus: The Suspension of ‘Judgment’

Sextus Empiricus

Scepticism is an ability, or mental attitude, which opposes appearances to judgments in any way whatsoever, with the result that,owing to the equipollence of the objects and reasons thus opposed we are brought firstly to a state of mental suspense and next to a state of “unperturbedness” or quietude.

Outline of Skepticism – Sextus Empiricus

Having a discussion with a friend on doubt carried too far…

I don’t know if it’s so much doubt in your sense as skepticism – as in Sextus Empiricus, who spent his time debunking ‘beliefs’ not because people believed in things in any definable sense, but because they sought reasons (Rationality) for their beliefs when there was and could be none; so, for him doubt began with a suspension of judgment, a questioning of both sides of an issue – a debate among the various ideas without taking sides until in the end either both were qualified, disqualified, one or the other qualified – at least to his own satisfaction. In this way he hoped to produce tranquility rather than fall into any sense of nihilistic doubt of never ending questioning – what later thinkers term the “idiot questioner” who is never satisfied, and always obstinate, never resting in any fact, truth, or judgment. Empiricus thought such doubt to be stupid, and set Pyrrhonist skepticism above such foolishness. (And, I’ll admit I’m speaking of Pyrrho who traveled with Alexander the Great, and some say was curiously interested in Madhyamaka Buddhism during his travels! Pyrrhonists offer no view, theory, or knowledge about the world, but recommend instead a practice, a distinct way of life, designed to suspend beliefs and ease suffering. )

I have to admit that early on I was definitely of the school of Pyrrhonist skepticism after Empiricus… and, even now, my own ride through nihilism was not the extreme type leading through endless idiot questions, but rather of the type that like Nietzsche sought a path beyond the decay, decadence, and demise of meaning through a transvaluation of values, a path that seems like Empiricus to offer not a resolution in Hegel’s sense, but rather a momentary stasis of revisable working (heuristics) of judgement so that we can continue our projects without reducing them to dogmatic belief systems or eternal verities.

Without a theory of meaning we are like those lost creatures below the broken tower of Babel who no longer understand each other and have lost all sense of knowledge, communication, and meaning until all that is left is a civil-war of all against all. Is this not happening in our time? Yet, in our time politics has fallen into the trap of a dichotomizing and binary opposition that situates humans and pits them against each other in a polarizing Left/Right extreme narrative reduction in which neither side can do anything but hate the other’s positions. What if like the ancient Pyrrhonists we could all suspend those beliefs, suspend our automatic judgments of each other’s positions, and then begin to reason together till some form of equitable and charitable path forward could be proposed in which all could agree? Isn’t this what democracy once held out for humanity? What happened to that dream? That dream has taken on the darker hues of a dystopian nightmare…

The Regeneration of the West: Against the Progressive Political Aesthetic

The American university is in trouble, and classics, once the foundation of higher learning in the liberal arts, is nearly moribund. The study of ancient Greek and Latin language and civilization has been immolated in various bonfires lit by any number of modern Savonarolas, the ideologues of the multicultural and postmodern Left who wish to destroy the beauty and brilliance they cannot acknowledge or appreciate.

Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age by Victor Davis Hanson, etc.

For decades we’ve been fed the French postmodern shibboleths against the humanistic traditions in literature, history, philosophy, religious and cultural thought and praxis as if these were a disease to be sloughed off, an enemy to be overcome, a Dead White Man’s World of hate and bigotry et cetera, etc.. It’s bunk, it has always been bunk what they preached from their high academic towers. The past cultural artifacts are the memory and culture of thousands of years of humanity, the aesthetic, philosophical, and scientific – pragmatic cultural world of human intelligence and imagination. To wipe that slate clean is to not only dream of apocalypse and the vanity of tyranny, but the absolute pursuit of doom. As Victor Davis Hanson and cohorts in Bonfire of the Humanities – and let’s not forget Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind – remind us, American popular and populist culture is the core of our intellectual and imaginative traditions. In defense of it and against the Progressive elite and academic high-tower enclaves and their amnesia culture they tell us:

Nor are we rightists yearning for the elite university of the traditional and privileged who are to learn about and then operate within High Culture. In fact, ideology in and of itself is of little interest to us; the inclusion of the American people in the university and the academic industry of publication most surely are. We care very little whether a scholar makes the argument that women were oppressed or liberated in ancient Greece, whether Athens was a murderous imperial power or a beacon of hope for the exploited, or whether Alexander was a drunken thug or an emissary of Western civilization. And we certainly care little whether a scholar is female, Mexican-American, or an ex-army officer from Utah. Rather, we care a great deal about whether scholars’ ideas are expressed clearly, are the results of empirical and honest research, are supported by the evidence, are formulated in the pursuit of truth, and are the dividends of hours of give-and-take between teachers and undergraduates.

Nor are we anti-intellectuals who call for excessively burdensome instructional loads or a rejection of research altogether— a common reductionist criticism, when in the past we have called for teaching, say, three classes rather than one a semester, for teaching without rather than with graders, or for meeting with rather than lecturing at undergraduates. All three of us have found it manageable to publish scholarly articles, academic books, and nonfiction literature for the general public while teaching more than two courses a semester and maintaining some semblance of family and community life. Interaction with townspeople, spouses, children, and students is critical to research. They are the canaries in the mine, reminding the detached scholar that he is suffocating and will soon expire if he does not leave the rarified and deadening atmosphere of his own particular shaft to breathe fresh air with his students and readers. Aeschylus, Socrates, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, and Archimedes were men of action, whose lives were one with those of their peers and whose work was a product of a continual— and often dangerous— plunge into the melee.1

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Virulent Fatalism: Modernity, Decadence, and Collapse

Base sexuality, sickness, religion, and intoxication entwine about each other in these texts, as withered creepers and roots might do as they cascaded into a chasm full of bats.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

These are the months of love; I’m seventeen, the time of hope and chimeras, as they say, and so, a child blessed by the hand of the Muse (how trivial that must seem), I’ve set out to express my good thoughts, my hopes, my feelings, the provinces of poets—I call all of this spring.

—Arthur Rimbaud, I Promise to Be Good: Letters of Rimbaud 

Maladaptation. “With what ghoulish glee, when it comes time to shovel him under, do we focus attention upon the “maladaptation” of the lone individual, the only true rebel in a rotten society!”1 Rather than being enslaved by and adapted to the reality system of collective expediency the rebel exposes himself to that dark impossibility of exit. There is no escape, only ever internal or external exile, a wandering and going under. Masking the spite filled hollows of one’s bitterness becomes the only challenge to corruption of life within a civilization bounded by its own illusions and delusions, the deliriums of its inescapable destiny in collapse. For the rebel they can only be secession, a slow or fast withdrawal from the collapsing void. As Miller would extemporize,

In the whirlpool of coming darkness and chaos-a veritable tohu-bohu-the poets of today are withdrawing, embalming themselves in a cryptic language which grows ever more and more unintelligible. And as they black out one by one, the countries which gave them birth plunge resolutely toward their doom. (10)

Poète maudit! Alfred de Vigny in his 1832 novel Stello, coined the term and would describe these daemonic creatures as “la race toujours maudite par les puissants de la terre” (The race that will always be cursed by the powerful ones of the earth!”). Such is the fate of those who blessed with the madness of seeing too much, of knowing too much, of having delved into the pits and black bile of a society’s toxic wastelands and spent their youth among the ruins and seasons in hell.

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On Realism

If we subtract the human subject, the knower, the epistemological reasoner from the picture – in other words, if humans did not exist would things exist without us? It reminds me of that old saw of Zen: “What does the sound of a tree falling make in the woods?” To answer that using human descriptions, literal or figurative, is already to imply a Subject apprehending sound; for sound is a subjective and empirical datum of our experience, etc. But if there were no animals, no empirically listening subjects there would sound even be possible? Vibration? Of course that begs the question.

In their work on realism Graham Harman and De Landa have a conversation about essence, and Graham says,

“As to the question of what work essence does for me, it serves to remind us that the thing has a reality deeper than any of its current or even possible manifestations. Merleau-Ponty (2002: 79) claims that “the house itself is not the house seen from nowhere, but the house seen from everywhere.” As refreshing as this may sound at first, it claims the impossible: that a house could be built out of views, when in fact the house is what makes views possible. A view is merely a compound entity that contains the house as one of its components and a viewer as another. Water does not first conjure hydrogen into existence, but relies on pre-existent hydrogen.”1

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The Unmaking of a Leftist: How I Left the Cult of Progressive Religion

What have all dictators of the past had in common? The cult of knowledge, the control of a socieities knowledge base in the hands of experts. To do this dictators have always symobolically erased and burned the public face of knowledge: the great libraries where such knowledge was inscribed in external systems. Are we not undergoing such a purification rite in our time? We who have so much infoglut that no one but our machines can master the datasets of information and its complexity? And, only the masters of the machinic intelligeneces, the experts in technological systems: the algorithmic masters of complexity hold the keys to this world. And, as in all previous dictatorships the decay of learning, the erasure of culture and religion and mores and customs, traditions, and the memory of the past have been under dissolution for two centuries.

Like all Cults, Progressivism produces neither sustenance, peace, defense, nor philosophy, worthy of its name, yet it does provide one service, which service unites the group, and to which all other operations of the group are subservient: it provides the reassurance that although the actions of the world may neither be understood nor exploited, fear may be shared out and the stranded group may take comfort in its replacement by denial.

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James Ross: They Don’t Dance Much

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“[Ross] showed us that a writer can come out of the red-clay gulches of rural North Carolina during the Depression—that is, a writer can come out of absolutely anywhere at any time—and make high art without resorting to tricks, stylish ennui or pointless savagery.” —Bill Morris, The Millions

Reading They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, one of the old classic Southern noirs recently published, brought me back to the world I grew up in during the 50’s; or, at least a version of that world in another South. Strangely a part of it reminded me of an older step-brother and his high-school sweetheart who ran off and married a rich man. There’s a character by name of Smut Milligan – and, yea, it’s a nickname – whose from the wrong side of the track, dirt poor, and yet a great athlete. Excepting he’s a sucker for the curve ball, which put him at the bottom of the heap of hopefuls from the Scouts.

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On Becoming Human in an Inhuman World

On Becoming Human in an Inhuman World

Specialists maintain that gesture came first, others speech; and, still others, that both arose together modifying the patterns of conscious/unconscious communication between peoples that otherwise could not carry on an intelligent conversation. One thinks about it realizing that humankind over millions of years of ancestral grunts and groans, hand to eye, and eye to hand movements, gestures, appeals would learn to work together, cooperate, hunt and gather, build cultures capable of constructing vast machines of cities, temples, governments. Yet, we cannot do the one thing we need in our moment: overcome our profound differences and work together to face our own prejudices, our fears, our hatreds, and affective imbecility in the face of each other. We cannot alas live together on this congested planet without killing each other in genocide and war. Instead we construct walls against such cooperation, castigating each other, anathematizing each other, blaming each other for our own inability to face our selves and accept the responsibility of becoming fully human in an inhuman world.

David Mamet: On His Political Awakening

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David Mamet on his political awakening:

I spoke with my first conservatives at age sixty. My rabbi, Mordecai Finley, a centrist, and a founding member of his temple, Endre Balogh, took the time to talk to me. I was impressed not by their politics, which, at the time, made to me no sense, but by their politeness and patience. They gave me a book, and the book was White Guilt, by Shelby Steele.

It brought to mind an old Providence, Rhode Island, answer to a difficult question, “What do you want, the truth, or a lie . . . ?”

Having spent my life in the theatre, I knew that people could be formed into an audience, that is, a group which surrenders for two hours, part of its rationality, in order to enjoy an illusion.

As I began reading and thinking about politics I saw, to my horror, how easily people could also assemble themselves into a mob, which would either attract or be called into being by those who profited from the surrender of reason and liberty—and that these people are called politicians. My question, then, was, that as we cannot live without Government, how must we deal with those who will be inclined to abuse it—the politicians and their manipulators? The answer to that question, I realized, was attempted in the U.S. Constitution—a document based not upon the philosophic assumption that people are basically good, but on the tragic confession of the opposite view.

I examined my Liberalism and found it like an addiction to roulette. Here, though the odds are plain, and the certainty of loss apparent to anyone with a knowledge of arithmetic, the addict, failing time and again, is convinced he yet is graced with the power to contravene natural laws. The roulette addict, when he inevitably comes to grief, does not examine either the nature of roulette, or of his delusion, but retires to develop a new system, and to scheme for more funds.

The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others.

I saw that I had been living in a state of ignorance, accepting an unexamined illusion and calling it “compassion,” but that there were those brave enough to work their way through the prevailing slogans of their time, and reason toward a consistent, practicable understanding of human relations. To these, politics was not the manipulation of the ignorant and undecided, but the dedication to the defense and implementation of just, first principles, for example, those of the United States Constitution.

I saw that to proclaim these beliefs in individual freedom, in individual liberty, and in the inevitable evil of surrender of powers to the State, was, in the general population, difficult, and in the Liberal environment, literally impossible, but yet men and women of courage devoted their lives and energies to doing so, undeterred not only by scorn but by despair.

I will now quote two Chicago writers on the subject, the first, William Shakespeare, who wrote “Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out, when Lady the brach may stand by the fire and stink”; the second, Ernest Hemingway, “Call ’em like you see’em and to hell with it.”1


  1. Mamet, David. The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (pp. 9-10). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.