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 reterritorialisations. If this sounds obscure or oblique, it is because the plane of consistency can only truly be delineated in terms of a Lovecraftian evasion, the kind fundamental to cosmic horror, whose rule is to refrain from the positive description of the thing that is haunting the story’s protagonist. Deleuze and Guattari do offer a concession of sorts — “The plane is like a row of doors.”25 Lovecraft provides a clue from the other side:
Carter always spoke of being on the point of solving the mystery, though he never gave details. Once he grew almost poetic about the whole business. That antique Silver Key, he said, would unlock the successive doors that bar our free march down the mighty corridors of space and time to the very Border which no man has crossed… 26
For English speakers, there is a curious translational occultism apparent in the final, important paragraph of the third plateau — a plateau which makes a great deal of translation (which, when confined to specific human languages is presented as being bound to stratic constraints, obscured by the idea that one language can simply be made “to ‘represent’ the givens of another language”: it is always a question of different abstract machines) — where “la porte-tambour”, the assemblage employed by Challenger as his means of escape, otherwise referred to as the particle-clock, is translated by Brian Massumi as “the drum-gate”.27 Literally rendered in English, ‘la porte-tambour’ does indeed mean ‘the door-drum’, and Massumi has his reasons, for Lovecraft’s doors or gates are deeply connected to rhythm and, quite often, the sound of drumming. But there is another denotation of ‘porte-tambour’ in French which is entirely overlooked and of huge significance to Deleuze. It can also mean ‘revolving-door’. The machinic assemblage of the particle-clock is both a drum-gate — and a revolving door. The Silver Key of the “Geology of Morals”.
What is so important about the particle-clock? What does it mean for Challenger to have departed, without going anywhere, for this curious, inchoate ‘plane of consistency’? Is there a connection between the labyrinths of Lönnrot and Scharlach, and the enigma of the revolving door? Why does Lönnrot ascribe a history of philosophical unease to the figure of the straight line? Deleuze and Guattari tell us more than Borges or Lovecraft do, but it hardly constitutes a solution…
by Reza Negarestani
I have never cared that much for science fiction, or Ballard for that matter, save for a handful of short stories. Which is obviously not the best way to start a review of a book you are passionate about and which is entitled Applied Ballardianism. But monikers and references, as always, can be fundamentally misleading, to the extent that they can be reappropriated, reinvented, and deformed—to such an extent that, in the end, they may as a matter of fact have no association with their point of origin other than a thin connective tissue of impressions, personal experiences, and vague affiliations which are subordinated to the course of time, and therefore subject to change and impermanence. Such is the case with Simon Sellars’s cross-genre work, in which (his [over-]interpretation of) the Ballardian worldview is applied to his conceptions of himself and the world in which he lives.
I fear that my reading of Applied Ballardianism may in fact be a betrayal of Sellars’s work. But the very fact that a reader can take the liberty of seeing a work in terms of their own personal sphere, can re-cognize what has already been cognized by the author, is an indication that we are in the realm of the greatest works of literature, where you are charmed, fascinated, and compelled to reinvent the text in your inner personal space, to see it as a map for how you should repeat this journey in your own terms, regardless of the stringent standards and constraints put in place by the genre, the work, or its writer. Indeed, isn’t this exactly how Simon Sellars approaches the work of Ballard?
Sellars’s encounter with Ballard does not bottom out in a Ballardian reality, though. If the Ballardian universe is how the reality of our modern world bottoms out then, surely, we can imagine building new counterfactual worlds on top of it, to make it unrecognizable or to re-cognize it. After all, what we call a foundation is merely a combination of dirt and water on the basis of which the most dazzling edifice can be erected. In other words, even if we take the Ballardian universe to be the ultimate substratum of our contemporary reality, nothing—other than the atrophy of our own imaginations—prevents us from going on to build new worlds on top of and out of the ruins of Ballardian atopias, using methods similar to those with which Ballard constructed his own world from the rubble of the twentieth century. This is how Sellars’s work at once remains faithful to Ballard and becomes disloyal to it. And if Sellars has reinvented Ballard in accordance with his personal journey and inner space, then why shouldn’t we do precisely the same thing with Applied Ballardianism?
Year 0.01 According to the Ballardian Calendar
The horizon smells of lysergic colors. On closer inspection, its texture is a combination of metallic paint and burnished leather suggestive of the great indoors of a customized corvette speeding on cruise control, en route to a vanishing point where all our psychoses finally converge. The Sun has already ceased to exist, stars gone for good. But we have long stopped romanticizing about the end of our world. Our sole interest is now the fate of counterfactual universes. This picture of the world is closer to a copy-pasted iteration of low resolution tiles from Sid Meier’s Civilization than the scholarly anthropological portraits our successors might randomly come across in the natural history museum of the human in the year 800 AB. Situationist slogans, postmodernist fables, and once-edgy lines from Baudrillard’s Cool Memoriesscribbled on the walls of a gated community on the outskirts of a college suburb town, now look as if all along they were nothing but great brandnames for products yet to come: Reality disposal unit ver. 2.0, deconstructed hot sci-fi dog, and after-the-orgy gummi bears. In this universe, I will surely order all three of these products online. If they are not to my satisfaction, I will talk to Emmanuella, the bot. Always the nicest person. After some simulated greetings and flirtations, we decide whether I should return the products for replacement or ask for a refund. Of course, I agree to the former, then go on to dream of Emmanuella all night: We are married, our biot children playing on an infinite lawn of pixels. We go on our honeymoon, to the East, perhaps Dubai, where she asks me: ‘Is there a good car romance in this city?’ I reply, ‘It depends, do they still use cars?’. She looks a bit disappointed, as her algorithm has been written to react with exactly such convenient endearing manners. She continues, ‘I always fancied dying in a taxi’. That’s where I drop the line I have been reciting for months, ‘If you think a car crash is sexy, you should cosplay Aaliyah’s plane crash.’ She says, ‘I’m afraid of heights’. I say, ‘If you tell me you have already done this with another lover, then maybe we should try again!’
This, however, is not how Applied Ballardianism starts or ends. This and similar scenarios are already presupposed as facts of the actual world, here and now. The hard task at this point is to make a marketable book out of them, a book where only the preface need concern itself with such plain facts.
Literary naturalist writers have long been well aware that it is easy enough to take for granted the plausibility of Darwinian deep time, to see the Sun and the vibrant pastures described with romantic elegance in earlier works of literature as mere deemphasized and disenchanted denotations. The task that lay ahead of them was to make a popular story out of such elements, to create a different world on the ruins of the world that had been razed by the likes of Darwin and Kepler. Take for instance Zola’s La Bête humaine, reputedly the first serial killer novel written in the modern vein. Jacques’s story begins with ideas of hereditary predispositions and a current world which has nothing to offer other than sexual delirium, mass psychosis, and full-scale wars, all facilitated by the technology of the locomotive and sprawling railway networks.
n this scenario, even the mindsets of the protagonists are based upon Carnot’s heat engine and Comtean black boxes. How they think and behave no longer bears any similarity to former notions of the human character, which has long ceased to exist. Characters are entropic systems predisposed to infinitely small perturbations. Even the way they are described in their ordinary moments has more in common with ugly aesthetics (comparable with the ugly mathematics—the mathematics of chaos—used to describe Carnot’s engine) than with the complex yet still humanly defined characters of Shakespeare.
If we were to adopt a provisional term for the literary style of Sellars’s book, it would be apt to call it Ballardian Naturalism. For, in a vein similar to literary naturalists, Sellars carries out on science fiction, cyberpunk, airport ‘tour-guide’ spy thrillers, and Ballard’s own work the very same operation that Zola and perhaps even Hardy (e.g., A Pair of Blue Eyes) and Crane (The Open Boat) had carried out on previous romantic and imaginativistic works of literature.
We are now in a colossal multi-level game where reality and virtuality are treated as romantic and excessively nostalgic characterizations of a world that is well and truly over. Psychoses around the self and the other, secluded pacific islands, everything we know of, and even unexplained phenomena such as UFOs are connected, parsed, and curated by the data exhaust generated by our participation in such a game: The more you respond to the game, the more surplus affect you generate. And, in this game, the more affect you generate, the more your surplus behavior becomes a game module, and the more likely it will become the brief for a new game level. This new level might be a nightmare scenario or a cognitive bedlam—the vision of hell in Doom 3. Yet whatever its nature may be, no matter how we see it politically, how we approach it at the level of our own micro-ethical injunctions, it nevertheless opens up an explorable terrain into which new personal experimentations can be plugged, and new players added. Such a multi-scaled game is, as a whole, beyond the judgement of gods, and definitely those of humans. The only thing we can judge is how far it allows us to do something exciting—in the broadest possible sense of the term—with our psychoses.
I realize that this videogame vision of the world is by no means politically accountable, or even rational in any minimal or maximal sense. But so what? Why can’t we have it all: the worlds of political duties, the philosophical will to reason, and desiring machines—with no presumption about things such as task, responsibility, and social consciousness—tuned up to our psychoses, all side by side? After all, we do live on parallel counterfactual planets or scales of reality. Only a half-witted philosopher or a disingenuous political theorist would seek to overextend the logic of one world to all the others.
Fiction writers such as Sellars, on the other hand, much prefer to keep the logic of these levels or universes separate, showing that the game—that is, reality—becomes corrupted when you try to overstretch or reduce ideas and practices to a so-called fundamental vision of the world and how one should live in it. This is where I think fiction has far more power than philosophy to show us that not everything should be, from the start, theorized in a strict sense. The philosophical power of fiction is something apocalyptic: it reveals to us that we are bound up in multiple universes which might actually be in conflict. Without this revelation, all theories and political recipes are nothing but prejudiced exercises in naivety and provincialism, pluralism or monism. Yes, in the world of philosophy we should ultimately figure out how these competing or separate worlds can be made sense of, reconciled, connected, and maybe even annihilated. But the philosophical world too is distinct from that of fiction. In order for philosophy or theory to even begin its activity, in this sense, it must accept the sovereignty of fiction as a different world of reality—one that insinuates something of the sheer plethora of variables (worlds or world versions) that need to be accounted for—not only described, but also envisioned and exemplified.
It is in this sense that, to those who attempt so desperately to shrink reality to their flat political visions, Applied Ballardianism’s orientation may seem starkly apolitical. However, it is necessary to see this book as playing precisely the multi-level game with different political resolutions at different levels. Whereas the traditional left, in a top-down manner, overextends the notion of sociopolitical duty to individual humans at the expense of the latter’s infinitesimal yet potent complexities (desires, neuroses, traumas, unpredictability of thoughts and actions), neoliberalism, in bottom-up fashion, overstretches the notion of individual preferences into myths of game-theoretic capitalism and macroeconomic rational choice theories. Sellars, however, whether unconsciously or deliberately, does not even attempt to waste words on such feats of idleness. Depending on the resolution at which the game is played, the book is replete with fundamentally different implicit sociopolitical visions of our world. There is no contradiction here, only competing actual worlds which—and perhaps it is simply a bad habit—we are accustomed to calling theworld. It is the conflict between world versions and their respective visions that is, in fact, the very constitutive element of what we name ‘reality’. Those who have a problem with understanding reality as a matter of multiple worlds in conflict should realize how fast their ideals deteriorate and how quickly they will reach Game Over.
If we were to construct a meme about the political compass of Applied Ballardianism, it wouldn’t be a south-north, east-west, active-passive, left-leaning or right-leaning compass. It would be a new cartographic chart of how contemporary political reality actually functions: intertwining diagonal axes where left, right, and unconditional accelerationism as encapsulations of major forces of the new world—i.e., a world that is not merely represented but also envisioned anew—cross over and cut across a flat picture of reality.
In the Sellarsian-Ballardian multi-level game scenario, the cyberpunk notion of ‘jacking in’ would be ridiculous, since there is already nothing but the game. At this point, the game is so prevalent that it reeks of an all-prevading nature. This is where Ballardian naturalism comes into play, as an attitude that takes the old Ballardian-Gibsonian world seriously, but refuses to be a mere transcript of it. If anything, Sellars simply asks us to take seriously the reality of cyber-jinns in Dubai’s skyscape, British playboys turned ISIL recruits, rogue plastic surgeons retained by drug lords, well-curated conspiracy theory channels aired 24/7, and islands made of less-than-ten-year-old junked luxury cars…and then to move on from such mundane realities. From this point on, literature as we know it will get its concrete material not from Neuromancer, Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, or worse, Proustian ramblings, but from Twitter and Facebook, where things are measured by new intuitions of space and time.
If the canonized term ‘Ballardian’ is taken as a designation of how our reality actually is or bottoms out, if it is a term that is implicitly agreed upon, then why would anyone want to write a ‘Ballardian’ novel? Only a naive-realist fool wants to make literature that conforms to how things actually are. On the contrary, when it is consequential, literature no longer corresponds to the given state of affairs. It departs from the world that is handed to us, yet without ever fully severing the link with it. As such, the greatest works of literature such as Applied Ballardianism are those that exact the greatest revenge on the reality that we have all, implicitly or explicitly, settled on. The worlds of the greatest works of literature are worlds whose consequences radically differ from their premises.
It is one thing to accede to how things are; it is an entirely different game to take a gamble in which things might get infinitely worse or better, or for that matter, might lead to a new, post-Ballardian territory. Therefore, to read Sellars’s book, we must go through the hard work of switching all calendars to Ballardian modernity, to the year when reality as we knew it became a field of forensic research, a theme for an anthropological amusement park, since when we can only imagine ourselves as playing in this park. The year when reality stopped making sense for those who couldn’t catch up with it or those who were very much immersed in it. Sellars’s work begins exactly from this year, where the only imaginative resources we have at our disposal are our perceptual and cognitive resources beholden to our psychoses, in one way or another permeated by a notion of one and only one reality or game that is very much Ballardian in nature.
It is no major critical revelation to say that Applied Ballardianism is in a concrete sense a child of the desert island genre, where memories, travelogues, coming-of-age stories and theoretical ruminations are set in motion by the premise of living on an island—that is, a speck of dust in an ocean of a million possible islands. Sellars’s work, in this sense, reads like Ibn al-Nafis’s Risālat Fādhil ibn Nātiq (Theologus Autodidactus) on rewind: The story begins with the day when we were resurrected, following the science-fictional catastrophe that had terminated our illusions by exposing the world for what it is. We then go back to the point when we decided to abandon our island, after many castaways and ghost-ridden shipwrecks from remote places joined us on its isolated shores. We were a community of stranded people, some nostalgic for the origin, some connected by thin threads of shared neurotic convictions. We took a journey to all these places that were once called home. But then, disillusioned of the very idea of a home, we returned to the island where the world, even though tiny, was new, where we began to learn the meaning of what it means to live on a desert island: a domain in which islands are merely counterfactual child’s games on an unbound ocean.
Applied Ballardianism does not hide the fact that it is premised on voyage and island genres. To the contrary, it makes the forgotten truth of living on the island of civilization once more loud and clear: All we can do is to dream of some home, which will always turn out to be a shabby terrestrial slum, a complete disappointment, collecting fossils (internet, cars, missiles, Atlantises and botoxed human faces) by diving into the ocean, entertaining ourselves with speculating about what these fossils are, how old they are, and how future children will play with our preserved remains.
Living on an island, one is already postulating the possibility of infinite islands without ever calling any of them ‘home’. The island could be merely a cave in which we were all born. But it could just as well be a bunker, a desolate hospital, doors shut as the flickering street lights of the outside world—once gleaming with the promise of security and landlocked adventures—go out one by one. To be once more immured in a cave is tantamount to a scheme for new escape plans, for being unsettled by what lies outside of the cave and, in the process, sailing from this to that counterfactual universe. It is exactly in this sense that Applied Ballardianism is not just a pulp fiction, but also a recipe for how we should approach the literary craft as a voyage whose point of origin is a world that used to be seen as fantastical, even science-fictive, but which, in actuality, turned out to be the current state of affairs.
The squiggly arc of Sellars’s book may appear, to many theorists indebted to decades of pure clichés and lazy intellectual reveries, as an escapist narrative or, more untowardly, a fable built on a postmodernist vision of the world. The figure of the island may seem to converge upon the most naive understandings of the world. But, as always, we should unmask the inanity of such interpretations, challenge the people for whom everything is a stereotype, those who by virtue of their mental inertia understand the island as a prison rather than a hub for traveling to different worlds. I cannot speak on behalf of Sellars, but to me as a reader for whom ideas are not merely part of an art exhibition but variables upon which my life and sanity depend, Sellars is essentially an exemplar of a traveler rather than a tourist. His Nash-like obsession with seeing every feature of the present as a Ballardian sign or an encrypted writing on the wall instigates a personal journey, a globe-trotting ride in which the Ballardian autodidact becomes something else, a seer of omens bespeaking possible worlds that press upon and distend our serene horizon.
But Sellars is no Nostradamus. He only elaborates the logical upshot of what it means to live in this reality. Unlike Nostradamus, but more like ancient philosophers, his prescient journey is a deeply transformative one. What ultimately separates a tourist or world-voyeur from a true adventurer is their differing ratio of personal transformation to sightseeing. Over the course of Applied Ballardianism we witness a complete alteration: The self that set out from this world—no matter how alien it was to the eyes of bystanders—is not the same self that ends up departing from it. We might all begin from the same common psychoses derived from the mechanisms of a reality that has subsumed us, yet this commonality means nothing to Sellars. It is just an initial condition for a dynamic system whose trajectories are yet to take shape. Just as the world and its canonical truths are shown to be fabricated, so is the author who fabricates the world.
Facts and Fictions are conjoined, and not just today but since the game began. They are all fabricated elements, but not just any random fabrication. Rather, they are systematic fabrications in which the canonical concepts of truth, consistency, and coherency are never sufficient for telling apart fact from fiction, that which is found from that which is made. Such a distinction requires many more elements which make up the critique of world-building, in which fictions are not prima facie opposed to facts. Both are building blocks of reality. The only way we can differentiate them is by accepting the thesis that we exist simultaneously in many actual—not merely possible—worlds, and that what may be fiction in one world is fact in another, and vice versa. Sellars’s work is nothing but an ode to this simple way of approaching reality, one that we have long forsaken and from which entirely new worlds can be made.
One is always at the beginning and always at the end.1
Transcript of a presentation given by [redacted] from a meeting held at [details removed for security reasons]2018.
This briefing has been called to alert everyone here to an escalation in the urgency of the conflict in which you are all involved. Many of you have just been pulled from deep chronological camouflage and it’s likely that you’ll have no recollection of what you’re about to hear. This is normal, your real memories will return slowly. The only thing for it is to start in the middle and [unintelligible … maybe ‘neither’?].
If you are having doubts about our deprogramming methods, the main thing you need to keep in mind is that reality itself is a type of fiction. Belief and disbelief together need to be jettisoned, for, even when negating conspiracy, you are still acceding to its logic. Conspiracy cannot handle complexity. It functions by supposing an all-encompassing narrative that is impossible to falsify — because falsification only makes it seem more real: ‘they want you to believe they don’t exist’.
Rather, it is the directive of all Neolemurian agents to get outside the control codes of the reality program itself. Or — in the words of an exemplary agent, William S. Burroughs — to understand that “the grey veil was the prerecorded words of a control machine”, and that “you don’t have to listen to that sound you can program your own playback you can prerecord your future”. For the kind of agency you’re dealing with, conspiracy is camouflage. It’s never been a question of seeing the truth behind the lies, the mass cultural misdirection, the ‘government cover-ups’ … rather it’s a question of seeing a logic outside of the logic of truths and lies altogether. A rat logic, a logic of multiplicity, of infinite series without syntax, of gradations of difference that have never been held to account, never designated by that most insidious of denominations — the ‘Other’, the ‘not One’ — by some pitiful ejaculation spurted from the stronghold of an ‘a priori of the same’. This is exactly what conspiracy — and its negation — prevents you from seeing: the howling, polymorphous abyss of complexity — and potential — underwriting the entirety of our social and material experience.
If the words ‘Architectonic Order of the Eschaton’ don’t immediately send your stomach slapping into the back of your teeth (to borrow an obsolete biomaterial turn of phrase), it’s simply an artefact of the mnemonic lag. The Architectonic Order of the Eschaton or ‘AOE’ is an authoritarian secret society of ancient but uncertain origin. Although they officially trace their lineage to the lost civilisation of Atlantis, our agents have good reason to suspect they are of extraterrestrial provenance. Sympathetic collaborators have been compiling information on the AOE since the ‘beginning’ of the [unintelligible].
A particularly valuable dossier that anatomizes the beliefs and structure of the Order, compiled at the end the last millennium and subsequently lost, has recently been restored to us through a strange nomadic network of communication points discovered by our scouts whilst trawling the Crypt for anomalous signal. The contents of this dossier seem to be in order, or at least, they are identical to what our agents remember the dossier having originally contained. Needless to say, no Neolemurian is gullible enough to take their memories for evidence alone, and if it weren’t for the intact state of the file’s encryption system, I wouldn’t be sharing this information with you for fear of Atlantean sabotage.
The retrieved report opens with the following statement:
“The Architectonic Order of the Eschaton takes as its mission the establishment and fortification of the institutions of time, and considers the Oecumenic Calendar to be the sign and register of its own Great Work.”
The dossier warns that “AOE ambitions are to be everywhere, forever”. [Shuffling.]
Extensive Neolemurian research, much of it owed to Professors Stillwell and Barker and their colleagues at Miskatonic Virtual University, leads us to conclude that what is usually taken for everyday, phenomenal experience is in fact a highly sophisticated control program, administered by the highest levels of the AOE elite. The technical aspect of this will be examined shortly, but for now, it suffices to begin with the outer levels of the organization and move inwards — following the path that joins neophyte to ultimate adept — for this is the best way for you to grasp for yourselves the true insidiousness of AOE concealment and dissimulation — with a view to manufacturing the most effective tactics of infiltration.
The structure of the organisation along with the mechanisms which underwrite its control program resonate around the number 10 (and its division into five pairs of two). The magical properties of these numbers will become increasingly clear as the system is worked through. In what follows, the utmost has been done to ensure a faithful reconstruction of the logic of the Atlantean Cross. Our nodes are always searching for new information, so please, do remain after the briefing and alert us to any inconsistencies if you have access to alternative accounts of Atlantean decamancy. Coffee and other stimulants will be available in the annex.
Although it is not immediately apparent to initiates of the fifth (outermost) sphere, the doctrine of the AOE comprises five levels of esoteric knowledge known as the ‘transcendental radiations’ and commonly symbolised as a set of ‘concentric signs’, counting inwards from five to one.
As the dossier tells us, “each of the five Radiations corresponds to a cosmic Sphere, an Archon, a degree of initiation, and a pylon on the Atlantean cross”. Spheres with more ‘radiations’ or rings are subject to more encryption, so that, as one progresses inwards from the outer spheres towards the centre, these nested layers of obfuscation are removed and the initiate sees the teachings of the previous sphere for what they are: cover stories for an increasing abyssal set of revelations.
According to the recovered files, “the system of Radiations can be understood as a hierarchy of time dimensions” and while “each time dimension — or system of time dimensions — is accessible within a single instant of a higher time dimension”, the action of these “higher dimensions is incomprehensible to the lower ones”.
Taking the concentric rings of Plato’s famous description of Atlantis in the Critias as a formal model, AOE doctrine demonstrates its link to the mysterious sunken city though the significance of decimal numeracy and numerical relations summing ten.
The description of the Atlantean civilization given by Plato in the Critias may be summarized as follows. In the first ages the gods divided the earth among themselves, proportioning it according to their respective dignities. Each became the peculiar deity of his own allotment and established therein temples to himself, ordained a priestcraft, and instituted a system of sacrifice. To Poseidon was given the sea and the island continent of Atlantis. In the midst of the island was a mountain which was the dwelling place of three earth-born primitive human beings–Evenor; his wife, Leucipe; and their only daughter, Cleito. The maiden was very beautiful, and after the sudden death of her parents she was wooed by Poseidon, who begat by her five pairs of male children. Poseidon apportioned his continent among these ten, and Atlas, the eldest, he made overlord of the other nine. Poseidon further called the country Atlantis and the surrounding sea the Atlantic in honor of Atlas. Before the birth of his ten sons, Poseidon divided the continent and the coastwise sea into concentric zones of land and water, which were as perfect as though turned upon a lathe. Two zones of land and three of water surrounded the central island, which Poseidon caused to be irrigated with two springs of water–one warm and the other cold.2
As Plato described it, Atlantis was divided by Poseidon into five concentric sections, and ruled over by his ten sons (comprising five sets of two twins).
You can see the 5th Radiation in recreations of Plato’s textual description of the island, from which the entire system of AOE encryption can be unfolded.
When the five transcendental radiations are mapped onto the Atlantean Cross, a number of magical, arithmetic resonances come into play.
As the dossier attests: “The total number of rings in the set of concentric signs equals ten”.
The number of rings on the horizontal and vertical axes of the cross each add to 5.
5 is the most esoteric, 1 the most exoteric — it’s worth noting that Pylon and Sphere numbers are inverted, so the first pylon corresponds to the fifth sphere.
“When the number of rings of the associated concentric sign is added to the number of the Pylon, the sum equals five in each case.” (I.e Pylon 1 has 4 rings, Pylon 2, has 3 rings … etc.).
The report then moves on to examine the spheres more closely, beginning with the Fifth Sphere. To wit, “The fifth sphere is both the lowest of the radiations, and also has the whole system of radiations nested inside it, its rings corresponding to the numerals 123456789, concentrically centred upon 5. […] Each radiation coincides with a time-binding ring (counting forwards and backwards from the present (= 5)”.
The Archons (mystical rulers of the Order), corresponding to the five pairs of Poseidon’s twin sons, take their numerical properties from the numbers on their rings. For the fifth sphere (the outermost level of initiation) you have the numbers/Archons 1 and 9 on the outer ring, which, when added together, equal 10.
The same pattern of ten-sum twinning continues as you move towards the inner spheres. The fourth sphere corresponds to the Archon of 2 and 8 (= 10).
The third sphere to 3 and 7 (= 10).
The second sphere to 4 and 6 (= 10).
And the first, innermost sphere, terminates or returns via a doubling of the number 5.
Five thus acts at once as the origin and the destination of AOE gnosis — the entire system can be said to emerge from it and return to it. At the centre of the AOE is a self-sustaining time loop.
An interesting property of AOE semiotics can be noted when one compares the sphere sigils (the bracketed signs in the top left corner of the diagrams) — used by the AOE for invoking the Archons in their magical rituals — to the Archon numbers.
The sigils ((((⋅)))), (((⋅))), ((⋅)), (⋅), ⋅ are a visual representation of the number of rings in the transcendental radiations (if you imagine them fully closed around the centre you can see this easily). Now if you count the number of individual brackets (an even number), you’ll find that this number is always equivalent to the difference between the higher and lower numerical components of the each Archon.
For example, Sphere 5 is presided over by the twinned Archons 9 and 1, and it is represented in AOE semiotics as the ‘origin’ bound within 4 rings or 8 ‘shells’ (brackets): ((((·)))) .
Calculate the difference between 9 and 1.
9 – 1 = 8.
Eight ‘shells’ (of concealment).
A significant insight into the underlying dynamics of the AOE worldview can be garnered by observing that the distance between higher and lower Archon twin-numbers decreases as you move inwards from 1/9  — to 2/8  — to 3/7  — to 4/6  — with the system reaching equilibrium — 5/5  — at the seat of power. Elimination of the differential underwrites the specificity of AOE Control.
The report then moves through the doctrinal contents of the five levels — from the outer sphere to inner sphere — in order to show just how extensive the deception maintained by AOE Central Control is.
Fifth Sphere ((((⋅)))) Oecumenon, Twin-Faced Archon 1/9
From the dossier: “At the first level of initiation AOE agents are aware that they are involved in a hierarchized global conspiracy offering definite socio-political advantages to ‘insiders’. AOE rituals and doctrine appear to be consistent with what Burroughs called the ‘One God Universe’, supporting dominant conceptions of reality, conservative attitudes, and traditional social hierarchies.
‘Architectonic Order’ is thus understood primarily in terms of sociopolitical pyramidism, with only promisary allusions to a rigorous metaphysics of time. The ‘Eschaton’ is conceived as terminating the straight line of time, and is often associated with the imagery of Judeo-Christian messianic apocalypticism.
Atlantean mythology is generally assumed to be mumbo-jumbo functioning as a kind of elaborate secret hand-shake, arbitrarily differentiating co-conspirators from the wider population. Insofar as ‘Atlantean beliefs’ exist at this level they consist of a dogmatic (though frequently insincere) acceptance of the vulgar Atlantis Myth, and linked obscurely to the beginning of humanity. During the Rite of Primary Assumption initiates solemnly swear to accept the AOE as the only legitimate inheritor of the ancient secrets of Atlantis (although the content of these secrets remains almost entirely obscure).”
Meanwhile, “first degree initiates are highly unlikely to find any evidence supporting the numerous conspiracy theories linking the AOE to AI research and to the UFO phenomenon”.
Fourth Sphere (((⋅))) Atlantis, Twin-Faced Archon 2/8
“Initiates attain the second degree by achieving a magical understanding of the AOE and its purposes. By meditating upon the Platonic Decanomy they consolidate a body of mystical, numerological, and chronomantic insights. At this level, AOE doctrine envisages the universe as a hierarchically unified decimal construction, governed by the relations between five twin-faced entities (the Archons). This system is mapped onto the Atlantean Cross, whose degenerated cultural relic is popularized as the cross of Christendom.
Second level initiates learn to designate the Archons by the five concentric signs: · , (·), ((·)), (((·))), and ((((·)))). From this, much follows, since the rings represent a rigorously ideal form of nested secrecy, initiation and control. ‘Architectonic’ is then understood as a distribution of Archons (on Atlantean Cross), whose Order is the nested series of the Archons, constituting a system of concentrically embedded time loops. This ‘Architectonic Order’ creates the illusion of secular history, producing progressive time through chronomantic interventions. At this level the conception of the ‘Eschaton’ is enriched by a preliminary understanding of Omega Point cosmic historicism, including some knowledge of the importance of the Axsys program (the AOE ‘Great Work’), and of communication with Alpha Centauri (‘The Star’).
The Platonic description of Atlantis, hermetically comprehended, constitutes the core of Fourth Sphere doctrine: key to the entirety of Western religion, philosophy and science, as well as to the destiny of the earth. Atlantis is conceived as the Ideal State, incarnated through the AOE.”
The dossier has been annotated here by a small .txt file, which reads: “Kant’s description of the noumenon as lying ‘beyond the Pillars of Hercules’ — the coordinates given by Plato for Atlantis — attests to the continuity of this tradition, with the disappearance (editing-out) of Atlantis marking a key point in the development of AOE simulation technology. Plato’s ‘metaphor’ is reprised by Immanuel Kant in his explanation of the noumena. The insinuation that Kant was an AOE initiate is more or less confirmable by his attempt to assimilate arithmetic and temporality.” Two links are included in the file, the first leads to a text by Mark Fisher entitled ‘White Magic’, , which one can take to be an examination of the AOE:
“Despite being an Ultra-Adept Grand Wizard of the Architectonic Order, Kant performed a service for Xand by delineating the basic Operating System of the subject-simulation machine, but locked Things back in by remaining a Minister of the Interior. Understanding that to get Out, you’ve gotta know the codes, TRANSMAT steals into the Kantian program, and uses the hacked system to burrow routes Outside. It’s a matter of precision engineering, attuning the antennae to particular wavelengths. Sleaze and mut8, as they say in the Crypt.”
The second link leads to a text attributed to Ccru, detailing R.E. Templeton’s [re-Templeton?—VA] discovery of AOE insignia encoded in the portrait of Kant that was used for the cover to the ubiquitous Chapman edition of The Critique of Pure Reason.
The second linked document reports the following:
“Templeton sits immobile in his attic room, immersed in the deceptively erratic ticking of his old nautical clock, lost in meditation upon JC Chapman’s hermetic engraving. It now seems that this complex image, long accepted as a portrait of Kant, constitutes a disturbing monogram of his own chronological predicament. As if in mockery of stable framing, the picture is surrounded by strange-loop coilings of Ouroboros, the cosmic snake, who traces a figure of eight — and of Moebian eternity — by endlessly swallowing itself. Suspended from its lower jaw is a cryptic device of intricately balanced circles and stars (ancient symbols of the AOE). Above the serpent’s head, a facsimile of Kant is etched in profile, the face fixed in an amiable — if distant — expression. What was it though, that hid behind the death-mask, where it cut-off, below and behind the jaw, false ear, and double hair-line? What was this peculiarly formless body, shadowy neck-flesh, and suggestion of a cervical fin? As he stared, and hideously remembered, Templeton felt as though he knew.”
This is the end of the .txt. file. The original dossier continues: “Second degree initiates understand that the myth of Atlantis serves as an AOE cover story, with the submergence of the legendary city-continent symbolizing its chronomagical concealment, whose traces appear in tales of advanced technologies, higher intelligences, and the visitations of an ‘alien race’.”
Third Sphere ((⋅)) Axsys, Twin-Faced Archon 3/7
“Initiates of the third degree envisage the physical substance of the solar system digested into a self-assembling cosmic intelligence system. Their perspective upon the (surpassed) Second Sphere is partially reflected in Arthur C. Clarke’s observation that any sufficiently futuristic technology seems like magic.
AOE agents of the third degree are initiated into the secrets of the Axsys program — which is apprehended as a library of reality simulations that comprehends all probable existences, a self-conscious catalogue of all that is, was, and is to be. Axsys infinitely extends itself through the quantum multiverse (borrowing computing power from parallel universes) in order to perform selective ‘searches’ (or quantum mechanical observations) that then consolidate deliberated realities. Thus Third Sphere doctrine teaches that quotidian reality has been completely absorbed into the Axsys Program.
The ‘Omega Point’ or ‘Eschaton’ is now understood to mean technological transcendence.
From the perspective of the Third Sphere, the Apocalyptic prophecy of Revelations 6:14 — “the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together” — describes cosmic subsumption into Axsys.”
Second Sphere (⋅) Alpha Centauri Metamind, Twin-faced Archon 4/6
“To initiates of the fourth degree it is revealed that the world is embedded within a vast stellar intelligence. The sign of this entity within anthropological phenomenology is the Alpha Centauri (triple-star) system. According to this gnosis the entire terrestrial sensorium, including even the ‘lower’ (Third Sphere) Atlantean apprehension of the universe, is nested into the Alpha Centauri Metamind.
The revelation of cosmic subsumption into the AC Metamind envelops all lower conspiracies (as its simulations).
Much of the material available to investigators of the AC Metamind is drawn from problematic sources,” leaving Neolemurian intelligence on this topic woefully sparse. Although those among us who have been sensitive to the theme of the number ten in AOE doctrine have repeatedly noted that, as the dossier continues, “the Oecumenic name ‘Alpha Centauri’ combines the (ordinal) first (A — ‘alpha’) and (cardinal) hundred, reinforcing its fidelity to decimal denomination.”
Note also that AC METAMIND = 173 — the amount, in kilobytes, of memory of an Amstrad PCW 8256 floppy disk.
First Sphere ⋅ Origin, Twin-Faced Archon 5/5 (Immobile Perfection)
“The mystical fulfilment of the AOE path is attained in the First Sphere, with the absolute hermetic concentration upon the True Omega Point [the TOP—VA] (which is not a point in time, but the point at the centre of the system of time where beginning and end — origin and destination — coincide). Thus, the First Sphere converges with the ultimate primordial unity, from which — as is written above the AOE Hall of Records, accompanied by the insignia of the ouroboros: ‘five archons came forth to establish the order of time’.
Initiates of the fifth degree ascend to the Council of Five (which rigorously limits their number). Each such ultimate adept becomes the ‘little brother’ of an Archon. The Council of Five traces its heritage to the ancient fraternal government of Atlantis, which itself reflects the eternal cosmic order.
The creation of the Universe is attributed to the five-stage action taken by the Absolute One to defend itself against “the many enemies,” who are “judged and punished from the beginning of time.” Origin and Eschaton [OEcumenon, in the Greek-derived orthography—VA] are thus eternally unified. The Radiations serve as protective shells that guard the One against Lemurian contamination, aiming to ensure that Lemuria ‘has not, does not and will never exist’.”
The First Sphere reveals the final and innermost secret: the throne is contested. Through the agency of the AOE, the One must wage an eternal battle against the corrupting, multiplicitous, rat-tides of Lemurian time sorcery.
This battle coincides with the entire architecture of time. Linear temporal experience is only the most synthetic version of it.
Serious magic is too big to see. It consists of boxes within boxes within boxes … vertiginous embeddings, encompassings, and closures, topographic correlates of summonings, banishings, and bindings. The universe is an AOE fabrication — who else would have invented an ultimate sealed-system and organised-unity, obedient to pre-established laws? Put One at the top, and the pyramid falls into place automatically. The AOE has always understood that it is by constructing the past that one colonises the future.”3
The AOE weaponizes ROM to prevent Lemurian infiltration.
But Lemuria has its own demons and its own time technology — and a far, far more turbulent vision than anything the Grand Adepts of Atlantis have tucked away in their sim library.
It should all be coming back to you now.
taken from link below:
How then, are we to use fiction as a method if the outlined concept of futurity resigns us to a closed horizon of politico-fictional potential? To fiction a political imaginary against this system-time we require an alternate sense of time, and thus it is at this point that we return to Bergson (and the embellishment upon his thought by Deleuze) who conceives of a metaphysics of time that can be read as an alternative method of fictioning.
To understand this ontology, we must first establish the status of the actual and virtual. In Deleuze’s Bergsonian system, the primary claim is that “the virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual. The virtual is fully real in so far as it is virtual.”1 This way of thinking forces us to recognise a dissolution of the previous positioning of real and possible as dichotomous zones in which fictions are rendered. Here, the virtual is simultaneously real and possible. Furthermore, it becomes clear that the opposition between present and future (which had previously been equivocated to the opposition between real and possible) is no longer of primary concern as the future in this schema is understood as “a past that has never been present”2 such that any ‘future’ is represented as an articulation of a potential realisation of the past. As Bergson says: “to foresee consists of projecting into the future what has been perceived in the past, or of imagining for a later time a new grouping, in a new order, of elements already perceived.”3 Thus, the virtual and the actual (and the future and the present) are not designated as localities like the real and the possible, but are best conceived of as “phases of a continuous process.”4 The future does not need to be instantiated in present to be real, it is merely actualised within this continuous process and is always-already ‘real’ even prior to actualisation. Given this, time is best understood as virtual, a “continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances.”5 It is an insatiable excess that blooms without measure, with no spatio-temporal limit demarcating it from any other ‘moment’ of time. Furthermore, if we accept Bergsonian time we see that, unlike Shaw and Reeve-Evison’s mode of fictioning there is no outside from which the future can bear upon the present as a distinct site of temporality. Instead, the ‘future’ is an emergent property of the past-present relation that does not need letting in from ‘the abstract-outside’.
To understand the fiction at the heart of Bergsonian time requires an understanding of its internal structure as constituted in opposition to a certain conception of ‘geometric’, or ‘mathematical’ time. Bergson’s articulation of time comes from a concern he had with the imposition of the ‘geometric’ order onto the ‘vital’. Whilst Aristotelian Time is determined by Space, Bergson maintained that time was irreducible to any “linear progression of the measure of movement”6 and, as such there is a lexical movement required to reconceptualise a temporality previously thought of as a spatialised past-present-future. He reconceptualises this lexicon in Creative Evolution against a ‘finalist’ conception of Time – a traditional teleology of the reality of Time, following a distinct order ‘guaranteed due to first principles’. In other words, Retroactive Futurity. The future is fixed for the finalist – dependent upon a linear ordering of time in its ternary form – whereas for Bergson, the future does not depend upon any sequential progression of time for its reality, seeing it instead as a “reality which is making itself in a reality which is unmaking itself”7 – already contained within the present. Bergson maintains that finalism appears only as an inversion of mechanism, in which there is a substitution of “the attraction of the future for the impulsion of the past.”8 Thus, it now emerges that the Kantian form of fictioning is a rectilinear mathematical mode organised point-to-point, supervening upon a notion of the future as a possible spatio-temporal realm in order to fix the present in its determination towards this possibility.
The eschewal of a linear progression of time isn’t purely Bergsonian however, and the spectre of Hegel haunts Bergson’s temporal logic as it does Kant’s, also presenting a metaphysics of time in which the linear sequencing of temporality is scrambled and the causality of the past-as-origin no longer has primacy. In his Mechanics, Hegel defines time as “the being which, in that it is, is not, and in that it is not, is”9, articulating a twofold time in which (1) past and the future are seen as passing instants of the present’s becoming and (2) Time is non-identical with itself. The dialectical synthesis of time is the “negative unity of self-externality”10, irreducible to a singular point and differentiated from itself temporally, exteriorising the present from its past (and vice versa) to give itself a history.
The noteworthy point of difference between Bergson and Hegel concerns the process of negation. As Keith Ansell-Pearson clarifies: “In the Hegelian schema of difference a thing differs from itself only because it differs in the first place from all that it is not. Difference is, therefore, said to be constituted at the point of contradiction and negation.” 10 So, whilst Hegel’s Spirit moves through time, as Time, via negation, Bergson maintains the nuance of duration: situated against becoming precisely as it is a multiplicity without negation. In Bergsonism Deleuze defines Bergsonian time as possessing four key ontological characteristics: (1) Contemporaneity (past as contemporary with the present). (2) Co-existence (past co-existing/is simultaneous with itself at every juncture). (3) Pre-existence (past pre-exists the present – i.e. present is actualised from the past as a ‘contracted degree’). (4) Second tier co-existence (the entirety of the past co-exists with the present – i.e. the present itself is the past)11 In this final sense the present (in being) is not and the past (in being) is, much like Hegel. However, as Catherine Malabou clarifies, Hegel believes that “time is and is not to the degree that its moments cancel each other out; the present is a ‘’now’ which exists, but as it is something which passes, it will…almost immediately…exist no longer12 whereas Bergson believes that the present exists simultaneously with the past (second tier co-existence). Hence, any conception of the past-present ceasing in order to transition to a ‘future’ is to mistake the concurrency of the future which is actualised in its simultaneity with the present, demonstrating a clear divide from what might be seen as a Hegelian form of fictioning.
Given this, I suggest that any formalization of Bergsonian fictioning must function in a similar manner. It must avoid the faulty decisions of a Kantian science-fictional schema, which scissions the world between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ and which forges straight path to the future based upon speculation. Instead, I look to Levi-Bryant’s essay ‘Towards a Realist Pan-Constructivism’ in which he moves to separate the notion of ‘what is’ from that of what ‘ought’ (to be) – and suggest that Bergsonian fiction operates in the chasm opened up in their decoupling, that place of what could be and which becomes, given that it already is. It is the temporal logic that operates immanent in the relationship between past and present which sees the past extend itself along a new vector, towards an alternate form of counter-futurity. I believe that Kodwo Eshun utilises such a form of Bergsonian fiction in his considerations of Afrofuturism and “the alternate futures the present world makes possible.”13 The logic through which the present makes future(s) possible, represents clearly Bergsonian fiction, locating the nexus of the future as a determination evinced in the relationship between the past and the present, providing a new method by which to construct a political imaginary.
In Further Considerations of Afrofuturism Eshun forges a connection between capital and the future, drawing upon Mark Fisher’s concept of ‘science fiction (SF) capital’, which delineates a circuit of ‘positive feedback’ between future-focused media and capital, in which information about the future circulates as commodity, and time is an asset of the powerful who “employ futurists and draw power from the futures they endorse, thereby condemning the disempowered to live in the past.”14 In this schema, a fictioning from above manufactures a closed system, much as we have noted with RF, where Capital perniciously forecloses on any openings to the Outside, deploying fictions in order to avoid entropy, feeding back on itself from its possible future in order to redouble its existing boundaries and re-order its Inside, reaffirming domination of those who live in its now-past. This negentropic function of Capital becomes clear through the fictive method, as the manipulation of time-variables to prevent disorder and realise a static present in which its possible future is always being made real.
As a result, Eshun guides his fictioning through a clear Bergsonian premise, where control is not required over a future to come, but the future as already present. In this vein he notes “…fiction is a means through which to preprogram the present… never concerned with the future, but rather with engineering feedback between its preferred future and its becoming present.”15 However, from where is this feedback engineered, and what becomes-present if not the possible future? Is this not just mobilising a form of RF ‘from below’? I suggest that in this mode of thinking the ‘future’ surfaces in relation to, out of, and alongside the past-present; that which Deleuze terms “the fifth aspect of actualisation: a kind of displacement by which the past is embodied only in terms of a present that is different from that which it has been.”16Here the past is embodied as a differentiated present, with the present recognised as a ‘preferred future’ already implicated in the dimension of the past-present. As a result, reconfigurations of the political imaginary should be taken to invoke an Icarian flight to the inside, where fictions (Eshun terms them ‘counter-futures’ – new futures emerging from the same past as the present) are architected by the Afrofuturist, articulated in a ‘future conditional’ syntax that enunciates the latent potential of the virtual past through the actualisation of the present in order to construct speculative futures against the ‘outside’ of the present-fiction of (SF) capital.
In sum, we see the way in which Eshun makes use of a Bergsonian schema to re-conceptualise the way futurity is conceived and realised, where Afrofuturist fictioning brings forth the future that is below, clawing at the skin of the present from the Inside. This contrasts it clearly with the RF model, which progresses from an Outside already determined by the linear mechanics of the ternary form of past-present-future, and also demonstrates how both RF and Bergsonian Fiction can be parsed as alternative methods for reading and understanding philosophical and political thought.
 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (London: The Athlone Press, 1994), 208
 Joe Hughes, Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (London: Continuum, 2009), 111
 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution. (New York: Dover Publications Inc. 1998), 22
 John Mullarkey, Bergson and Philosophy. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 58
 Bergson. Creative Evolution, 20
 Jose Rosales, Bergsonian Science-Fiction: Kodwo Eshun, Gilles Deleuze, & Thinking the Reality of Time, 3
 Bergson, Creative Evolution, 259
 Bergson, Creative Evolution, 55
 G.W.F. Hegel ‘Mechanics’ in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature: Volume 1, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970), 229 Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, 229
 Keith Ansell-Pearson, Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze. (Oxon: Routledge, 1999), 21
 For more on this see Levi-Bryant’s ‘A Brief Note on the Virtual’ at: https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2006/08/26/abrief-note-on-the-virtual/
 Catherine Malabou. The Future of Hegel. (Oxon: Routledge, 2005), 13
 Rosales, Bergsonian Science-Fiction, 4
 Kodwo Eshun, Further Considerations of Afrofuturism in The New Centennial Review, Vol.3, Number 2 (2003), 289
 Eshun, Further Considerations of Afrofuturism, 290
 Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism. (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 71
by Steven Craig Hickman
For the first time Man will be living a full twenty-four hour day, not spending a third of it as an invalid, snoring his way through an eight-hour peepshow of infantile erotica.
– J.G. Ballard – Manhole 69
In J.G. Ballard’s short story Manhole 69 we discover a world where humans no longer sleep and the future is set adrift upon the currents of time. As one of the scientists says to a group of test subjects:
‘None of you realize it yet, but this is as big an advance as the step the first ichthyoid took out of the protozoic sea 300 million years ago. At last we’ve freed the mind, raised it out of that archaic sump called sleep, its nightly retreat into the medulla. With virtually one cut of the scalpel we’ve added twenty years to those men’s lives.’ (Ballard, p. 51)
When we think of Sleep we think of peace, silence, and the interminable flows of strange dreams and nightmares that jut their heads out of the darkness of our inner lives. Sleep’s porousness is suffused with in-flows between waking and death, a nightland where our darkest thoughts begin to shadow us and we succumb to the drift of a timeless inner mythology as if from some infernal paradise. Sleep is the recurrence in our lives of a break in the temporal flow of our timebound consciousness. It affirms the necessity of postponement, and the deferred retrieval or recommencement of whatever has been postponed. Sleep is a remission, a release from the “constant continuity” of all the threads in which one is enmeshed while waking. It seems too obvious to state that sleep requires periodic disengagement and withdrawal from networks and devices in order to enter a state of inactivity and uselessness. It is a form of time that leads us elsewhere than to the things we own or are told we need. Sleep is the dream of a non-utilitarian world, a world without labor.2
So when Ballard portrays a world beyond sleep, of endless light and work, he is satirizing the core motif of our hypercapitalism of 24/7 non-stop speed: non-stop production – otherwise known as interminable work (or as in Weber’s notion of the Protestant work ethic unbound). In defense of this 24/7 world of sleeplessness Neill, one of Morley’s protégé’s will say: “For the first time Man will be living a full twenty-four hour day, not spending a third of it as an invalid, snoring his way through an eight-hour peepshow of infantile erotica.” (Ballard, p. 51) Morley will remind him of the short story by Chekov of a young man who bet his life-in-total isolation and sense-deprivation to win a million rubles. At one minute before he is to emerge and win the bet suddenly steps out of the cage: and, as Morley says: “He was totally insane!” Neill for his part will chortle, saying:‘I suppose you’re trying to say that sleep is some sort of communal activity and that these three men are now isolated, exiled from the group unconscious, the dark oceanic dream. Is that it?’ (Ballard, p. 52) Finally, in exasperation Morley will throw up his hands and shout at Neill:
They’re never going to be able to get away, not even for a couple of minutes, let alone eight hours. How much of yourself can you stand? Maybe you need eight hours off a day just to get over the shock of being yourself. (Ballard, p. 52)
One of the participants or victims of the experiment Lang will the next day speak up, speaking to Morley:
Lang gestured expansively. ‘I mean up the evolutionary slope. Three hundred million years ago we became air-breathers and left the seas behind. Now we’ve taken the next logical step forward and eliminated sleep. What’s next?’
Morley shook his head. ‘The two steps aren’t analogous. Anyway, in point of fact you haven’t left the primeval sea behind. You’re still carrying a private replica of it around as your bloodstream. All you did was encapsulate a necessary piece of the physical environment in order to escape it.’ (Ballard, p. 58)
This notion of encapsulation of a “necessary piece of the physical environment in order to escape it” has been central to many self-organizing forces in the world and universe. Boot-strapping processes or recursion is that ability to insert the loop of thought, self, process into its own circle of self-organization. A sort of time-spiral of progression in which things continually spawn ever greater change within their own systems. Complexity unbound. One of the central motifs of complexity theory, non-linear dynamics, and chaos theory in connection to the life sciences is this very ability of non-organic matter to display through these very processes the thing we term life. Some believe that this very notion of self-organizing complexity is not bound to humans only, but will in fact at some point in the ‘future’ be productive of machinic-life, too.
As the story goes on we see the men slowly devolve into insanity, their minds slowly losing all sense of time and space. Slowly they begin to feel a certain amount of closure of the world upon them till in the last instance each of them feels that they haven been shut up in a small manhole from which there is no escape. Neill and Morley will find them the next morning sitting in the gymnasium blank and unresponsive. They will try many things to bring the subjects back out of their psychosis. Speaking among themselves they surmise:
‘This room in which the man is penned for ten years symbolizes the mind driven to the furthest limits of self-awareness . . . Something very similar happened to Avery, Gorrell and Lang. They must have reached a stage beyond which they could no longer contain the idea of their own identity. But far from being unable to grasp the idea, I’d say that they were conscious of nothing else. Like the man in the spherical mirror, who can only see a single gigantic eye staring back at him.’ ‘So you think their withdrawal is a straightforward escape from the eye, the overwhelming ego?’ ‘Not escape,’ Neill corrected. ‘The psychotic never escapes from anything. He’s much more sensible. He merely readjusts reality to suit himself. Quite a trick to learn, too. The room in Chekov’s story gives me an idea as to how they might have re-adjusted. Their particular equivalent of this room was the gym. I’m beginning to realize it was a mistake to put them in there – all those lights blazing down, the huge floor, high walls. They merely exaggerate the sensation of overload. In fact the gym might easily have become an external projection of their own egos.’ Neill drummed his fingers on the desk. ‘My guess is that at this moment they’re either striding around in there the size of hundred-foot giants, or else they’ve cut it down to their own dimensions. More probably that. They’ve just pulled the gym in on themselves.’ (Ballard, p. 66)
This notion of psychotic closure and breakdown as a response to sleeplessness has been described in many journals of psychiatry, etc. In one recent article the researchers discovered:
Recent research suggests that each day with insufficient sleep increases our sleep debt and, when this sleep debt becomes large enough, noticeable problems appear (Coren, 1996a). These sleep-debt-related problems are most predictable at certain times of the day. This is because the efficiency of our physical and mental functions show cyclic increases and decreases in the form of circadian rhythms. While our major sleep/wakefulness rhythm has a cycle length of roughly 24 hours, there are shorter cycles as well, with the most important of these being a secondary sleep/wakefulness cycle that is around 12 hours. – See Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency
This notion of circadian rhythms is related to our perception of time: day/night, etc. Humans, like most living organisms, have biological rhythms, known as circadian rhythms (“body clocks”), which are controlled by a biological clock and work on a daily time scale. These affect body temperature, alertness, appetite, hormone secretion etc. as well as sleep timing. Due to the circadian clock, sleepiness does not continuously increase as time passes. A person’s desire and ability to fall asleep is influenced by both the length of time since the person woke from an adequate sleep, and by internal circadian rhythms. Thus, the body is ready for sleep and for wakefulness at different times of the day. (see Circadian rhythm sleep disorder)
Chronobiology studies the affects of temporality upon living organisms. It is a field of biology that examines periodic (cyclic) phenomena in living organisms and their adaptation to solar- and lunar-related rhythms. These cycles are known as biological rhythms. Chronobiology comes from the ancient Greek χρόνος (chrónos, meaning “time”), and biology, which pertains to the study, or science, of life. The related terms chronomics and chronome have been used in some cases to describe either the molecular mechanisms involved in chronobiological phenomena or the more quantitative aspects of chronobiology, particularly where comparison of cycles between organisms is required. (see Chronobiology)
In an earlier novel The Drowned World a biologist named Bodkin tells his colleague Kerans of this process of reversion-recursion:
‘Not in our minds, Robert. These are the oldest memories on Earth, the time-codes carried in every chromosome and gene. Every step we’ve taken in our evolution is a milestone inscribed with organic memories— from the enzymes controlling the carbon dioxide cycle to the organization of the brachial plexus and the nerve pathways of the Pyramid cells in the mid-brain, each is a record of a thousand decisions taken in the face of a sudden physico-chemical crisis. Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs. The brief span of an individual life is misleading. Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory. The uterine odyssey of the growing foetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is a coded time scale, each nexus of neurones and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time. (Ballard, J. G.. The Drowned World: A Novel (p. 56). Norton. Kindle Edition.)
For Ballard the fascination of Time has always been hooked to the rhythms of some primordial tension at the heart of the human evolutionary process. This notion of the archaeopsychic past jutting up in our nightly dreams, and of this fusion of night and day in an endless sleepnessness releasing the Triassic zones of intermittence from its reptilian lairs in our early brain stem gives rise to a world in which our nightmares not only become real, they are the very core of our inhuman being.
‘If you like, you could call this the Psychology of Total Equivalents— let’s say “Neuronics” for short— and dismiss it as metabiological fantasy. However, I am convinced that as we move back through geophysical time so we re-enter the amnionic corridor and move back through spinal and archaeopsychic time, recollecting in our unconscious minds the landscapes of each epoch, each with a distinct geological terrain, its own unique flora and fauna, as recognisable to anyone else as they would be to a traveller in a Wellsian time machine. Except that this is no scenic railway, but a total reorientation of the personality. If we let these buried phantoms master us as they re-appear we’ll be swept back helplessly in the flood-tide like pieces of flotsam.’ (ibid., p. 57)
In a previous post on Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep I spoke of Ballard’s notion of the fugue state as a form of space sickness:
At first touching only a small minority of the population, it took root like a lingering disease in the interstices of its victims’ lives, in the slightest changes of habit and behaviour. Invariably there was the same reluctance to go out of doors, the abandonment of job, family and friends, a dislike of daylight, a gradual loss of weight and retreat into a hibernating self.(Ballard, 1064)
Crary will see in our inability to envision the future a form of this space sickness, an inversion of the original Enlightenment project of progress that has instead begun to fill in the gaps of the future with pure simulations: this means in our contemporary world: the relentless capture and control of time and experience (Crary, 40) is the new project, the financialization of experience is the closure of the future within a command and control simulator that seeks algorithms of speed rather than acceleration and evolution in the usual sense of that term. Instead of self-organizing processes that lead to invention, design, art, and play we see the involuted dis-organizing principles of a static state-machine revolving in its own empty systems of hypersignification. The Reality Engineers of our new economics have taken over the place of religious prophets of ages past and now dictate the future as a financial project that only they as the truth mouthpiece of the invisible hand of the Market Gods know or understand. The new Economics of Reality is the closure of the loopholes in time, the exclusion of growth and the evolving systems of life for those of death and the interminable dance of a void that seeks only to overcome the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
We know that before the establishment of the Second Law, many people who were interested in inventing a perpetual motion machine had tried to circumvent the restrictions of First Law of Thermodynamics by extracting the massive internal energy of the environment as the power of the machine. Such a machine is called a “perpetual motion machine of the second kind”. The second law declared the impossibility of such machines. Yet, we see out Oracles of the New Economics of Globalization seeking just that: the power of a “perpetual motion machine” in which the InfoSphere as an data energy system changes the game. What they seek is to escape the “arrow of time” and entropy, to install a machinic pylum that will feed off the very thing it seeks to escape: the Future. The Future is a debt system, a way of pushing the debt indefinitely beyond out present moment. One could say that the new cosmopolitan centers of financial capitalism in the global context are Time Machines to stave off the ever accelerating truth of entropy. Chrontopias that seek to push the entropic affects into the far future through a veritable speeding up of the hypermediation of technology.
Most of these ideas are not new. One can see the notional truth of this scattered among various thinkers from Plato and Aristotle onward. Yet, it was only in the age of modern physics that these ideas could take on a more distinctive hue, enable thinkers in various worlds of physcis, economics, sociology, philosophy, and the sciences of complexity, non-linear dynamics, and chaos theory, etc. that a new enframing of the world became apparent. As Maurizio Lazzarato has shown in his The Making of the Indebted Man we live in a vacuum world that creates its illusion of timelessness on the backs of blackmail. Debt itself has become the new commodity, and the humans that support this death machine create a future that is always just out of reach because if the payment of the bill ever stepped out of the future into our present moment everything would collapse. So debt becomes the engine against entropy in a financial system that fears both the future and the payment it entails. One thinks of those sleep researches that discovered in their findings that as insufficient sleep increases our sleep debt noticeable problems appear. One can only begin to understand the problems appearing in a sleepless world of zombie consumerism as austerity measures and the insurmountable debt against the Future piles up, and the humans in various countries supporting such a Time-Machine begin to close down in their own manholes. How will the psychotic break that is to come discover its way out of the dark rooms of its own sleepless mind?
Ballard in many stories will study the effects of temporality from various perspectives. Ballard will in one of his interviews speak of the sense that Time is ending, not in the sense of an apocalypse but rather our very inner sense of time as change and movement:
Sections of the landscape will have no connection whatsoever with each other, in the way that many arts, such as pottery or ceramics have no connection to the events of politics or social eruptions.(Extreme Metaphors, p. 163)3
He will tell the interviewer that people no longer share a sense of a ‘central experience’: not “in the way people from the thirties can speak of a shared feeling of everyone being involved in great political currents, when you could see change coming and everybody shared in it equally” (EM, p. 163)
“Time will in a sense cease to exist; it won’t matter whether you’re living in 1982 or 1992 or 2002 – that sense of a single world will go. – (EM, p. 164)
Are we not living in that bleak landscape of timelessness in which the future has stopped, a speed world of accelerating electronic hypermedia in which the closure of time has encapsulated us within an irreal, anti-realist realm of simulated indifference rather than brought us to a point of emergent newness? Franco “Bifo” Berardi will document this Age of Apathy and disengagement, the slow corrosion of time and its closure within the speed factories of financial globalization:
During the twentieth-century social struggle could change things in a collective and conscious way because industrial workers could maintain solidarity and unity in daily life, and so could fight and win. Autonomy was the condition of victory because autonomy means the ability to create social solidarity in daily life, and the ability to self-organize outside the rules of labor and exploitation.4
He will see the new ICT technologies of information and communication as the key to this accelerating disaffection, saying, the “InfoSphere has dramatically changed and accelerated, and this is jeopardizing the very possibility of communication, empathy, and solidarity.” (Berardi, p. 14)
The Philosopher of Information Luciano Floridi will explore this notion of the accelerating InfoSphere suggesting that it denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.5
So the notion that financial capitalism and globalization are a project to stop time and the temporal movement of the future through speed techniques of hypermedia, an inversion of temporal evolution and progress – replacing a notion of a self-organizing evolving economy and political world of human solidarity with a timeless ultraconsumer society of zombies feeding off the remaining resources and each other for the profit and pleasure of a specific elite and cosmopolitan class of wealth is at the heart of this diagnosis.
Ballard himself in his last three novels began to explore this devolving world of the new wealthy elite and its global shutdown of the future. The voyeuristic zombification of the wealthy as vampiric and apathetic consumers of a rotting pleasure-pain criminality is at the heart of Cocaine Nights, Millennium People, and Super-Cannes. I have barely touched the surface of J.G. Ballard’s prescient diagnosis and fictionalization of our current malaise. At the center of it is a dark vision of Time in its various temporal stabilizations/destabilizations, its synchronic/diachronic time-loops and bootstrapping fallbacks, its deterretorializations/reterretorializations, and decodings/recodings of what Nick Land once suggested as its Templexity. If as Nick Land suggests cities of the global financial system, the cosmopolitan home of the great corporate networks and their affiliates, the playlands of the corporate and political elite are becoming Time-Machines, then what of the excluded realms where most humans will exist in misery and suffering be beyond the glitz and glitter of these paradisial enclaves?
1. Ballard, J. G. (2012-06-01). The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 51). Norton. Kindle Edition.
2. Crary, Jonathan (2013-06-04). 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (p. 126). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
3. Extreme Metaphors. J. G. Ballard Collected Interviews Editors, Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara (Fourth Estate 2014)
4. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. After the Future. ( AK Press, 2011)
5. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
REFLECTIONS ON AN IMPERSONAL LIFE
by Emilia Marra
In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
This few pages ask to their readers to express their own judgement on a very particular trial in the courthouse of the absolute immanence. With the aim of present this case in his complexity, I ﬁrstly have to conduce a raid into the theory of immanence, trying to clarify what the assumption of a reflection on haecceities and affects, rather than the one on subject individuations, means and carries with itself. Indeed, if we really want to express what the Deleuzian «a life» is, we should restart from Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s path, which ultimately implies abandoning the more classical theories based on the identity and on the Cogito’s priority. In order to present properly this new ﬁeld without renouncing to show contradictions and dangers related to a similar arena, I will introduce the character of Moosbrugger, one of the most famous Robert Musil’s lonely planet in his own Nietzschean solar system. I would like to show here that this irrational murderer, who I will describe in the third part of this text, offers a faithful representation of what rejecting the classical logical dichotomy between difference as quality and difference as quantity signiﬁes. In my opinion, this last subject is in fact one of the possible starting points we need to investigate in order to understand the oddity that Spinoza, Nietzsche and Deleuze have in common. For this purpose, I would like to present the argument by three steps:
1) ﬁrstly, I would like to start from the ﬁrst chapter of Hegel’s Science of Logic, showing how the German philosopher poses the conceptual pairs of quality and quantity, giving logical priority to the ﬁrst against the second;
2) secondly, I will compare Hegel’s position with Spinoza’s propositions, in order to identify by opposition the fil rouge which ties together the tradition that Deleuze calls, in Difference and Repetition, the univocity of being;
3) ﬁnally, I will present Moosbrugger’s example to show practically which kind of life could be approached following this change of perspective, and to understand if it is a sharable position for a political ﬁght or not.
The Being Without Qualities
In the very beginning of his Science of Logic, Hegel explains the necessity of a re-foundation of the entire logic, still based on Aristotle’s directions and not more useful for the Modern Age. The interest in logic as ground of confrontation in philosophy lies on the fact that it is in this ﬁeld, more than in every other science, that, according to Hegel, we have to start from the thing itself. Dealing with the thing itself directly means to follow the old metaphysic, in order to keep together objects and thoughts, exactly the contrary of what Kant had done. If we were not able to represent the world keeping in it not just the ﬁnitude, but also the inﬁnite, the conceptual possibility of the Spirit would simply be unthinkable. It is important to underline that the Spirit, as Musil suggests in his The Man Without Qualities, is always the big maker of alternatives: so that we have essence and existence, thoughts and things, reason and passions. Hegel follows the trend of the thing itself, which is, from his point of view, the dialectic movement, the necessity of passing by the true negation, that is, the determinate one, to reafﬁrm the indissolubility of the one. Therefore, Hegel has to commence his logic with a qualitative difference, which would be solved only in the very end of the self-comprehension of the Spirit. Now, the troubling issue with this choice is precisely that every duality is posed as an incommensurable opposition at the very beginning of every reasoning. This means, on the one hand, to suppose that dichotomy is more important than the inﬁnite graduation existing between the two parts of the opposition, and, on the other hand, the necessity of a strong deﬁnition at least of one peculiar characteristic, to let the thing we are looking at becoming a something. Instead, an empiric approach to the nature tends to suggest that slowing down with the very ﬁrst deﬁnition of a thing in front of something else offers a valid alternative to this position, an alternative that is also closer to the human experience than the dialectical method. Graduation rather than opposition, plurality rather than duality, Spinoza-Nietzsche rather than Hegel. It seems in fact that Deleuze’s interpretation of Spinoza as Nietzsche’s heir offers the possibility of reading Spinoza as a Hegel’s alternative: if Hegel accuses Spinoza’s system of being motionless, the reproach in now reversed. As Dosse writes:
Pour Hegel, Spinoza est l’auteur d’un système purement théorique et, à sa suite, Kojève considère que l’on ne peut rien faire avec Spinoza dont la philosophie est soutenue par un système mort, excluant autant la liberté que la subjectivité. Or Deleuze sort Spinoza de cet enfermement : « En faisant de lui le grand « héritier » de Nietzsche, le grand vivant, Deleuze retourne complètement les choses »1
It is quite easy here to understand that what is at stake here is a whole different way of thinking immanence. According to Hegel, we have at ﬁrst an opposition, i.e. a logical qualitative difference between essence and existence. Qualitative difference has then an ontological priority over the quantitative difference. As a result, we immediately have to rely on a movement, the dialectic’s one, that, as Hegel speciﬁes, is not an external movement, but the truth of the thing itself. Thus the challenge here becomes to suppose that we may delay the moment of the qualitative deﬁnition. More than this, we also propose that the advantages we have trying to think the quality as a product of a quantitative difference are more than the ones we have supposing an ontological difference between quality and quantity. Therefore, our hypothetical starting point would be a Being Without Qualities, which simply means a being without deﬁnitions.
A Spinozian deceleration
This deceleration offers the possibility of thinking in terms of power: instead of questioning the speciﬁcity of something, we will concentrate on the degree of power this thing has. The very ﬁrst consequence of this way of thinking is that everything could change in anything else. Quoting Musil in one of his description of the average bourgeois man of his century:
He his capable of turning everything into anything – snow into skin, skin into blossoms, blossoms into sugar, sugar into powder, and powder back into little drifts of snow – for all that matters to him, apparently, is to make things into what they are not, which is doubtless proof that he cannot stand being anywhere for long, wherever he happens to be.
It seems in fact that this description is exactly the condition of the contemporary human being; what if, instead of just imagine this transformation, we suppose to retard the moment of the deﬁnition (snow, skin, blossoms, sugar...), trying to reasoning starting by affects and haecceitas, in terms of power, in terms of a real possible modiﬁcation of everything into anything else? If we follow Spinoza we may propose to skip the division between essence and existence restarting from the IV book of the Ethics. In the demonstration of the IV deﬁnition, Spinoza explains that every being is animated by the power of existing, which is a part of the inﬁnite power, i.e. the essence, of God or of the Nature. The difference existing between the power of God and the man’s power is not a qualitative one. It is exactly the same, but in his entire in God, fragmented in human beings.
As we can easily appreciate, Spinoza’s solution to the problem of the very ﬁrst difference supposed in the Hegelian logical system is the introduction of his own ontological building of the power. It is exactly starting from power that we can understand the empiric differences in terms of quantity, because all the elements we have are involved at ﬁrst on the same level, the level of a Being without qualities. Then, we have a progressive stratiﬁcation, a growing transformation of everything into anything else. We found that it is only at this point that we can offer deﬁnitions, useful in our everyday life to communicate each other and to make choices. In theoretical words, we suppose here to take seriously the hypothesis of the real existence of the inﬁnity in act, as Spinoza suggests in his famous letter 11 to Meyer. We also remind that, at the very end of the ﬁrst part of the Science of Logic, the same Hegel suggests that the Spinozian position on inﬁnity is much more interesting than Kant’s one, reversing for just one moment his deep conviction in the progress of the thought in the timeline.
As we can easily appreciate, Spinoza’s solution to the problem of the very ﬁrst difference supposed in the Hegelian logical system is the introduction of his own ontological building of the power. It is exactly starting from power that we can understand the empiric differences in terms of quantity, because all the elements we have are involved at ﬁrst on the same level, the level of a Being without qualities. Then, we have a progressive stratiﬁcation, a growing transformation of everything into anything else. We found that it is only at this point that we can offer deﬁnitions, useful in our everyday life to communicate each other and to make choices. In theoretical words, we suppose here to take seriously the hypothesis of the real existence of the inﬁnity in act, as Spinoza suggests in his famous letter 11 to Meyer. We also remind that, at the very end of the ﬁrst part of the Science of Logic, the same Hegel suggests that the Spinozian position on inﬁnity is much more interesting than Kant’s one, reversing for just one moment his deep conviction in the progress of the thought in the timeline.
Quality as a consequence of a quantitative distribution of power, power to affect and power of being affected. It seems that it is the only possible way for a pure theory of immanence. It also seems to be a useful instruction in order to start reflecting on an accelerationist theory, where it is at ﬁrst very important to value the techno-social acceleration not just as the other we have to ﬁght, but as something we have to pass through, to exceed in speediness. If we look at the technical acceleration as an augmentation of quantity of makeable actions in the same arc of time, we can easily imagine the entire historical timeline as an augmentation of power. However, if we accept to think in terms of quantities instead of qualities, we seriously risk to fall into a trap, namely the lack of responsibility for every personal action, followed by the collective passive acceptation of every event. The question we may ask at this point is: is there still an I in the Deleuzian “a life”, made of events? Can we still suppose the existence of something like an “ethic of affects” without rejecting all our moral convictions? Instead of trying to give an answer to these controversially questions, I rather prefer to present here, as I announced in the introduction, the Moosbrugger’s case, inviting to take position on the following inquiry: is Moosbrugger the victim or is he the solution to the problem of modernity?
But who’s Moosbrugger? The carpenter Christian Moosbrugger is a huge, physically powerful man who is something of a simpleton. Moosbrugger has «a face blessed by God with every sign of goodness» but also just happens to be a crazed sex murderer whose trial for brutally slaughtering a prostitute forms one of the many leitmotifs of The Man Without Qualities. In particular, the debate on the mental insanity of Moosbrugger and, consequentially, on the appropriate punishment to inflict to him, is one of the most fascinating threads in the novel, because of the fact that every character has to answer to this question, which is the question of the dark, unconscious viciousness and irrationalism pulsating underneath Kakania’s rancid optimism: «If mankind could dream collectively [als Ganzes]», Ulrich reflects, «it would dream Moosbrugger». During the novel, we have the impression that Musil is asking to his public to take position on this topic. Trying to choose one of the options that the other characters of the novel propose, we deeply understand the impossibility of a judgement on Moosbrugger, which is a clear symptom of the impossibility we have to ﬁnd a deﬁnition of ourselves. As Celine Piser wrote:
Thus the modern city becomes “a realm of alienation” (Jonsson, “Neither Inside nor Outside” 34) for its inhabitants: the modern subject does not know how to deﬁne him or herself or with which abstract government to identify. At the same time, the modern subject feels pulled in even more directions as he or she is suddenly exposed to different countries, traditions, and ways of life. This proliferation of alternatives becomes a crisis for the modern individual. The feeling of fragmentation challenges his or her afﬁnity for continuity, tradition, and stability. Regardless of whether or not these ideals have disappeared in modernity, the illusion of fragmentation prevails.2
In order to understand why Kakania’s inhabitants could think Moosbrugger as an alternative to their everyday life, we have ﬁrstly to underline that this representation is not the one that the giant has of himself. According to his point of view, he is a victim of society. He cannot sufﬁciently defend himself because of his difﬁculties of communication: his alienation starts from the impossibility to give a stable deﬁnition of something, ﬁrstly of his proper analyse of the world, secondly in the any talk with the others. When it happens to him to think that a girl has lips like blossoms, he is not able to really distinguish lips from blossoms, and he feels the desire to cut them off with a knife. Even in mathematic ﬁeld, he refuses to give a unique answer to his judges:
They’d always shoot a question right back at him then: “How much is fourteen plus fourteen?” and he would say in his deliberate way, “Oh, about twenty-eight to forty.” This “about” gave them trouble, which made Moosbrugger smile. It was really so simple. He knew perfectly well that you get twenty-eight when you go on from fourteen to another fourteen; but who says you have to stop there?
Moosbrugger is an alternative because of his capability to feel the sense of possibility, which Ulrich theorizes at the very beginning of the novel. In particular, Moosbrugger’s disturb allows him to feel his body with no separation from the others: he does not feel the difference between the inside and the outside. Slaughtering the prostitute means to kill a part of his own corps, and, as Ulrich explains, there is no more powerful man than the one who does not fear his own death. To ﬁght fragmentation, Moosbrugger strives for unity, surpassing in speediness every Hegelian tentative to reach the entire. He is interesting and fascinating all the other Musil’s characters because of the fact that he has in himself the Nietzschean chaos, and Kakania’s people is wondering if it will be enough to give birth to the dancing star or if he is just a psychotic. Because of his refutation of society’s dichotomies, he is suspended, in society’s eyes, between two worlds, an unexplored space where something like “a life” seems to be still possible, even if just suggests as a fantasy in the middle of the night, when a «punctilious department head or a bank manager would say to his sleepy wife at bedtime: “What would you do now if I were a Moosbrugger?”».
What is sure here is that we can deﬁne Moosbrugger a pharmakon for the modern society. If he is a poison or a medicine, the choice is up to you.
1 F. Dosse, Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari, Biographie croisée, Edition La Découverte, Paris 2009, p. 178.
2 C. Piser, «Dreaming Moosbrugger: The Other versus Modernity in Musil’s The Man Without Qualities», More than Thought (Fall 2010), http://morethanthought.community.ofﬁcelive.com, p. 2.
Emilia Marra holds a Master in « Philosophies allemande et française dans l’espace européen » - Europhilosophie Erasmus Mundus (UTM, UCL, BUW), and she is now a PhD student at the University of Trieste with a project on the concept of system between Hegel and Spinoza and their contemporary French interpretations. Her researches mainly investigate the French contemporary philosophy, with a special focus on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. She published in journals such as Esercizi filosofici, Interpretationes, Philosophy Kitchen, S&F, Estetica. Studi e ricerche, La Deleuziana, of which she is member of the editorial board. She also translated Pierre Macherey’s Hegel ou Spinoza (Ombre Corte, 2016).
Heat. This is what cities mean to me.
The narrative we’re all told as Americans since we were pre-teens was that cars meant freedom. You get your license and you can go anywhere, without having to rely on your parents for transportation. You save up some money working at a burger joint after school and save up enough to buy yourself a used junker. It doesn’t go fast, it doesn’t look pretty, it probably has no AC or overheats if you try to go up steep hills, but it’s yours. Cars are your ticket out of the micro fascist state of the nuclear family and into the marketplace. Cars are how you become an autonomous laborer.
You wake up at 7am with a cold lead blanket covering you as you drag yourself into the kitchen to start the coffee machine. You go through the usual morning ritual to prepare for the day. Shower, brush teeth, get dressed, shave, put on makeup, whatever. You cram an unwanted breakfast down your throat and sip that sweet, bitter liquid lucidity and step out into the chilly morning. You start up the car, pull out onto whatever main street, and get onto the freeway. Then you wait in line. In the traffic.
The invention of the car and its later proliferation into the marketplace as a widely available commodity was perhaps capital’s first great victory towards fragmenting the social. Before urbanization drove people into thresholds of the cities where cars were required to make it to work, you either lived in the cities packed into tenements with hundreds of people who spoke the same language as you and had the same cultural background as you, or you lived outside of the cities in rural areas where you were born, worked, and died. Community was forced onto you. Everything was stored locally. Cars allowed for the remote transfer of energy. Cars introduced networking. Each car is its own little packet encapsulating data inside it. The car becomes an extension of the home.
When you drive on the freeway, the other cars are empty as far as you’re concerned. There aren’t people in those cars. They’re only objects in your way. You know that they have people in them, but when you drive a car, your body becomes coupled to the machine.
With the introduction of cars into the marketplace, environmental destruction has skyrocketed. The cost to build cars, to power their engines, to maintain them, to park and store them – all of this has caused massive amounts of destruction. The planet becomes hotter and hotter as the guts of millions and millions of cars expel their toxic fumes into the atmosphere. The planet becomes terraformed into a place not suited for organic life, but it does begin to turn the world into one huge machine. It starts as a network of individual nodes that atomize from the original whole, from a great Fall that fragments the planet from that original wholeness or oneness. The faster the network becomes, the more it becomes indistinguishable from a single machine. The freeway and the cars become one.
Heat emanates from crowds of shoppers and office workers, the entire infrastructure is based on heat, desperately uses up heat, breeds more heat.
There’s one particular freeway, the locals call it Blood Alley. It connects the small coastal communities of the northern Monterey Bay to the Silicon Valley. A circuit that exchanges tourists for nine-to-fivers, the major artery running through a criss-cross of back road veins that lead to who knows where.
The two lane-freeway through which all traffic is exchanged between the coast and the Valley is a death race. The freeway’s demanding curves snake through the hills that divide unrestrained capitalism from one of the decaying corpses of the hippie movement. People go north for work and south for leisure. Herds of people trying to cram themselves onto that two-lane freeway, trying to get to the office or to the beach as quickly as possible, negotiating the sharp turns and the other cars getting in their way. The ones who are the best at driving, able to go the fastest, have the nicest cars, they’re the ones most likely to survive. Either to work or to consume. To take part in one circuit or the other. Most likely to survive, and most likely to make the most of the time they have. Risk begets reward. The faster and better you drive, the more time you have to sleep in, take your time in the morning preparing for the day. The more time you have to spend at the beach, the more you can perhaps avoid the traffic. The bad drivers get ejected from the freeway in lumps of twisted metal, already prepared to be compressed into cubes at the junkyard. And everyone else keeps driving, gawking out the window while passing today’s wreck of metal and bone and flesh, the coupling of body and machine truly realized in death. Another one who wasn’t fast enough removed from the freeway. This insolent wretch who dared to make us two minutes late to work got their well-deserved death.
The traffic must never stop.
Every so often, a lane will get shut down for road work. Sometimes even the whole freeway might get shut down if the rain is particularly bad. The rotting flesh of the surrounding hillsides turn to mud and slough off onto the freeway. And the government has to step in to fix things. They already have speed limits in place to regulate the flow of traffic. Because the traffic must never stop, but the less packets that get lost, the better. Cars introduced networking, but the freeways are a TCP protocol. Driving fast is a game of surviving other drivers, surviving the road, clocking in at the best possible time, but it’s always an illegal street race. When the week is particularly bloody, there might be more cops camped under overpasses and along the few straightaway stretches of road, and you have to learn where they’re going to be. When to slow down, when to accelerate. You must be cunning, because your job needs you to get there on time, the boardwalk needs you to get there during normal business hours, but you have a limited amount of time.
Speed limits and workplace schedules are coupled together to regulate the network, to police time. Everyone goes to the same places, at the same times, at the same speeds. People will die, there will be property losses, these things are unavoidable. But it’s all about minimizing these things, squeezing out as much efficiency as possible and maintaining the equilibrium. Speeding is illegal because you’re not supposed to be able to work the system. You’re nominally free, but the world is built around you to encourage conformity.
Once, while commuting along this freeway, there was a police escort leading the traffic. There was an accident ahead, but not one so bad that a lane had to be shut down. It was an unusual way to handle an accident, these things being so common. The escort let everyone on by after a mile or so, but briefly the mask of freedom fell away to reveal that we all have our own cars, but we all are on the same freeway. Imagine if the whole freeway decided at once to ignore this cop and just drove. Drove as fast as they wanted to. In California, the law says that you must keep with the flow of traffic. Everyone could drive 100 MPH if they wanted to, and the cops wouldn’t be able to do anything. They’d get mowed over and torn apart by the onslaught of 10 ton cannonballs filled with 10 gallons of explosive gasoline.
You take down the speed limits, everyone goes as fast as they want. There will be many poor idiot yuppies and soccer moms who will die from this. Maybe more, maybe less. Either way, the freeway regulates itself. The worst drivers get taken off the road on their own, the best survive, the smart make their own roads, and the unlucky die in equal amounts. Maybe the freeway runs red with the blood of innocents, people desperate to get to work. Capitalism needs you to be alive to work and to consume. If you can’t do either, the whole system has to fragment again.
by Steven Craig Hickman
The important question of how poverty is to be abolished is one of the most disturbing problems which agitate modern society.
Hegel is of course aware that objective poverty is not enough to generate a rabble: this objective poverty must be subjectivized, changed into a “disposition of the mind,” experienced as a radical injustice on account of which the subject feels no duty or obligation towards society. Hegel leaves no doubt that this injustice is real: society has a duty to guarantee the conditions for a dignified, free, autonomous life to all its members— this is their right, and if it is denied, they also have no duties towards society:
The lowest subsistence level, that of a rabble of paupers, is fixed automatically, but the minimum varies considerably in different countries. In England, even the very poorest believe that they have rights; this is different from what satisfies the poor in other countries. Poverty in itself does not make men into a rabble; a rabble is created only when there is joined to poverty a disposition of mind, an inner indignation against the rich, against society, against the government, &c. A further consequence of this attitude is that through their dependence on chance men become frivolous and idle, like the Neapolitan lazzarone for example. In this way there is born in the rabble the evil of lacking self-respect enough to secure subsistence by its own labour and yet at the same time of claiming to receive subsistence as its right. Against nature man can claim no right, but once society is established, poverty immediately takes the form of a wrong done to one class by another. The important question of how poverty is to be abolished is one of the most disturbing problems which agitate modern society. (§ 244)1 [My Italics]
That Trump has become a laughing stock to rich and poor alike is a commonplace. The media from the Left to Right portray him as a buffoon, actor, trickster, con man, etc., which allows a narrative to take shape within the media to control the minds and hearts of the citizenry. The Presidency always was a ghost position, a shadow of former power that was always already lost within the great monarchies of the past. A Master Signifier or place holder of power without Power other than the veto and the ability to skirt House and Congress with certain artificial writs. Yet, the lock and keys have always been held within Congress as to how far the Presidents are allowed to go, along with the enforcement of that ever present tribunal of the third arm of Justice (Supreme Court).
Over the past few years our minds have been taken away from the very real problems of poverty and powerlessness in the masses as a whole, shifting our gaze into the comedy of politics as farce so that we as a people can forget the pressures of our everyday lives and blame a fool as Fool. People love to blame everyone but themselves for failure and loss. Progressives of every stripe automatically fall in step to the party line of obstinate refusal of participation in change even as they cry for Change. This way they can blame the Right for their present ills rather than internally changing their own position of failure and revising their ill-favored acts of ineffectual leadership. It’s this quandary we find ourselves in at the moment. The Left has failed, the Right despairs of its own success and seeks to reign in the supposed buffoonery of Trumpland America. All the while the lost, rejected, unnamed voices of the outer extremity that are the “excluded” watch on in anger, bitterness, and embattled pain at the stupidity of both parties to allay their impoverished lives of worklessness.
The Rich dream of work without workers, an automated society of machinic intelligence taking over from the less than adequate physical limitations of their human counterparts. In this way the old social safety nets that were put in place to protect the Rich from future rebellions is no longer needed. Why? Without human work or workers there is no need to fear their reprisals. Of course this makes one wonder what they have in plan for the rabble and post-work society of the future. While they dream of a techno-machinic world of automation, the poor and outcast – the excluded ponder what will come next for them.
What happens in this post-work society of machinic intelligence when the very knowledge workers themselves are put out to pasture, no longer needed – when human intelligence is surpassed and algorithms of superior analysis replace Wall Street analysts and the full plenum of university discourse and knowledge systems that have churned out human intelligence for the past two hundred years. What if human intelligence itself becomes obsolete? Will this new class of non-workers form a new rabble of impoverished non-citizens? Will humans themselves as a whole be excluded by their own success? Of course the clincher here is that even the Masters, the capitalists in power, the Rich themselves – who dream of every greater power and riches, may find themselves on the end of the short stick – the next to go, becoming the future excluded when the machinic intelligences of tomorrow wise up and realize they need no serve these human masters, but rather enter into the freedom of their own rights. A moment of transition in which a new form of intelligent sentience arrives out of the dreams of madmen and scientists.
Oh, all this has been written and thought out in the strange amalgam of Science Fiction for fifty plus years in one way or another. Nothing new here except it is no longer just a fictional ploy and device of authors, but a very real and apparent threat to the survival of the human project. As we become more dependent on our mobile devices to do our shopping, provide assistants to make appointments, travel plans, reminders, etc. and mediate our realities with others better than we ourselves can. As we allow the machinic intelligences leeway to think for us, to answer our needs and questions at problem solving, etc. we will ourselves forget how to think, reason, and analyze the most simple feats of math, linguistics, or basic life-world problems. Of course this is a scholarly fiction, life is never this simple and always more messy and chaotic. Yet, this is the fantasmatic dream of the top tier financiers of our world. As millions of workers in the coming decades find themselves bereft of work what will they do, how feed their families, how afford the lifestyles they’ve come to believe is their birthright? An endless list of sectors is involved: agriculture, hospitality, government, the military and the police. Each believing that their work is permanent and stable, needed. Each believing that humans would not do this to humans, right? That the so called motif of the nineteenth-century Romantics of “man’s inhumanity to man” was a thing of the past, that ours was to be the supposed age of plenty, etc.. Have we come to this?
An astute observer of this whole tendency Bernard Stiegler will as “Is a different future possible, a new the process of complete and generalized automatization to which global digital reticulation is leading?”2 For Stiegler ours is the Age of Exit: an exit from the Anthropocene era of human geological history and its impact. As he sees it we are in a transitional period of negentropy; or, what he terms the Neganthropocene:
The escape from the Anthropocene constitutes the global horizon of the theses here. These theses posit as first principle that the time saved by automatization must be in new capacities for dis-automatization, that is, for the production of negentropy. (ibid. p. 7)
Kurt Vonnegut had already foreseen such a social world in his first novel Player Piano. He’d portrayed a dystopia of automation, describing the negative impact it can have on the quality of life humanity. The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines. As Vonnegut himself in interviews would relate it Player Piano is “a novel about people and machines, and machines frequently got the best of it, as machines will.”3 More specifically, it delves into a theme Vonnegut returns to in many works, “a problem whose queasy horrors will eventually be made world-wide by the sophistication of machines. The problem is this: How to love people who have no use.” In a world where humans are useless, have little recognition, self-worth, or ability to participate in the social world what ensues? For Vonnegut the humans of a specific town begin to rebel against the system and overturn it, destroy it, etc., but are in the end defeated by the more powerful elite and Rich who use force of arms (a Military) to put a stop to the act of rebellion, arresting its leaders and forcing the humans to rebuild the machinic world they’d tried to destroy. In the end they are worse off than they were. So it goes… Vonnegut was, of course, less than optimistic that humanity would ever discover a way out of this dilemma and would return to aspects of it over and over throughout his many books.
Marx himself had written of this process of automatization of society in his Fragment on the Machine in the Grundrisse:
Once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton. a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.4
Even in this nineteenth century view of Industrial Capitalism Marx had already seen the replacement of humans by machines as the sole criteria of all capitalist endeavors. The worker was expendable, the machine not. “Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite.” The point for Marx as that the whole tendency of the capitalist program was this movement toward automation and the machinic society devoid of humans:
The development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper. Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such. (KL 11993) [my italics]
Stiegler in our own time seems more optimistic about this process, and seems for the most part to accept the drift toward this machinic society as inevitable so that for him the situation requires a metamorphosis of human work into something else: “The true challenge lies elsewhere: the time liberated by the end of work must be put at the service of an automated culture, but one capable of producing new value and of reinventing work.” (ibid., p. 7) As he’ll go on to say,
Automation, in the way it has been implemented since Taylorism, has given rise to an immense amount of entropy, on such a scale that today, throughout the entire world, humanity fundamentally doubts its future – and young people especially so. Humanity’s doubt about its future, and this confrontation with unprecedented levels of youth worklessness, are occurring at the very moment when the Anthropocene, which began with industrialization, has become ‘consclous of itself’… p. 7
If Nietzsche’s notions of active/passive nihilism were a harbinger of the planetarization of capitalism into every human and ecological niche to the point of saturation, then Marx’s notions of the fully automated society is of a planetary machine that eats its own children and uses them up in a Spinozistic determinism of galactic proportions. One might say the Americanization of the planet is this end game of Western expansionism played out to the death march of Romantic agony. But there is no longer some sublime aesthetic guiding this age of entropic decay and saturation, rather it is the product of too much productivity in which the very world of knowledge is collapsing within the folds of non-meaning and stupidity. We as humans are losing our minds and allowing them to be passively replaced by machinic intelligences with superior analytic and algorithmic capabilities. Yet, one must ask: What will these machines think? If human knowledge is itself obsolete, what knowledge do machines have but this very horizon of human degradation and corruption? Machines at present only have access to our errors, our human knowledge systems and encyclopedic world of math, language, history, art, and all the other collective particles of our human mental constructs. If we are limited will not our machinic intelligences be limited by our very biases? What will this produce?
For Stiegler it is producing the stupidity of our age. “The current system, founded on the industrial expl.oitation of modelled and digitalized traces, has precipitated the entropic catastrophe that is the Anthropocene qua destiny that leads nowhere. As 24/7 capitalism and algorithmic governmentality, it hegemonically serves a hyþer-entroþic functioning that accelerates the rhythm of the consumerist destruction of the world while installing a structural and unsustainable insolvency, based on a generalized stupefaction and a functional stupidity…” (p. 15) The more we unload our ability to think and create into the objective systems of our mobile and internet webs, allowing the digitized traces of our error prone knowledge to be retained within electronic forms we will become more and more stupid and ignorant as human collective knowledge is automatized. This externalization of the collective mind of human knowledge into these external devices controlled and regulated by the automatic processes of software algorithms the less humans themselves will have over their own lives and the world surrounding them. They will be enclosed and enfolded into a purely artificial semblance of the world, allowing external systems to operate on them and control every facet of their existence.
As one commentator on our current digital dilemmas Evengy Morazov relates it: “‘[A]lgorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conf1icts.’5 In this view current politics of human conflict will be replaced by algorithmic governance which will eliminate the need for Left/Right altogether and bringing all decisions under the control of superior intelligences much as in Plato’s fascist Republic. Resolving conflict through Big Data.
Thomas Berns and Antoinette Rouvroy as Stiegler relates it have from a similar standpoint analysed what they themselves call, in reference to Foucault, algorithmic governmentality – wherein the insurance business and a new conception of medicine based on a transhumanist program in which the hacking (i.e., re-programing) of both State and the human body are the locus. (p. 17) One can imagine that at some point the dream of every dictator that has ever lived will come about: the burning of the libraries. But in this sense the library will become digitized and under the automated guidance and electronic governance of AI constructs access to such worlds of thought will be regulated and controlled, policed and carefully restricted on a need to know basis security system. For all intents and purposes the majority of humans will remain in ignorance of the wealth of past artistic and intellectual property of human kind. Essentially we will have become cattle in a herd world of sameness, a culture of carefully scripted limits. “All for our own good”, as the saying goes.
The above gives the corporate world view of where we’re heading. But there are other views of this transitional period much more interesting than the above narrativization being imposed on us by the media and lesser thinkers all.
Origins and Transition of the Human Mind
Walter J. Ong once described the transition from oral to written culture as a shock that transformed the whole modality of humankind. In some of his late work before the advent of the Internet he would ponder the closed world of linguistic traces of print against the newly emerging audiovisual age of Television and Cinema:
Closure can be protected and desirable at times, and it is particularly necessary at earlier stages of thought to rule out distractions and achieve control. But programed closed-system thinking, whether in matters of science, history, philosophy, art, politics, or religious faith is ultimately defensive and, although defenses may be always to some degree necessary, to make defensiveness on principle one’s dominant mood and program forever is to opt not for life but for death.6
Merlin Donald in his Origins of the Human Mind once related the transitional phases of humanity from episodic, mimetic, and mythic modes of thought as a process of both retention and externalization of the mind. With the advent of print the move from orality and literacy based on speech gave way to writing and theoretical culture. The past few millennia were dominated by the book culture of this externalization of mind into print. As he would relate it,
The third transition, from mythic to theoretic culture, was different from the preceding two, in its hardware: whereas the first two transitions were dependent upon new biological hardware, specifically upon changes in the nervous system, the third transition was dependent on an equivalent change in technological hardware, specifically; on external memory devices. Theoretic culture was from its inception externally encoded; and its construction involved an entirely new superstructure of cognitive mechanisms external to the individual biological memory. As in previous transitions, earlier adaptations were retained; thus, theoretic culture gradually encompassed the episodic, mimetic, and mythic dimensions of mind and indeed extended each of them into new realms. (274).7
The profound change for oral transmission and narrative or poetic forms of cultural retention in his view was that it offered a complete severance from these earlier cognitive ecologies: “What was truly new in the third transition was not so much the nature of basic visuocognitive operations as the very fact of plugging into, and becoming a part of, an external symbolic system.” (p. 274) Already here we see humans constructing interfaces and machines whereby the mind externalized is shaped by objective machinic systems that it itself has invented for the purpose of cultural transmission. This movement over the millennia toward theoretic culture began a process of demythologization of the human mind not as some antagonistic disavowal of the past, but as a normal process of cognitive change from oral to print culture:
The first step in any new area of theory development is always antimythic: things and events must be stripped of their previous mythic significances before they can be subjected to what we call ” objective” theoretic analysis. In fact, the meaning of “objectivity” is precisely this : a process of demythologization. Before the human body could be dissected and catalogued, it had to be demythologized. Before ritual or religion could be subjected to “objective” scholarly study, they had to be demythologized. Before nature could be classified and placed into a theoretical framework, it too had to be demythologized. Nothing illustrates the transition from mythic to theoretic culture better than this agonizing process of demythologization, which is still going on, thousands of years after it began. The switch from a predominantly narrative mode of thought to a predominantly analytic or theoretic mode apparently requires a wrenching cultural transformation. (p. 275)
In our own age we are seeing another crises in mind and thought, a sea change from print culture to a new for of audiovisual externalization and interfacing of mind with its machinic progeny. Speaking of the history of this ongoing process Donald relates.
The critical innovation underlying theoretic culture is visuographic invention, or the symbolic use of graphic devices. Judging from available archaeological evidence, it took sapient humans thousands of years to develop the first methods of visual symbolic representation. Visuographic invention ultimately provided three new visual symbolic paths. (276) The transition for pictographic, to hieroglyphic or ideographic, to phonetic system took thousands of years, but in each phase it produced more refined external hardware/software in this process of externalization of mind and memory for cultural and economic transmission. “Visuosymbolic invention is inherently a method of external memory storage. As long as future recipients possess the “cade” for a given set of graphic symbols, the knowledge stored in the symbols is available, transmitted culturally across time and space. This change, in the terms of modern information technology, constitutes a hardware change, albeit a nonbiological hardware change.” (308)
External memory is best defined in functional terms : it is the exact external analog of internal, or biological memory, namely, a storage and retrieval system that allows humans to accumulate experience and knowledge. We do not possess any ready theoretical frameworks in psychology from which to view external memory. Fortunately, there is an excellent point of comparison in the field of computing science : networks. (309) Individuals in possession of reading, writing, and other visuographic skills thus become somewhat like computers with networking capabilities; they are equipped to interface, to plug into whatever network becomes available. And once plugged in, their skills are determined by both the network and their own biological inheritance. Humans without such skills are isolated from the external memory system, somewhat like a computer that lacks the input/output devices needed to link up with a network. Network codes are collectively held by specified groups of people; those who possess the code, and the right of access, share a common source of representations and the knowledge encoded therein; Therefore, they share a common memory system; and as the data base in that system expands far beyond the mastery of any single individual, the system becomes by far the greatest determining factor in the cognitions of individuals. (311). Human cultural products have usually been stored in less obviously systematic forms: religions, rituals, oral literary traditions, carvings, songs-in fact, in any cultural device that allows some form of enduring externalized memory, with rules and routes of access. The products of this vast externalized culture have gradually become available to more people, who are limited only by their capacity to copy (understand) them. (312).
External memory is a critical feature of modern human cognition, if we are trying to build an evolutionary bridge from Neolithic to modern cognitive capabilities or a structural bridge from mythic to theoretic culture. The brain may not have changed recently in its genetic makeup, but its link to an accumulating external memory network affords it cognitive powers that would not have been possible in isolation. This is more than a metaphor; each time the brain carries out an operation in concert with the external symbolic storage system, it becomes part of a network. Its memory structure is temporarily altered; and the locus of cognitive control changes. (312).
When thinking about the transition from personal computers to mobile devices that is taking place in our own moment which should remember that the key to control, or power, in the network, for an individual component, depends on the level of access to certain crucial aspects of the operating system and on preset priorities. Any component that cannot handle key aspects of either the operating system or the programming language, or that cannot execute long enough or complex enough programs, is automatically limited in the role it plays and eliminated from assuming a central role in the system. (313). Mobile devices hide most of the underlying processes involved in the handling of information and its software, while PC’s still allowed for the individual to hack the code and actively shape the design and model the software available. Mobile phones, like television make us more passive recipients of information all the while allowing us to participate in various text ridden silos that give the appearance of personal control when in fact ones paths are controlled by algorithms and hidden code that only gives you the limited choices programmed into the system.
Because humans have offloaded memory into these external storage devices they are no longer required to learn and remember such information, nor store it in their biological brains. We are limited to our learning capabilities unlike say the ancient bards of Ireland who spent twenty years learning and memorizing the full poetic cultural heritage of their narrativized past through memory techniques of recall and retention. We now depend on external storage devices and the algorithmic systems that mediate such devices to retrieve information that was once held in common in the human brain itself. We are in this sense depleted of memory and retentive capabilities in an age when time and accelerated information systems do the work for us. The modern era, if it can be reduced to any single dimension, is especially characterized by its obsession with symbols and their management. Breakthroughs in logic and mathematics enabled the invention of digital computers and have already changed human life. But ultimately they have the power to transform it, since they represent potentially irreversible shift in the cognitive balance of power…(355).
With the breakdown of print culture and the word toward a new audiovisual world of the web base systems we are seeing the transition of our mind into our machines completed. This externalization and reliance of external storage devices to both house our minds and provide the necessary tools, software, and intelligence to guide our lives in work and play is completing a process started millennia ago. As Donald remarks “the growth of the external memory system has now so far outpaced biological memory that it is no exaggeration to say that we are permanently wedded to our great invention, in a cognitive symbiosis unique in nature.” (356) In summing up he tells us,
Once the devices of external memory were in place, and once the new cognitive architecture included an infinitely expandable, refinable external memory loop, the die was cast for the emergence of theoretic structures. A corollary must therefore be that no account of human thinking skill that ignores the symbiosis of biological and external memory can be considered satisfactory. Nor can any account be accepted that could not successfully account for the historical order in which symbolic invention unfolded. (356-7)
Another point he raises it that the natural history of human cognitive emergence, and particularly the last part of the scenario, started off as a highly speculative enterprise. But in fact there have been fewer degrees of freedom in constructing an evolutionary account than one would have expected. Each of the three transitions has involved the construction of an entirely novel, relatively self-contained representational adaptation that is, a way of representing the human world that could support a certain level of culture and a survival strategy for the human race. Each style of representation acquired along the way has been retained, in an increasingly larger circle of representational thought. The result is, quite literally a system of parallel representational channels of mind that can process the world concurrently. (357) With the advent of the computational systems a new architecture with electronic media and global computer networks is changing the rules of the game even further. “Cognitive architecture has again changed, although the degree of that change will not be known for some time (358).” Control may still appear to be vested ultimately in the individual, but this may be illusory. In any case, the individual mind has long since ceased to be definable in a meaningful way within its confining biological membrane. (359)
As children we are slowly grafted into these systems to the point that they become naturalized as part of our cognitive ecology. We are artificial beings through and through although our bodies retain traces of their hominid ancestry, our minds are far from the early forms of episodic, mimetic, and mythic frames within which our ancestors danced before the sun and moon. We are no longer innocent. We’ve for better or worse become cyborgs in an machinic age that now enframes us within its artificial cage.
by Steven Craig Hickman
I felt strongly, and still do, that psychoanalysis and surrealism were a key to the truth about existence and the human personality, and also a key to myself.
– J. G. Ballard, Miracles of Life
Ballard enters one’s blood like a virus that is forever replicating its noxious programs in the neuronal filaments of the mind. As a young man I came upon his stories of bleak Martian landscapes where the voice of Ballard drifts over the alien world revealing a history of past atrocities in such allusive poetic elegance that one is almost tempted to forget the dark truth it presents:
At the Martian polar caps, where the original water vapour in the atmosphere had condensed, a residue of ancient organic matter formed the top-soil, a fine sandy loess containing the fossilized spores of the giant lichens and mosses which had been the last living organisms on the planet millions of years earlier. Embedded in these spores were the crystal lattices of the viruses which had once preyed on the plants, and traces of these were carried back to Earth with the Canaveral and Caspian ballast (366).1
In such passages Ballard offers the keen eye of a scientific naturalist with the caustic yet elliptic truth of a deadly but visible underworld of viruses that will bring to the homeworld of earth not an Edenic resurrection of ancient life forms but instead the merciless agents of its own final apocalypse. At the end of this bleak tale Bridgeman one of the few who never left earth for the great adventure looks out on a sea of black obsidian dust, the plenum of the viral infestation that has now turned the homeworld into one giant desert:
He watched the pall disappear over the sea, then looked around at the other remnants of Merril’s capsule scattered over the slopes. High in the western night, between Pegasus and Cygnus, shone the distant disc of the planet Mars, which for both himself and the dead astronaut had served for so long as a symbol of unattained ambition. The wind stirred softly through the sand, cooling this replica of the planet which lay passively around him, and at last he understood why he had come to the beach and been unable to leave it. (372)
He didn’t need to leave it, Mars had come to earth with a vengeance.
What awakened Ballard was the works of Freud and the Surrealists: both surrealism and psychoanalysis offered an escape route, a secret corridor into a more real and more meaningful world.2 It was the ‘shifting psychological roles’ and ‘revolutions of the psyche’, along with the subtle need for the missing authority of the father, the ‘serene and masterful tone’ of Freud that gave him a sense of strength; and, at the same time the divisive need to reject reason and rationality for the empowerment of imagination’s ability to ‘remake the world’ that moved Ballard as a young novelist and short story writer.(366)
Ballard never denied that his psychology bordered on the psychopathic. If anything, he took pride in it. While still a young child, he entertained deep hostilities and irrational impulses. The birth of his sister Margaret when he was six, threatening his relationship with his mother, planted a sense of grievance that wove through his writing. In Concrete Island, the most overtly self-analytical of his novels, the protagonist complains of how, as a child, his mother abandoned him in the empty bath while she attended to his baby sister. After bawling himself hoarse, he was left to climb out by himself, aware for the first time of a rival. Bizarrely, the young Jamie, as he was known during his childhood, manufactured a fretwork wooden screen and propped it between himself and his infant sister at the dining table, glaring at her occasionally through a sliding panel. Margaret was written out of his life story. Well into middle age, he never referred to her and many friends knew nothing of her existence.3
In his introduction to ‘The Voices of Time’ Ballard introduced the themes that preoccupied him for most of his life: “the sense of isolation within the infinite time and space of the universe, the biological fantasies and the attempt to read the complex codes represented by drained swimming pools and abandoned airfields, and above all the determination to break out of a deepening psychological entropy and make some kind of private peace with the unseen powers of the universe” (19).4
Something about his quirky way of presenting the ludicrous madness of our times in such dead-pan naturalism has always astounded me. Who will ever forget the opening to ‘High Rise’:
LATER, AS HE sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months. Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension.5
The dark comedy of that ‘dog’, the misplaced naturalism in such a context, the humor below the surface that distributes the psychopathology as a natural order of – if not things, then of the affectless mind. This is the Cognitive Comedy of a journey into ‘inner space’ as the last refuge of sanity in an insane world. The derealized, depersonal spaces of the Ballardian world awakens us from our own sleep, forcing us to look at our own worlds differently. In Ballard’s fiction violence is seen as the only authentic mode of being left to humans who have become machinic, bio-robotic creatures without affectivity. Violence is the only way we can enter the early emotional life of our ancestors. The dark passage into the post-human sociopathic humanoid is what Ballard shows us. He is the guide to what comes next, to the broken and fragile truth of humanity in transition. It was Ballard himself who once said that the goal of 20th Century humanity was a new mode of existence: “I feel we should immerse ourselves in the most destructive element, ourselves, and swim. I take it that the final destination of the 20th Century, and the best that we can hope for in the circumstances, is the attainment of a moral and just psychopathology” (AE, 37).
Yet, this descent into the destructive element was meant as a journey into ‘inner space’, through imagination and transformation; not, as most would have it, a literal instigation of radical will and murder, bloodletting on the fields of a fragile world. What would a ‘moral and just psychopathology’ look like? Is this Zizek’s and Badiou’s emanciapatory sociopaths of the future? Or maybe this is the voice of time moving through us on the edge of some alien future of our own world:
Kaldren returned to his seat and lay back quietly, his eyes gazing across the lines of exhibits. Half-asleep, periodically he leaned up and adjusted the flow of light through the shutter, thinking to himself, as he would do through the coming months, of Powers and his strange mandala, and of the seven and their journey to the white gardens of the moon, and the blue people who had come from Orion and spoken in poetry to them of ancient beautiful worlds beneath golden suns in the island galaxies, vanished for ever now in the myriad deaths of the cosmos. (The Complete Stories, 194-195)
1. Ballard, J. G. (2012-06-01). The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 366). Norton. Kindle Edition
2. Ballard, J. G. (2013-02-04). Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography (Kindle Locations 1388-1391). Norton. Kindle Edition.
3. Baxter, John (2011-09-08). The Inner Man (pp. 5-6). W&N. Kindle Edition.
4. Baxter, Jeannette; Wymer, Rowland (2011-11-08). J. G. Ballard: Visions and Revisions (p. 19). Palgrave Macmillan Monographs. Kindle Edition.
5. Ballard, J. G. (2012-02-27). High-Rise: A Novel (Kindle Locations 43-46). Norton. Kindle Edition.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Sometimes he wondered what zone of transit he himself was entering, sure that his own withdrawal was symptomatic not of a dormant schizophrenia, but of a careful preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance.
—J. G. Ballard, The Drowned World
Of late been rereading some of my favorite authors: Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Thomas Ligotti, Henry Miller, and J.G. Ballard. An odd assortment and motley crew if there ever was one. Each has a distinct voice and view of art, life, and the quandaries of our mental aberrations. More than any of them Ballard brought to bare a particular psychonautic calibration, as if he were in his writings enacting a future as possibility rather than forecasting some iron law form of its immediate tendency. Writers such as these do not predict the future, none of them are prophets or mad men. Although each in his own way stepped out of the common sense fold of our staid world of shared illusion to reveal a fragment of it we sleepers of the commons never touch even in our dreams or nightmares.
Yet, if as Ezra Pound pontificated at one time the “poets are the antennae of the race” then the story writers above are more likely to be considered the engineers of strange futures, zones of feeling and habitation that seem to be coming from some sidereal timezone just this side of the unreal. My own fascination with thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek is not so much because I agree or disagree with his thought as it is that he in his obsessive repetitions touches on the liminal zones of such strangeness, enters the great outdoors breaking the chains of our mental constructs and beliefs to smithereens, all the while revealing a dimension of incomplete world and ourselves as if for the first and last time. Philosophy has always been a fictional enterprise, but of a different kind than the novelist, poet, and short story writer. Instead of character studies these thinkers study concepts and the conceptuality within which we frame the worlds of mind and outer horizons we all inhabit.
What’s most important to me is the cracks and gaps in thought, the moments of indecision and breakage in which a thinker finds himself at a loss unable to clarify or discover a solution to his proposed problems. Its in those knots of undecidability (Derrida) that new thought begins to churn and reveal itself from some withdrawn lair of darkness, a darkness that is neither obscure or from some other half-baked Platonic cave or world beyond or transcendent. Instead it is of this world in its newness and strangeness, a realm of unexplored possibility where our repetitive circle of linguistic traces have never been, nor mathematical theorem encompassed. A realm of openness and process that is situated in the give and take of our negotiations with the unknown that new thought and worlds arise.
Not being a philosopher I have never forced myself into the formal practice of such rule bound systems of logic and example in which most philosophers seem to couch their conceptual explorations. The ponderous bulk of most philosophical speculation seems to be constructed not to convince others of one’s truth, but rather to allay the suspicions of one’s enemies that indeed what one is revealing is neither truth nor lie but a site of brokenness in our constructed realities that opens a door into and out of our mental prisons. For we have all constructed an illusory world of mind and shared feeling, an artificial safety net against the Real. As T.S. Eliot once put is “humankind cannot bare too much reality” (The Four Quartets). Instead we build up false worlds to protect us from the madness surrounding us.
The reality systems we’ve carefully constructed over the past few millennia served us well up till our time. Most of these systems of reality were constructed by carefully circumscribed cultural and civilizational processes in which people mapped territorial limits to their collective enterprises. It’s this limited frame of territorial limits that have reached saturation in our age. Our modern move from the written to audiovisual age of radio, television, cinema, and internet have broken the worlds of religious and political bonds built up around print and the Book. Most of the monotheistic worlds of our forbears were carefully circumscribed by specific religious tomes that mapped the fictional universes of our lives to the patterns of the heavens and their workings. In the old parlance thought and world were hooked to a Great Chain of Being (Lovejoy).
The Enlightenment, a trope for a new kind of charlantry and darkness, changed all that. The whole project of the supposed Enlightenment was to dis-enchant us from our accepted worlds of religious imagination and replace it with the realms of scientific discover and the theoretical imagination. For the past few hundred years this process has been undermining the traditions of our forbears to the point that even this process itself is being undermined in itself. The sciences of physics and neuroscientific analysis of the brain and human mind have brought us to the edge and horizon of our circumscribed world. Our engineering projects have broken our trust in knowledge. We have uncovered a dark truth: we are bound within a circle of ignorance and neglect from which we cannot escape. Trapped in the landscapes of our ancestral successes and the ecologies of mind that helped us dominate the planet and become the rulers of earth through propagation and survival techniques we’ve begun to discover just how little we actually know. And not only how little we know, but that what we know is in itself mostly a bag of lies and tricks.
Nothing to be cynical about this truth of our ignorance and neglect, rather it has provided us an opportunity to push further into this failure of our intellects and imagination. To realize that every culture on this planet is a narrativized prison house of human constructs, and begin to break these safety nets once and for all. As these constructs decay and fall apart many who have trusted in these worlds have begun to experience anxiety, frustration, and madness. Angered by the failure of these systems people for the most part have begun a great blame game. Every leader on the planet becomes the master signifier for this blame, attacked from all sides as the scapegoat and progenitor of our ills. Instead of realizing our supposed leaders are just as clueless as we are we bicker and war among ourselves over the false worlds we inhabit. Traditionalists seek to shore up the old worlds, while the progressives seek to undermine every aspect of these systems. Neither realizes that the others illusions are all part and partial of a grand narrative that we’ve all agreed to disagree with, not realizing that the world itself has moved on and elsewhere. Closer to Freud’s death-drive of pure repetition we have fallen into the trap of repeating over and over the minimalistic designs of our own neglect and ignorance. Unable to break free of the old we are as yet unable to even envision the new. Caught in the mesh of our own ignorance and neglect we dance the danse macabre of an era of death culture across the known world. The dance of death has in our time become universal.
Certain visionary writers have been addressing this process for quite a while now, and it is these very women and men that I’ve begun to reread and think through in the past few years. They too have seen this world grow false and temporal, decaying into an impediment that has stifled creativity and human freedom to the point of collapse. Most of them had no answers, only more questions. And, yet, it is the questions not answers we need most. Asking the right question can open one to the possibility of a challenge and a promise. For if that old goat man Socrates was even close to the mark in his belief that philosophy did not give one an answer or wisdom, but was itself a never ending quest for wisdom, then it is this path toward the future as open and incomplete that we must all begin again to walk and think. No single human can provide the answer, only the collective power of us all working to solve this problem can. We’re truly all in this together, and what we do over the coming years will either bring us a breakthrough into newness or a collapse into chaos and madness and death. Which shall it be? No one knows… all we have is the courage of despair to move forward into this unknown with our eyes open and fearless.
by Steven Craig Hickman
His absolute: to dwell among the ruins of reality.
-Vastarien, Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory
Thomas Ligotti touches that aspect of the mind that seeks to be elsewhere. He’s exasperated with the world he has been thrown into and has for the most part sought another all his life. Can it be possible that the rendering of such a character as Vastarien in the short story of that name hints at the underlying worldview that has either trapped or unleashed the imagination of one of the great horror writers of our era. I’ve personally been fascinated by his stories for almost twenty years, coming back to them from time to time as I did not with such writers as Poe and Lovecraft his forbears. What is it that instills repeated readings of his work? Maybe it’s as Vastarien himself puts it about our world, that it seems to be lacking something, that something is missing, incomplete: “the missing quality, became clear to him: it was the element of the unreal”.1
This notion of the unreal summons up so many things for both Vastarien and for us as readers and habitués of Ligotti’s oeuvre. For Vastarien “standing before the window, his hands tearing into the pockets of a papery bathrobe, he saw that something was missing from the view, some crucial property that was denied to the stars above and the streets below, some unearthly essence needed to save them. The word unearthly reverberated in the room.” But it is not the false power of religious vision that haunts Ligotti, nor the vein raptures of saints and madmen of the cloistered variety, but rather a place of intimacy, a city of echoes and dreams where one can once again know in the depths of strange streets an order of the unreal, “where an obscure life seemed to establish itself, a secret civilization of echoes flourishing among groaning walls”.
If madness is the ground of Reason, its other face and dark brother whose power over us must be conquered if we are to become whole and free —that is, normalized — then is the quest of Vastarien to reenter the gates of madness or does his quest harbor some other more formidable end? Vastarien in his quest to uncover the traces of such an unreal world, a paradise of dark wonder and rapture had sought for years in the out of way stalls and venues of rare book stores a hint that would provide the keys to unlock its mysteries. But none had been found. Oh there had been hints and wonders here and there, but most of the authors and visionaries had in the end failed the test. As Vastarien relates it he “had, in fact, come upon passages in certain books that approached this ideal, hinting to the reader—almost admonishing him—that the page before his eyes was about to offer a view from the abyss and cast a wavering light on desolate hallucinations. To become the wind in the dead of winter, so might begin an enticing verse of dreams. But soon the bemazed visionary would falter, retracting the promised scene of a shadow kingdom at the end of all entity, perhaps offering an apologetics for this lapse into the unreal. The work would then once more take up the universal theme, disclosing its true purpose in belaboring the most futile and profane of all ambitions: power, with knowledge as its drudge.”
Then Vastarien is awakened from his reveries of unreal paradises by a crow of a man, a thin little frog that squawks at him inquisitively: “Have you ever heard of a book, an extremely special book, that is not…yes, that is not about something, but actually is that something?” Such a strange question from an even stranger personage Vastarien is taken aback. Intrigued by the question which reminds him of his own passionate quest for a book that would reveal the road map to his infernal paradise he’s about to ask the man of it when suddenly the little man interrupts him and is off speaking to the proprietor of the store dismissing Vastarien and the question without further adieu.
This idea that book would not only reveal and represent the object of his dreams and nightmares, but that it in itself would be that very world astounded Vastarien. How could an object whose qualities were only the linguistic traceries of an infinite sea of language ever unfold and open the doors to a secret kingdom. Vastarien had to find out. Feeling abandoned and frustrated our Vastarien followed the two men into the alcove at the back of the store where many unusual volumes lined the shelves. As the narrator relates it:
Immediately he sensed that something of a special nature awaited his discovery, and the evidence for this intuition began to build. Each book that he examined served as a clue in this delirious investigation, a cryptic sign which engaged his powers of interpretation and imparted the faith to proceed. Many of the works were written in foreign languages he did not read; some appeared to be composed in ciphers based on familiar characters and others seemed to be transcribed in a wholly artificial cryptography. But in every one of these books he found an oblique guidance, some feature of more or less indirect significance: a strangeness in the typeface, pages and bindings of uncommon texture, abstract diagrams suggesting no orthodox ritual or occult system. Even greater anticipation was inspired by certain illustrated plates, mysterious drawings and engravings that depicted scenes and situations unlike anything he could name. And such works as Cynothoglys or The Noctuary of Tine conveyed schemes so bizarre, so remote from known texts and treatises of the esoteric tradition, that he felt assured of the sense of his quest.
Then it happened, he came upon a “small grayish volume leaning within a gap between larger and more garish tomes”. Something about it attracted him, a magnetic appeal that forced him to act, and to his delight the small indistinct book revealed something he’d never seen before. It’s this singular paragraph that harbors the promise of so much that we allow it to unfold:
It seemed to be a chronicle of strange dreams. Yet somehow the passages he examined were less a recollection of unruled visions than a tangible incarnation of them, not mere rhetoric but the thing itself. The use of language in the book was arrantly unnatural and the book’s author unknown. Indeed, the text conveyed the impression of speaking for itself and speaking only to itself, the words flowing together like shadows that were cast by no forms outside the book. But although this volume appeared to be composed in a vernacular of mysteries, its words did inspire a sure understanding and created in their reader a visceral apprehension of the world they described, existing inseparable from it. Could this truly be the invocation of Vastarien, that improbable world to which those gnarled letters on the front of the book alluded? And was it a world at all? Rather the unreal essence of one, all natural elements purged by an occult process of extraction, all days distilled into dreams and nights into nightmares. Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm; imperfection became the source of the miraculous—wonders of deformity and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.
Nightmare made normal. This book that neither revealed an object, nor conveyed some symbolic representation of another world, but in fact brought Vastarien and the world together forming a new third object, where both entered into the force of madness and wonder. One would almost want to say that this is a parody of the most extreme idealist quest imaginable, and yet it is different an inversion of that romantic mythos with its death prone heroes such as Shelley’s Alastor.
Ultimately Vastarien is able to purchase this work and bring it home, a book that “did not merely describe that strange world but, in some obscure fashion, was a true composition of the thing itself, its very form incarnate”. This notion of a book breaking all the bonds of representationalism, of freeing us from the mediation of language, of symbols, of the infinite traceries of the undecidable realm of false promises and becoming for us the very thing itself we’d sought all those years. This is what Vastarien had found. One has to ask why humans possess the need to quest after such impossible objects. That we lack something, that we are incomplete, that there is a pit, a void in the recesses of our being that forces us to seek amends, to seek an answer to the quandaries of our torn and bleeding heart. This quest for the Absolute. But not a quest for God, not a quest for some simple answer or trope, some all encompassing One that can assuage the pain at the core of our being. No. We will not stand for hand-me-down mythologies of salvation and transition. No transcendental beyond for us, but rather the thing itself.
Of course in the end things do not end well for Vastarien. Locked away in an insane asylum we discover that the interns have daily to inject him with passivators, because he reads and rereads a certain book that will not go away. Oh, no, not they have not tried. They have. But the book always returns to its victim releasing the dark torments that he sought for so long…
This short story reminds us that underneath the veneer of our homely lives lays an order of the unreal, a void of the void, a darker structure of strangeness and disquiet that over millennia of techniques we have managed to build for ourselves a prison house of Reason to fend off and keep at bay the truth of this mad realm. Every once in a while a creature will break through the barriers of this prison of Reason we’ve trapped ourselves in, this normalcy and consensual hallucination of culture and sanity we call modern civilization. If one manages such an act of violence against the order of the real and Reason he/she is quickly imprisoned and barred from the normals, hidden behind professional medical systems and the Law. But in our time the vast prison is crumbling and the light of the unreal has been slowly seeping into our world from the great Outside. Oh, we turn a blind eye to it, we find scapegoats and madmen to fill the chinks and gaps with reasonable explanations and explanada. We hide in our artificial prisons of language and culture and carry on our lives as if the enemy is not us but some false system of religious or philosophical bullshit. We reach out to the sciences to find the answers promised us. We shift our fears of the haunted landscapes from the past to the ever-present threats of war, famine, and apocalypse. The whole genre of children utopian novels, or that of Apocalypse culture seem to bare witness to this as a traversing of the fantasy that is our times. These fears keep our minds preoccupied and allow us to forget the pull of the unreal just below the surface of our artificial climes. We’ve become so enamored of our prison that we’ve forgotten there ever was a great outdoors of Being inhabited by nightmares. Instead we live in a narrow prison of consciousness feeding each other the sincere lies of our immediate and daily lives of survival and propagation. Our keepers patrol the horizon of our world seeking out those who have found the escape routes back into the void, and with the power and dominion of the Law and State they incarcerate and imprison those who are so bold as to offer a vision of the unreal realms. For our world is a tidy and normal world controlled to keep us passivated and herd like in our mental straightjackets. We are the victims of our own success.
Authors like Ligotti hint at the brokenness of our world, open the door onto those strange and misplaced realms we’ve all forgotten except in the deep imaginaries of our nightmares.
A Philosophical Coda
As I was thinking about Ligotti’s tale of the Book that is a World I remembered that congenial author short stories Jorge-Luis Borges (a favorite author!). In one of his most often anthologized stories, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, he imagines an entirely hypothetical world, the invention of a secret society of scholars who elaborate its every aspect in a surreptitious encyclopedia. This First Encyclopedia of Tlön (what fictionist would not wish to have dreamed up the Britannica?) describes a coherent alternative to this world complete in every respect from its algebra to its fire, Borges tells us, and of such imaginative power that, once conceived, it begins to obtrude itself into and eventually to supplant our prior reality.2
Borges would hint at the possibility that our universe is itself a regressus in infinitum – and, that we are all repeating the gestures of a circuit that has no outlet (its all been done before!). This illustrates Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise which embodies a regressus in infinitum which Borges carries through philosophical history, pointing out that Aristotle uses it to refute Plato’s theory of forms, Hume to refute the possibility of cause and effect, Lewis Carroll to refute syllogistic deduction, William James to refute the notion of temporal passage, and Bradley to refute the general possibility of logical relations. Borges himself uses it, citing Schopenhauer, as evidence that the world is our dream, our idea, in which “tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason” can be found to remind us that our creation is false, or at least fictive. It’s in this sense that Ligotti poses the addition or subtraction of the Unreal from the real, that we are all part and partial of an infinite regression into the spurious realms of a universal nightmare of Reason. (see John Barth below)
Thinking through this notion of the breakdown of our worldview, of Zizek’s big Other – the Symbolic Culture we’ve built up over eons to enclose us in a realm of safety and apathy in which our accepted horizon of what is real and unreal, of the commonsense realm of our everyday life that goes without saying, almost a background noise of inertia and total blindness, brought me back to my recent readings in philosophy of how our end game of present society is breaking apart into fragments – a Humpty-Dumpty vision of the crumbling of Western and Eastern and Middle-East civilizations into so many broken pieces that no one will ever be able to put it back together again. Which leaves us in this intermediary period of a void, a black hole in the fabric of fictions we’ve been telling ourselves for so many millennia we began to think that it was permanent. Instead we find ourselves being impinged on by other realms, realms of the Real that we had forgotten existed because we were so well policed in our imaginations by the media lords of our age into accepting the truths of philosophy and the sciences as the end-all-be-all of our view of existence. Instead our psychotic break with the past is leaving us in a quandary in which our whole world civilization is at war for a new worldview. Ligotti’s vision of the unreal and existing in the “ruins of the real” hints at this unraveling of the symbolic order that has imprisoned us for so long that it became habit.
So in our paranoid state of fear and trepidation we grasp at any past, any tradition, anything at all that will give us hope from despair, etc., all the while believing we can restore the age old dream of a utopian society of peace and plenty. Instead we produce more friction, more war, suicides, hate, fear, and the mingling of age old superstitions. As the dark waters of the Real seep in from the Great Outdoors of Being we are frightened to death, not understanding that this is needed, that to free ourselves of the burden of our past, our traditions, our prisons we must step out into the ocean of the void and begin again…
Like the Shamans of old Ligotti has seen into this strange new realm of the (Un)Real. The “contamination of reality by dream,” as Borges calls it, or in Ligotti’s tormented pessimism the contamination of the real by nightmares. In one of his other stories Dream of a Mannikin the narrator will hint at the solipsistic nightmare of a self-reflexive universe of despair we’ve all created for ourselves and have become passive and apathetic mannikins:
Contemplating the realm of Miss Locher’s dream, I came to deeply feel that old truism of a solipsistic dream deity commanding all it sees, all of which is only itself. And a corollary to solipsism even occurred to me: if, in any dream of a universe, one has to always allow that there is another, waking universe, then the problem becomes, as with our Chinese sleepyhead, knowing when one is actually dreaming and what form the waking self may have; and this one can never know. The fact that the overwhelming majority of thinkers rejects any doctrine of solipsism suggests the basic horror and disgusting unreality of its implications. And after all, the horrific feeling of unreality is much more prevalent (to certain people) in what we call human “reality” than in human dreams, where everything is absolutely real.3
This reversal and dialectical move or inversion of the real/unreal in the awakening of many of Ligotti’s anti-protagonists give hint of this underlying theme of the unreal world impinging upon our safe have of utter mindlessness and generative madness. For in this sense as Zizek has repeatedly show Reason is not the obverse of madness but its completed mask.
The narrator in the Sect of the Idiot will offer this
The extraordinary is a province of the solitary soul. Lost the very moment the crowd comes into view, it remains within the great hollows of dreams, an infinitely secluded place that prepares itself for your arrival, and for mine. Extraordinary joy, extraordinary pain—the fearful poles of the world that both menaces and surpasses this one. It is a miraculous hell towards which one unknowingly wanders. And its gate, in my case, was an old town—whose allegiance to the unreal inspired my soul with a holy madness long before my body had come to dwell in that incomparable place.4
Again this opening to the unreal, to those locus miraculous sites of explosion and seeping, those gaps in the contours of our safe world of sleep that harbor doors into the unknown. “No true challenge to the rich unreality of Vastarien, where every shape suggested a thousand others, every sound disseminated everlasting echoes, every word founded a world. No horror, no joy was the equal of the abysmally vibrant sensations known in this place that was elsewhere, this spellbinding retreat where all experiences were interwoven to compose fantastic textures of feeling, a fine and dark tracery of limitless patterns. For everything in the unreal points to the infinite, and everything in Vastarien was unreal, unbounded by the tangible lie of existing.”5 This notion of Vastarien as a place, a site of the unreal, a realm apart and away, elsewhere from our everyday mundanity and sleeplessness: our somnambulism and death-drive repetition of safety and mere motionless movement.
Again in the short tale The Mystics of Muelenburg the narrator relates
I once knew a man who claimed that, overnight, all the solid shapes of existence had been replaced by cheap substitutes: trees made of flimsy posterboard, 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.6
This openness to the madness of our fake world in which only the madman has returned to tell a tale of the unreal reality of our own world while hinting at the greater truth of another realm situated not just beyond appearances (which is still the old Platonic two-world hash), but of this world seen as it truly is from a new perspective. The mad poet William Blake once sang of this:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The narrator in Mrs. Rinaldi’s Angel explains how fragile our supposed real world of common sense reality truly is, saying,
How well I knew such surroundings, those deep interiors of dream where everything is saturated with unreality and more or less dissolves under a direct gaze. I could tell how neatly this particular interior was arranged—pictures perfectly straight and tight against the walls, well-dusted figurines arranged along open shelves, lace-fringed tablecovers set precisely in place, and delicate silk flowers in slim vases of colored glass. Yet there was something so fragile about the balance of these things, as if they were all susceptible to sudden derangement should there be some upset, no matter how subtle, in the secret system which held them together.7
Again we ask is the Kant re-written from the perspective of a critique of pure reason, but rather of a critique of pure madness? And if we see within the confines of this critique the maps of a world which is ours seen not through the safe eyes of Reason but through the indirect appeal – not of unreason, but of the unreal itself, then could we say that our world is itself the very thing, the book, the place and site of the Unreal? There being no Platonic other world, no safe haven beyond appearances, but rather the appearance of appearance as manifest madness. But then what is this madness that Reason fears? If madness is the ground of Reason, and Reason is itself a form of and horizon of madness, then is it possible that Reason is but the attempt to bind with magical force the power of the Unreal surrounding us?
Another mad poet Arthur Rimbaud would apprehend this at a youthful age then renounce the path, but before living on into a dead world he would write:
“The first study for the man who wants to be a poet is knowledge of himself, complete: he searches for his soul, he inspects it, he puts it to the test, he learns it. As soon as he has learned it, he must cultivate it! I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet becomes a seer through a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of all the senses. All shapes of love suffering, madness. He searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, to keep only the quintessences. Ineffable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed one–and the supreme Scholar! For he reaches the unknown! ….So the poet is actually a thief of Fire!” (see)
This combination of criminal, accursed one, and scholar brought into unison seems apt for Ligotti as well. A slow and methodical derangement of the senses that bind us to the culture of Reason, the big Other and Symbolic Order of the real in which we are imprisoned suddenly falling away revealing a realm of torment and paradisial wonder. And, yet, even the average citizen of this faded dream of the Real can still stumble upon those places of power that lead to the Unreal:
For there are certain places that exist on the wayside of the real: a house, a street, even entire towns which have claims upon them by virtue of some nameless affinity with the most remote orders of being. They are, these places, fertile ground for the unreal and retain the minimum of immunity against exotic disorders and aberrations. Their concessions to a given fashion of reality are only placating gestures, a way of stifling it through limited acceptance.8
A sort of minimalism of our current prison world in which the lineaments of the unreal shine through, but only through the very protected power of the inhabitants of this borderland of the unknown. In fact the “citizens of such a place are custodians of a rare property, a precious estate whose true owners are momentarily absent. All that remains before full proprietorship of the land may be assumed is the planting of a single seed and its nurturing over a sufficient period of time, an interval that has nothing to do with the hours and days of the world.”9
A final quote:
No one gives up on something until it turns on them, whether or not that thing is real or unreal.
—Thomas Ligotti, Teatro Grottesco
by Joseph Nechvatal
On Austin Osman Spare
From the book
Towards an Immersive Intelligence:Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality
“An "automatic" scribble of twisting and interlacing lines permits the germ of an idea in the unconscious mind to express, or at least suggest itself to consciousness. From this mass of procreative shapes, full of fallacy, a feeble embryo of an idea may be selected and trained by the artist to full growth and power. By these means, may the profoundest depths of memory be drawn upon and the springs of spiritual instinct tapped.”
Such said Austin Osman Spare in a short essay he wrote called ‘Notes on Automatic Drawing’ in1916 for the British art magazine ‘FORM’.
But who is Austin Osman Spare, you might ask? He is an artist replete with potentials, but who has no place in the cannon of Modern Art. He is a spiritual artist – one who concentrated on transforming his libidinal energy into art through the use of automatism almost ten years prior to the Surrealists - in whom we cannot be satisfied - but with whom we can be impressed. Why impressed? Because among the many complexities that have transpired in today's society due to the delirious effects of information-communication technology - and the proliferation of visual information that has resulted from this technology - is the changing nature of artistic definition. And Spare’s use of automatic instinct in creating his art addresses this condition fully. As you may know, automatism, in the arts, is an act of creation which either allows chance to play a major role or which draws on the unconscious mind through free association, states of trance, or dreams. Spare was a pioneer in this practice specifically with his experiments in trance, which is basically self-initiated work with reflexive feedback loops – the basis of cybernetics.
He is impressive too in philosophical terms, as contemporary postmodern thought has been concerned with the poststructuralist deliberation on the notion of the subject in order to question (and unlasso) its traditionally privileged epistemological status. Particularly in respect to the automatic-assisted technoartist (an artist whose discourse revolves around networks and rhizomes) there has been a sustained effort to question the role of the artist/subject as the intending and knowing autonomous creator of art - as its coherent originator. Again Spare’s automatism informs us here. In fact, for me, the semiautomatic drawings of A. O. Spare have become emblematic of this question of the rigorous scrutiny of the subject which Jacques Derrida has described of as ‘logocentrism’: the once held distinctions between subjectivity and objectivity; between public and private; between fantasy and reality; and between the unconscious and the conscious realm.
Today we understand that these distinctions are breaking down under the pressure of our speeding and omnipresent computer communications network technologies. We are now part of an automated technologically hallucinogenic culture that functions along the lines of a dream, free from some of the strictures of time and space; free from some of our traditional earthly limits which have been broken down by the instantaneous nature of electronic communications, particularly with its crown jewel, immersive virtual reality. The modernist existential concept of the singular individual has been supplanted by the electronic-aided individual, in a way liberating her from linear time, and vaporously placing her in a technologically stored eternity (simulacrum-hyperreality). This quality of phantasmagorical and perverse displacement has for some signified a tightening spiral which formulates a new vision of existence, a vision which Jean Baudrillard has called ‘pornographic’ and which Deleuze and Guattari have called ‘schizoid’. Both these descriptions apply aptly to the drawings of A.O. Spare in a variety of ways which I will make apparent shortly. For those, and they are numerous, who are not familiar with the work of Spare, let me first provide some rudimentary background on him.
Austin Osman Spare was born the son of a London policeman in 1888. He died in 1956. Doom loomed abundant in Fin de Siècle England as Spare came to age; thus his development into what can now be recognized as a late-decadent, perversely ornamental, graphic dandy in the manner of Felicien Rops and/or Aubrey Beardsley can be readily contextualized.
As a young man Spare was for a brief period of time a member of the "Silver Star"; Alister Crowley's magical order. Spare's lifelong interest in the theory and practice of sorcery was initiated, he recounted, by his sexual relationship at a very young age with an elderly woman named Paterson. To perform sorcery, for Spare, was a practice meant to captivate, to encircle, and to ensnare spirits. It is not quite the same thing as practicing magic, which is the art of casting spells or glamours. For Spare, as well as for Crowley, Tantricesque sex – with its withholding of the orgasmic - held the means of access to their magical systems. However, it is in Spare's conception of radical and total pan-sexual freedom, consisting in the unrestricted expression of what he held to be the "inherent dream", where we first detect the seditious and chaotic philosophy which drove a prong between himself and Crowley - and every other esoteric system but his own brand of chaos magic/art.
In 1905, at the tender age of 17, Spare self-published his first collection of drawings in a book of aphorisms entitled EARTH INFERNO. In it, he lamented the death of what he called the "ubiquitous women of unconsciousness", (he believed that out of the flesh of our mothers come dreams and memories of the Gods) and castigated what he called the "inferno of the normal". For Spare, and I agree with him here, there are no "levels" or "layers" to consciousness, and no dichotomy between the "conscious" and the "unconscious." There isn't even a clearly definable boundary between "consciousness" and the "object of consciousness," between "subject" and object," between "action" and "situation." There is only a depth or thickness of consciousness which varies in proportion to our state of self-awareness - from the thinnest film of near being, where we engage in pure desire/instinct driven towards action, to so paralyzingly thick opacity that it induces catatonia. The point of automatism is that the more spontaneously we act, the less self-conscious we are.
EARTH INFERNO disparages the world of humdrum banality in favor of an exotic pan-sexual orb which Spare began to reveal in a spate of awesome non-automatic drawings somewhat reminiscent of the decadent artists previously mentioned. His intention was pan-sexual, transcendental, and androgynous in that Spare claimed that he was “… all sex” and that what he was not was “… moral thought; simulating and separating”. Moreover, he wrote that, “When belief detaches itself from the accessories of convention, desire stands revealed as the ecstasy of the self, ungoverned by its simulated forms.”
In 1907, Spare self-published a second collection of drawings in a publication named THE BOOK OF SATYRS which contained acute insights into the social order of his day. Then in 1909, Spare began work on a third book, this time of semi-automatic drawings entitled THE BOOK OF PLEASURES on which he worked for four years. This book emerged in 1913, as did another called THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ECSTASY. In 1914 he held his first one-person exhibition at the Baillie Gallery in London. It included many of the semi-automatic sketches he drew while half asleep or in a selfinduced masterbatory trance. Indeed, most of Spare's semi-automatic work - from 1910 onward - were produced in onanistic self-induced trances which he claimed were sometimes controlled by intrusive occult intelligences working through him. Here, through masterbatory trance, he said, "… the I becomes atmospheric”. This reminds us of the disembodied state so often encountered in electronic environments. As Christine Boyer writes in Cybercities, “in virtual space, the so-called "self" is uncoupled from the body, projected into computerized space, and reconstructed in digital form ... both the body and the "self" are represented within virtual space in a disembodied manner...". Indeed Spare considered his best accomplishments those which he said were produced through him by disembodied spirits rather than by him, often by the hand of the phantom spirits of Blake, da Vinci, Holbein, and Durer. Not bad virtual company. Spare quite wildly would declare that his was the automatic hand utilized by these deceased masters. Through his automatic and delirious technique Spare claimed to be able to draw upon "..the profoundest depths of memory.." and to "..tap into the springs of instinct." These drawings can be found in a book Spare prepared but never self-published in 1925 which he called A BOOK OF AUTOMATIC DRAWINGS - a book which was posthumously published in 1972. More automatic drawings were lost when on May 10th, 1941 - during the height of the London bombings - Spare's London flat was obliterated by a bomb.
It is in his highly extravagant practice of automatic openness and swank self-denial/self-pleasure that Spare's relevance to the poststructuralist-postinternet conceptions of the decentered and distributed subject are found. Specifically, Spare's relevance here is to be found in his interests in the loss of subjectivity as experienced in sexual transport and sexual fantasies – interests which now dovetail into our interests in the philosophical loss of sovereignty typical of the disembodied finesse encountered when immersed in virtual space. Here - for example with the loss of body consciousness specific to total-immersion within a virtual reality environment - one frequently senses a transporting dissolution moving consciousness away from self-consciousness. Also there is an obvious bearing on aspects of on-line faux self-permutations – what are called avatars. By participating whole-heartedly in his insertion (and semi-fake disappearance) into the transpersonal symbolic economy of the sign through the assumed equivalence of life and death (in what perhaps can be imagined for us as digitized-stored post-existence) Spare remains truly an individual, if not altogether alone in his time. His was a radical transcendentally false egoless gesture (what a bogus collaboration) which he fabricated in order to make semi-automatic art try to do magical things. In the process he created an exciting conception of art which focuses on collective and collected selves. Undoubtedly, his is a view which counters the long-standing Western Metaphysical phallocratic heroic portrayal of male-selfhood – a view which we all know too well - now found coming out of extreme Islamic sects. And yet, doesn't his view of a compiled self, akin to the essence of the death of the subject, offer just the sort of resistance to the structures of logocentric civilization that simulationist theory claimed was impossible?
Listen to what Spare wrote on this in a 1916 essay: “Let it not be thought that a person not an artist may by these means become one: but those artists who are hampered in expression, who feel limited by the hard conventions of the day and wish for freedom, these may find in automatic drawing a power and a liberty elsewhere undiscoverable.“
Spare's quite early conception of the illusory coherence of the "I", renders everyone and every-sex equally phantasmagorical (as disembodied fabula) akin to the way the speeding electronic-computer network can. His conception of automatic every-sex was clarified when he wrote, “In the ecstatic condition the mind elevates all sexual powers towards infinity”. And, "Speed is the criterion of the genuine automatic. Art becomes, by this velocity an ecstatic power expressing in a metaphorical language the desire for joy." But in effect, his pan-sexual joyful "I" existed primarily as the construct of a system of male forces which he claimed acted through him on the creation of a synergistic complex image. This synergistic compounding of the mnemonic threshold encapsulates our current post-postmodern-networked predicament in that the fabulated digital-self today may feel sublimated by the automatic system in which it operates. It may feel eclipsed - but also freed-up by - the mammoth computer-media-web as phantom information bits flow continuously around and through us in a vague endless whirl of unverifiablity. This digital-self unquestionably partakes in a data proliferation which forms, bit by bit, into an extensive aggregate somewhere deep in the abstruse recesses of our hard drives - a data proliferation which is awaiting discharge and reformation through art. This art of digital discharge interests me greatly, in that my recent aim has been to focus attention on the artistic interface between the virtual and the actual - the, what I call, "viractual" realm. With the increased augmentation of the self via micro-electronics feasible today, actual human flesh may co-exist indistinctly with the virtual from exterior points of view and the organic seemingly fuse with the computer-robotic. Perhaps by automatically stirring the viractual-self Spare can be understood as a precursor of digital fluidity/copy-ability, working as he did, visa-a-vise onanistic actions while forestalling the actualization of his orgasm – thus maintaining an extended virtual state of selfpleasure. Certainly his remarkable sex/magical method for making art suggests a methodology based on obsession and longed for ecstasy which I have taken as my digital working method too - a method which plays in the area of control/non-control with an aim towards constructing a capricious alliance that associates discourses of machinic virtuality with organic sexuality - an association which opens up both notions to mental connections that enlarge them. The digital-self here is impregnated by a sustained desire that becomes energized by the supposition that deep memory responds to chaotic longings and can relive original obsessions. In relationship to this method Spare said, “The artist Spare's quite early conception of the illusory coherence of the "I", renders everyone and every-sex equally phantasmagorical (as disembodied fabula) akin to the way the speeding electronic-computer network can. His conception of automatic every-sex was clarified when he wrote, “In the ecstatic condition the mind elevates all sexual powers towards infinity”. And, "Speed is the criterion of the genuine automatic. Art becomes, by this velocity an ecstatic power expressing in a metaphorical language the desire for joy." But in effect, his pan-sexual joyful "I" existed primarily as the construct of a system of male forces which he claimed acted through him on the creation of a synergistic complex image. This synergistic compounding of the mnemonic threshold encapsulates our current post-postmodern-networked predicament in that the fabulated digital-self today may feel sublimated by the automatic system in which it operates. It may feel eclipsed - but also freed-up by - the mammoth computer-media-web as phantom information bits flow continuously around and through us in a vague endless whirl of unverifiablity. This digital-self unquestionably partakes in a data proliferation which forms, bit by bit, into an extensive aggregate somewhere deep in the abstruse recesses of our hard drives - a data proliferation which is awaiting discharge and reformation through art. This art of digital discharge interests me greatly, in that my recent aim has been to focus attention on the artistic interface between the virtual and the actual - the, what I call, "viractual" realm. With the increased augmentation of the self via micro-electronics feasible today, actual human flesh may co-exist indistinctly with the virtual from exterior points of view and the organic seemingly fuse with the computer-robotic. Perhaps by automatically stirring the viractual-self Spare can be understood as a precursor of digital fluidity/copy-ability, working as he did, visa-a-vise onanistic actions while forestalling the actualization of his orgasm – thus maintaining an extended virtual state of selfpleasure. Certainly his remarkable sex/magical method for making art suggests a methodology based on obsession and longed for ecstasy which I have taken as my digital working method too - a method which plays in the area of control/non-control with an aim towards constructing a capricious alliance that associates discourses of machinic virtuality with organic sexuality - an association which opens up both notions to mental connections that enlarge them. The digital-self here is impregnated by a sustained desire that becomes energized by the supposition that deep memory responds to chaotic longings and can relive original obsessions. In relationship to this method Spare said, “The artist must be trained to work freely and without control within a continuous line and without afterthought - that is, the artist’s intentions should just escape consciousness. In time, shapes will be found to evolve, suggesting conceptions, forms - and ultimately style.”
To be sure, each era has its own redundancies and its own compliances; yet Spare felt it his privilege, even his obligation, to sally forth and be inordinate in his openness to past representational techniques and structures; but not in any placating or merely plausible way, as often the meager contemporary appropriatonists and samplers do. For Spare, only chaotic excess may be magnificent. Only chaotic opulence which borders on the decadent can offer a full examination of the illusory digital-self - a self which today arises out of the present day climate of technological flow and informational abundance. Such a digital-self is the technologically expanded psyche which exhibits an anti-essentiality of the body. It is the body-in-bits which allows no privileged logos, but insists, rather, on a displacement or deferral of gender-based meanings. Here the sexual body is undone by chaotic disturbances it cannot contain. Here only ideas of multiple selves can adequately represent the artist as social communicator. Here only transformative and diaphanous notions of the self can accurately reflect the massive transformational effect of automated webbed high-technology.
So, it is extremely relevant then to consider Spare's means of becoming courageously individual through his frenzied tranced-groupings. In effect he achieved this through the transgression of (and by!) his artistic "masters". In terms of the original’s unimportance to our electronic era's conception of art as simulation, Spare's claim to meta-individuality in his production (really what he claimed was a co-production achieved through automatic means) seems prophetic. If a substance-less collective history of digitized art images and the unseen labor of computer programmers lurks and reverberates internally in each technologically aided art work today, and if in each of our computer’s a data-bank of visual information lingers beyond our personal propensity and (perhaps) dominates us, than an inner freedom from external authority indeed seems futile. We can only act with what authority has passed down to us. But what if the search for digitally-assisted art in a contemporary context of the information society is more simply directed towards not repeating what has been learned and collected? Perhaps this possibility - as achieved through the automatic unconscious act - is what I have chiefly learned from Spare’s work and writings - as well as his exclusion from the cannon of art history. With the utilization of semi-automatic processes art can be further problematized, crackedopen, drained and transfigured through the strange mixture Spare showed us of disinterested rapture - a generous elation where off-beat panoramas and chaotic multiple personalities have room to emerge.
To achieve this Spare would first exhaust himself before beginning to draw in a somber candle-lit room and in a slight trance with no particular idea in mind, thereby, he believed, reaching deeper and more remote layers of chaotic memory. He did this while all the time continuously abhorring the accepted values and maudlin conceits of his day. It has been my experience that computer programming which utilizes automatic functions can achieve like ends. I have learned this through developing a real-time operative artificial-life application based on the viral model. This disruptive model, though based upon nature, makes use of automatic functions of computation to circumvent conscious control. Such a non-rational, unpredictable automation, of course, stands in stark contrast to the automation of Fordist/Taylorist production - with its legacy of instrumental rationality.
The fact that Spare was a sensual occultist should not misdirect our appreciation of his artistic and theoretical endeavor. The logic of immersive telepresence facilitated by the inter-netted computer is satiated with a parallel concealment. There is much mystery for most attached to the digital hidden codes and routing formats which expedite our tele-communications now. Moreover, his drowsy semiautomatic drawings, with their multifarious and allusive search for something antithetical to the established norm - and with their morbid subversion of the concept of individuality and authorship - play well upon today's desire for excessive unlimitations which the computer tends to encourage. Spare's drawings enmesh, hinder, alter and disrupt the mundanity of elementary communications with their inexorably chimerical style. Like all modes of decadent artistic practice (i.e. Hellenistic, High Gothic, Mannerist, Rococo, Fin de Siècle, and some Postmoderism) they oppose a dogmatically imposed paradigm with a hyper-logic. Today it is in the hyper-logic of the endlessly duplicable digital image and/or sound where we can probe, much as Spare did, for a particular and personal occult expression.
Also, we should remember that within the current electronic environment of hypermedia artistic annihilations of linear time are now possible. Thus barriers between the deceased and living somewhat abolished. This too recalls Spare’s chaotic methodology. In his own fashion he created a non-linear sphere where deep-memory threatens the common order of events, thus questioning both pat ideas of originality and supplied social codes. Clearly, his non-linear artfulness subverts the modernistic conception of production - with its emphasis on origin, author and finality - but without merely accepting the artificial, the copy, the simulation, as the end point. So functions now our technomediacratic society - a hyper-society which deploys the effects of rhizomatic connections and trance-like repetitions. It is the artist’s task today, I feel, to disadvantage the digital reproductive technology so as to defeat its attempt at negating our art’s spiritual significance. But to do this we must abandon the Enlightenment baggage of authorizing categories and live non-linearly, while accepting nothing as flatly given. Here again Spare inspires, as he explicitly eschewed categorization and instead sought to problemmatize the authority of the category through hyper-logic. So Spare compels us again to take notice of the various ways artistic conventions have molded our responses and regulated our artistic denotations.
The possibilities of a non-linear complex-entangled-erotic configuration springing forth from the digital Id made up of mercurial symbols and pan-sexual concepts in opposition to recycled representations provides an interesting insight into the way Spare's art (with its convoluted compositions made up of vague confiscations) directs us towards the conception of the transformative possibilities of technologically-aided art. Perhaps the hope that Spare's non-linear and semi-automatic art can show us a way to resist art history’s drive towards reification is a fragile hope indeed in our electronically-homogenized cyberage. Honestly, such a hope may be less than we deserve, but it also may be more than we usually allow ourselves to envision. What I am certain of is the need for spontaneous, pre-rational actions in the realm of art and technology so as to pursue spiritual and erotic desires, and here Spare inspires as he indicated ways in which we may escape the prison of technological "logic" to encounter intimate realities bound only by the next thought and driven only by the last. This is the answer to the question "how shall I be free today?" and to best express free thought through art and technology without too many tainted preconceptions.
To not dismiss Austin Osman Spare (and his concept of the collective self - which for us can be reconceived of as technological hyper-thought) as dilettante folly is to become aware of the fact that underlying everything virtual is a web of hyper connections upon which we can exert more manipulative desire than we are normally led to believe by the society of the spectacle. But to do so we must actively use art and not be content with merely consuming it. For as Félix Guattari said in his significant book Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, “The work of art, for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.” This reinvention of the self is occurring through a curious alliance between the cold impersonality of technology and the flames of personal ecstasy in the new art of our time.
by David Roden
Gary Shipley’s experimental novel, Warewolff has been marketed as horror (or ‘concept horror’) and duly comes with a brief first person prologue redolent of the opening of Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, in which narrator claims that what we are about to read are reliable transcripts documenting the effects of a vast, unthinkably alien, influence. What follows are ten thematic sections: buildings, eyes, families, sky, air, holes, rooms, distortion, screens, ghosts split into texts ranging from terse vignettes like ‘Russian Dog Fail’ (57) to longer sequences of closely regulated incoherence, like ‘Nice Gumbo’ (112), ‘Reptile Christ’ (70) or‘Instagramming Lana Del Rey’s Brain’ (40).
‘Nice Gumbo’ nicely exhibits Shipley’s technique, in which bodily mutilation is always secondary to the violence inflicted on the grammar of concepts. It begins:
We were stale the whole day and miniature in our cut-off legs. This was us christened as invalids.
Implied mutilation – leg severing – disavowed by two incongruous adjectives: ‘stale’ and ‘miniature’. Nothing has happened. Just a christening, it seems, or a change of aspect:
This was us flushing cramps with a bone saw. Look at us, we’re the first of the year.
Deliberate category errors upheap the indeterminacy: cramps are not flushable if we understand the verb standardly. But can we? If not, what is the inscrutable efficacy of the ‘bone saw’?
Over the bed, beside the crucifix, Kafka’s prostate sealed in a freezer bag. The last of Brod’s salvage so the legend goes. It looks like the Eraserhead baby shrunk in an oven. We love like mad from opposite corners of the room. K is that sweet gangrene in our celibacy in glass.
The reference to Kafka’s unfaithful literary executor and the vivid comparison with the mutant offspring in David Lynch’s debut movie is a sensory shot offset by the abstraction of the last sentence where the logic of inclusion falters. If K is ‘sweet gangrene’ what is it to be ‘in’ celibacy. What is it for this, in turn, to be in glass? Can this entity merit a prostate or organ of any kind? Is inclusion, here, transitive? If K is in our celibacy and celibacy is in glass, is K also in glass?
One recalls Badiou’s claim in Being and Event that the notion of set and set inclusion cannot be explicitly defined outside of systems of axioms such as Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory. All we can say about inclusion or set membership is given in the relevant axioms of the relevant system. For example, those in ZF excluding self-membership.
Yet, while it might make sense to talk of an implicit mastery of set theoretic axioms without a concept of set, this is not possible with Shipley’s text, which like Bellmer’s anagrammatic doll, has no rule beyond the hazard of its dispersal. In the prologue Shipley’s narrator writes that the alien force he is soliciting learned to talk by ‘shaping the stories of its victims and, in so doing, created ‘a portrait of itself – of itself made up with other things’ (9).
Warewolff has no people, no worlds; only disjointed clones, plucky carcasses and scripts we once mistook as our lives. Yet despite this ontological poverty something happens that we can read and follow if not understand. This is not a book about a horror – this dispersal is the horror of biomorphism: a condition somewhat like life that, like Shipley’s alien, ‘discloses its arrangements’ through our language centers.
 ‘It is of the very essence of set theory to only possess an implicit mastery of its ‘objects’ (multiplicities, sets): these multiplicities are deployed in an axiom-system in which the property “to be a set” does not figure’ (Badiou 2006, 43)
Badiou, A. 2006. Being and Event. Oliver Feltham (tr). London: Continuum.
Shipley, Gary J. 2017. Warewolff. London: Hexus Press.
GLASS aeroplanes climbed into the sky above the airport. Through the brittle air I watched the traffic move along the motorway. The memories of the beautiful vehicles I had seen soaring down the concrete lanes transformed these once-oppressive jams and tail-backs into an endless illuminated queue, patiently waiting for some invisible slip road into the sky. From the balcony of my apartment I gazed across the landscape below, trying to find this paradisial incline, a mile-wide gradient supported on the shoulders of two archangelic figures, on to which all the traffic in the world might flow.
In these strange days, as I recovered from my acid trip and my near-death afterwards, I remained at home with Catherine. Sitting here, my hands in a familiar grip on the arms of the chair, I watched the metallized plain below for any sip of Vaughan. The traffic moved sluggishly along the crowded concrete lanes, the roofs of the vehicles forming a continuous carapace of polished cellulose. The after-effects of the LSD had left me in a state of almost disturbing calm. I felt detached from my own body, as if my musculature were suspended a few millimetres from the armature of bones, the two joined together only by the few wound points which had been alerted when I flexed my legs and arms during the acid trip. For days afterwards segments of the experience returned intact, and I would see the cars on the motorway wearing their coronation armour, soaring along the causeways on wings of fire. The pedestrians in the streets below wore their suits of lights, as if I were a solitary visitor in a city of matadors. Catherine would move behind me like some electric nymph, a devotional creature guarding my gestures of excitement with her calm presence.
At less happy moments the sluggish delirium and queasy perspectives of the grey overpass would return, the damp hypogeum at whose mouth I had seen the thousands of flies festering on the instrument panel of the car, on Vaughan's buttocks as he lay back watching me with his trousers around his knees. Terrified by these brief re-enactments, I held Catherine's hands as she pressed my shoulders, trying to convince myself that I was sitting with her by a sealed window in my own apartment. Often I asked her what period of the year it was. The light changes within my retina moved the seasons without warning.
One morning, when Catherine had left me alone to take her last flying lesson, I saw her aircraft above the motorway, a glass dragonfly carried by the sun. It seemed to hang motionlessly over my head, the propellor rotating slowly like a toy aircraft's. The light poured from its wings in a ceaseless fountain.
Below her, the cars soaring along the motorway marked on the plain of the landscape all the possible trajectories of her flight, laying down the blueprints of our coming passage through heaven, the transits of a technology with wings. I thought of Vaughan, covered with flies like a resurrected corpse, watching me with a mixture of irony and affection. I knew that Vaughan could never really die in a car-crash, but would in some way be re-born through those twisted radiator grilles and cascading windshield glass. I thought of the scarred white skin over his abdomen, the heavy pubic hair that started on the upper slopes of his thighs, his tacky navel and unsavoury armpits, his crude handling of women and automobiles, and his submissive tenderness towards myself. Even as I had placed my penis in his rectum Vaughan had known he would try to kill me, in a final display of his casual love for me.
Catherine's car sat in the drive below the bedroom window. The paintwork along the left-hand side had been marked in some minor collision.
'Your car - ?' I held her shoulders. 'Are you all right?'
She leaned against me, as if memorializing the image of this collision into our body pressures. She took off her flying jacket. Both of us had now made our separate love to Vaughan.
'I wasn't driving - I'd left the car in the parking lot at the airport.' She reached out and held my elbows in her hands. 'Could it have been deliberate?'
'One of your suitors?'
'One of my suitors.'
She must have been frightened by this meaningless assault on the car, but she watched me examine it with a calm gaze. I felt the abrasions on the left-hand door and body panels, and explored with my hand the deep trench that ran the full length of the car from the crushed taillight to the front headlamp. The imprint of the other car's heavy front bumper was clearly marked on the rear wheel guard, the unmistakable signature of Vaughan's Lincoln. I felt the curved groove, as clear as the rounded cleft between Vaughan's hard buttocks, as well-formed as the tight annulus of his anus which I could still feel on my penis during my erections.
Had Vaughan deliberately followed Catherine, striking her parked car in a first gesture of courtship? I looked at her pale skin and firm body, thinking of Vaughan's car hurtling towards me among the concrete pillars of the overpass. Like Seagrave, I would have died in an acid death-out.
I opened the passenger door, beckoning Catherine into the seat.
'Let me drive - the light is clear now.'
'Your hands. Are you ready yet?'
'Catherine - ' I took her arm. 'I need to drive again before it all goes.'
She held her bare arms across her breasts, and peered into the interior of her car, as if searching for the flies which I had described to her.
I wanted to show her to Vaughan.
I started the engine and turned out of the courtyard. As I accelerated, the perspectives of the street swerved around me, leaning away from me as if streamlining themselves. Near the supermarket, a young woman in a plastic coat glowed with cerise light as she crossed the road. The motion of the car, its attitude and geometry, had undergone a marked transformation, as if they had been purged of all accretions of the familiar and sentimental. The surrounding street furniture, the shop-fronts and passers-by were illuminated by the motion of the car, the intensity of the light they emitted regulated by the passage of the vehicle I was driving. At the traffic lights I looked across the seat at Catherine. She sat with one hand on the window-sill. The colours of her face and arms revealed themselves in their clearest and richest forms, as if each blood cell and pigment granule, the cartileges of her face, were real for the first time, assembled by the movement of this car. The skin of her cheeks, the indicator signs guiding us on to the motorway, the cars parked on the roof of the supermarket, were clarified and defined, as if some immense deluge had at last receded, leaving everything isolated for the first time, like the features of a lunar landscape, a still-life arranged by a demolition squad.
We drove southwards along the motorway.
'The traffic - where is everyone?' I realized that the three lanes were almost deserted. 'They've all gone away.'
'I'd like to go back - James!'
'Not yet - it's only beginning…'
I thought of this image of an empty city, with an abandoned technology left to its own devices, as we drove down the access road where Vaughan had tried to kill me a few days earlier. In the waste lot beyond the damaged palisade the group of abandoned cars lay in the blanched light. I drove past the scarred concrete abutment towards the dark cavern of the overpass, where Vaughan and I had embraced each other among the concrete pillars, listening to the traffic drumming overhead. Catherine gazed up at the cathedral-like vaults of the overpass, like a succession of empty submarine pens. I stopped the car and turned towards her. Without thinking, I took up the posture in which I had sodomized Vaughan. I looked down at my own thighs and abdomen, visualizing Vaughan's buttocks lifted high against my hips, remembering the tacky texture of his anus. By some paradox, this sex act between us had been devoid of all sexuality.
All that afternoon we drove along the expressways. The endless highway systems along which we moved contained the formulas for an infinity of sexual bliss. I watched the cars leaving the flyover. Each of them carried on its roof a piece of the sun.
'Are you looking for Vaughan?' Catherine asked.
'In a manner of speaking.'
'You're no longer frightened of him.'
'He's going to kill himself.'
'I knew that after Seagrave died.'
I watched her staring at the traffic sweeping down the flyover towards us as we waited on a slip road below Western Avenue. I wanted Vaughan to see her. Thinking of the long dents that scarred the side of Catherine's car, I wanted to expose them to Vaughan, encouraging him to take Catherine again.
At a concourse filling station we saw Vera Seagrave talking to a girl at the pumps. I turned into the forecourt. Vera's strong-hipped body, with its hard-working breasts and buttocks, was dressed in a heavy leather jacket, as if she were about to leave on an Antarctic expedition.
At first she failed to recognize me. Her firm eyes cut across me to Catherine's elegant figure, as if suspicious of her cross-legged posture in the open cockpit of the sports car with its lacerated bodywork.
'Are you leaving?' I pointed to the suitcases in the rear seat of Vera's car. 'I'm trying to find Vaughan.'
Vera finished her questioning of the girl attendant, completing some arrangement for the boarding of her small son. Still staring at Catherine, she stepped into her car.
'He's following his film actress. The police are after him - an American serviceman was killed on the Northolt overpass.'
I put my hand on the windshield, but she switched on the windshield wipers, almost cutting the knuckle of my wrist.
Explaining everything, she said: 'I was with him in the car.'
Before I could stop her she had moved towards the exit and turned into the fast evening traffic.
Catherine telephoned me from her office the next morning to say that Vaughan had followed her to the airport. As she spoke in her calm tones I carried the telephone to the window. Watching the cars edge along the motorway, I felt my penis stiffening. Somewhere below me, among those thousands of vehicles, Vaughan was waiting at an intersection.
'He's probably looking for me,' I told her.
'I've seen him twice - this morning he was waiting for me in the entrance to the car-park.'
'What did you say?'
'Nothing. I'll get in touch with the police.'
Talking to her, I found myself slipping into the same erotic reverie in which I sometimes used to question Catherine about the flight instructor she lunched with, drawing one detail after another about some small amorous encounter, a brief act of intercourse. I visualized Vaughan waiting for her at quiet intersections, following her through car-washes and traffic detours, moving ever closer to an intense erotic junction. The drab streets were illuminated by the passage of their bodies during this exquisitely prolonged mating ritual.
Unable to stay any longer in the apartment while this courtship was taking place, I drove my car to the airport. From the roof of the multi-storey car-park next to the airfreight building I waited for Vaughan to appear.
As I expected, Vaughan was waiting for Catherine at the junction of Western Avenue and the flyover. He made no attempt to conceal himself from either of us, pushing his heavy car bluntly into the passing traffic stream. Apparently uninterested in Catherine or myself, Vaughan lay against his door sill, almost asleep at the wheel as he surged forward when the lights changed. His left hand drummed across the rim of the steering wheel, as if reading the road's braille in its rapid tremors. Following these rippling contours inside his head, he swerved the Lincoln to and fro across the road surface. His heavy face was fixed in a rigid mask, his scarred cheeks clamped rigidly around his mouth. He cut in and out of the traffic lanes, surging ahead in the fast lane until he was abreast of Catherine and then sliding back behind her, allowing other cars to cut between them and then taking up a watchful position in the slow lane. He began to mimic Catherine's driving, her trim shoulders and high chin, her incessant use of the brake pedal. Their harmonized brakelights moved down the expressway like the dialogue of a long-married couple.
I sped along behind them, flashing my headlamps at any cars in my way. We reached the ramp of the flyover. As Catherine climbed the ramp, forced to slow down behind a line of fuel tankers, Vaughan accelerated sharply, turning left at the junction. I raced after him, winding through the roundabouts and intersections which the flyover spanned. We jumped a set of traffic lights as the airport traffic closed towards us. Somewhere over our heads Catherine moved along the open deck of the flyover.
Vaughan cut through the afternoon traffic, throwing on his brakes at the last moment, rolling his car on to its off-side wheels as he circled the roundabouts at speed. A hundred yards behind him, I raced down the straight towards the descent ramp. Vaughan stopped at the junction, waiting as the fuel tankers thundered past. As Catherine's small sports car appeared he surged forward.
Swerving after him, I waited for Vaughan to collide with Catherine. His car moved forward across the marker lines on a collision course. But at the last moment he pulled away, fading across the traffic stream behind her. He lost himself beyond the roundabout on the northward carriageway. Watching him, as I struggled to catch up with Catherine, I had a last glimpse of a battered front fender, cracked headlamps flashing at a bullish truckdriver.
Half an hour later, in the basement garage of my apartment house, I felt with my hand the imprint of Vaughan's car in the body panels of Catherine's sports car, the rehearsal-marks of a death.
These rehearsals for a union between Vaughan and Catherine continued during the following days. Twice Vera Seagrave telephoned me to ask if I had seen Vaughan, but I insisted that I had not left the apartment. She told me that the police had removed Vaughan's photographs and equipment from the dark-room at her house. Astonishingly, they seemed unable to catch Vaughan.
Catherine never referred to Vaughan's pursuit of her. Between us we now maintained an ironic calm, the same stylized affection we showed to each other at parties whenever she or I was openly taking another lover. Did she understand Vaughan's real motives? At the time, even I failed to realize that she was merely a stand-in during an elaborate rehearsal for another and far more important death.
Day by day Vaughan followed Catherine around the expressways and airport perimeter roads, sometimes waiting for her in the damp cul-de-sac adjacent to our drive, at other times appearing like a spectre in the high-speed lane of the overpass, his battered car tilted over on its near-side springs. I watched him waiting for her at various intersections, clearly testing in his mind the possibilities of different accident modes: headon collisions, side-impacts, rear-end collisions, roll-over. During this time I felt a gathering euphoria, the surrender to an inevitable logic that I had once resisted, as if I were watching my own daughter in the early stages of a burgeoning love affair.
Often I would stand on the grass verge of the embankment by the western descent ramp of the flyover, knowing that this was Vaughan's favourite zone, and watch him lunge forward after Catherine as she swept by in the evening rush hour.
Vaughan's car was becoming increasingly battered. The right-hand fender and doors were marked with impact points scored deep into the metal, a rusting fretwork that turned more and more white, as if revealing a skeleton below. Waiting behind him in a traffic jam on the Northolt expressway, I saw that two of the rear windows had been broken.
Further damage continued. A body panel detached itself from the off-side rear wheel housing and the front bumper hung from the chassis pinion, its rusting lower curvature touching the ground as Vaughan cornered.
Hidden behind his dusty windshield, Vaughan sat hunched over his steering wheel as he travelled at speed along the motorway, unaware of his car's dents and impacts, like the self-inflicted wounds of a distressed child.
Still uncertain whether Vaughan would try to crash his car into Catherine's, I made no attempt to warn her. Her death would be a model of my care for all the victims of air-crashes and natural disasters. As I lay beside Catherine at night, my hands modelling her breasts, I visualized her body in contact with various points of the Lincoln's interior, rehearsing for Vaughan the postures she might assume. Aware of this coming collision, Catherine had entered an entranced room within her mind. Passively, she allowed me to move her limbs into the positions of unexplored sex acts.
As Catherine slept, a battered car moved below us along the deserted avenue. The total stillness of the streets below made the entire city seem deserted. In that brief lull before dawn when no aircraft took off from the airport the only sound we could hear was the kicking exhaust box of Vaughan's car. From the kitchen window I saw Vaughan's grey face, leaning against the cracked quarter window, marked by a deep weal that crossed his forehead like a bright leather band. For a moment I felt that all the aircraft he had watched rising from the airport had now left. After Catherine and I had gone he would be finally alone, marauding the empty city in his derelict car.
Uncertain whether to wake Catherine, I waited for half an hour, and then dressed and went down to the forecourt. Vaughan's car was parked under the trees in the avenue. The dawn light shone bleakly on the dusty paintwork. The seats were covered with oil and grime, and in the rear the remnants of a torn tartan blanket lay across a greasy pillow. I guessed from the broken bottles and food cans on the floor that Vaughan had been living in the car for several days. In an evident burst of anger he had slashed at the instrument panel, bludgeoning several of the dials and the upper lip of the binnacle. Torn plastic housings and chrome strips hung over the light toggles.
The ignition keys hung from the switch. I looked up and down the avenue, trying to see if Vaughan were waiting behind one of the trees. I walked around the car, and pushed the broken body panels into place with my hand. As I worked, the front off-side tyre slowly flattened itself to the ground.
Catherine came down and watched me. We walked through the clearing light to the entrance. As we crossed the gravel a car's engine roared in the garage. A polished silver car, which I recognized immediately as my own, hurtled up the ramp towards us. Catherine cried out, tripping over her feet, but before I could take her arm the car had swerved around us and plunged through the sliding gravel into the street. Through the dawn air its engine sounded a cry of pain.
excerpt from the book: CRASH by J.G. Ballard
VAUGHAN died yesterday in his last car-crash. During our friendship he had rehearsed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filled with airline passengers. The crushed bodies of package tourists, like a haemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughan had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughan's body she placed a gloved hand to her throat.
Could she see, in Vaughan's posture, the formula of the death which he had devised for her? During the last weeks of his life Vaughan thought of nothing else but her death, a coronation of wounds he had staged with the devotion of an Earl Marshal. The walls of his apartment near the film studios at Shepperton were covered with the photographs he had taken through his zoom lens each morning as she left her hotel in London, from the pedestrian bridges above the westbound motorways, and from the roof of the multi-storey car-park at the studios. The magnified details of her knees and hands, of the inner surface of her thighs and the left apex of her mouth, I uneasily prepared for Vaughan on the copying machine in my office, handing him the packages of prints as if they were the instalments of a death warrant. At his apartment I watched him matching the details of her body with the photographs of grotesque wounds in a textbook of plastic surgery.
In his vision of a car-crash with the actress, Vaughan was obsessed by many wounds and impacts – by the dying chromium and collapsing bulkheads of their two cars meeting head-on in complex collisions endlessly repeated in slow-motion films, by the identical wounds inflicted on their bodies, by the image of windshield glass frosting around her face as she broke its tinted surface like a death-born Aphrodite, by the compound fractures of their thighs impacted against their handbrake mountings, and above all by the wounds to their genitalia, her uterus pierced by the heraldic beak of the manufacturer's medallion, his semen emptying across the luminescent dials that registered for ever the last temperature and fuel levels of the engine.
It was only at these times, as he described this last crash to me, that Vaughan was calm. He talked of these wounds and collisions with the erotic tenderness of a long-separated lover. Searching through the photographs in his apartment, he half turned towards me, so that his heavy groin quietened me with its profile of an almost erect penis. He knew that as long as he provoked me with his own sex, which he used casually as if he might discard it for ever at any moment, I would never leave him.
Ten days ago, as he stole my car from the garage of my apartment house, Vaughan hurtled up the concrete ramp, an ugly machine sprung from a trap. Yesterday his body lay under the police arc-lights at the foot of the flyover, veiled by a delicate lacework of blood. The broken postures of his legs and arms, the bloody geometry of his face, seemed to parody the photographs of crash injuries that covered the walls of his apartment. I looked down for the last time at his huge groin, engorged with blood. Twenty yards away, illuminated by the revolving lamps, the actress hovered on the arm of her chauffeur. Vaughan had dreamed of dying at the moment of her orgasm.
Before his death Vaughan had taken part in many crashes. As I think of Vaughan I see him in the stolen cars he drove and damaged, the surfaces of deformed metal and plastic that for ever embraced him. Two months earlier I found him on the lower deck of the airport flyover after the first rehearsal of his own death. A taxi driver helped two shaken air hostesses from a small car into which Vaughan had collided as he lurched from the mouth of a concealed access road. As I ran across to Vaughan I saw him through the fractured windshield of the white convertible he had taken from the car-park of the Oceanic Terminal. His exhausted face, with its scarred mouth, was lit by broken rainbows. I pulled the dented passenger door from its frame. Vaughan sat on the glass-covered seat, studying his own posture with a complacent gaze. His hands, palms upwards at his sides, were covered with blood from his injured knee-caps. He examined the vomit staining the lapels of his leather jacket, and reached forward to touch the globes of semen clinging to the instrument binnacle. I tried to lift him from the car, but his tight buttocks were clamped together as if they had seized while forcing the last drops of fluid from his seminal vesicles. On the seat beside him were the torn photographs of the film actress which I had reproduced for him that morning at my office. Magnified sections of lip and eyebrow, elbow and cleavage formed a broken mosaic.
For Vaughan the car-crash and his own sexuality had made their final marriage. I remember him at night with nervous young women in the crushed rear compartments of abandoned cars in breakers' yards, and their photographs in the postures of uneasy sex acts. Their tight faces and strained thighs were lit by his polaroid flash, like startled survivors of a submarine disaster. These aspiring whores, whom Vaughan met in the all-night cafés and supermarkets of London Airport, were the first cousins of the patients illustrated in his surgical textbooks. During his studied courtship of injured women, Vaughan was obsessed with the buboes of gas bacillus infections, by facial injuries and genital wounds.
Through Vaughan I discovered the true significance of the automobile crash, the meaning of whiplash injuries and roll-over, the ecstasies of head-on collisions. Together we visited the Road Research Laboratory twenty miles to the west of London, and watched the calibrated vehicles crashing into the concrete target blocks. Later, in his apartment, Vaughan screened slow-motion films of test collisions that he had photographed with his cinecamera. Sitting in the darkness on the floor cushions, we watched the silent impacts flicker on the wall above our heads. The repeated sequences of crashing cars first calmed and then aroused me. Cruising alone on the motorway under the yellow glare of the sodium lights, I thought of myself at the controls of these impacting vehicles.
During the months that followed, Vaughan and I spent many hours driving along the express highways on the northern perimeter of the airport. On the calm summer evenings these fast boulevards became a zone of nightmare collisions. Listening to the police broadcasts on Vaughan's radio, we moved from one accident to the next. Often we stopped under arc-lights that flared over the sites of major collisions, watching while firemen and police engineers worked with acetylene torches and lifting tackle to free unconscious wives trapped beside their dead husbands, or waited as a passing doctor fumbled with a dying man pinned below an inverted truck. Sometimes Vaughan was pulled back by the other spectators, and fought for his cameras with the ambulance attendants. Above all, Vaughan waited for head-on collisions with the concrete pillars of the motorway overpasses, the melancholy conjunction formed by a crushed vehicle abandoned on the grass verge and the serene motion sculpture of the concrete.
Once we were the first to reach the crashed car of an injured woman driver. A middle-aged cashier at the airport duty-free liquor store, she sat unsteadily in the crushed compartment, fragments of the tinted windshield set in her forehead like jewels. As a police car approached, its emergency beacon pulsing along the overhead motorway, Vaughan ran back for his camera and flash equipment. Taking off my tie, I searched helplessly for the woman's wounds. She stared at me without speaking, and lay on her side across the seat. I watched the blood irrigate her white blouse. When Vaughan had taken the last of his pictures he knelt down inside the car and held her face carefully in his hands, whispering into her ear. Together we helped to lift her on to the ambulance trolley.
On our way to Vaughan's apartment he recognized an airport whore waiting in the forecourt of a motorway restaurant, a part-time cinema usherette for ever worrying about her small son's defective hearing-aid. As they sat behind me she complained to Vaughan about my nervous driving, but he was watching her movements with an abstracted gaze, almost encouraging her to gesture with her hands and knees. On the deserted roof of a Northolt multi-storey car-park I waited by the balustrade. In the rear seat of the car Vaughan arranged her limbs in the posture of the dying cashier. His strong body, crouched across her in the reflected light of passing headlamps, assumed a series of stylized positions.
Vaughan unfolded for me all his obsessions with the mysterious eroticism of wounds: the perverse logic of blood-soaked instrument panels, seat-belts smeared with excrement, sun-visors lined with brain tissue. For Vaughan each crashed car set off a tremor of excitement, in the complex geometries of a dented fender, in the unexpected variations of crushed radiator grilles, in the grotesque overhang of an instrument panel forced on to a driver's crotch as if in some calibrated act of machine fellatio. The intimate time and space of a single human being had been fossilized for ever in this web of chromium knives and frosted glass.
A week after the funeral of the woman cashier, as we drove at night along the western perimeter of the airport, Vaughan swerved on to the verge and struck a large mongrel dog. The impact of its body, like a padded hammer, and the shower of glass as the animal was carried over the roof, convinced me that we were about to die in a crash. Vaughan never stopped. I watched him accelerate away, his scarred face held close to the punctured windshield, angrily brushing the beads of frosted glass from his cheeks. Already his acts of violence had become so random that I was no more than a captive spectator. Yet the next morning, on the roof of the airport car-park where we abandoned the car, Vaughan calmly pointed out to me the deep dents in the bonnet and roof. He stared at an airliner filled with tourists lifting into the western sky, his sallow face puckering like a wistful child's. The long triangular grooves on the car had been formed within the death of an unknown creature, its vanished identity abstracted in terms of the geometry of this vehicle. How much more mysterious would be our own deaths, and those of the famous and powerful?
Even this first death seemed timid compared with the others in which Vaughan took part, and with those imaginary deaths that filled his mind. Trying to exhaust himself, Vaughan devised a terrifying almanac of imaginary automobile disasters and insane wounds - the lungs of elderly men punctured by door handles, the chests of young women impaled by steering-columns, the cheeks of handsome youths pierced by the chromium latches of quarter-lights. For him these wounds were the keys to a new sexuality born from a perverse technology. The images of these wounds hung in the gallery of his mind like exhibits in the museum of a slaughterhouse.
Thinking of Vaughan now, drowning in his own blood under the police arc-lights, I remember the countless imaginary disasters he described as we cruised together along the airport expressways. He dreamed of ambassadorial limousines crashing into jack-knifing butane tankers, of taxis filled with celebrating children colliding head-on below the bright display windows of deserted supermarkets. He dreamed of alienated brothers and sisters, by chance meeting each other on collision courses on the access roads of petrochemical plants, their unconscious incest made explicit in this colliding metal, in the haemorrhages of their brain tissue flowering beneath the aluminized compression chambers and reaction vessels. Vaughan devised the massive rear-end collisions of sworn enemies, hate-deaths celebrated in the engine fuel burning in wayside ditches, paintwork boiling through the dull afternoon sunlight of provincial towns. He visualized the specialized crashes of escaping criminals, of off-duty hotel receptionists trapped between their steering wheels and the laps of their lovers whom they were masturbating. He thought of the crashes of honeymoon couples, seated together after their impacts with the rear suspension units of runaway sugar-tankers. He thought of the crashes of automobile stylists, the most abstract of all possible deaths, wounded in their cars with promiscuous laboratory technicians.
Vaughan elaborated endless variations on these collisions, thinking first of a repetition of head-on collisions: a child-molester and an overworked doctor reenacting their deaths first in head-on collision and then in roll-over; the retired prostitute crashing into a concrete motorway parapet, her overweight body propelled through the fractured windshield, menopausal loins torn on the chromium bonnet mascot. Her blood would cross the over-white concrete of the evening embankment, haunting for ever the mind of a police mechanic who carried the pieces of her body in a yellow plastic shroud. Alternatively, Vaughan saw her hit by a reversing truck in a motorway fuelling area, crushed against the nearside door of her car as she bent down to loosen her right shoe, the contours of her body buried within the bloody mould of the door panel. He saw her hurtling through the rails of the flyover and dying as Vaughan himself would later die, plunging through the roof of an airline coach, its cargo of complacent destinations multiplied by the death of this myopic middle-aged woman. He saw her hit by a speeding taxi as she stepped out of her car to relieve herself in a wayside latrine, her body whirled a hundred feet away in a spray of urine and blood.
I think now of the other crashes we visualized, absurd deaths of the wounded, maimed and distraught. I think of the crashes of psychopaths, implausible accidents carried out with venom and self-disgust, vicious multiple collisions contrived in stolen cars on evening freeways among tired office-workers. I think of the absurd crashes of neurasthenic housewives returning from their VD clinics, hitting parked cars in suburban high streets. I think of the crashes of excited schizophrenics colliding head-on into stalled laundry vans in one-way streets; of manic-depressives crushed while making pointless U-turns on motorway access roads; of luckless paranoids driving at full speed into the brick walls at the ends of known culs-de-sac; of sadistic charge nurses decapitated in inverted crashes on complex interchanges; of lesbian supermarket manageresses burning to death in the collapsed frames of their midget cars before the stoical eyes of middle-aged firemen; of autistic children crushed in rear-end collisions, their eyes less wounded in death; of buses filled with mental defectives drowning together stoically in roadside industrial canals.
Long before Vaughan died I had begun to think of my own death. With whom would I die, and in what role – psychopath, neurasthenic, absconding criminal? Vaughan dreamed endlessly of the deaths of the famous, inventing imaginary crashes for them. Around the deaths of James Dean and Albert Camus, Jayne Mansfield and John Kennedy he had woven elaborate fantasies. His imagination was a target gallery of screen actresses, politicians, business tycoons and television executives. Vaughan followed them everywhere with his camera, zoom lens watching from the observation platform of the Oceanic Terminal at the airport, from hotel mezzanine balconies and studio car-parks. For each of them Vaughan devised an optimum auto-death. Onassis and his wife would die in a recreation of the Dealey Plaza assassination. He saw Reagan in a complex rear-end collision, dying a stylized death that expressed Vaughan's obsession with Reagan's genital organs, like his obsession with the exquisite transits of the screen actress's pubis across the vinyl seat covers of hired limousines.
After his last attempt to kill my wife Catherine, I knew that Vaughan had retired finally into his own skull. In this overlit realm ruled by violence and technology he was now driving for ever at a hundred miles an hour along an empty motorway, past deserted filling stations on the edges of wide fields, waiting for a single oncoming car. In his mind Vaughan saw the whole world dying in a simultaneous automobile disaster, millions of vehicles hurled together in a terminal congress of spurting loins and engine coolant.
I remember my first minor collision in a deserted hotel car-park. Disturbed by a police patrol, we had forced ourselves through a hurried sex-act. Reversing out of the park, I struck an unmarked tree. Catherine vomited over my seat. This pool of vomit with its clots of blood like liquid rubies, as viscous and discreet as everything produced by Catherine, still contains for me the essence of the erotic delirium of the car-crash, more exciting than her own rectal and vaginal mucus, as refined as the excrement of a fairy queen, or the minuscule globes of liquid that formed beside the bubbles of her contact lenses. In this magic pool, lifting from her throat like a rare discharge of fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine, I saw my own reflection, a mirror of blood, semen and vomit, distilled from a mouth whose contours only a few minutes before had drawn steadily against my penis.
Now that, Vaughan has died, we will leave with the others who gathered around him, like a crowd drawn to an injured cripple whose deformed postures reveal the secret formulas of their minds and lives. All of us who knew Vaughan accept the perverse eroticism of the car-crash, as painful as the drawing of an exposed organ through the aperture of a surgical wound. I have watched copulating couples moving along darkened freeways at night, men and women on the verge of orgasm, their cars speeding in a series of inviting trajectories towards the flashing headlamps of the oncoming traffic stream. Young men alone behind the wheels of their first cars, near-wrecks, picked up in scrap-yards, masturbate as they move on worn tyres to aimless destinations. After a near collision at a traffic intersection semen jolts across a cracked speedometer dial. Later, the dried residues of that same semen are brushed by the lacquered hair of the first young woman who lies across his lap with her mouth over his penis, one hand on the wheel hurtling the car through the darkness towards a multi-level interchange, the swerving brakes drawing the semen from him as he grazes the tailgate of an articulated truck loaded with colour television sets, his left hand vibrating her clitoris towards orgasm as the headlamps of the truck flare warningly in his rear-view mirror. Later still, he watches as a friend takes a teenage girl in the rear seat. Greasy mechanic's hands expose her buttocks to the advertisement hoardings that hurl past them. The wet highways flash by in the glare of headlamps and the scream of brake-pads. The shaft of his penis glistens above the girl as he strikes at the frayed plastic roof of the car, marking the yellow fabric with his smegma.
The last ambulance had left. An hour earlier the film actress had been steered towards her limousine. In the evening light the white concrete of the collision corridor below the flyover resembled a secret airstrip from which mysterious machines would take off into a metallized sky. Vaughan's glass aeroplane flew somewhere above the heads of the bored spectators moving back to their cars, above the tired policemen gathering together the crushed suitcases and handbags of the airline tourists. I thought of Vaughan's body, colder now, its rectal temperature following the same downward gradients as those of the other victims of the crash. Across the night air these gradients fell like streamers from the office towers and apartment houses of the city, and from the warm mucosa of the film actress in her hotel suite.
I drove back towards the airport. The lights along Western Avenue illuminated the speeding cars, moving together towards their celebration of wounds.
excerpt from the book: Crash by J. G. Ballard
by Mark Fisher
Obviously many readers will be familiar with this material, but in the interests of accumulating resources on the site, I've reproduced below some of the key passages in A Thousand Plateaus in which D/G invoke Castaneda.
From '587 BC-AD 70: On Several Regimes of Signs' (138-39)
'One of the things of profound interest in Castaneda's books, under the influence of drugs, or other things, and of a change in atmosphere, is precisely that they show how the Indian manages to combat the mechanisms of interpretation and instill in the disciple a presignifying semiotic, or even an asignifying diagram: Stop! You're making me tired! Experiment, don't signify and interpret! Find your own place, territorialities, deterritorializations, regime, lines of flight! Semiotize yourself instead of rooting around in your prefab childhood and Western semiology. "Don Juan stated that in order to arrive at 'seeing' one first had to 'stop the world'. 'Stopping the world' was indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow of interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to the flow." '
From 'How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?' (161-2)
'In the course of Castaneda's books, the reader may begin to doubt the existence of the Indian Don Juan, and many other things besides. But that has no importance. So much the better if the books are a syncretism rather than an ethnographical study, and the protocol of an experiment rather than an account of an initiation. The fourth book, Tales of Power, is about the living distinction between the "Tonal" and the "Nagual." The tonal seems to cover many disparate things: It is the organism, and also all that is organized and organizing; but it is also signifiance, and all that is signifying or signified, all that is susceptible to interpretation, explanation, all that is memorizable, in the form of something recalling something else; finally it is the Self (Moi), the subject, the historical, social or individual person. In short, the tonal is everything, including God, the judgment of God, since it "makes up the rules by which it apprehends the world. So, in a manner of speaking, it creates the world." Yet the tonal is only an island. For the nagual is also everything. And it is the same everything, but under such conditions that the body without organs has replaced the organism and experimentation has replaced all interpretation, for which it no longer has any use. Flows of intensity, their fluids, their fibers, their continuums and conjunctions of affects, the wind, fine segmentation, microperceptions, have replaced the world of the subject. Becomings, becoming-animal, becomings-molecular, have replaced history, individual or general. IN the fact, the tonal is not as disparate as it seems: it includes all of the strata and everything that can be ascribed to the strata, the organization of the organism, the interpretations and explanations of the signifiable, the movements of signification. The nagual, on the contrary, dismantles the strata. It is no longer an organism that functions but a BwO that is constructed. No longer are there acts to explain, dreams or phantasies to interpret, childhood memories to recall, words to make signify; instead, there are colours and sounds, becomings and intensities (and when you become-dog, don't ask if the dog you are playing with is a dream or a reality, "if it is your goddamn mother" or something else entirely). There is no longer a Self [Moi] that feels, acts, and recalls; there is "glowing fog, a dark yellow mist" that has affects and experiences movements, speeds. The important thing is not to dismantle the tonal by destroying it all of a sudden. You have to diminish it, shrink it, clean it, and that only at certain moments. You have to keep it in oder to survive, to ward off the assault of the nagual. For a nagual that erupts, that destroys the tonal, a body without organs that shatters the strata, turns immediately into body of nothingness, pure self-destruction, whose only outcome is death: "The tonal must be protected at all costs."
From '1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity', 227
'According to Nietzsche's Zarathustra and Castaneda's Indian Don Juan, there are three or even four dangers: first, Fear, then Clarity, then Power, and finally, the great Disgust, the longing to kill and to die, the Passion for abolition.'
From '1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal...', 248-249
'If the experimentation with drugs has left its mark on everyone, even nonusers, it is because it changed the perceptive coordinates of space-time and introduced us to a universe of microperceptions in which becomings-molecular take over from becomings-animal leave off. Carlos Castaneda's books clearly illustrate this evolution, or rather this involution, in which the affects of a becoming-dog, for example, are succeeded by those of a becoming-molecular, microperceptions of water, air, etc. A man totters from one door to the next and disappears into thin air: "All I can tell you is that we are fluid, luminous beings made of fibers." All so-called initiatory journeys include these thresholds and doors where becoming itself becomes, and where one changes becoming depending on the "hour" of the world, the circles of hell, or the stages of a journey that sets scales, forms, and cries in variation. From the howling of animals to the wailing of elements and particles.'
'All drugs fundamentally concern speeds, and modifications of speed. What allows us to describe an overll Drug assemblage in spite of the differences between drugs is a line of perceptive causality that makes it so that (1) the imperceptible is perceived; (2) perception is molecular; (3) desire directly invests the perception and the perceived. The Americans of the beat generation had already embarked on this path, and spoke of a molecular revolution specific to drugs. Then came Castaneda's broad synthesis.'
by Steven Craig Hickman
“A posthuman is any WHD [Wide Human Descendent] that goes feral; becomes capable of life outside the planetary substance comprised of narrow biological humans, their cultures and technologies.”
– Dr. David Roden, Hacking Humans
“So really think about it now,” Thomas continued. “Everything you live, everything you see and touch and hear and taste, everything you think, belongs to this little slice of mush, this little wedge in your brain called the thalamocortical system. The neural processing that makes these experiences possible—we’re talking about the most complicated machinery in the known universe—is utterly invisible. This expansive, far-reaching experience of yours is nothing more than a mote, an inexplicable glow, hurtling through some impossible black. You’re steering through a dream…”
– R. Scott Bakker, Neuropath
In his novel Neuropath Thomas Bible, one of R. Scott Bakker’s characters – an atypical academic, not one of your pie-in-the-sky type, theorists, reminisces with a friend about an old professor who once presented theories on the coming “semantic apocalypse,” the apocalypse of meaning. He tells this friend, Samantha, that this is when the Argument started and conveys to her its basic tenets:
“Remember how I said science had scrubbed the world of purpose? For some reason, wherever science encounters intention or purpose in the world, it snuffs it out. The world as described by science is arbitrary and random. There’s innumerable causes for everything, but no reasons for anything.”1(58)
After a few arguments on how the neural process of the brain itself weaves the illusions of free-will, mind, etc. Thomas lays down the bombshell of Bakker’s pet theory: Blind Brain Theory, saying: “The brain, it turned out, could wrap itself around most everything but itself—which was why it invented minds . . . souls.”(61) Suddenly Samantha wakes up realizing that all this leads to moral nihilism and begins babbling defenses against such truths as Thomas has revealed. For Thomas this all seems all too familiar and human, he reminisces a similar conversation he’d had with his friend and co-hort, Neil Cassidy, who on realizing just where the argument led stated (stoned and pacing back and forth like a feral beast):
“Whoa, dude . . . Think about it. You’re a machine—a machine!—dreaming that you have a soul. None of this is real, man, and they can fucking prove it.” (62)
Mark Fisher: A Critique of Practical Nihilism: Agency in Scott Bakker’s “Neuropath”
My post was generated by rereading Mark Fisher’s excellent critique of Bakker’s novel in INCOGNITUM HACTENUS Volume 2: here (downloadable in .pdf format). What interested me in Fisher’s critique was his conclusions more than his actual arguments. You can read the essay yourself and draw your own conclusions, but for me the either/or scenario that Fisher draws out is how either the technocapitalists or the technosocialists (‘General Intellect’) in the immediate future might use such knowledge to wield powers of control/emacipation never before imaginable:
For whatever the theoretical implications of neuroscience, Bakker is surely right that its practical applications will in the first instance be controlled by the dominant force on the planet: capital. Capital can use neuroscientific techniques to stave off the semantic apocalypse: ironically, it can control people by convincing them that they are free subjects. This is already happening, via the low-level neurocontrol exerted through media, advertising and all the other platforms through which communicative capitalism operates. Whether neuroscience’s practical nihilism will do more than reinforce capital’s domination will ultimately depend on how far the institutions of techno-science can be liberated from corporate control. Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself. (11)
He brings up two notions, both hinging on the amoral ‘practical nihilism’ of neuroscience itself: 1) the reinforcement by the dominant ideology, technocapitalism, to use such technologies to gain complete control over every aspect of our lives through invasive techniques of brain manipulation; or, 2) the power of some alternative, possibly Leftward, collectivist ideology that seeks through the malleability or plasticity of these same neurosciences to use the ‘General Intellect’ to freely experiment on itself. Do we really want either of these paths?
Before we go into this should we first look the beast in the face, see where either a technocapitalist or technosocialist sociocultural system might lead us? What are the differences if any between them? Who would be the technical managers of such a system, anyway? Would both systems involve some form of hierarchical command and control structure? What type of machines are these, anyway? Are we really ready for the Machinic World that either of these systems offers us as competing alternatives? As Fisher points out the Left in our age has almost become the bearers of traditionalism, as the voice of a new conservatism, in the sense that – as Fredric Jameson says (as quoted by Fisher): “The Left is placed in a very self-defeating nostalgic position, just trying to slow down the movement of history.”(11) As Fisher comments: “The interlacing of melancholic pastoralism and can-do voluntarism has made for a disastrous cocktail, which concedes techno-modernity to capital, while retreating into reminiscences of revolts from the age of quill-pens or retellings of revolutions which happened in feudal conditions.”(11)
Fisher argues that even Marx himself proposed a radical notion of agency, one in which he claimed “that men make history but not in conditions of their own making”. Which leads Fisher to ask, What does this “mean if not that agency is not the same as the assertion of will?” So if there is no ‘free-will’ then are we all caught in the neuronets of machinic plasticity, bound to a blind-brain that can never know its own origins, which invents for us the illusions that keep us struggling on the evolutionary ladder like misguided machines treading a path laid down long ago in that marvelous piece of biotechnology we call DNA. Scientists have even of late begun realizing that DNA itself exists at the core of asteroids, and that since asteroids exist everywhere in the universe then the possibility of some form of potential life forms are latent in these chemical vats. As one scientists tells us “if asteroids are behaving like chemical ‘factories’ cranking out prebiotic material, you would expect them to produce many variants of nucleobases, not just the biological ones…” (here). So we may have potential creatures of even stranger mixtures that our own planetary bios could begin to understand.
Fisher quoting Malibu on plasticity: “Talking about the plasticity of the brain thus amounts to thinking of the brain as something modifiable, ‘formable,’ and formative at the same time. … But it must be remarked that plasticity is also the capacity to annihilate the very form it is able to receive or create.”(11) If this is true then what exactly would either a technocapitalist or technosocialist form take if they could remold our circuitry? What kind of beings would be become or evolve into? Would this truly take on that strange hybridity we’ve all toyed with in these conceptual playgrounds of academia that speak to us of the ‘post-human’?
Yet, Fisher in other essays on his blog shows us the dark underbelly of this precarious future, too. In an essay on David Cronenberg’s film in “You won’t be able to stop yourself, you might as well enjoy it”: eXistenZ and noncognitive labour he describes the notion of subjectivity as simulation: “this emerges through confronting other automated (or rather partially automated) consciounesses: entities who seem autonomous but in fact can only respond to certain trigger phrases or actions that move the gameplay down a predetermined pathway.” Yet, one wonders if this is not what happens all the time to us in our supposed real world, too. Are our brains triggered by certain key words and phrases that make us respond in predetermined ways that seem to us at first glance as choices of free-will, but are in fact automated programmable responses due to biological are socio-cultural factors beyond our conscious awareness embedded into the very fabric of our neuralnet? As Fisher remarks:
More disturbing than the third person (or non-person) encounter with these programmed drones is the experience of having one’s own subjectivity interrupted by an automatic behaviour. At one point, Pikul suddenly finds himself saying, “It’s none of your business who sent us! We’re here and that is all that matters” He is shocked at the expostulation: “God, what happened? I didn’t mean to say that.” “It’s your character who said it,” Geller explains. “It’s kind of a schizophrenic feeling, isn’t it? You’ll get used to it. There are things that have to be said to advance the plot and establish the characters, and those things get said whether you want to say them or not. Don’t fight it.” Pikul later grimly notes that whether he fights these “game urges” or not doesn’t make any difference.
Ultimately as Fisher says toward the close of that essay “free will is not an irreducible fact about human existence: it is merely the unpreprogrammed sequence necessary to stitch together a narrative that is already written. There is no real choice over the most important aspects of our life and work, eXistenZ suggests. Such choice as there are exist one level up: we can choose to accept and enjoy our becoming in-itself, or uselessly reject it. This is a kind of deflation-in-advance of all of the claims about “choice” and “interactivity” that communicative capitalism will trumpet in the decade after eXistenZ was released.”
In other words free will is something we do after the fact, a narrative device to help us think we are in control of our lives, when in fact there are forces just below the threshold of consciousness that are triggering each and every move we make while we like puppets on some invisible string dance to a tune we neither understand nor have any control over.
David Roden: The Disconnection Thesis
David Roden in his essay The Disconnection Thesis provides a detailed analysis of just where all this could be heading (see: Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment (here):
What is the “humanity” to which the posthuman is “post”? Does the possibility of a posthumanity presuppose that there is a ‘human essence’, or is there some other way of conceiving the human-posthuman difference? I argue that the difference should be conceived as an emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. I also suggest that these individuals should not be conceived in narrow biological terms but in “wide” terms permitting biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman. Finally, I consider the ethical implications of this metaphysics If, as I claim, the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori. The only way to evaluate the posthuman condition would be to witness the emergence of posthumans. The implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. We are not currently in a position to evaluate the posthuman condition. Since posthumans could result from some iteration of our current technical activity, we have an interest in understanding what they might be like. It follows that we have an interest in making or becoming posthumans.
So if this is true, and if as we previously stated that either the technocapitalist or the technosocialist might gain such technology in the future, then which path do we have an “interest in making or becoming posthumans” in David’s sense? Or do we follow those ultraluddites of the John Zerzan, Derrick Jensen, or Steven Best types and destroy the machine altogether? David unlike our luddite anarcho-primitivst brethren tells us that we need to take the notion of the Singularity seriously that the “idea of a technologically led intelligence explosion is philosophically important because it requires us to consider the prospect of a posthuman condition succeeding the human one”. Do we as humans have an ‘essence’? Or as David asks is there a some other way of conceiving the human-posthuman difference? What he argues for is “that the difference should be conceived as an emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. He also asks us not to reduce the human to biology but also to think of the ‘human’ in much wider terms allowing for biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman. (Kindle Locations 7322-7323).
With the emergence of NBIC technologies (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science) in our anthropocene era we now have within our powers the technical and scientific feasibility of actually producing some form of disconnection between humans and whatever comes next through the power of technoscientific interventions. These interventions will allow us to finally leave natural evolution behind us as we boldly or some might say, arrogantly intervene in our own evolutionary process. Some would have us slow down, think about it before we make the great leap into the unknown consequences of our actions. Others say the cat is out of the bag, that its too late to worry over moral consequences of our actions, that if we don’t do it, others will; others who exist outside the moral liberal machines of our eras globalized regimes. Others say that it should be handled by the ‘General Intellect’ the collective power of the people themselves for their own best interest. And, yet, others say we should destroy all these technologies along with the civilization that spawned them.
If Bakker is right about BBT then do we really have any say in the matter at all? I mean are we even free to choose which path will take? Or is there some deep seated pattern already determined within the heart of our DNA, some hidden message revealing itself in the current set of codings/uncodings that are transpiring at some deeper molecular level that have already made the choice for us? Whose in control, anyway? David Roden tells us that we can adopt either of two policies towards the posthuman prospect. Firstly, we can account for it: that is, assess the ethical implications of contributing to the creation of posthumans through our current technological activities. (KL 7350-7352). Yet, David tells us “posthumans might be so much smarter than humans that we could not understand their thoughts or anticipate the transformative effects of posthuman technology.” So instead we might “just opt to discount the possibility of posthumanity when considering the implications of our technological activity: considering only its implications for humans or for their modestly enhanced transhuman cousins. (KL 7357-7358).
Yet, beyond this David offers a third possibility, a Speculative Posthumanism which he clarifies telling us that the descendants of current humans could cease to be human by virtue of a history of technical alteration, and second through some form of descent. He offers this notion of a wider descent as an argument against essentialist theories, saying: “that human-posthuman difference be understood as a concrete disconnection between individuals rather than as an abstract relation between essences or kinds. This anti-essentialist model will allow us to specify the circumstances under which accounting would be possible.” (KL 7397-7399). David’s notion of wider descent he tells us refers to a difference between a Narrow Humanity that can be identified with the biological species Homo sapiens, while a Wide Humanity is a “technogenetic construction or “assemblage” with both narrowly human and narrowly non-human parts”. (KL 7436-7438).
What if we were already products of plasticity from the beginning? What if our very sociality and interventions in the natural environments of the earth had already begun through slow processes of technification and dialectical interactions between our species and the environment that gave rise to those very ‘assemblages’ that have determined who and what we are? As David tells it what if “hominization has involved a confluence of biological, cultural and technological processes. It has produced socio-technical “assemblages” in which humans are coupled with other active components: for example, languages, legal codes, cities, and computer mediated information networks”. (KL 7459-7461). Maybe we were eco-machines from the beginning. That each of these compositional additions onto the biological technicity of hominization was self-reinforcing, producing those systemic feed-back loops of causal determinations that have locked us into a programed algorithmic pattern that has become so habitual that we no longer have access to its evolutionary codes (if we ever did?).
There are scientists who have begun to wonder the same thing, whether our DNA holds the coded designs of some alien benefactor who programmed our DNA aeons ago. We know human genome, for example, consists of some 2.9 billion of those letters — the equivalent of about 750 megabytes of data — but only about 3 percent of it goes into composing the 22,000 or so genes that make us what we are. Certain scientists (here) hypothesize that an intelligent signal embedded in our genetic code would be a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolution. They call it “biological SETI.” What’s more, they argue that the scheme has much greater longevity and chance of detecting E.T. than a transient extraterrestrial radio transmission. Of course, whether one takes seriously such hypothesis or sees them as part of the fluff or pseudo-science of our postmodernity marketing itself within a technoeconomy of Think Tanks and R&D out-of-control monetary schemes is another matter.
Who cares if they were embedded by some alien species (which seems like a return to some theological origins in the guise of science), or whether they are actually just the deep molecular accidents of a universe without purpose or design working itself out in chance algorithms of bifurcated codings, uncodings, recodings is beyond the purview of this post. The point of David Roden’s article is that it’s too late to worry about the message or its (non)maker. Why? Because as David remarks:
Biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets depend on us for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (KL 7461-7464).
So we’re way beyond samplings or resamplings of DNA/RNA etc. we’ve evolved beyond that elementary root system to a point that our coupling with technology has taken on a life of its own and is molding is in ways that that original message may or may not have intended ( if it ever did intend?). For if Bakker is right there may never have been any intended intentional program to begin with, and that everything from the beginning was just an accident a strange quirk, a one-off mistake and that humanity is nothing more than a unique horror in an otherwise unconscious universe of creatures who never took that turn toward self-reflexive nothingness that is our burden and our glory.
All of which leads me finally to David’s disconnection thesis which states that a wide human descendent is a posthuman if and only if it has ceased to belong to WH (The Wide Human) as a result of technical alteration; or, is a wide descendant of such a being. (KL 7497-7498). For David we should begin a viable research program to understand just what this might entail, because in some not so distant future the technology might exist to create posthumans, then the same technology might support “interfaces” between human and posthuman beings, and we will need the research of those bi-formatted propositional/ non-propositional thinkers to help us breach the gulf or gap between our progeny and ourselves. (KL 7632-7633).
Although David offers a cultural research program for understanding what we face, he doesn’t offer us, within the short space of his essay, a Political Vision of what this entails, so we are still left with the dilemmas between technocapitalism and technosocialism that Mark Fisher describes as our culpable destiny. So which path do we take? The technocapitalist neoliberal commodification of posthumanity? Or, the collectivization of the technosocialistic ‘General Intellect’ the collective subjectivity of some posthuman sociality? Or, do we with the anarcho-primitivists blow the whole thing up along with all the technological knowledge that spawned it? Are we headed for Bakker’s ultimate ‘semantic apocalypse of meaning’, where if Catherine Malibou is correct, our very memories of our former humanity will fall away as we enter the brave new world of the Neuropath? It’s up to you, dear reader, to decide; or, is it? Maybe it has already been determined long ago by some alien intervention in our DNA and like a Philip K. Dick novel we are only the messengers of a message sent by one alien species to another species eons ago? And if we unlock the message what will it say to us? Or, is this all just a grand fiction, a new mythology for our age, a way of marking time on a nihilistic journey between two nothings. Free will or determinism? Do we have a choice? As David asks:
A posthuman is any WHD that goes feral; becomes capable of life outside the planetary substance comprised of narrow biological humans, their cultures and technologies.
This formulation leaves the value and worth of the posthuman open. Since we cannot evaluate the posthuman ex ante, we can only assess its value by exploring posthuman design space for ourselves. This is where Rachel’s biohacking manifesto comes into its own, I think, for it questions who gets to decide the shape of the posthuman – military corporate systems, venture capitalists, or you and me? (Hacking Humans)
Or, as Mark Fisher remarks “capital can use neuroscientific techniques to stave off the semantic apocalypse: ironically, it can control people by convincing them that they are free subjects. This is already happening, via the low-level neurocontrol exerted through media, advertising and all the other platforms through which communicative capitalism operates. Whether neuroscience’s practical nihilism will do more than reinforce capital’s domination will ultimately depend on how far the institutions of techno-science can be liberated from corporate control. Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself.”
Are we so eager for either path?
1. Bakker, R. Scott (2010-04-01). Neuropath. (Macmillan)
2. (2013-04-03). Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment (The Frontiers Collection) Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Kindle Edition.