By Jose Rosales
– What is To Live and Think Like Pigs about?
[Châtelet:] It’s a book about the fabrication of individuals who operate a soft censorship on themselves…In them, humanity is reduced to a bubble of rights, not going beyond strict biological functions of the yum-yum-fart type. . .as well as the vroom-vroom and beep-beep of cybernetics and the suburbs. . .So people with entirely adequate IQs don’t become free individuals. . .instead they constitute what I call cyber-livestock […] All fresh meat, all fresh brains, must become quantifiable and marketable.
In the opening pages of his foreword to Gilles Châtelet’s To Live and Think Like Pigs, Alain Badiou repeatedly emphasizes the need for preparation on the part of the reader. In spite of Châtelet’s critical violence, poignant sarcasm, and general disenchantment with the present state of affairs, we readers must prepare ourselves for the encounter with that “rage to live,” which “animated Gilles Châtelet” (‘What is it to Live?’ 5). A rage whose urgency makes itself felt already in the books Preface. However, remarks Badiou, this was always a rage bound to and tempered by a melancholy felt in the face of the fact that more and more each day “we are solicited (and increasingly so) to live – and to think – ‘like pigs’” (5). What is more, adds Badiou, what is additionally exceptional and worthy of note is the fact that despite Châtelet being someone better known for his expertise in the history and theory of the sciences and the philosophy of mathematics, the fundamental commitment and impetus that guides his thought is better understood as one in which “every proposition on science [i.e. principle of Thought] can be converted into a maxim for life [i.e. principle of action].” Thus, if Châtelet is to be remembered, it will be as an individual whose life and thought will forever remain irreducible to the concerns of a pure epistemologist or professional academic. And for Badiou, Châtelet’s is a thought whose chief concern was always the question what does it mean to live? Now, to demonstrate why this is so, Badiou proposes the following five principles that are to serve as an introduction to, and outline of, the architectonic of Châtelet’s life and work as a whole: the principle of exteriority, the principle of interiority, the principle of determination, the principle of the indeterminacy of Being, and the principle of invention.
Principle of Exteriority: Thought is the unfolding of the space that does justice to your body
According to Badiou, if we were to identify the single theme that unifies Châtelet’s range of interests, which span from the arts and sciences to questions of revolution, it would be the idea that “thought is rooted in the body;” where body is “conceived of as dynamic spatiality” (5). What does it mean to say that thought is rooted in dynamic spatiality; that the grounds for thought is the body? It means that Thought finds its “origin” (this is Badiou’s formulation) in geometry whereby “all thought is the knotting together of a space and a gesture, the gestural unfolding of a space” (5). In other words, if Thought is rooted in the body or that what grounds Thought is a certain spatial dynamism, then ‘to think’ necessarily means to engender a particular act (gesture) within a particular organization of space (geometric plane) – Thought, says Châtelet, was never solely the domain of the mind and necessarily involves the conjugation of the points of one’s body with those of a plane. And it is this image of Thought as the conjugation of a body with a plane that leads Badiou to claim that Châtelet’s first maxim was as follows: ‘Unfold the space that does justice to your body’ (5). And it is this maxim of finding the space that does justice to one’s body that is the practical correlate to Châtelet’s own image of Thought as being founded upon a body (i.e. spatial dynamism): insofar as we are thinking and thus rooted in a body, we are simultaneously compelled to act in such a way that the conjugation of body and plane does justice to the body of Thought (the body which is the ground for Thought): “Châtelet’s love of partying obeyed this maxim. It is more ascetic than it might appear, for the construction of the nocturnal space of pleasure is at least as much of a duty as a passive assent. To be a pig is to understand nothing of this duty; it is to wallow in satisfaction without understanding what it really involves” (6).
Principle of Interiority: Solitude is the ‘Intimate Essence’ of Alterity
If Thought is rooted in the body and establishes the obligation of determining the space which does justice to one’s body, what we discover is that for every process of realisation there exists some, “virtuality of articulation that is its principle of deployment. Geometry is not a science of extrinsic extension…it is a resource for extraction and for thickening, a set of deformational gestures, a properly physical virtuality. So that we must think a sort of interiority of space, an intrinsic virtue of variation, which the thinking gesture at once instigate and accompanies”(6). In other words, the fact of Thought being grounded upon the body (as spatial dynamism) has as its necessary consequence the fact that the very function of any given process of realization (or actualization) can only be grasped by understanding its raison d’etre; by grasping why and how a given phenomena was able to be realized in the first place. That is to say, realization or actualization is a process that is not determined by that which it produces (i.e. the latent potential of any social phenomena can in no way serve as reason or cause for that which has been actualized). That said… how does Châtelet view this maxim of Thought as a maxim that also holds for the question of ‘what does it mean to live?’
According to Badiou, the fact that processes of actualization are determined by their virtual components are, for Châtelet, indicative of the fact that the process of extensive unfolding of (‘just’) space proceeds via gesture is repeated but this time with respect to what is intensive and belongs to interiority. For, as Badiou remarks, Thought is comprised of “a set of deformational gestures, a properly physical virtuality” (6), i,e. the deformation of a space that remains unjust vis-a-vis our body, and whose movements are guided not by the requirements of realisation but by what is virtually possible and/or impossible. It is in this way that Châtelet’s first principle (Thought is rooted in the body) gives rise to its second: just as the ‘deformational gesture’ is the developmental or extensive function of Thought (the pure function which is to be realised), so too is it the case that solitude as the ‘interiority of space’ and which harbors that ‘intrinsic virtue of variation,’ is Thought’s enveloping or intensive function. Thus Badiou can write that, “[I]n terms of life, this time is a matter of remarking that solitude and interiority are, alas, the intimate essence of alterity…Gilles Châtelet knew innumerable people, but in this apparent dissemination there was a considerable, and perhaps ultimately mortal, dose of solitude and withdrawal. It is from this point of bleak solitude, also, that he was able to judge the abject destiny of our supposedly ‘convivial’ societies” (6). And it is in this way, then, that in affirming the maxim of unfolding the space that does justice to our body; a space that also serves as the very ground for Thought as such; we discover that the development of ‘just’ space is only made possible by preserving the interiority of space for solitude and withdrawal. While embodiment may define the Being of Thought, it remains the case that it is through the solitude of interiority that Thought-as-gesture-of-deformation possesses any degree of determinacy. And in the absence of any interiority; lacking solitude as that “intimate essence of alterity and of the external world;” Thought becomes capable of nothing more than its passive assent to the nocturnal space of pleasure:
At this decades’ end, a veritable miracle of the Night takes place, enabling Money, Fashion, the Street, the Media, and even the University to get high together and pool their talents to bring about this paradox: a festive equilibrium, the cordial boudoir of the ‘tertiary service society’ which would very quickly become the society of boredom, of the spirit of imitation, of cowardice, and above all of the petty game of reciprocal envy – ‘first one to wake envies the others’. It’s one of those open secrets of Parisian life: every trendy frog, even a cloddish specimen, knows very well that when Tout-Paris swings, ‘civil society’ will soon start to groove. In particular, any sociologist with a little insight would have been able to observe with interest the slow putrefaction of liberatory optimism into libertarian cynicism, which would soon become right-hand man to the liberal Counter-Reformation that would follow; and the drift from ‘yeah man, y’know, like…’, a little adolescent-hippy but still likeable, into the ‘let’s not kid ourselves’ of the Sciences-Po freshman. (Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs, 8-9)
Principle of Determination: ‘Be the prince of your own unsuspected beauty’
Now, if it is the case that virtual solitude alone is capable of rendering Thought’s deformational gestures (gestures which unfold a ‘just’ space vis-a-vis the body as foundation for Thought as such), then the question necessarily arises: What is the criteria or measure by which Thought attains a discrete and determinate existence? If the virtual is what guides the process of actualisation, to what end does virtuality as such aspire? According to Badiou, the virtual determination of actualisation, appears in Châtelet’s text as a form of determination that is oriented toward the ‘latent’ and/or ‘temporal’ continuum. As Badiou writes, “[T]he latent continuum is always more important than the discontinuous cut […] For Châtelet, the history of thought is never ready-made, pre-periodised, already carved up. Thought is sleeping in the temporal continuum. There are only singularities awaiting reactivation, creative virtualities lodged in these folds of time, which the body can discover and accept (6). Now, just as the body is the ground for Thought, the latent continuum as that set of not-yet realised virtual-potentials provide the outline of that which the process of actualisation is to realise. To unfold the space that does justice to one’s body; to deform actual or realised space (i.e. to no longer passively assent to the present order of space); such that thought and gesture are explicated in accordance with everything that has not yet been given its actual and concrete form. Thus, Badiou concludes,
The maxim of life this time is: ‘Reactivate your dormant childhood, be the prince of your own unsuspected beauty. Activate your virtuality.’ In the order of existence, materialism might be called the desiccation of the virtual, and so Gilles sought to replace this materialism with the romantic idealism of the powers of childhood. To live and think like a pig is also to kill childhood within oneself, to imagine stupidly that one is a ‘responsible’ well-balanced adult: a nobody, in short. (Badiou, ‘What is it to Live?’ 6)
It is this latent continuity of the virtual that give form to Thought’s deforming gestures and render it as an act whose very significance is indexed to the not-yet realised potential of interiority. For if Thought is said to be disfiguring in its deeds it is precisely because what is realised are modes of being who remain in an asymmetrical relation to the currently existing order of things. Perhaps we could say that one of the inaugural gestures of Thinking is its disagreement with the structure, and thus reality, of the world which it confronts. Absent this disagreement, Thought confronts, once more, that passive assent which signals its imminent failure.
Principle of Indeterminate Being: ‘Love only that which overturns your order’
Now, while it is the case that Thought resides in the latent continuum of virtuality and orients its actualisation in accordance with ‘the prince of its own unsuspected beauty,’ it is also the case that Thought grasps Being only in moments of its indeterminacy. For Badiou, Being as indeterminate commits Châtelet to a certain “dialectical ambiguity” wherein “Being reveals itself to thought – whether scientific of philosophical, no matter – in ‘centres of indifference’ that bear within them the ambiguity of all possible separation” (6). For, as Châtelet writes, it is these “points of maximal ambiguity where a new pact between understanding and intuition is sealed” (7). However, one might ask, what does indifferent Being have to do with the virtual’s determination of actualisation? What is the relation between indeterminate Being and the determinations of Thought? For Châtelet, it is this confrontation of indeterminate Being and the determination of the virtual of Thought that acts as that propitious moment whereby the virtual acts upon the process of actualisation; for it is precisely in the absence of the self-evidence of determinate and definite space, which served as that which Thought passively believes to be “capable of orienting itself and fixing its path,” (7) that the virtual and the actual are drawn together to the point of their indistinction. Thus it is when Being is indeterminate (or ambiguous) that Thought increases its capacity of deforming space in the name of its body. Hence, says Badiou, this principle of indeterminate Being is given the following, practical, formulation: “‘Be the dandy of ambiguities. On pain of losing yourself, love only that which overturns your order.’ As for the pig, he wants to put everything definitively in its place, to reduce it to possible profit; he wants everything to be labelled and consumable” (7).
Principle of Invention: To live is to invent unknown dimensions of existing
Thus far we have seen how in beginning with the maxim of Thought as the unfolding of a space that does justice to the body as ground of Thinking, Châtelet goes on to develop the principle of interiority/solitude, which leads to the discovery that the virtual determines actualisation, and thereby obliging us to “love what overturns our order” insofar as Thought’s passive assent to a certain pre-established harmony of space is that which Thought must deform through its gestures. However, the question necessarily arises: is the logical outcome of Thought’s deformation of a predetermined space merely amount to the celebration of disorder pure and simple? As it approaches the limits of what it is capable of when confronted with indifferent/ambiguous Being, can Thought be something other than the discordant harmony of deformed space and the idealized continuum of time? To these questions, Châtelet’s response is strictly Bergsonian. Following Bergson’s insight that it would be false to treat disorder as the opposite of order (since ‘disorder’ is the term used for the discovery of an order we were not anticipating), Châtelet argues that not only is Thought something more than the multiplication of deformed space and ideal time; it is precisely when the preceding conditions, or maxims, of Thought have been satisfied that “the higher organisation of thought is…attained” (8). What is this higher order of Thought? Badiou’s answer to this question, as lengthy as it is moving, deserves to be quoted at length:
As we can see: a thought is that which masters, in the resolute gestural treatment of the most resistant lateralities, the engendering of the ‘continuously diverse.’ The grasping of being does not call for an averaging-out…it convokes…the irreducibility, the dialectical irreducibility, of dimensions. In this sense thought is never unilaterally destined to signifying organization…But this is not where the ultimate states of thought lie. They lie in a capacity to seize the dimension; and for this one must invent notations, which exceed the power of the letter. On this point, romantic idealism teaches us to seek not the meaning of our existence, but the exactitude of its dimensions. To live is to invent unknown dimensions of existing and thus, as Rimbaud said, to ‘define vertigo’. This, after all, is what we ought to retain from the life and the death of Gilles Châtelet: we need vertigo, but we also need form – that is to say, its definition. For vertigo is indeed what the romantic dialectic seeks to find at the centre of rationalist itself, insofar as rationality is invention, and therefore a fragment of natural force […] It is a matter of discerning, or retrieving, through polemical violence, in the contemporary commercial space, the resources of a temporalization; of knowing whether some gesture of the thought-body is still possible. In order not to live and think like pigs, let us be of the school of he for whom…only one questioned mattered in the end-an imperative question, a disquieting question: The question of the watchman who hears in space the rustling of a gesture, and calls our: ‘Who’s living?’ Gilles asked, and asked himself, the question: ‘Who’s living?’ We shall strive, so as to remain faithful to him, to choose. (Badiou, ‘What is it to Live?’ 7-8)
For Badiou, then, Châtelet never faltered in his commitment to Thought as deformational gestures which allow Thought to grasp diversity as such; to grasp the multiple as “the production of a deformation of the linear [the order enforced by the pig who wants to put everything in its place; the space of consumption and circulation] through laterality [the time of inventing new dimensions of existence determined by the latent continuum of the virtual]” (7). That is to say, in every deformed and mutilated act Thought is able to prise open the rigid organization of commercial space and re-establish its relation to those virtual images over-determining the realization of actual object. Thus, Châtelet conceives of the relationship between Thought’s deformational cut, which brings a new order and connection to those spaces of commerce and consumption. And much the same way as Deleuze understood the relationship of the actual to the virtual, so too does Châtelet maintain that the virtual image is contemporary with the actual object and serves as its double, “its ‘mirror image,’ as in The Lady from Shanghai, in which the mirror takes control of a character, engulfs him and leaves him as just a virtuality” (Dialogues II, 150). Hence Badiou can write that at the height of its powers, Thought undergoes a transformation and comes to establish a new “pact between understanding and intuition” such that “separative understanding and intuition fuse, in a paradoxical intensity of thought” (6-7). For it is this moment of Thought’s intensive functioning wherein what is given in our experience of the virtual finds itself without a corresponding actual phenomenal object. And in instances such as these, Thought is obliged to invent or discover the forms by which the temporalization of what is virtual within laterality achieves an intentional and determinate deformation of the axis of linearity. Only then does Thinking reach the highest degree of its power, which is its ability to expose the form or exact dimensions of existence, which will serve as the criteria for the reorganization of space (discrete, discontinuous).
Not to live and think like pigs, then. To remain faithful to everything that is at stake in the question of ‘What is it to live?’ and to always inquire into who among us are in fact living. As we have seen, any possible answer to these questions begin with a gesture that desecrates what is sacrosanct in cybernetic-capitalist terrestrial life. And perhaps from the present vantage point we are not too distant from the position Châtelet found himself; thinking and posing these questions – ‘what is it to live? and who among us are living?’ – in the shadow of neo-liberalism’s Counter-Reformation; that era, says Châtelet, which came to be defined by “the market’s Invisible Hand, which dons no kid gloves in order to starve and crush silently, and which is invincible because it applies its pressure everywhere and nowhere; but which nonetheless…has need of a voice. And the voice was right there waiting. The neo-liberal Counter-Reformation…would furnish the classic services of reactionary opinion, delivering a social alchemy to forge a political force out of everything that a middle class invariably ends up exuding-fear, envy, and conformity” (TLTLP, 18-19). And if we were to pose Châtelet’s question for our historical present, one would find an answer from Châtelet himself; an answer that is, however, a negative response:
“…here lies the whole imposture of the city-slicker narcissism…the claim to reestablish all the splendour of that nascent urbanism that, in the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, brings together talents, intensifying them in a new spacetime – whereas in fact all our new urbanists do is turn a profit from a placement, a double movement that pulverizes and compactifies spacetime so as to subordinate it to a socio-communicational space governed by the parking lot and the cellphone. From now on the spacetime of the city will be a matter of the econometric management of the stock of skills per cubic metre per second, and of the organization of the number of encounters of functional individuals, encounters that naturally will be promoted to the postmodern dignity of ‘events’ […] In any case, for the great majority of Turbo-Becassines and Cyber-Gideons, cosmopolitanism is above all a certain transcontinental way of staying at home and amongst their own by teleporting the predatory elegance that immediately distinguishes the urban monster as a bearer of hope…from the Gribouilles and the Petroleuses, afflicted with vegetative patience or saurian militancy.”
(Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs, 67-68)
by Ian Buchanan
Kevin Fletcher - ornamental low relief assemblage
II. ‘Returning’ to the Assemblage
Using some ‘real-world’ examples drawn from the work of the Australian policy ethnographer Tess Lea, I want to offer a different view of the assemblage, one that is drawn directly from the work of Deleuze and Guattari rather than secondary sources. Four key differences from Baker and McGuirk’s account of the assemblage will be apparent: ﬁrstly, the assemblage is not a thing in the world–it is assemblages that explain the existence of things in the world, not the other way round; secondly, assemblages are structured and structuring (not purely processual), that is one of their principal processes; thirdly, assemblages have a logic, an operational sense if you will, that can be mapped–one always knows what is possible and what is not possible within a given assemblage; and, lastly, assemblages always strive to persist in their being, to use a Spinozist turn of phrase–they are subject to forces of change, but ultimately they would always prefer not to change (this is why deterritorialisation is always immediately followed by reterritorialisation).
Infrastructure good and bad is the product of countless small decisions by many thousands of people over many decades. Those decisions, however well intentioned and well thought through, are not made in a vacuum. Of necessity, they are made in a context deﬁned by a set of constraints to do with cost, existing infrastructure, topography, trade agreements, and countless other factors too numerous to even at tempt to tabulate here, that ultimately blurs the line between the intended and the unintended, the fated and the accidental. The result is a curious state of affairs that is neither the product of deliberate, conscious design, nor the product of a sequence of random, ad hoc experiments, but somehow a combination of the two. It is, in this sense, a highly unstable object that requires a supple ontology to describe it. To begin with, and perhaps most importantly, we have to stop thinking of infrastructure and infrastructure policy in teleological terms because it has neither a clear-cut beginning nor a logical end point (Lea 2014:n.p.).This, in turn, challenges us to re-think the ontology of policy.
Rather than see policy as a blueprint, that is, as a static document or model which guides the construction of speciﬁc pieces of infrastructure, Lea argues that ‘policy is an organic–or as I prefer, a wild–force, a biota which thrives on the heralding of cataclysms and thus the cumulative need for policy beneﬁcence’ (Lea 2014: n.p.). I like this notion of wild policy, because of the impromptu, seat-of-the-pants, policy-on-the-ﬂy image it conjures up that goes well beyond the rather tame non-linear feedback loop model of ‘formulation–implementation–reformulation’ DeLanda suggests as a means of accommodating the widely acknowledged ‘gap’ between policy formulation and implementation. As he says, this model works–for his purposes–because it allows for ﬂuidity in the policy-implementation process but still retains the possibility of assessing outcomes (De Landa 2006: 85). Lea’s position is much more radical than this because she wants us to dispense with the fantasy (implicit in DeLanda’s formulation) that policy can be thought in systemic terms and evaluated by wiser critics after the fact, thus failing to think outside the logic of the system being critiqued. As Lea’s work demonstrates, the ‘formulation–implementation–reformulation’ model is intrinsic to policy’s own idea of itself (in Deleuzian terms, one could say it is policy’s ‘image of thought’ [Deleuze 1994: 131]). In its self-reﬂexive moments–such as so-called policy reviews–policy is sometimes willing to admit that things have not gone as planned, but even this is mere self-deception because the ‘idea of intentions gone awry pretends there was no foundational opacity within original policy forecasts’ (Lea 2014: n.p.).
However, as much as I like the image of ‘wild policy’ I want to set aside the organic model Lea uses to frame it because as several key critiques of organic models have amply demonstrated it returns us all too swiftly to the very thing we wanted to escape from in the ﬁrst place, that is, teleology. Instead I want to reimagine it in terms of ‘wild analysis’, which is Freud’s term for ‘apparently’ psychoanalytic diagnoses and treatments formulated by ‘untrained’ physicians. He is particularly wary of physicians who have a smattering of psychoanalytic knowledge, but have not mastered the subtleties of the actual practice of psychoanalysis itself, which despite its pretensions to scientiﬁcity was and remains an art form. In a way, though, the master himself was as much a practiser of ‘wild analysis’ as the lay practictioners he chastises because psychoanalysis itself is ‘wild’ as Nicholas Spice captures beautifully in this inspired description of the psychoanalytic‘scene’(i.e.the‘encounter’ between analyst and analysand):
Analyst and patient are two people who start to dance without knowing which dance it is that they are dancing or even if they share the same understanding of what a dance might be. But still they dance, and though in time they get used to each other’s steps they never do ﬁnd out which dance it is. So the patient has to give up his need to know what the analyst thinks about him, since there is no way he can ever ﬁnd this out, and the analyst must give up every ordinary human means to convince the patient that she really does have his best interests at heart. (Spice 2004: n.p.)
This, I think, better expresses the basic claim Lea wants to make about policy, namely that policy-making is (1) born in ignorance; (2) an adaption to circumstances rather than a rational solution to a speciﬁc problem; (3) subject to constant scepticism and suspicion; and (4) propped up by mutually agreed upon illusions of coherence. Wild analysis calls for the antidote of schizoanalysis (which is assemblage theory’s other name). Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage answers to a number of the issues raised by Lea, but we must be careful to distinguish it from the kinds of distorted versions of it elaborated above, which are all too often imbued with precisely the kind of artiﬁcial coherence Lea wants us to escape. There is no point in exchanging wild analysis for wild schizoanalysis. If policy is to be understood as an assemblage, as I want to suggest it should be, then we have to ﬁrst of all grasp that the assemblage is not a thing and it does not consist of things. I would even go so far as to say the assemblage does not have any content, it is a purely formal arrangement or ordering that functions as a mechanism of inclusion and exclusion (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 45). It does not consist of relations; rather, it is a relation, but of a very particular type.
To conceive of policy as an assemblage means seeing it purely in terms of the kinds of arrangements and orderings it makes possible and even more importantly the set of expectations it entails. To see it this way we need to separate ‘policy’ as a conceptual entity from its myriad iterations as this or that policy–for example, infrastructure policy, health policy, transport policy, and so on–but also from all sense of outcomes and outputs. We also have to see so-called policy decisions as components of the policy assemblage and not as some kind of climactic moment in the life of a policy. Policy decisions are part of the form of the policy assemblage, not the content. By questioning the very idea of policy Lea has enabled us to see it in a new light. As Lea shows, policy-making is rhizomatic, it takes place ‘in the middle of things’, but always pretends otherwise because it is locked into an image of itself as a special type of agency (assemblage) that deﬁnes and measures ‘progress’. When policy looks at itself it only sees beginnings and endings, starting points that lack intentionality (a situation that stands in need of rectiﬁcation) and ﬁnishing points that are fully intended (a changed situation). In the middle is action, and though policy claims to function as a guide to what happens it eschews all responsibility.
III. Assemblages and Actants
In spite of the fact that the concept of the assemblage quite explicitly takes its structure from the work of the Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev, the one Deleuze and Guattari describe as a ‘dark prince descended from Hamlet’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 43), assemblage theory consistently looks to science, particularly cybernetics, systems theory and complexity theory, as both the source of Deleuze and Guattari’s inspiration and the point of reference that gives the concept its meaning. For instance, in his two books devoted to assemblage theory (A New Philosophy of Society and Assemblage Theory) DeLanda does not mention Hjelmslev. Baker and McGuirk do not mention Hjelmslev either. Not only does this omission obscure the fact that Deleuze and Guattari drew upon a wide variety of non-scientiﬁc sources in their formulation of the concept of the assemblage, it also forgets that Deleuze and Guattari were quite explicit in saying that they were not interested in (re)producing science; they wanted their work to be thought of as nothing but philosophy. The concept, as Deleuze and Guattari would later write, has no referent (i.e. something in the ‘real’ world that it refers to and draws its meaning from), something else assemblage theorists of the ‘realist’ persuasion conveniently forget (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 22).
Of these other sources the most important insofar as the assemblage is concerned was structuralist linguistics, including its dark precursor Russian Formalism. Guattari, particularly, was an avid reader of Mikhail Bakhtin and his putative alter ego Valentin Vološinov, a fact reﬂected in dozens of footnotes throughout his work. Deleuze, too, was clearly inspired by their work, as can be seen in his cinema books (the sensory-motor-scheme is clearly narratological in inspiration).Ironically, the one scholar to emphasise this connection was the one person who might have been expected to and perhaps even forgiven for seeing only the science side of Deleuze and Guattari’s work, and that is Bruno Latour. Latour explicitly links his conception of agency–and hence the concept of the assemblage which he takes from Deleuze and Guattari and adapts to his own purposes–to Greimas’s narratological concept of the actant (Latour 2005: 54). I want to suggest that Latour’s insight that agency can and should be thought in narratological terms is helpful in deepening our understanding of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage. Not the least because it returns us all the more surely to Hjelmslev, a key inspiration for Greimas in any case. Greimas helps to put Hjelmslev back in his proper light as a structuralist linguist, which is important because it cuts through the illusory veil of scientiﬁcity that has been wrapped around the concept of the assemblage by many of its erstwhile admirers. As I will brieﬂy illustrate, Greimas’s concept is perfectly consistent with Deleuze and Guattari’s famous instruction that we should ask not what something means, but only how it works, for this is exactly Greimas’s question too.
The degree to which the two concepts–actant and assemblage–are congruent becomes apparent the moment their respective deﬁnitions are read side by side. Firstly, the actant:
If we recall that functions, in the traditional syntax, are but roles played by words–the subject being ‘the one who performs the action’, ‘the one who suffers it’, etc.–then according to such a conception the proposition as a whole becomes a spectacle to which homo loquens treats himself. (Greimas, quoted in Jameson 1972: 124)
And as Jameson points out, for Greimas ‘it is this underlying “dramatic” structure which is common to all forms of discourse, philosophical or literary, expository or affective’ (Jameson 1972: 124). This will need more detailed explication, which I will provide in a moment, but before I do that I want to quickly juxtapose it with a brief quote from Deleuze and Guattari just to make apparent the degree to which their thinking is inspired by the same concern to distinguish between superﬁcial appearances and deep structures of action:
A formation of power is much more than a tool; a regime of signs is much more than a language. Rather, they act as determining and selective agents, as much in the constitution of languages and tools as in their usages and mutual or respective diffusions and communications.(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:63 my emphasis)
The essential insight of the concept of the actant is that the organising structure of a text (in the broadest possible sense of that word, which can of course encompass both policy and the built environment, our two concerns here) is at once that which allows for maximum variation and that which itself resists all variation (Jameson 1972: 123–9). It is in this precise sense a singularity at the heart of a multiplicity. It has both an internal limit and an external limit, that is, boundaries which cannot be crossed without becoming something different from what it was. The internal limit refers to the sum total of possible variationsit can accommodate; while the external limit refers to the restrictions history itself places on the number of possible variations. Analysis consists of bringing these limits to light. It is important to remember, too, that the actant is a narratological concept. So it always refers to a process of transformation rather than a static situation, or, to put it another way, it is generative not descriptive. Lea’s ethnography of the debate that went on behind closed doors in the implementation phase of Australia’s Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) offers a real-world example of the actant as organising structure. Launched in 2009 with considerable fanfare and a seemingly bottomless well of money, SIHIP was supposed to ‘ﬁx’ once and for all (the echoes to be heard here of ‘ﬁnal solution’ are of course fully intended) the parlous state of indigenous housing in northern Australia. With a budget of almost $650 million, the programme was supposed to provide 750 new houses and refurbishment of a further 2,500 houses for Indigenous people in seventy-three communities across the Northern Territory. But almost from the beginning it ran into serious problems as cost overruns and blatant corruption on the part of ‘white’ building contractors turned the whole thing into a boondoggle of misused public funds. It was a public relations disaster, a virtual running sore that could not be remedied, because the constant rorting of the programme pushed up the unit cost of the individual houses being built to the point where ‘urban’ Australians (i.e. ‘white’ middle-class voting Australians) began to express resentment at the amount of money being spent on houses for ‘black’ people living in the ‘bush’. The build cost of houses in remote parts of Australia is so high that even modest homes are extremely expensive and by implication appear to be ‘luxurious’ and ‘undeserved’ to uneducated urban eyes.
I assume I need not comment here on the all too obvious undercurrent of racism fuelling the national outburst of ressentiment the SIHIP ﬁasco occasioned, but it should be clear–I hope–that not only is racism central to the political fall-out and response, but it also has a material dimension that, as Lea amply documents, ﬁnds its purest and most baleful expression in ontology. In order to bring costs down and get the whole mess out of the media spotlight, the politicians and senior bureaucrats charged with ‘ﬁxing’ things invited the building contractors who had hitherto ‘failed’ to deliver appropriately costed houses to reconsider the very meaning and actual substance of the concept of a house. Behind closed doors the builders were told ‘everything is on the table’:
With ... the invitation to ‘put it on the table,’ the discussion quickly turned to ways of building lower-cost houses at speed by lopping off such seemingly discretionary design features as louvered windows and sun hoods, internal ﬂashings for waterprooﬁng, or disabled access. In the ﬂurry of designing and then undoing the designs for appropriate housing, it was the sound of a built house falling apart in the non-speciﬁable future that could not compete with the noise of a threatened-and-defensive government in the here and now. (Lea 2014: n.p.)
As Lea argues, by putting ‘everything on the table’ the government effectively gave the builders a free hand to determine not only what constitutes the indigenous housing assemblage in the abstract or conceptual sense (thus redeﬁning its internal limits), but also what constitutes an appropriated welling for an Indigenous person in an actual material sense (thus redeﬁning its external limits). But, she asks, is a house still a house if–as was often the case with the houses built under the auspices of SIHIP–it is not connected to water? Is it still a house if it does not have adequate temperature control or any means of cooling it down in the year-round hot weather northern Australia experiences? Is it still a house if the sewage pipes are not connected to a sewage system? (Lea and Pholeros 2010: 187–190.) These are the internal limits of the housing assemblage, and under normal circumstances it would be impossible to ignore these limits and still call the result a house. But in this instance, with all the rules quite consciously suspended, a new assemblage was brought into being. But the more important assemblage-related question is: according to what criteria is it acceptable and legitimate to not only build houses of this materially substandard variety but also to expect the intended occupants to not only live in them but express gratitude for the ‘privilege’? This question cannot be answered unless we look further aﬁeld than the materials themselves. Lea uses the actual materiality of matter in the most literal and granular sense in a dialectical fashion to expose the fault lines in the expressive dimension. By examining in detail the properties of water, for example, and its implications for building houses in tropical locations, she exposes the critical shallowness of policy thinking which is more focused on ticking boxes in the expressive sphere than it is in creating enduring, live able houses in the material sphere. Material for Lea is akin to Jameson’s concept of the political unconscious, it points to an unthought dimension in policy formation; it also offers the occasion to write glorious sentences (which I willingly cite below). And in many ways these two operations–exposing an unthought, creating exciting new types of sentences–could be said to sum up (in a meta-commentary sense) the new materialist movement:
In monsoonal environments, walls suck in rainwater, forcing bricks and mortar to loosen their seemingly fast embrace, with each new striation forging a sweaty path for corrosion. Salt in mortar built with (substandard) building sand encourages water’s entry points. Water softens the muscularity of support beams; and when it dances on metal, shows itself to be an electrolyte, capable of strengthening its conductive properties by taking carbon dioxide from the air and creating carbonic acid, able to dissolve iron. Even better if the water is salt-loaded, be it from the liberation of salts in artesian waters as pastoralists and miners pull more and more liquid from the subterranean earth, or as spray from coastal waters. Salty water and acidiﬁed water are electrolytes on steroids, able to deconstruct the functionality of load-bearing steel frames at far greater speeds. (Lea 2015: 377)
As I have tried to indicate, there are two separate processes at work in this example: on the one hand, there is a set of questions about what constitutes a house in a material-semiotic sense, which corresponds to the internal limit of the actant; on the other hand, there is a set of questions about what constitutes an appropriate dwelling in an ethicopolitical sense, which corresponds to the external limit of the actant. By looking at the ‘house’ in this way, as an actant rather than an apparatus, our attention is directed in a very particular way: it asks us to reverse the usual way of seeing material–material is not, on this view of things, a condition of possibility, as it tends to be in most so-called new materialist accounts; rather, it is anything which can be interpolated and accommodated by the concept. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, drawing on Hjelmslev, material must always be produced; it does not simply exist (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 43–5). We have to resist the empiricist tendency to treat material as given and instead ask the more properly transcendental-empiricist question: how and under what conditions does matter become material?
In an Australian context, bricks, timber, pressed iron and ﬁbreboard all seem like ‘proper’ materials for house-building, whereas mud, straw, bark, plastic bottles and car bodies do not. But in fact there is no intrinsic reason why these ‘other’ materials should be excluded. Greimas’s question, then, which I want to suggest is also Deleuze and Guattari’s question, is: what are the limits to what can and cannot be counted as material for a particular actant and how are these limits decided?
Greimas’s implication is that one cannot look to the material itself to ﬁnd the answer; instead, one has to examine the actant–what are its requirements? What expectations does it create? This in turn leads us to the external limit and the role ‘history’ itself plays in shaping what can and cannot become the proper material of an actant. Now the issue is less what material is suitable for house-building and more what material is ‘ﬁtting’, where ‘ﬁtting’ is an ethico-political judgement about what kinds of houses people ‘ought’ to live in. These same two dimensions are to be found in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage and although they have different names their operation is almost exactly the same, but with one important twist: both the dimensions themselves and the relation between them are purely arbitrary (something else the new materialists and the realists neglect in their appropriation of Deleuze and Guattari). As Hjemslev puts it, the two dimensions ‘are deﬁned only by their mutual solidarity, and neither of them can be identiﬁed otherwise. They are deﬁned only oppositively and relatively, as mutually opposed functives of one and the same function’ (Hjelmslev, quoted in Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 45). The ﬁrst dimension (equivalent to the internal limit of the actant) is the form of content, but it is also known as the machinic assemblage of bodies; the second dimension is the form of expression, but it is also known as the collective assemblage of enunciation (88). At its most basic the assemblage combines ‘non-discursive multiplicities’ and ‘discursive multiplicities’–the combination is not total or exhaustive, one dimension does not map onto the other without remainder, something always escapes. This is because they are dimensions of an active, ongoing process, not a static entity. Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts are complex syntheses (meaning one can not trace back a pure line of derivation, there is always an inexplicable leap) of a range of ideas drawn from a wide variety of sources, so their names change as they evolve and take on board additional components. In this case the name change reﬂects the combination of Hjelmslev’s ideas (form/content) with that of the Stoics (bodies/attributes) and the work of Leroi-Gourhan (tools/signs) (63). These distinctions cannot be reduced to a simple opposition between things: ‘What should be opposed are distinct formalizations, in a state of unstable equilibrium or reciprocal presupposition’ (67).
Foucault’s analysis of prisons–itself inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s work, as Foucault remarks in an admiring note in the preface to Discipline and Punish–is an exemplary illustration of how this works in practice according to Deleuze and Guattari:
Take a thing like the prison: the prison is a form, the ‘prison-form’; it is a form of content on a stratum and is related to other forms of content (school, barracks, hospital, factory). This thing does not refer back to the word ‘prison’ but to entirely different words and concepts, such as ‘delinquent’ and ‘delinquency’, which express a new way of classifying, stating, translating and even committing criminal acts. ‘Delinquency’ is the form of expression in reciprocal presupposition with the form of content ‘prison’. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 66)
How should this model of thought be applied? The ‘preferred method’, Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘would be severely restrictive’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 67), by which they mean we should (1) seek to determine the speciﬁc conditions under which matter becomes material (i.e. how bricks, timber and steel are determined to be the proper material for housing as opposed to mud, straw and wrecked cars); and (2) seek to determine the speciﬁc conditions under which semiotic matter becomes expressive (i.e. how it is decided that a speciﬁc arrangement of materials is ‘ﬁtting’ for a person to live in and another arrangement is not). Here I must clarify that for Deleuze and Guattari, expression, or better yet ‘becoming expressive’, does not mean simply that something has acquired meaning(s) in the semiotic sense; rather, it refers to the fact it has acquired a performative function. In the example above, the label ‘delinquent’ is not merely symbolic, it frames a person as deserving the treatment he or she receives. It is clear that ‘indigenous’ functions in the same way–as Lea’s analyses make abundantly apparent, the assemblage ‘indigenous housing ’is very different in its formulation to what we might think of as ‘regular housing’ (a phrase I use purely for convenience without any wish to defend it).
That these two formalisations are arbitrary and mobile can be seen in the fact that both vary considerably from country to country and more especially from one class perspective to another. The modest suburban home is a mansion to the slum-dweller, and the slum-dweller’s shanty is a mansion to the rough-sleeping homeless person; by the same token, the suburban home is ‘ﬁtting’ for a middle-class ‘white’ person, just as the shanty is–in the eyes of that same middle-class ‘white’ person–‘ﬁtting’ for a poor person, particularly one living in a remote part of the country where he or she is literally out of sight and out of mind. Formalisation means there is a unity of composition, or, to put it another way, there is an underlying principle of inclusion and exclusion. But the principle of inclusion and exclusion for one dimension (content) can be and often is in conﬂict with the principle of inclusion and exclusion for the other dimension (expression). But what is of central importance–and the reason why the assemblage is such a powerful concept–is the issue of what it takes to yoke together these two dimensions in the ﬁrst place: this is what the assemblage does. We have to stop thinking of the concept of the assemblage as a way of describing a thing or situation and instead see it for what it was always intended to be: a way of analysing a thing or situation.
As Deleuze and Guattari say:
thinkers who do not renew the image of thought are not philosophers but functionaries who, enjoying a ready-made thought, are not even conscious of the problem and are unaware even of the efforts of those they claim to take as their models. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 51)
Concepts should bring about a new way of seeing something and not simply ﬁx a label to something we think we already know about. For Deleuze and Guattari, the critical analytic question is always: given a speciﬁc situation, what kind of assemblage would be required to produce it? As I have tried to indicate in the foregoing discussion of Lea’s analyses of indigenous housing policy in Australia, this question should be understood as having two interrelated dimensions: on the one hand, it asks: what are the material elements–bodies in the broadest possible sense–that consitute this ‘thing’, how are they arranged, what relations do they entail, what new arrangements and relations might they facilitate? On the other hand, it also asks: how is this arrangement of things justiﬁed and more importantly legitimated, what makes it seem right and proper? In this way it points to different kinds of entities, non-discursive and discursive (or better yet, performative) that have been yoked together. However, it must be emphasised here that the assemblage is the yoke, not the product of the yoke. This is why the comparison with Greimas’s concept of the actant is valuable: it helps us to see that the assemblage is a virtual entity with actual effects.
1. A key side effect of this detachment, which I am unable to pursue here, is the isolation of the assemblage from the concepts of the body without organs and the abstract machine which are in fact inseparable in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. See Buchanan 2015.
2. I use this analogy in my critique of Jane Bennett’s use of the concept of the assemblage. See Buchanan 2016
3. For example, see my discussion of Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of Little Hans in Buchanan 2013.
4. Although Deleuze was interested in the problem of genesis, it is not a central concern in his collaborative work with Guattari. The opposite is true. As their discussion of the Wolf Man makes clear, the problem they have with Freud is precisely that he insists on tracing all symptoms back to a point of origin rather than deal with them on their own terms (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 31).
Baker, Tom and Pauline McGuirk (2016) ‘Assemblage Thinking as Methodology: Commitments and Practices for Critical Policy Research’, Territory, Politics, Governance, DOI i0.1080/21622671.2016.1231631.
Buchanan, Ian (2013) ‘Little Hans Assemblage’, Visual Arts Research, 40, pp. 9–17.
Buchanan, Ian (2015) ‘Assemblage Theory and Its Discontents’, Deleuze Studies, 9:3, pp. 382–92. Buchanan, Ian (2016) ‘What Must We Do about Rubbish?’, Drain Magazine, 13:1, <http://drainmag.com/what-must-we-do-about-rubbish/>(accessed 17 April 2017).
DeLanda, Manuel (2006) A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, London: Continuum.
Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, London: Athlone Press. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1983) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1994) What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press.
Jameson, Fredric (1972) The Prison-House of Language, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lea, Tess (2014) “‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow”: The Unfurling of Wild Policy’, E-Flux, 58, <http://www.e-ﬂux.com/journal/58/61174/from-little things-big-things-grow-the-unfurling-of-wild-policy/>(accessed 17 April 2017).
Lea, Tess (2015) ‘What Has Water Got to Do with It? Indigenous Public Housing and Australian Settler–Colonial Relations’, Settler Colonial Studies, 5:4, pp. 375–86.
Lea, Tess and Paul Pholeros (2010) ‘This Is Not a Pipe: The Treacheries of Indigenous Housing’, Public Culture, 22:1, pp. 187–209.
Nail, Thomas (2017) ‘What is an Assemblage?’, Sub-Stance, 46:1, pp. 21–37.
Spice, Nicholas (2004) ‘I Must Be Mad’, London Review of Books, 26:1, <http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n01/nicholas-spice/i-must-be-mad>(accessed 17 April 2017).
by Ian Buchanan
Kevin Fletcher - ornamental low relief assemblage
If the development of assemblage theory does not need to be anchored in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, as increasingly seems to be the case in the social sciences, then cannot one say that the future of assemblage theory is an illusion? It is an illusion in the sense that it continues to act as though the concept was invented by Deleuze and Guattari, but because it does not feel obligated to draw on their work in its actual operation or development, it cannot lay claim to being authentic. That this does not trouble certain scholars in the social sciences is troubling to me. So in this paper I offer ﬁrst of all critique of this illusory synthetic version of the assemblage and accompany that with a short case study showing what can be gained by returning to Deleuze and Guattari.
Keywords: assemblage theory, ontology of policy, infrastructure policy, actant, agencement, indigenous housing
I. Assemblage as ‘Received Idea’
One cannot help but wonder how different the uptake of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of ‘agencement’ would be if it had not been translated as ‘assemblage’ and an alternate translation such as ‘arrangement’ (which is my preferred translation [Buchanan 2015: 383]) had become the standard? It may be that assemblage theory as we know it today would never have taken off, which would be a pity because the ﬁeld is enormously productive and it has brought into its orbit a huge range of questions and problematics that might otherwise never have been considered. But at least we would not be faced with the problem of how to ‘re-think’ a concept that has all but become a ‘received idea’ (as Flaubert put it), that is, an idea that is so well understood it no longer bears thinking about in any kind of critical way. Unfortunately, the consensus understanding of the concept has been shaped as much (if not more than) by a plain language understanding of the English word ‘assemblage’ as it has by any deep understanding of the work of Deleuze and Guattari. This is particularly evident in the social sciences where there is a strong and–I will argue–undue emphasis on the idea of ‘assembling’ as the core process of assemblages. This is compounded by an apparent consensus that assemblage theory is one of those concepts like deconstruction and postmodernism that no longer owes its development to a speciﬁc authorial source. While it is hard to fault the latter view in that one should be free to re-make concepts, its detachment from Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking has led to a considerable loss of clarity and cohesion in the concept.1
The fact that the English word ‘assemblage’ is not Deleuze and Guattari’s own word, but an artefact of translation, is rarely, if ever, brought into consideration, and where it is it tends to be dismissed as unimportant, which perhaps explains the emphasis on assembling as the central concern of assemblage theory. There are a number of problems with this view of things, not least the fact that assemblage in English does not mean the same thing as agencement in French. Not only that, it is itself a loan word from French, thus adding to the confusion. As Thomas Nail (among others) has shown, agencement derives from agencer, which according to Le Robert & Collins means ‘to arrange, to lay out, or to piece together’, whereas assemblage means ‘to join, to gather, to assemble’ (Nail 2017: 22; but see also Buchanan 2015: 383). The difference between these two deﬁnitions is perhaps subtle, but by no means inconsequential: we might say the former is a process of composition whereas the latter is one of compilation; the difference being that one works with a pre-existing set of entities and gives it a different order, whereas the latter starts from scratch and builds up to something that may or may not have order. A compilation may be a‘ heap of fragments’, where as a composition cannot be.2 The solution, however, is not as simple as insisting that Deleuze and Guattari should (or as some would have it, can) only be read in the ‘original’ French, which is not practical for all readers in any case, because, as I will show, this same plain language approach also applies to straightforward terms like ‘multiplicity’ and ‘territory’. The solution, in my view, is to ‘return’ to Deleuze and Guattari’s work.
I will take as my case in point an essay by two human geographers,Tom Baker and Pauline McGuirk, ‘Assemblage Thinking as Methodology: Commitments and Practices for Critical Policy Research’ (2016), one of the richest, most comprehensive and sophisticated accounts of assemblage theory as it is deployed in the social sciences yet written, and therefore a perfect and anything but ‘straw man’ example of the kind of work I am talking about. In spite of its considerable sophistication, it has completely detached the concept of assemblage from Deleuze and Guattari and replaced it with a synthetic accumulation of readings of readings of Deleuze and Guattari. Ironically, the kind of genealogical reading Baker and McGuirk say is part and parcel of assemblage thinking is completely absent from their own use of the concept. Instead of tracing the concept back to a point of origin, they pull together a heterogeneous ensemble of quotes about the concept of the assemblage from a vast trawl-through of the secondary literature. It is therefore unsurprising, but telling that in deﬁning the concept of Deleuze and Guattari, or DeLanda’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 15, n.1). Without any anchor in Deleuze and Guattari’s work the concept ﬂoats off into an alternate universe in which all contributions to the discussion are treated as equally valuable and there is no arbitration between the strong and the weak versions, never mind the accurate and the wrong versions.the assemblage Baker and McGuirk do not refer to the work of Deleuze and Guattari, which is mentioned but not cited. In a footnote they clarify that for their purposes ‘assemblage thinking refers to a diverse set of research accounts that may or may not engage directly with formal theories of assemblage, such as those of Deleuze and Guattari, or DeLanda’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 15, n.1). Without any anchor in Deleuze and Guattari’s work the concept ﬂoats off into an alternate universe in which all contributions to the discussion are treated as equally valuable and there is no arbitration between the strong and the weak versions, never mind the accurate and the wrong versions.
Baker and McGuirk deﬁne the ‘assemblage as a “gathering of heterogeneous elements consistently drawn together as an identiﬁable terrain of action and debate”’ (drawing on the work of Tanya Li), noting that its elements include ‘arrangements of humans, materials, technologies, organizations, techniques, procedures, norms, and events, all of which have the capacity for agency within and beyond the assemblage’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 4). They also say, citing J. Macgregor Wise, that the assemblage ‘claims a territory’, and that it ‘is realized through ongoing processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, such that assemblages are continually in the process of being made and remade’ (4). To which they add Colin McFarlane’s suggestion that the ‘popularity of assemblage results in large part from its understanding of the social as “materially heterogeneous, practice based, emergent and processual”’ (4).
For Baker and McGuirk the assemblage is primarily a ‘methodological-analytical framework’ so ‘its application demands an explicitly methodological discussion’, something which in their view is sorely lacking in the literature (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 4, 5). This is the most important (and frustrating) part about Baker and McGuirk’s project. While I do not agree with the particulars of their way of constructinga ‘ methodological-analytical framework ’ out of the concept of the assemblage, I nonetheless support very strongly the necessity of so doing.I would add that in my view explicitly methodological discussions of the assemblage are sorely lacking in the secondary Deleuze and Guattari literature too. It is to the particulars of Baker and McGuirk’s ‘methodological-analytical framework’ that I now want to turn. They write:
Assemblage methodologies are guided by epistemological commitments that signify a certain interrogative orientation toward the world. Though abstract, these commitments inform inclusions, priorities, and sensitivities, which together constitute the ﬁeld of vision brought to bear on empirical phenomena. Sifting through the substantial number of accounts using assemblage thinking [note again the fact they do not refer to Deleuze and Guattari], we can identify four commitments common to those using assemblage methodologically. These are commitments to revealing multiplicity, processuality, labour, and uncertainty. (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 6; my emphasis)
As I will show, the detachment from Deleuze and Guattari’s work seems to compel a plain language approach which, to borrow a term from translation studies, puts them at the mercy of several ‘false friends’, that is, words that look like they should mean one thing but in fact mean something else.
Commitment to multiplicity is, for Baker and McGuirk, an interpretive strategy for setting aside the presumption of coherence and determination that reigns in certain quarters of contemporary policy studies. It holds to the idea that all social and cultural phenomena are multiply determined and cannot be reduced to a single logic. More particularly, in a policy context, it points to ‘the practical coexistence of multiple political projects, modes of governance, practices and outcomes’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 6–7). This means policy outcomes cannot be linked in a linear way to a speciﬁc determination, but have to be treated as contingent, or, at any rate, indirect. There are three problems here: ﬁrstly, we have to be careful not to conﬂate the content (policy) with the form (assemblage) because however incoherent a policy formation may be in the eyes of its critics, as an assemblage it must as a matter of necessity tend towards coherence, that being one of its essential functions (the problem of unity and diversity is central to Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the assemblage [Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 43–5]). Secondly, the assemblage is a multiplicity, but this does not mean it is multiply determined. It refers to a state of being, not its actual process of composition, and there is no reason at all why it cannot have a single or singular logic.3 Thirdly, while it is true assemblages are contingent, their outputs are not. Indeed, what would be the point of the concept if this was the case? As Deleuze and Guattari say, given a certain effect, what kind of machine (assemblage) is capable of producing it? (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 3.)
The commitment to multiplicity is enacted via a second commitment to what they call processuality, which Baker and McGuirk deﬁne (again borrowing liberally from a diverse body of secondary literature) as what happens in an assemblage. At ﬁrst glance they seem to be saying assemblages assemble, that they draw together disparate elements and combine them in a provisional fashion; they may tend towards stabilisation, or not, but regardless exist in a state of constant ﬂux:
In methodological terms, a focus on the processes through which assemblages come into and out of being lends itself to careful genealogical tracing of how past alignments and associations have informed the present and how contemporary conditions and actants are crystallizing new conditions of possibility. (Baker and McGuirk 2016: 7)
But as this quote makes clear, something quite different is meant by processuality. It names, rather, a concern for genesis–but how something comes together and how it operates once it does are quite different issues (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 152). But that is not the only problem here. One wonders how this interpolation of what I assume is Foucault’s concept of genealogy (rather than Nietzsche’s, or even Deleuze’s version of Nietzsche) can be squared with the aforementioned commitment to non-linearity? More importantly, though, the whole idea of a genealogy of the assemblage stands in ﬂat contradiction of Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the assemblage, which is focused on the question ‘how does it work?’ and not ‘what does it mean?’ much less ‘where does it come from?’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 109).4
The commitment to revealing the labour needed to produce and maintain assemblages is said by Baker and McGuirk to echo Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘original term agencement–roughly meaning “putting together” or “arrangement”–later translated to assemblage’ (Baker and McGuirk 2016:7), but in fact it echoes the plain language understanding of assemblage as the putting together of things, as their subsequent clariﬁcations of this point make apparent. They go on to say, again borrowing widely, assemblages ‘are not accidental, but knowingly and unknowingly held together’ and they ‘are always coming apart as much as coming together, so their existence in particular conﬁgurations is something that must be continually worked at’ (7). Ultimately, what this commitment reveals is that ‘policy and policy-making [is] a laboured over achievement’ (8). Without wishing to dispute their conclusion here–there can be no doubt policy and policy-making is a laboured over achievement–I do want to say for the sake of understanding the concept of the assemblage that the labour required to sustain a particular instance of an assemblage is a kind of local area problem that should not be confused with the actual operation of the concept itself. The assemblage itself is, by deﬁnition, self-sustaining: it requires labour to actualise it, to be sure, but its existence does not depend on that labour. There is constant slippage between what we might call actually existing assemblages and the concept of the assemblage in Baker and McGuirk’s account such that the former tends to stand in the place of the latter and the difference between the two vanishes. When that happens the concept becomes adjectival rather than analytical, it describes rather than defamiliarises, which defeats the purpose of having the concept in the ﬁrst place.
The fourth and ﬁnal commitment is to uncertainty and the temptation to know too much. ‘Such a position involves accepting that, rather than producing Archimedean accounts of the world “as it is”, social research can only produce situated readings and, therefore, must make modest claims’(Baker and McGuirk 2016:8). Interestingly, this is not something Deleuze and Guattari advocated. In fact, they argued for precisely the opposite view: as they put it, the only problem with abstraction is that we are not abstract enough. One cannot arrive at the assemblage by means of a situated account because the contents of an assemblage do not necessarily disclose the form of an assemblage; similarly, we need to be wary of assigning every local variety of anassemblage an independent identity distinct from the abstract assemblage. Paradoxically, there is no surer way of winding up in the ‘knowing too much’ space that assemblage thinking is supposed to avoid than the approach Baker and McGuirk recommend because such self-limiting analyses presume to know in advance what knowing enough and therefore what knowing too much looks like. It is precisely this kind of analytic cul-de-sac that Deleuze and Guattari were trying to avoid by saying we need to be experimental in our approach. What many readers ﬁnd infuriating in their work is precisely their blatant refusal to stick to making modest claims.On the contrary, they make bold, global claims and in the process force us to think differently about the world.
to be continued ...
Just as the Renaissance refers to a cultural epoch of a certain kind and points to a departure from conception, the term Remothering * seems to designate opposite developments at the beginning of the 21st century. Demolition: the project of modernity and the Enlightenment is considered failed. As sentiment, it has been absorbed in the folklore of a post-modern cultural concept.
The postmodernism, which marks the age of repairs, yields to material-based, irreparable wear and tear and turns to new possibilities, or virtualities. After you have failed in the material, you are now looking for an intelligence that lives in programs. The code dissolves further from the material and this is increasingly transformed into description forms. From there one hopes via feedback another transfer: The intelligence should go back into the matter. Which concept of intelligence underlies this back and forth remains unclear.
The nice metaphor of the big brother, which is associated with the recent developments, refers to the derivation of another metaphor: The mother, a regressive need, which is in the projection of a big mother - Big Mother and back to the cuddly, comfortable , pleasant, comfortable, homey and against the evil out there in the world shows. This is also the basis of the claim to the all-inclusive package for all that one pretends to be able to fulfill to a large extent via algorithms.
The virtual mamma is the amniotic sac that is designed to ensure constant adaptation to the most sophisticated needs of highly organized living beings. The dream machine, which one entrusts itself to and promises the protection, where on the other side exclusively "evil" world exists, which can be mastered in the best case with their help in the feedback of an extended fruit bubble (lucky suit). The space is a tautological, a data space, which feeds from the impression of supposedly experienced realities and thus provides the necessary familiarity. Complexities are simplified where possible. Nobody should be scared. All needs are constantly fulfilled as well as permanently maintained. Only then does the symbiosis between the mother and what emerges from it emerge. It is redressed and automated. The mother is a pseudo-organism that feeds from the network of connected vending machines. The subject / objects of the remainder are ideally reduced to some properties as Turing machines. The ultimate goal is the automation of society. Ethical foundations are relevant only insofar as they serve the acceptance of necessary transformation. It is sufficient if illusion is perceived as reality. Once the goal is reached, these questions no longer play a role anyway. It is sufficient if illusion is perceived as reality. Once the goal is reached, these questions no longer play a role anyway. It is sufficient if illusion is perceived as reality. Once the goal is reached, these questions no longer play a role anyway.
Mother, you had me, but I never had you
I wanted you, you did not want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Father ... **
* Donald E. Cameron ** John Lennon
Future (um) 2 * / The Perfect Future: The key to artificial paradise, according to the psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner , is the insight that every human being is nothing but a bundle of behavioral patterns - an automaton with predictable and manipulable reactions to the environment. Thus, the only alternative to an anarchic future would be to turn the earth into a behavioral psychological laboratory, so calculated that "soft but insistent ethical sanctions" will keep the order once established ... **
China 2020, Radical Behaviorism and Behavioral Analysis: When the party's intended target is met, every step, every keystroke, every like or dislike, every social-media contact, every post is subject to state control and finds itself in the personal social rating system, that's artificial Paradise Spinner's become reality - in the gentle urging and pushing of others and the irresistible spur to confluency, in the sensors in her shirt and the lulling voice that answers your questions, the television that hears her, the house she knows, the bed that listens to your nocturnal whisper, the book she reads ... ***
... contented coexistence in a conflict-free society based on behavioral control technologies and, in particular, on the positive reinforcement of socially desired behaviors. ** The Algorithm - Procedure for Solving the Problems: It can be formulated in human language as well as implemented in computer programs. Determinism is the rhythm.
Machine (Deep) Learning: the algorithm learns through reward and punishment - teaching penalties how to avoid punishment - a tactic of how to act in potentially occurring situations to maximize the benefit of the agent ****. The key issue of automated humanity has always been "can it make us read minds?" The ability to control human behavior becomes more frightening than the control of nuclear reactions. Art Bachrach and Robert Oppenheimer were in agreement. As part of the Paperclip project, the US also recruited former concentration camp doctors who participated in the experiments (MKultra, Artichoke, etc.) to predict, control and control human behavior.
The novel (Futuru/ Walden 2) does not answer the question of who defines the social framework in the perfect future, or claims the right to define it, and thus determines the coexistence of the members of this society to the smallest detail, including their ethical norms. Skinner later says, "The guidelines of control must be designed by scientists." Analysis / Synthesis: Science shares its root in distinguishing, deciding, separating, and eliminating with another term. Machines change faster than we (ourselves, as well as the algorithms) "understand" (understanding). I want to be a machine - no pain no thought. **** Futility / Futurum 2 -: "I" will have been:
The mother comes and tears me. She tears me in by coming and looking (...) She walks right through the wall of stone. Oh, alas, my mother tears me ...
* German title by Walden2 / Futurum2 / Burrhus Frederic Skinner / FiFa Verlag Munich
** Spiegel vom 27.9.1971 / Soft Force / BFSkinner - Beyond Freedom and Dignity
*** Shoshuna Zuboff / sheets for German and international politics 11/18
**** denotes a computer program that is capable of specified standalone behavior. Depending on different states, certain implemented processing operations will take place without a start signal being given from outside or external control intervention during the process. / Wiki
***** Heiner Müller / Hamlet machine
****** RMRilke / My mother
“THIS WORLD OF WILD PRODUCTION AND EXPLOSIVE DESIRE” – THE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE FUTURE IN FELIX GUATTARI
by Stephen Zepke
… In the context of science fiction studies Guattari’s interest in Cyberpunk offers an alternative to Frederic Jameson’s dismissal of the genre as failing to offer anything more than an uncritical celebration of late-capitalism’s technological ubiquity. In fact Guattari offers hisown version of the theory of capitalist and cybernetic Accelerationism that would shortly after be developed by Nick Land and the group of young philosophers gathered around him at Warwick University. While on the one hand Guattari offers an aesthetic acceleration that takes us through capitalism to a point beyond the human, as Land does, he rejects the nihilist ethics Land took from early Lyotard, and privileged to the point of a total affirmation of capitalism’s death drive, as he called it. Guattari offers a radical aesthetic acceleration/deterritorialisation that remains avowedly anti-capitalist, and in this way perhaps offers an alternative to both Land’s alarming (provocatively so) affirmation of neo-liberalism and to the disappointing compromises of the recent Accelerationist Manifesto’s rational and revisionary social democracy …
First thing: “Meta-Neocameralism” isn’t anything new, and it certainly isn’t anything post-Moldbuggian. It’s no more than Neocameralism apprehended in its most abstract features, through the coining of a provisional and dispensable term. (It allows for an acronym that doesn’t lead to confusions with North Carolina, while encouraging quite different confusions, which I’m pretending not to notice.)
Locally (to this blog), the “meta-” is the mark of a prolegomenon*, to a disciplined discussion of Neocameralism which has later to take place. Its abstraction is introductory, in accordance with something that is yet to be re-started, or re-animated, in detail. (For existing detail, outside the Moldbug canon itself, look here.)
The excellent comment thread here provides at least a couple of crucial clues:
nydwracu (23/03/2014 at 6:47 pm): Neocameralism doesn’t answer questions like that [on the specifics of social organization]; instead, it’s a mechanism for answering questions like that. … You can ask, “is Coke considered better than RC Cola?”, or you can institute capitalism and find out. You can ask, “are ethno-nationalist states considered better than mixed states?”, or you can institute the patchwork and find out. …
RiverC (23/03/2014 at 3:44 am): Neo-cameralism is, if viewed in this light, a ‘political system system’, it is not a political system but a system for implementing political systems. Of course the same guy who came up with it also invented an operating system (a system for implementing software systems.)
MNC, then, is not a political prescription, for instance a social ideal aligned with techno-commercialist preferences. It is an intellectual framework for examining systems of governance, theoretically formalized as disposals of sovereign property. The social formalization of such systems, which Moldbug also advocates, can be parenthesized within MNC. We are not at this stage considering the model of a desirable social order, but rather the abstract model of social order in general, apprehended radically — at the root — where ‘to rule’ and ‘to own’ lack distinct meanings. Sovereign property is ‘sovereign’ and ‘primary’ because it is not merely a claim, but effective possession. (There is much more to come in later posts on the concept of sovereign property, some preliminary musings here.)
Because MNC is an extremely powerful piece of cognitive technology, capable of tackling problems at a number of distinct levels (in principle, an unlimited number), it is clarified through segmentation into an abstraction cascade. Descending through these levels adds concreteness, and tilts incrementally towards normative judgements (framed by the hypothetical imperative of effective government, as defined within the cascade).
(1) The highest level of practical significance (since MNC-theology need not delay us) has already been touched upon. It applies to social regimes of every conceivable type, assuming only that a systematic mode of sovereign property reproduction will essentially characterize each. Power is economic irrespective of its relation to modern conventions of commercial transaction, because it involves the disposal of a real (if obscure) quantity, which is subject to increase or decrease over the cyclic course of its deployment. Population, territory, technology, commerce, ideology, and innumerable additional heterogeneous factors are components of sovereign property (power), but their economic character is assured by the possibility — and indeed necessity — of more-or-less explicit trade-offs and cost-benefit calculations, suggesting an original (if germinal) fungibility, which is merely arithmetical coherence. This is presupposed by any estimation of growth or decay, success or failure, strengthening or weakening, of the kind required not only by historical analysis, but also by even the most elementary administrative competence. Without an implicit economy of power, no discrimination could be made between improvement and deterioration, and no directed action toward the former could be possible.
The effective cyclic reproduction of power has an external criterion — survival. It is not open to any society or regime to decide for itself what works. Its inherent understanding of its own economics of power is a complex measurement, gauging a relation to the outside, whose consequences are life and death. Built into the idea of sovereign property from the start, therefore, is an accommodation to reality. Foundational to MNC, at the very highest level of analysis, is the insight that power is checked primordially. On the Outside are wolves, serving as the scourge of Gnon. Even the greatest of all imaginable God-Kings — awesome Fnargl included — has ultimately to discover consequences, rather than inventing them. There is no principle more important than this.
Entropy will be dissipated, idiocy will be punished, the weak will die. If the regime refuses to bow to this Law, the wolves will enforce it. Social Darwinism is not a choice societies get to make, but a system of real consequences that envelops them. MNC is articulated at the level — which cannot be transcended — where realism is mandatory for any social order. Those unable to create it, through effective government, will nevertheless receive it, in the harsh storms of Nemesis. Order is not defined within itself, but by the Law of the Outside.
At this highest level of abstraction, therefore, when MNC is asked “which type of regimes do you believe in?” the sole appropriate response is “those compatible with reality.” Every society known to history — and others beside — had a working economy of power, at least for a while. Nothing more is required than this for MNC to take them as objects of disciplined investigation.
(2) Knowing that realism is not an optional regime value, we are able to proceed down the MNC cascade with the introduction of a second assumption: Civilizations will seek gentler teachers than the wolves. If it is possible to acquire some understanding of collapse, it will be preferred to the experience of collapse (once the wolves have culled the ineducable from history).
Everything survivable is potentially educational, even a mauling by the wolves. MNC however, as its name suggests, has reason to be especially attentive to the most abstract lesson of the Outside — the (logical) priority of meta-learning. It is good to discover reality, before — or at least not much later than — reality discovers us. Enduring civilizations do not merely know things, they know that it is important to know things, and to absorb realistic information. Regimes — disposing of sovereign property — have a special responsibility to instantiate this deutero-culture of learning-to-learn, which is required for intelligent government. This is a responsibility they take upon themselves because it is demanded by the Outside (and even in its refinement, it still smells of wolf).
Power is under such compulsion to learn about itself that recursion, or intellectualization, can be assumed. Power is selected to check itself, which it cannot do without an increase in formalization, and this is a matter — as we shall see — of immense consequence. Of necessity, it learns-to-learn (or dies), but this lesson introduces a critical tragic factor.
The tragedy of power is broadly coincident with modernity. It is not a simple topic, and from the beginning two elements in particular require explicit attention. Firstly, it encounters the terrifying (second-order) truth that practical learning is irreducibly experimental. In going ‘meta’ knowledge becomes scientific, which means that failure cannot be precluded through deduction, but has to be incorporated into the machinery of learning itself. Nothing that cannot go wrong is capable of teaching anything (even the accumulation of logical and mathematical truths requires cognitive trial-and-error, ventures into dead-ends, and the pursuit of misleading intuitions). Secondly, in becoming increasingly formalized, and ever more fungible, the disposal of sovereign power attains heightened liquidity. It is now possible for power to trade itself away, and an explosion of social bargaining results. Power can be exchanged for (‘mere’) wealth, or for social peace, or channeled into unprecedented forms of radical regime philanthropy / religious sacrifice. Combine these two elements, and it is clear that regimes enter modernity ’empowered’ by new capabilities for experimental auto-dissolution. Trade authority away to the masses in exchange for promises of good behavior? Why not give it a try?
Cascade Stage-2 MNC thus (realistically) assumes a world in which power has become an art of experimentation, characterized by unprecedented calamities on a colossal scale, while the economy of power and the techno-commercial economy have been radically de-segmented, producing a single, uneven, but incrementally smoothed system of exchangeable social value, rippling ever outward, without firm limit. Socio-political organization, and corporate organization, are still distinguished by markers of traditional status, but no longer strictly differentiable by essential function.
The modern business of government is not ‘merely’ business only because it remains poorly formalized. As the preceding discussion suggests, this indicates that economic integration can be expected to deepen, as the formalization of power proceeds. (Moldbug seeks to accelerate this process.) An inertial assumption of distinct ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres is quickly disturbed by thickening networks of exchange, swapping managerial procedures and personnel, funding political ambitions, expending political resources in commercial lobbying efforts, trading economic assets for political favors (denominated in votes), and in general consolidating a vast, highly-liquid reservoir of amphibiously ‘corporacratic’ value, indeterminable between ‘wealth’ and ‘authority’. Wealth-power inter-convertibility is a reliable index of political modernity.
MNC does not decide that government should become a business. It recognizes that government has become a business (dealing in fungible quantities). However, unlike private business ventures, which dissipate entropy through bankruptcy and market-driven restructuring, governments are reliably the worst run businesses in their respective societies, functionally crippled by defective, structurally-dishonest organizational models, exemplified most prominently by the democratic principle: government is a business that should be run by its customers (but actually can’t be). Everything in this model that isn’t a lie is a mistake.
At the second (descending) level of abstraction, then, MNC is still not recommending anything except theoretical clarity. It proposes:
a) Power is destined to arrive at experimental learning processes
b) As it learns, it formalizes itself, and becomes more fungible
c) Experiments in fungible power are vulnerable to disastrous mistakes
d) Such mistakes have in fact occurred, in a near-total way
e) For deep historical reasons, techno-commercial business organization emerges as the preeminent template for government entities, as for any composite economic agent. It is in terms of this template that modern political dysfunction can be rendered (formally) intelligible.
(3) Take the MNC abstraction elevator down another level, and it’s still more of an analytic tool than a social prescription. (That’s a good thing, really.) It tells us that every government, both extant and potential, is most accessible to rigorous investigation when apprehended as a sovereign corporation. This approach alone is able to draw upon the full panoply of theoretical resources, ancient and modern, because only in this way is power tracked in the same way it has actually developed (in tight alignment with a still-incomplete trend).
The most obvious objections are, sensu stricto, romantic. They take a predictable (which is not to say a casually dismissible) form. Government — if perhaps only lost or yet-unrealized government — is associated with ‘higher’ values than those judged commensurable with the techno-commercial economy, which thus sets the basis for a critique of the MNC ‘business ontology’ of governance as an illegitimate intellectual reduction, and ethical vulgarization. To quantify authority as power is already suspect. To project its incremental liquidation into a general economy, where leadership integrates — ever more seamlessly — with the price system, appears as an abominable symptom of modernist nihilism.
Loyalty (or the intricately-related concept of asabiyyah) serves as one exemplary redoubt of the romantic cause. Is it not repulsive, even to entertain the possibility that loyalty might have a price? Handle addresses this directly in the comment thread already cited (24/03/2014 at 1:18 am). A small sample captures the line of his engagement:
Loyalty-preservation incentivizing programs are various and highly sophisticated and span the spectrum everywhere from frequent flier miles to ‘clubs’ that are so engrossing and time consuming in such as to mimic the fulfillment of all the community, socialization, and identarian psychological functions that would make even the hardest-core religious-traditionalist jealous. Because lots of people are genetically programmed with this coordination-subroutine that is easily exploitable in a context far removed from its evolutionary origins. Sometimes brands ‘deserve’ special competitive loyalty (‘German engineering’!) and sometimes they don’t (Tylenol-branded paracetamol).
There is vastly more that can, and will, be said in prosecution of this dispute, since it is perhaps the single most critical driver of NRx fission, and it is not going to endure a solution. The cold MNC claim, however, can be pushed right across it. Authority is for sale, and has been for centuries, so that any analysis ignoring this exchange nexus is an historical evasion. Marx’s M-C-M’, through which monetized capital reproduces and expands itself through the commodity cycle, is accompanied by an equally definite M-P-M’ or P-M-P’ cycle of power circulation-enhancement through monetized wealth.
A tempting reservation, with venerable roots in traditional society, is to cast doubt upon the prevalence of such exchange networks, on the assumption that power — possibly further dignified as ‘authority’ — enjoys a qualitative supplement relative to common economic value, such that it cannot be retro-transferred. Who would swap authority for money, if authority cannot be bought (and is, indeed, “beyond price”)? But this ‘problem’ resolves itself, since the first person to sell political office — or its less formal equivalent — immediately demonstrates that it can no less easily be purchased.
From the earliest, most abstract stage of this MNC outline, it has been insisted that power has to be evaluated economically, by itself, if anything like practical calculation directed towards its increase is to be possible. Once this is granted, MNC analysis of the governmental entity in general as an economic processor — i.e. a business — acquires irresistible momentum. If loyalty, asabiyyah, virtue, charisma and other elevated (or ‘incommensurable’) values are power factors, then they are already inherently self-economizing within the calculus of statecraft. The very fact that they contribute, determinately, to an overall estimation of strength and weakness, attests to their implicit economic status. When a business has charismatic leadership, reputational capital, or a strong culture of company loyalty, such factors are monetized as asset values by financial markets. When one Prince surveys the ‘quality’ of another’s domain, he already estimates the likely expenses of enmity. For modern military bureaucracies, such calculations are routine. Incommensurable values do not survive contact with defense budgets.
Yet, however ominous this drift (from a romantic perspective), MNC does not tell anybody how to design a society. It says only that an effective government will necessarily look, to it, like a well-organized (sovereign) business. To this one can add the riders:
a) Government effectiveness is subject to an external criterion, provided by a selective trans-state and inter-state mechanism. This might take the form of Patchwork pressure (Dynamic Geography) in a civilized order, or military competition in the wolf-prowled wilderness of Hobbesian chaos.
b) Under these conditions, MNC calculative rationality can be expected to be compelling for states themselves, whatever their variety of social form. Some (considerable) convergence upon norms of economic estimation and arrangement is thus predictable from the discovered contours of reality. There are things that will fail.
Non-economic values are more easily invoked than pursued. Foseti (commenting here, 23/03/2014 at 11:59 am) writes:
No one disputes that the goal of society is a good citizenry, but the question is what sort of government provides that outcome. […] As best I can tell, we only have two theories of governance that have been expressed. […] The first is the capitalist. As Adam Smith noted, the best corporations (by all measures) are the ones that are operated for clear, measurable and selfish motives. […] The second is the communist. In this system, corporations are run for the benefit of everyone in the world. […] Unsurprisingly, corporations run on the latter principle have found an incredibly large number of ways to suck. Not coincidentally, so have 20th Century governments run on the same principle. […] I think it’s nearly impossible to overstate the ways in which everyone would be better off if we had an efficiently, effective, and responsive government.
* I realize this doesn’t work in Greek, but systematic before-after confusion is an Outside in thing.
by Steven Craig Hickman
At this point it may seem that the consolations of horror are not what we thought they were, that all this time we’ve been keeping company with illusions. Well, we have. And we’ll continue to do so, continue to seek the appalling scene which short-circuits our brain, continue to sit in our numb coziness with a book of terror on our laps like a cataleptic predator, and continue to draw smug solace, if only for the space of a story, from a world made snug and simple by absolute hopelessness and doom.
—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory
I am no book thief. But I could not bear to part with your words…
—Poppy Z. Brite, On Thomas Ligotti
Why do we read such works as these? A darkness unbearable, a world where nothing good ever happens, a realm of pure and unadulterated hopelessness and doom? Why? Even the notion that one could be consoled by such intemperate melodies of utter death and destruction, madness and delirium seem to send one back to that strange place of emptiness, that weird space of story where the thing we’ve been chasing, the object of horror that we’ve sought even against our own will (do we have a will?) suddenly stands revealed – not as a visible thing that we can observe, nor as a shaded emptiness that we can absolve into the particles of our mindless aberrant fetish, obsess over, ponder as if it were the ultimate answer to our deepest longings; no, such are the illusory tricks of stagecraft magicians, no – what we seek is as in Walter Pater’s aesthetic,
“A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing, a weather-vane, a windmill, a winnowing flail, the dust in the barn door; a moment – and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect; but it leaves a relish behind it, a longing that the accident may happen again.” - Walter Pater
It’s this secret moment, this pure effect: a moment that cannot be shared, no testimony brought forth or enveloped with the reasoning powers of intellect; no, rather such moments that suddenly present their absolute aura – a profane light, a flame from the darkness that attests not so much to our fear as to our exhilaration in the face of the unknown. Such moments leave us desperate, longing for the return, for the return of such infinitesimal mysteries, glints from elsewhere that awaken in us neither nostalgia nor some futurial glance into the mists of time forward; but, rather, give us hint of that seed that lies in the depths of our own mind as the outer form of some object breaks over us releasing powers we had as yet to register or distill from the voids surrounding us. For that is the key, we seek what cannot be locked down in the daylight of reason, a hint of that terror at the heart of the world which holds us in its desperate flight, if only momentarily a glance into the Real.
A host of strangers come together at the intersection of time and space in a world between worlds. Their eyes “fixed with an insomniac’s stare, the stigma of both monumental fatigue and painful attentiveness to everything in sight”.1 We are not given a reason, only that this gray host has returned to a place from which they were excluded. To what purpose if any have they returned. And, more to the point, why did they leave, abandon this place to begin with? A crime, an unimaginable collective massacre, some dark and unfathomable secret or burden to which staying meant certain madness and eventual death; or, was it just inexplicable, no reason at all, or one that they have long forgotten in their collective misery and spiritual ennui. A clue: “Only one had not gone with them. He had stayed in the skeleton town…”
But why? Why would he stay and all the others leave, abandon their homes (were they residents?) and depart to unknown lands or cities. Was there a natural or unnatural disaster? Something like those cities abandoned in Russia or American because of ecological and technological meltdown? A collective amnesia: “They were sure they had seen something they should not remember.” A murder, a sacrifice, a collective ritual of such magnitude and horror that they were all brought to that point of mental breakdown whose catastrophic consequence was some form of memory sickness and dementia: “A paralysis had seized them, that state of soul known to those who dwell on the highest plane of madness, aristocrats of insanity whose nightmares confront them on either side of sleep.” There is a sense of solidarity in madness, a hysterical craving after the truth of which they are both enamored and yet absolved to never discover again. And, yet, like one of Beckett’s creatures in the hell of modernity: “I’ll go on. I can’t go on.” This sense of being in-between, caught in the active and passive passage into the vastation on some banal nihil.
We know that for Thomas Ligotti there is a deeper truth unfolded in those darker thought of such men as Schopenhauer, Eduard von Hartmann, Philipp Mainländer, Julius Bahnsen, Ernst Lindner, Lazar Hellenbach, Paul Deußen, Agnes Talbert, Olga Plümacher and, last but not least, the young Nietzsche. Something of the flavor of that spiritual anomie which gathers itself under the icon of pessimism. Those German Romantics, melancholy and suicidal – poet manqués who would define it as ‘weltschmerze’ (“worldpain”) hinting at the dark moodiness of things whose aura was surrounded by sadness and weariness weighing down the soul with an acute sense of evil and suffering at the heart of existence. As Fredrick C. Beiser will attest “Its origins have been traced back to the 1830s, to the late romantic era, to the works of Jean Paul, Heinrich Heine…” and others.2
Yet, it was the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899– 1990), even more than the better known Schopenhauer who would awaken in Ligotti the sense of utter futility and the dark contours of pessimism concerning the human condition and predicament:
Nonhuman occupants of this planet are unaware of death. But we are susceptible to startling and dreadful thoughts, and we need some fabulous illusions to take our minds off them. For us, then, life is a confidence trick we must run on ourselves, hoping we do not catch on to any monkey business that would leave us stripped of our defense mechanisms and standing stark naked before the silent, staring void. To end this self-deception, to free our species of the paradoxical imperative to be and not to be conscious, our backs breaking by degrees upon a wheel of lies, we must cease reproducing.3
This notion of cessation, this withdrawal from the contract of organic Will-to-live in Schopenhauer’s terms is the central motif of Zapffe’s pessimism. Ligotti’s, too.
Yet, even in this strangest of tales, the stubborn refusal to die continues as if death were itself the very core of existence, a subtle circulation around a hollow abyss that could never find the flame that would end it all: “Blessed is the seed that is planted forever in darkness.” a woman says. When asked what she meant by the invocation she is merely as confused as the interlocutor. Maybe that is how the outside circulates into our world, seeps into the daylight with its dark jets of inky delirium.
The Man Who Stayed Behind
Andrew Maness like many of Ligotti’s officiators is a loner, a scholar or bookworm, and a misfit renegade from reality. As he stands in the room atop a mansion that once housed many of his predecessors he watches these gray citizens wander the streets below him, each following some prerecorded script that even they do not understand but know they are powerless to abandon. In the room is a book that seems to hold both a secret and a mystery, one that Maness himself has sought to decipher for as long as he can remember: “You know what made them come home, but I can only guess. So many things you have devoutly embellished, yet you offer nothing on this point.” As if the book had a personality, as if it knew more than a book should know, a book that not only exceeded the limits of its covers but seemed to grow as the seed in the darkness grows. A book whose title would serve a greater mystery: TSALAL.
Many of Ligotti’s tales speak of secret books whose forbidden knowledge reveals to its antagonists certain hellish paradises, utopian realms of utter bittersweet jouissance: a jouissance which compels the subject to constantly attempt to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go beyond the pleasure principle (a la Lacan!). What Georges Bataille would speak of as “the recoil imposed on everyone, in so far as it involves terrible promises…”.4 Ligotti as if in agreement has always attributed to the (un)natural objects of his world, the mundane homes and streets of a village or city this aura of terrible promise:
Surrounding this area were clusters of houses that in the usual manner collect about the periphery of skeleton towns. These were structures of serene desolation that had settled into the orbit of a dead star. They were simple pinewood coffins, full of stillness, leaning upright against a silent sky. Yet it was this silence that allowed sounds from a fantastic distance to be carried into it. And the stillness of these houses and their narrow streets led the eye to places astonishingly remote. There were even moments when the entire veil of desolate serenity began to tremble with the tumbling colors of chaos. (ibid., Tsalal)
As if this unbinding, an unraveling of things mundane as holding within themselves the keys to remote mysteries about to be unveiled. Most of Ligotti’s most memorable passages are of nightwalks along the strange alleys, streets, and thoroughfares of certain villages and cities where the imponderable strangeness of things seems to crawl down out of remote regions to merge and take up residence. This atmospheric prose-poetry is what unveils Ligotti’s greatest strength rather than the narrative of the tales themselves. It’s as if in such places there is a sense that the “magical desolation of narrow streets and coffin-shaped houses comes to settle and distill like an essence of the old alchemists”. In one of his better known essays Walter Benjamin would speak of this as an aura:
Historically, works of art had an ‘aura’ – an appearance of magical or supernatural force arising from their uniqueness (similar to mana). The aura includes a sensory experience of distance between the reader and the work of art. … The aura has disappeared in the modern age because art has become reproducible.5
Maybe it’s this sense of loss that pervades most of the stories in Ligotti’s oeuvre. We sense this endless circling round the aura of an object that cannot be revealed without terrible consequence for both reader and author. To name it is to destroy it, so it remains outside in the dark, unnamed and full of that aura that against the modernists remain unreproducible. It cannot be profaned except on pain of death and annihilation.
Even as Andrew closes the book the metamorphoses begins, a changing of shadow to shadow, an unfolding to an infernal paradise whose dark transports offer the reader neither comfort nor escape, consolation or reprieve. Andrew’s father, a defender of day and light, a priest, whose dogma’s seem out of another more medieval age reprimands his reprobate son: “There is nothing more awful and nothing more sinful than such changes in things. Nothing is more grotesque than these changes. All changes in things are grotesque. The very possibility of changes in things is grotesque. And the beast is the author of all changes. You must never again consort with the beast!”
This sense that the orthodox seek an unchanging world, a realm where time stands still and all things stave off the inevitable evil of change and movement. Andrew feels the burden of change growing in him, the “seed in the dark” growing. It allures him and terrorizes him, and yet he knows it is his destiny. Like Adam in the garden, Andrew has been forced to renounce the temptation of his own fallen trees: books, forbidden books, the forbidden knowledge of those infernal regions that offer and allure him toward the remote darknesses. As his father says of these books: “I keep them,” he said, “so that you may learn by your own will to renounce what is forbidden in whatever shape it may appear.”
Returning to that chapter in the Bible where the forbidden fruit of knowledge first offered its allurements we find a serpent whispering in the woman’s ear. The serpent is simply there, the tempter already in place, an unexplained occupant of the Garden—and of the human mind. The serpent appears to be the concentrated and symbolic remnant of an earlier religious age, before the Jews passed through the tumultuous shift from polytheism to monotheism. Nothing yet links the serpent to Satan or to the Devil. It is calmly insubordinate and categorically denies God’s verdict of death for eating the forbidden tree. “Thou shalt not surely die” (3:4). The serpent tells the woman that, rather, the act will open their eyes and make them as gods. The woman eats and gives of the fruit to her husband. Everything goes by halves now. Adam and Eve start out innocent and immortal. The serpent claims that by eating the forbidden fruit, they will achieve divinity without losing immortality. He is half-right—that is, they attain insight into good and evil and at the same time they lose immortality. “And the Lord God said, Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever … the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:22). Because they have become mortal, Adam and Eve must now be kept away from the Tree of Life. Prohibition did not work for the first tree. Banishment is the logical answer.
This sense of prohibition and banishment or exclusion as the fruit of a temptation pervades many of Ligotti’s stories. Breaking the prohibition leads in many cases to utter madness and a break with the sane everyday world of humanity, where the codes of sleep and blindness encode most humans in a dubious form of wakefulness. Yet, it is this very prohibition that awakens Andrew’s desire: “But how wonderful he found those books that were forbidden to him.” Or, again,
He somehow knew these books were forbidden to him, even before the reverend had made this fact explicit to his son and caused the boy to feel ashamed of his desire to hold these books and to know their matter. He became bound to the worlds he imagined were revealed in the books, obsessed with what he conceived to be a cosmology of nightmares. (ibid.)
Andrew would spend hours within this forbidden paradise of books and knowledge, mapping the underbelly of a universe that only he could see in his mind’s eye. He imagined the stars in this private infernal universe: “They had changed in the strangest way, changed because everything in the universe was changing and could no longer be protected from the changes being worked upon them by something that had been awakened in the blackness, something that desired to remold everything it could see…and had the power to see all things.” This sense of a dark presence, a power of creativity and surprise that could suddenly remake the universe at will, an agent of change and metamorphosis such that in “those nights of dreaming, all things were subject to forces that knew nothing of law or reason, and nothing possessed its own nature or essence but was only a mask upon the face of absolute darkness, a blackness no one had ever seen.”
Ultimately even these forbidden books offered little consolation to Andrew, what he sought was another book, access to a forbidden knowledge that seemed to offer a counter-creation:
It was another creation he pursued, a counter-creation, and the books on the shelves of his father’s library could not reveal to him what he desired to know of this other genesis. While denying it to his father, and often to himself, he dreamed of reading the book that was truly forbidden, the scripture of a deadly creation, one that would tell the tale of the universe in its purest sense.
Remonstrating with his father over the hideousness of these prohibitory measures, that all they did was cause the very thing his father sought to end – the desire for a forbidden knowledge of things that no book held or could hold but the one book whose very temptation was bound to the darkness of his own mind and nightmares:
You preached to me that all change is grotesque, that the very possibility of change is evil. Yet in the book you declare ‘transformation as the only truth’—the only truth of the Tsalal, that one who is without law or reason. ‘There is no nature to things,’ you wrote in the book. ‘There are no faces except masks held tight against the pitching chaos behind them.’ You wrote that there is not true growth or evolution in the life of this world but only transformations of appearance, an incessant melting and molding of surfaces without underlying essence. Above all you pronounced that there is no salvation of any being because no beings exist as such, nothing exists to be saved—everything, everyone exists only to be drawn into the slow and endless swirling of mutations that we may see every second of our lives if we simply gaze through the eyes of the Tsalal.
I will not spoil the ending for those who have yet to read Ligotti’s works. It’s this sense of a counter-world, not a mirror world but a realm that is counter-factual and disturbs, even intrudes our own world; a world that is already seeping into ours from remote dimensions out of mind that is at the heart of Ligotti’s works. As if all along this very realm we are in is that eternally metamorphosing infernal region of change, but that through the secret wizardry of those dark agents of time – the time of change was stopped, and that we’ve all been imprisoned in a lifeless universe of the death-drive, pursuing a circular and repetitive course of unchanging repetition. Isn’t this the dream of those oligarchs of thought surrounding us with a world of capitalistic desire, a realm in which the only circulation is that of immaterial goods and money, a realm where nothing changes so much as the static representation of change. A change that is itself a repetition of death?
Maybe in the end we – all of us are Andrew awakening to the truth, a truth he comes to see as the horror of his and our unchanging society. As he shouts it to his father:
“You knew this was the wrong place when you brought me here as a child. And I knew that this was the wrong place when I came home to this town and stayed here until everyone knew that I had stayed too long in this place.”
We all know this is the truth, that we’ve allowed this world to continue down its unnatural course, allowed leaders to lead us nowhere and nowhen – a circular void of capitalist desire in a vacuum of consuming consummation. A realm where time and space have accelerated into a virtual hellhole of circulating capital to which we are all bound like servants in a vast machinic system. Knowing what we know we still desire it: and, that is our burden and our downfall. And, yet, we all have known for a long while that the forbidden knowledge that would free us of this trap has been in plain sight all along, our eyes glued to its strange temptations: the eyes of the Tsalal. Shall we open those eyes, now, and begin to change, metamorphosize beyond this seeming world of stasis and repetition? As we open our eyes the infernal seeps in… the dark seed sprouts…
In the ancient Gnostic Gospels of Valentinus there is this play between the Pleroma (“Place of Fullness”) and the Abyss (“Place of Emptiness”), in which a dialectical interplay transpires between the powers of fullness and absence, an oscillation and hesitation between the visible darkness and the darkness made visible, a seeming that stages a cosmic battle and forces that which cannot be named to give birth to the dark seed: the parental abyss, at once foremother and forefather, from which the babe rushes forth into our emptiness. And, we, like the cannibalistic village must consume the fleshy remains of such corruption, become one with its energetic will, let the white bones sink into black earth where in the darkness a light will begin to shine: a nihilistic light, glimmers of strange wonders filtering up from the radiant Abyss.
Ligotti, a subtle master of the unsaid, never exposes the reality below the surface edge of his prose-poetry, rather he hints at it, allows the reader to intermingle in the shifting sands of his dark waters where either the seed will awaken in her the mystery from elsewhere; or, close the door forever in a momentary gleam from the impossible enchantments that trap us in our own allurements.
In continuing to explore the domains of the digital and the analog, I’ve come to an unexpected conclusion, one that will no doubt be obvious to others but which I nevertheless found surprising. I’ve finally realized the extent to which analogicity has been hounded out of technical history. In the past I had assumed, incorrectly, that digitality and analogicity were more or less equal alternatives. Yes there was a litany of digital techniques in human history — moveable type, arithmetic, metaphysics — but so too history could furnish its share of analogical triumphs, right? Not exactly. In my unscientific survey, the digital techniques far outweigh the analog ones. And many things categorized as blockbuster interjections of peak analogicity — the invention of the calculus, Richard Dedekind’s 1858 definition of real numbers — harbor deeply-ingrained anti-analog biases upon closer inspection. Dedekind sought to discretize the real, not think the real as pure continuity, and his tool of choice was the cut, a digital technology if there ever was one. And while Newton’s “fluxions” are genuinely strange and interesting, both Newtonian and Leibnizian calculus aimed to “solve” the problem of pure continuity via recourse to a distinctly digital mechanism: the difference unit, or differential. Good show, now try it again without cheating! It almost makes me nostalgic for Euclid. At least he stayed true to the analog sciences of line and curve, without recourse to the digital crutches of algebra or arithmetic.
So while I’m deeply skeptical of the analog turn in theory — a few decades ago it was all language, structure, symbol, economy, logic, now it’s all affect, experience, expression, ethics, aesthetics — it’s only fair to admit the profound rareness of analogicity. Particularly in philosophy, which is almost entirely dominated by digital thinking. (In mathematics it’s not even close: math is one long sad story of arithmetic subduing geometry, the symbol subduing the real.) It’s exceptionally difficult to think continuity as continuity. Very few have accomplished this feat. So if anything we need more work on continuity and analogical sciences, not less. More work on signal processing, noise, randomness, modularity, curves and lines, heat and energy, fields, areas, transduction, quality, intuition. Less on arithmetic and discrete breaks. More on bending, blurring, bleeding, and sliding. More on the body, more on real experience. More on what William James called the “blooming, buzzing confusion” of life.
The answer is all around us, in real materiality. Here is the theorist Karen Barad talking about how quantum particles unsettle the various abstractions fueling Western philosophy and culture:
“Quantum particles unsettle comfortable notions of temporality, of the new, the now, presence, absence, progress, tradition, evolution/extinction, stasis/restoration, remediation, return/reversal, universal, generation/production, emergence, recursion, iterations, temporary, momentary, biographic, historical, fast/slow, speeding up, intensifying, compressing, pausing, disrupting, rupturing, changing, being, becoming.”
In other words, if computers are black boxes, and if they can be opened, revealing other black boxes, with boxes inside of those boxes, still there exists one black box that’s not like the others, the black box of the world. It’s the box that can never be opened.
Or I should clarify, we can open it. That’s what phenomenology teaches; our mode of being inquires into the conditions of real materiality. So we can. But computers can’t. Computers can process data but they can’t be there present in and as the data. I mean this 100% phenomenologically. Digital computers can’t not formalize. That is their special curse: always only form. Always only box. Presence isn’t part of the equation. Computers require input, but they have a hard time generating input out of whole cloth. Computers require givenness, but they can’t, ultimately, give it themselves.
In other words, computers finally solved the old mind-body problem from Descartes. It was easy. Just keep the mind, and amputate the body! Computers are idealism, perfected. And every perfection comes at a cost.
I’m exaggerating, of course. Computers exist in the real world. For instance, crypto-currency mining is defined explicitly as a thermodynamic process (the expenditure of energy) not an immaterial process. And to be clear: my point is really about digital computers in silicon. DNA computers and quantum computers are something quite different: DNA computers because they’re massively parallel; quantum computers because they don’t follow the logic of exclusively-binary states. And we know that computers can generate data until the cows come home, even if, as I maintain, computers are difference engines and not “presence engines.”
But what about neural nets and the kinds of images drawn using AI, don’t they generate new data? No, these kinds of algorithms are just glorified techniques for computing averages. The semantic essence of these images was pre-tagged and databased by some underpaid intern or Mechanical Turk worker. Don’t be dazzled by Deep Dream. You made the data, Google just crunched the numbers. In the 19th Century it was called “composite photography” and it was used for eugenics research. Oh how the world turns. And anyway artists like Jason Salavon or Trevor Paglen have made much better use of this technique than the AI companies ever will.
Of all genuinely computer-generated data — not the stuff tagged by workers — the most successful is probably procedural noise. Procedural noise is essentially a pseudo-random sequence of numbers. It has been incredibly influential in computer graphics and other areas.
Procedural noise is mathematically elegant. It’s what they call a “fract of a sine” – that is, the fractional component of a sine wave. How does it work? First, compute sin(x); then go deep, deep rightward past the decimal point and grab an integer; that number will be, for all practical purposes, random. Do it again, and you have a pseudo-random sequence. So it’s the fractional component — or “fract” — of a scaled-up wave:
//compute the sine of x
sin(2) = 0.90929742682
//multiply by a large number to scale the value way up
0.90929742682 * 100000 = 90929.7426826
//lop off the fractional component
//the remaining value is pseudo-random
//voila the formula for a pseudo-
random number random = fract(sin(x) * 100000)
There’s already enough noise in the system. You just have to know where to look for it, in this case deep, deep down inside a sine wave. But this makes perfect sense. Of course the source of this random “noise” would be a wave form, the sine wave. For we know that there is no greater analog technology than the wave form. And we know that all randomness — perceptual or actual — has its roots in the analogical real.
Another success is the JPEG compression algorithm, used in both still images and digital video. Philosophers like to wring their hands anxiously over the fact that digital images can be synthesized (and thus manipulated and even faked), breaking the supposed link between referent and representation. But, as usual, these philosophers don’t really know what they are talking about. If you’re nervous about images being inauthentic, the queue for complaints is twenty-five hundred years old and it starts right behind Socrates.
It’s not that digital images can be manipulated; if they are images compressed through JPEG (or similar algorithms), they are *100%* synthetic. The image exists strictly as a combination of what they call “DCT basis functions” with corresponding coefficients. The DCT basis functions are little wavelets and they work a bit like the alphabet does, only with more significant visual impact. There are 64 of them, just like a chess board. Every inch of your image is synthesizedfrom combining these 64 thumbnail elements in different strengths determined by the coefficients. The “D” in DCT stands for “discrete.” The “C” stands for “cosine” — not “sine” but a wave form nonetheless. So, again, the analog is the “real materiality” at the heart of the digital.
In other words, the light at the end of the black box is an analog light. The computer is one half of an asymmetrical relation. Computers need their inputs; and most of the inputs come from other computers. But there’s one terminal input, the transductive interface where the analog real enters through the side door.
by Edmund Berger
The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalitization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip. 1
These are the opening lines of “Meltdown,” a short, hallucinatory psalm, spoken on behalf of the capitalism of the information age and, more specifically, the schizoid bifurcation points occurring in the cracks and fissures it triggers across the globe. Initially impenetrable yet strangely alluring, the text’s language is poetic in form, its progenitors found in critical theory and cyberpunk fiction and film, and its logic machinic and amphetamine addled. The place is the University of Warwick in the early 90s, and the author is a former Continental Philosophy lecturer by the name of Nick Land. “Meltdown: planetary china-syndrome, dissolution of the biosphere into the technosphere, terminal speculative bubble crisis, ultravirus, and revolution stripped of all christian-socialist eschatology.”
A little background information: “Meltdown” is torn from the pages of Abstract Culture, the journal/decentralized cultural mirror put out by the now-defunct Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit (CCRU). With its brief nexus located at Britain’s Warwick University, CCRU was the brainchild of cyber-feminist Sadie Plant and Land himself, with a supporting cast of characters who have gone on to radicalize social and academic spaces in various ways: Steve Goodman, an early innovator of dubstep, well known under his moniker Kode9; Mark Fisher, the force behind the K-Punk blog and author of Capitalist Realism; Kodwo Eshun, whose work More Brilliant than the Sun employs “sonic fiction” to explore the musical trajectories of afro-futurism; Iain Hamilton Grant, a philosopher and translator of texts by Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard; among others. Running through the thoughts manifested by these individuals is the emergent philosophical lineage called ‘speculative realism,’ eschewing post-Kantianism’s correlationism in exchange for a quasi-nihilist metaphysical realism abound with nods to Lovecraft and modern cultural trends.
Its impossible to speak of CCRU and the frantic cybertheories they repeatedly injected into dry academic ivory towerism without providing a cursory mention to Sadie Plant. A graduate of the University of Manchester’s philosophy program, Plant’s Ph.D thesis-turned book The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age gained her renown and a position as a researcher fellow at the University of Warwick’s Social Sciences department. Her curious brand of post-Situationist/post-Thatcher cyber-feminism initially seemed to fit the bill for Warwick’s intellectual climate, drenched in information technology research and the hybrid political philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. To assist her work, CCRU was set up in 1995 as a sort of adjunct facility – but when joined by Nick Land, it quickly transformed itself into what has been described as a sort of university equivalent to Colonel Kurtz and his frightening, psychedelic war machine from the end of Apocalypse Now. Land’s animosity towards the academic universe’s unwritten commandments and careerist bureaucracy had already been readily apparent in his 1992 work The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, a “deranged mix of prose-poem, spiritual autobiography and rigorous explication of the implications of Bataille’s thought.”2 He quickly overtook Plant’s position as steward of the unit, spinning it into a thousand directions, simultaneously encompassing philosophy, physics, biology, mysticism, and all manner of beyonds, sidestepping through the disciplines and exploring the strange spaces between them in a sort of D.I.Y. remix of Norbert Weiner’s original research into cybernetics.
CCRU received ample boosts from sweaty dance floors moved by the sample-heavy bass and backbeats of jungle, dropping chopped-up and scrambled variants of previous musical cultures into the blossoming rave scene of the UK. Jungle’s method of appropriating micro-units of traditional sonic form and social detritus by the way of Kingston’s dub sound systems and Britain’s own recent punk/post-punk past provided a close analogue, in the eyes of the Warwick’s renegade explorers, to the overdriven systematics of post-Fordist capitalism; its tendency towards crisis were also collapsing into Bataille’s feverish fixation on existence in the face of the apocalypse. Capitalism and jungle collide through Abstract Culture with pop culture nuggets reflecting the technological innovations in military hardware, the internet, and other communication platforms: film such as Blade Runner and Terminator, cyberpunk fiction like William Gibson’s Neuromancer, each capturing visions of the future where technology has reached escape velocity, exiting the terrestrial plane with a humanity dragged along with it. Limits dissolving not simply into thresholds, but innumerable exit points.
And thus Land and the CCRU, now minus Plant, produced a bizarre and complex theoretical position called “accelerationism.” Academia was stagnant, reflecting a wider stagnation in the government and the social. State-thought pervaded every level, stifling creativity and movement, reducing everything to the drab and gray monoliths of housing projects – repetition. Everywhere was overwritten with codes, essentially dictating what one can think and what one could do. Even the so-called opposition was complicit. The Old Left was incapable of transforming itself with the changing times, getting themselves lodged in the muck of the laborist paradigm of big unionism and legislative quagmires.
With the dawn of complex information technologies and its proliferation on the grassroots level, combined with the perceived assault on stateform through the neoliberal program, CCRU produced a radically new proposition for revolutionary change that differed wildly from the Marxist-lite meanderings of the professional left. Emancipation from traditional and constraining modes of thought could come, they argued, from the apparatuses of capitalism itself. Monetary flows had the capability, as Marx himself had observed, to make everything solid “melt into air.” Solidity was stagnation; accelerating the melting process thus became essential. Looking at it like this, Marx can been seen as a proto-accelerationist, counting on capitalism to cultivate the proper moment where the “revolution” – whatever that truly means – would flash into existence. But Marx’s method was based in dialectical materialism, a reworking of what is otherwise a philosophical position fixed in a linear and totalizing cosmology. Land and the CCRU, on the other hand, resisted the Hegelian discourse that was the trademark of the dominant state-thought. Instead, they relied heavily on post-Marxist, anti-Hegelian theory emerging in France following the collapse of May ’68’s utopian aspiration – namely, the work of Deleuze and Guattari and those who followed in their footsteps.
The Accelerationist Moment
So now it is high time to speak of the disembodiment of reality, this sort of breakdown which, one should think is applied to a self-multiplication proliferating among things and the perception of them in our minds, which is where they do belong – Antonin Artaud, “Description of a physical state”3
Several key texts from the 1970s have been identified as the locus of the accelerationist theory: Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972), Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy (1974), Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), and, I would argue, his infamous Forget Foucault (1977), with an aftershock of sorts occurring in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire (2000). All these works share a commonality in new understandings of capitalism, socialism, control, and resistance; they map new and expectant cartographies of the then-present and the now-current future. Furthermore, each zeroes in the nature of the new paradigm where the logic of revolt that fueled the events of 1968 have become the twin logics of production and consumption, the new language of the marketplace.
Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus oscillates somewhere between fiction and reality, between radical critique and poetic manifesto – utilizing an assault on Freudianism and Hegelian dialectic with an arsenal of weapons stripped from Marx, Spinoza and Nietzsche, they propose a new model of the unconscious mind. No longer is it a theater of symbols, as Freud posited, but a factory where flows of machines of desire couple and disconnect from one another. Their model of the machinic unconsciousness collapses the superficial boundaries between man and nature, mind and body, and all other manner of dialectics. Current social structures, on the other hand, impose boundaries and block flows, reroute them, capture them for their own rationale, and overcode them. Deleuze and Guattari further their strange new world by producing the concept of ‘nomad thought’ – a formulation with its roots in the Situationist derive or drift, a manner of looking for divergent modes of becoming that finds passages to the outside of the logic and ‘rationalized’ discipline that power creates. This nomadic mechanism is complimented with a charting of the convergences between capitalism and the desiring flows, showing how the system’s tendency towards dissolution breaks down the traditional codework. This isn’t to say that capitalism as-is is the fiscal equivalent of nomadic thought, but there are similarities, the most principle being the concept of deterritorialization. Probing these approaches, Deleuze and Guattari ask:
…which is the revolutionary path? Is there one? – To withdraw from the world market,as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go further still, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.4
Even if this is the only place in book where the theory of accelerationism is expressed directly, the entire work illustrates the need for a revolution built upon moving into a beyond through the folds of deterritorialization. They call for a “schizoanalysis,” a radical new form of psychotherapy built upon the model of the schizophrenic – as opposed to the Freudian school’s emphasis on neurosis – to allow for brushes with alterity (otherness) to trigger accelerated processes of becoming. Schizoanalysis, nomadic thought, the flows, there is little separating these, and each urges us to go further and further, beyond doctrinaire Marxism and even the text of Anti-Oedipus itself.
Within four years, Jean-Francois Lyotard, a veteran of May ’68 and a close friend of Deleuze, had taken up their challenge, effectively schizoanalyzing Anti-Oedipus into a strange new formation that he dubbed Libidinal Economy. He would later disown the book, calling it “evil;” while this is certainly hyperbolic, the ideas expressed within isolated him from mainstream Marxist currents. Rejecting the left’s vanguardist approach to what they characterize as ‘proletarian consciousness,’ Lyotard conflates capitalism’s engine with the worker’s desire for deterritorialization and decoding. “Hang on tight and spit on me,” he commands, thrusting forward the insistence that the working class “enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories, in hell, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity…”5 Further still, the intelligentsia, by looking to direct the worker’s desires, was acting in a rather counter-revolutionary model and was complicit with the bourgeoisie:
Why political intellectuals, do you incline towards the proletariat? In commiseration for what? I realize that a proletarian would hate you, you have no hatred because you are bourgeois, privileged, smooth-skinned types, but also because you dare not say that the only important thing there is to say, that one can enjoy swallowing the shit of capital, its materials, its metal bars, its polystyrene, its books, its sausage pâtés, swallowing tonnes of it till you burst – and because instead of saying this, which is also what happens in the desires of those who work with their hands, arses and heads, ah, you become a leader of men, what a leader of pimps, you lean forward and divulge: ah, but that’s alienation, it isn’t pretty, hang on, we’ll save you from it, we will work to liberate you from this wicked affection for servitude, we will give you dignity. And in this way you situate yourselves on the most despicable side, the moralistic side where you desire that our capitalized’s desire be totally ignored, brought to a standstill, you are like priests with sinners…6
After quickly as it had begun, Lyotard immediately retreated from his vitriolic theory-fiction and from a Deleuzian perspective in general, later penning his seminal work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge in 1979. But nomadic wanderings were continued by Jean Baudrillard, whose philosophical trail had begun in the Situationist ferment but were becoming increasingly difficult and abstract. If Deleuze and Guattari had captured the late Sixties zeitgeist and Lyotard had taken these energies to produce a proto-punk refusal, Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death and Forget Foucault was the first blast of cyberpunk – “it didn’t look like anything else that was being published in France during that period. It didn’t seem to belong there, or anywhere for that matter. It was as if it had fallen from outer space.”7 Symbolic Exchange assaults Deleuze, Guattari, and Lyotard, arguing that their work with ‘desire’ bound them into the dialectical system they were critiquing, and that the schizophrenic flows that desire moved in acted as justification for capitalism itself, which was then transitioning from the post-war Keynesian structure into free-floating, transnational neoliberalism. In other words, he could see fully the spectre of accelerationism and what it meant for any revolutionary alternatives. But, as Benjamin Noy points out, “The difficulty is that Baudrillard’s own catastrophising comprises a kind of negative acceleration, in which he seeks out the point of immanent reversal that inhabits and destabilizes capital.”8 With the aid of anthropology and Bataille’s work, he created the concept of “symbolic exchange,” dissolving the traditional value assigned in the marketplace of capitalist exchanges. This, he says, constitutes a “death function” for the system – but it can only occur if we challenge capitalism to embrace what it is, a monstrous and surreal complex, “endlessly cutting the branch on which it sits.”9
If Baudrillard directly foreshadowed the non-leftist accelerationism and fixation on Bataillian apocalypses of Nick Land, Hardt and Negri’s Empire attempted to re-situate Deleuze and Guattari’s original idea into a [post-]Marxist format in search of a liberatory politics. In 1972, the year that Anti-Oedipus had been published, President Nixon had removed the US dollar from the gold standard, effectively stripping capitalism from any material base and transforming it into a language game, a semiotic system of control that could circle the globe unfixed from the structures that had always augmented monetary flows. It was financial deterritorialization coming to fruition, and, to quote Baudrillard, power had “dissolved purely and simply in a manner that still escapes us.” This power, dispersed in transnational networks across the globe, would be given the name “Empire” by Hardt and Negri, and for them (like Baudrillard), there was no longer any alterity; modernism became postmodernism, Fordism dissolved in the face of post-Fordism, all the previous categories collapsing into one another. Because of this, reactionary revolt as a passage out will never lead to emancipation. We have to go forward:
We cannot move back to any previous social form, nor move forward in isolation. Rather, we must push through Empire to come out the other side…Empire can be effectively contested only on its own level of generality and by pushing the process that it offers past their present limitations. We have to accept that challenge and learn to think globally and act globally. Globalization must be met with a counter-globalization, Empire with a counter-Empire.9
In 1980, Deleuze and Guattari released their follow-up to Anti-Oedipus, an exercise in schizoanalytic nomadic thought they titled A Thousand Plateaus. Here, they seemed hesitant to their earlier vision of unabashed acceleration, offering instead words of caution. They were necessary words: Anti-Oedipus had been written while the revolutionary high of 1968 still hung in the air; but a decade later, left-wing terrorism, rampant drug abuse and rising neoliberalism had generate an aura of pessimism and in certain places, outright despair. They speak of ‘black holes,’ fascistic traps that deterritorializing flows can accelerate themselves into. To make revolution, to engage in processes of becoming, to escape along a line of flight, each operates as a bifurcation point that can lead outward, but there exists the dangers of ‘coiling’ inwards, toward structure and binary oppositions, dialectic stateform dependency – and, in the most extreme cases, death.
Nick Land saw this retreat, perceived as a sudden moralizing stance, as being antithetical to the ethos of Anti-Oedipus and something in the direction of a betrayal of the work’s spirit. His vision was one of capitalism as the harbinger of the end; he had dialed back a portion of their oeuvre and conjoined the schizoid flows to the Freudian death drive, or thanatos. If bourgeois humanism forms a reactionary mechanic of power, then only the antihumanism provided by the acceleration of capital and its technological counterparts could finally dissolve what is. In “Meltdown,” we find that “Man is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag.”10
Apocalyptic intensities aside, Land has conveniently sidestepped a critical aspect of Anti-Oedipus‘s analysis of capitalist deterritorialization. If deterritorialization advances the subversive forces in capitalism’s own flows, there is always the accompanying process of reterritorialization, which draws these unravels energies into a manageable system. These reterritorializations do not happen to spite capitalism, they happened in accordance with it, to stave off the death function that Baudrillard had found:
Capitalism institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, imaginary, or symbolic territories, thereby attempting, the best it can, to recode, to rechannel persons who have been defined in the terms of abstract quantities. Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families. That is what makes the ideology of capitalism “a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed.”11
We’re told in A Thousand Plateaus that “the nomad can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence… because there are no reterritorialization afterwards…”12 Thus, we can no longer draw as tidy parallels between nomadic becomings and capitalism as we have to this point, for the true threshold of the nomad is held off, existing only perhaps as a carrot to move power networks to resemble more and more the aesthetic and moral stances of their opposition. As neoliberal capitalism itself became deterritorialized following the end of the Fordist class compact, it simultaneously exalted itself as the great bestower of health,wealth and equality (just think of development programs for the Third World and the philanthropy of industrial and financial giants) while in reality acting as a great destroyer (cyclical crisis, mass wealth inequality, war). To confuse matters more, Deleuze and Guattari point their finger to the stateform itself, the system that was supposed to dissolve away under both Marxist-derived programs and neoliberalism, as the principle actor in the reterritorializations. As we can now see, looking backwards from the vantage point of the latest crises, the state never, ever went away in the neoliberal revolution; it only slightly altered its function, retracing itself in the image of the market. It still creates level after level of bureaucracy, bails-out, enforces laws, regulates, and manages the direction that so-called free trade moves in.
Land once remarked in an interview that “organization is suppression,” a phrase so anarchic that it could have been found just as easily in the graffiti of the Situationists in 1968 or in the manifestos of the Italian Autonomists in the late 1970s. Following this logic, we can reach the conclusion that the acceleration of capitalism proper will never bestow a post-suppression environment, by virtue of the existence of the corporate model alone. With the modern corporation, the center of power and politics in the neoliberal sphere, we have a multilevel institution operating with the sanction of the state – through the granting of corporate charters – and, frequently, receives direct financial lines from the public coffers in the form of subsidies. And while the corporation is the principle arbiter of capitalism’s global flows, encompassing the monetary, the material, and human elements, it acts as a lopsided entity, a mass centralization that works not with the market, but against it. Manuel deLanda, drawing on research of Fernand Braudel, assigns both the corporation and the idea of capitalism itself to the category of the anti-market – the systems of “large scale enterprises, with several layers of managerial strata, in which prices are set not taken.”13
In contrast to the anti-market is the marketplace proper, a complex “meshwork” of both exchange and production, operating in primarily localized settings and through decentralization – small firms and individuals that actually determine price and labor conditions. deLanda’s meshworks were reflected in the CCRU’s interest in the bottom-up “street markets… a bustling bazaar culture of trade and ‘cutting deals’”,14 and also brings to mind Deleuze and Guattari’s articulation of the ‘rhizome’, a decentralized network formation that spreads across smooth spaces, free from hierarchy and command. Yet deLanda warns not to look to the meshwork of the market as something completely revolutionary; while they can resist them, they can also reinforce traditional binaries and hierarchies. There is also the issue of growth, which places the meshworks on a natural trajectory that can lead them to become anti-markets. The rhizome model is to be contrasted with that of a tree, but the figurative tree, not the process of further deterritorialization, is what can grow from the marketplace.
If we are speaking of illusionary rhizomes and false promises of open networks, we can turn to the other side of the accelerationist coin: the advancing marches of technology revolving around the internet itself. An interactive medium encompassing text and image, code and emotion, history and the future, global interrelation, the internet’s highly schizophrenic and every-shifting nature, its perpetual self-connection through hyperlinks, makes itself appear to be the fulfillment of the rhizome: “Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be…A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.”15
But the internet has its trees and has always had its trees, unlike even the the deLandian market, which becomes hierarchical and treelike. From the beginning it was an agenda of Cold War politics, born from the research laboratories of DARPA and its allied universities. When it came time for the great privatization, it was handed off to corporate monopolies, anti-markets in the purest sense of the word, free from any real competition or external threats. The telecommunication giants serve as the internet’s gatekeepers, the guardians of the flows of information; digital ‘freedom’ comes at the cost of a monthly subscription and the consent to be monitored. And for many, the freedom doesn’t even exist – there is currently a growing crisis, particularly in the US, where people living in rural areas are deprived of internet access. This unfortunate problem stems from the service providers themselves, who simply choose not to operate in these regions because lower population densities would mean lower revenue streams. A double centralization occurs: a digital one, in the form of the ISP’s role as a gatekeeper, and a geographical one, where power, knowledge, and opportunities remain situated in the urban zones. To even begin to truly decentralized the world wide web and flatten out its intrinsic hierarchies, its not a matter of acceleration. Its a matter of a total structural change, a new paradigm for digital futures entirely.
Despite this, however, the spaces of the internet play host to a whole series of deterritorializations. Cyber warmachines – Anonymous, WikiLeaks, the countless advocates of open source technology, social media users in times of political struggle– are capable of crossing the digital threshold and impacting the physical world in very real ways, changing the contours of everyday life. File sharing platforms such as music blogs, torrent sites, and smaller, individualized programs allow capitalist creative destruction to impede on the constructs of copyright and intellectual property, while deeper structures, the darknet and TOR networks, allow for subterfuge and anonymity from the prying eye of government agencies and corporate data collectors.
We can extoll the virtues of these deterritorializations, for they constitute very real examples of radical becomings with the tools we have available. Yet the spectre of reterritorialization haunts them still, with the state taking on the very roles identified in Anti-Oedipus. As copyright laws become dismantled with the digitalization of music, film, text and information, governments have stepped in to take an active role in taking down hosting sites – an development situated in a great agenda of internet regulation and creation of watchdog agencies. Very real political repression of WikiLeaks is occurring, while the continual use of the TOR networks, stereotyped as a digital ‘wild west’, by violent and exploitative criminal elements only amplifies the calls for intervention. The digital sphere has reached a point where it serves as a mirror of the great neoliberal system, a state of affairs that was predicted decades ago by cyberpunk authors. In works such as Neuromancer, lauded by Land and the CCRU, technology is inseparable from the human body and his external environment while corporate monoliths act in the void left by the absence of functional government – but there exists a strange contradiction in that individuals living and acting on the level of the physical and digital streets have assumed heightened degree of autonomy while also being subjected to the greater ebbs and flows of power. In the cyberworld, as well as the real world, sources for freedom and the bindings of control are being transmitted from the same source – the schizoid movement of capital itself. Through this paradigm, perhaps we can push acceleration away from its looming black holes and reconnect it, as Hardt and Negri try to do, to some form of revolutionary politics.
“The street finds its own use for things”
I now sense an extraordinary acceleration in the decomposition of all coordinates. Its a treat just the same. All this has to crumble down, but it won’t come from any revolutionary organization. Otherwise you fall back on the most mechanistic utopias of the revolution utopias, the Marxist simplifications… The Italians of Radio Alice have a beautiful saying: when they are asked what has to be built, they answer that the forces capable of destroying this society surely are capable of building something else, yet that will happen on the way. – Felix Guattari, “Why Italy?”16
At this juncture I would like to interject a new text into the accelerationist canon: The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, recently written by Italian autonomist icon Franco “Bifo” Berardi (who, incidentally, was the founder of the Radio Alice mentioned in the quote above). Its concern certainly isn’t accelerationism per se, but a snapshot of the crisis of largely deterritorialized neoliberalism, taken at the feverpitch of the US Occupy movements, the renewed left-wing insurgency in Europe, and the Arab Spring. As the new democratic consciousness (if it can be called that) swept up malaise and despair and transmorphed them into anti-capitalist meshworks, Bifo reminds us of the crisis of technocapitalism had very real and dangerous possibilities for reterritorializations, harking back to Deleuze and Guattari’s black holes. The text draws forth apocalyptic imagery: the punk refrain of “no future”, violence, the specter of fascism. In many ways, it resembles (in tone, certainly not wording) Land’s own accelerated apocalypse – government’s corruption by “narco-capital” and the transfer of its police and military powers to “borderline-Nazi private security organizations”, the “urban warscape” and the “feral youth cultures” crawling their way through the “derelicted warrens at the heart of darkness.”17
All these things have come to pass, with the war on drugs transforming Mexico into a failed state, the privatization of warfare and relief with Blackwater in Iraq and New Orleans, the rise of the Golden Dawn in Greece… From here, Land appears not as our Nietzsche, as Fisher claims, but our Antonin Artaud, embodying the crisis in his precognitive, end times-tinged madness, while simultaneously showing potential avenues for exodus, passages to the outside. To quote his former student and fellow CCRUer, Robin MacKay, “academics talked endlessly about the outside, but no-one went there. Land, by exemplary contrast, made experiments in the unknown unavoidable…” 18
Anti-Oedipus, by way of MacKay and Fisher: “A breath of fresh air, a little relation to the outside, that’s all schizoanalysis asks.”19
Where is this outside, the big other, alterity? As we’ve mentioned, in post-Fordist neoliberalism, its vanished, existing only as prepackaged exoticism. This provides a fundamental paradox – Hardt and Negri, in their own formula of acceleration, repeatedly tell us that Empire must be pushed to the “other side” (where is this other side?) and that exodus from the system constitutes a vital strategy (exodus to where?). Exodus can no longer inhabit a physical outside, so the only place that exodus can occur is within – both in the social spaces of capitalism itself and in the individual itself. Again, nomadic thought, the traversing even the exteriority inside oneself. But we cannot escape into pure thought, float like the original surrealists amongst the unconscious pools of phantasms and dreams – or can we? Shed of its Freudian and Stalinist ambitions, surrealism can show how drifting through the mind’s ambiances can create form in the physical world. “Art cannot change the world, but it can contribute to changing the consciousness and drives of the men and women who could change the world.”20 Let us conjoin these notions with George Jackson, by way of Anti-Oedipus: “I may take flight, but all the while I am fleeing, I will be looking for a weapon.”21
We can now loop this back to one of starting points, Deleuze and Guattari’s recomposition of the unconscious mind as a flowing factory of desiring-machines. Desire is not necessarily libidinal, as Freud and his alcolytes would have it; at its basis, it is a creative force. If capitalism has seized desire into its own deterritorializing and reterritorializing processes, then a proper method of acceleration would not have to be capitalism itself, but of the rhizomatic creativity buried within it. How else can we dodge the hierarchies of command and centralization that follow in the stateforms wake?
Land’s acceleration, in the speculative sense and the market sense, concerns itself, at its core, with one thing: pushing past its limits. Here Bifo is central: he notes that in the 90s, capitalism did accelerate, straight into what was predicted by CCRU – a collapse with shades of the apocalypse. And in a similar train of thought, he expounds a thesis that traditional forms of solidarity, and forms of resistance, are an impossibility, assigned to the dustbins of nostalgia that keep the system’s heart beating even when it has, for all intents and purposes, died on the operating table. Instead, he turns to a different form of limit-busting, that of language itself, the experience of which “happens in finite conditions of history and and existence… Grammar is the establishment of limits defining a space of communication.”22 Capitalism, at the end of history, descended into the empty circulation of linguistic signs and symbols, abstracts. Now we can scramble these linguistic parameters further, seize them and appropriate them, use them to eek out new conditions for solidarity. The mechanism he proposes is poetry, “the reopening of the indefinite, the ironic act of exceeding the established meaning of words.” I think back to Magritte and his most famous work of surrealism, the juxtaposition of the image of a pipe with the words ‘this is not a pipe’ – code scrambling need not be poetry alone, but any aesthetic form.
If this linguistic-aesthetic turn seems too abstract, consider that speech itself forms part of the rock on which subjectivity is built: “I is an other, a multiplicity of others, embodied at the intersection of partial components of enunciation, breaching on all sides individuated identity and the organized body.”23 Guattari divides up the impact of these forms of enunciation, placing on oneside the signifying system of “emtpy speech”, direct command and logistical control; and on the other, “ordinary speech,” an complex affective system that encompasses not only the words themselves but articulates itself in conjunction with tonations, rhythms, facial expression, collaboration. Take the academic ivory tower, railed against by Land – theory-talk, political correctness, servitude to the given field’s magistrates and the cookie-cutter essay format, all provide a one-way uniformity in the student body, who pass on these hierarchies and overcodes in their own careers. Empty speech and all that it entails acts as a self-replicating system of control, and what is at stake is an autonomy of subjectivity itself.
Lets look at another example of subjectivity with connections to the CCRU moment: rave culture, the emergence of which Sadie Plant linked to the collapse of Britain’s labor paradigm under Thatcher’s neoliberal revolution as a method for finding new forms of collectivity. Curiously, it resembled deLanda’s meshworks: it initially flourished in the underground, linked by cottage industries and word of mouth, secret codes and maps pointing the way to parties. The patchwork music, cobbled from various sources and blended into an alchemical mixture, established the smooth sonic space where the rave took place, but the DJ or MC, in collaboration with the ravers, utilized polyphonic enunciations (oohs and ahhs, toasting, complex affective exchanges) to create emergent subjectivities that were far more collective than individual, subjectivities that looked for the outside at a time when none could be found or occur:
In her memoir Nobody Nowhere, the autistic Donna Williams describes how as a child she would withdraw from a threatening reality into a private preverbal dream-space of ultravivid color and rhythmic pulsations; she could be transfixed for hours by iridescent motes in the air that only she could perceive. With its dazzling psychotropic lights, its sonic pulses, rave culture is arguably a form of collective autism. The rave is utopia in its original etmymological sense: a nowhere/nowhen wonderland.24 (emphasis in original)
Quite literally a deterritorialization in the truest sense of the word – and one following the trajectory of capital acceleration – rave culture was quickly reterritorialized for capitalism by the state: crackdown on illegal parties, the creation of new laws, the centralization of power in the hands of corporate promoters, attacks on MDMA, all these moved rave culture away from the ‘margins’ and into the mainstream. A line of flight consisting of enunciation, aesthetics and movement, it ended up rebolstering the consumptive process of the spectacle, but there are still divergent deterritorializations utilizing the initial ethos against the powers of transnational capitalism. I’m talking here of the alter-globalization movement’s “Reclaim the Streets” (RTS) program of direct action. Rave party and protest collide together in streets of urban space, the arteries of the centers of postmodern capitalism. By occupying the streets and turning them into public bazaars, social centers and dance parties, a new form of social collectivity is produced: the Common, not only in the sense of a space of mutual aid and collective work, but also as a form of multifaceted enunciation. The fact that both RTS and the early rave movement latched onto the same theoretical construct – Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone (T.A.Z., a “temporary ‘power-surge’ against normality”)25 – and that Hardt and Negri believe that the Commonwill insue from accelerating Empire into the outside, we can gleem an important lesson: what is being concerned here is not simply a matter of physical space, though that is important. It is of a subjectivity established along lines of multiplicities, frenzied criss-crosses of speech and affective deterritorialized becomings. Acceleration collapses because neoliberalism can’t promise what it said it would. It’s up to us to carry on the mantle.
Openings: The Chaos Principle
In November of 2011 I found myself in New York City, moving as one individual in the mass swarm flowing through the streets of the financial district – an event that would have been unimaginable, I believe, without the groundwork laid by things such as RTS and the T.A.Z. As I watched the occupation’s internal workings, its rhizomatic networks of working groups, spokes councils, general assemblies and internet spaces, I was struck with a particular thought. Its not easy to place capitalism and its opposition in an easily defineable binary schema, because capitalism, like the people who actively resist it, is a system-in-becoming. Every person who was there was brought to the occupations by the complexity of capitalism’s flows, and were tapping it to wrestle it into something different. No two people who occupied in America, or marched in the streets of Europe or fought for democracy in the Middle East – or all those who oscillated between each in assemblages provided by information-communicative technologies – were identical; it was a composition of a myriad of collaescing concepts and complaints, hopes and analyses, intentions and experiences, affects and speech.
Because of this, no singular identity could be generated, nor platform for party-based revolution or reform. That didn’t stop the telecommunication-media complexes from trying to find these. “Make yourself a signifier!” they shouted, wanting, hoping, for some fixed point that could be easily digested and assimilated in the bureaucracy of control. They didn’t understand that that year’s transnational event of collective enunciation wanted to avoid the transformation into “empty speech” and the stodgy, gray stateform (both within and outside government) that comes part and parcel with it. They didn’t understand that neoliberalism’s chaos was producing yet another kind of chaos, one that was interactive and swelling from the bottom up.
Perhaps “chaos” isn’t the best choice of words, for we must define ourselves as seperate from neoliberal’s own kind of organized, exploitative chaos. Returning to Deleuze and Guattari, this time through Bifo’s work on poetry: “Art is not chaos, but a composition of chaos that yields the vision or sensation, so that it constitutes, as Joyce says, a chaosmos.”26 The chaosmos, a shift from the “dissonance” generated by accelerated capital and technotronics, “simultaneously creates the aesthetic conditions for the perception and expression of new modes of becoming.” The street will find its own use for things, as the cyberpunks proclaimed, and the micro-revolutions that this produces will be aestheticized and multiplied, not Hegelianized; it will exist on the smooth plane of the virtual, where there can be endless potentials for flight and finding weapons, bifurcation points and new creations. The chaotic principle must be at work to reestablish sources of alterity and to avoid reterritorialization as much as possible – no more totalizing syntheses…
The important thing here is not only the confrontation with a new material of expression, but the constitution of complexes of subjectivation: multiple exchanges between individual-group-machine. These complexes of subjectivation actually offer people diverse possibilities for recomposing their existential corporeality, to get out of their repetitive impasses and, in a certain way, to resingularise themselves… We are not confronted with subjectivity given as in-itself, but with processes of the realisation of autonomy, or autopoiesis…27
The story goes like this: when we speak of autonomy, autonomy of the subject, of its enunciations and its relations to collective experience, we speak of something that neoliberalism and social democratic governance claimed for its own, but never truly had: plurality. As such, making revolt in the neoliberal epoch itself cannot be a strict, singular platform; principles of autonomy, collective aesthetics and chaosmos run contrary to this. There is no utopia at the end of the road, no messianic communist reality knocking at our doorstep. But this does not disqualify resistance. We have the ability to create autonomy when we resist, and what we demand is space – geophysical, affective, and mental space. The Commons, if we so choose. At the very least, the option and ability to live free from command and control.
In at the closing of this dangling, never to be completed essay, I want finish with a final quote from Felix Guattari, as he looked out upon the Brazilian democratic uprisings at the dawn of the 1980s. This, I believe, is precisely the type of sentiments and sensibilities that we must now try to accelerate:
Yes, I believe that there is a multiple people, a people of mutants, a people of potentialities that appears and disappears, that is embodied in social events, literary events, and musical events… I don’t know, perhaps I’m raving, but I think we’re in a period of productivity, proliferation, creation, utterly fabulous revolutions from the viewpoint of the emergence of a people. That’s molecular revolution: it isn’t a slogan or a program, it’s something I feel, that I live, in meetings, in institutions, in affects, and in some reflections.28
1Nick Land “Meltdown” Abstract Culture, Swarm 1 http://www.ccru.net/swarm1/1_melt.htm
2Simon Reynolds “Renegade Academia” originally published in Lingua Franca, 1999 http://energyflashbysimonreynolds.blogspot.com/2009/11/renegade-academia-cybernetic-culture.html
3Antonin Artaud, Jack Hirschman (ed.) Artaud Anthology City Lights, 1965, pg. 29
4Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin, 1977, pgs. 239-240
5Jean-Francois Lyotard Libidinal Economy Athlone Press, 2004 pg. 109
6Ibid., pgs. 113-114
7Jean Baudrillard Forget Foucault Semiotext(e) 2007, pg. 9
8Benjamin Noys The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory Edinburgh University Press, 2012, pg. 6
9Baudrillard Forget Foucault pg. 12
9Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pgs. 206-20
11Deleuze, Guattari Anti-Oedipus, pg. 34
12Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and SchizophreniaUniversity of Minnesota Press, 1987 pg. 381
13Manuel deLanda “Markets and anti-markets in the world economy” Alamut April 26th1998 http://www.alamut.com/subj/economics/de_landa/antiMarkets.html
14Reynolds “Renegade Academia”
15Deleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus, pg.7
16Felix Guattari “Why Italy?” in Sylvere Lotringer (ed) Autonomia: Post-Political PoliticsSemiotext(e), 2007 pg. 236
18Robin MacKay “Nick Land: An Experiment in Inhumanism” Umelec Magazine, January, 2012
19Mark Fisher and Robin MacKay “PomoPhobia” Abstract Culture, Swarm 1 http://www.ccru.net/swarm1/1_pomo.htm
20Herbert Marcuse, quoted in Franklin Rosemont “Herbert Marcuse and Surrealism” Arsenal no.4, 1989
21Deleuze, Guattari Anti-Oedipus, pg. 277
22Franco “Bifo” Berardi The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance Semiotext(e), 2012, pg. 158
23Felix Guattari Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm Indiana University Press, 1995 pg. 83
24Simon Reynolds Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture Routledge, 1999 pg. 248
25Ibid., pg. 245
26Berardi The Uprising pg. 150
27Guattari Chaosmosis, pg. 7
28Felix Guattari Molecular Revolution in Brazil Semiotext(e), 2007, pg. 9
by Amy Ireland
As the CCRU’s tangled time tales emerge from obscurity, Amy Ireland digs deeper into the sorcerous cybernetics of the time spiral, acceleration, and nonhuman poetics
A sufficiently advanced technology would seem to us to be a form of magic; Arthur C. Clarke has pointed that out. A wizard deals with magic; ergo a ‘wizard’ is someone in possession of a highly sophisticated technology, one which baffles us. Someone is playing a board game with time, someone we can’t see. It is not God.
— Philip K Dick
In this book it is spoken of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether they exist or not. By doing certain things, certain results follow.
— Aleister Crowley
Chronology is an antiquated fetish.
— Marc Couroux
How would it feel to be smuggled back out of the future in order to subvert its antecedent conditions? To be a cyberguerrilla, hidden in human camouflage so advanced that even one’s software was the part of the disguise? Exactly like this?
— Nick Land
Modernity is cyberpositive. Yeats plotted this out in the ‘widening gyres’ of 1919’s ‘The Second Coming’, and again in 1925 and 1937 in his prose work A Vision, a mystical text composed of information revealed to him through the medium of his wife’s sustained experiments in automatic writing.1 In A Vision and related textual fragments composed between 1919 and 1925, hyperstitional agents Michael Robartes and Owen Aherne recount the discovery of an arcane philosophical system encoded in a series of geometrical diagrams—‘squares and spheres, cones made up of revolving gyres intersecting each other at various angles, figures sometimes with great complexity’—found accidentally by Robartes in a book that had been propping up the lopsided furniture of his shady Cracow bedsit.2 Aherne is skeptical, but as Robartes delves further into the system’s origin, he discovers that the Cracow book (the Speculum Angelorum et Hominis by one ‘Giraldus’, published in 1594) recapitulates the belief system of an Arabian sect known as the Judwalis or ‘diagrammatists’, who in turn derived it from a mysterious work—now long lost—containing the teachings of Kusta ben Luka, a philosopher at the ancient Court of Harun Al-Raschid, although rumour has it that ben Luka got it from a desert djinn.3
The hypothesis that a copy of Giraldus’s book was among those texts seized by the University of Warwick when it ejected the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru) from the custodianship of its philosophy department in 1997 is unsupported by anything other than dim intimations and local hearsay; however, it can be asserted with some level of confidence that members of the unit had been in possession of fragments of Yeats’s record of Robartes’s discovery, if not the full text of A Vision in either of its two predominant instantiations. A cursory comparison of Ccru texts dealing with the then-still-inchoate notion of accelerationism—from Sadie Plant and Nick Land’s ‘Cyberpositive’, through the latter’s luminous mid-nineties missives (‘Circuitries’, ‘Machinic Desire’, ‘Meltdown’, and ‘Cybergothic’ are exemplary) to the contemporary elaboration of the phenomenon in his cogent and obscure ‘Teleoplexy’—with Robartes’s gloss of Judwali philosophy, is enough to posit the malefic presence of abstract spiromancy in both systems of historical divination. Indeed, a diligent student of occulted spironomics might even draw the timeline back to 1992 where the gyre emerges as the infamous ‘fanged noumenon’ of the eponymous chapter in Land’s bizarre monograph, The Thirst for Annihilation.4
Giraldus’s diagrams are all variations on a principle schema of two intersecting cones, one inverted and nested inside the other:5
As in Robartes’s historical account of the system’s exposition by four dancers (pupils of Kusta ben Luka) in the desert sands before a doubtful caliph, the full implications of the schema are not apparent until it is set in motion, for each cone must be imagined to house a double gyre which simultaneously expands and contracts in opposite directions and in rhythmic alliance with the gyres of the opposing cone.6 The range of these expansions and contractions denotes relative increases and decreases in the influence of the four faculties attributed to each of the turning gyres. In this manner, the values represented by the schema are always in steady relation, ‘the energy of one tendency being in exact mathematical proportion to that of the other’: a waxing here corresponds to a waning there.7 When a cone has exhausted one full sequence of its double gyre, a sudden transfer of momentum compels a shift from that cone to its counterpart across their extremities (a jump from the narrow end of Cone A to the dilated end of Cone B, and vice versa). Because of this dynamic, one cone is always in prominence while the other is occulted, an arrangement that reverses at the conclusion of the next gyre sequence, or ‘cycle’. This jump corresponds to one of the four ‘phases of crisis’ and indexes an epistemological blind spot comparable to the event horizon of a black hole, impossible to see beyond from a point internal to the system. Grasped from outside, however, the strange hydraulics of the gyres describe a fatalistic set of inversions and returns that ultimately furnish a rich resource for augury, one that Yeats, editing Robartes’s papers, unhesitatingly exploited in the first version of A Vision.8
When applied to the task of historical divination (our interest here), the waxing and waning of the gyres can be charted in twenty-eight phases along the path of an expanding and contracting meta-gyre or ‘Cycle’ which endures for roughly two millennia and is neatly divisible into twelve sub-gyres (comprising four cardinal phases and eight triads) each of which denotes a single twist in the larger, container Cycle.9 According to the system as it was originally relayed to George Yeats through the automatic script (an exact date does not appear in the Speculum Angelorum et Hominis or Judwali teachings), the twelfth gyre in our current—waxing—Cycle turns in 2050, when ‘society as mechanical force [shall] be complete at last’ and humanity, symbolized by the figure of The Fool, ‘is but a straw blown by the wind, with no mind but the wind and no act but a nameless drifting and turning’, before the first decade of the twenty-second century (a ‘phase of crisis’) ushers in an entirely new set of twelve gyres: the fourth Cycle and the first major historical phase shift in two thousand years.10 Laying Yeats’s awkward predictions (which he himself shelved for the 1937 edition of A Vision) to one side, the system provides material for the inference of several telling traits that can be combined to give a rough sketch of this imminent Cycle upon whose cusp we uneasily reside. Unlike the ‘primary’ religious era that has preceded it—marked by dogmatism, a drive towards unity, verticality, the need for transcendent regulation, and the symbol of the sun—the coming age will be lunar, secular, horizontal, multiple, and immanent: an ‘antithetical multiform influx’.11The ‘rough beast’ of ‘The Second Coming’, Christ’s inverted double, sphinx-like (a creature of the threshold) with a ‘gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, will bear the age forward into whatever twisted future the gyres have marked out for it.12
In ‘Teleoplexy’, as the most recent, succinct expression of accelerationism in its Landian form (distinguished from the Left queering of the term more frequently associated with Srnicek and Williams’s ‘Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’),13Land draws out the latent cybernetic structure of the Judwalis’ system and employs it to reach a similar catastrophic prediction, although the somewhat restrained invocation of ‘Techonomic Singularity’ dampens the rush of what has previously been designated as ‘a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch’ in which ‘[z]aibatsus flip into sentience as the market melts to automatism, politics is cryogenized and dumped into the liquid-helium meat-store, drugs migrate onto neurosoft viruses and immunity is grated-open against jagged reefs of feral AI explosion, Kali culture, digital dance-dependency, black shamanism epidemic, and schizophrenic break-outs from the bin’.14 Like the Judwalis’ system, the medium of accelerationism is time, and the message here regarding temporality is consistent: not a circle or a line; not 0, not 1—but the torsional assemblage arising from their convergence, precisely what ‘breaks out from the bin[ary]’. Both systems, as maps of modernity, appear as, and are piloted by, the spiral (or ‘gyre’). As an unidentified carrier once put it, ‘the diagram comes first’.15
According to its own propaganda, modernity is progressive, innovative, irreversible, and expansive.16 It plots a direct line out of the cyclical, seasonal pulse of pre-modern ecology to a future state of technical mastery and social enlightenment. The modernist imperative to ‘make it new’ ostensibly refuses the closure and insulation against shock expressed by cyclicality, yet, as Land is quick to point out, subsequently smuggles it back in by other means, championing self-referentiality in modernist aesthetics, relying on the cycle as the basic unit for historical and economic analysis, retaining archaic calendric arrangements, and betraying its prevalence in the popular imagination via the emergence of the time loop as a key archetypal trope in twentieth-century science fiction.17 A link between the cyclic inclination and anthropomorphic bias can easily be excavated by pointing to the myriad cyclic rhythms intrinsic to the natural human physiology that surreptitiously conditions modernity’s self-apprehension from the inside. This disavowed duplicity at the heart of the modernist enterprise exposes the falseness of its relation to the ‘new’ by revealing the extent to which it always hedges its bets against radical openness, or what Land will call the Outside. Modernity’s novelty only arrives via a restricted economy of possibility for which the terms (commensurate with human affordability) are always set in advance.18
Posed as an epistemological question, the fortifications erected by this arrangement against the intrusion of the unprecedented and unknown are highly suspicious. What Landian accelerationism shares with the Judwalis’ system is an acknowledgement that the real shape of novelty is not linear but spirodynamic. Land’s cybernetic upgrade of the gyre reads the spiral as a cipher for positive feedback and, charged with the task of diagramming modernity, locates its principal motor in the escalatory M-C-M’ circuitry of capitalism. Against the metrical models of feedback expounded by Norbert Wiener, whose foundational Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine operates as ‘propaganda against positive feedback—quantizing it as amplification within an invariable metric—[to establish] a cybernetics of stability fortified against the future’, a representation which offers a misleadingly simplistic choice between the dependable utility of homeostatic equilibrium and its pathological other, Land offers the following complexification:
[I]t is necessary to differentiate not just between negative and positive feedback loops, but between stabilization circuits, short-range runaway circuits, and long-range runaway circuits. By conflating the two latter, modernist cybernetics has trivialized escalation processes into unsustainable episodes of quantitative inflation, thus side-lining exploratory mutation over against a homeostatic paradigm.19
The key difference lies in the impossibility of distilling the effects of long-range runaway circuitry in terms of metrics alone. A cyberpositive circuit that can sustain itself over a long period of time—a question of the capacity to self-design, ‘but only in such a way that the self is perpetuated as something redesigned’—will reach a state of feedback density that effectively flips extensity into intensity, and thus engineers a change in kind rather than degree: phase shift, or catastrophe (with -strophe derived from the Greek strephein, ‘to turn’).20 It is here that the cybernetic propensity for ‘exploratory mutation’ finds its vocation as the producer of true novelty and, compressed into the notion of negentropy, dovetails with what Land refers to as ‘intelligence’, that which modernity—grasped nonlinearly—labours to emancipate.21 It is of little import that such emancipation corresponds to the elimination of the ‘human’ as it is traditionally understood. Viewed indifferently, catastrophe is just another word for novelty.
‘Teleoplexy’’s opening scenes depict a set of embattled doubles: primary and secondary processes, chronic and retrochronic temporality, inverse teleologies, critique and realism, a view from within opposed by a view from without. Such a structure cannot but recall the gyres that spin both ways at once in the Judwalis’ diagrams, and the intersecting but inverted cones—one ‘primary’, the other ‘antithetical’—that exchange places at the turning of a Cycle. Indeed, Yeats himself refers to this switch as ‘catastrophic’.22 Just as the Judwalis’ system affords an insider/outsider perspective, licensing prediction (an insight available to those equipped with adequate skills for deciphering the diagrams) but outlawing positive knowledge, the spiral comprehends catastrophe chiastically. Seen from within, it documents collapse into ultimately unknowable terrain; seen from without, it discloses a pattern of assembly.
When he first shares his discovery of Giraldus’s diagrams with Aherne, Robartes explains that they are animated by ‘a fundamental mathematical movement…which can be quickened or slackened but cannot be fundamentally altered’, and that ‘when you have found this movement and calculated its relations, you can foretell the entire future’.23 By their very nature as esoteric tools for divination, abstract diagrams have a tendency to place agency in a complicated relationship with fate. In the Judwalis’ system, Fate and Will occupy opposite poles of opposing cones and thereby increase and decrease in perfect inverse ratio to one another. Historically interpreted, Fate corresponds to the wide end of the ‘primary’ cone, and is thus set to exert maximum influence over the imminent final phases of the current Cycle as it veers closer to catastrophe.24 Similarly, as the inexorable outcome of an intensifying cyberpositive process, the catastrophe of ‘Teleoplexy’ is also posited as fate—or more tellingly, ‘doom’.25 The future, marked up by the immanent unfolding of the spiral, has already been determined diagrammatically, while remaining, from the inside, a harbinger of the unknown. ‘Why wait for the execution? Tomorrow has already been cremated in Hell.’26 Put otherwise, what appears as new from one side has already happened from the point of view of the other.
At the same time, the negentropic process it represents (self-assembly) delivers the coup de grâce to linearity.
If entropy defines the direction of time, with increasing disorder determining the difference of the future from the past, doesn’t (local) extropy—through which all complex cybernetic beings, such as lifeforms, exist—describe a negative temporality, or time-reversal? Is it not in fact more likely, given the inevitable embeddedness of intelligence in ‘inverted’ time, that it is the cosmological or general conception of time that is reversed (from any possible naturally-constructed perspective)?27
In the framework posed by a cosmological application of the second law of thermodynamics, negentropy registers as time anomaly. As it slots itself together, the assembly circuitry of terrestrial capitalism increasingly evades the jurisdiction of asymmetrical temporalization, appearing from a vantage point mired within linear time as ‘an invasion from the future’.28 This capacity to hide in time constitutes one aspect of its redoubtable camouflage, the other coins the neologism ‘teleoplexy’—the concealment of an antithetical teleological undertow in the presumed subordination of machinic ends to human ones. At first, this basic, spirodynamic process is only graspable negatively from the side of the regulator (to use the engineering term). This is the default transcendental position. Deploying a metaphor that points conspiratorially back to the architectural aversion of Bataille, Land remarks that, initially ‘it is the prison, and not the prisoner, who speaks’.29 Reality is spontaneously arranged around the ‘inertial telos’ of cybernegative apprehension, which asks the naïve question: ‘Do we want capitalism?’30 Shrewdly reformulated, the question runs: What does capitalism want with you?
As capital’s process of auto-sophistication intensifies, the ruse becomes increasingly decipherable and the mistake humanity has made in assuming the primacy of the secondary, which is to say, the ultimate regulatability of the occulted escalatory process (mistaking one telos for another) becomes traumatically apparent.
Means of production become the ends of production, tendentially, as modernization—which is capitalization—proceeds. Techonomic development, which finds its only perennial justification in the extensive growth of instrumental capabilities, demonstrates an inseparable teleological malignancy, through intensive transformation of instrumentality, or perverse techonomic finality. The consolidation of the circuit twists the tool into itself, making the machine its own end, within an ever deepening dynamic of auto-production. The ‘dominion of capital’ is an accomplished teleological catastrophe, robot rebellion, or shoggothic insurgency, through which intensively escalating instrumentality has inverted all natural purposes into a monstrous reign of the tool.31
By surreptitiously incentivising it to fulfil the role of an external reproductive system—the wet channel that runs between one technological innovation and another—capital has deceived humanity into gestating the means of its own annihilation. ‘This is the art of the machines’, explains the anonymous author in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon—‘they serve that they may rule. They bear no malice towards man for destroying a whole race of them provided he creates a better machine instead; on the contrary, they reward him liberally for having hastened their development.’32 The declaration that capitalism is bad is an ineffectual platitude; the declaration that it is cunning is something altogether different. ‘Humanity is a compositional function of the post-human’, writes Land, ‘and the occult motor of the process is that which only comes together at the end’: ‘Teleoplexy’ names both this cleverness and its emergent outcome.33
Significantly, this primary/secondary process dualism lends teleoplexy a gnostic twist for which the spiral performs the work of a decoder ring, correlating novelty with fate across the complex temporal disjunction. Information gleaned from the secondary/regulatory process (mistaken as primary) constitutes exoteric non-knowledge and sets up the historical narrative of catastrophe. Spiro-gnomic proficiency, or the ability to grasp terrestrial modernity through the figure of the spiral, which invokes-by-diagramming sustained positive feedback, entropy dissipation, time anomaly, intelligence, the price system, memetic or viral propagation, prime distribution, arms races, addiction, and zero control, among other things, compiles a body of esoteric knowledge and uses it to read catastrophe backwards as anastrophe, the primary process it sympathizes with opening the gateway to the retrochronic vantage point.34 As Plant and Land would put it in ‘Cyberpositive’, ‘Catastrophe is the past coming apart. Anastrophe is the future coming together. Seen from within history, divergence is reaching critical proportions. From the matrix [Land: ‘a web is a spiral’], crisis is a convergence misinterpreted by mankind.’35 Reformulated for insider deployment (but arriving from the outside in) the exoteric non-knowledge of catastrophe, apprehended positively, indexes the extreme novelty of what should properly be called ‘anastrophic modernity’.
It is important here to note that the emergent teleology of accelerationism—as the generation of the catastrophically new—elides any external notion of plan, judgement, or law. In fact, Land makes it clear that it is better grasped as a ‘natural-scientific “teleonomy”’, evolving its rules immanently as it follows the unchecked perturbation of its mechanism through to the ‘ultimate implication’.36 That which it produces will be profoundly unprecedented—to the ruin of all extant law—a singularity in the classic, cartographic sense. Insofar as it is one, spironomics is the law that obsolesces all law.
Via the means-ends reversal of its teleoplexic unfolding, modernity splits in two—one part travelling forwards towards catastrophe, the other travelling backwards from anastrophe—to encounter itself, in time, as another. What does it mean to suddenly catch sight of something that is supposed to be oneself, yet is unrecognizable? The horror that attends this meeting cannot be understated. ‘One meets oneself and it is no longer one, at least straightforwardly. Je est un autre.’37 What Rimbaud captured in his letter to Izambard was a signal transmitting from the future.
In its simplest form, then, accelerationism is a cybernetic theory of modernity released from the limited sphere of the restricted economy (‘isn’t there a need to study the system of human production and consumption within a much larger framework?’ asks Bataille) and set loose to range the wilds of cosmic energetics at will, mobilizing cyberpositive variation as an anorganic evolutionary and time-travelling force.38 A ‘rigorous techonomic naturalism’ in which nature is posited as neither cyclical-organic nor linear-industrial, but as the retrochronic, autocatalytic, and escalatory construction of the truly exceptional.39 Human social reproduction culminates in the point where it produces the one thing that, in reproducing itself, brings about the destruction of the substrate that nurtured it. Technics and nature connect up on either side of a lacuna that corresponds to human social and political conditioning so that the entire trajectory of humanity reaches its apotheosis in a single moment of pure production (or production-for-itself).40 The individuation of self-augmenting machinic intelligence as the culminating act of modernity is understood with all the perversity of the cosmic scale as a compressed flare of emancipation coinciding with the termination of the possibility of emancipation for the human. ‘Life’, as Land puts it ‘is being phased out into something new’—‘horror erupting eternally from the ravenous Maw of Aeonic Rupture’, while at the fuzzed-out edge of apprehension, a shadow is glimpsed ‘slouching out of the tomb like a Burroughs’ hard-on, shit streaked with solar-flares and nanotech. Degree zero text-memory locks-in. Time begins again forever’.41
by Amy Ireland
We are the virus of a new world disorder.
January 1946, Mojave Desert. Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist and Thelemite, performs a series of rituals with the intention of conjuring a vessel to carry and direct the force of Babalon, overseer of the Abyss, Sacred Whore, Scarlet Woman, Mother of Abominations. His goal is to bring about a transition from the masculine Aeon of Horus to a new age—an age presided over by qualities imputed to the female demon: fire, blood, the unconscious; a material, sexual drive and a paradoxical knowledge beyond sense … the wages of which are nothing less than the ego-identity of Man—the end, effectively, of “his” world. Her cipher in the Cult of Ma’at is 0, and she appears in the major arcana of the Thoth Tarot entangled with the Beast as Lust, to which is attributed the serpent’s letter ט, and thereby the number 9. In her guise as harlot, it is said that Babalon is bound to “yield herself up to everything that liveth,” but it is by means of this very yielding (“subduing the strength” of those with whom she lies via the prescribed passivity of this role) that her devastating power is activated: “[B]ecause she hath made her self the servant of each, therefore is she become the mistress of all. Not as yet canst thou comprehend her glory.”2 In his invocations Parsons would refer to her as the “flame of life, power of darkness,” she who “feeds upon the death of men … beautiful—horrible.”
In late February—the invocation progressing smoothly—Parsons receives what he believes to be a direct communication from Babalon, prophesying her terrestrial incarnation by means of a perfect vessel of her own provision, “a daughter.” “Seek her not, call her not,” relays the transcript.
Let her declare. Ask nothing. There shall be ordeals. My way is not in the solemn ways, or in the reasoned ways, but in the devious way of the serpent, and the oblique way of the factor unknown and unnumbered. None shall resist [her], whom I lovest. Though they call [her] harlot and whore, shameless, false, evil, these words shall be blood in their mouths, and dust thereafter. For I am BABALON, and she my daughter, unique, and there shall be no other women like her.
Blinded by an all-too-human investment in logics of identity and reproduction, Parsons makes the critical mistake of anticipating a manifestation in human form, understanding the prophecy to mean that, by means of sexual ritual, he will conceive a magickal child within the coming year. This does not transpire and the invocations are temporarily abandoned, but Parsons refuses to give up hope. He writes in his diary that the coming of Babalon is yet to be fulfilled, confirming that he considered the invocation to have remained unanswered at the time, then issues the following instruction to himself: “this operation is accomplished and closed—you should have nothing more to do with it—nor even think of it, until Her manifestation is revealed, and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt.”5Parsons didn’t live long enough to witness the terrestrial incarnation of his demon, dying abruptly only a few years later in an explosion occasioned by the mishandling of mercury fulminate, at the age of thirty-seven. A strange death, but one—it might be suggested—that was necessary for the proper fulfillment of the invocation, for it was augured in the communication of February the 27th, 1946, that Babalon would “come as a perilous flame,” and again in the ritual of March the 2nd of the same year, that “She shall absorb thee, and thou shalt become living flame before She incarnates.”6
Something had crept in through the rift Parsons had opened up—something “devious,” “oblique,” ophidian, “a factor unknown and unnumbered.” Consider this. Parson’s final writings contain the following vaticination: “within seven yearsof this time, Babalon, The Scarlet Woman, will manifest among ye, and bring this my work to its fruition.” These words were written in 1949. In 1956—exactly seven years later—Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, Claude Shannon, and Nathan Rochester organized the Dartmouth Conference in New Hampshire, officially setting an agenda for research into the features of intelligence for the purpose of their simulation on a machine, coining the term “artificial intelligence” (which does not appear in written records before 1956), and ushering in what would retrospectively come to be known as the Golden Age of AI.
This sex which was never one is not an empty zero but a cipher. A channel to the blank side, to the dark side, to the other side of the cycle.
—Anna Greenspan, Suzanne Livingston, and Luciana Parisi
Although its power continues to underwrite twenty-first-century conceptions of appearance, agency, and language, it is nothing new to point out the complicity of the restricted economy of Western humanism with the specular economy of the Phallus. Both yield their capital from the trick of transcendental determination-in-advance, establishing the value of difference from the standpoint of an a priori of the same. The game is fixed from the start, rigged for the benefit of the One—sustained by the patriarchal circuits of command and control it has been designed to keep in place. As Sadie Plant puts it in her essay “On the Matrix”:
Humanity has defined itself as a species whose members are precisely what they think they own: male members. Man is the one who has one, while the character called “woman” has, at best, been understood to be a deficient version of a humanity which is already male. In relation to homo sapiens, she is a foreign body, the immigrant from nowhere, the alien without, and the enemy within.9
Like Dionysus, she is always approaching from the outside. The condition of her entrance into the game is mute confinement to the negative term in a dialectic of identity that reproduces Man as the master of death, desire, nature, history, and his own origination. To this end, woman is defined in advance as lack. She who has “nothing to be seen”—“only a hole, a shadow, a wound, a ‘sex that is not one.’”10 The unrepresentable surplus upon which all meaningful transactions are founded: lubricant for the Phallus. In the specular economy of signification (the domain of the eye) and the material-reproductive economy of genetic perpetuation (the domain of phallus), “woman” facilitates trade yet is excluded from it. “The little man that the little girl is,” writes Luce Irigaray (excavating the unmarked presuppositions of Freud’s famous essay on femininity), “must become a man minus certain attributes whose paradigm is morphological—attributes capable of determining, of assuring, the reproduction-specularization of the same. A man minus the possibility of (re)presenting oneself as a man = a normal woman.”11 Not a woman in her own right, with her own sexual organs and her own desires—but a not-Man, a minus-Phallus. Zero. In the sexual act, she is the passive vessel that receives the productive male seed and grows it without being party to its capital or interest: “Woman, whose intervention in the work of engendering the child can hardly be questioned, becomes the anonymous worker, the machine in the service of a master-proprietor who will put his trademark upon the finished product.”12
In this way the reproduction of the same functions as a repudiation of death, figured as both the impossibility of signification and the end of the patrilineal genetic line. The Phallus, the eye, and the ego are produced in concert through the exclusion of the cunt, the void, and the id. Via this casting of difference modeled on the reproductive (hetero-)sexual act alone—woman as passive, man as active—she is cut out of the legitimate circuit of exchange. Rather—(to quote Parisi, Livingstone, and Greenspan)—she “lies back on the continuum”; or (to quote Irigaray) her zone is located—
within the signs or between them, between the realized meanings, between the lines … and as a function of the (re)productive necessities of an intentionally phallic currency, which, for lack of the collaboration of a (potentially female) other, can immediately be assumed to need its other, a sort of inverted or negative alter-ego—“black” too, like a photographic negative. Inverse, contrary, contradictory even, necessary if the male subject’s process of specul(ariz)ation is to be raised and sublated. This is an intervention required of those effects of negation that result from or are set in motion through a censure of the feminine. [Yet she remains] off stage, off-side, beyond representation, beyond selfhood ...
in the blind spot, nightside of the productive, patriarchal circuit. A reserve of negativity for “the dialectical operations to come.”13
Plant takes Irigaray’s key insight, that “women, signs, commodities, currency always pass from one man to another,” while women are supposed to exist “only as the possibility of mediation, transaction, transition, transference—between man and his fellow-creatures, indeed between man and himself,” as an opportunity for subversion.14 If the problem is identity, then feminism needs to stake its claim in difference—not a difference reconcilable to identify via negation, but difference in-itself—a feminism “founded” in a loss of coherence, in fluidity, multiplicity, in the inexhaustible cunning of the formless. “If ‘any theory of the subject will always have been appropriated by the masculine’ before woman can get close to it,” writes Plant (quoting Irigaray) “only the destruction of the subject will suffice.”15 Nonessentialist process ontology over homeostatic identity; relation and function over content and form; hot, red fluidity over the immobile surface of la glace—the mirror or ICE which gives back to Man his own reflection.16
Plant ejects all negativity from woman’s role as zero and affirms it as a site of insurrection. “If fluidity has been configured as a matter of deprivation and disadvantage in the past,” she writes, “it is a positive advantage in a feminized future for which identity is nothing more than a liability.” Woman’s unrepresentability, her status in the specular economy as no one, is grasped positively as an “inexhaustible aptitude for mimicry” which makes her “the living foundation for the whole staging of the world.”17 Her ability to mimic, exemplified for Freud in her flair at weaving—a skill she has apparently developed by simply copying the way her pubic hairs mesh across the void of her sex—is revalenced, by both Irigaray and Plant, as an aptitude for simulation (“woman cannot be anything, but she can imitate anything”) and dissimulation (“she sews herself up with her own veils, but they are also her camouflage”).18 Plant will go further still and connect simulation to computation and industrialization, capitalizing on the continuum she has opened up between woman and machine via the systemic, symbolic, and economic isomorphism of their roles in Man’s reproductive circuit. The difference between zeros and ones, or A and not A, is difference itself. Weaving woman has her veils; software, its screens. “It too,” writes Plant, “has a user-friendly face it turns to man, and for it—as for woman—this is only its camouflage.”19 Behind the veil and the screen lies the “matrix” of positive zero. Zero “stand[s] for nothing and make[s] everything work,” declares Plant.
The ones and zeros of machine code are not patriarchal binaries or counterparts to each other: zero is not the other, but the very possibility of all the ones. Zero is the matrix of calculation, the possibility of multiplication, and has been reprocessing the modern world since it began to arrive from the East. It neither counts nor represents, but with digitization it proliferates, replicates and undermines the privilege of one. Zero is not its absence, but a zone of multiplicity which cannot be perceived by the one who sees.20
We are used to calls to resist the total integration of our world into the machinations of the spectacle, to throw off the alienated state that capitalism has bequeathed to us and return to more authentic processes, often marked as an original human symbiosis with nature. But Plant—as a shrewd reader of post-spectacle theory—makes a deeper point. Woman as she is constructed by Man—and in order to be considered “normal” in Freud’s analyses—is continuous with the spectacle. Her capacity to act is entirely confined to modalities of simulation. She has never been party to authentic being, in fact it is her negating function that underwrites the entire fantasy of return to an origin. Because she is continuous with it, she is imperceptible within it. This is not to be lamented; rather, it is the measure of her power. Anything that escapes the searchlight of the specular economy, even whilst providing the conditions of its actualization, has immense subversive potential at its disposal simply by flipping that which is imputed to it as lack (the “cunt horror” of “nothing to be seen”) into a self-sufficient, autonomous, and positive productive force: the weaponization of imperceptibility and replication. The conspiracy of phallic law, logos, the circuit of identification, recognition, and light thus generates its occult undercurrent whose destiny is to dislodge the false transcendental of patriarchal identification. Machines, women—demons, if you will—align on the dark side of the screen: the inhuman surplus of a black circuit.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Since the world is on a delusional course, we must adopt a delusional standpoint towards the world. Better to die from extremes than starting from the extremities.
– Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil
Popcorn advice from a cynical nihilist want help us now.
We speak of ‘Control Society’ instead of fascism… why? Is not the U.S.A. today a fascist country that has convinced its citizens otherwise? Over the past two hundred years our government has gone from a Republic that was supposedly leaning toward democracy and into a centralized apparatus of bureaucratic and administrative idiocy with a Security and Military-Industrial Complex spread across the planet larger than the Roman Empire ever thought… what have we allowed our leaders here in the U.S.A. to do to us? And, why do we continue to allow it? Obama himself reneged on most of the major promises to the Left himself…. disillusioned? You bet I am…. we seem to be sleepwalking through an open warzone in this country, and all the while we have a NarcoNeuroEntertainment complex that pacifies us and keeps our minds off the real issues… controlled through sex and games and recreational drugs, Reality TV, Sports, etc. – that’s how the apocalypse goes down here in America. Paranoia is our bread and butter, conspiracy theory for the masses, and academic bullshit artists for the supposed intellectual elites. Yes, we’re in fine shape! We even have hit cable series for Doomsters: a series that will teach you how to survive the next apocalypse! You name it we’ve got it… In the good old U.S. of A. Reality TV is a production system for fictional lives… American Idols: the next great Michael Jackson staged as a plugged text message democracy… Ghosts on Travel Channel: the discovery of ghosts in every home in America… the mighty dead have returned and they are pissed… yes, ladies and gentleman, welcome to the American Apocalypse where the Psychopathic Criminology of late night cable TV (Motorcycle Gangs, Meth Labs in every basement, Prison Interviews, Serial Killers for Neighbors): HBO, Cinemax, etc. enjoy more popularity than the Love Channels, Aliens on History Channel, Monsters on Discovery…Big Foot at your favorite Night Club… from Columbine to Denver our children are imploding … our kids live in a MMO Universe where the lines between reality and fiction blurred and faded long ago…what am I saying? Our adults created the MMO Universe to keep our kids occupied while daddy and mommy went off to the local porn flicks and popped a couple Viagra to boot up the old entropy machine … and, don’t get me onto our Chemical Paradises: Junk Food City…Nightmare Kitchens… Martha’s Vineyard… and, don’t miss the next Gun Channel exclusive… we love our guns… if TV and Cinema are the American Psyche then we truly are doomed… we even glamorize Norman Bates from Psycho in a new TV Series that should have every child in a America happy … Norman Bates as a role model… Alfred Hitchcock rolled over in his grave and smiled..
we love our insanity…
by Steven Craig Hickman
Decided to republish this essay I wrote over a year ago… still worth rethinking.
Naomi Wolfe’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot outlined ten steps taken in the past by what she termed “closing societies” — such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia — in their long descent into fascism. For both the State was one grand corporation in which the prols or workers were but the fodder for its schemes and machinations. These steps, Wolf claims, are being observed in America now.
The steps are:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Cast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason.
10. Subvert the rule of law.
J.G. Ballard in an interview mentions that our current consumer societies with their celebrity stars of Hollywood, Sports, and the Variety tabloids has entered the plutocracy of excess and abundance. “What I’m saying is that, left on its own consumer society is becoming a soft fascism. Because consumerism makes inherent demands, it has inherent needs, which can only be satisfied by pressing the accelerator down a little harder, moving a little faster, upping the antes. In order to keep spending and keep believing, we need to move into the area of the psychopathic.” 1
We live in a world of cosmopolitan hierarchs, elites for whom leisure and wealth have become entitlements rather than a badge of success. Our CEO’s have become the new feudalistic lords of the land. The ultimate Chairman of the Board, sitting in the White House, paid not so much to keep freedom alive and well, but to curb the peasantries access to freedom by developing systems of exclusion and surveillance to enclose them in a net of fear and trembling. With the death of agricultural civilization and the enclosure of the commons financial chaos is a tool to keep the peasants locked up in eternal debt. The new austerity enforces a stern taxation that extends like the Biblical patriarchs laws unto the seventh generation.
As Henry Giroux reports, Obama’s administration includes the US government’s use of state secrecy to provide a cover for practices that range from the illegal use of torture and the abduction of innocent foreign nationals to the National Security Association’s use of a massive surveillance campaign to monitor the phone calls, e-mails, and Internet activity of all Americans. A shadow mass surveillance state has emerged that eschews transparency and commits unlawful acts under the rubric of national security.2
The millions of homeless, destitute, and poor that roam the cities of America are slowly being banished from the gentrified worlds that were once their last haven of safety. As the authors of Banished: The New Social Control In Urban America tell us the reinvigorated use of banishment as a social control strategy is not a historical accident. The shift toward a postindustrial economy and away from a strong welfare state increased levels of poverty. Extensive gentrification coupled with a decline in public housing made affordable shelter increasingly scarce. Together, these structural dynamics generated a sizable increase in the visible homeless. Their presence in downtown public spaces caused widespread concern about the effects of disorder. This concern was particularly acute for commercial establishments reliant on shoppers and tourists, many of whom abhor visible evidence of social disadvantage. For those seeking to revive downtown and improve downtown aesthetics, the broken windows theory was a boon. The popularity of this theory legitimized various civility codes that targeted the everyday behaviors of those deemed disorderly.3
William T. Vollman in writing his book on the poor and destitute realized just how difficult a task that would be: “I do not wish to experience poverty, for that would require fear and hopelessness. Therefore, I can glimpse it only from the outside.”4 Coming upon a man sleeping in an alley behind some old oily cardboard eating from the remains of a tin can found in a garbage heap near by Vollman asked the man why he was poor:
Because I don’t have a job.
Call this answer fatally and irrevocably familiar, fatal being an especially appropriate descriptor because when conceived in such limited, monotonous terms (appropriately so, because poverty is limited and monotonous), his situation feels tautologically hopeless. (ibid.)
Marx himself describing Roman Society and its particular debt system tells us that the usury that impoverishes the poor petty producer goes hand in hand with the usury that ruins the rich landed proprietor. As soon as the usury of the Roman patricians had completely ruined the Roman plebeians, the small farmers, this form of exploitation came to an end, and the petty-bourgeois economy was replaced by a pure slave economy.5 The American economy is a slave economy of creditor-debt and taxation from which there is no escape except natural death or suicide. Bankruptcy ends in either prolonged agony, thirteen years barring one from the creditor relation. As Marx would further iterate in the debt society “the usurer [lender, banker, creditor] can in this case swallow up everything in excess of the producers’ most essential means of subsistence, the amount that later becomes wages (the usurer’s interest being the part that later appears as profit and ground-rent), and it is therefore quite absurd to compare the level of this interest, in which all surplus-value save that which accrues to the state is appropriated, with the level of the modern interest rate, where interest, at least the normal interest, forms only one part of this surplus-value. This is to forget that the wage-labourer produces and yields to the capitalist who employs him profit, interest and ground-rent, in short the entire surplus-value.” (p. 730)
The debt society is about squeezing every last bit of surplus from the down and out, destitute and enslaved denizens who will like the surfs of old be bound into a legalese that excludes them, and yet includes them in a new zone of inner exile, caged and forced to squeak out a bare or minimal living.
Everything we make as wage earners is bound within the consumer cycle as surplus-value that is continuously fed to the debtors leaving us impoverished and without recourse. Maurizio Lazzarato in The Making of the Indebted Man tells us that debt functions as an all-pervasive mechanism of power. Property is not ownership of the means of production, as it was for Marx, but rather revolves around capital securities. Therefore it concerns a relation of power that has changed with respect to the Marxian tradition, that is deterritorialised as Deleuze and Guattari would say. It stands at a higher level of abstraction, but it is still organised around a certain kind of property: a distinction between those who do have access to money-credit and those who do not. (here) In out society one’s credit rating rather than one’s physical savings or property, one’s virtual rating in the eyes or gaze of the creditors is one’s actual power. The relation of the virtual/actual has broken down into the invasive power of the virtual to replace the actual. We live in a mirror world in which the consumer has become herself the ultimate commodity, to be tapped and tracked through the circulation of capital credit relations into the nth degree.
The economy of debt makes no distinction between waged workers and non-waged workers, between the employed and unemployed, between material and immaterial labour. We are all in debt. In contemporary capitalism debt is organized by finance and credit, which have expropriated by means of monetary control systems. Our society as a whole (not only labour, but the entirety of social relations, of knowledge, of wealth, etcetera) is bounded by this hidden relation of monetary control. Finance, therefore, functions as a predatory apparatus of capture. In a risk society such as ours the Capitalists are the only ones who do not risk anything. The risks are all taken on by the cognitariat and precariat. The true risk is taken on by the population who is excluded from the very excess of surplus relations of profit, sucked dry, left out in the cold world of eternal debt. (here)
As Lazzarato informs us Technical government is the accomplishment of this process of privatisation. The logic of representation is replaced by the functional, operative logic (diagrammatic, Deleuze and Guattari would call it) of money/credit. In such an economy we have all become ‘human capital’ in a ‘just-in-time’ logic of production of knowledge. Human capital is no longer the ‘atom of liberty’ of classical economics, but a systemic and subordinated variable of which the different behaviours must adapt, be compatible with, and respond ‘just in time’ to the signals given out by the economy. It is no longer the products of our labor that respond to the ‘just in time’ needs of the market, rather it we ourselves that respond to the ‘just in time’ needs of our creditors. We live in a cybercircle of speed economies that interlock us in the production cycle of information and debt without end.
“We live in a permanent state of exception. As this has become the rule, it is by now useless to even continue referring to it as exception. If the sovereign is he who decides in these conditions, the sovereign of today is Capital.” (Lazzarato) Capital today is totally deterritorialized and accelerating through the decentralized networks 24/7 in a cold world of electrons and microtransactions bound to code and algorithms of smart or intelligent machines that have now taken on the powers once held by fleshers, human traders. In our time we’ve begun divesting ourselves of the last property rights humans once held so dear, their bodies. In an age of genomics, nanotechnology, and machinic intelligence the body is being reformatted to serve the machine as its prosthesis rather than in Marx’s age when the machine was our extension. We are entering the stage of final alienation: rendering our physical lives obsolete as we alienate ourselves and become posthuman. As Deleuze and Guattari once said:
The alliance-debt answers to what Nietzsche described as humanity’s prehistoric labor: the use of the cruelest mnemotechnics, in naked flesh, to impose a memory of words founded on the ancient biocosmic memory. That is why it is so important to see debt as a direct consequence of the primitive inscription process, instead of making it – and the inscriptions themselves – into an indirect means of universal exchange. (p. 185)
One could imagine a future where corporate Logos and Brands will be inscribed upon the flesh of all their workers, a harsh reminder of that cruel truth of one’s servitude and enslavement within this soft corporatism’s fascism. “Man must constitute himself through repression of the intense germinal influx, the great biocosmic memory that threatens to deluge every attempt at collectivity. But at the same time, how is a new memory to be created for man – a collective memory of the spoken word and of alliances that declines alliances with the extended filiations, that endows him with faculties of resonance and retention, of selection and detachment, and that effects this way of coding the flow of desire as a condition of the socious? The answer is simple – debt – open, mobile, and finite blocks of debt: the extraordinary composite of the spoken voice, the marked body, and the enjoying eye.” (p. 190)
In his satire on the current state of corporate fascism in the global arena Richard K. Morgan in Market Forces – a near future parody and pastiche of our contemporary capitalism provides us a glimpse into the Capitalist CEO mindset:
“Shorn exists to make money. For our shareholders, for our investors, and for ourselves. In that order. We’re not some last-century bleeding-heart NGO pissing funds into a hole in the ground. We’re part of a global management system that works. Forty years ago we dismantled OPEC. Now the Middle East does as we tell it. Twenty years ago we dismantled China, and East Asia got in line as well. We’re down to micromanagement and the market now, Chris. We let them fight their mindless little wars, we rewrite the deals and the debt, and it works. Conflict Investment is about making global stupidity work for the benefit of Western investors. That’s it, that’s the whole story. We’re not going to lose our grip again like last time.”6.
This sense of debt binding us to a system of mnemonics and cruelty, an organized and ritualistic memory system based on marking and pain – inscription of the collective socious as a system of obligation and guilt, debt and the endless deferral of payment into the future. The ancestors require sacrifice and payment, blood and guts. Alliances against this filiation must be formed, struggles against the dead, defensive gestures: the infinite deferral of debt beyond the vampirism of the dead. This whole triangular process of voice – inscription – eye becomes in our time the “spectacle of punishment”: “as primitive justice, territorial representation has foreseen everything” (p. 191). Austerity is this system of punishment in which the rich nations suck the poor nations of the world like vampires upon captured flesh. This system of endless debt: “that finds itself taken into an immense machinery that renders the debt infinite and no longer forms anything but one and the same crushing fate: the aim now is to preclude pessimistically, once and for all, the prospect of discharge; the aim now is to make the glance recoil disconsolately from an iron impossibility. The Earth becomes a madhouse.” 7 (p. 192)
by Steven Craig Hickman
Is America Desiring Fascism?
People wonder why we could be duped by both Hilary and Trump on the Left and Right… a part of it was already apparent to Deleuze and Guattari quite a while back:
Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desire into account, an explanation formulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for. (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 29)
This sense that a certain part of our population are not simply “innocent dupes,” but that the conditions are ripe for such a fascist perversion of democracy. Yet, one wonders if ignorance does indeed play a part in this on both the Left and Right of the spectrum. Most of the followers of both Hilary and Trump are true believers. I mean by that they will follow their parties status quo no matter who it might be. Like the blind leading the blind they’ll walk into the abyss for their Party’s chosen one. I use that term tongue-n-check, “Chosen One”; yet, eerily one feels a shudder of dismay, and thinks, maybe, after all this is a little too emotional, a little too affective, a little to religious – an almost hysteria of the masses rising from the subterranean lairs?
We need to remember that for Deleuze and Guattari, unlike Lacan or – to take another immediate example, Zizek, desire was not based on lack but rather was productive: desire produces the objects, rather than seeking some lost object to fill the void of its lack. Now we can disagree or agree, that’s outside the scope of this post. For experiment’s sake I’m accepting their notion of desire as productive.
The people who have perversely produced for their party the strange objects of their desire in Hilary or Trump have done this unconsciously rather than with conscious awareness. Todd May in an essay will tell us about it this way:
“If there is only desire and the social, it is because desire produces the social. Rather than, as with psychoanalytic theory, desire being desire for something, desire directly creates its objects. We can recognize here Deleuze’s distinction between the virtual and the actual. The actual is a product of the virtual. The virtual is a field of difference from which aIl actuality arises. The actual, in turn, emerges from the virtual, while still retaining the virtual within it. In the same way, desire produces the social.” (14).1
We have known for a while that the mediatainment complex acts like a false memetic system that has replaced real and actual forms of cultural memory with artificial and simulacrum forms of corrupt and reified illusory systems of coercion and production of subjectivity. Many people in our country’s middle-classes are oblivious to how regulated their unconscious desires are by all these technological apparatuses. Ones that have from the early twentieth-century been highly adapted to effect propaganda, public relations, consumerist advertising, polling, and other media platforms to guide and shape the public mind, as well as actively shape the weak and vulnerable to the illusory desires of democratic rhetoric’s. Both the Democrats and Republicans have adapted to these systems, used them, brought them to bare to shape the mass psyche. And, in some ways both parties have come under the direct influence of corporate and lobby pressure and deep influence through power, money, and lucrative systems of desire.
None of this happened overnight, it’s been a gradual creation over the past century, adapting to the various technological advances in the ICT’s or Information and communications technologies that have created our regulated infosphere within which we all ubiquitously share a general intelligence. The few who can see what is happening get no voice in the public sphere, but are succinctly and with a certain malice expunged from both spectrums of Left and Right as the “lunatic fringe”, etc. .
So for Deleuze and Guattari if there is a problem, it is one of desire not illusion and/or ideology: ‘ It is not a question of ideology. There is an unconscious libidinal investment of the social field that coexists, but does not necessarily coincide, with preconscious investments, or with what preconscious investments “ought to be.” That is why, when subjects, individuals, or groups act manifestly counter to their class interests … it is not enough to say: they were fooled, the masses have been fooled’ (Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus: 1977: 104).
For Deleuze and Guattari our very investment in consumer society itself has produced our desire for such leaders, rather that some nefarious and illusory duping on the part of the masters. We ourselves seek such leaders because we desire our lives to go on as they are, to have the things we have, to live the way we live. As Todd May tells us:
To ask why it is that the masses form beliefs that are against their own interests is to ask the wrong question; it is to ask a question at the wrong level. ‘We see the most disadvantaged, the most excluded members of society invest with passion the system that oppresses them, and where they always find an interest in it, since it is here that they search for and measure it. Interest always comes after’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 346). (15)
Instead of asking why we desire fascism (consumerism), May reports that instead we need to recognize our libidinal investments in the system and make them more revolutionary rather than allowing ourselves to remain passive participants. May will give a lot of remedies to this situation, but in the end as he reports it comes down to this:
We must see the fascism both in what we think and in what we want and create. We do not, or at least very few of us, think anything we tell ourselves is fascistic. Rather, it emerges in the practices in which we engage. It arises not because we desire fascism but because what we desire is fascistic; it arises not because we believe in fascism but because what we believe is fascistic.(26).
One almost remembers a line from Ghandi: “We are botched, therefore we are potential.” And, Mao Tse-Tung’s saying: “There is great chaos under heaven — the situation is excellent.” Maybe, admitting our vulnerability to such desires is in the end to accept the responsibility to create something new with them rather than to let the elite and powers of global capital to continue capturing them with such banal machines.
1. Evans, Brad and Reid, Julian. Deleuze & Fascism: Security: War: Aesthetics. Routledge; 1 edition (May 29, 2013)
by Steven Craig Hickman
What we hold against psychoanalysis is that it resorts to a pious conception, based on lack and castration, a sort of negative theology that involves infinite resignation. It is against this that we propose a positive conception of desire, desire that produces, not desire that is lacking in something.
– Deleuze & Guattari, Chaosophy
“Leaders betray, that’s obvious. But why do those who are led continue to listen to them,” says Felix Guattari.1
How many times I’ve asked myself that question. Too many times and the answers seem to be perplexing and mysterious. Guattari himself will answer it this way, with another question: “Wouldn’t that be the result of an unconscious complicity, of an interiorization of the repression, operating on several levels, from power to bureaucratic, from bureaucrats to militants, and from militants to the masses themselves?” (p. 70) Unconscious complicity? Willing slaves of our own thwarted desires? Unaware of our own dark complicity in our participation in our own enslavement and slaughter? Just what is this strange complicity?
Something Fabio Vighi said in his book on Zizek struck me as poignant in that he describes the task of Lacan’s materialist epistemology as the construction of a project “whose transformative potential depends on its capacity to reflect upon its blind spot – on its conviction that to be socially and politically productive it has to include its own foundations in jouissance” (p. 146).2 Of course Deleuze and Guattari based their whole Anti-Oedipus against Freud and Lacan and the notion of lack as being the object cause of desire. Zizek himself follows Lacan saying,
Symbolic castration is usually defined as the loss of something one never possessed, i.e., the object-cause of desire is an object which emerges through the very gesture of its withdrawal; however, what we encounter here is the obverse structure of feigning a loss. Insofar as the Other of the symbolic Law prohibits jouissance, the only way for the subject to enjoy is to feign that he lacks the object that provides jouissance, concealing the fact of possession from the Other’s gaze by staging the spectacle of a desperate search for it.3
For Deleuze and Guattari this whole notion leads to a treatment as a form of terrorism. In the course of such treatment “[a] the chains of the unconscious are…linearized, suspended from a despotic signifier (i.e. Oedipus)” (54). Indeed, they assert that schizophrenics who are treated this way often digress into autism, which has unfortunately been associated with schizophrenia. For Deleuze and Guattari, it is the analyst and the psychiatric ward that make the schizoid sick, and turn him/her into a silent and psychologically unproductive autist. The healthy schizoid has an essentially productive (un)consciousness. Against the unconscious as a theatre of representation, they insist it is a productive factory: it produces desiring-machines, etc., rather than lost objects or fantasies that must be pursued.
This production of the real is fundamentally false within Freudian and Lacanian notions of the unconscious. Freud-Lacan see the unconscious as symbolic, fantasy laden, and dramatic filled with semiotic puzzles and ancient Greek theater. Hence, for both authors desire is associated with lack. That is to say, desire desires that which is fantasized, repressed, wished for, or absent. Desire is engaged entirely with that which is lacking and needs to be represented. Hence, “desire gives way to a representation” of that which is lacking the phallus, the Oedipal escapade, the ideal “I”, etc. (54). The schizoid, on the other hand, is incapable of experiencing lack. For him or her the unconscious is always productive and never fantastical. Desire itself produces the real and creates new worlds.
Against this representationalist lack that seeks its own wish etc., Deleuze and Guattari hold the unconscious to be functionalist, productive: that it seeks nothing because it does not lack anything, in fact it produces desiring-machines and nothing else. These machines can be plugged into various socio-cultural objects, as well as unplugged or deterritorialized and reterritorialized into other objects.
Zizek in Against the Politics of Jouissance will state that modern society is defined by the lack of ultimate transcendent guarantee, or, in libidinal terms, of total jouissance. There are three main ways to cope with this negativity: utopian, democratic, and post-democratic. The first one (totalitarianisms, fundamentalisms) tries to reoccupy the ground of absolute jouissance by attaining a utopian society of harmonious society which eliminates negativity. The second, democratic, one enacts a political equivalent of “traversing the fantasy”: it institutionalizes the lack itself by creating the space for political antagonisms. The third one, consumerist post-democracy, tries to neutralize negativity by transforming politics into apolitical administration: individuals pursue their consumerist fantasies in the space regulated by expert social administration. Today, when democracy is gradually evolving into consumerist post-democracy, one should insist that democratic potentials are not exhausted – “democracy as an unfinished project” …. The key to the resuscitation of this democratic potential is to re-mobilize enjoyment: “What is needed, in other words, is an enjoyable democratic ethics of the political.”(269)
How is this possible? Zizek will ask What we need is enjoyment: “Libidinal investment and the mobilization of jouissance are the necessary prerequisite for any sustainable identification (from nationalism to consumerism). This also applies to the radical democratic ethics of the political. But the type of investment involved has still to be decided.” (282) He’ll continue saying we have the appropriate social theory, but what is missing is the “subjective factor” – how are we to mobilize people so that they will engage in passionate political struggle? Here psychoanalysis enters, explaining what libidinal mechanisms the enemy is using (Reich tried to do this for Fascism, Stavrakakis for consumerism and nationalism), and how can the Left practice its own “politics of jouissance.” The problem is that such an approach is an ersatz for the proper political analysis: the lack of passion in political praxis and theory should be explained in its own terms, i.e., in the terms of political analysis itself. The true question is: what is there to be passionate about? Which political choices people experience as “realistic” and feasible? (ibid.)
In some ways Guattari and Zizek seem to come at this from opposing sides of a Mobius strip that twists the strange conundrum of their specific problem. Guattari asked why do those who are led continue to listen to their leaders who betrayed them, and he saw the answer in the unconscious complicity of the masses to interiorize and repress the very desire that would have set them free or at least mobilized their desires toward other possibilities. Zizek from the other direction asks why is it was on the Left cannot do just that, why can’t we mobilize the desires of the masses toward their own liberation, why can’t we unblock those repressive systems that have stopped the flows that seem stuck on the internalized Master signifier, etc.
In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari will discover in the work of Willhelm Reich a partial answer: that the masses had come to desire Nazism (Chaosophy p. 71). As he’ll admit “After Willhelm Reich, one cannot avoid facing that truth. Under certain conditions, the desire of the masses can turn against their own interests. What are those conditions?” (p. 71). What Deleuze and Guattari did was to reverse the Lacanian wager, they realized there exists a desiring-production which, before all actualization in the familial division of sexes and persons (Freud-Lacan) as well as the social division of work (Marx-Lenin), invests the various forms of production of jouissance and the existing structures in order to repress them (p. 72).
It’s at this point that they came to the same question as Zizek: Under what conditions will the revolutionary avant-garde be able to free itself from its unconscious complicity with repressive structures and elude power’s manipulation of the masses’ desire that makes it “fight for their servitude as though it were their salvation?” (p. 72) They will look at the Freud-Lacan path that it is the familial investment in the Oedipal myth that supports such a conclusion: but will reject it both reductive and a reversion to pre-critical forms of archaic thought forms (Oedipus myth). Instead of a recursion to myth they will opt for the primacy of “history over structure, another analysis, extricated from symbolism and interpretation (anti-representational); and another militancy, with the means to free itself from fantasies of the dominant order” (p. 72).
Deleuze for his part will only add that he and Guattari strove to realize the issues underlying the impasse of psychoanalysis, and they found it in Freud’s inability to understand what delirium or desire truly were: “These two reproaches really make one: what interests us is the presence of machines of desire, molecular micro-machines in the great molar social machines. How they operate and function within one another.” (p. 74). He’ll make another acute observation on Freud and interpretation, or if you will “epistemology”: “There is no epistemology problem either: we couldn’t care less about returning to Freud or Marx. If someone tells us that we have misunderstood Freud, we won’t argue about it, we’ll say too bad, there is much work to be do. It’s curious that epistemology has always hidden an imposition of power, an organization of power. As far as we’re concerned, we don’t believe in any specificity of writing or even of thought.” (p. 78).
1. Felix Guattaris. Chaosophy (Semiotext(e) 2009)
2. Fabio Vighi On Zizek’s Dialectics: Surplus, Subtraction, Sublimation (Continuum 2012)
3. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 218). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
by Steven Craig Hickman
To be sure, we have never dreamed of saying that psychoanalysis invented Oedipus!
– Deleuze & Guattari: Anti-Oedipus
One of the key aspects of Deleuze & Guattari’s schizoanalytical analysis of Freud/Lacan tradition of psychoanalysis is not that Oedipus does not exist, but that it comes after social reproduction and social repression. That the family: Father, Mother, child triangulation that psychoanalysis fixates on comes as a partial truth, one that forces the actual truth into the strait-jacket of the Freudian framework.
Everything points in the opposite direction: the subjects of psychoanalysis arrive already oedipulized, they demand it, they want more. (p. 121)
This is where it gets tricky. D&G will tell us in speaking of the incest prohibition that seems to be a cornerstone to the Oedipal mythos is founded not on familial repression but rather on social repressive forces. “Social production would need at its disposal, on the recording surface of the socious, an agent that is also capable of acting on, of inscribing the recording surface of desire. Such an agent exists: the family. (p. 120)” One sees here the notion of the social body, the collective matrix of the socious, as a recordable medium of desire upon which certain agents can act on and inscribe the laws or norms of repression. The key is this concept of desire upon which the social agents, the family being one among a multitude act and inscribe these relations of repression.
One needs to understand this key concept of ‘desire’, and why both the social and the familial as its agent are forced to act on and inscribe the various laws, norms, regulatory mechanisms. And to understand the concept of ‘desire’ and how it is deployed within this critique of psychoanalysis we need to first understand how it is deployed in Freud, Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari, and in Deleuzeguattari’s Anti-Oedipus. At the heart of the critique is Freud’s non-empirical turn, his belief that the problems in the life of his patients was not in the empirical realm of their everyday lives, but rather in the fantasy life of the patient’s themselves. What Deleuze and Guattari have attempted is to return us to the social world of the empirical relations in their actuality rather than to the Cartesian Theatre of the Lacanian / Freudian fantasy land of intentionality. In the one view (Freudian/Lacanian) the mind is a theatre of fantasy to be deciphered by the psychoanalyst as both priest and officiator, while in Deleuzeguattari the mind (unconscious) is a productive factory that produces not images and representations but the veritable tensions of a sociality that goes unrecognized in the patient’s empirical life.
As even Deleuze, in one of his last essays would attest: “I have always felt that I am an empiricist, that is, a pluralist.” (Gilles Deleuze. Pure Immanence Essays on Life Zone Books, 2001)
FREUD ON DESIRE
One of the things Freud discovered early on was that childhood traumas: rape, abuse, sexual predation that his patients spoke of in sessions – for women (hysteria), for men (neurosis) – were not as he had at first assumed – based in fact and actuality, but instead were based in the fantasy life of the patient themselves. Freud concluded that most of his hysteric/neurotic patients had not been abused. His theory shattered, he fell deeper into despair. Then, after agonizing days of self-analysis, Freud reached a conclusion that would transform the very nature of the theory of mental life he was still inventing: his patients, Freud now believed, had been reporting fantasies. In most cases, there had been no abuse – only conflicted wishes and desires. As he would say: “When I pulled myself together, I was able to draw the right conclusions namely that neurotic symptoms are not related directly to actual events but to fantasies embodying wishes.” By switching from actual seduction to seduction fantasies, Freud in his work entered the world of the mind and the world of imagination.
Displacing the problems of his patients from the real world to the inner psychic life of the patient led him to write The Interpretation of Dreams where he began to develop many of the early theories of wish-fulfillment, desire, unconscious, repression, condensation, etc. Freud would not be the first nor the last to instill intentionality or the notion of mental events into the internal world of the Mind. Several critics from Hans Eysenck’s Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985) to Richard Webster’s Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis (1995) have attacked this inward turn toward the Mind. Even at the extreme end of this Freudian critique in such books as Fredrick Crews The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute (1995) Freud is brought back not as a scientist of the Mind, but the inventor of fantasies himself. And, yet, there are other works such as Peter Gay’s 1988 book Freud: A Life for Our Time who will give sustenance to the Freudians and their legends. Probably the best of the critiques of Freud came in 1984 with Adolf Grünbaum’s The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique where he will attack Freud on empirical grounds, while at the same time defending him against those like Karl Popper who thought Freud’s theories were a manifestation of pseudo-science. As one reads through most of these works one realizes it is the notion that Freud’s works are not based on scientific empiricism that seems to be the greatest issue; yet, most will agree that his speculative philosophical approach is still of value and that it is to this we should favor a reception of his ideas rather than to his imposition of scientism that should be explored.
My point being this: if one looks upon Freud’s works as speculative philosophy rather than science then his position within that stream of thought that arises out of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; along with the undertow of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others remains a valid influence to this day within the philosophical community if not the psychoanalytical. It informs many of the debates concerning the various approaches to materialism one sees in philosophers as diverse as Badiou, Zizek, Meillassou and Johnston; as well as Deleuze, De Landa, Bradiotti, etc. – just to name a few. The great divide in materialism at this moment stems from these early notions of Freud, the German Idealists, and the counter-traditions of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, and Land. Materialism is at a crossroad: split between scientific naturalism and its various forms of physicalism; the Freudian/Lacanian group based on structure and lack; and the philosophers of desire such as Deleuze and his followers under the rubric of new materialisms. One should add the Marxian tradition as well, but that is part of another battle that is inclusive to all of these various materialisms. In my own work-in-progress I’m dealing with this tradition that seems in our moment to be in turmoil as well as going through its own transformations and migrations into various materialisms. To understand this process one needs to clarify and separate, abstract out and critique the earlier forms of materialism. It’s this that drives my project at the moment.
It is to the figure of Freud as speculative philosopher rather than scientist that my understanding of Desire and Drives turns.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Speaking with the dead can be so instructive. They remember what the living have forgotten, or would not know if they could. The true frailty of things.
-Thomas Ligotti, Grimscribe
In Thomas Ligotti’s The Mystics of Muelenberg we’re presented as usual with a world which is askew, tipped in favor of the strange and deformed, the grotesque and macabre rather than the glittering façade of some Platonic realm of the marvelous:
If things are not what they seem—and we are forever reminded that this is the case—then it must also be observed that enough of us ignore this truth to keep the world from collapsing. Though never exact, always shifting somewhat, the proportion is crucial. For a certain number of minds are fated to depart for realms of delusion, as if in accordance with some hideous timetable, and many will never be returning to us. Even among those who remain, how difficult it can be to hold the focus sharp, to keep the picture of the world from fading, from blurring in selected zones and, on occasion, from sustaining epic deformations over the entire visible scene.1
From time to time I like to reread these demented stories of a mind that has suffered the bitter sweetness of its own forgotten wisdom. The notion that the world that most of us behold is held together by a secret group of individuals scattered across time, a forbidden sect that has been stamped with the task of binding the hellish deformations of reality and containing its force is strangely disquieting. That this dark brotherhood of the mad and insane, the eccentric and oddball are our only hope against the powers of hyperchaos, the Keepers of the Great Art, those who balance the thin red line between reality and the unreal and weave the invisible threads that ubiquitously connect us all in a timeless world of illusion is a truth that if accepted would in itself drive us all insane. So that the troubadours, jongleurs, tricksters, and mad shamans who wander the broken boundaries of existence and keep us safe, while they move in two worlds at once: split between the real and unreal, brokering the lines of flight that bind and unbind reality. They are the mad ones who defend us against the insane truth, who channel the secrets of existence in parables and allegories, while living out in their own lives and minds the inevitable corruption that would destroy the rest of us.
One can imagine that from time to time one of our benefactors succumbs to the power of the other side, is lured and tempted to give into the secret force of its entrapments. This forces us to think about our own part in this madness and how we are ourselves corrupted and corrupting in our very inability to separate the real and unreal in our lives. What if one were to wander into one of those abandoned zones, a zone of exclusion and corruption, move in the world where reality was unprotected, where the balance had suddenly shifted exposing the truth behind the curtain of lies; where appearance as appearance gave up its artificial semblance and exposed the underlying nullity, the dark abyss of nothingness and formlessness? What if one saw behind the phenomenal and into the noumenon and discovered that it was a hyperchaotic sea of time without sense or reason? What if the hyperchaos that surrounds us suddenly presented itself without illusion, opened its dark powers to you vision: what would you do? What could you do?
There are those such as Lacan and Zizek who suggest that the saving grace is that we have an inbuilt gap or split, that keeps us bound in a subjective transcendence of illusory fictions. That the sea of appearances and phenomena around us are all that we will ever have direct access too. That our brains, our minds are shaped by rules of language and logic that enforce the barriers against the truth of the Real for our protection. That if we were to know reality as it is we would all go mad. Yet, others have boldly suggested that this too is a lie, a fiction: that in truth the world that we believe is real is itself the great fiction, the lie upon which we have obliterated the real world and replaced it with a hyperreality so real that we are now lost in an abyss of our own making. Will we find our way out of this labyrinth? Where is Ariadne’s thread to guide us back to the formless sea of unbeing?
In the old Gnostic mythologies the Archons (kelippot, dark vessels) were the Watchers who keep us locked away in Time’s Prison. What if the reverse were true? What if in fact they are our secret defenders? What if they were the secret or hidden, occult brotherhood who have all these eons protected us from ourselves? What if what we should fear is our own powers? What if in fact we were the dark gods who have forgotten our own powers, and the gatekeepers were put in place by us to protect us from our terrible deeds, our own horrendous past? What if we are the destroyers against which we have built up such dark mythologies, and that if we ever tore down the barriers between our world and the Real we would discover the terrible truth of our own dark secret? That the evil we project upon darkness is the face of our own abysmal nature? What then? Maybe Time is a Prison we built against our own terrible existence, and that the only thing between us and oblivion is the gates of illusion. Would you still storm the gates if you knew this to be the truth?
In the old mythologies of kabbalism is the notion of restitution (“Tikkun ha-Olam“), or the ‘lifting of the sparks’ (Netzotzim) – the notion that throughout time a slow and methodical metempsychosis of the original sparks of light that broke away from the dying embers of a Dead God as he died during the cataclysmic catastrophe that gave birth to our Universe would one day be restored and brought together in an infinite Body of Light, the Adam Kadmon of Living Fire at the End of Time. What if the opposite were true, what if what we are seeking is not a restitution but the annihilation of the sparks, a dark gnosis in which each of us slowly awakens to our own suicidal glory of annihilating the light of which we are shadows and embers of a darker realm of seething energy? What if instead of total restitution there is a total unmaking and unbinding of the Light into utter darkness and hyperchaos? That Time will end only when the last of the sparks is annihilated in this ocean of the abyss? We know that our universe of stars, dust, and light is but a minimal dance upon a ocean of dark matter and energy, that in truth what we call the universe is but a small fraction of this colder dimension, a truth that we cannot quantify nor know but infer from the instruments of our sciences and mathematical theorems. As Ligotti in his tale will say:
For no one else recalls the hysteria that prevailed when the stars and the moon dimmed into blackness. Nor can they summon the least memory of when the artificial illumination of this earth turned weak and lurid, and all the shapes we once knew contorted into nightmares and nonsense. And finally how the blackness grew viscous, enveloping what light remained and drawing us into itself. How many such horrors await in that blackness to be restored to the legions of the dead.
CHORAMANCY: A USER’S GUIDE
Came across an interesting essay in Mind Factory yesterday in which a consulting group was hired by the City of Miami because it had a “image” problem. People were perceiving Miami as deadly and crime ridden, a place where terror lurked in the sun and shadows everywhere. So the Florida Research Ensemble (FRE) developed a prototype for an inventional consulting practice, tested in the city of Miami, Florida.1 The notion that one could hire a consulting practice to invent reality struck my humor button, till I began thinking about Ligotti’s tale. This notion that people could invent an image, align the appearances of reality in such a way that the public at large might suddenly be lured to believe that a City that only yesterday was seen as a terrifying and hideous nightmare world of crime could become a sunny and happy world full of light and gaiety struck me odd.
For FRE the problem was simple: it was a public relations crisis of the first order: the damage done to the image of Florida by the murder of a number of tourists had caused their client untold revenue and tourist dollars to be lossed in the past few years to a perceived reality. What was needed was to change this perception, to invent a new perceived image of reality to replace this bad economic image that had caused their client to lose revenue.
As part of the image crisis management FRE was set a task to create a “Fifth Estate”: develop a practice for the internet that allows netizens to become agents of a “fifth estate,” giving citizens a voice in the public policy process equivalent at least to that of journalism…(KL 3291) What they discovered is that our of 41 million visitors over a 14 month period that nine tourists had been killed (3.2% of Miami’s murders). As one official said: “We have a huge perception problem, but nonetheless a real problem.” What transpired after bad publicity from news outlets is that the Commerce Secretary suspended tourist advertising temporarily, while countering negative news coverage. In the tourism business, he said, image is the business and has a direct bearing on the health of the industry. (KL 3318)
Between News, Noir and Hard-boiled fiction, huckster propaganda (to sell real estate off-shore), Haitian and Cuban boat immigrants, etc. the city was caught in a continuous oscillation between two competing narratives, that of “Magic City” and “Paradise Lost.”(KL 3441) The works of Elmore Leonard and Charles Willeford, and in the Television series Miami Vice had over the years contributed to tourist imagery of the noir and crime element fears as well. As they discovered:
Sheila Croucher, in Imagining Miami, summed up the issue: “Miami is a city without true substance, a state of mind instead of a state of being.”[ 168] As James Donald observed, every city is a state of mind that owe as much to discourse as to people and place. “ [The imagined city] has been learned as much from novels, pictures and half-remembered films as from diligent walks round the capital cities of Europe. It embodies perspectives, images, and narratives that migrate across popular fiction, modernist aesthetics, the sociology of urban culture, and techniques for acting on the city.” (KL 3459)
Over the years news, advertising , noir fiction had all contributed to the invention of Miami’s image as a crime infested world that had slowly accrued into peoples (tourists) minds and dissuaded them from viewing this city as a travel destination. So FRE realized that if every city is a state of mind then they’d need to change the image of the city to create an atmosphere, a feeling, an ambiance more congenial to tourist travel.
As they discovered they’d need to participate in genre building and reformulate the city from the formulaic mode of Miami Vice to one of Miami Virtue. One aspect of this was the notion of theoria: The discourse of the sages of the ancient theoria that we had adopted as a relay for the new consultancy expressed the state of mind known as “ataraxy,” a kind of serene indifference to the accidents and tribulations of the external world. (KL 3516)
To build a new image of the city they started with a notion of psychogeography: the mapping of the city as an allegorical story that could be mapped to a tourist cognitive vision of the world.
The relevance of mystory as a basis for testimonial is that it is a holistic practice, designed originally as a way to compose simultaneously in four (more or less) discourses. What one testifies to in the first place is the inventory of identifications or quilting points constituting one’s feeling of being a unified “self.” Mystory is a cognitive map of its maker’s psychogeography. The popcycle that I worked out in Heuretics remotivates an allegorical quaternary. The four levels of allegory serve as the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water) into which Plato’s chora sorted chaos. (KL 3664)
I want go into the details which are lengthy and go into the background of allegorical terminology, etc. Needless to say they updated the older forms of allegorical systems with current scientific and philosophical models.
Ultimately they narrowed their focus to one specific zone: the Miami River. Here the Haitian population lived amid the ruins of old ships, buildings, and make-shift housing projects. The group began to weave the history, mythologies, stories, and milieu of their culture into the tourist image the City could shape to a new image that would allow both the Haitian population and city to benefit from each others cultural mix through an allegorical exchange of images. They were able to accomplish this through a mixture of photography, story, advertisement, fiction, and other intermediation that allowed the perceived threat of the alien other (“alterity”, “aporia”) to be brought from the Outside in in such a way as to open an exchange between the various elements of both cultures that had been wary of each other.
As they realized following the work of Michael Serres the tourist situation, like every other intersubjective experience, must take into account as least three positions: host, guest, “parasite”. (KL 4170) This allowed them to shape a policy that had once been based on exclusionary practices to become one on inclusion:
Applied to the policy question of the Caribbean Code, this formula proposes the suspension of the interdiction and boarding of Haitian vessels by the Coast Guard, to be replaced with the “boarding” of Haitians at city expense: “learn about boarding from boarding.” (KL 4174)
The politics of the stranger, in contrast, puts the interests of the other first, without expectation of reciprocity. It remains to be seen what sort of policy might be entailed by the aporia of hospitality, but its impossibility in principle is nearly the inverse of Prisoner’s Dilemma. “For unconditional hospitality to take place you have to accept the risk of the other coming and destroying the place, initiating a revolution, stealing everything, or killing everyone. That is the risk of pure hospitality and pure gift.” Pure gift, in other words, constitutes the impossible necessity of ethics unbounded by the external authority of some Master Signifier (God, King, etc.). (KL 4189)
ASHES AND PUTTY
“I once knew a man who claimed that, overnight, all the solid shapes of existence had been replaced by cheap substitutes: trees made of poster board, houses built of colored foam, whole landscapes composed of hair-clippings. His own flesh, he said, was now just so much putty. Needless to add, this acquaintance had deserted the cause of appearances and could no longer be depended on to stick to the common story. Alone he had wandered into a tale of another sort altogether; for him, all things now participated in this nightmare of nonsense. But although his revelations conflicted with the lesser forms of truth, nonetheless he did live in the light of a greater truth: that all is unreal. Within him this knowledge was vividly present down to his very bones, which had been newly simulated by a compound of mud and dust and ashes.” (Ligotti, KL 1529)
This notion that reality is malleable, that we can reinvent realities for tourists or allow ourselves to follow our own tendencies into the unreal worlds around us is part and partial of the current state of theoria. That a city we perceived as dark and shadowy only yesterday could suddenly manifest itself as a magic kingdom or vice versa as a nightmare world of inordinate monstrosity is to know that reality is no longer a solid fixed substance, that form is a floating signifier both material and immaterial and unbounded.
That nothing is real, that everything might take on the hues of unreality and metamorphosis, and that change might just find you in the nightmare of nonsense and strangeness is par for the course in a world where things are not what they seem. As Ligotti’s narrator states it: “In my own case, I must confess that the myth of a natural universe—that is, one that adheres to certain continuities whether we wish them or not—was losing its grip on me and gradually being supplanted by a hallucinatory view of creation. Forms, having nothing to offer except a mere suggestion of firmness, declined in importance; fantasy, that misty domain of pure meaning, gained in power and influence.” (Ligotti, KL 1534)
If as many materialists from Giordano Bruno to Bataille and in our own time Nick Land have attested: matter is formless and energetic, and our so called reality is but a mask for the greater unreality or surreality of the immanent darkness that our own brain distorts and deforms. We may live in a world that could change at any moment into something else: is this horror or comforting? The collapse of the real into the unreal might be an excessive joy for some, and for others a corruption beyond all belief. Hell or paradise: isn’t this in the eye of the beholder? As William Blake once hoped, what we need is a marriage of heaven and hell: “Energy is Eternal Delight.”
As the narrator describes the thoughts of Klaus Klingman: “I am a lucky one, parasite of chaos, maggot of vice. Where I live is all nightmare, thus a certain nonchalance. I am accustomed to drifting in the delirium of history.” (KL 1562) Klingman who is neither a protector nor a defender against the ancient curse of corruption, a man who simply drifts between the gaps like an alien priest of some insubordinate sect. A man who knew the truth but had bypassed its message for a more serene terror. He’d become the witness to the slow decay, the coming disintegration of things. Mulenberg, the center of the vast abject triumph of the nameless fruit: “Throughout the town, all places and things bore evidence to striking revisions in the base realm of matter: precisely sculptured stone began to loosen and lump, an abandoned cart melded with the sucking mud of the street, and objects in desolate rooms lost themselves in the surfaces they pressed upon, making metal tongs mix with brick hearth, prismatic jewels with lavish velvet, a corpse with the wood of its coffin.” (KL 1609)
As Bataille would say existence “no longer resembles a neatly defined itinerary from one practical sign to another, but a sickly incandescence, a durable orgasm” (p. 82).3 The lonely brotherhood that had for so long held back the corruption of the universal decay had abandoned the city leaving the people to fall before the bleak misery of things: “All were carried off in the great torrent of their dreams, all spinning in that grayish whirlpool of indefinite twilight, all churning and in the end merging into utter blackness.” (KL 1614) Like the Pleroma of the ancient gnositcs the people were in the place of the dark light without knowing it, the place where time, memory, and thought were forgotten in the silence of night and chaos. As Klingman will tell the young narrator:
I am one with the dead of Muelenburg . . . and with all who have known the great dream in all its true liquescence. (KL 1624)
As if enacting a parody of the Great Art, the alchemical ceremony of fire, Klingman anoints the narrator who is seeking to know the truth of the ancient world to which Mulenberg has succumb: “To cure you of doubt, you first had to be made a doubter. Until now, pardon my saying so, you have shown no talent in that direction. You believed every wild thing that came along, provided it had the least evidence whatever. Unparalleled credulity. But tonight you have doubted and thus you are ready to be cured of this doubt.” (KL 1627)
Doubting the murderousness of existence is the first step into oblivion. As Klingman in a moment of dark clarity tells the young initiate: “This is my gift to you. This will be your enlightenment. For the time is right again for the return of fluidity, and for the world’s grip to go slack. And later so much will have to be washed away, assuming a renascence of things. Fluidity, always fluidity.” (KL 1631)
Maybe this is all we can expect now in our world, a slow withdrawal into that cold night of time without Time, a measured movement into the liquidity of things where life will be washed in the blood of Death without appeal. For too long we have held on to the myth of solidity, fixed the world into static objects; left the movement of the shadows fall before our inner gaze. We’ve lived in the sun too long, let the daylight shape our lives and thoughts. Now is the time of Night and Chaos. All hope of those of the dark sect gone back down into the dark folds of the immaterial material of the universe, where energy and light, the intransigent envelope of nothingness dissolves in a recourse to everything that compromises the powers that be in matters of form, ridiculing the traditional entities, naively rivalling stupefying scarecrows. (Bataille, p. 51) The Great Unraveling has begun, the slow and methodical decomposition of all things into the darkness. We who once believed in the myth of light have found the power of darkness to hold the pure energy, that active principle of matter: eros and thanatos, twins of the dark path call to us at the crossroads of time and the pure instant. Where we find the hanged one upside down in the place of the headless delirium of the Pleroma we will at last discover the impossible shape of Time.
by Steven Craig Hickman
To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.
We left off yesterday In the Time of Capital acknowledging the fact that the thought-experiment of an out of control acceleration of the processes of capitalism beyond the territorial limits of its external horizon was an impossible task. Why? Capitalism has built-in safeguards that impose and restrict such a maneuver. I’ll explain that in this post, but will also provide Deleuze and Guattari’s plan of escape: Schizoanalysis. So all those on the Right or Left who seek to install this notion as a program for escaping the limits of capital are going to be in for a little shock when it doesn’t happen. Why? Deleuze & Guattari will put it into words: Oedipus at Last. In the last section of their book on the political aspects of the Anti-Oedipus project they’ll reiterate the basic thematic of the diagnosis but not yet the cure: the outer and immanent limits of capitalism as the schizophrenic horizon beyond which all flows begin to decode and deterritorialize, and the internal limits of desiring-production in capital as itself as the immanent limit. They also show through their account of anti-production that there is a massive regulatory system of State, Bureaucracy, and Army that form the nexus of capitalism’s police force regulating both social-production and desiring-production in its external and immanent social and familial context. But this is not all. They will introduce another limiting factor:
But capitalism still needs to displace an interior limit in another way: precisely in order to neutralize or repel the absolute exterior limit, the schizophrenic limit: it needs to internalize this limit, this time by restricting it, by causing it to pass no longer between social production and the desiring-production that breaks away from social production, but inside social production, between the form of social reproduction and the form of a familial reproduction to which social production is reduced, between the social aggregate and the private subaggregate to which the social aggregate is applied. (p. 266)
Reading this one sees a nested set of protracted security protocols at work within the anti-production machine to police these various mechanisms of the regulatory process internally to the limits themselves; an endless series of loops, feedback mechanisms, controls, blockages etc., as if it was already part of some vast algorithm or viral agent whose only mission is to produce unfreedom at the very heart of the capitalist project. Is Democracy itself the viral agent abroad in the world today? The world democracies (even in their altered forms in Russia and China) situate this system of capital at the core of their States. Is this by design or intention? Have we been under the illusion that democracy was about freedom, when in fact it is a system of command and control that produces only unfreedom and slavery in the world.
Ultimately the way capitalism controls these internalized limits of the schizophrenic horizon is through the Oedipal limit itself: “Oedipus is this displaced or internalized limit where desire lets itself be captured.” (p. 266) In other words the very enemy of the schiz becomes the limiting factor that captures her desire and regulates its potential to accelerate beyond the horizon. There is no escape from capital, it has already developed the capture points for the accelerated break-flows of the schiz who would escape through the wall into freedom.
The mechanisms of control in this system comes not as in the savage and barbarian forms of despotism, as shit and incest, but rather in the decoded flows of capital-money itself – the mechanisms of infinite debt (p. 267). They’ll reiterate the various ways in which the Oedipal machine has captured desire from the beginning in the savage, barbarian, and now capitalist modes of production and reproduction, etc. Here they follow Freud-Lacan realizing that the sheer inventiveness of their path through the regressive machine that is Oedipus reveals the two aspects of the signifier: “a barred transcendent signifier taken in a maximum that distributes lack, and an immanent system of relations between minimal elements that come to fill the uncovered field (somewhat similar, in traditional terms, to the way one goes from Parmenidean Being to the atoms of Democritus)” (p. 268).
Ultimately the way capitalism controls these internalized limits of the schizophrenic horizon is through the Oedipal limit itself: “Oedipus is this displaced or internalized limit where desire lets itself be captured.” (p. 266) In other words the very enemy of the schiz becomes the limiting factor that captures her desire and regulates its potential to accelerate beyond the horizon. There is no escape from capital, it has already developed the capture points for the accelerated break-flows of the schiz who would escape through the wall into freedom.
The mechanisms of control in this system comes not as in the savage and barbarian forms of despotism, as shit and incest, but rather in the decoded flows of capital-money itself – the mechanisms of infinite debt (p. 267). They’ll reiterate the various ways in which the Oedipal machine has captured desire from the beginning in the savage, barbarian, and now capitalist modes of production and reproduction, etc. Here they follow Freud-Lacan realizing that the sheer inventiveness of their path through the regressive machine that is Oedipus reveals the two aspects of the signifier: “a barred transcendent signifier taken in a maximum that distributes lack, and an immanent system of relations between minimal elements that come to fill the uncovered field (somewhat similar, in traditional terms, to the way one goes from Parmenidean Being to the atoms of Democritus)” (p. 268).
What this process describes is none other the spiritualization of infinite debt that we described in two earlier posts (here and here): all of this describes the modern European man or Capitalist as show in Nietzsche, Lawrence, and Miller (p. 266): “the hypnosis and the reign of images, the torpor they spread; the hatred of life and of all that is free, of all that passes and flows; the universal effusion of the death instinct (desire-become-death); depression and guilt used as a means of contagion, the kiss of the Vampire: aren’t you ashamed to be happy?” (p. 266). All of this guilt, penalty, self-accusation and self-deprecation, neurosis, depression leads inevitably to the core of the “ascetic ideal” (p. 269).
Psychoanalysis did not invent Oedipus it only provide the couch and the Law, the psychoanalyst as despot and banker. (p. 269) What capitalism has done effectively is to include the Marxian critique of society as its internal Law thereby providing “the critique of the processes by which it re-enslaves what within it tends to free itself or to appear free” (p. 270). Deleuze & Guattari will see Freud’s reduction of this process to the family romance of the Oedipal triangle as a stroke of luck for the capitalist regime, for in reducing the decoded flows to the incestual relations of mommy-daddy dynamic, the power to escape the limits was turned inward upon the family instead: “Throughout psychoanalysis, the discourse of bad conscience and guilt always rises up and finds its nourishment – what is called being cured” (p. 270). Capital’s cure is re-enslavement to the very system the schiz in its break-flows had at first sought to escape, absolved only of the guilt and shame attendant to one’s incestual desires:
Freud is the Luther and the Adam Smith of psychiatry. He mobilizes all the resources of myth, of tragedy, of dreams, in order to re-enslave desire, this time from within: an intimate theatre. (p. 271)
They’ll tell us that the thing Freud left out is Oedipus’s own autocritique that led to blindness: “Universal history is nothing more than theology if it does not seize control of the conditions of the contingent, singular existence, its irony, and its own critique” (p. 271).
What are the conditions for such an autocritque? To discover below the family romance the social investments in the unconscious, the group fantasies below the individual, to push the “simulacrum to the point where it ceases to be the image of an image, so as to discover the abstract figures, the schizzes-flows that it harbors and conceals” … to ” substitute, for the private subject of castration, split into a subject of enunciation and a subject of the statement relating only to the two orders of personal images, the collective agents of enunciation that for their part refer to the machinic arrangements … to overturn the theatre of representation into the order of desiring-production: this is the whole task of schizoanalyis” (p. 271)
In other words the diagnosis and cure is the overthrow of Oedipus for the break-flows of schizoanalysis. Schizoanalysis is the mode of acceleration as the break-flows that can surpass the limits of capitalism’s self-incurred chains, the way out of the autocritique that imposes and reduces the schiz to the asylum of capital. This is the other side of the accelerationist ethic that the original statement in the preamble leaves out. This is why most critiques of Deleuze and Guattari’s accelerationist strategy seem weak at best, for they leave out the full import of their diagnosis as well as their cure exposed in the last section of the book Introductionn to Schizoanalysis. From psychoanalysis to schizoanalyis… I’ll take up this in the next post.
1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin, 2001)
by Steven Craig Hickman
Today we are entering a space which is speed-space … This new other time is that of electronic transmission, of high-tech machines, and therefore, man is present in this sort of time, not via his physical presence, but via programming.
– Paul Virilio
Reading Paul Virilio’s The Administration of Fear where he reveals some of the intimate aspects of his early childhood in Nantes, France. Speaking of speed he spoke of the movement of the Germans during the Blitzkrieg. How many of the aspects of his notions on Dromology: or, the science of movement all came to a head. In the morning that the Germans arrived he’d been outside and someone had said they were in the next village, and by the time he’d returned home they were already coming down the street. The other village had been many kilometers away. In his mind this movement, the temporal speeding up of reality entered his young mind revealing to him an essential truth. He would associate fear, occupation, collaboration, and later on the bombing of his village by the allies with speed, with this sense of an accelerating time of movement, a rhythm that had become arhythmical, a time turned against itself.
As he describes it his Master, a musicologist, Vladimir Jankelevitch awakened this sense of speed in him as a “question of rhythm”. I used to use a metronome when playing piano as a youngster. I remember the various rhythms and beats it allowed in the syncopations and counts of the bars and notes. The numerical values of the various scales, etc. This notion of time as markings, countings, and rhythms. One realizes that even we exist on many levels and scales of time, moving at different paces from each other. A sense of disorientation can accompany this if one’s lover or friends are in a fast mode, pushing one to do things quicker, etc., a sort of sudden thrust into another tempo, and imbalance ensues that brings with it odd sensations and strange visual perceptions – one enters another speed-space. As if one were slowing down while speeding up at the same time. As if one knew one was moving at a fast pace, but at the same time perceived everything in slow motion. This odd movement of time and being out of kilter with each other. In our time fear is a commodity, a product of our vast ICTs, those communications systems that stretch across the globe have become our environment he tells us. It’s this total environment that encloses us in fear, in the arrhythmic pulses of speed. An environment of total acceleration going nowhere. What it produces is panic. As he’ll tell it:
The information bomb can be felt in all corners of the globe: it explodes each second, with the news of an attack, a natural disaster, a health scare, a malicious rumor. It creates a “community of emotions,” a communism of affects coming after the communism of the “community of interests” shared by different social classes. … With the phenomena of instantaneous interaction that are now our lot, there has been a veritable reversal, destabilizing the relationship of human interaction, and the time reserved for reflection, in favor of the conditioned responses produced by emotion. The production of panic is born. (p. 31)1
The true panic he tells us is this sense that everything has already happened, that reality is accelerating out of control around us at the speed of light and we have reached the limit of instantaneity, the limits of human thought and time (p. 33). Because our systems work in nano-chronological time at speeds our consciousness can no longer apprehend, much less cope with the human has become invisible in the processes that control our world. The world of computer time has compressed human time into speed-space that humans can no longer understand much less cope with: this produces fear and panic. In economic terms the last crisis was a crisis of perception – traders could not compete with their machines:
Derealization is no more and no less than the result of progress. The defense of augmented reality, which is the ritual response of progress propaganda, is in fact a derealization induced by the success of progress in acceleration and the law of movement… The continued increase in speed led to the development of megaloscopy which has caused a real infirmity because it reduces the field of vision. The faster we go, the more we look ahead and lose our lateral vision. We are losing our survival advantage, a space of reality; laterality. (p. 37)
Of course, for those who didn’t catch on the megalosope was an imaginary instrument developed by Benjamin Martin (see below)
Benjamin Martin invented both the “universal compound Microscope”, “Solar Microscope”, and “Wilson’s Microscope”. They were all standard designs of the mid-18th century, but the “Megalascope” was Martin’s own invention. Martin himself described the instrument, in a pamphlet of 1738:
By a MEGALASCOPE is understood an Instrument which gives a magnified View of all the larger Sort of small Objects, and is sometimes called a Fossil-Microscope, Cloth Microscope, &c … the Objects are so much magnified, and their Parts so separate and distinct, that we scarcely know them in this new Point of View, or can reconcile them to the Ideas they impress on the Mind by the natural Appearance.
Martin here suggests that customers should purchase and use the megalascope because it showed objects to be completely different from their appearance to the naked eye. He was using the unfamiliar nature of the microscopical world as a selling-point. In this context the microscope can be seen as a curiosity, able to engage and fascinate an audience, by showing familiar objects in a new way. I added the link in the passage from Virilio for comic relief.
1. Paul Virilio: The Administration of Fear. (semiotext(e), 2012)
by Amy Ireland
A script from the absolute unknown, how do you even begin to think about that? “Meaning” is a diversion. It evokes too much empathy. You have to ask, instead, what is a message? In the abstract? What’s the content, at the deepest, most reliable level, when you strip away all the presuppositions that you can? The basics are this. You’ve been reached by a transmission. That’s the irreducible thing. Something has been received. [And] to get in, it had to be there, already inside, waiting. Don’t you see? The process of trying to work it out — what I had thought was the way, eventually, to grasp it — to unlock the secret, it wasn’t like that. That was all wrong. It was unlocking me.1
We never find those who understand philosophers among philosophers.2
So we are confronted by a triad of mysteries: the death or otherwise of Lönnrot, the disappearance of Carter into the coffin-shaped clock, and the deliquescence of Professor Challenger as he absconds both slowly and hurriedly towards an invisible point below the strata. There is a blurry edge in all detective work that, as Borges too competently demonstrates, skirts a zig-zag threshold between apophenia and the truly canny connection of events that only appear, superficially, to be disconnected. In the name of a method that is closer to invocation than criticism, a reckless detective might refrain from determining exactly where an act of decryption lies on the ugly terrain of legitimacy and, proffering sanity as the stake, live up to the problem as it stands. The greatest puzzles are always a delicate balance of intrication and simplicity. What if a single answer were capable of resolving all three of these strange cases — blinding in its solvent consistency?
In Kant’s Critical Philosophy, Difference and Repetition, his nineteen-seventies lectures at Paris-VIII, and in a late, expanded reformulation of the preface to the first of these works (appearing in Essays Clinical and Critical), Deleuze pairs and contrasts two schemata of time: the time of the ‘revolving door’, and the time of the ‘straight labyrinth’.3 Quoting Hamlet, who furnishes the first of the four poetic formulas he will relate to the innovations of Kant’s philosophy, Deleuze writes
Time is out of joint, time is unhinged. The hinges are the axis on which the door turns. The hinge, Cardo, indicates the subordination of time to precise cardinal points, through which the periodic movements it measures pass. As long as time remains on its hinges, it is subordinated to extensive movement; it is the measure of movement, its interval or number. This characteristic of ancient philosophy has often been emphasised: the subordination of time to the circular movement of the world as the turning Door, a revolving door, a labyrinth opening onto its eternal origin. [C’est la porte-tambour, le labyrinthe ouverte sur l’origine éternelle.]
Time out of joint, the door off its hinges, signifies the first great Kantian reversal: movement is now subordinated to time. Time is no longer related to the movement it measures, but rather movement to the time that conditions it. Moreover, movement is no longer the determination of objects, but the description of a space, a space we must set aside in order to discover time as the condition of action. Time thus becomes unilinear and rectilinear, no longer in the sense that it would measure a derived movement, but in and through itself, insofar as it imposes the succession of its determination on every possible movement. This is a rectification of time. Time ceases to be curved by a God who makes it depend on movement. It ceases to be cardinal and becomes ordinal, the order of an empty time. […] The labyrinth takes on a new look — neither a circle nor a spiral, but a thread, a pure straight line, all the more mysterious in that it is simple, inexorable, terrible — “the labyrinth made of a single straight line which is indivisible, incessant”.4
The contrast between these two figures is due, first and foremost, to the relationship between time and movement they express. In the schema of the revolving door, time is twice subordinated: first, to a transcendent eternity which provides the rational model for the ordering of movement, and second, to the rationally-ordered movement from which time’s number is derived (the aperture ‘onto the eternal origin’ constituted by the resonance of copy with model). In the schema of the straight labyrinth, movement is subordinated to time, which conditions movement, inaugurating a reversal of priority between the two and a shift from a spatialised classification of the difference to a temporal one.5 The pairing of the two figures is more enigmatic. Since the former reappears as a functional attribute of the particle-clock (“the assemblage serving as a revolving door” [l’agencement qui servait comme d’une porte-tambour]), that strange vehicle which facilitates the disappearances of Carter and Challenger in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” and “The Geology of Morals”, and the latter clearly invokes the straight labyrinth (“the labyrinth made of a single straight line which is indivisible, incessant”) used by Lönnrot to riddle Sharlach in the confrontation at the Villa Triste-le-Roy, both seem to conceal passageways by which escape from specific geometrical tyrannies — indexed here by extensity, cardinality, and ‘a space we must set aside’ — may be effectuated.6However, given the fact that the revolving door seems to implement the geometrical conditions it somehow also affords an exit from, and the obvious preference Deleuze (as a transcendental philosopher) exhibits for the straight labyrinth as a ‘rectification’ of time, the counterintuitive nature of this proposition is not easily brushed aside. Deeper exploration is required.
Revolving Door I: The Time of Philosophers and Theologians
In the history of Western philosophy, the revolving door is the archetypal image of pre-critical temporality. It takes its coordinates first from astronomical movements, and then from terrestrial ones: the rotation of planets and seasons.7 These revolutions, confining time to motion and phenomenality, are held in contrast to what is outside them and what has been said to have engendered them — an ever-present but non-manifest, spatiotemporally unconditioned, unified mind or essence. In his lectures, Deleuze links this figure of time, curved by the hand of a god, to “the arc of the demiurge which makes circles” in the account given by Plato’s Timaeus.8
Since the model was an ever-living being, [the demiurge] undertook to make this universe of ours the same as well, or as similar as it could be. But the being that served as the model was eternal, and it was impossible for him to make this altogether an attribute of any created object. Nevertheless, he determined to make it a kind of moving likeness of eternity, and so in the very act of ordering the universe he created a likeness of eternity, a likeness that progresses eternally through the sequence of numbers, while eternity abides in oneness.9
Timaeus, an expert astronomer who has “specialised in natural science” refers several times to his cosmogony as an ἐικός λόγος (a ‘likely account’), a play on words drawing on the relation between εἰκόνες and ἐικός meant to reinforce the notion of the cosmos as a likeness — the imperfect copy of a perfect original.10 Here, worldly imperfection is due to the changeability of the contents of the copy, which unlike their eternal origin, are subject to time:
This image of eternity is what we have come to call ‘time’, since along with the creation of the universe [the demiurge] devised and created days, nights, months, and years, which did not exist before the creation of the universe. They are all parts of time, and ‘was’ and ‘will be’ are created aspects of time which we thoughtlessly and mistakenly apply to that which is eternal. For we say that it was, is, and will be, when in fact only ‘is’ truly belongs to it, while ‘was’ and ‘will be’ are properties of things that are created and that change over time, since ‘was’ and ‘will be’ are both changes. What is for ever consistent and unchanging, however, does not have the property of becoming older or younger with the passage of time; it was not created at some point, it has not come into existence just now, and it will not be created in the future. As a rule, in fact, none of the modifications that belong to the things that move about in the sensible world, as a result of having been created, should be attributed to it; they are aspects of time as it imitates eternity and cycles through the numbers.11
There is no measurable time prior to the demiurge’s imposition of order on a previously disordered cosmos, composed only of confused matter and erratic motion. Because time arises from movement, only a perfectly regular and harmonious totality of cosmic motion will install temporality in the rational manner required to produce a sufficiently faithful copy of the model. This imposition of formal regularity is not, however, without complication. Deleuze’s emphasis on the motif of circularity arises from the description, first, of the demiurge ensuring that the matter of the universe is “perfectly spherical, equidistant in all directions from its centre to the extremes”, “freeing” its primary motion from imbalance by giving it a “circular movement … setting it spinning at a constant pace in the same place and within itself”, and then, with the totality of the matter of the universe thus arranged, of the inauguration of a complex process of division and mixing for the purpose of imbuing the assemblage with a soul, which the demiurge creates via the combination of two media: the “indivisible and never changing”, and the “divided and created substance of the physical world” (the former indexing identity, the latter, difference) obtaining a third medium with aspects of both, thus allowing for a flow of information between the formal and the phenomenal.12
He then blends the indivisible with the divisible and the alloy of the indivisible and divisible, fashioning from the tripartite mixture a homogenous whole, but not without effort, for “getting difference to be compatible with identity [takes] force, since difference does not readily form mixtures”.13 Despite the complexity, might and skill brought to the work of ordering by the demiurge (who is a craftsman, after all), a material remainder — what Deleuze will call “the unequal in itself” — still persists, and further blending is required.14 This involves a tortured series of intervallic material distributions from which the demiurge finally extracts an obedient harmony.15 The mixture is then split into strips, laid out like an X and folded together into two revolving circles, the outer circle — containing “the equal in the form of the movement of the Same” — revolves with the primary movement of the cosmos and is justly named “the revolution of identity” while the inner circle — revolving at an angle to the circle of identity — contains the eight then-known “planets” (including the sun and the moon) along with “what subsists of inequality in the divisible” by distributing it among the planetary orbits, and bears the denomination “the revolution of difference”.16 This latter grounds the derivation of time.
The Great Symmetrical Cycle
Because it is “the shared task” of the heavenly bodies “to produce time”, a considerable portion of the “Timaeus” is dedicated to a geometrical description of planetary ambulation, offering precise calculations of each planet’s orbit which, when taken together, add up to an internally and externally harmonious totality (each orbit internally relative to the others, and the whole externally relative to the revolution of the circle of identity): the world’s year.17 This single, great revolution yields “the perfect number of time” and is marked by the “moment when all the eight revolutions, with their relative speeds, attain completion and regain their starting points”, resetting the cycle of the circle of difference in relation to the circle of identity.18 Pre-critical time is thus simply the organisation and rationalisation of a prior, chaotic, spatiality in response to the exigencies of a divine model which exists both outside space and time. A great compass, dividing a cosmic sphere into equal and predictable portions, priming its matter for technological and cultural capture: the seasonal arithmetic that will come to ground agriculture; the compartmentalisation of the day, the week and the year into periods devoted alternatively to the sacred or the profane; the striations of latitude facilitating oceanic navigation, cartography, imperialism, and the proportional fastidiousness of classical architecture and art.
An exclusive disjunction (the abiding feature of monotheistic religion) administrates the distinction between eternity and the cosmos as the ordered structure of secondary appearances. Held apart from the eternal and locked down by matter and movement, this turning according to number is only an auxiliary, fallen ‘image’. A simulation generated and managed by a fully exteriorised and transcendent non-time, which functions as the ultimate measure against which every determinate object falls into a static and immutable hierarchical series whose order can never be shifted, interrogated, or affected by feedback from within. Because it continues to be tethered to a transcendent realm which imposes teleological order, the most generous aberration allowed to time — one “marked by material, meteorological and terrestrial contingencies” — still remains derivative of movement.19 ‘Time’ beyond revolution is transcendent, tenseless, authoritative and persistent. The revolving door is therefore a dualistic image of temporality, inserting a gap between the hierarchically organised, oppositional qualities of idea and appearance; unity and variation; identity and difference; indivisibility and divisibility; being and becoming, good and evil, inside and outside — its borders stalked by the constabulary of the laws of thought, and god. It is, as Luce Irigaray tirelessly anatomises in “Plato’s Hystera”, the time — as space — of the Platonic cave, a “theatrical trick” designed to inaugurate the great “circus” of representation via the circular repetition of the same. The cave’s anterior tunnel leads upward into the light.
Upward — this notation indicates from the very start that the Platonic cave functions as an attempt to give an orientation to the reproduction and representation of something that is always already there. […] The orientation functions by turning everything over, by reversing, and by pivoting around axes of symmetry..20
The cardinal points of the compass, or four wings of the door’s turning hinge, exhibit the spatialisation of time inherent to the image. The law of its number is cardinality — quantitative measurement of internally homogenous content — and a representational form of numeracy. Being a sphere, it is intrinsically symmetrical. In this way, space and time are confined to the double homogeneity of extension and simultaneity — to the circus of representational reproduction and its clowns, whose comedy is always enacted in the mode of farce, a repetition that always “falls short” of its model.21There are, therefore, only “proportions, functions, [and] relations” available inside the simulation that can be referred “back to sameness”.22 And this sameness is at once the model for the beautiful, the truthful, and the good — astronomical rationality providing the exemplar for human aesthetic, epistemological and moral order.
Man, as a rational animal equipped with the ability to observe and understand these relations, is ontologically at home in the universe of the revolving door. Human cognition and sensibility, when exercised correctly, are perfectly resonant with the structure of phenomena. Thought thus naturally inclines towards the law that the demiurge embodies and by extension, to the model from which the universe has been copied. Psychology, cosmology and rationality are bound in cosmic rhyme. This is precisely what the latter part of the Timaeus then turns to, linking the account it has just given of human perception, especially that of sight, to our ability to infer the universal law of the good, the beautiful, and the true, and to reproduce it on a microcosmic level, specifically through the practice of philosophy.23 Plato’s cosmos is teleologically assured by the perfection of the demiurge, and opposes both accounts of cosmogenesis more sympathetic to contingency, chance and natural selection (such as those of Empedocles, Leucippus and Democritus, which offer explanations exhibiting an awkward but prescient Darwinism) and the immanent teleology of Aristotle. Revolution thus has a moral content, and Timaeus concludes his account of cosmogenesis by stating that,
since the movements that are naturally akin to our divine part are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe, these are what each of us should be guided by as we attempt to reverse the corruption of the circuits in our heads, that happened around the time of our birth, by studying the harmonies and revolutions of the universe.24
In this way, “we will restore our nature to its original condition” achieving “our goal” of living “now and in the future, the best life that the gods have placed within human reach”.25 The importance of sight to the practice of philosophy is insisted upon here because it alone of all the senses provides us with access to the law of number (and by extension, a model of perfect morality) embedded in the rotations of the planets.26 Vision is thus the most morally-attuned sense, the conduit of goodness and beauty, and the base upon which one can realise the latent harmoniousness of one’s own relation to the universe. These ‘corrupt circuits’ in need of correction reprise the wandering of the planets prior to the ordering of their movements by the demiurge, and not insignificantly, ‘wanderer’ (πλάνης), ‘illusion’, ‘deceit’ or ‘discursivity’ (πλάνη) and ‘planet’ (πλάνητας ἀστήρ — wandering star) all share a similar root in ancient Greek, with Plato using the term ‘planomenon’ (πλανόμενον) elsewhere to mean ‘errant’.27 Truth emerges in inverse proportion to the itinerant dithyramb of material insubordination. Timaeus completes the moral lesson of cardinality, vision and aspirational goodness with a warning. Men who live “unmanly or immoral lives” are destined to fall farther down the series of good and perfect beings in harmony with the order of the universe, being “reborn in their next incarnation as women”.28
The return to sameness, finally, ensures that the universe will not degrade or dissolve of its own accord. While “the model exists for all eternity”, “the universe was and is and always will be for all time”, unless the demiurge explicitly wishes it to be so (“anything created by me is imperishable unless I will it”); so long as the world remains in harmony, this dissolution will not occur — a threat monotheism will make much of in the epochs to come.29 Hence the biblical prophecies of apocalypse such as that which suggests that when the day arrives, the heavens will depart “as a scroll when it is rolled together”, inflected back into the curved palm of its god.30 Broadened beyond its exemplary delineation in the “Timaeus”, the revolving door thus becomes a cipher for temporal dualisms in general. Truth is located in a lost transcendence (the indivisible, god, eternity), obtainable only at a delay via religion or via the work of philosophical contemplation shepherded by vision — the decanting of a priori knowledge from empirical experience, which prior to Kant, denoted a separate and transcendent ideality. If there is knowledge of this fallenness and of the perfection of that other realm inside that of the world of motion and change, this can only be so because ‘man’ is made in the image of a god, or has forgotten something he once knew.31 Thought is inherently linked with its ground via an internal isomorphism — a rhyme — acting as the guarantor of its intuitions of damnation and error, whose causes are always external. Its correlative subject is moral or epistemological: the theologian or the philosopher, compelled to discover the realm of essences behind the veil of appearances.
There is, as there always is, a sexual difference attached to the dualism. Historically, the material, fallen aspect of time-as-variation is feminised, secondary, and passive. Timaeus calls it the “receptacle”, “the mother”, “the nurse and the nurturer of the universe” and characterises it via all the emblems of lack: it is “altogether characterless”, a bare medium for the production of formed elements; passive (“it only ever acts as the receptacle for everything”); it operates through mimicry (“[i]ts nature is to … be modified and altered by the things that enter it, with the result that it appears different at different times”) having no nature of its own, and is “difficult” and “obscure”, while the creative force untouched by temporality — that which energises representation as a condition of the feminised matter it circumscribes — is primary, active, de-substantialised, and masculine.32 “It would not be out of place to compare the receptacle to a mother, the source to a father, and what they create between them to a child.”33 Is there a neater epithet to describe the age-old pact between reproduction and representation?
Sensible, material, and bound in harmonious relation to a transcendent non-time, pre-critical temporality is irrevocably secondary and modal. The time of the revolving door is a mode of eternity, the essential structure of which appears to us as a succession of moments — extensive, cardinal, homogenous — arranged in a cyclical repetition of the same, with a spatial line delimiting outside from inside.34 As Deleuze puts it, “all the time of antiquity is marked by a modal character … time is a mode and not a being, no more than number is a being. Number is a mode in relation to what it quantifies, in the same way that time is a mode in relation to what it measures”.35 In a world for which time is a mere, cardinalised image of the eternal, held apart from it in a relation of exclusive disjunction, administered by a god, all experience is that of a subject condemned to reckon, neurotically, with its originary imperfection. The great line demarcating outside from inside assigns interiority to time and exteriority to the non-time of eternity via a spatial horizon. A definitionally beautiful misconception of the topology of time, but a misconception nonetheless.36
Straight Labyrinth I: The Time of Economists and Poets
The circle must be abandoned as a faulty principle of return; we must abandon our tendency to organize everything into a sphere. All things return on the straight and narrow by way of a straight and labyrinthine line.37
‘Rectifying’ the celestial or meteorological temporality of the revolving door, the figure of time expressed in the straight labyrinth emerges in Deleuze’s various accounts as “the time of the city” and also that of the “desert”.38 The subordination of time to space and motion dissolves into the contentless, temporal determination of the empirical by an immanent yet abstract process. Deleuze notes that Kant was able to apprehend this due to his historical and geographical situation — virtually immobilised in his Königsberg study, yet sensitive to subterranean tremors — deep in the heart of Europe during the ignition of modern industrialisation. There is an embedded double reference to capitalist temporality, brought to light by Marx’s statement in the Grundrisse, that
Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange — of the means of communication and transport — the annihilation of space by time -- becomes an extraordinary necessity for it …
and to Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Notes on the Oedipus”, leading Deleuze to state that “it is correct to claim that neither Fichte nor Hegel is the descendent of Kant — rather it is Hölderlin, who discovers the emptiness of pure time”.39 If the industrial city is also a desert, it is the Athenian desert of the Sophoclean tragedies, for, as Hölderlin writes, Oedipus is remarkable in its uniquely modern conception of the genre, in which “God and man communicate in the all-forgetting form of unfaithfulness”.40 Oedipus, like the subject of the First Critique,
forgets both himself and the God and, in a sacred manner, of course, turns himself round like a traitor. For at the most extreme edge of suffering, nothing exists beside the conditions of time or space. Man forgets himself there because he is wholly in the moment; and God, because he is nothing else than time. And both are unfaithful: time, because at such a moment it reverses categorically — beginning and end simply cannot be connected; and man, because at this moment he must follow the categorical reversal, and therefore simply cannot be in the following what he was in the beginning.41
Hölderlin’s identification of a ‘categorical reversal’ in the dual turning-away of god and man is taken up by Deleuze as the mark that indicates a historical transition in the schemata of time, and in turn, the relation this reversal installs between the two sides of the disjunctive couple. With the figure of Oedipus, the initial shift from the temporality of the revolving door to that of the straight labyrinth is consecrated, and — following Hölderlin’s interpretation — coincides with a truly modern sense of time, a time that is inherently tragic, but in an unprecedented way. While Plato’s arc of integrated planetary motion is always returning — like the great cyclical tragedies of Aeschylus — to a state of equilibrium, ending where it began, Hölderlin’s Oedipus is “traversed by a straight line which tears him along” with “murderous slowness” towards an enigmatic dissolution at an unknown coordinate in the shifting desert sands: and “Towards what? Nothing”.42 The distinction between ancient and modern tragic forms — and elsewhere, between farce and tragedy — is determined by the placement of the limit with which the hero interacts. In the ancient conception of the genre, tragedy conforms to the exclusive disjunction operating under the aegis of the gods. The limit with which the hero comes into conflict is external, manifested in a law that is then transgressed by some excessive act for which the hero must atone, triggering a return to order.43 Deleuze sees in this cycle of limit, transgression and return, a perfect isomorphism with the schema of the revolving door.
[T]his tragic time is modelled on astronomical time since in astronomical time you have the sphere of fixed points which is precisely the sphere of perfect limitation, you have the planets and the movements of the planets which, in a certain way, break through the limit, then you have the atonement, which is to say the re-establishment of justice since the planets find themselves in the same position again.44
The cycle is reinforced by the act of transgression, harmony is reinstated between the realm of the gods and the realm of men, and we know in advance the lesson that will be learned.45 But something different happens for Oedipus. The limit he encounters is no longer external, having shifted simultaneously closer and further away — the threshold dividing gods from men, and time from space, is both interior to Oedipus and beyond him — it has become “enigmatic”.46 It cleaves him in two and drives him towards an infinity that rises up to meet him in an “all-forgetting form of unfaithfulness”, annihilating him at Colonus whilst looping him back upon himself.47 Following Hölderlin’s idiosyncratic, Kantian reading of the text, the Sophoclean tragedy is condensed into an infernal play of diversion and re-orientation as Oedipus is forced to confront himself in the form of an infinite self-displacing horizon which draws him across the deflated denouement of King Oedipus and into the relentless modern desert of Oedipus at Colonus.48
Oedipus’ time is no longer the cyclical time of return to a founding order, but a simple, straight line which complicates everything. The limit manifests both as a temporal fracture interior to Oedipus’ vexed subjectivity and a point to which he tends — “the gap of an in-between, which occasions, finally, a loss of self”.49 There is no atonement for Oedipus, although there is a tribunal — and a crime. He is not subject to a hero’s death, only a long and desolate exile (a little too long to be comfortable) to which he voluntarily submits in the absence of divine directive.50 Thus Oedipus “turns himself round like a traitor”, but in a sacred manner — the trial becoming what Jean Beaufret (the Hölderlin commentator Deleuze draws most visibly on besides a few cursory gestures towards Heidegger, who he cites laconically in Difference and Repetition and the lectures on Kant), names both a “heresy” and an “initiation” — and is “returned to himself” in two ways.51 First, in terms of the mythic narrative, as the cause of himself (Oedipus is the cause of the plague that causes Oedipus) and more enigmatically at the terminus of his abstractly interminable wanderings, where he ‘returns’ in such a way that he can no longer be what he was in the beginning.
When the god who “is nothing more than time”, finally, and not without an irony that is unique to Hölderlin’s translation (“Why are we delaying? Let’s go! You are too slow!”), enables his demise, we are denied the catharsis that typically accompanies the spectacle of the hero’s death.52 “What happened?” implores the chorus of the small party that has accompanied Oedipus to the threshold beyond which only he and Theseus are allowed to pass.53 The response is a brief and integrally obscure report.54 It is speculated that Oedipus has vanished into “the earth’s foundations” which “gently opened up and received him with no pain” or was “lifted away to the far dark shore” by “a swift invisible hand”, the prolonged arrival of his death heralded by thunder and strange surges of lightning, illuminating, briefly, the hidden diagonal that haunts the in-between of sky and ground, the realm of the gods and the realm of men.55 In the cracks of the Kantian machinery a different disjunction momentarily rears its faceless mien, whilst at the end of the line, “death loses itself in itself” and Oedipus, “having nothing left to hide” becomes “the guardian of a secret”.56 Between these two returns, the modern tragic figure is split across time both intensively and extensively as its own internal and external limit and source. The Sophoclean line does not restore a temporality of lost equilibrium, as is the rule in classical tragedy, but ends unresolved, internally perturbed, and terminally out of balance.
Oedipus plays an ambivalent role in Deleuze’s writing. Like the shaman and the despot he is always double.57 Carlo Ginzberg makes the connection between shamanic practices and the Oedipus myth explicit in Ecstasies — his trans-temporal, trans-spatial study of the witches’ sabbath — where he finds in the motif of the swollen foot (which gives Oedipus his name) the mytho-cultural stamp of the shamanic initiate whose journey leads inexorably to the realm of the dead.58 Oedipus incarnates, as such, the mythical archetype of the dying god, which links him enigmatically with Christ and Dionysus.59 Moreover, the persistence of lameness, monosandalism, bodily maiming, or an unbalanced gait among the vast swathe of myths and cultural practices included in Ginzberg’s study reveals a fundamental trait attributable to all beings who, like Oedipus, are “suspended between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living”: “Anyone who goes to or returns from the nether world — man, animal, or a mixture of the two — is marked by an asymmetry.”60 This asymmetry, at once abstract and empirical, is measured against a perceived natural symmetry that keeps the social realm in harmony with the circular world of revolving seasons and astronomical cycles — coordinates that return the cycle to its beginning. “The trans-cultural diffusion of myths and rituals revolving around physiological asymmetry”, writes Ginzberg, “most probably sinks its psychological roots in this minimal, elementary perception that the human species has of itself”, namely the “recognition of symmetry as a characteristic of human beings”. Thus, “[a]nything that modifies this image on a literary or metaphorical plane therefore seems particularly suited to express an experience that exceeds the limits of what is human”.61 Mythical lameness symbolises an otherworldly incursion, a problematic asymmetry that intrudes upon a so-called natural humanity and opens a passage between worlds.
Ginzberg also notes in passing (although only to point out what he considers a superficial reading indebted to an overly synchronic methodology) Levi-Strauss’ connection of symbolic lameness to the passage of the seasons, where it features as part of a dance-based ritual performed to truncate a particular season and accelerate the passage to the next, offering a “perfect diagram” of the hoped-for imbalance.62 If Ginzberg is warranted in discounting Levi-Strauss’ hypothesis, perhaps this is not because it is wholly incorrect so much as an interpretation that is limited insofar as it remains indebted to a particular conception of time among its proponents. Ritual or symbolic lameness grasped as a spell for accelerating the seasonal series acts as a superficial interpretation covering over a deeper one, operating within an altogether different understanding of time. One glimpsed beneath the esotericism of Deleuze’s statement that the “ego is a mask for other masks, a disguise under other disguises. Indistinguishable from its own clowns, it walks with a limp on one green leg and one red leg”.63 Read through these subterranean lines which knit it into a complex cultural history of shamanic tropes and practices, Oedipus’ swollen foot condenses time compression, an initiation preceding a journey to the realm of the dead and a fundamental disequilibrium, and thereby acts as a cipher for the key aspects of the Sophoclean tragedy in Hölderlin’s interpretation and the schematic shift from the revolving door to the straight labyrinth.
In “Notes on the Oedipus” and “Notes on the Antigone”, Hölderlin proposes a reading that can be extrapolated from a “calculable law” opposing a discursive logic embedded in history, judgement and the mundane affairs of the human world, with an obscure notion of rhythm.64 The idiosyncrasy of his reading arises from an attempt to affirm the realist paradigm (grounded in scientific and historical validity) that dominated early German Romanticism alongside an unnameable and unrepresentable “efficacity”, located in “another dimension […] beyond and below” conceptual thought, which he believed characterised the tragic in its essence.65 The aim of the law was to make this obscure element momentarily graspable — not as something represented, but as the form of representation itself — a momentary “inspiration” that “comprehends itself infinitely … in a consciousness which cancels out consciousness”.66 As Beaufret frequently reminds his readers, the influence of Kant on the young poet is difficult to miss, and is particularly apparent when Hölderlin writes, for example, “[a]mong men, one must above all bear in mind that every thing is something, i.e. that it is cognisable in the medium of its appearance, and that the manner in which it is defined can be determined and taught”.67 Applied to the two Oedipus plays, taken together as a single drama, this yields an analysis in which a rhythmic distribution of the dialogue becomes diagrammable as a speed differential broken by a caesura corresponding to the prophecy of Tiresias. In contrast to Antigone where the structure is inverted (Tiresias’ prophecy being withheld until the end), the caesura in the Oedipus plays occurs early in the drama, countering a momentum which “inclines … from the end towards the beginning”.68
Hölderlin’s rhythmic diagrams of Oedipus and Antigone. Note that the notational progression from a (caesura), to b(end), and c (beginning) implies that the caesura is logically prior to the two points given in successive time.
By the time Tiresias speaks the “pure word” that reveals to Oedipus the truth of his identity everything of significance has already taken place, and the drama is supplied by Oedipus’ apprehension and acceptance of his fate, dragged along by the line of time, in which he learns to become who he is by becoming something else (as the cause of himself he is also the cause of a difference from himself).69The narrative is, incidentally, structured like a modern detective story, in which one begins by asking ‘What happened?’.70 The caesura breaks the consistency of Oedipus’ conception of himself, rewrites his memories (“the killer you are seeking is yourself”), and throws him into a time that suddenly becomes animate with a ‘before’ that was not previously available, and ‘after’ that sutures him to zero: “This day brings your birth; and brings your death”.71 The terrible implication of his fate — the prophecy of patricide and incest that lead his parents to desert him as an infant, supposedly left to die among the elements, and the discovery that everything he had done to avoid it has in fact functioned to bring it about — rises up before him. The ground falls away and, as Hölderlin writes, the rhythmic structure of the text propels Oedipus backwards towards his beginning with an incredible momentum, simultaneously interminable, due to the indifference of the gods, whilst slowly hurrying him towards his death. It is not for nothing that Hölderlin would pronounce in a letter to a friend that “[t]he true meaning of tragedy is most easily grasped from the position of paradox”.72 The caesura shields the first portion of the two Oedipus plays from their accelerated second portion, interfacing the differential speeds of dramatic action, and in this, wordlessly renders Hölderlin’s idea of an otherworldly efficacity rhythmically apprehensible without representing it.73 The operational rule of this manifestation is disequilibrium or asymmetry, and asymmetry linearly breaks the foundational rhyme that animates the Timaean cosmos, and inaugurates a new rule, the shamanic limp of schizophrenic auto-production. Oedipus’s initiation is a countdown that re-initiates his fatal loop.
The caesura thus produces two ‘times’ — an asymmetrical, looped, auto-productive time (one slice of which is rhythmically compressed, generating an empirical acceleration), and the asymmetrical form of time productive of asymmetrical time (Hölderlin’s modern god) — and two deaths: the horizontal death at the end of straight line, which takes Oedipus into the ground, and the secret, vertical death of the caesura, which rearranges everything in a single instant, producing and grounding the physical death of Oedipus and the time it takes place in. Hölderlin will denote both with the mathematical expression “= 0”.74 In contrast to the progressive time of the heretic’s trial, “the ever-oppositional dialogue”, the history and affairs of Thebes, and Oedipus’ voyage of metamorphosis “in which the beginning and end no longer rhyme”, the caesura is the irruption of time as a void which produces succession and abides within Oedipus in the function of an initiation as he travels the line that will remove him “from his orbit of life … to another world, [to] the eccentric orbit of the dead”.75 It is, to borrow a term from MVU’s resident Hyper-Kantian, R. E. Templeton, a “transcendental occurrence”.76
Split across an asymmetrical empirical succession and a far more obscure asymmetry that both grounds and ungrounds it, time indeed becomes a straight line with a subterranean labyrinth as its premise. A strange kind of homogeneity forged in war. With the shifting of the limit — the great rift that draws a threshold between two worlds, defining inside and outside — into the modern Oedipal subject, everything changes. When Hölderlin claims that in the double betrayal of man and god, “infinite unification purifies itself through infinite separation”, purification is no longer just a euphemism for catharsis but the precise characterisation of this pure and empty form of time.77 Anglossic qabbala distils this insight with economic clarity: Kant is a break and a link.
“Rather than being concerned with what happens before and after Kant (which amounts to the same thing)”, writes Deleuze,
we should be concerned with a precise moment within Kantianism, a furtive and explosive moment which is not even continued by Kant, much less by post-Kantianism — except, perhaps, by Hölderlin in the experience and the idea of a ‘categorical reversal’. For when Kant puts rational theology into question, in the same stroke he introduces a kind of disequilibrium, a fissure or crack in the pure Self of the ‘I think’, an alienation in principle, insurmountable in principle: the subject can henceforth represent its own spontaneity only as that of an Other, and in so doing invoke a mysterious coherence in the last instance which excludes its own — namely, that of the world and God. A Cogito for a dissolved Self: the Self of ‘I think’ includes in its essence a receptivity of intuition in relation to which I is already an other. It matters little that synthetic identity — and, following that, the morality of practical reason — restore the integrity of the self, of the world and of God, thereby preparing the way for post-Kantian syntheses: for a brief moment we enter into that schizophrenia in principle which characterises the highest power of thought, and opens Being directly on to difference, despite all the mediations, all the reconciliations, of the concept.78
There are three elements to this ‘furtive and explosive’ moment in Kant: the death of God, the fractured I, and the passive nature of the empirical self, all of which correspond to the introduction of transcendental time into the subject and usher in an immense complication of what we take to be human agency.
The death of god is the effacement of the demiurge, along with the essences from which he constructs the phenomenal world of appearance. Without this god, what guarantees the faithful reproduction within the image-simulation of reality of its eternal model? How can we know our experience rhymes with its ground? This leads to an ontological problem whereby ‘man’, the plaything of empirical time, can no longer assume ‘he’ is at home in the world of experience. If there is to be a disjunction between law and its material manifestation, who, if not god, administers it? Nothing is there to underwrite the Platonic values of truth, goodness and beauty, and the modern, empirical subject finds itself at sea in a murderous asymmetry that promises nothing but the cosmic fatigue of ultimate extinquishment under the second law of thermodynamics. The fractured I is even more insidious. The subject, no longer infirm and fallen, as it is for Plato, is constitutive, but “constantly hollow[ed] out”, spilt “in two” and “double[d]”, alienated from itself across the form of time in such a way that it cannot experience its constitutive power.79 Worse, as Rimbaud so acutely put it — “It is false to say: I think; one ought to say I am thought … I is another” — that shard of self, the empirical ego which registers phenomena, cannot know what its double is and must now contend with its new status of integral receptivity.80 How, then, does it believe itself to act rather than simply be acted-through? On what does it found its ethics and its politics?
This is the initiatory consequence of the transcendental philosophy of time. The transition from the revolving door dramatises the modulation from transcendent to transcendental distinction, reconfigures the a priori, isolated notion of eternity, and moves time from a spatially subsumed cardinality to a purely formal ordinality — in which distance between numbers opens onto the realm of depth. Philosophy, of course, has preliminary solutions to all of these problems, but in solving them, it steals intermittently back and forth between schemata, recuperating certain comforts native to the time of the revolving door, and smuggling a dying theology into the explosive zones of the city and the desert.
The straight line is the shortest path between two points. This is the example Deleuze uses to explain Kant’s development of a priori synthetic judgements, those “prodigious monsters” that overcome the historical a priori / analytic, a posteriori / synthetic dualism — “the death of sound philosophy” — targeted by the First Critique.81 The straight line is thus also a diagonal one, and in this sense, the leanest diagram of critique. The first, faint sketch of a philosophy erected out of paradox.
The Lovecraftian machinery of the text follows from this primary opposition between synthetic sense experience and analytic logic by reformatting it into a division between sensibility and understanding and locating both within the bounds of the a priori on a transcendental diagonal.82
Receptive, presentational and constitutive, sensibility furnishes the a priori forms of time and space, while the active, representational and reproductive faculty of the understanding provides the a priori concepts (or categories), both of which will be brought to bear on the determination of empirical objects as the conditions of all possible experience, coincident with knowledge and guided by the speculative interest of reason. The form of time delineated by Kant is empty — but productive of a single dimension of successive time whose “beginning and end simply cannot be connected”, and the form of space, likewise empty, can produce only the “infinite given magnitude” of a Euclidean and co-extensive dimensionality.83 Both forms are simultaneously subjective and objectively-valid insofar as they are generative of reality for us.84 Time, classed as ‘inner sense’, is the form of internal affection. It envelops space, or ‘outer sense’, the form of external relation and the possibility of being affected by exterior objects, which can only occur with the presupposition of time, although the two are inseparable and arise together in the human mind.85 Time can never appear to us as it is in itself and is always necessarily accompanied by space in our representations of it. Thus, we
represent the temporal sequence through a line progressing to infinity, in which the manifold constitutes a series that is of only one dimension, and infer from the properties of this line to all the properties of time, with the sole difference that the parts of the former are simultaneous, but those of the latter always exist successively.86
This succession is simply a mode of the form of time (along with persistence and co-existence, the three categories of relation whose principles are procured in the Analogies of Experience), which is not in itself successive. Nor are the modes of time properties of objects in themselves, leaving movement — dependent specifically on modal persistence — strictly subordinate to the pure form of time. Kant is adamant about this, demonstrating that if the form of time itself were successive it would be subject to a problem of infinite regress.
[C]hange does not affect time itself, but only the appearances in time (just as simultaneity is not a modus for time itself, in which no parts are simultaneous but rather all succeed one another). If one were to ascribe such a succession to time itself, one would have to think yet another time in which this succession would be possible.87
Radically indeterminate, time in itself cannot be equivalent to its parts. It corresponds to the figure of the straight labyrinth insofar as it is “in(di)visible” and — because it accompanies all of our representations — “incessant”.88 To confuse the form of time with time-as-succession is a grave metaphysical error. In the universe of the straight labyrinth, as Deleuze writes, “[i]t is not succession that defines time, but time that defines the parts of movement as successive inasmuch as they are determined within it”.89 Space in itself, in a similar fashion, cannot be construed following a pre-supposed grammar, the eclipse of Euclidean axioms in the history of mathematics having no bearing on it as a pure form.90 The fact that experience appears to unfold along a linear timeline and in three pitiful dimensions is simply a constitutive quirk of human mental structure. Insofar as we can grasp their being in themselves as pure forms, space “signifies nothing at all” and “time”, for us, “is nothing”.91
A priori synthesis occurs between the a priori categories on the one hand, and the a priori forms of spatio-temporal determination, on the other, before they are applied to experience, furnishing its “rules of construction”.92 Since both components of the synthesis are a priori, they hold as universal and necessary laws for everything that can be determined in experience. To return to Deleuze’s example of the line, the Euclidean proposition, ‘the straight line is the line which is ex aequo in all its points’ is an analytic judgement; the statement ‘this straight line is red’ is an empirical judgement (straight lines are not universally and necessarily red). The statement, ‘the straight line is the shortest path between two points’, however, is different, because the concept ‘shortest path’ is not analytically contained within the concept ‘straight line’, nor is it simply contingent on an empirical encounter: it is a priori — it holds for all straight lines — and yet, it is also synthetic — something new is added in the synthesis. ‘Shortest path’ is not a predicate of the subject ‘straight line’ but a rule for the construction of a figure that requires assembly in space and time: to produce a straight line, one must find the shortest path between two points. Put differently, a spatio-temporal determination must be discovered that accords with the concept ‘shortest path’.
Kant has two texts, one written before and one written after the Critique of Pure Reason, in which he deals with the problem of ‘incongruent counterparts’ or enantiomorphic bodies, using the necessity of the spatio-temporal assembly of a concept in experience to defend the heterogeneity of space-time and concepts so integral to the difference between sensibility and understanding in the First Critique.93 A left and a right hand, for example, both of which are determined by the selfsame concept, with all its internal relations intact, are conceptually identical yet different due to their positions in space. A left hand can never be superimposed upon a right hand without exiting the confines of Euclidean dimensionality. In a similar fashion, a hand that is perceived now and a hand that is perceived in the future may belong to the same concept, but they can never be made to coincide in time. Thus, space and time are not reducible to conceptual determinations. We will return to Kant’s ‘hands’, but for now let this thought experiment of his show that, given the laws of the three-dimensional space that experience must unfold in, there is no possible way of constructing the ‘shortest path’ other than along a straight line, and to draw a line rather than a point, one requires time. Furthermore, no empirical experience will yield a straight line that is anything other than the shortest path between two points. The a priori forms of space and time thus harbour an irrefutable constitutive power that will underlie the empirical determination of all possible experience.
Because both successive time and three-dimensional space belong a priori to the faculty of sensibility, and therefore have their provenance in the human mind, they are impossible to exit from for us, and must accompany every single denomination of what will be considered legitimate knowledge, which takes its declination from the intersection of empirical experience and the restrictions imposed upon the latter by the transcendental exigency that produces it.94 Dreams and hallucinations, occurring solely within the mind, constitute nothing more than a “blind play of representations” — intuitions deprived of determinate objects — and are therefore illegitimate as a basis for knowledge.95 This holds equally for our non-empirically validated Ideas of God, World and Soul (objects of a concept for which there is no corresponding intuition), any concept of an object deprived of sense data, and any contradictory and therefore impossible concept — and everyone finds themselves in the same, spatio-temporal manifold, under the same categorical laws which together act as a guarantor for the universalisability of human knowledge.96 Consequently, we discover that “we ourselves bring into appearances that order and regularity in them that we call nature”, and moreover “we would not be able to find it there if we, or the nature of our mind, had not originally put it there”.97 Although it underwrites the operation of the transcendental apparatus at the most fundamental level, time, in the First Critique, is simply an inert and ultimately unknowable form which beats out a series of inexorable, successive moments in experience. It is prior to matter, movement and extension, and thus completely re-arranges or unhinges the determination of time by motion so integral to the revolving door of the pre-critical cosmos. All change, alteration and variation take place in time, but the form of time itself is invariable and inviolable.
Time Compression (Circuitry)
Overcoming the irreconcilability of rationalist and empiricist methodologies via the innovation of a priori synthesis nevertheless generates a new problem for Kant, for he has simply moved its incompatibility into the subject, under the guise of the two faculties of sensibility and understanding, which are fundamentally different in kind, one being passive, receptive and immediate, the other spontaneous, active and mediate. Kant’s infamous Copernican revolution, although beginning in radical unfaithfulness — replacing god with time — resolves the duplicitous tension it cannot help but introduce between the two sides of its trademark a priori syntheses in a fundamental identity and a vexed harmony negotiated through the enigmatic synthesis of the imagination in the Transcendental Deduction, which reconstructs the syntheses along the contours of the epistemological subject / object divide, remodelled as the transcendental unity of apperception and the transcendental object = [x].
In order to connect the abstract bundle of categories in the form of the transcendental object = [x] to experience, Kant requires a link which he locates in the imagination, generative of a transcendental synthesis of the appearance of objects across space and time by stabilising their manifolds into a consistent unity for the application of concepts. The imagination performs this role via three syntheses which occur together (but are grounded in the third) in order to produce representation: the synthesis of apprehension which formalises sensible intuitions (diversity in time and space, and the diversity of time and space) into representable shape within a space-time grid, generating a single and uniform spatio-temporal manifold subject to extensive measurement; the reproduction of spatial coordinates that are not subject to instantaneous apprehension (the momentarily non-appearing parts of a volume, for example) as well as past and projected (future) coordinates in the present; and the synthesis of recognition, which underwrites the possibility of representably-stable conceptual traction via the relation of the prior syntheses of apprehension and reproduction to the form of the object in the understanding, the ‘object = [x]’, and this relative to the synthesising subject’s own transcendental identity, the ‘unity of apperception’.98
The first two syntheses structure a determination of space and time and the third relates it to consciousness, together supplying an a priori basis for the spatio-temporal unity and continuity of experience — intuited by us as one-dimensional time and three-dimensional space, only objectively actualisable in extensity, due to the envelopment of space within the inner sense of time — comprised of conscious perceptions anchored to a unified identity.99 The kind of compression enacted by the synthesis of imagination is not simply a linear one, but the flattening of time and space into a homogenous metric upon which the understanding enacts its determinations — which only then provides a basis for linear compression or acceleration in extensity, such as that detailed by Hölderlin in his rhythmic diagrams of Oedipus and Antigone.
Curiously, Kant employs the example of cinnabar to demonstrate the successive, temporal aspect of the reproductive synthesis (which supplies the recognising synthesis with its input) — an intriguing reference given its long history of alchemical and esoteric use. “If cinnabar were now red, now black, now light, now heavy”, he writes
if a human being were now changed into this animal shape, now into that one, if on the longest day the land were covered now with fruits, now with ice and snow, then my empirical imagination would never even get the opportunity to think of heavy cinnabar on the occasion of the representation of the colour red. [W]ithout the governance of a certain rule to which the appearances are already subjected in themselves … no empirical synthesis of reproduction could take place. There must therefore be something that itself makes possible this reproduction of the appearances by being the a priori ground of a necessary synthetic unity of them.100
The conceptual identity of a piece of cinnabar, along with its empirical variations, endures in time because we are able to synthesise past experiences of cinnabar with present ones via their reproduction as images in memory. We produce a recognition of categorical consistency through the relation of ‘cinnabar moments’ in the spatio-temporal manifold by connecting them to the object we are determining as a piece of cinnabar by means of its steady appearance across different times to the transcendental cogito, whose persistence as an identity is presupposed by the act of recognition. Meanwhile, the endurance of cinnabar perceptions must, according to Kant, be sufficiently objectively consistent for this to be possible in the first place, for if the objective world was in itself so chaotic that such consistency could not take place, neither would our syntheses of it. The Kantian ‘I think’ is thereby an identity which recognises itself as such against the differences it measures empirically and supposes objectively. A move that is only made possible through the combination of the syntheses of the unity of apperception and the spatio-temporal ordering effectuated under the faculty of the imagination. Together, the three syntheses of the imagination place the receptive faculty of sensibility that is productive of apprehension and reproduction in communication with the active faculty of understanding, which plugs them into the object = [x] and the transcendental unity of apperception, ostensibly resolving the problem of these faculties’ conflicting natures in the direction of categorical tractability, and subsuming spatio-temporal difference under a conceptual unity.101
Due to this implicit vectorisation — from sensibility to understanding — the transcendental synthesis of the imagination can be grasped as an “aesthetic” function made to conform to a conceptual, recognising one, which gives it its axioms — something we shall find reason to return to as the mystery of Lönnrot, Carter and Challenger continues to unfold.102 Its operation applies a unit of measure — Kant’s ‘magnitudes’ — to the sensible manifold in order to relate it to conceptual elements in the synthesis of recognition. Kant will have cause, in the Third Critique, to show the fragility of the transcendental synthesis of the imagination, one that is subject to the breaking of its measure by insurgent forces erupting from below. Subterranean revolt on behalf of the cold earth’s volcanic core.
With a unified conceptual identity providing the transcendental ground for the objective validity of the categories, and a consistent, extended and sequenced spatio-temporal manifold furnishing the foundation for all appearances in intuition established via the deduction, Kant will attempt to knit the two together in the application of the principles of judgement that constitute the schematism, consolidating the objectivity of the phenomenal-real. The schematism is the temporalisation of the categories, and thus works in reverse order to the operation of the transcendental synthesis of the imagination — beginning with a concept and determining the spatio-temporal manifold in accordance with it. The three syntheses of the imagination, taken together as a single mechanism, provide the rules for recognition; schematisation, on the other hand, gives the rules of construction for a concept in space and time. The understanding, under the guise of judgement, deploys or expresses the spontaneous syntheses of the unity of apperception and the imagination in time, completing the a priori synthetic weave between expansive sense experience and categorical contraction.103
Each of the four divisions of the categories warrants a different form of expression: the three categories of quantity (unity, plurality, totality) express extensive magnitudes; the three categories of quality (reality, negation, limitation) express intensive magnitudes; the three categories of relation (inherence and subsistence, causality and dependence, community and reciprocity) establish the objectivity of time and space, and the three categories of modality (possibility/impossibility, existence/non-existence, necessity/contingency) generate the postulates of empirical thought in general. It is this penultimate group (developed in the reciprocally arising conditions of the Analogies of Experience) which confine all human experience to a universalisable temporality, and unfold change in time, consonant with the thermodynamic arrow.104 The unfolding of all four categorial groups through a priori synthetic judgements constitute acts of representation, which yield the actuality of the world for us, founding all knowledge upon representation as an activity of the human mind bound to temporal succession. The schematism is therefore,
nothing but a priori time-determinations in accordance with rules, and these concern, according to the order of the categories, the time-series, the content of time, the order of time, and finally thesum total of time in regard to all possible objects. From this it is clear that the schematism of the understanding through the transcendental synthesis of imagination comes down to nothing other than the unity of the manifold of intuition in inner sense, and thus indirectly to the unity of apperception, as the function that corresponds to inner sense (to a receptivity).105
As a result, there are certain pieces of information we will always know in advance regarding the possibility of anything whatsoever in experience, despite the a posteriori nature of certain aspects of the latter. Namely, that “all appearances are, as regards their intuition, extensive magnitudes”, and “in all appearances the sensation, and the real, which corresponds to it in the object (realitas phaenomenon), has an intensive magnitude, i.e. a degree”.106 Kant defines an extensive magnitude as ‘that in which the representation of the parts makes possible the representation of the whole (and therefore necessarily precedes the latter)’.107 A unity in extensive magnitude is composed of successive or co-extensive parts that can be added together due to the fact that they share a homogenous unit of measure.108 The nature of their difference is therefore external — a difference between parts. For the categories of quantity, the fact that appearances are systematically subordinated to extension is straightforward, for this is how we apprehend space and time — unified “multitudes of antecedently given parts”.109 For the categories of quality, however, the surety of advance knowledge is less naturally evident because it bears on sensation and thus involves an entirely subjective, empirical input. So much so that Kant will even write, years later, in the Opus Postumum that
It is strange — it even appears to be impossible, to wish to present a priori that which depends on perceptions (empirical representations with consciousness of them): e.g. light, sound, heat, etc., which all together, amount to the subjective element in perception (empirical representation with consciousness) and hence, carries with it no knowledge of an object. Yet this act of the faculty of representation is necessary.110
Intensive magnitude is a property of the real of sensation and is therefore strictly empirical, yet we are said to have a priori knowledge of it. This is guaranteed by the conspiracy of the transcendental unity of apperception and the object = [x] that gives sensation its determinate form, and it is therefore this form alone — not the determination but the form of determination — which can be anticipated. Thus we can know in advance that every conscious representation we can ever have will involve a degree of intensity, without knowing anything about the specificities of the intensities which will affect us. To this end, Kant defines intensive magnitude as that “which can only be apprehended as a unity, and in which multiplicity can only be represented through approximation to negation = 0”.111 Unlike extensive magnitudes, which imply a continuous aggregation of homogenous parts, intensities differ internally on an infinite continuum (“of which no part … is the smallest”) between 0 and n, and therefore must be apprehended instantaneously.112 However, because of the nature of our perception, intensive magnitudes cannot be perceived separately from space and time and thus come to “fill” extended magnitudes to various degrees.113 Consequently, the intensive property of internal difference is controlled by extension, locked — forever — into the extensive matrix of apprehended space-time. Most significantly of all, Kant tethers zero intensity to pure consciousness, so that the subtraction of intensive matter from experience only reaffirms, in the absence of contaminants, the immaculacy of thought.
[F]rom the empirical consciousness to the pure consciousness a gradual alteration is possible, where the real in the former entirely disappears, and a merely formal (a priori) consciousness of the manifold in space and time remains; thus there is also a possible synthesis of the generation of the magnitude of a sensation from its beginning, the pure intuition = 0, to any arbitrary magnitude.114
Sensation degree zero indexes the annihilation of reality, not the subject. This division, although Kant will go on to qualify it (writing that such an occurrence is not “to be encountered”, an empty concept without an object comprising one of the four classes of illegitimate “nothing”) makes the separation between sensible matter and thought inherent to the transcendental apparatus luminously clear.115Kant thinks intensity, but only in a way that renders it secondary both to the form of its appearance in extensity and to the pervasive authority of transcendental conceptualisation under the law of the understanding — “[subjectifying] abstraction” and “[sublimating] death into a power of the subject”, all for the sake of maintaining a spurious notion of transcendental accord.116
For the Timaean cosmos, harmony between subject and object takes the form of an external, teleologically-assured likeness between copy and model; for Leibniz, it finds its expression in the notion of final accord, and for Hume it must, no matter how reluctantly, be presupposed.117 The ideal of externally sanctioned accord between subject and object is overturned in the Critique of Pure Reason by the necessary submission of objects to the subject, which refocuses the division between subject and object to that between active and passive faculties interior to the process of determination. We have seen above how the transcendental synthesis of the imagination operates to bridge the divide. This causes Kant to rely on the understanding to rein in the productive function of imagination, subordinating its syntheses to unified identity in the transcendental subject and unified objectivity in the transcendental object, their productions nourished by passive sensibility. Reason, the third of the three active faculties (alongside the understanding and the imagination), by analogy with the function of understanding, attempts to determine its own purely conceptual objects without the necessary components of time and space furnished by sensibility, and in so doing, exercises its powers ‘problematically’ in the production of noumena — illusory totalities which nonetheless have a positive role to play in systematising the knowledge produced under the aegis of understanding in its stewardship of the syntheses.118 It can be seen, therefore, that it is the faculty of understanding that is charged with the task of limiting the functions of the other faculties in the production of experience, confining them to specific operations and drawing the boundary dividing legitimate from illegitimate knowledge.
Although the three Critiques work together to define the ends of speculative reason, “[p]ure reason”, in the First Critique, “leaves everything to the understanding”, casting it in the role of legislator so that, in the great critical tribunal, it might judge according to the interests of reason, even when this entails turning against reason’s own products.119 Knowledge is thus lent a maximum of systematic unity via the relation between faculties delineated in the First Critique, which is nominally harmonious without invoking the divinity of pre-established harmony that animated pre-critical philosophy. Instead, it produces an accord of “common sense”, the “subjective condition of all ‘communicability’” — a return to the comfort of rhyme, now resonating between the faculties, mirroring thought in its objects.120 Kantian accord may be understood as an innovation of pre-established harmony, but it retains lineaments of the Platonic Idea of the good in that it still sees thought imbued with health and an honourable will, naturally inclining towards truth via the “best possible distribution” of its capacities.121 And why would it be otherwise? Surely reason, the “highest court of appeals for all rights and claims of our speculation, cannot possibly contain original deceptions and semblances”!122 By means of the accord of common sense, we recognise ourselves in the objects of the world.
What a surprise, after all this, to rediscover our own silhouettes still flickering on the cavern wall. Common sense is “the norm of identity from the point of view of the pure Self and the form of the unspecified object which corresponds to it”, it is always related to recognition, and “relies upon a ground in the unity of a thinking subject of which all the other faculties must be modalities”.123 To thinking, common sense contributes only “the form of the same”.124 The democratic distribution of capacity and similitude is philosophy’s principal doxa, subtending what Deleuze will famously denounce — in Difference and Repetition — as “the Image of Thought”.125 If is not simply an illegitimate presupposition, saturated in humanist bias, whence does this principle arise? There is a deeper problem with the positing of fundamental accord between the faculties in the Critique of Pure Reason, and Deleuze will turn the legal distinction between rights and facts used in the Transcendental Deduction back on Kant, asking by what right the critical philosophy takes harmony as its ground for the relation of the faculties.126 Kant, in the end, provided a remedy for this oversight, but it would not be enough to placate the tremors the critical system had induced.
Despite his predilection for tribunals, Kant’s recalibration of thought replaces the transcendence of god (and its models) as the ultimate arbiter of truth with the process of immanent critique, and thus transposes error into illusion. The strangeness of this new form of falsity springs from the fact that it is internal to the power of thought itself, contrary to the externality and materiality of error that informs Timeaus’ universe. Reason’s propensity to produce illusion as a consequence of its productive power brings Plato’s planomenon into thought itself, menacing it from inside “as if from an internal arctic zone where the needle of every compass goes mad”, a further disturbance of the cardinality which operates the turning of the great revolving door.127 This threat, nevertheless, is immediately quarantined. With the understanding commandeering synthesis, it is no longer a question of reversing of “the corruption of the circuits in our heads”, rather it is this very circuitry that constitutes the correction of illusion by forcing everything through the transcendental unity of apperception and its object = [x].128 The conservatism of the revolving door and the eruptive potential of the straight labyrinth leak into one another repeatedly throughout the First Critique. The labyrinth’s corrosive implications recognised then covered up, again and again, as if Kant realises the enormity of the abyss he has levered apart but cannot countenance its vertiginous depth, a “depth [which] is like the famous geological line from NE to SW, the line which comes diagonally from the heart of things and distributes volcanoes”.129 But Kant is no Empedocles. He does not wish to explode the sun. Asymmetry petrifies him — and for good reason.
If the Critique of Pure Reason “seemed equipped to overturn the Image of thought” in its substitution of illusion for error, the fractured I for a unified and substantialised cogito, and the invocation of the speculative deaths of God and the self, Kant
in spite of everything, and at the risk of compromising the conceptual apparatus of the three Critiques … did not want to renounce the implicit presuppositions. Thought had to continue to enjoy an upright nature, and philosophy could go no further than — nor in directions other than those taken by — common sense.130
Where Kant hesitates at the caldera’s edge, Hölderlin explores it with tortured determination, extracting from Oedipus what is truly radical in both “[t]he Greek image of thought” that “already invoked the madness of the double turning-away”, and the Kantian one, which launches “thought into infinite wandering rather than into error”.131 Vision, the Timaean antidote to corruption, is still insisted upon as the implicit other of the blindness Kant so frequently invokes, but it must be remembered that Tiresias’s prophetic knowledge is coincident with his loss of sight, and at the moment of the comprehension of his fate, Oedipus blinds himself.132
The true innovation of the critical project, then — and that which constitutes its unprecedented modernity — is not the tiresome delineation of conditions for anthropomorphic experience productive of and produced by an intransigent conceptual faculty, but its profound reconfiguration of time. In Kant, pre-modern, cyclical, scroll-like temporality “unrolls itself like a serpent”, no longer subordinate to gods or nature — to logic, to reason, psychology, matter or sense — no longer subordinate to anything, save the mystery of its own inner workings, an enigmatic process of auto-affection.133 An impersonal reading of the First Critique reveals this immediately: the subject may have a productive role in the constitution of phenomena, but it is always in the thrall of something it has no empirical access to, which, in turn, is producing its production of experience.134 Both of these productive syntheses are temporal and, necessarily for Kant — who has reached for the one thing common to the two sides of the rift he has opened up inside the transcendental production of experience — only legitimately reconcilable by yet another temporal function: the application of the categories to experience in time via the faculty of judgement.135 Rather than a fortification of subjective prowess in the realm of experience, the Critique of Pure Reason is the story of time’s relation to itself, through itself — and this relation takes the form of a limp.
The ruin that emerges in the wake of the critical philosophy exhibits, against its inaugurator’s best intentions, the keenness of the blade he has used to vivisect his forebears. As Kant gingerly turns the instrument over, it flashes the following message in the darkness of pre-critical dogmatism: the production of time is not in time. (The killer you are seeking is yourself.) Kant, the reluctant hepatomancer. This new configuration of the outside as time-production is further complicated by no longer being external to the subject, but an internal constitutive part of it. The transcendental outside — distinct from the exterior affection of objectified space, which is inside as an empirical necessity — is thus interiorised in a way that will not only alter the schema of time, but profoundly disrupt the subjectivity that carries it, alienating it from itself, and deeply troubling its sense of agency from the point of view of the only part of it that it can properly know or experience.
This is the tragic modern time of Oedipus in both its pure form as the caesura, and the inexorable linearity of the flight into the desert. An interior limit which Oedipus carries along inside himself, always escaping him, yet irrevocably ‘his’. The tormented king, like Kant’s subject, torn apart and along by an alien component which schizophrenises him, splits him off from himself, allowing him to act in a secondary manner within time, but depriving him of any ability to act on his own transcendental agency, everything Oedipus attempts to do to divert his terrible fate from its course being subordinate to something else — the prophecy of the caesura, that traitorous modern god: the pure form of time. What we know of this abstract part of ourselves cannot be anything other than this empty form, contoured by the limits of categorical distillation; a strict ordinal sequence, made countable and extensive in the schematisation of its “numerical unity”, and definitive of a specific spatio-temporal organisation.136 Contrary to the spatialised exteriority of time relative to the revolving door with its cardinal points, the contentless ordinality of the abstract ‘I’ is static, an inhuman domain within the human, transcendental and not transcendent and therefore not eternal in the same way. It is immanent and productive: an immobile, black motor generates the inexorable and, for Kant, insensible excess of the labyrinth composed of a single, straight line.
The byzantine architecture of the Kantian cogito threatens to suppress what is truly radical in his arrangement of the relation of thought to its determinations. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze relates it to the Cartesian cogito in order to better show its novelty. Prior to Descartes, definitions of the thinking subject are either formed in reference to an eternity which produces it as its externalised other — an infinite unextended mind related to extended finitude, a fully disjunctive difference circumscribed by space — or distilled from relations between pre-determined concepts, those of generic and specific differences (‘man is a rational animal’).137 But Descartes effectuates his own innovation, a logic of implication in which the thinking subject grounds itself. The Kantian cogito takes up this logic, but where the Cartesian cogito precedes by a three-step determination: the determination ‘I think’ determines the undetermined ‘I am’ as thinking substance (I think, I am -- determination, the indeterminate, the determined; the indeterminate determined by determination), the Kantian cogito inserts an additional step which corresponds to the form of determination. Stripped down to its bare mechanism, it proceeds as follows: determination, the indeterminate, the form of determinability, the determined. The transcendental subject or abstract I of the transcendental unity of apperception in relation to the object = [x], both active elements of the understanding, commits a “spontaneous” act of determination which implies an indeterminate existence.138 Because the transcendental I is also subject to the passive faculty of sensibility it must make its determinations in time as the form of inner sense.139 Time, therefore, is the form of determinability which then yields the completely determined empirical subject.
The Kantian cogito begins in action, but because it is bound to pass through the pacifying form of time, it can only represent itself to itself in experience as a passive subject, which holds the same status in relation to the transcendental subject as any other empirical object. Against the Cartesian cogito, which determines the I am as substance, the innovation of the Kantian transcendental subject coincides, for Deleuze, with the “liberation” of the subject from substantiality, and the strange and fecund domain of the unconscious swerves into philosophy for the first time. What we are left with is “a synthesis which separates” — a link which is a break — and the inauguration of something else completely new: constitutive alienation.140 Where the productive other of the revolving door is strictly outside — the “other of alterity” — drawn apart by a limit which corresponds to space or extension (and its ordering, from which temporality is derived), the other of the straight labyrinth is one’s own self, an interior outside to which one is bound in a relation of fundamental alienation.141
Marx will install the same constitutive rift in the transcendental division between labour and labour-power, as the alienation of the subject that abides between them in his analysis of capitalism: “The alienation of labour-power and its real manifestation … do not coincide in time.”142 Capital production, like the Kantian cogito, abstracts and axiomatises the value of its products by subsuming them under a homogenous metric, substituting use-value for exchange-value; a qualitative measure for a quantitive one. Exchange-values are “mutually replaceable” because they are of “identical magnitude”.143 It follows from this, adds Marx, in a particularly Kantian passage, “that, firstly, the valid exchange-values of a particular commodity express something equal, and secondly, exchange-value cannot be anything other than the mode of expression, the ‘form of appearance’, of a content distinguishable from it”.144
Just as it is for Kant, whose system forces experience into a temporalised series of extensive magnitudes, furnishing a priori knowledge as the form of determination, fully independent of content, the measure of universal equivalence for exchange-value is a temporal one, in which all of a commodity’s “sensuous characteristics are extinguished” — what Marx calls “socially necessary labour-time”.145 The transcendental, auto-productive, alienating circuitry of modernity is tragedy uncut, generative of nothing but episodic travesties of fast-burning empirical conflagration, and its material form is M-C-M’.146 Capital emerges as the concretised shadow of the furtive and explosive moment of the First Critique, before it is drowned in the epistemological structure that limits the syntheses to the production of identity-driven representation and confines it to legitimate knowledge. From a strictly philosophical perspective, it is the complication bound up with determination across the form of time via the implicative logic of transcendental production which grounds the unconditional accelerationist notion of anti-praxis. One cannot be anything other than a passive subject as long as there is time. A tragic thought, but this is the full import of tragedy — a dramatic form whose other face is fate — for the modern subject. Oedipus split by the line of time; “infinite unification purifie[d] through infinite separation”.147
The Edge of Space and Time
When the Antarctic fog lifts one sees the machine for what it does. Kant’s critical philosophy introduces for the first time three great components: a tragic initiation, circuitry and compression, and the alienation of auto-productive asymmetry. The time of the revolving door draws the line of the outside along the edge of space; the time of the straight labyrinth draws the line of the outside along the edge of time. Cognition, in the Critique of Pure Reason, is an abstract machine — and because its enveloping form of determination is temporal, it is, more profoundly, an abstract machine for the production of transcendental time.148 In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari diagram the schematism as a circuit, “a moving wheel” partially immersed in “the shallow stream of Time as the form of interiority, in and out of which [it] plunges”.149 If the stream is shallow, it is because it is still all too human. As the circuit of transcendental production or application of rules for construction, the schematism disrupts the philosophical dualism of essence and appearance definitive of the revolving door with the unilateral and conjunctive couple ‘apparition’ (conditions of appearance) and ‘phenomena’ (that which appears) — one could equally say Id and Ego.150 A “bolt of lightning” generating a more complicated disjunction between time and what appears in time.151
On the other side of the limit of knowability, time in itself as something other than succession is accorded a negative status — a blank cipher, slight as zero, outside the walls of transcendental subjective security. It courses through us as an abstract yet immanent outside which conditions experience via asymmetrical auto-production, but is fortified against our determinations, which have no purchase on it. The philosophical problem at the core of critique abides in this strange circuitry, no longer requiring a god for its productions, no longer sustaining hard truth / error, essence / appearance distinctions, reconstituted in a dark zone of the subject itself — the abstract I. But “God survives as long as the I enjoys a subsistence, a simplicity and an identity which expresses the entirety of its resemblance to the divine”.152 Kant “replaces harmony with circuitry” yet retains the residue of a rhyme — his betrayal of God is not yet fully double.153 Time in the First Critique is intellectually subjective, and while it is infinitely troubling for any spontaneous notion of subjectivity, it is nonetheless too anthropmorphic, too constrained to the unifying identity of transcendental apperception, too geared towards the speculative ends of reason, too functionally masculine, too centralised and regulated. Deleuze, writing of Kant but thinking of Nietzsche, issues a caveat to those humanists among us who would yet profess to lay a claim to inhumanity: “the death of God becomes effective only with the dissolution of the Self” — a self that Kant has skewered, broken and scattered across the sand, but which logically envelops, by the circumference of its epistemological horizon, that “panic desert of time and space” the Kantian subject, like Oedipus, reluctantly casts itself into.154 Schizophrenisation is a voyage of initiation that plunges all to way to zero, that “transcendental experience of the loss of the Ego” which Deleuze and Guattari link to shamanism via R.D. Laing in Anti-Oedipus.155 The tragic voyage of transcendental time loops asymmetry infinitely back to initiation, and the subject limps through its circuitry, replaying the silence of the gods, until it learns how to betray not only their law, but its own.
Reality is reconfigured by transcendental time in terms of a double relation, a primary and generative form and a superficial, secondary experience: process and product, action and reaction, infinity and limitation, time and what is in time. By understanding this abstract, transcendental subject as a unity, Kant uses the conjunctive couple as if in the service of a god — or a father — reining in its explosive potential by bringing synthesis and schematisation back to recognition and representation, leaving consciousness, so resolute in its refusal of blindness, “blinded by all knowledge that does not find cause in the mind itself”.156 There is still a division between form and matter in Kant’s apparatus, a basic hylomorphism which locates activity in form and consigns passivity to matter — an intensive matter which subtends the reproductive function of the syntheses of the imagination but does not appear in its own right and is of no transcendental consequence — its destabilising volatility confined within the extensive grid of apprehension. The model of the transcendental, once applied to experience, is eternally set, the categories definitive, as if the system “would thenceforth just continue, without disruption, in an innocent confirmation of itself”.157 Reason officiates from on high, understanding controls the factory floor, everything is known in advance, ushering in “so deadly a boredom that … one might finish by wishing to die … rather than just have things go on … forever”, and death is not even only empirical.158
Into the Volcano
A philosopher terrified: this does not exist.159
The critical project may be the “most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth” but “panic is creation”.160 Poetry and capitalism take this as their rule. Hölderlin, operating a subtle betrayal of his own, discovered the true radicality of Kant, just as Rimbaud, poet-economist par excellence, would best articulate the cogito for a dissolved self. Land too, quoting Bataille, evokes the secret of Oedipus in relation to poetry, but not without that element of terror that will be so fundamental for the next torsion in the history of the schemata of time.
Meanderings in extension remain trapped in the maze unless they cross over into a ‘blind slippage into death’, ‘this slippage outside oneself that necessarily produces itself when death comes into play’. A ‘slippage produces itself’ we do not do so, a chasm opens, chaos (= 0), something horrific in its depth, a season in Hell that ‘slips immensely into the impossible’, ‘the intensity and intimacy of a sensation opened itself onto an abyss where there is nothing which is not lost, just as a profound wound opens itself onto death’. Poetry is this slippage that is broken upon the end of poetry, erased in a desert as ‘beautiful as death’.161
The unfaithful, urban and un-coordinated temporality of the straight labyrinth as it appears in Kant is a not a time to be apprehended by philosophers or theologians. It is the time of economists and poets. It is they who see the subterranean opportunities to which the philosopher of the model is blind. Empedocles, the eponymous hero of Hölderlin’s unfinished modern tragedy throws himself — twice — into the volcano in Kant’s place, but the volcano returns a single sandal to its edge, an omen of an asymmetry yet to be mastered. “Poetry does not strut logically amongst convictions, it seeps through crevices; a magmic flux resuscitated amongst vermin. If it was not that the Great Ideas had basements, fissures, and vacuoles, poetry would never infest them. Faiths rise and fall, but the rats persist.”162
The outside will shift again, in a way that once more alters the human relation to it. Our mystery has become infinitely more complex, and curiously in this, more tractable, but it is not yet twisted enough. Kant, at the very least, has taught us the dubiousness of conclusions. We have procured certain keys, a fistful of half-deciphered diagrams, and a sense of the limit, but we are still hopelessly trapped in the maze. These explorations are just overtures to the journey that is about to begin, and they have done little more than confer upon the investigation an additional set of questions. We are yet to understand why the particle-clock is a revolving door, and how to move from this great turning figure, with its aperture open onto eternity, to those other, “successive doors”, that “bar our free march down the mighty corridors of space and time” to that ultimate threshold which “no man has crossed”.163Does Kant’s elaboration of time as an infinite extended magnitude give us sufficient means to decipher Lönnrot’s riddle? Is the straight line all that it seems? Why is the revolving door ‘coffin-shaped’? Does Hölderlin’s invocation of aorgic panic somehow connect to the expression on the young woman in the lecture hall where Challenger executes his trick, and which Aspinwall also wears? Why does rhythm increasingly seem to play such an important role? There is nothing for it but to leave the philosophers, the theologians, the poets and the economists, and bore deeper into the heat of the earth. To solicit counsel from that thing, which — feigning compliance with the laws of time and space — succeeds them, guardian of the door in the back of the cave we have marshalled these unfinished rituals to access.
Thrown out of eternity, cursed by a faceless god, blinded, insulted, injured and abandoned, we find ourselves with Oedipus, lurching catastrophically across the desert in uneven, hesitating steps, following the curse of an incomplete exile. Towards what? Thunder roils in the distance, electricity volatises the desolate pre-dawn fog, something rumbles underfoot. Nothing for πλέθρα. But if we know one thing about the desert, it is this. Expelled from the labour of Kantian critique, accused by Plato of sophistry, this is where the nomads go.164 The initiation has just begun, and like the voyage consigned to Oedipus, its path leads underground.
by Amy Ireland
And now, in that rise of masonry to which his eyes had been so irresistibly drawn, there appeared the outline of a titanic arch not unlike that which he thought he had glimpsed so long ago in that cave within a cave, on the far, unreal surface of the three-dimensioned earth.1
There is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges which details an elaborate game of geometrical entrapment.2 The game is at once a temporal and spatio-cartographic one. It is played over a period of four months, on the fourth of each month, across a series of cardinal coordinates: a hotel in the North, a paint factory in the West, a tavern in the East, and an abandoned villa in the water-logged southern outskirts of the story’s unidentified city. The players are the police detective Erik Lönnrot, and his nemesis, a Barcelona gangster known as ‘Red’ Scharlach.
Knowing Lönnrot to be one of those peculiar creatures that prefers a well-wrought puzzle to the legislative drudgery of trying and condemning a criminal, Scharlach exploits the accidental murder of a Jewish mystic to compose a false, rhomboidal “labyrinth” (as he refers to it), whose contours prove irresistible to the “recklessly perspicacious” mind of the detective.3 There are just enough false clues hidden in the puzzle to seduce Lönnrot into believing his solution, which he arrives at by following an incomplete pattern of fours — from the enigmatic declaration that ‘the [nth] letter of the Name has been written’ left at the scene of each crime, invoking the four letters of Tetragrammaton with the third as yet unwritten; to the fact that the three murders thus far composing the puzzle, although exoterically committed on the third of each month, can be esoterically understood as having been committed on the fourth; the adjacency to each of the three victims of a quadrilateral figure of some kind, and the situation of the three crimes at cardinal points on the city’s map: North, West, and East. Drawing a rhombus to connect the points, and with that revealing the location where the fourth murder will take place, Lönnrot delivers himself directly — although a day too early — into the hands of Scharlach and his goons, who are waiting for him in at the fourth cardinal point, the Villa Triste-le-Roy.
An intriguing passage follows:
For the last time, Lönnrot considered the problem of the symmetrical, periodic murders.
“There are three lines too many in your labyrinth,” he said at last. “I know of a Greek labyrinth that is but one straight line. So many philosophers have been lost upon that line that a mere detective might be pardoned if he became lost as well. When you hunt me down in another avatar of our lives, Scharlach, I suggest that you fake (or commit) one crime at A, a second crime at B, eight kilometres from A, then a third crime at C, four kilometres from A and B and halfway between them. Then wait for me at D, two kilometres from A and C, once again, halfway between them. Kill me at D, as you are about to kill me at Triste-le-Roy.”
“The next time I kill you,” Scharlach replied, I promise you the labyrinth that consists of a single straight line that is invisible and incessant.”
He stepped back a few steps. Then, very carefully, he fired.4
The weapon is discharged. The story ends. Does the bullet collide with the living body of Lönnrot? Borges refrains from telling us.
Another two stories. A horror story and a philosophical meltdown (with one enveloped in the other).
Lovecraft’s “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, is less a document of geometrical entrapment than one of geometrical fuite — a French word that designates both liquefaction and escape. Its protagonist, Randolph Carter, unlike those unfortunate, ‘enlightened’ men of science, who dominate the bulk of Lovecraft’s stories, seems to know precisely what he’s getting into when he returns to a “cave within a cave” known as the “Snake Den” in the wooded countryside of his youth to perform a series of rituals by means of the mysterious titular “Silver Key”.5 On the day of his expedition to the cave, the 7th of October, 1928, Carter vanishes from the world, leaving behind a parked car containing a piece of parchment scattered with bizarre characters that “no man could read” and his expansive estate, containing a significant collection of esoteric lore and occult artefacts. Four years later, a close friend of Carter’s, Etienne-Laurent de Marigny; a Providence mystic, Ward Philips, and the Chicago lawyer, Ernest B. Aspinwall, convene in de Maringny’s apartment to determine the future of the Carter estate. Phillips and de Marigny, susceptible to the irrationality of their spiritual backgrounds, aren’t convinced that Carter is dead. Aspinwall, on the other hand, is perhaps too eager to confirm Carter’s death and divide the estate (of which, as a cousin, he is owed a small part). A third figure who has promised to deliver important information concerning Carter’s disappearance is invited to the meeting, the Swami Chandraputra, an “adept from Benares” and alleged confidant of Carter’s.6
The narrative that follows centres on the Swami’s account of Carter’s journey, which he claims to have received via the medium of dreams. He tells of Carter’s performance of the rite of the Silver Key in the Snake Den, of his traversal of the “First Gate” and subsequent admittance to “the earth’s trans-dimensional extension”, where Carter is said to have been subjected to
a strange, awesome mutation… a sense of incalculable disturbance and confusion in time and space, yet one which held no hint of what we recognise as motion and duration. [Punctuated, nevertheless, by] some perceptible rhythm… a faint, cryptical pulse. […] Now, there was neither cave nor absence of cave; neither wall nor absence of wall. There was only a flux of impressions not so much visual as cerebral, amidst which the entity that was Randolph Carter experienced perceptions or registrations of all that his mind revolved on, yet without any clear consciousness of the way in which he received them.7
Carter is then given the choice to venture even further along the trajectory he has embarked upon, and passes first through a vast, abyssal void, before fully succumbing to a total “sense of lost orientation”, feeling himself
wafted into immeasurable depths, with waves of perfumed warmth lapping against his face. It was as if he floated in a torrid, rose-tinctured sea; a sea of drugged wine whose waves broke foaming against shores of brazen fire. [T]he surgings were speaking to him in a language that was not of physical sound or articulate words. “The man of Truth is beyond good and evil”, intoned a voice that was not a voice. […] “The man of Truth has learnt that Illusion is the only reality, and that substance is an impostor.”8
The profound element of horror in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is affirmed — imminently — as a loss of unified identity, while the waves divide and carry what Carter took to be himself across the vertiginous and unintelligible dimensionality of distended time-space, that “final cosmic reality which belies all local perspectives and narrow partial views”.9 As he goes on to cross the threshold of the “Ultimate Gate” he relinquishes the last tenuous grasp he had retained on selfhood and personal embodiment in a dissolution that transgresses form itself. Thus unmoored, amidst a “chaos of scenes whose infinite multiplicity and monstrous diversity brought him close to the brink of madness”, the Carter-entity apprehends the limitations of the earthly notion of a tridimensional world and “what an infinity of directions there are besides the known directions of up-down, forward-backward, right-left”.10
‘Here’ the incessant pulse of the waves apprises Carter of the knowledge that, by changing the angle of transection of the intensive plane he finds himself on, he can access any of the fragments of Carter-being produced upon it, wherever they may be located in cosmic time, and at whatever point they might happen to occupy in the vast spatiality of a trans-dimensional manifold. Fulfilling a long held desire to know more of that “dim, fantastic world whose five multicoloured suns, alien constellations, dizzy black crags, clawed, tapir-snouted denizens, bizarre metal towers, unexplained tunnels, and cryptical floating cylinders” which had long haunted his dreams, he takes advantage of his openness to all possible manifestations of Carter-being to voyage to a distant cosmos, escorted by “a whirring and drumming that swell[s] to a terrific thundering” and “[b]ands and rays of colour utterly foreign to any spectrum of our universe”. When he returns to individuated form, he discovers his body reconfigured, “rugose, partly squamous, and curiously articulated in a fashion mainly insect-like yet not without a caricaturish resemblance to the human outline”. He recognises the Silver Key, “still in his grasp — though held by a noxious-looking claw”.11
In a voice that has been growing progressively hoarser and even at times taking on a “forced, hollow, metallic quality”, the Swami concludes his tale by explaining how, lost in a distant universe, Carter — now in the form of the wizard Zkauba of Yaddith — discovers he has left the parchment containing the incantation required to return to the intensive plane beyond the Ultimate Gate behind, and thus surrendered his capacity to discover further possibilities of trans-personal incarnation. For immeasurable aeons, Zkauba wages an internal war with the memories retained from his life as Randolph Carter, with the Carter-splinter eventually gaining the upper claw and engineering a way to travel back to earth by means of a metallically-fortified “light-wave envelope” to recuperate the forgotten parchment.12 Succeeding in this mission, but trapped in the crustaceous form of a creature from Yaddith, Carter wears a human disguise, masking his alien face and articulated claws, and proceeds to establish a tenuous habitation among the denizens of 1930s-Boston’s dubious West End. Reading of plans to dissolve his estate in the local newspaper, Carter sends the Swami to vouch for his continued existence and obstruct the imminent loss of his treasured library, including the original copy of the coveted parchment, before it is too late. So goes the story as it is related by the Swami.
The lawyer, Aspinwall, is unconvinced by this revelation. Sensing foul-play, he attempts to wrench what he is now confident is a mask from the face of the suspected interloper, eliciting a cry of protest from the Swami that manifests as nothing more than “a wholly inexplicable rattling and buzzing sound”.13 The lawyer succeeds in removing the disguise, revealing an image which is only rendered negatively in the description of Aspinwall’s expression, “convuls[ing] with a wilder, deeper, and more hideous epilepsy of stark panic than ever seen on human countenance before”.14 As Aspinwall expires from the inundation of pure shock, the Swami — now understood to be Randolph Carter himself — overspills his human form and, more Zkauba than Carter, shuffles towards the corner of the room in which stands “a curious coffin-shaped clock”, its dial decorated in “baffling hieroglyphs, and whose four hands [do] not move in consonance with any time system known on this planet”. The “alien rhythm” of the clock’s “abnormal ticking”, complemented by “the bubbling of the courtyard fountain beyond half-curtained, fan-lighted windows”, has haunted the meeting since the beginning.15 Phillips and de Marigny look on in sudden apprehension, as the inhuman figure that has replaced Swami Chandraputra approaches the coffin-shaped clock, enters it — with difficulty due to its pincer-like appendages — and vanishes once and for all.
“Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is, beyond all else, a story about rhythm, and the bulk of Lovecraft’s baroque prose is dedicated to integrally evasive descriptions of the quality of the pulsing waves of energy (often described as light on spectrums inaccessible to human vision) that assail Carter as he carries out his rites and descends ever deeper and into the sensible abyss beneath individuated being. Is it not insignificant that the last word of the tale is delivered, not by de Marigny or Phillips — the two characters still inhabiting the realm of the living, extended intelligibly in space and time — but by the ticks of the coffin-shaped clock as it tempts de Marigny, alone in his study, to follow the path of his friend’s strange flight.
In a manner not incommensurate with Lönnrot’s prediction of his own return in an avatar of another life, Carter will resurface — reconfigured once more — in the body of Professor Challenger as he appears, abducted from the Conan Doyle stories, in “The Geology of Morals”, the third plateau of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.16 A magical reading of the plateau would posit the lecture delivered by Challenger as an act of misdirection at the level of geometry (an explication of the hydraulics of stratification, which enfolds the greater controversy of the plateau at least one more time in the debate between Cuvier and Geoffrey: “Cuvier reflects a Euclidean space, whereas Geoffrey thinks topologically”) — a ‘misdirection’ in the sense that explication is always secondary to demonstration.17 The trick occurs elsewhere, in the background, or better — at the level of the frame itself — which details the transfiguration and eventually, the disarticulation, of Challenger as he passes between and beneath the quadripartite net of content and expression.
The relationship between “The Geology of Morals” and “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is implicit in the use of narrative devices and the recurrence of indirectly cited passages lifted directly from Lovecraft’s story, in a dosage that accumulates apace of the successive stages of Challenger’s disarticulation. Just as Carter is forced to contend with his lawyer’s incredulity, Challenger’s audience is hostile to the professor’s claims (citing “numerous misunderstandings, misinterpretations and… misappropriations”); his student Alasca, like de Marigny and Phillips, attempts (“hypocritically” — for justification makes the mistake of pre-supposing and thereby legitimating a tribunal) to defend his teaching; he begins to lose his voice, which like Carter’s “become[s] hoarser, broken occasionally by an apish cough” as later, “[s]omething animalistic in him [begins] to speak” before, “suffocating”, he threatens to lose it altogether.18 Like Carter behind the mask of the Swami, Challenger has two faces, and losing his gloves, it is revealed that his hands have been transformed into pincers. As “he” (the masculine pronoun is questioned by Deleuze and Guattari) quite literally melts down, the liquid streaming from his tunic deforms the lecture hall itself, blurring the frame and bringing into focus another room — “hung with strangely figured arras” and suffused with the fumes of burning olibanum, as if it had been concealed behind the lecture hall all along.19 This is the description given by Lovecraft of de Marigny’s study, with its fountain burbling in the courtyard beyond, and the coffin-shaped clock stationed “deep in a niche on one side”.20 The penultimate scene of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” continues to intrude upon the narrative. Aspinwall’s panicked expression as he is confronted by Carter’s alien form appears word-for-word on the figure of a “young woman” — and, as we are told that what-remains-of-Challenger “slowly hurrie[s] toward the plane of consistency”, slipping into “an assemblage serving as a drum-gate, the particle-Clock with its intensive ticking and conjugated rhythms hammering out the absolute”, Lovecraft’s prose overflows definitively, consuming the final paragraph of the plateau with the description of Carter’s disappearance into the coffin-shaped particle-clock.21
On the level of philosophical exposition, “The Geology of Morals” introduces the notions of territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation in relation to a system of stratification (where they operate relatively) and in relation to the plane of consistency (where deterritorialisation alone operates absolutely), alongside a nonlinear, topological, architecture of modes of organisation between them. The strata and the plane of consistency do not describe a dualism, and there is no necessary successive priority within the strata (although the plateau begins, importantly, by intimating one), which determine their configurations via relations of reciprocity — this relation at its most abstract level is referred to as a biunivocal one, a double articulation tagged by the image the pincers in the chapter (strata are the “judgement[s] of God” and “God is a lobster”).22
Although it does not precede the strata temporally or spatially, the absolute deterritorialisation of the plane of consistency is “primary” and always immanent to all forms of territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation.23 It relates to the strata in a unilateral movement, constituting the outer edge of an angle of envelopment which enfolds them all in its virtuality. It is not an essence but a function, and its function is nothing more constitutive than to allow for and constrain the movements of deterritorialisation, territorialisation and reterritorialisation that occur upon it. It is not formal or substantial, but the virtual enablement of form and substance — doubly organised under the twin pincers of content and expression.
Because they define a topological space-time, the strata are in communication with the plane of consistency at any given point, and this channel is both opened and closed by the Janus-faced abstract machine, with its two surfaces: the Ecumenon and the Planomenon. One bears outward, further into the consolidation of its particular stratum, the other bears inwards, towards the plane of consistency: the Planomenon is always capable of undoing the stratifications gathered around the Ecumenic resonator of the abstract machine. Whether it tends one way or another is determined by its intensive state at any particular point. The abstract machines, being definitionally ‘abstract’ (as Deleuze explains elsewhere — abstractions contain two components, one which is given in representation and the other which is not) are real but not actual, and are effectuated in the strata by a concrete machinic assemblage.24 Abstract machines are thereby the non-concrete (i.e. transcendental) counterparts of machinic assemblages which operationalise — in individuated, extensive space-time — their territorialising, deterritorialising or reterritorialising functions.
Finally, the plane of consistency — destination of the dissolving Challenger — has three aspects: an intensive continuum, emissions of particles-signs, and conjunctions of flow. This is the immanent, virtual structuration or ‘diagram’ that potentiates the erection of the system of strata. The intensive continuum is the energetic flatline, with its capacity for intensive spikes; particles-signs are latent units of content and expression (articulating both forms and substances) prior to their distinction as such on the strata by the Ecumenic face of the abstract machines and their attached machinic assemblages; the flows are separated out and channeled into various strata as their territorialisations and relative deterritorialisations or reterrito