by Algorithmic Committee (for Decomputation)
by McKenzie Wark
by Algorithmic Committee (for Decomputation)
This essay of McKenzie Wark is of great signiﬁcance for various reasons. It shows to an international audience a visionary and quite unique variation of the accelerationist thought: Black Accelerationism, whose pioneer and incessant agent is Kodwo Eshun. Black Accelerationism lingers on the most innovative text about such a diasporic tendency: More Brilliant than the Sun, edited in 1998 by Quartet Books. Eshun’s book has immediately become an «at light speed-thought book» (the author himself deﬁned it as “speculative acceleration”) and the Quartet edition is today extremely difﬁcult to ﬁnd. For this reason Verso Books will republish it with a renewed version sometime in 2018. McKenzie Wark is brilliant in placing Eshun’s work and thought in the nineties/zeros when cyberpunk, drum and bass, Deleuze and Guattari, hackers, alter-net, Ccru and black mutant music offered a valid energetic alternative to the triumphant culture of tech-evangelists and dot.com markets. Against speculative bubbles and speculative contemporary thoughts of unproductive repetitive dualisms, McKenzie Wark offers a new plastic thought expressed by a black, afro-futuristic and afro-accelerationist culture, able to display imagination and amusement. Expression of a mutant pop culture made of comics, science-ﬁction and music, the black-accelerationist idea of future shows a deep intolerance to western normative regularizations, becoming at the same time perturbing, problematic and vibrantly lively. McKenzie Wark’s account on Black accelerationism represents the most seductive and catchy side of the accelerationist movement today, removing the tendency of flattening accelerationist thought to an «ideology museum» (race, nation, money, politics, etc.). It is thanks to this last irreverent act that Black Accelerationism becomes today a great political player and an incredible future force.
by McKenzie Wark
“Sensory language leaves us with no habit for lying. We are hostile aliens, immune from dying.”
– The Spaceape
If accelerationism has a key idea, it is that it is either impossible or undesirable to resist or negate the development of the commodity economy coupled with technology. Rather, it has to be pushed harder and faster, that it has to change more rather than less.
It is an idea, a feeling, an orientation that might make most sense among those for whom the past was not that great anyway. Laboria Cuboniks’ text on xenofeminism would be one example of this. But in many ways the original and best text on accelerationism was about Blackness – Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant Than the Sun (Quartet 1998). Since accelerationists tend to be rather ignorant about their own past, this curious fact of the movement having an unacknowledged Black precursor is worth exploring. Eshun: “Everything the media warns you against has already been made into tracks that drive the dance floor.” (96)
It’s helpful to make a preliminary distinction here between Black Accelerationism and Afrofuturism, although the former may in some ways be a subset of the latter. Black Accelerationism is a willful pushing forward which includes as part of its method an attempt to clear away certain habits of thought and feeling in order to be open to a future which is attempting to realize itself in the present.
Afrofuturism is a more general category in which one ﬁnds attempts to picture or narrate or conceive of Black existence on other worlds or in future times which may or may not have an accelerationist will to push on. If Black Accelerationism is a particular temporal and spatial concept, Afrofuturism is a genre which includes both temporal and spatial concepts within the general cultural space of science ﬁction. Which in turn might be a subset of modernism, with its characteristically non-transitive approach to time.
The term Afrofuturism was coined by Mark Dery, drawing on suggestions in the work of Greg Tate. It’s become a lively site of cultural production but also scholarly research, providing a frame for thinking about the science ﬁction writing of African American authors such as Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler and much else. It has also become a popular trope in contemporary cultural production, for example in music videos by Beyoncé, FKA Twigs and Janelle Monáe.
Monáe’s video ‘Many Moons’ contains one of the key ﬁgures of the genre. It shows androids performing at an auction for wealthy clients, including white, vampiric plutocrats and a Black military-dictator type. The androids are all Black, and are indeed all Monáe herself. The android becomes the reversal, and yet also the equivalent, of the slave. The slave was a human treated as a non-person and forced to work like a machine; the android is an inhuman treated as a non-person but forced to work like a human.
These ﬁgures have a deep past. But ﬁrst, I want to explore one of their futures, or a related future. After writing More Brilliant than the Sun, Eshun co-founded the Otolith Group with Anjalika Sagar. The ﬁrst three ﬁlms they made together, Otolith parts I, II and III, are documented in the volume A Long Time Between Suns (Sternberg Press, 2009). Otolith provides both a ‘future’ and a different cultural space in which to think the Black accelerationism of Eshun’s earlier writing.
Otolith is in the genre of documentary ﬁction or essay ﬁlm, descended from the work of Chris Marker, Harun Farocki and the Black Audio Film Collective. The conceit organizing Otolith is a character who is a descendent of present-day Otolith co-founder Anjalika Sagar, who lives in orbit around our planet, and who is working through the archives of her own family.
Otolith links the microgravity environment to planetary crisis, where orbital or agravic space is a heterotopia inviting heightened awareness of disorientation. “Gravity locates the human species.” (6) This is a speculative future in which the species bifurcates, those in microgravity function with a modiﬁed otolith, that part of the inner ear that senses the tilting of the body.
Sagar’s imaginary future descendant looks back, through her own ancestors, to the grand social projects of the twentieth century: Indian and Soviet state socialism, the international socialist women’s movement and (as in Anna Tsing) the Non-Aligned Movement. One of Sagar’s ancestors had actually met Valentina Tereshkova, the ﬁrst woman in space. Tereshkova was a former mill worker and (as in Platonov’s Happy Moscow) parachutist, destined for a grand career in Soviet public life.
The last part of Otolith mediates on an unmade ﬁlm by the great Satjayit Ray, The Alien. Its central conceit, of an alien lost on earth who is discovered by children, strangely enough turned up in the Hollywood ﬁlm ET. Otolith speculate on whether Hindu polytheism foreclosed the space in which an Indian science ﬁction might have flourished. The popular Indian comic books that retell the stories of the Gods are indeed something like science ﬁction and call for a rethinking of the genre.
Otolith also gestures toward American science ﬁction writer Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light(1967), which imagines a quite different future to Otolith, but like it tries to decenter the imaginative future. In this book, the only survivors of a vanished earth are Hindu. Their high-tech society is also highly stratiﬁed. Its rulers have God-like powers and the technology to ‘reincarnate.’ The central character, described in the book as an ‘accelerationist’, challenges this class-bound order.
It has often been observed that during the cold war, while much of American literature was basically white boys talking about their dicks, science ﬁction did a lot of the real cultural work. Zelazny’s book is not a bad example in how far science ﬁction could get in imagining a non-western world that was neither to be demonized or idealized, and whose agents of change were internal to it. One might note here in passing that the stand-out science ﬁction work of the last few years is Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem and its sequels, whose story begins in the moment of China’s Cultural Revolution.
Afrofuturism is a landscape of cultural invention that we can put in the context of a plural universe of imagined future times and other spaces, which draw on the raw material of many kinds of historical experience and cultural raw material. And just as Afrofuturism functions as a subset of science ﬁction modernities, there might also be many kinds of accelerationism.
The posthuman ends up being more than one thing if one can get one’s head around currently existing humans as being more than one thing. The orbital posthuman of Otolith might in many ways repeat a ﬁgure from that little-known accelerationist classic, JD Bernal’s The World, The Flesh and the Spirit (1929). But it does so inflected by particular cultural histories.
Which brings me to More Brilliant than the Sun (Quartet 1998). Like Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, it is a text whose strategies include putting pressure on language through neologisms and portmanteau constructs, in order to let the future into the present. Eshun sets himself against modes of writing about Black music that are designed to resist hearing anything new. “The future is a much better guide to the present than the past.” (-1) Thus, “the rhythmachine is locked in a retarded innocence.” (-7) You are not supposed to analyze the groove, or ﬁnd a language for it. Music writing becomes a future shock absorber. “You reserve your nausea for the timeless classic.” (89) Eshun’s interest is rather in “Unidentiﬁed Audio Objects.” (-5)
We no longer have roots we have aerials. Eshun is resistant to that writing that wants the authentic and the same in its music. That wants to locate it in organic community, whether in the Mississippi delta for the blues or the burning Bronx for hip hop. He is resistant to the validating ﬁgure of ‘the street’ as the mythical social or public place where the real is born.
Eshun: “From the Net to arcade simulations games, civil society is all just one giant research-and-development wing of the military. The military industrial complex has advanced decades ahead of civil society, becoming a lethal military entertainment complex. The MEC reprograms predatory virtual futures. Far from being a generative source for pop culture, as Trad media still quaintly insists, the street is now the playground in which low-end developments of military technology are unleashed, to mutate themselves.” (85) As Black Lives Matter has so consistently conﬁrmed.
For Eshun, disco is “audibly where the 21st century begins.” (-6). Even if most genealogies of pop delete its intimations of the sonic diaspora of Afrofuturism. Like Paul Gilroy, Eshun thinks Black culture as diasporic rather than national, but unlike Gilroy, he is not interested in a critical negation of the limits of humanism in the name of a more expansive one. His Black culture “alienates itself from the human; it arrives from the future.” (-5) It refuses the human as a central category. If the human is not a given, then neither can there be a Black essence. There’s no ‘keeping it real’ in this book. The writer’s job is to be a sensor rather than a censor.
The ﬁeld of study here is not so much music itself as the ambiences music co-generates with spaces, sound systems, and indeed bodies. It’s not an aesthetics of music so much as what the late Randy Martin would have recognized as a kinaesthetics. One could even see it as a branch of psychogeography, but not of walking – of dancing.
The dance does not reveal some aspect of the human, but rather has the capacity to make the human something else. Eshun follows Lyotard in extending Nietzsche’s insistence that the human does not want the truth, here the human craves the inauthentic and the artiﬁcial. This is the basis of its accelerationism: the objective is to encourage machine-made music’s “despotic drive” of music to subsume both its own past and the presence of the human body. (-4) Black accelerationism, operating mostly but not exclusively through music, aims “to design, manufacture, fabricate, synthesize, cut, paste and edit a so-called artiﬁcial discontinuum for the future rhythmachine.” (-3) As in Hiroki Azuma, machines don’t alienate people. They can make you feel more intensely. They enable a hyper-embodiment rather than disembodiment.
I want to work backwards through the sonic material Eshun feels his way through, perhaps imagined through some equivalent future descendant of Eshun’s to the future descendent of his collaborator Sagar. We can already imagine a future in which the futures of Afrofuturism are no more, but which might be residues from which to create still others. Besides, it’s a matter of perspective. Rather than think of a future that extends and repeats a past, we could imagine a future that selects and edits from a past, according to selective habit as yet unknown. It’s the opposite of what Eshun, punning on Marshall McLuhan, calls “(r)earview hearing.” (68)
What’s not to like about late nineties Detroit techno? Here we might start with what for Eshun was one of the end points. Drexciya is an unidentiﬁable sonic object that comes with its own Afrofuturist myth. The Drexciyans navigate the depths of the Black Atlantic. They are a webbed mutant marine subspecies descended from pregnant slaves who were thrown overboard during the middle passage.
Drexciya use electronic sound and beats to replay the alien abduction of slavery as sonic ﬁction, or as what Sun Ra called an alterdestiny. As Lisa Nakamura shows, certain popular Afrofuturist material like the Matrix movies, make the Black or the African the more authentically human and rooted. What appeals to Eshun is the opposite claim: that Blackness can accelerate faster away from the human. It’s an embrace rather than a refutation of the slave-machine ﬁgure, pressing it into service in pressing on.
There was a time when avant-garde music was beatless. Drum and bass went in the opposite direction: “drumsticks become knitting needles hitting electriﬁed bedsprings at 180bpm.”
(69) The sensual topology offered by 4hero or A Guy Called Gerald use drum machines not to mimic the human drummer but replace it, to create abstract sonic environments that call the body into machinic patterns of movement. “Abstract doesn’t mean rariﬁed or detached but the opposite: the body stuttering on the edge of a future sound, teetering on the brink of new speech.” (71)
Rhythm becomes the lead instrument, as on A Guy Called Gerald’s Black Secret Technology, (1995) “dappling the ears with micro-discrepancies…. When polyrhythm phase-shifts into hyper-rhythm, it becomes unaccountable, compounded, confounding. It scrambles the sensorium, adapts the human into a ‘distributed being’ strung out across the webbed spider-nets and computational jungles of the digital diaspora.” (76-77)
One could say more about how quite particular musical technologies program in advance a kind of phase-space of possible sonic landscapes. The human sound-maker is then not the author but rather the output of the machine itself. For Eshun this is a way to positively value the ﬁgure of Blackness as close to the machine-like and remote from the fully ‘human.’ Such a construct of race rather over-values the human. And if whiteness is supposedly most close to the human, then there’s every reason to think less of the human as a category in the ﬁrst place. This rhetorical move is central to Black accelerationism.
The coupling of Blackness with the machinic is what is to be valued and accelerated, as an overcoming of both whiteness and the human.
If there’s a sonic precursor and stimulator for that line of thought, its acid house music as a playing out of the unintended possibilities of the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer. It was meant as a bass accompaniment for musicians to practice to, but sonic artists such as Phuture made it a lead instrument, exploring its potential not to imitate bass but to make otherworldly sounds. Eshun: “Nothing you know about the history of music is any help whatsoever.” (95)
Eshun mostly works his way around hip hop, being rather disinterested in its claims to street authenticity, not to mention its masculine bravado. He makes an exception for the late eighties work of the Ultramagnetic MCs. Here the song is in ruins, language is reduced to phonemes. The rapper becomes an abstract sound generator, dropping science. Eshun quotes Paul Virilio from Pure War (62), to the effect that “science and technology develop the unknown.” (29). Science is associated not with what is demonstrated or proven but the opposite, which might be the condition of possibility of science in the more conventional sense.
As is common among those who read a lot of Deleuze last century, Eshun favors an escape from the rational and the conscious, a slipping past the borders into the domain of affections and perceptions. In the language of Raunig and Lazzarato, it’s an attempt to slip past the individual into a space of dividual parts, in this case, of skins rippling with sonic sensation. It’s not consciousness raising so much as consciousness razing.
Here, sound that works on the skin more than the ear, the animated body rather than the concentrating ear, might take the form of feedback, fuzz, static. In the eighties these were coming to be instruments in themselves rather than accidental or unwanted byproducts of instruments that made notes. One can hear (and feel) this in the Jungle Brothers or Public Enemy. The sound of a new earth, a Black planet.
It is not the inhuman or the nonhuman or the over-human that is to be dreaded. What one might try to hear around is rather be the human as a special effect. “The uniﬁed self is an amputated self” (38) The sonic can produce what the textual always struggles to generate – a parallel processing of alternate states or points of view. This is not so much a double consciousness as the mitosis of the I. This is a sonic psychogeography that already heard the turbulent information sphere that Tiziana Terranova conceptualizes. But it’s more visceral than conceptual, or rather, both at once: “concepts are fondled and licked, sucked and played with.” (54)
Of the recognized hip hop pioneers, the most lyrically and conceptually adventurous was the late Rammellzee, who worked in grafﬁti, sculpture and visual art as well as producing some remarkable writings, all bound together with a gothic futurist style he called Ikonoklast Panzerism. His work appeared always with a layer of armor to protect it from a hostile world. He already saw the hip hop world of the streets and the police as a subset of a larger militarization of all aspects of life. His particular struggle was already against the military perceptual complex, and his poetic ﬁgure for this was the attempt to “assassinate the inﬁnity sign.” (34)
Rammellzee ingested and elaborated on possibilities opened up by the discovery of the possibility latent in the direct-drive turntable of the breakbeat. ‘Adventures on the Wheels of Steel’ could stand-in as an emblem of that moment. Breakbeat opens up the possibility of the studio as a research center for isolating and replicating beats. The dj becomes a groove-robber rather than an ancestor worshipper. “Hip hop is therefore not a genre so much as an omni-genre, a conceptual approach towards sonic organization rather than a particular sound in itself.” (14)
The turntable becomes a tone generator, the cut a command, discarding the song, automating the groove. It’s a meta-technique for making new instruments out of old ones. Of course, John Cage had already been there, arriving at the turntable not through encounters with gay disco so much as through a formalist avant-garde tradition. As Eshun wryly notes: “Pop always retroactively rescues unpop from the prison of its admirers.” (19)
Couple the turntable with the Emulator sampler and you have a sonic production universe through which you can treat the whole of recorded sound as what Azuma thinks of as a database rather than as a grand narrative. Or rather, that techno-sonic universe can produce you. In Eshun’s perspective, the tech itself authors ways of being. The Emulator sampler discovers the sampled break and uses Marley Marl as its medium.
New sounds are accidents discovered by machines. “Your record collection becomes an immense time machine that builds itself through you.” (20) The machine compels the human towards its parameters. The producer is rather like the gamer, as I understood the ﬁgure in Gamer Theory: an explorer of the interiority of the digital rather than romantic revolt beyond it. Digital sound reveals the body to itself, as a kind of sensational mathematics for kinaesthetes.
If there is a ‘Delta blues origin story’ here for digital Black music, it is an ironic one. It is the German band Kraftwerk. But rather than delegitimizing Black digital music, Eshun has an afﬁrmative spin on this. Black producers heard themselves in this European machine music. They heard an internal landscape toward which to disappear. Sonic engineers such as Underground Resistance volunteer for internal exile, for stealth and obfuscation. Even for passing as the machine: Juan Atkins releasing works under the name Model 500.
“Detroit techno is aerial, it transmits along routes through space, is not grounded by the roots of any tree…. Techno disappears itself from the street, the ghetto and the hood…. The music arrives from another planet.” (101-102) A production entity like Cybotron “technoﬁes the biosphere.” (29) Or escapes from it, building instead a city of time. “Escapism is organized until it seizes the means of perception and multiplies the modes of sensory reality… Sonic Fiction strands you in the present with no way of getting back to the 70s…. Sonic Fiction is the manual for your own offworld breakout, re-entry program, for entering Earth’s orbit and touching down on the landing strip of your senses…. To technofy is to become aware of the co-evolution of machine and human, the secret life of machines, the computerization of the world, the programming of history, the informatics of reality.” (103)
The dj intensiﬁes estrangement, creating alien sound design. Music making is deskilled, allowing for more hearing, less manual labor. The sound processes listeners into its content. Detroit techno comes with a plethora of heteronyms, in parallel rather than serial like Bowie. And it counter-programs against the sensuality of Funkadelic. “Techno triggers a de-libidinal economics of strict pulses, gated signals – with techno you dance your way into constriction.” (107) It favors the affectless voice over the glossolalia of soul.
Techno is funk for androids escaping from the street and from labor. “Techno secedes from the logic of empowerment which underpins the entire African American mediascape.” (114) As in Donna Haraway, the machinic and Blackness are both liminal conditions in relation to the human, but treated not as an ironic political myth, but as program to implement with all deliberate speed. “There is a heightened awareness in Hip Hop, fostered through comics and sci-ﬁ, of the manufactured, designed and posthuman existence of African-Americans. African aliens are snatched by African slave-traders, delivered to be sliced, diced and genetically designed by whiteface fanatics and cannibal Christians into American slaves, 3/5 of their standardized norm, their Westworld ROM.” (112)
In somewhat Deleuzian terms, Eshun traces a line of flight from Blackness through the machine to becoming-imperceptible. “Machine Music therefore arrives as unblack, unpopular and uncultural, an Unidentiﬁed Audio Object with no ground, no roots and no culture.” (131) But far from erasing Blackness, this disappearance is only possible through Blackness or its analogs.
The digital soundscape is a break in both method and style from the analog that it subsumed, and which in turn processed earlier forms of media technology after its own affordances. Key moments here might be George Clinton’s Funkadelic and Lee Perry’s Black Ark. These versions of analog signal processing took pop presence and processed it into an echo or loop. Space invades the texture of the song. Distortion becomes its own instrument. “Listening becomes a ﬁeld trip through a found environment.” (66)
Funkadelic was an alien encounter imagined through metaphor of the radio radio, connecting human-aliens to station WEFUNK, “home of the extraterrestrial brothers.” Its infectious, repetitive urding was to give in to the inhuman, to join the Afronauts funking up the galaxy. Built out of tape loops, doo-loops, mixadelics and advertising slogans for non-existent products. Underneath the off-pop hooks, Funkadelic altered the sensory hierarchy of the pop song. “The ass, the brain and the spine all change places…. The ass stops being the behind, and moves up front to become the booty.” (150) This was not the body shape proposed by pop. “Moog becomes a slithering cephalopod tugging at your hips.” (151)
Funkadelic accelerated and popularized sonic concepts that in part came from jazz, or more speciﬁcally what Eshun calls the jazz fission of the 70s. This encompasses the cybernetic, space age jazz of George Russell, “a wraithscape of delocalized chimes… Russell’s magnetic mixology accelerates a discontinuum in which the future arrives from the past.” (4-5) Also in this bag are the 70s albums of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, where effects pedals become instruments in their own right. Here’s Eshun evoking the sound of Herbie Hancocks’s Hornets: “Moving through the echoplex, construction is cloned from a singular sensation into an environment that dunks you headﬁrst in a horde of heat-seeking killer bees.” (6)
Effects defect from causes, detach from instruments. It’s the expansion of an era when industrial communication split sounds from sources, as R Murray Schafer has already suggested. It was hard to hear at ﬁrst. Take, for instance Alice Coltrane’s controversial remixing of John Coltrane’s Living Space. Which in turn might be made possible by Sun Ra’s work from the mid-50s onwards, with his alternate Black cosmology. For Sun Ra, to be Black is not to be ﬁguratively the Israelite, fleeing bondage, but to actually be descended from the Egyptians, to belong to a despotic power – which rules elsewhere in the galaxy. Where soul music would afﬁrm Blackness as the legacy of the suffering human; Ra is an alien god from the future. This is not alienation by afﬁrmation of the alien.
Sun Ra lends himself to an Afrofuturist reading, which would highlight his claim to be from Jupiter, to be the author of an alter destiny. I think in Eshun there’s a more speciﬁcally Black accelerationist reading, or perhaps hearing, or maybe sensing. It’s not an alternative to this world, but a pressing on of a tendency, where through the exclusion from the human that is Blackness an escape hatch appears in an embrace of one other thing that is also excluded: the machinic. Would that it could have been closer to those other exclusions Haraway notes. Sun Ra’s Arkestra was for a long time a male monastic cult.
Accelerationism is often presented as a desire for a superseding of a merely human model of cognition, but it is still rather tied to a valuing of cognition that has particular cultural roots. Perhaps cognition is not up to speed. Eshun: “There’s a sense in which the nervous system is being reshaped by beats for a new kind of state, for a new kind of sensory condition. Different parts of your body are actually in different states of evolution. Your head may well be lagging quite a long way behind the rest of your body.” (182)
Otolith II posed two questions: “Capital, as far as we know, was never alive. How did it reproduce itself? How did it replicate? Did it use human skin?” (26) The operative word here is skin, implicated as it is in what Gilroy calls the crisis of raciology. Perhaps one could ask if capitalism has already superseded itself, and done so ﬁrst by passing through the pores of the skin of those it designates others. But one might wonder whether, if this is not capitalism, it might not be something worse. Eshun already has an aerial attuned to that possibility, ﬁltered through the sensibility of (for example) Detroit techno, with its canny intimations of the subsuming of the street into a militarized surveillance order, from which one had best discreetly retire.
One could keep searching back through the database of Afrofuturism, beyond Eshun’s late twentieth century forays, as Louis Chude-Sokei does in The Sound of Culture. As it turns out, what is perhaps the founding text of Futurism is a perversely Afrofuturist one: Marinetti’s Mafarka: The Futurist (1910). It’s an exotic tale of an Islamic prince’s victory over an African army, and his desire to beget a son, part bird, part machine, who can rise up to conquer the sun — and is here perhaps the origin of the desire that gives Eshun his title. Or one might mention Samuel Butler’s anti-accelerationist Erewhon (1872), the ur-text on the human as the reproductive organ for the machine. Its imaginary landscape bares the traces of Butler’s experience in New Zealand, in the wake of colonial wars against the Maori.
It may turn out that the whole question of acceleration is tied to the question of race. Haraway usefully thinks the spatial equivalence of the non-white, the non-man, the non-human in relation to a certain humanist language. But thought temporally, humanism has a similar problem. Spatially, it is troubled by what is above it (the angelic) or below it (the animal); temporally, it is troubled by what is prior to it (the primitive) or what supersedes it, including a great deal of race-panic about being overtaken by the formerly primitive colonial or enslaved other. Particularly of that other, in its unthinking, machine-like labor, starts to look like the new machines coming to replace the human. In this regard, the rhetorical strategy of Black accelerationism is to positively revalue what had been previously negative and racist ﬁgures. Such an intentional reversal of perspective may be a necessary step for any accelerationism that wants to do more than repeat the old ﬁgures, unawares.
I would like to thank the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at The New School. This piece was written during a writing retreat at the National Arts Club for grantees of the Center.
McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto, Gamer Theory, 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International and The Beach Beneath the Street, among other books. His latest published book is Twenty-One Thinkers for the Twenty First Century (Verso, 2017). He teaches at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City.
This essay is taken from:
LECTURES BY GILLES DELEUZE
In order to analyse the different dimensions of individuality, I have tried to develop this theme of the presence of the infinite [lâinfini] in the philosophy of the seventeenth century, and the form under which this infinite presented itself. This theme is very fuzzy [flou] and I would like to draw from it some themes concerning the nature, this conception of the individual, this infinitist conception of the individual. Spinoza provides a perfect expression, as if he pushed those themes that were scattered among other authors of the seventeenth century to the end. In all its dimensions, the individual as Spinoza presents it, I would like to say three things about it. On the one hand, it is relation, on the other hand, it is power [puissance], and finally it is mode. But a very particular mode. A mode that one could call intrinsic mode.
The individual insofar as relation refers us to a whole plane that can be designated by the name of composition [compositio]. All individuals being relations, there is a composition of individuals among themselves, and individuation is inseparable from this movement of composition.
Second point, the individual is power [puissance ö potentiae]. This is the second great concept of individuality. No longer composition that refers to relations, but potentiae. We find the modus intrinsecus quite often in the Middle Ages, in certain traditions, under the name gradus. This is degree. The intrinsic mode or degree.
There is something common to these three themes: it's by virtue of this that the individual is not substance. If it's a relation it's not substance because substance concerns a term and not a relation. The substance is terminus, which is a term. If it's power it's not substance either because, fundamentally, whatever is substance is form. It's the form that is called substantial. And lastly, if it's degree it's not substance either since every degree refers to a quality that it graduates, every degree is degree of a quality. Now what determines a substance is a quality, but the degree of a quality is not substance.
You see that all this revolves around the same intuition of the individual as not being substance. I begin with the first character. The individual is relation. This is perhaps the first time in the history of the individual that an attempt to think relation in the pure state will be sketched out. But what does that mean, relation in the pure state? Is it possible, in some way, to think relation independently of its terms? What does a relation independent of its terms mean? There had already been a rather strong attempt in Nicholas of Cusa. In many of his texts that I find very beautiful, there was an idea that will be taken up again later. It seems to me that in his work it appeared in a fundamental way, that is, every relation is measure, only if every measure, every relation, plunges into the infinite. He dealt often with the measure of weight, with weighing, insofar as the relative measure of two weights refers to an absolute measure, and the absolute measure, itself, always brings the infinite into play. This is the theme that there is an immanence of pure relation and the infinite. One understands by "pure relation" the relation separate from its terms. Thus it's for this reason that it's so difficult to think pure relation independently of its terms. It's not because it's impossible, but because it puts into play a mutual immanence of the infinite and relation.
The intellect has often been defined as the faculty of setting out relations. Precisely in intellectual activity there is a kind of infinite that is implied [impliqué]. At the level of relation the implication of the infinite occurs through intellectual activity. What does that mean? Doubtless it will be necessary to wait until the seventeenth century to find a first statute of relation independent of its terms. This is what many philosophers, including those who made use of mathematical means, had sought since the Renaissance.
This will be brought to a first perfection thanks to the infinitesimal calculus. The infinitesimal calculus puts into play a certain type of relation. Which one? The method of exhaustion was like a kind of prefiguration of the infinitesimal calculus. The relation to which infinitesimal calculus gave a solid statute is what is called a differential relation, and a differential relation is of the type dy/dx =, we'll see what it's equal to.
How does one define this relation dy/dx = ? That which is called dy is an infinitely small quantity, or what is called a vanishing [évanouissante] quantity. A quantity smaller than any given or givable quantity. Whatever quantity of y you are given, dy will be smaller than this value. Thus I can say that dy as a vanishing quantity is strictly equal to zero in relation to y. In the same way dx is strictly equal to zero in relation to x. dx is the vanishing quantity of x. Thus I can write, and mathematicians do write dy/dx = 0/0. This is the differential relation. If I call y a quantity of the abscissa and x a quantity of the ordinate, I would say that dy=0 in relation to the abscissa, dx=0 in relation to the ordinate. Is dy/dx equal to zero? Obviously not. dy is nothing in relation to y, dx is nothing in relation to x, but dy over dx does not cancel out. The relation subsists and the differential relation will present itself as the subsistence of the relation when the terms vanish. They have found the mathematical convention that allows them to treat relations independently of their terms. Now what is this mathematical convention? I summarize. It's the infinitely small. Pure relation thus necessarily implies the infinite under the form of the infinitely small since pure relation will be the differential relation between infinitely small quantities. It's at the level of the differential relation that the reciprocal immanence of the infinite and relation is expressed in the pure state. dy/dx = 0/0 but 0/0 is not 0.
Indeed, what subsists when y and x cancel out under the form dy and dx, what subsists is the relation dy/dx itself, which is not nothing.
Now what does this relation dy/dx designate?
To what is it equal?
We will say that dy/dx equals z, that is to say it does not involve y or x at all, since it's y and x under the form of vanishing quantities. When you have a relation dy/dx derived from a circle, this relation dy/dx = 0/0 doesn't involve the circle at all but refers to what is called a trigonometric tangent.
One comprehends that dy/dx = z, that is to say the relation that is independent of its terms will designate a third term and will serve in the measurement and in the determination of a third term: the trigonometric tangent. In this sense I can say that the infinite relation, that is to say the relation between the infinitely small, refers to something finite. The mutual immanence of the infinite and relation is in the finite. Its in the finite itself that there is immanence of relation and the infinitely small. In order to gather together these three terms, pure relation, the infinite and the finite, I would say that the differential relation dy/dx tends towards a limit, and this limit is z, that is to say the determination of the trigonometric tangent. We are inside an extraordinarily rich knot of notions. Then afterward the mathematicians will say no, it's barbaric to interpret infinitesimal calculus by the infinitely small, it's not that. Perhaps they're right from a certain point of view, but this is to pose the problem badly. The fact is that the seventeenth century, by way of its interpretation of infinitesimal calculus, finds a means of fusing three key concepts, for mathematics and philosophy at the same time. These three key concepts are the concepts of the infinite, relation and limit. Thus if I extract a formula of the infinite from the seventeenth century, I would say that something finite consists of an infinity [infinité] under a certain relation. This formula can appear totally dull: something finite consists in the infinite under a certain relation, when in fact it is extraordinarily original. It marks an equilibrium point, for seventeenth-century thought, between the infinite and the finite, by way of a new theory of relations. And then when these later sorts consider it as going without saying that in the least finite dimension there is the infinite; when thereafter they speak of the existence of God all the time but this is much more interesting than is believed it doesn't finally involve God, it involves the richness of this implication of concepts: relation, infinite, limit.
How is the individual a relation? You will find, at the level of the individual, a limit. This does not prevent there having been some infinite, this does not prevent there being relations and these relations being composed, the relations of one individual are composed with another; and there is always a limit that marks the finitude of the individual, and there is always an infinite of a certain order that is involved by the relation.
It's a funny vision of the world. They didn't merely think like that, they saw like that. It was their very own taste, their way of treating things. When they see what microscopes show them, they see a confirmation of it: the microscope is the instrument that gives us a sensible and confused presentiment of this activity of the infinite under any finite relation. And Pascal's text on the infinite, he was a great mathematician as well, but when he needs to let us know how he sees the world, he doesn't need his mathematical knowledge [savoir] at all, the two reinforce each other. Then Pascal can make up his text on the two infinites without any reference to mathematics whatsoever. He says extremely simple but extremely original things. And indeed, the originality lies in this way of fusing three concepts: relation, limit, infinite. This makes a funny world. We no longer think like that. What has changed is a whole system of mathematics as conventions, but that has changed only if you comprehend that modern mathematics also plots its concepts on a set of notions of another, equally original type. [Following a remark] The limit towards which the relation tends is the reason for knowing [connâitre] the relation as independent of its terms, that is to say dx and dy, and the infinite, the infinitely small is the reason for being [raison dâêtre] of relation; indeed, it's the reason for being of dy/dx.
Descartes' formula: the infinite conceived and not comprehended. One does not comprehend the infinite because it is incomprehensible, but one conceives it. This is Descartes' great formula: one can conceive it clearly and distinctly, but comprehending it is something else. Thus one conceives it, there is a reason for knowledge [connaissance] of the infinite. There is a reason for knowing that is distinct from the reason for being. Comprehending would be grasping the reason for being, but we cannot grasp the reason for being of the infinite because to do so we would have to be adequate to God; but our understanding is merely finite. On the other hand, one can conceive the infinite, conceive it clearly and distinctly, thus one has a reason for knowing it.
Practical exercises in philosophy would have to be thought experiments [expériences]. This is a German notion: experiments that one can only do in thought.
Let's pass on to the second point. I've had to invoke the notion of limit. Indeed, in order to account for the immanence of the infinite in relation, I return to the preceding point. The logic of relations [rapports], of relationships [relations] is a fundamental thing for philosophy, and alas, French philosophy has never been very interested in this aspect. But the logic of relations has been one of the great creations of the English and the Americans. But there were two stages. The first stage is Anglo-Saxon, the logic of relations such as it was built up on the basis of Russell at the end of the nineteenth century; now this logic of relations claims to be founded on this: the independence of relation in relation to its terms, but this independence, this autonomy of relation in relation to its terms is founded on finite considerations. They are founded on a finitism. Russell even has an atomist period in order to develop his logic of relations.
This stage had been prepared by a very different stage. The great classical stage of the theory of relations is not like they say; they say that earlier, people confused the logic of relations and the logic of attribution. They confused two types of judgment: judgments of relation (Pierre is smaller than Paul) and judgments of attribution (Pierre is yellow or white), thus they had no consciousness of relations. It's not like that at all. In so-called classical thought, there is a fundamental realization of the independence of relation in relation to relationships, only this realization passes by way of the infinite. The thought of relation as pure relation can only be made in reference to the infinite. This is one of the highly original moments of the seventeenth century.
I return to my second theme: the individual is power [puissance]. The individual is not form, it is power. Why does this follow? It's what I just said about the differential relation 0/0, which is not equal to zero but tends towards a limit.
When you say that, the tension towards a limit, you rediscover this whole idea of the tendency in the seventeenth century in Spinoza at the level of a Spinozist concept, that of conatus. Each thing tends to persevere in its being. Each thing strives [sâefforce]. In Latin, "strive" is "conor," the effort or tendency, the conatus. The limit is being defined according to an effort, and power is the same tendency or the same effort insofar as it tends towards a limit. If the limit is grasped on the basis of the notion of power, namely tending towards a limit, in terms of the most rudimentary infinitesimal calculus, the polygon that multiplies its sides tends towards a limit, which is the curved line. The limit is precisely the moment when the angular line, by dint of multiplying its sides, tends towards infinity [lâinfini]. It's the tension towards a limit that now implies the infinite. The polygon, as it multiplies its sides to infinity, tends towards the circle.
What change does this bring about in the notion of limit?
The limit was a well-known notion. One did not speak of tending towards a limit. The limit is a key philosophical concept. There is a veritable mutation in the manner of thinking a concept. What was limit? In Greek it's "peras." At the simplest level, the limit is the outlines [contours]. Itâs the time limits [termes]. Surveyors [Géomètres]. The limit is a term, a volume has surfaces for its limits. For example, a cube is limited by six squares. A line segment is limited by two endpoints. Plato has a theory of the limit in the Timeus: the figures and their outlines. And why can this conception of the limit as outline be considered as the basis for what one could call a certain form of idealism? The limit is the outline of the form, whether the form is purely thought or sensible, in any case one will call "limit" the outline of the form, and this is very easily reconciled with an idealism because if the limit is the outline of the form, after all what I can do is what there is between the limits. If I were to put some sand, some bronze or some thought matter, some intelligible matter, between my limits, this will always be a cube or a circle. In other words, essence is the form itself related to its outline. I could speak of the pure circle because there is a pure outline of the circle. I could speak of a pure cube without specifying what it involves. I would name these the idea of the circle, the idea of the cube. Hence the importance of "peras"-outline in Platoâs philosophy in which the idea will be the form related to its intelligible outline.
In other words, in the idea of an outline-limit, Greek philosophy finds a fundamental confirmation for its own proper abstraction. Not that it is more abstract than another philosophy, but it sees the justification of the abstractio, such as it conceives it, namely the abstraction of ideas.
Henceforth the individual will be the form related to its outline. If I look for something to which such a conception concretely applies, I would say, regarding painting for example, that the form related to its outline is a tactile-optical world. The optical form is related, be it only by the eye, to a tactile outline. Then that can be the finger of pure spirit, the outline inevitably has a kind of tactile reference, and if one speaks of the circle or the cube as a pure idea, to the extent that one defines it by its outline and one relates the intelligible form to its outline, there is a reference however indirect it may be to a tactile determination. It is completely wrong to define the Greek world as the world of light, it's an optical world, but not at all a pure optical world. The word that the Greeks use to speak of the "idea" already sufficiently attests to the optical world that they promote: Eidos. Eidos is a term that refers to visuality, to the visible. The sight of spirit, but this sight of spirit is not purely optical. It is optical-tactile. Why? Because the visible form is related, however indirectly it may be, to the tactile outline. It's not surprising that one of those who reacts against Platonic idealism, in the name of a certain technological inspiration, is Aristotle. But if you consider Aristotle, there the tactile reference of the Greek optical world appears quite evidently in an extremely simple theory which consists in saying that substance, or rather sensible substances are composites of form and matter, and it's the form that's essential. And the form is related to its outline, and the experience constantly invoked by Aristotle is that of the sculptor. Statuary has the greatest importance in this optical world; it's an optical world, but a world of sculpture, that is to say one in which the form is determined according to a tactile outline. Everything happens as if the visible form were unthinkable outside of a tactile mold. That is the Greek equilibrium. It's the Greek tactilo-optical equilibrium.
The eidos is grasped by the soul. The eidos, the pure idea is obviously graspable only by the pure soul. As pure soul we can only speak of it, according to Plato himself, by analogy, seeing that we only experiment with our soul insofar as it is bound to a body, we can only speak of it by analogy. Thus, from the point of view of analogy, I would always have said okay, itâs the pure soul that grasps the pure idea. Nothing corporeal. It's a purely intellectual or spiritual grasp. But does this pure soul that grasps the idea proceed in the manner of an eye, in the manner of, or does it proceed rather in the manner of the sense of touch? Touch which would then be purely spiritual, like the eye which would be purely spiritual. This eye is the third eye. This would be a manner of speaking, but we definitely need the analogy. In Plato we definitely need analogical reasoning. Then all my remarks consist in saying that the pure soul no more has an eye than it has a sense of touch, it is in relation with the ideas. But this does not prevent the philosopher, in order to speak of this apprehension of the idea by the soul, from having to ask himself what is the role of an analogon of the eye and an analogon of touch? An analogue of the eye and an analogue of touch in the grasping of the idea. There are then these two analoga since the idea is constantly•[gap in recording] This was the first conception of the outline-limit. But what happens when, several centuries later, one gets a completely different conception of the limit, and the most varied signs come to us from it?
First example, from the Stoics. They lay into Plato quite violently. The Stoics are not the Greeks, they are at the edge [pourtour] of the Greek world. And this Greek world has changed a lot. There had been the problem of how to develop the Greek world, then Alexander. These Stoics are attacking Plato, there is a new Oriental current. The Stoics tell us that we don't need Plato and his ideas, it's an indefensible conception. The outline of something is what? It's non-being, say the Stoics. The outline of something is the spot where the thing ceases to be. The outline of the square is not at all the spot where the square ends. You see that it's very strong as an objection. They take literally this Platonism that Iâve sketched out quite summarily, namely that the intelligible form is the form related to a spiritual touch [tact], that is to say it's the figure related to the outline. They will say, like Aristotle, that the example of the sculptor is completely artificial. Nature never proceeds by molding. These examples are not relevant, they say. In what cases does nature proceed by way of molds, it would be necessary to count them, itâs certainly only in superficial phenomena that nature proceeds by way of molds. These are phenomena that are called superficial precisely because they affect surfaces, but nature, in depth [profondeur], does not proceed by way of molds. I am pleased to have a child who resembles me; I have not sent out a mold. Notice that biologists, until the eighteenth century, cling to the idea of the mold. They insisted on the spermatozoon analogous to a mold, this is not reasonable. On that point Buffon had great ideas; he said that if one wants to comprehend something of the production of living things, it would be necessary to work oneâs way up to the idea of an internal mold. Buffonâs concept of an "internal mold" could help us. It means what? It's awkward because one could just as well speak of a massive surface. He says that the internal mold is a contradictory concept. There are cases in which one is obliged to think by means of a contradictory concept. The mold, by definition, is external. One does not mold the interior, which is to say that for the living thing, the theme of the mold already does not work. Nevertheless there is a limit to the living thing. The Stoics are in the process of getting hold of something very strong, life does not proceed by molding. Aristotle took artificial examples. And on Plato they let loose even more: the idea of the square, as if it were unimportant that the square was made of wood, or of marble, or of whatever you like. But this matters a lot. When one defines a figure by its outlines, the Stoics say, at that very moment everything that happens inside is no longer important. It's because of this, the Stoics say, that Plato was able to abstract the pure idea. They denounce a kind of sleight-of-hand [tour de passe-passe]. And what the Stoics are saying stops being simple: they are in the process of making themselves a totally different image of the limit. What is their example, opposed to the optical-tactile figure? They will oppose problems of vitality. Where does action stop? At the outline. But that, that holds no interest. The question is not at all where does a form stop, because this is already an abstract and artificial question. The true question is: where does an action stop?
Does everything have an outline? Bateson, who is a genius, has written a short text that is called "[why] does everything have an outline?" Take the expression "outside the subject," that is to say "beyond the subject." Does that mean that the subject has an outline? Perhaps. Otherwise what does "outside the limits" mean? At first sight it has a spatial air. But is it the same space? Do "outside the limits" and "outside the outline" belong to the same space? Does the conversation or my course today have an outline? My reply is yes. One can touch it. Let's return to the Stoics. Their favorite example is: how far does the action of a seed go? A sunflower seed lost in a wall is capable of blowing out that wall. A thing with so small an outline. How far does the sunflower seed go, does that mean how far does its surface go? No, the surface is where the seed ends. In their theory of the utterance [énoncé], they will say that it states exactly what the seed is not. That is to say where the seed is no longer, but about what the seed is it tells us nothing. They will say of Plato that, with his theory of ideas, he tells us very well what things are not, but he tells us nothing about what things are. The Stoics cry out triumphantly: things are bodies.
Bodies and not ideas. Things are bodies, that meant that things are actions. The limit of something is the limit of its action and not the outline of its figure. Even simpler example: you are walking in a dense forest, you're afraid. At last you succeed and little by little the forest thins out, you are pleased. You reach a spot and you say, "whew, here's the edge." The edge of the forest is a limit. Does this mean that the forest is defined by its outline? It's a limit of what? Is it a limit to the form of the forest? It's a limit to the action of the forest, that is to say that the forest that had so much power arrives at the limit of its power, it can no longer lie over the terrain, it thins out.
The thing that shows that this is not an outline is the fact that we can't even specify the precise moment at which there is no more forest. There was a tendency, and this time the limit is not separable, a kind of tension towards the limit. It's a dynamic limit that is opposed to an outline limit. The thing has no other limit than the limit of its power [puissance] or its action. The thing is thus power and not form. The forest is not defined by a form, it is defined by a power: power to make the trees continue up to the moment at which it can no longer do so. The only question that I have to ask of the forest is: what is your power? That is to say, how far will you go?
That is what the Stoics discover and what authorizes them to say: everything is a body. When they say that everything is a body, they don't mean that everything is a sensible thing, because they do not emerge from the Platonic point of view. If they were to define the sensible thing by form and outline, that would hold no interest. When they say that everything is a body, for example a circle does not extend in space in the same fashion if it is made of wood as it does if it is made of marble. Further, "everything is a body" will signify that a red circle and a blue circle do not extend in space in the same fashion. Thus it's tension.
When they say that all things are bodies, they mean that all things are defined by tonos, the contracted effort that defines the thing. The kind of contraction, the embryonic force that is in the thing, if you don't find it, you don't know [connaissez] the thing. What Spinoza takes up again with the expression "what can a body do?"
Other examples. After the Stoics, at the beginning of Christianity a quite extraordinary type of philosophy developes: the Neo-Platonic school. The prefix "neo" is particularly well founded. Itâs in applying themselves to some extremely important Platonic texts that the Neo-Platonists will completely decenter all of Platonism. So much so that, in a certain sense, one could say that all of it was already in Plato. Only it was as though taken into a set that was not Platoâs. The Enneads have been inherited from Plotinus. Skim through Ennead four, book five. You will see a kind of prodigious course on light. A prodigious text in which Plotinus will try to show that light can be comprehended neither as a function of the emitting body nor as a function of the receiving body. His problem is that light makes up a part of these odd things that, for Plotinus, are going to be the true ideal things. One can no longer say that it begins there and ends there. Where does light begin? Where does light end?
Why couldn't one say the same thing three centuries earlier? Why did this appear in the so-called Alexandrine world? It's a manifesto for a pure optical world. Light has no tactile limit, and nevertheless there is certainly a limit. But this is not a limit such that I could say it begins there and it ends there. I couldn't say that. In other words, light goes as far as its power goes. Plotinus is hostile to the Stoics, he calls himself a Platonist. But he had a premonition of the kind of reversal [retournement] of Platonism that he is in the process of making. It's with Plotinus that a pure optical world begins in philosophy. Idealities will no longer be only optical. They will be luminous, without any tactile reference. Henceforth the limit is of a completely different nature. Light scours the shadows. Does shadow form part of light? Yes, it forms a part of light and you will have a light-shadow gradation that will develop space. They are in the process of finding that deeper than space there is spatialization. Plato didn't know [savait] of that. If you read Plato's texts on light, like the end of book six of the Republic, and set it next to Plotinus 's texts, you see that several centuries had to pass between one text and the other. These nuances are necessary. It's no longer the same world. You know [savez] it for certain before knowing why, that the manner in which Plotinus extracts the texts from Plato develops for himself a theme of pure light. This could not be so in Plato. Once again, Plato's world was not an optical world but a tactile-optical world. The discovery of a pure light, of the sufficiency of light to constitute a world implies that, beneath space, one has discovered spatialization. This is not a Platonic idea, not even in the Timeus. Space grasped as the product of an expansion, that is to say that space is second in relation to expansion and not first. Space is the result of an expansion, that is an idea that, for a classical Greek, would be incomprehensible. Itâs an idea that comes from the Orient. That light could be spatializing: it's not light that is in space, it's light that constitutes space. This is not a Greek idea. Several centuries later a tremendously important art form, Byzantine art, burst forth. It's a problem for art critics to figure out how Byzantine art remains linked to classical Greek art while at the same time, from another point of view, it breaks completely with classical Greek art. If I take the best critic in this regard, Riegl, he says something rigorous, in Greek art you have the priority of the foreground [avant-plan]. The difference between Greek art and Egyptian art is that in Greek art the distinction is made between the foreground and the background [arrière-plan], while in Egyptian art, broadly speaking, the two are on the same plane [plan]. The bas-relief. I summarize quite briefly. Greek art is the Greek temple, it's the advent of the cube. For the Egyptians it was the pyramid, plane surfaces. Wherever you set yourself you are always on a plane surface. It's diabolical because it's a way of hiding the volume. They put the volume in a little cube which is the funerary chamber, and they set up plane surfaces, isosceles triangles, to hide the cube. The Egyptians are ashamed of the cube. The cube is the enemy, the black, the obscure, it's the tactile. The Greeks invent the cube. They make cubical temples, that is to say they move the foreground and the background forward. But, Riegl says, there is a priority of the foreground, and the priority of the foreground is linked to the form because it's the form that has the outline. It's for this reason that he will define the Greek world as a tactile-optical world. With the Byzantines it's quite odd. They nestle [nichent] the mosaics, they move them back. There is no depth in Byzantine art, and for a very simple reason, it's that depth is between the image and me. All of Byzantine depth is the space between the spectator and the mosaic. If you suppress this space it's as if you were to look at a painting outside of every condition of perception, it's unbearable.
The Byzantines mount an enormous forced takeover. They privilege the background, and the whole figure will arise from the background. The whole image will arise from the background. But at that very moment, as if by chance, the formula of the figure or the image is no longer form-outline. Form-outline was for Greek sculpture. And nevertheless there is a limit, there are even outlines, but this is not what acts, the work no longer acts that way, contrarily to Greek statuary in which the outline captures the light. For Byzantine mosaic it's light-color, that is to say that what defines, what marks the limits is no longer form-outline but rather the couple light-color, that is to say that the figure goes on as far as the light that it captures or emits goes, and as far as the color of which it's composed goes.
The effect on the spectator is prodigious, namely that a black eye goes exactly as far as this black shines. Hence the expression of these figures whose faces are consumed by the eyes. In other words there is no longer an outline of the figure, there is an expansion of light-color. The figure will go as far as it acts by light and by color. It's the reversal [renversement] of the Greek world. The Greeks wouldn't have known [su] how or wouldn't have wanted to proceed to this liberation of light and color. With Byzantine art color and light are liberated in relation to space because what they discover is that light and color are spatializing. Thus art must not be an art of space, it must be an art of the spatialization of space. Between Byzantine art and Plotinus slightly earlier texts on light there is an obvious resonance. What is affirmed is the same conception of the limit.
There is an outline-limit and there is a tension-limit. There is a space-limit and there is a spatialization-limit.
This is the last time that we will speak of Spinoza. I‚m going to begin with a question that was posed to me last time: how can Spinoza say, at least in one text, that every affection, that any affection is an affection of essence?
Actually, "affection of essence," you feel that it‚s a slightly odd expression. To my knowledge it‚s the only case in which one finds this expression. Which case? A very precise text, which is a recapitulative text at the end of book three of the Ethics. Here Spinoza gives us a series of definitions hors livre. He defines or he gives again definitions which, until then, had either not been given or were scattered. He gives definitions of the affects.
You recall that the affects were a very particular kind of affection: this is what follows from that. We often translate it by the word "feeling" [sentiment]. But there is the French word "affect" which corresponds completely to the Latin word "affectus." This, strictly speaking, is what follows from the affections, the affections being perceptions or representations. But in definition one at the end of book three we read this: "Desire is man‚s very essence, insofar as it is conceived to be determined, from any given affection of it, to do something." This definition consists of quite a long explication and, if one continues, one stumbles upon a sentence that also creates something of a problem, for by affection of essence, "we understand any constitution of that essence, whether it is innate (or acquired)." In the Latin text something is missing: the reason for this parenthesis. In the Dutch translation of the Short Treatise, there is the complete sentence that we expect. Why do we expect this complement, "(or acquired)"? Because it‚s a very standard distinction in the seventeenth century between two types of ideas or affections: ideas that are called innate, and ideas that are called acquired and adventitious.
Innate-acquired is a quite standard couple in the seventeenth century but, on the other hand, the fact is that Spinoza has not used this terminology and it‚s only in this recapitulation that the resumption of the words innate and acquired appears. What is this text in which Spinoza employs terms that he hasn‚t employed up until now and in which he issues the formula "affection of essence"?
If you think about everything we‚ve said up until now, there is a problem because one asks oneself how Spinoza can say that all the affections and all the affects are affections of essence. That means that even a passion is an affection of essence.
At the close of all our analyses, we tended to conclude that what truly belongs to essence are the adequate ideas and the active affects, that is, the ideas of the second kind and the ideas of the third kind. It‚s these that truly belong to essence. But Spinoza seems to say entirely the opposite: not only are all the passions affections of essence, but even among the passions, sadnesses, the worst passions, every affect affects essence!
I would like to try to resolve this problem.
It‚s not a question of discussing one of Spinoza‚s texts, we must take it literally. It teaches us that, be that as it may, every affection is affection of essence. Thus the passions belong to essence no less than the actions; the inadequate ideas [belong] to essence no less than the adequate ideas. And nevertheless there was necessarily a difference. The passions and the inadequate ideas must not belong to essence in the same way that the actions and the adequate ideas belong to it.
How do we get out of this?
Affection of essence. What interests me is the formula "of," in Latin the genitive. In French the genitive is indicated by the particle "de." I think I recall that grammar distinguishes several senses of the genitive. There is a whole variation. When you employ the locution "de" to indicate a genitive, this always means that something belongs to someone. If I make the genitive a locution of belonging, this doesn‚t prevent the belonging from having very different senses. The genitive can indicate that something comes from someone and belongs to her insofar as it comes from someone, or it can indicate that something belongs to someone insofar as this someone undergoes the something.
In other words, the locution "de" does not choose the direction [sens] in which it is inflected, if it‚s a genitive of passion or a genitive of action.
My question is this: I have an inadequate idea, I have a confused proposition out of which comes a passion-affect. In what sense does this belong to my essence? It seems to me that the answer is this: in my natural condition I am condemned to inadequate perceptions. This means that I am composed of an infinity of extensive parts [which are] external to one another. These extensive parts belong to me under a certain relation. But these extensive parts are perpetually submitted to the influence of other parts which act upon them and which don‚t belong to me. If I consider certain parts that belong to me and that make up part of my body, let‚s say my skin; corpuscules of skin that belong to me under such relations: my skin. They are perpetually submitted to the action of other external parts: the set of what acts on my skin, particles of air, particles of sun. I‚m trying to explain at the level of a rudimentary example. The corpuscules of sun, the corpuscules of heat act on my skin. This means that they are under a certain relation that is the relation of the sun. The corpuscules of my skin are under a certain relation that is precisely characteristic of my body, but these particles that have no other law than the law of external determinations act perpetually upon one another.
I would say that the perception that I have of heat is a confused perception, and from it come affects which are themselves passions: "I‚m hot!" At the level of the proposition "I‚m hot!," if I try to distribute the Spinozist categories, I would say: an external body acts on mine. It‚s the sun. That is to say that the parts of the sun act on the parts of my body. All of that is pure external determinism, it‚s like the shocks of particles.
I call perception when I perceive the heat that I experience, the idea of the effect of the sun on my body. It‚s an inadequate perception since it‚s an idea of an effect, I do not know the cause and from it follows a passive affect; either it‚s too hot and I‚m sad, or I feel good, what happiness the sun!
In what sense is this an affection of essence?
It‚s inevitably an affection of essence. At first sight it‚s an affection of the existing body. But finally there is only essence. The existing body is still a figure of essence. The existing body is essence itself, insofar as an infinity of extensive parts, under a certain relation, belongs to it. Under a certain relation! What does that mean, this relation of movement and rest?
You recall, you have essence that is a degree of power [puissance]. To this essence corresponds a certain relation of movement and rest. As long as I exist, this relation of movement and rest is executed by the extensive parts that, from then on, belong to me under this relation.
What does that mean?
In the Ethics there is a quite curious slippage [glissement] of notions, as if Spinoza had a double vocabulary there. And this is included, this would be so only in accordance with the physics of that epoch.
He passes sometimes from a kinetic vocabulary to a dynamic vocabulary. He considers the following two concepts as equivalents: relation of movement and rest, and power [pouvoir] of being affected or aptitude to be affected. One must ask oneself why he treats this kinetic proposition and this dynamic proposition as equivalents. Why is a relation of movement and rest that characterizes me at the same time a power of being affected that belongs to me? There will be two definitions of the body. The kinetic definition will be this: every body is defined by a relation of movement and rest. The dynamic definition is: every body is defined by a certain power of being affected. You must be sensitive to the double kinetic and dynamic register.
One will find a text in which Spinoza says that "a very large number of extensive parts belongs to me. Hence I am affected in an infinity of ways." Having, under a certain relation, an infinity of extensive parts is the power of being affected in an infinity of ways. From then on everything becomes clear.
If you understood the law of extensive parts, they never cease to have causes, to be causes, and to undergo the effect of one upon the others. This is the world of causality or extrinsic, external determinism. There is always a particle that strikes another particle. In other words, you cannot think an infinite set of parts without thinking that they have at each instant an effect upon one another.
What does one call affection? One calls affection the idea of an effect. These extensive parts that belong to me, you can‚t conceive them as having no effect upon one another. They are inseparable from the effect that they have on one another. And there is never an infinite set of extensive parts that would be isolated. There is at least one set of extensive parts that is defined by this: this set belongs to me. It is defined by the relation of movement and rest under which the set belongs to me. But this set is not separable from other sets, equally infinite, that act on it, that have influence on it and which do not belong to me. The particles of my skin are obviously not separable from the particles of air that come to strike them. An affection is nothing other than the idea of the effect. The necessarily confused idea since I have no idea of the cause. It‚s the reception of the effect: I say that I perceive. It‚s thus that Spinoza can pass from the kinetic definition to the dynamic definition, that is, that the relation under which an infinity of extensive parts belongs to me is equally a power of being affected. But then what are my perceptions and my passions, my joys and my sadnesses, my affects? If I continue this sort of parallelism between the kinetic element and the dynamic element, I would say that the extensive parts belong to me insofar as they execute a certain relation of movement and rest that characterizes me. They execute a relation since they define the terms between which the relation applies [joue]. If I speak now in dynamic terms, I would say that the affections and the affects belong to me insofar as they fulfill my power of being affected and at each instant my power of being affected is fulfilled. Compare these completely different moments: instant A: you are out in the rain, you catch it yourself, you have no shelter and you are reduced to protecting your right side with your left side and vice versa. You are sensitive to the beauty of this sentence. It‚s a very kinetic formula. I am forced to make half of myself the shelter for the other side. It‚s a very beautiful formula, it‚s a verse of Dante, in one of the circles of Hell where there‚s a little rain and the bodies are lying in a sort of mud. Dante tries to translate the sort of solitude of these bodies that have no other resource than that of turning over in the mud. Every time they try to protect one side of their body with the other side. Instant B: now you open up. Just now the particles of rain were like little arrows, it was horrible, you were grotesque in your swimsuits. And the sun comes out, instant B. Then your whole body opens up. And now you would like your whole body to be capable of spreading out [étalable], you tend toward the sun. Spinoza says that we must not be fooled, that in the two cases your power of being affected is necessarily fulfilled. Plainly you always have the affections and affects that you deserve according to the circumstances, including the external circumstances; but an affection, an affect belongs to you only to the extent that it actually contributes to fulfilling your power of being affected.
It‚s in this sense that every affection and every affect is affect of essence. Ultimately the affections and the affects can only be affections and affects of essence. Why? They exist for you only as they fulfill a power of being affected which is yours, and this power of being affected is the power of being affected of your essence. At no moment do you have to miss it. When it rains and you are so unhappy, you literally lack nothing. This is Spinoza‚s great idea: you never lack anything. Your power of being affected is fulfilled in every way. In every case, nothing is ever expressed or founded in expressing itself as a lack. It‚s the formula "there is only Being." Every affection, every perception and every feeling, every passion is affection, perception and passion of essence. It‚s not by chance that philosophy constantly employs a word for which it‚s reproached, but what do you want, philosophy needs it, it‚s the sort of locution "insofar as" [en tant que]. If it were necessary to define philosophy by a word, one could say that philosophy is the art of the "insofar as." If you see someone being led by chance to say "insofar as," you can tell yourself that it‚s thought being born. The first man who thought said "insofar as." Why? "Insofar as" is the art of the concept. It‚s the concept. Is it by chance that Spinoza constantly employs the Latin equivalent of "insofar as"? The "insofar as" refers to distinctions in the concept that are not perceptible in things themselves. When you work by way of distinctions in the concept and by way of the concept, you can say: the thing insofar as, that is to say the conceptual aspect of the thing.
So then every affection is affection of essence, yes, but insofar as what? When it‚s a matter of inadequate perceptions and passions, we must add that these are affections of essence insofar as the essence has an infinity of extensive parts that belong to it under such a relation.
Here the power of being affected belongs to essence, plainly it is necessarily fulfilled by affects that come from outside. These affects come from outside, they do not come from the essence, they are nevertheless affects of essence since they fulfill the power of being affected of essence. Remember well that they come from outside, and actually the outside is the law to which the extensive parts acting upon one another are submitted.
When one succeeds in rising to the second and third kinds of knowledge, what happens? Here I have adequate perceptioions and active affects. What does that mean? It‚s the affections of essence. I would even say all the more reason. What difference from the preceding case? This time they do not come from outside, they come from inside. Why? We saw it. A common notion already, all the more reason for an idea of the third kind, an idea of essence, why does this come from inside?
Just now I said that inadequate ideas and passive affects belong to me, they belong to my essence. These are thus affections of essence insofar as this essence actually possesses an infinity of extensive parts that belong to it under a certain relation.
Let‚s now try to find the common notions. A common notion is a perception. It‚s a perception of a common relation, a relation common to me and to another body. It follows from affects, active affects. These affections, perceptions and affects are also affections of essence. They belong to essence. It‚s the same thing, but insofar as what? No longer insofar as essence is conceived as possessing an infinity of extensive parts that belong to it under a certain relation, but insofar as essence is conceived as expressing itself in a relation. Here the extensive parts and the action of the extensive parts are cast off since I am raised to the comprehension of relations that are causes, thus I am raised to another aspect of essence. It‚s no longer essence insofar as it actually possesses an infinity of extensive parts, it‚s essence insofar as it expresses itself in a relation.
And all the more reason if I am raised to ideas of the third kind, these ideas and the active affects that follow from them belong to essence and are affections of essence, this time insofar as essence is in itself [en soi], is in itself [en elle-même], in itself and for itself, is in itself [en soi] and for itself [pour soi] a degree of power [puissance]. I would say broadly that every affection and every affect are affections of essence, only there are two cases, the genitive has two senses?ideas of the second kind and [those] of the third kind are affections of essence, but it would have to be said following a word that will only appear quite a bit later in philosophy, with the Germans for example, these are auto-affections. Ultimately, throughout the common notions and the ideas of the third kind, it‚s essence that is affected by itself.
Spinoza employs the term active affect and there is no great difference between auto-affection and active affect. All the affections are affections of essence, but be careful, affection of essence does not have one and only one sense. It remains for me to draw a sort of conclusion that concerns the Ethics-Ontology relation.
Why does all this constitute an ontology? I have a feeling-idea. There has never been but a single ontology. There is only Spinoza who has managed to pull off an ontology. If one takes ontology in an extremely rigorous sense, I see only one case where a philosophy has realized itself as ontology, and that‚s Spinoza. But then why could this coup only be realized once? Why was it by Spinoza?
The power of being affected of an essence can be as well realized by external affections as by internal affections. Above all we must not think that power of being affected refers more to an interiority that did not make up the kinetic relation. The affects can be absolutely external, this is the case of the passions. The passions are affects that fulfill the power of being affected and that come from outside?book five appears to me to found this notion of auto-affection. Take a text like this one: the love by which I love God (understood in the third kind) is the love by which God loves himself and I love myself. This means that at the level of the third kind, all the essences are internal to one another and internal to the power [puissance] called divine power. There is an interiority of essences and that does not mean that they merge. One arrives at a system of intrinsic distinctions; from this point on only one essence affects me˜and this is the definition of the third kind, an essence affects my essence˜but since all essences are internal to one another, an essence that affects me is a way in which my essence affects itself. Although this is dangerous, I return to my example of the sun. What does "pantheism" mean? How do people who call themselves pantheists live? There are many Englishmen who are pantheists. I‚m thinking of Lawrence. He had a cult of the sun. Light and tuberculosis are the two points common to Lawrence and Spinoza. Lawrence tells us that, broadly speaking, there are at least two ways of being in relation to the sun. There are people on the beach, but they don‚t understand, they don‚t know what the sun is, they live badly. If they were to understand something of the sun, after all, they would come out of it more intelligent and better. But as soon as they put their clothes back on, they are as scabby [teigneux] as before. What do they make of the sun, at this level? They remain in the first kind [?] The "I" in "I like the heat" is an I that expresses relations of extensive parts of the vasoconstrictive and vasodilative type, that expresses itself directly in an external determinism putting the extensive parts in play. In that sense these are particles that act on my particles and the effect of one on the other is a pleasure or a joy. That‚s the sun of the first kind of knowledge, which I translate under the naïve formula "oh the sun, I love that." In fact, these are extrinsic mechanisms of my body that play, and the relations between parts, parts of the sun and parts of my body.
Starting when with the sun, starting when can I begin authentically to say "I"? With the second kind of knowledge, I leave behind the zone of the effect of parts on one another. I have acquired some kind of knowledge of the sun, a practical comprehension of the sun. What does this practical comprehension mean? It means that I get ahead, I know what such a miniscule event linked to the sun means, such a furtive shadow at such a moment, I know what this announces. I no longer record the effects of the sun on my body. I raise myself to a kind of practical comprehension of causes, at the same time that I know how to compose the relations of my body with such and such relation of the sun.
Let‚s take the perception of a painter. Let‚s imagine a nineteenth-century painter who goes out into nature. He has his easel, it‚s a certain relation. There is the sun that does not remain immobile. What is this knowledge of the second kind? He will completely change the position of his easel, he is not going to have the same relation to his canvas depending on whether the sun is high or the sun is about to set. Van Gogh painted on his knees. The sunsets forced him to paint almost lying down so that Van Gogh‚s eye had the lowest horizon line possible. At that moment having an easel no longer means anything. There are letters in which Cézanne speaks of the mistral: how to compose the canvas-easel relation with the relation of wind, and how to compose the relation of the easel with the sinking sun, and how to end up in such a way that I might paint on the ground, that I might paint lying on the ground. I compose relations, and in a certain way I am raised to a certain comprehension of causes, and at that very moment I can begin to say that I love the sun. I am no longer in the effect of particles of sun on my body, I am in another domain, in compositions of relation. And at this very moment I am not far from a proposition that would have appeared to us mad in the first degree, I am not far from being able to say, "the sun, I am something of it." I have a relation of affinity with the sun. This is the second kind of knowledge. Understand that, at the second level, there is a kind of communion with the sun. For Van Gogh it‚s obvious. He begins to enter into a kind of communication with the sun.
What would the third kind be? Here Lawrence abounds. In abstract terms it would be a mystical union. All kinds of religions have developed mystiques of the sun. This is a step further. Van Gogh has the impression that there is a beyond that he cannot manage to render. What is this yet further that he will not manage to render insofar as he is a painter? Is this what the metaphors of the sun in the mystics are? But these are no longer metaphors if one comprehends it like that, they can say literally that God is the sun. They can say literally that "I am God." Why? Not at all because there is an identification. It‚s that at the level of the third kind one arrives at this mode of intrinsic distinction. It‚s here that there is something irreducibly mystical in Spinoza‚s third kind of knowledge: at the same time the essences are distinct, only they distinguish themselves on the inside from one another. So much so that the rays by which the sun affects me are the rays by which I affect myself, and the rays by which I affect myself are the rays of the sun that affect me. It‚s solar auto-affection. In words this has a grotesque air, but understand that at the level of modes of life it‚s quite different. Lawrence develops these texts on this kind of identity that maintains the internal distinction between his own singular essence, the singular essence of the sun, and the essence of the world.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Historically speaking, demons are far from being horned and goateed Mephistos tempting us to do bad things. The demon is as much a philosophical concept as it is a religious and political one. In fact, the “demon” is often a placeholder for some sort of non-human, malefic agency that acts against the human (that is, against the world-for-us).
-Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1
There are three gates through which the hunter of souls ventures to bind: vision, hearing, and mind or imagination. If it happens that someone passes through all three of these gates, he binds most powerfully and ties down most tightly.
-Giordano Bruno: Cause, Principle and Unity: And Essays on Magic
Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess. It describes a labyrinth which is nothing but an intricate hall of mirrors, losing you in an ‘unconscious’ which is magnificent beyond comprehension yet indistinguishable from an elaborate trap.
-Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007
Stuart Clark in Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe offers us an opening onto an abstruse subject: Demonology. “Demonology was a composite subject consisting of discussions about the workings of nature, the processes of history, the maintenance of religious purity, and the nature of political authority and order.” (6) One could say that contrariety is the key to demonology, a thinking against the impurity and counter-sublime that would destroy both the cultural aristocracy and its elitism, as well as its political, religious, and legal order-nomos. In Empedocles the notion of contrarieties would find its harbinger in promoting discord (Strife) and concord (Love) as the primary contraries in a dualistic system of warring elements that produced the cosmos between Heimarmene (Fate, Discord) and Harmonia (Concord, Order).
Heimarmene or the Moirai (Moirae) were the three goddesses of fate who personified the inescapable destiny of man. They assigned to every person his or her fate or share in the scheme of things. Their name means “Parts.” “Shares” or “Alottted Portions.” The individuals were Klotho (Clotho), the “the Spinner,” who spun the thread of life, Lakhesis (Lachesis), “the Apportioner of Lots”, who measured it, and Atropos (or Aisa), “She who cannot be turned,” who cut it short. Zeus Moiragetes, the god of fate, was their leader.
At the birth of a man, the Moirai spinned out the thread of his future life, followed his steps, and directed the consequences of his actions according to the counsel of the gods. It was not an inflexible fate; Zeus, if he chose, had the power of saving even those who were already on the point of being seized by their fate. The Fates did not abruptly interfere in human affairs but availed themselves of intermediate causes, and determined the lot of mortals not absolutely, but only conditionally, even man himself, in his freedom was allowed to exercise a certain influence upon them. As man’s fate terminated at his death, the goddesses of fate become the goddesses of death, Moirai Thanatoio.
HARMONIA was the goddess of harmony and concord. She was a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite and as such presided over both marital harmony, soothing strife and discord, and harmonious action of soldiers in war. Late Greek and Roman writers sometimes portrayed her as harmony in a more abstract sense–a deity who presided over cosmic balance. In Plato’s Timaeus harmonization by proportion (of contrary elements, seasons, physical motions, and components of the soul) became the principle by which the Divinity created from chaos.
One can discover the use of contrariety as a guiding concept throughout both religious and philosophical speculation from Plato and Aristotle, his pupil on down to Immanuel Kant whose philosophical system both concluded one tradition and began what we’ve come to term Modernity (even though this term had been contested throughout the 16th to 18th centuries). The Aristotelian maxim contrariorum eadem est doctrina expresses this, as does Kant’s dictum that ‘all a priori division of concepts must be by dichotomy’.
The dichotomy that will concern us in this tentative assaying of the territory of demonology or thinking with demons is that of the contrariety of the phenomenal/noumenal divide. So I begin with Immanuel Kant. One could almost say that the demon in his philosophy is the concept of the noumenon. In our own time many philosophers, anti-philosophers, non-philosophers have converged upon the noumenon. Kant was the philosopher who sundered the known from the unknown, appearance from reality, sensible from intelligible. One could traces aspects of this battle back through the Idealists / Rationalists and on down into the Scholastics nominalist/realist divides in one form or another. Yet, it was Kant that introduced the categories and introduced the specific terms argument of the terms in his division of the concepts of “phenomena” and “noumena” that have haunted both Continental and Analytical philosophy in the Secular Age. Kant first used these terms in his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World.
Sensibility is the receptivity of a subject in virtue of which it is possible for the subject’s own representative state to be affected in a definite way by the presence of some object. Intelligence (rationality) is the faculty of a subject in virtue of which it has the power to represent things which cannot by their own quality come before the senses of that subject. The object of sensibility is the sensible; that which contains nothing but what is to be cognized through the intelligence is intelligible. In the schools of the ancients, the former was called a phenomenon and the latter a noumenon. Cognition, in so far as it is subject to the laws of sensibility is sensitive, and, in so far as it is subject to the laws of intelligence, it is intellectual or rational. (§3, Ak 2:392).
Kant goes on to claim that there is a form of the intelligible world, an objective principle, which is “some cause in virtue of which there is a combining together of the things which exist in themselves” (§13, Ak 2:398). This cause is a unitary being on which all substances depend, a creator and architect of the world. Thus, Kant makes what he would later call a “transcendental” use of the pure concept of cause (or that from which something is derived) in principles like the following: “The substances which constitute the world are beings which derive from another being, though not from a number of different beings; they all derive from the same being” (§20, Ak 2:408).
Kant introduced the concept of the noumenon in the oppositional or negative sense, as the concept of an object that is not the object of a sensible intuition or the intellect; a placeholder for the limits of thought rather than thought itself. The function of this concept is to “limit the pretension of sensibility” (KrV A255/B311); and since this “pretension” is that sensible, i.e., spatiotemporal, predicates apply to things in general, this limitation is central to Kant’s “critical” project. Moreover, it brings with it the replacement of a transcendental by an empirical realism and therewith a commitment to transcendental idealism.1
One last item is the battle between those in favor of a “two-world” theory, and those in favor of a “two-aspect” theory of the phenomenon/noumenon divide. Allison will condense his argument from the anti-idealist camp using the work of P.F. Strawson and H.A. Pritchard. Strawson would reduce Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to incoherence, suggesting that Kant perverts the scientific empirical model of the mind’s being affected by physical objects by a mental trick. For Strawson Kant division into sensible/intelligible, appearance/reality distinctions creates the very problem it pretends to overcome: the reduction of the spatiotemporal relation to the subjective constitution of the mind (i.e., that the external is constructed by the mind, not affected by the sensible objects themselves). Secondly, is Pritchard’s argument that Kant confuses the issue claiming that we can know appearances but not things-in-themselves, and proceeds to affirm that we can really know appearances and they really are spatial. This leads Pritchard says to the assumption by Kant that we can only know things as they seem to us through appearances (representations), not how they really are in-themselves external to this system of representational mythology. 2
It would lead to too far afield to dig deeper into the tangled skein of analytical vs. transcendental idealist divide in Strawson, Pritchard, Paul Guyer, and Rae Langton. Each in their own way tried to separate out the transcendental idealism from the analytical aspects of Kant’s philosophy. I’ll leave that to the interested reader.
To simplify: the point is that for Kant there is no argument that things-in-themselves exist independent of us (realism), the point is rather that until these things are conceptualized for us and by us in the mind. But this does not mean that they exist as in Bishop Berkeley as Ideas or sense data in the mind independent of those external objects, rather these external objects to become objects for us must conform to the conditions of their representation in our mind. Whatever these objects, things, entities are independent of us is meaningless until they are made intelligible in the mind and conditioned as representations.
Most of modern philosophy and art has been a civil-war over this representational model of the mind that Kant distilled out of ancient to rationalist philosophy. Kant himself would try to blend the two without fusing them saying: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” (A51/B76) For Allison Kant’s Transcendental Idealism was founded on a “two aspect” theory of epistemic conditioning, one that would require the transcendental distinction between appearances and things in themselves as based on two ways of considering things be maintained (as they appear and as they are in themselves) rather than as, on a more traditional reading, between two ontologically distinct sets of entities (appearances and things in themselves). (TI, p. 16)
This battle between epistemic conditioning of reality for us or for itself on the one hand, and those who would ontologize this gap between things for us and in themselves plays into many current notions surrounding knowledge. If reality must conform to the representations we have of it then we are bound in a circle of predetermined forms that guide our thoughts, while if reality can be divided in itself between objects as appearance (phenomenon) and objects as noumenal unknowns to which we have no direct access then we are bound to diametric and confrontational views of life and meaning.
Some like Quentin Meillassoux in his recent After Finitude would argue against what he termed correlationism, which is seen to be the thesis that it is impossible to think being independent of the relation between thought and being. Meillassoux’s aim is to think the absolute or reality as it exists independent of human beings. The correlationist on the other hand thinks that there is no human without world, nor world without human, but only a primal correlation or rapport between the two. Hence, the object has no autonomy for the correlationist. In franker terms, the object does not exist. Kant’s ultimate judgment and the central teaching of his so called Copernican Revolution was to turn philosophy into a meditation on human finitude and forbid it from discussing reality-in-itself. So that after him all we could affirm positively was the phenomenal region of our spatio-temporal cosmos as conditioned by our representational mind.
Meillassoux and others since Kant have tried without success to counter this explicit closure of the noumenon, seeking to discover another path, one that seeks outside direct access to this noumenal sphere a more indirect access to its unknowability. It’s in this liminal sphere between the possible and impossible, phenomenal and noumenal that the wars of philosophy between epistemic and ontological access have for two centuries striven sometimes winning small battles here and there but none winning the war. The noumenon will not let itself be reduced to either epistemic conditioning nor ontological excess, it acts like a daemonic continuum that is full of discord, strife, and contradiction that allows only the vagrant mediator, the vanishing mediator to convey, though indirectly some semblance of the darkness made visible.
The Daemonic Realms: The “Subject” of Posthumanism
“…all demons are malevolent, deceiving, posturing enemies of humanity…”
-Jean Bodin, Démonomanie
Thinking about the daemonic or thinking the daemon brings us to edge of both thought and speech, of what can be thought and what spoken. Kepler in his, “The Speech of Daemons,” which formed a part of his allegory of the Cosmos that sought to explain his scientific and natural views constitutes the central core of the elaborately framed narrative. The Daemon became in his Somnium: The Dream, or Posthumous Work on Lunar Astronomy a polysemic allegorical assemblage of the Christian and scientific imagination, represents Kepler’s attempt to resolve competing discourses available for theorizing nature. Kepler struggled to break through the limits of thought in his time, a thought that restricted the minds of those he sought to convey his natural and cosmological information to. To do that he pushed the limits of a form of dream discourse that could reach into that abyss of the daemonic imaginal where meaning could be brought back in a form of daemonic speech that spoke the alterity beyond the limit’s of his time’s cultural register. Eugene Thacker in his three-volume work In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy on the horror of philosophy would offer a view onto this limiting factor of our knowledge of the world and ourselves:
[T]he horror of philosophy: the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility – the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language.(2)
The Daemonic Imaginal is that alterity beyond the limit of our symbolic and cultural horizon that allows the abyss to open its darkness to us and reveal what is both most natural and most daemonic to us in forms that take on powers of speech and thought irreducible to the logic and instrumental reasoning of our everyday utilitarian language and mental make-up. Yet, this is not some transcendent realm of spirits from some external world beyond our world, but rather the powers at the heart of our elemental desires and fears, our deepest noumenal affective registry that cannot be any part of intuition (Intellect) or sense-data (Sensibility) but is rather part of that contrariety and agonistic world of strife that is neither logical or reasonable.
The Daemon arises from that dark sphere of thought by way of indirect appropriation, through lures and traps, alluring its subtle world not by way of representations and the light of Reason, but rather by way of diagrams, sigils, forces and powers of imaginal entreaty, drawing this non-knowledge into that intermediated realm between the sublime and ridiculous without reducing it to our daylight utilitarian symbols thereby degrading it and losing the very force of its message. As Thacker surmises
I would propose that horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us). (8)
Opening any number of current philosophical or scientific works in the past few years one gets a feeling that an advanced cadre of alien invaders were slowly erasing the memory of the human from our cultural complex, as if an invasion of alien thinkers had replaced our age old vision of human exceptionalism. This novel undermining of two thousand years of Christian humanist civilization some say has been going on since the Enlightenment age of Kant. That what is occurring in our midst, to the detrimental to the both the older humanistic and humancentric view of life, self, and the universe is nothing less than the destruction of the human species in advance of some transvaluation of both our values and our genetic inheritance in an ongoing transformation into a posthuman civilization.
If as some have surmised that one can only radicalize or reverse a philosophical system then what has happened recently in terms of philosophy is the extreme end of Kantianism: it has been both radicalized and reversed to the extreme nth degree and found wanting. Over the past two centuries Kant’s system would divide the House of Philosophy into both Analytical and Continental forms in its quest to overcome the dilemma he’d set for his philosophy of finitude and the phenomenal. Unable to break out of the correlational circle of thought and affirm objects independent of the mind’s representations, philosophers have sought either to extend into analytical and mathematical theoretic or the discursive and phenomenological theoretic left open to it. Both paths ended in failure. But even this failure to break out of the correlational circle has spawned other possibilities.
Slavoj Zizek realizing the quandary of this circular reasoning will remind us of Niels Bohr who liked to repeat, at the level of the physics of micro-particles, there is no “objective” measurement, no access to “objective” reality— not because we (our mind) constitutes reality, but because we are part of the reality which we measure, and thus lack an “objective distance” towards it.3 Zizek himself will join all those dualists that have seen a gap between thought and reality, yet he stays with the notion of the Subject or a humancentric view that begs the question. As he’ll say of Meillassoux,
Meillassoux’s claim is to have achieved the breakthrough into independent “objective” reality. But there is a third Hegelian option: the true problem that follows from Meillassoux’s basic speculative gesture (transposing the contingency of our notion of reality into the Thing itself) is not so much what more we can say about reality-in-itself, but how our subjective standpoint and subjectivity itself fit into reality. (LTN, KL 14517)
That seems to be the most degrading and almost reactionary aspect of Zizek’s stance in maintaining the notion of a Subject in a world where neuroscientists and many philosophers have escaped or evaded this notion as retrograde and dubious at best. I don’t have time to go into all the arguments for this here, and will only add Thomas Metzinger’s statement:
Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self. But it is not just that the modern philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience together are about to shatter the myth of the self. It has now become clear that we will never solve the philosophical puzzle of consciousness—that is, how it can arise in the brain, which is a purely physical object—if we don’t come to terms with this simple proposition: that to the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world. So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?4
Which will force Zizek to then ask if problem is not “Can we penetrate the veil of subjectively constituted phenomena to Things-in-themselves?” but “How do phenomena themselves arise within the flat stupidity of reality which just is; how does reality redouble itself and start to appear to itself?” For this, we need a theory of the subject which involves neither transcendental subjectivity nor a reduction of the subject to a part of objective reality; such a theory also enables us to formulate in a new way what Meillassoux calls the problem of correlationism (ancestrality). Here, both Lacan and Hegel are anti-Leninists, for their problem is not “how to reach objective reality which is independent of (its correlation to) subjectivity,” but how subjectivity is already inscribed into reality— to quote Lacan again, not only is the picture in my eye, but I am also in the picture. (LTN, KL 14520)
Ultimately for Zizek there is an irreducible (constitutive) discord, or non-correlation, between subject and reality: in order for the subject to emerge, the impossible object-that-is-subject must be excluded from reality, since it is this very exclusion which opens up the space for the subject. The problem is not to think the Real outside of transcendental correlation, independently of the subject; the problem is to think the Real inside the subject, the hard core of the Real in the very heart of the subject, its ex-timate center. (LTN, 14533) Thinking through what this exclusion from reality might entail, the negation that opens up this object that is the Subject and forces the extreme solution to think the Real at the core of this Subject as internal to the Subject in itself seems to reverse the Kantian distinction. Now the noumenon is at the core of the Subject rather than in the external world or Thing-in-itself. Rather than a split between appearance / thing-in-itself or phenomenon/noumenon we now have in Zizek’s metaphysical system the introduction of a split also into the subject, between its thinking and its (not actual life-being but its) non-thought thought, its non-non-thought, between discourse and the Real (not reality). So the point is not only to overcome the inaccessible In-itself by claiming that “there is nothing beyond the veil of semblances except what the subject itself put there,” but to relate the In-itself to the split in the subject itself. (LTN, KL 14543)
This displacement of the noumenal from the external to the internal split within the Subject-in-itself seems to open the world of the daemonic that Eugene Thacker in the epigraph to this essay terms “a placeholder for some sort of non-human, malefic agency that acts against the human”.
…it has been gone for 2,000 years, either because God withdrew the Holy Spirit or because for one reason or another man lost the method and the notion. And then all that came were daemons rather than daimons— evil spirits only…
-Philip K Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
The Split: The Daemonic in the Subject
I am one of those who not only knows that those who sleep in death will awaken, but I know how (and I know it, too, by gnosis, not pistis). Thus I see now that the fact of anamnesis is tied in with the basic, informational quality of the universe. After all, it was information which retrieved me, whereupon I then could distinguish other higher information and learn from it.
– Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
E.R. Dodds in his now classic The Greeks and the Irrational would remind us that the ancient people of Greece, from whom our conceptuality and notions of reason and the irrational first arose, saw the world in daemonic terms as the will of Zeus “working itself out through an inexorable moral law, his characters see only a daemonic world, haunted by malignant forces”.6 Dodds would go on to say,
The daemonic, as distinct from the divine, has at all periods played a large part in Greek popular belief (and still does). People in the Odyssey attribute many events in their lives, both mental and physical, to the agency of anonymous daemons; we get the impression, however, that they do not always mean it very seriously. But in the age that lies between the Odyssey and the Orestia, the daemons seem to draw closer: they grow more persistent, more insidious, more sinister. (GI, KL 794)
The Greeks would in fact begin to see our passional nature, our irrational emotions and intentions as daemons. As Dodds will tell us those irrational impulses which arise in a man against his will to tempt him, such as Theognis calls hope and fear are “dangerous daemons,” or when Sophocles speaks of Eros as a power that “warps to wrong the righteous mind, for its destruction,” we should not dismiss this as “personification”: behind it lies the old Homeric feeling that these things are not truly part of the self, since they are not within man’s conscious control; they are endowed with a life and energy of their own, and so can force a man, as it were from the outside, into conduct foreign to him. (GI, KL 804) A second type of daemon would be associated with various diseases that would eat away the body such as Cholera, Smallpox, and Plague. Third would be the notion of moira or “portion” of personal luck in which as Theognis laments that more depends on one’s daemon than on one’s character: if your daemon is of poor quality, mere good judgement is of no avail— your enterprises come to nothing. (GI, 907)
Empedocles would teach the Greeks of the occult self which persisted through successive incarnations which he called, not “psyche” but “daemon.” This daemon has, apparently, nothing to do with perception or thought, which Empedocles held to be mechanically determined; the function of the daemon is to be the carrier of man’s potential divinity113 and actual guilt. It is nearer in some ways to the indwelling spirit which the shaman inherits from other shamans than it is to the rational “soul” in which Socrates believed; but it has been moralised as a guilt-carrier, and the world of the senses has become the Hades in which it suffers torment. (GI, KL 3036)
This notion of the split within the Subject as daemon and psyche would have repercussions down through Plato and then into the Neo-Platonists and Christian Gnostics who would inherit these ideas and extend them taking over the notion that we already exist in Hades or Hell and suffer the torments of a Demon King, the Devil or Demiurge. As Dodds would admit the Classical Age inherited a whole series of inconsistent pictures of the “soul” or “self” the living corpse in the grave, the shadowy image in Hades, the perishable breath that is spilt in the air or absorbed in the aether, the daemon that is reborn in other bodies. (GI, KL 3607) Yet, as the Greeks demythologized their society and rationalized it into philosophical concepts and reason the externalization of these daemons would slowly withdraw into the human head as intentions, impulses, and irrational drives pulling and pushing humans into sinister paths.
Plato’s fission of the empirical man into daemon and beast is perhaps not quite so inconsequent as it may appear to the modern reader. It reflects a similar fission in Plato’s view of human nature: the gulf between the immortal and the mortal soul corresponds to the gulf between Plato’s vision of man as he might be and his estimate of man as he is. (GI, KL 4253) Over time the naturalization of these mythical entities into passions, emotions, intentions would resolve them in ways that allowed the political and social control of human behavior. Yet, the rational never quite was able to exclude the older mythical elements from its systems, and even Socrates would do honor to his daemon on his death bed.
In our time Zizek will speak of this daemonic realm of the Real as the pure virtual surface, the “incorporeal” Real, which is to be opposed to the Real in its most terrifying imaginary dimension, the primordial abyss which swallows up everything, dissolving all identities— a figure well known in literature in multiple guises, from Edgar Allan Poe’s maelstrom and Kurtz’s “horror” at the end of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to Pip from Melville’s Moby Dick who, cast to the bottom of the ocean, experiences the demon God:
Carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes … Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke to it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. (LTN, 1579)
Zizek would return us to Plato, to the Real of the Gap: the assertion of the gap between the spatio-temporal order of reality in its eternal movement of generation and corruption, and the “eternal” order of Ideas— the notion that empirical reality can “participate” in an eternal Idea, that an eternal Idea can shine through it, appear in it. As he’ll suggest:
Where Plato got it wrong is in his ontologization of Ideas (strictly homologous to Descartes’s ontologization of the cogito), as if Ideas form another, even more substantial and stable order of “true” reality. What Plato was not ready (or, rather, able) to accept was the thoroughly virtual, “immaterial” (or, rather, “insubstantial”) status of Ideas: like sense-events in Deleuze’s ontology, Ideas have no causality of their own; they are virtual entities generated by spatio-temporal material processes. Take an attractor in mathematics: all positive lines or points in its sphere of attraction only endlessly approach it, without ever reaching its form— the existence of this form is purely virtual; it is nothing more than the form towards which the lines and points tend. However, precisely as such, the virtual is the Real of this field: the immovable focal point around which all elements circulate— the term “form” here should be given its full Platonic weight, since we are dealing with an “eternal” Idea in which reality imperfectly “participates.” (LTN, KL 935)
For Zizek our realm, this universe of material reality is “all there is,” that there is no Platonic true world beyond the cosmos: and, the ontological status of Ideas is that of pure appearing. The question becomes not “how can we reach the true reality beyond appearances?” but “how can appearance emerge in reality?” The conclusion Plato avoids is implied in his own line of thought: the supersensible Idea does not dwell beyond appearances, in a separate ontological sphere of fully constituted Being; it is appearance as appearance. No wonder that the two great admirers of Plato’s Parmenides, Hegel and Lacan, both provide exactly the same formula of the “truth” of the Platonic supersensible Idea: the supersensible
comes from the world of appearance which has mediated it; in other words, appearance is its essence and, in fact, its filling. The supersensible is the sensuous and the perceived posited as it is in truth; but the truth of the sensuous and the perceived is to be appearance. The supersensible is therefore appearance qua appearance … It is often said that the supersensible world is not appearance; but what is here understood by appearance is not appearance, but rather the sensuous world as itself the really actual. (LTN, 953)
The implicit lesson of Plato is not that everything is appearance, that it is not possible to draw a clear line of separation between appearance and reality (that would have meant the victory of sophism), but that essence is “appearance as appearance,” that essence appears in contrast to appearance within appearance; that the distinction between appearance and essence has to be inscribed into appearance itself.(LTN, 969)
Which brings us to the Void. For Zizek appearance as essence is in itself empty, a nothingness manifest, the “nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, “contradiction”), the pure form of dislocation ontologically preceding any dislocated content”. (LTN, 983)
This whole digression brings us back to the inhuman split subject within as the place of this warring, antagonistic, contradictory realm of the daemonic Real.
The Rise of the Archons: Gnosticism, Gnosis, and Nonknowledge
Why do these spiritual beings have mercy on us in the ﬁrst place? And why do they choose to speak to us through sudden and striking images? Why is their presence always marked by an odd, eerie, weird apparition? Why do they have to pervert nature in order to reveal their messages?
-Armando Maggi, In The Company of Demons
Philosophical sophisticates like Marcus Aurelius are no less vulnerable than the local shoemaker, for, as Marcus’s own philosophy might show, daimones can turn philosophy itself into a means of subjugating people to their tyranny.7 Pagels in her study on the origin of Satan will trace the concept of daimonies through its Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic variants. The whole of the ancient world was pervaded by the daimonic in both its moral and amoral forms. One finds literature in all pagan or Christian forms pervaded by magic, binding spells, curse tablets, voodoo dolls, and rituals to control and direct daimonies for good or ill.9
In his Against the Heresies Irenaeus relates the origins of the Demiurge:
When she saw that all the rest had a consort, but she herself was without a partner, she sought for one, with whom she might unite; and when she did not ﬁ nd one she took it sorely, extended herself, and looked down into the lower regions, thinking to ﬁ nd a consort there. And when she found none she leapt forth, disgusted also because she had made the leap without the goodwill of the Father. Then, moved by simplicity and goodness, she generated a work in which was ignorance and audacity.
This work of hers they call the First Archon, the creator of this world. They relate that he stole from his mother a great power and departed from her into the lower regions, and made the ﬁrmament of heaven in which also they say he dwells.
One hears in this an echo and inversion of the ancient Christian and Greek myths with Sophia, Wisdom, giving birth to the blind demiurge or first Archon who will in turn steal a “great power” from his Mother that will help him reorder and construct the Cosmos: the lower realms of our universe. One thinks of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus, or Pandora’s box of toxic gifts as well… as if the corruption began with the breaking of a taboo, a sacrifice – a blind and tearful progenitor seeking to mold a universe of pure hate and desolation.
Neoplatonism and Pico’s attempted synthesis of all philosophies on a mystical basis are really, at bottom, an aspiration after a new gnosis rather than a new philosophy. At any rate, it was their immersion in the atmosphere of gnosis through their veneration for Hermes Trismegistus which led Ficino and Pico to their religious approach to magic and to their placing of the Magus on a lofty pinnacle of insight, a position very different from that held by the vulgar necromancers and conjurors in former less enlightened times.
-Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition
Georges Bataille will tell us that in practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action).9 Here we see Bataille revealing the power of darkness and matter as energetic power, both active and creative. Bataille attributes to such sovereign moments of energetic, aﬀective expenditure a sacriﬁcial character. “the principle of sacriﬁce is destruction,” he writes, “but though it sometimes goes so far as to destroy completely . . . the destruction that sacriﬁce is intended to bring about is not annihilation. The thing—only the thing—is what sacriﬁce means to destroy in the victim. Sacriﬁce destroys an object’s . . . ties of subordination; it draws the victim out of the world of utility” and into the sphere of the sacred.10 (NE, 220)
One might say Bataille was seeking an anti-political left-hand path out of our capitalist prison, a way to exit the system of profits without expenditure that was a living hell for those trapped within its vast mechanisms of clockwork utilitarian culture and practice. And, for Bataille, the only path out was down and into the daemonic heart of “inner experience,” a revitalization of those dark powers of the ancient archons who were the energetic force of excess and transgression. Bataille sought to negate the darkest prison of all: Time.
For Bataille the sacred was a realm of splits and gaps as well. He’d seek through “inner experience” (gnosis or non-knowledge) a exit from the mundane and utilitarian profane work-a-day world, and an entry into the realm of the left-hand path of the dangerous, decaying, morbid sacred. Bataille advances this “duality of the sacred,” extending and radicalizing the features of the “two opposing classes” observed by Durkheim: “pure and impure,” vivifying and decaying. According to Bataille’s account, the right sacred amounts to a transcendent projection of the profane world; it is rational utility elevated to the level of God or some other exalted ﬁgure. The left sacred, by contrast, is the Dionysian dimension of the sacred; it is not accessed in transcendence but activated through the transgression of prohibitions that keep the profane world intact. Whereas the elevated, Apollonian consciousness seeks stable and enduring forms, the disciple of the monstrous, left sacred revels in “ruptur[ing] the highest elevation, and . . . has a share in the elaboration or decomposition of forms” attendant upon intoxication, madness, and artistic profusion. (NE, 221)
This lower left-hand sacred path was for Bataille excessive and transgressive, escaping assimilation or systematization. In this way, like the chthonic god with which it is aﬃliated in Bataille’s thought, the left sacred is a “low value” that disrupts both the rational order of utility—the “real world,” conditioned by telic thought and dedicated to useful projects—as well as its divinized counterpart, the right sacred. It is at once activated by, and provokes the death of, the closed, individual self—the death that grants the experience of continuity.(NE, 221)
It’s in this realm of continuity that the daimonic manifests itself. “Nonknowledge communicates ecstasy,” Bataille writes. “Thus ecstasy only remains possible in the anguish of ecstasy, in this sense, that it cannot be satisfaction, grasped knowledge.” It is in the “dazed lucidity” of ecstatic agnosia that one realizes the sacriﬁcial shattering of the self. In a manner that recalls Freud’s characterization of dreams, this oneiric mystical experience is “heedless of contradictions”; indeed, it proceeds in and through aﬀective and intellectual contradictions, with “as much disorder as in dreams.” This ecstasy is the anti-Hegelian, excessively Nietzschean fomentation of inner experience: the point of extreme “contradiction” in which “circular, absolute knowledge is deﬁnitive non-knowledge.” Inner experience is the encounter with the dream knot: a “dream of the unknown . . . the refusal to be everything,” a loss of self in the night of nonknowledge, which carries the “meaning of dream.” (NE, 236)
It’s this sense in Bataille’s gnosis of nonknowledge of coming up against the limit of the human, of sacrifice and the loss of self in immersion with the inhuman core of being, its continuity. As Thacker will remind us
Here again we arrive at the concept of the demon as a limit for thought, a limit that is constituted not by being or becoming, but by non-being, or nothingness. And here we should state what we have been hinting at all along, which is that in contrast to the theology of the demon, or the poetics of the demon, there is something more basic still that has to do with the ideas of negation and nothingness – hence we should really think of the demon as an ontological problem (not theology, not poetry, but philosophy). (DTP, 45)
It’s this sense that the daimon is more about thought and the limits of thought, an ontological problem about limits that brings us back to Kant and the noumenon. As Thacker will state it “if demonology is to be thought in a philosophical register, then it would have to function as a kind of philosoheme that brings together a cluster of ideas that have, for some time, served as problematic areas for philosophy itself: negation, nothingness, and the non-human. (DTP, 45) What the daimonic brings us to is the agonistic confrontation with the Real outside the mundane and profane realm of work and utilitarian values, and into that horizon of possibility where the unthinkable noumenal that philosophy cannot speak is suddenly communicated by the very daimones themselves via a non-philosophical language. (DTP, 2)
This is where Bataille’s impure way of extreme surrealism, an onerism that no longer as in Andre Breton seeks to synthesize the contradictions of the daimonic in some Hegelian sublation, follows rather the monstrous images of dream into the contradictory realms of darkness and decomposition, risking the loss of self as the acceptable transgression needed to raise the energies from their abyss. Thacker mentions Rudolf Otto in regards to this
In the West, Otto argues, there have been two major modes in which this negative thought has been expressed: silence and darkness. To these Otto adds a third, which he finds dominant in Eastern variants of mystical experience, which he terms “emptiness and empty distances,” or the void. Here the negation of thought turns into an affirmation, but a paradoxical affirmation of “nothingness” or “emptiness.” As Otto puts it, “‘void’ is, like darkness and silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every ‘this’ and ‘here,’ in order that the ‘wholly other’ may become actual.” (DTP, 155-156)
Invoking the Powers of Thought: Daimones as Intelligencers
Is qabbalism problematical or mysterious? …Epistemologically speaking, qabbalistic programmes have a status strictly equivalent to that of experimental particle physics, or other natural-scientific research programmes, even if their guiding hypotheses might seem decidedly less plausible than those dominant within mainstream scientific institutions.
-Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007
Giordano Bruno would describe transnatural magic as the power of invoking the Mind’s daimons:
The methods of the fifth kind of magic are words, charms, the reasons of numbers and times, images, forms, seals, symbols, or letters. This magic is intermediary between natural magic and extra- or supranatural magic. the most suitable name for it is mathematical magic or, rather, occult philosophy.
The sixth kind is achieved by means of the cult or invocation of external or superior intelligences or agents, through prayers, incantations, fumigations, sacrifices as well as certain customs and ceremonies directed toward the gods, demons, and heroes. The results to contract the spirit into itself in such a way that the spirit is changed into the receiver and instrument and appears endowed with the wisdom of things, but this wisdom can easily be withdrawn, at the same time as the spirit, by means of sufficient remedies. This is the magic of the hopeless, who become recipients of evil demons caught with the help of the Art [Ars notoria]. Its purpose is to command the lower demons through the authority of the higher demons; the latter, one cultivates and attract; the former, one exorcises and controls. This form of magic is transnatural or metaphysical and is called theurgia. (EM, 157)
Couliano’s readings of these thinkers who revitalized the hermetic, magical, and gnostic forms of thought Ficino, Bruno and others gives us a view onto these ancient worlds of the Medieval Mind that have recourse to sources of thought and literature that preserved these traditions and practices out of Greece, Rome, Alexandria, and kept them buried in the vast libraries of the Catholic world. Bruno would castigate the authors of the Malleus maleficarum as obscurantists who knew nothing of the magical arts:
Recently, the words “magician” and “magic” have been denigrated: we have not taken this into consideration at all. The magician has been called stupid and evil sorcerer who has obtained, through dealings and pact with the evil demon, the faculty to do harm or to enjoy certain things. This opinion is not shared by wise men of philologists, but it is taken up by the hooded ones [bardocuculli; that is, monks] such as the author of the Malleus maleficarum. In our day, this definition has been reassumed by all sorts or writers, as we can observe by reading the catechisms for the ignorant and for drowsy priests. (De Magia, III, EM, 157)
It is from Bruno that the philosophical aspects of demonology will become more mainstream within Catholicism. Demons he would tells us are invisible spirits who have the ability to act upon the intelligence and judgment. They produce visual and auditory hallucinations, sometimes simultaneously. Bruno differentiates five categories of demons. The first, who corresponds to Psellus’s subterranean and aquatic demons, are bruta Animalia and have no sense. The second, who inhabit ruins and prisons, are “timid, suspicious and credulous.” They can be invoked, since they are capable of hearing and understanding spoken language. The third are of “a more prudent king.” They inhabit the air and are especially redoubtable since they lead a man astray through imagination and false promises. The fourth, who inhabit the airy regions, are beneficent and resplendent. The fifth, who inhabit the stellar light, are sometimes called gods or heroes but in reality they only agents of the one and only God. The cabbalists call them Fissim, Seraphim, Cherubim, etc. (De Magia, III, EM 427-428)
Bruno’s philosophy cannot be separated from his religion. It was his religion, the “religion of the world”, which he saw in this expanded form of the infinite universe and the innumerable worlds as an expanded gnosis, a new revelation of the divinity from the “vestiges”. Copernicanism was a symbol of the new revelation, which was to mean a return to the natural religion of the Egyptians, magic…
-Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition
Demonic possessions in this house are not unknown. Is this really Keith, her father? taken when she was half her present age, and returned now as not the man she knew, but only the shell— with the soft meaty slug of soul that smiles and loves, that feels its mortality, either rotted away or been picked at by the needle mouths of death-by-government— a process by which living souls unwillingly become the demons known to the main sequence of Western magic as the Qlippoth, Shells of the Dead. . .
-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
For several centuries we’ve heard the Grand Narrative of the separation of scientific thought out of this ancient world of sorcery, hermeticism, magian literature, kabbalah, occult and arcane practices of witchcraft and other forms. To what end? Is there anything behind this other than the delusions of mythographers and poets? Is the strange and weird worlds of this hidden realm of thought have any place in our world now? One sees the vestiges of it in the soupy sweetness of various forms of New Age obscurantism. Yet, one also sees Universities sponsoring Esoteric studies and an occult revival at reputable universities in such works as Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (here). At night on American television one can see a myriad of programs in the pop-cultural sphere of ghost hunters, channelers: or people who speak with the dead, etc., along with occult or other magical or witchcraft programs as if the ancient sorceries were still well and alive in the madness of the mass mind. Is the unknown at the limits of the mind’s tether opening up to the noumenal sphere once again? Is the noumenal part of the split internal to the core of our inhuman monstrousness? Or, is it rather the Real at the heart of the abyss within which we are all situated? Who can answer? Are the demons speaking, sending us messages from the dark places?
I know it’s true; I mean, I know now that what I’ve been seeing which I assumed was many sources, many doctrines, was and is the worldview and knowledge, the gnosis and secret wisdom…
-Philip K.Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
On January 7, 1994 Alan Moore would spend part of an evening talking to an entity who claimed to be a Goetic demon first mentioned in the Apocrypha (Moore would later weave Goetic demons into Promethea). He struggled over whether the demon was purely internal, that is, a projection of his psyche, or whether it was external and more or less what it claimed to be. In the fantastic paradoxical pattern that will structure all that follows, Moore confesses that the most satisfying answer is that it was both: “That doesn’t make any logical sense but that satisfied me most emotionally. It feels truest.”
“These are gnostic experiences,” the writer declares. “You’ve either had them or you haven’t.” By gnostic, Moore means a particular kind of direct and immediate experiential knowledge of one’s own divinity that cannot be reduced to reason or faith and stands very much opposed to the consensus reality of society and religion: “Faith is for sissies who daren’t go and look for themselves. That’s my basic position. Magic is based upon gnosis. Direct knowledge.”12
The dark side of the Etz Chiim is also called the Tree of Death and considered to represent the reverse or occult side of the Tree of Life. It is a diagram of the evil forces or Qliphoth (hebrew, Shells) assigned to each Sephiroth. They represent the counter-forces of the ten divine emanations as described in Lurianic Kabbalah. The Tree of Death, however, essentially is a creation of 20th century Western occultism rather than genuine Jewish Kabbalah.
“The Devil is composed of God’s ruins’”
-Eliphas Levi, Dogma and ritual
The Qliphoth are the evil forces that exist within creation. Their coming into existence was one of the central philosophical problems dealt with after the forced displacement of Jews from Spain in 1492. Similarly like World War II positioned the theodicy problem (i.e. ‘How can a merciful God allow evil in creation?’) in the centre of Christian speculation, it was the banishment from Spain in 1492 that was perceived as similar fundamental and unanswerable paradox for the Jewish communities. After all the Jews were God’s chosen people, yet the banishment from Spain had destroyed the first perceived state of freedom and homeland since the destruction of the Second Temple.
During his short years in Safed – where many Kabbalists arrived from Spain – it was Isaac Luria who tried to answer this unanswerable question with revolutionary freedom of thought. His main key was to transcend the idea of a fall of man from the Garden Eden into the actual process of creation of the world itself. Thus, with a single stroke he transcended the origin of evil from human to cosmic level. This revolutionary thought of a cosmogonic fall of creation will be sketched out in a highly abbreviated and insufficient form in this first chapter.
The Lurianic process of creation starts with a voluntary act of the Divine to confine itself within itself. The Divine in the final state before creation is called Ain Soph Aur which can be translated as ‘borderless light of non-creation’. In order for the Divine to become diversified and active in creation it had to create a space, a vacuum of non-being into which it could immerse itself by help of a sequence of ten subsequent emanations from the Ain Soph Aur. Nine of these emanations would express one perfect aspect of the nature of the Divine each and they would all unite and come together in the tenth. For these emanations – and all subsequent creation – however, to be differentiated from the perfect borderless light (Ain Soph Aur) they had to be in a confined space of emptiness which they could subsequently fill with life. This ongoing process of the Divine confining itself within itself in order to create space for creation is a key concept of Lurianic Kabbalah and called Zimzum (also, Tzimtzum).
Into this vacuum of non-being the Divine released a single ray of light. This ray of light emerged from the Ain Soph Aur, entered into the empty space of creation and started to bring forth the matrix of all life in ten distinct emanations. These emanations are illustrated as ten ‘first-lights’ which the author of the Sefer Yetzirah introduces by the name of Sephira (singular) or Sephiroth (plural).
One by one, each light would be captured in a vessel made of clay in order to transfer their state of pure being into one of becoming and creation. Each vessel had a specific name, function and shape, perfectly expressing the idea of creation it represented and brought to life by the light it captured. The sequence of filling these vessels with light is called Seder Hishtalshelus (the order of development).
This process went well for the first four Sephiroth, which all came forth from the veil of non-being into the vacuum of creation. The shell of the fifth Sephira, however, turned out to be not solid enough in order to capture the light that emanated into it. The fifth point or light and vessel in the sequence of creation was dedicated to the idea of Strength or Severity (hebrew, Geburah). Thus the clay vessel broke due to the overflowing light of Strength in it and the process of creation continued with the remaining five Sephiroth.
Yet, even though creation continued the original vessel of Geburah couldn’t be restored. This, finally, is the way how evil managed to enter into creation by shape of untamed Strength or Severity. This momentous event during the first ten emanations is called Schebirath ha-Kelim(hebrew, breaking of the vessels) and marks the birth of the ten original demonic forces, called Qliphoth (hebrew, shells).
The broken parts of the original vessel of Geburah sank down to the bottom of the Zimzum space of creation. Just like droplets of oil remain on the surface of a broken clay vessel the light of creation remained captured on these shells. It is these remains of divine light which are the reason why the broken shells weren’t lifeless but filled with a shadow-like yet highly effective state of demonic being.
This process lays open the essential nature of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah. Just like flames devour its own aliment while burning, the only reason for the Qliphoth to come into being were the original sparks of divine light captured on their shells. In case one managed to separate the oil from the clay surface or the flame from the coal the flame immediately disappeared and the coal was left without life.
The Qliphoth therefore continuously strive for new aliment, just like flames constantly need new coals to keep burning. Yet, at the same time they destroy their very reason for being when they come in touch with it. It is this paradox of using creation to maintain the existence of destruction that marks the essence of demonic forces in Lurianic Kabbalah.
This is also the reason why Western occultists started to call this dark side of the Etz Chiim the Tree of Death. The forces who came to life in the process known as Schebirath ha-Kelim cannot be mistaken for demons in a graeco-egyptian or medieval sense. The Qliphoth aren’t former celestial or chthonic deities related to a foreign cult or religion which were redefined by Kabbalists at a later point. The Qliphoth are an authentic kabbalistic creation in order to explain evil in creation. As each of them reveal by nature of their name their urge is to conceal and suffocate the seeds of life – and to ultimately destroy man’s aspiration and pursuit of finding beauty in every aspect of creation.
(Note Sources: Gershom Scholem – On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism; On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah; Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah; Kabbalah)13
The Gateway to Ignorance and Silence
Because our knowledge is ignorance, or because it is neither knowledge of anything there nor the understanding of any truth, or because even if there is some entrance to that [truth], the door may not come open except by means of ignorance-which is simultaneously path, gatekeeper, and gate.
-Giordano Bruno. The Cabala of Pegasus
Bruno conceived of a daimonic continuum existing between the human and divine realms. Bataille dreams of the split in the sacred of divine realms and impure and corrupting powers leading to immanent ecstasy and horror neither sublime nor ridiculous, instead a lifting up into the downward abyss of things unknown and impossible, a self-lacerating jouissance at once macabre, obscene, and morbid revealing the realms of the archontes in their blackened night of horror. As Thacker will remark,
If historical mysticism still had as its aim the subject’s experience, and as its highest principle that of God, then mysticism today – after the death of God – would be about the impossibility of experience, it would be about that which in shadows withdraws from any possible experience, and yet still makes its presence felt, through the periodic upheavals of weather, land, and matter. If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet. (DTP, 158)
And what lies in the dust of the planet if not as Iamblichus once affirmed negatively, the “archons of the midnight sun who guide the terrible rays,” where a picture emerges that presents the descent into the elements of the material world’s envoys, those alien ones from the darkest labyrinths of silence:
It is hard to believe the Gnostics did not manifest above all a sinister love of darkness, a monstrous taste for the obscene and lawless archontes, for the head of the solar ass… a peculiar licentious Gnostic sect with their sexual rites fulfills this obscure demand for baseness that is irreducible and commands our indecent respect even as it continues in the black magic traditions to the present day. (VE, 48)
The essay is taken from:
by Robert Craig Baum
"Inception" is an overview of Robert Craig Baum's next project, The One to Come (a meditation on the final moments of Heidegger's Contributions to Philosophy: Ereignis.
These are intended as announcements, part of the introduction. This is not an articles.
The Deepest Beginning
A meditation on the “last” and the “beginning” as aligned through the ownmost.
A meditation on eschatology and the deadly attachment to National Socialism
The End (Nothing)
On the problem of the “idea-state,” National Socialism, and the manifestation of dasein in the Reich: “in re-creating a being unto the ownmost of its destiny and unto freeing it from the misuse of machinations, which, turning everything upside down, exhaust a being in exploitation.
to be continued...
Robert Craig Baum is the author of Itself (Atropos 2011) and Thoughtrave: An Interdimensional Conversation with Lady Gaga (punctum, 2016). He is a philosopher, writer, producer, and philanthropist from Long Island, New York. He lives in Washington DC with his wife and four boys where he just completed his first industry screenplay and remains fast at work on THYSELF (follow-up to 2017 book).
LECTURES BY GILLES DELEUZE
I am going back. What distinguishes my basely sensual appetite from my best, most beautiful, love? It is exactly the same! The basely sensual appetite, you know, it‚s all the expressions, we can all make suggestions, it is in order to laugh, therefore we can say anything, the sadness After love, the animal is sad, what is this? This sadness? What does it say to us? Spinoza would never say this. Or then it is not worth the pain, there is no reason, sadness, good There are people who cultivate sadness. Feel, feel what happens to us, this denunciation which is going to run throughout the Ethics, namely: there are people who are so impotent that they are the ones who are dangerous, they are the ones who take power (pouvoir). And they can take power (pouvoir) ˜ so far away are the notions of power (puissance) and of power (pouvoir) ˜ the people of power (pouvoir) are the impotent who can only construct their power (pouvoir) on the sadness of others. They need sadness. They can only reign over slaves, and the slave is precisely the regime of the decrease of power (puissance). There are people who can only reign, who only acquire power (pouvoir) by way of sadness and by instituting a regime of sadness of the type: repent‚, of the type hate someone‚ and if you don't have anyone to hate, hate yourself, etc. Everything that Spinoza diagnoses as a kind of immense culture of sadness, the valorization of sadness, all of which says to you: if you don't pass by way of sadness, you will not flourish. Now for Spinoza this is an abomination. And if he writes an Ethics, it is in order to say: no! No! Everything you want, but not this. Then indeed, good = joy, bad = sadness. But the basely sensual appetite, you see now, and the most beautiful of loves, it is not at all a spiritual thing, but not at all. It is when an encounter works, as one says, when it functions well. It is a functionalism, but a very beautiful functionalism. What does that mean? Ideally it is never like this completely, because there are always local sadnesses, Spinoza is not unaware of that, there are always sadnesses. The question is not if there is or if there isn‚t, the question is the value that you give to them, that is the indulgence that you grant them. The more you grant them indulgence, that is the more you invest your power (puissance) in order to invest the trace of the thing, the more you will lose power (puissance). So in a happy love, in a love of joy, what happens? You compose a maximum of relations with a maximum of relations of the other, bodily, perceptual, all kinds of natures. Of course bodily, yes, why not; but perceptive also: Ah good Let’s listen to some music! In a certain manner one never stops inventing.
When I spoke of a third individual of which the two others are no more than parts, it doesn't at all mean that this third individual preexists, it is always by composing my relations with other relations, and it is under such a profile, under such an aspect that I invent this third individual of which the other and myself are no more than parts, sub-individuals. That’s it: each time that you proceed by composition of relations and composition of composed relations, you increase your power. On the contrary, the basely sensual appetite, it is not because it is sensual that it is bad. It is because, fundamentally, it never stops gambling on the decomposition of relations. It is really this sort of thing: Come on, hurt me, sadden me so that I can sadden you. The spat, etc. Ha, like we are okay with the spat. Ho. Like it is long after, that is, the small joys of compensation. All that is disgusting, but it is foul, it is the measliest life in the world. Ha come on, Let’s make our scene Because it is necessary to hate one another, afterwards we like one another much more. Spinoza vomits, he says: what are these mad people? If they did this, again, for themselves, but they are contagious, they are propagators. They won't let go of you until they have inoculated you with their sadness. What’s more, they treat you as idiots if you tell them that you don't understand, that it is not your thing. They tell you that this is the true life. And the more that they wallow, based on the spat, based on this stupidity, on the anguish of Haaaa, Heu The more that they hold on to you the more that they inoculate you, if they can hold on to you, then they pass it on to you. (Gilles Deleuze looks extremely nauseated).
Claire Parnet: Richard would like you to speak of the appetite
Gilles Deleuze: Of the composition of relations?! (Laughter). I have said everything on the composition of relations. Understand, the misinterpretation would be to believe: look for a third individual of which we would be only the parts. It does not preexist nor does the manner in which relations are decomposed. That preexists in Nature since Nature is everything, but from your point of view it is very complicated. There we are going to see what problems this poses for Spinoza because all this is very concrete all the same, on the ways of living. How to live? You don't know beforehand which are the relations. For example you are not necessarily going to find your own music. I mean: it is not scientific, in what sense? You don't have a scientific knowledge of relations which would allow you to say: „there is the woman or the man who is necessary for me. One goes along feeling one‚s way, one goes along blind. That works, that doesn't work, etc. And how to explain that there are people who only launch into things where they say that it is not going to work? (general laughter). They are the people of sadness, they are the cultivators of sadness, because they think that that is the foundation of existence. Otherwise the long apprenticeship by which, according to a presentiment of my constituent relations, I vaguely apprehend first what agrees with me and what doesn't agree with me. You will tell me that if it is in order to lead to that, it is not strong. Nothing but the formula: above all don't do what doesn't agree with you. It is not Spinoza who said this first, at first, but the proposition means nothing other than : don't do what doesn't agree with you‚ if you take it out of all context. If you take this conception ˜ that I find very grandiose ˜ to its conclusion, the relations which are composed, etc. How is it that someone very concrete is going to lead his existence in such a manner that he is going to acquire a kind of affection, of affect, or of presentiment, of the relations which agree with him, of the relations which don't agree with him, of situations where he must withdraw, of situations where he must engage himself, etc. That is not at all: it is necessary to do this‚, it is no longer at all the domain of morality. It is not necessary to do anything at all, it is necessary to find. It is necessary to find his thing, that is not at all to withdraw, it is necessary to invent the superior individualities into which I can enter as a part, for these individualities do not preexist. All that I meant takes on, I believe, a concrete signification, the two expressions take on a concrete signification. [The essence is eternal.
The eternal essence, degree of power (puissance)
The eternal essence, what does it mean? Your essence is eternal, your singular essence, that is your own essence in particular, what does this mean? For the moment we can only give one sense to this formula, namely: you are a degree of power (puissance). You are a degree of power: it is this that Spinoza means when he says, verbatim: I am a part (pars) of the power of God‚, that means, literally: I am a degree of power (puissance). Immediate objection. I am a degree of power, but after all: me as a baby, little kid, adult, old man, it is not the same degree of power, therefore it varies, my degree of power. Okay, Let’s leave that aside. How, why does this degree of power have a latitude. Okay. But I say on the whole: I am a degree of power and it is in this sense that I am eternal. No one has the same degree of power as another. See, we will have need of it later, the fact that it is a quantitative conception of individuation. But it is a special quantity since it is a quantity of power (puissance). A quantity of power we have always called an intensity. It is to this and to this alone that Spinoza assigns the term eternity‚. I am a degree of power of God, that means: I am eternal. Second sphere of belonging: I have instantaneous affections. We saw this, it is the dimension of instantaneity. Following this dimension the relations compose or don't compose. It is the dimension of affectio: composition or decomposition between things.
Third dimension of belonging: the affects. That is: each time that an affection executes my power (puissance), and it executes it as perfectly as it can, as perfectly as is possible. The affection, indeed, that is the belonging to, executes my power; it realises my power, and it realises my power as perfectly as it can, according to the circumstances, according to here and now. It executes my power here and now, according to my relations with things. The third dimension is that each time an affection executes my power, it doesn't do it without my power increasing or decreasing, it is the sphere of the affect. So my power is an eternal degree‚ doesn't prevent it from ceaselessly, in duration, increasing and decreasing. This same power which is eternal in itself, doesn’t stop increasing and decreasing, that is varying in duration. How to understand this, after all? Understanding this, after all, is not difficult. If you reflect, I have just said: the essence is a degree of power, that is: if it is a quantity, it is an intensive quantity. But an intensive quantity is not at all like an extensive quantity. An intensive quantity is inseparable from a threshold, that is an intensive quantity is fundamentally, in itself, already a difference. The intensive quantity is made of differences. Does Spinoza go so far as to say a thing like this?
Letter to Meyer on infinity
Here, I make a parenthesis of pseudo scholarship. It is important. I can say that Spinoza, firstly, said explicitly pars potentiae, part of power (puissance), and he said that our essence is a part of our divine power (puissance). I am saying, it is not a question of forcing the texts, part of power‚ is not an extensive part, it is obviously an intensive part. I am always pointing out in the domain of scholarship, but here I need it in order to justify everything that I‚m saying, that in the Scholastics of the Middle Age, the equality of two terms is absolutely current: gradus or pars, part or degree. Now the degrees are very special parts, they are intensive parts; this is the first point. Second point: I point out that in letter XII to Meyer, a gentleman named Meyer, there is a text that we will surely see the next time because it will allow us to draw conclusions on individuality. I point it out from this point on and I would like, for the next time, those who have the correspondence of Spinoza to have read the letter to Meyer, which is a famous letter, which is concerned with the infinite. In this letter, Spinoza develops a very bizarre, very curious geometrical example. And he made this geometrical example the object of all sorts of commentaries and it looked quite bizarre. And Leibniz, who was himself a very great mathematician, who had knowledge of the letter to Meyer, declared that he particularly admired Spinoza for this geometrical example which showed that Spinoza understood things that even his contemporaries didn't understand, said Leibniz. Therefore the text is that much more interesting with Leibniz’s benediction.
Here is the figure that Spinoza proposes for our reflection: two circles of which one is inside the other, but above all they are not concentric. Two [non-]concentric circles of which one is inside the other. Note the greatest and the smallest distance from one circle to the other. Do you understand the figure? Here is what Spinoza tells us. Spinoza tells us something very interesting, it seems to me, he tells us: in the case of this double figure, you can not say that you don't have a limit or threshold. You have a threshold, you have a limit. You even have two limits: the outer circle, the inner circle, or what comes down to the same thing, the greatest distance from one circle to the other, or the least distance. You have a maximum and a minimum. And he says: consider the sum, here the Latin text is very important, the sum of the inequalities of distance. You see: you trace all the lines, all the segments which go from one circle to the other. You evidently have an infinity. Spinoza tells us: consider the sum of the inequalities of distance. You understand: he doesn't literally tell us to consider the sum of the unequal distances, that is of the segments which go from one circle to the other. He tells us: the sum of the inequalities of distance, that is the sum of the differences. And he says: „it is very curious, this infinity here. We will see what he means, but I mention this text for the moment because I have a specific idea, he tells us: „it is very curious, it is an infinite sum. The sum of the inequalities of distance is infinite. He could also have said that the unequal distances is an infinite sum. And yet there is a limit. There is a limit since you have the limit of the big circle and the limit of the small circle. So there is something infinite and yet it is not unlimited. And he says that it is an odd infinity, it is a very particular geometrical infinity: it is an infinity that you can say is infinite even though it is not unlimited. And indeed, the space encompassed between the two circles is not unlimited, the encompassed space between the two circles is perfectly limited. I take up exactly the expression of the letter to Meyer: the sum of the inequalities of distance‚, even though he could have made the same reasoning by taking holding of the simpler case: the sum of unequal distances. Why does he want to sum up the differences?
For me it is truly a text which is important, because, what does he have in his head that he doesn’t say? He needs it by virtue of his problem of essences. Essences are degrees of power, but what is a degree of power? A degree of power is a difference between a maximum and a minimum. It is in this way that it is an intensive quantity. A degree of power is a difference in itself.
(End of tape.)
How to become reasonable?
Like many thinkers of his time, he is one of the philosophers who have said most profoundly: you know, you are born neither reasonable, nor free, nor intelligent. If you become reasonable, if you become free, etc., it is a matter of a becoming. But there is no author who is more indifferent, for example, to the problem of freedom as belonging to the nature of man. He thinks that nothing at all belongs to the nature of man. He is an author who thinks everything, really, in terms of Becoming. So then, good, okay, without doubt. What does this mean, becoming reasonable? What does it means, becoming free, once it is said that we are not? We are not born free, we are not born reasonable. We are completely at the mercy of encounters, that is: we are completely at the mercy of decompositions. And you must understand that this is normal in Spinoza; the authors who think that we are free by nature are the ones who make of nature a certain idea. I believe we can only say: we are free by nature if we don't conceive it as a substance, that is as a relatively independent thing. If you conceive yourself as a collection of relations, and not at all as a substance, the proposition I am free‚ is plainly deprived of sense. It is not at all that I am for the opposite: it makes no sense, freedom or no freedom. On the other hand, perhaps the question has a sense: How to become free?‚ Similarly to be reasonable‚ can be understood if I am defined as a reasonable animal‚, from the point of view of substance, this is the Aristotelian definition which implies that I am a substance. If I am a collection of relations, perhaps they are rational relations, but to say that this is reasonable, is plainly deprived of all sense. So if reasonable, free, etc., make any sense it could only be the result of a becoming. Already this is very new. To be thrown into the world is precisely to risk at every instant encountering something which decomposes me.
Hence I said: there is a first aspect of reason. The first effort of reason, I believe, is very curious in Spinoza, it is a kind of extraordinarily groping effort. And there you can’t say that it is insufficient because it encounters concrete gropings. It is all a kind of apprenticeship in order to evaluate or have signs, I did say signs, to organize or to find signs that tell me a little of which relations agree with me and which relations don't agree with me. It is necessary to try, it is necessary to experiment. And my own experience, I can not even transmit it because perhaps it doesn't agree with another’s. That is, it is like a kind of groping so that each discovers at the same time what he likes and what he supports. Good, it is a little like this that we live when we take medication: it is necessary to find their doses, their things, it is necessary to make selections, and the prescription of the doctor will not be sufficient. It will come in handy. There is something which goes beyond a simple science, or a simple application of science. It is necessary to find your thing, it is like an apprenticeship in music, finding at the same time what agrees with you, what you are capable of doing. This is already what Spinoza will call, and it will be the first aspect of reason, a kind of double aspect, selecting-composing. To select, selection-composition, is to manage to find by experience those relations with which mine compose, and drawing from them the consequences. That is: at any cost flee as best as I can ˜ I can’t totally, I can’t completely ˜ but flee as much, to the maximum, the encounter with relations which don’t agree with me, and compose to the maximum, be composed to the maximum with the relations which agree with me. Here again is the first determination of freedom or of reason. So Rousseau‚s theme, what he himself called the materialism of the wise‚, you remember when I spoke a little of this idea of Rousseau‚s, very very curious, a kind of art of composing situations, this art of composing situations that consists above all of withdrawing from situations which don't agree with you, of entering into situations which agree with you, etc.. This is the first effort of reason. But I insist overall: at this level, we have no previous knowledge, we have no preexisting knowledge, we don't have scientific knowledge. It is not about science. It is really about living experimentation. It is about apprenticeship: I never stop deceiving myself, I never stop running into situations which don't agree with me, I never stop etc., etc.
And little by little is sketched out a kind of beginning of wisdom, which brings us back to what? Which brings us back to what Spinoza says from the beginning: but the fact that each knew a little, had a vague idea of what he is capable of, once it‚s said that the incapable people are not incapable people, it is people who rush to what they are not capable of, and who drop what they are capable of. But, Spinoza asks: What can a body do?‚ It doesn't mean: what a body in general can do, it means: yours, mine. Of what are you capable? It is this kind of experimentation with capacity. To try to experiment with capacity, and at the same time to construct it, at the same time that one experiments with it, is very concrete. Yet we don't have prior knowledge (savoir). Good, I don't know what, there are domains  of what am I capable? Who can say, in the two senses, there are people who are too modest who say: „I am not capable of it because I would not succeed, and then there are the people too sure of themselves, who say: „Ha that, such a nasty thing, I am not capable of it, but they would perhaps do it, we don't know. No one knows what he is capable of.
What am I capable of?
I think that one of the things, in the beautiful era of existentialism, there was as it was all the same very much connected to the end of the war, to the concentration camps etc. There was a theme that Jaspers had launched, and which was a theme, it seems to me, which was very profound: he distinguished two types of situation, limit situations and simple everyday situations. He said: limit situations could befall us at any time, they are precisely situations which we can’t anticipate. What do you want: someone who was not tortured what does that mean? He has no idea if he will hold out or if he won't hold out. If need be, the most courageous types collapse, and the types that one would have thought, in that way, pathetic, they hold out marvelously. One doesn't know. The limit situation is really a situation such as this, I learn at the last moment, sometimes too late, what I was capable of. What I was capable of for better or worse. But we can’t say in advance. It is too easy to say: Oh that, me, I would never do it! And inversely, we ourselves pass our time doing things like that, but what we are really capable of, we pass right by. So many people die without knowing and will never know what they were capable of. Once again: in atrocity as in the very good. It is the surprises, it is necessary to surprise oneself. We tell ourselves: Oh look! I would never have believed that I would have done it. People, you know, they are quite artful. Generally we always speak of the manner ˜ it is very complicated for Spinozism because we always speak of the manner in which people destroy themselves, but I believe that, finally, it is often so for discourse too. It is sad, it is always a very sad spectacle, and then it is annoying! They also have a kind of prudence: the cunning of people! the cunning of people is odd, because there are a lot of people who destroyed themselves over points which, precisely, they themselves have no need of. Then evidently they are losers, you understand, yeah, I suppose someone who, at the limit, renders himself impotent, but it is someone who doesn't really have the desire to do it, it is not their thing. In other words it is a very secondary relation for them. To budge is a very secondary relation. Good. He manages to put himself in states where he can no longer budge, in a certain way he has what he wanted since he set on a secondary relation. It is very different when someone destroys himself in what he himself experiences as being his principal constituent relations. If running doesn't interest you a lot, you can always smoke a lot, hey. We will say to you: You destroy yourself, then very well. I myself would be satisfied to be on a small chair, on the contrary it would be better like this, I would have peace! Very well. So, I destroy myself? No, not so. Obviously I destroy myself because if I can no longer budge at all, in the end I risk dying of it, in the end I would have the boredom of another nature that I would not have foreseen. Oh yes, it is annoying. But you see, even in things where there is self-destruction, there are tricks which imply a whole calculus of relations. One can very well destroy oneself over a point which is not essential for the person himself, and try to keep the essential, all this is complex. It is complex. You are sly, you don't know to what extent you are all sly, everyone. There you go.
I would call reason, or effort of reason, conatus of reason, effort of reason, this tendency to select, to learn the relations, this apprenticeship of the relations which are composed or which are not composed. Now I wouldn‚t mind saying: as you have no previous science, you understand what Spinoza means: science, you are perhaps going to arrive at a science of relations. But what will it be? Funny science. It won't be a theoretical science. The theory will perhaps be a part, but it will be a science in the sense of vital science.
The sign is the equivocal expression: I manage as best I can. And the signs are what? It is the signs of language which are fundamentally ambiguous, according to Spinoza, they are on one hand the signs of language, and on the other hand the signs of God, prophetic signs, and on the other hand the signs of society: rewards, punishments, etc. Prophetic signs, social signs, linguistic signs, are the three great types of signs. Now each time it is the language of equivocity. We are forced to set out from there, to pass by there, in order to construct our apprenticeship, that is in order to select our joys, eliminate our sadness, that is to make headway in a kind of apprehension of the relations which are composed, to arrive at an approximate knowledge (connaissance) by signs of the relations which agree with me and of the relations which don't agree with me. So the first effort of reason, you see, exactly, it is to do everything in my power (pouvoir) in order to increase my power (puissance) of acting, that is in order to experience passive joys, in order to experience of the joys of passion. The joys of passion are what increase my power of acting according to still equivocal signs in which I don't possess this power (puissance). Do you see? Very well. The question which I have come to is: supposing that it is like this, that there is this moment of long apprenticeship, how can I pass, how can this long apprenticeship lead me to a more sure stage, where I am more sure of myself, that is where I become reasonable, where I become free. How can this be done?
We will see next time.
What intrigues necromancers about gravity and separates them from sorcerers is their participating attitude toward gravity (complicity); what they see is the attracting functionality of gravity, the remaining of the pestilential philia (as the engineer of bonds, the smooth space of attractions) working at the basis of the verticals of gravity and exploited by the ground. For necromancers, escapism (engineering the line-of-escape) engages in a battle with its own objects of escape, the very consequences of its escapist line of tactics. As the line of escape instigates a line-of-flight along the verticals of gravity to configure a levis(lightness)-function, it immerses deeper into the arriving dangers that the levitating line of tactics integrates around itself, increasingly believing in them, making them real, relentlessly giving rise to them as it tries to escape, to assemble the politics of lightness. However, neither necromancers nor sorcerers regard rigorous escapism as a reactionary cowardliness, but as one method (among many other polytics) for entering the war-zone. For necromancers this method simply is reliable on a survivalist passion that each warmachine engulfs at its core to endure in War; the line of escape is always under the constant danger of falling into a movement for reaching higher modes of survival, developing more advanced compositions of survival economy. Moreover, Deleuze-Guattarian escapism inherits two elements from tactics by which it transforms into a levitating movement (lightness or levis-function promoted by tactical dynamism), a movement for cutting through the verticals of gravity (escapism as a movement always carries a tactical line to move forward in any direction); both of which are regarded as potentially capturable by necromancers because of the conformation they take to disarray or even overpowering the verticals of gravity:
(1) Every tactics or tactical movement (f=p/a ) in the same way that Deleuze and Guattari suggest envelopes ‘a becoming death’, influenced by which the impetus and participating parts of the movement will eventually cease to process. The inevitability of death (or zero-degree of processing) inexorably programs the dynamism of every tactical line, covering the line of tactics with a horizon (boundary) which does not only hold and pass the ultimate phase of movement (or the terminus-event) but silently implant itself as a moderator (and an intermediary field between tendencies which affect the progression of the movement) from the emergence of the movement to its maturation. The becoming death or zero-degree of processing is definitely inevitable for the tactical line and its intrinsic dynamism, but this inevitability engineers a horizon for the line of tactics (becoming, line-of-escape, etc.) which functions as a channel, a remote managerial sphere which affects the route to the Outside. If the line of escape is launching towards the Outside, then ‘becoming death’ forces the line to travel through the horizon it creates, which is nothing but the inevitability of death happening for the movement, extended from the beginning to the terminus-event which is not necessarily ‘end’ as telos. This inevitability affects (or perhaps transforms to something else) the encounter with the Outside. For a line of escape, the Outside is only seen, traced, reached and become accessible through the horizon of its ‘becoming death’, its terminus which accompanies the movement (or becoming) from the first moment of its emergence to the end; any function of the line of escape as a movement or a levis-function (of lightness), at any moment, is configured by this inevitability, it is channeled, molded and inspired by the horizon of its terminus or ‘what eventually unfolds’ -- becoming death of every becoming. There is always the possibility that this outside (the outside which the sorcerous line of escape seeks to explore) has already been modified by the fog of death and by the horizon of its inevitability that each tactical line has already enveloped within itself and virtually moves through its principles.
(2) To propel and move forward, to communicate with the Outside, the line of escape constructs its tacticity on tactical openness or more precisely, the plane of ‘being open to’. The somehow exaggerated temerity of this openness for ‘being open to the outside’ is constantly screened and modulated through the capacity (capax: affordability to accommodate) of the line of escape to handle the outside or to be exact, to afford it. ‘Being open to’ as a dynamic and tactical line of openness -- which is also encored in dynamic but laminar politics of liberalism -- should always measure and carefully monitor the opening process which opens the lines of escape to new milieus . As previously discussed in Holocaust of Freedom: Affordance presents itself as an economical openness, particularly on the inevitably secured(ing) plane of being open (i.e. ‘being open to’), where organic and subjective survivalism can always interfere without limit; appropriating the flow of xeno-signals (or the journey to the Outside), economizing participations, or even if necessary cutting them before the capacity is cracked and laid open, before a non-economical openness eats the capacity of the line of escape, a capacity through which escapism sustains its dynamism and survival. 'Being open', politically and cautiously, spreads over Survival Economy as an economical, heavily but slyly appropriated sphere of affordance; it simultaneously works as a dynamic matrix of correctitude and appropriation upon the line between the ‘subject’ of economical openness (I’mopen to ...) and the ‘the already transformed and customized Outside’ (i.e. the subject that economical openness gives rise to, or in other words, the objective of economical openness as ‘being open to’); the affordance must preserve the survival of both subjects.
Following 1 and 2, Castaneda’s sorcery of infinity (or as Castaneda enciphering it, “Reading Infinity”), whose protagonists are usually lines of escape or levis-functions, can be (mis-)directed as the wings of the ground, aggrandizing (grandis) the transcendental sphere of the ground, its surface dynamics, solidus economy and solidly (rigidly concentrated) stratified systems by moving the ground beyond its super-ficially consolidated bounds, giving it a spatial extension to the Outside: an all inclusive ground-space or ground-horizon whose processes invest the solidus economy, solidity and architectonic forces and bildung of the grund all through space, and not incorporated strata or on despotically petrified surfaces as it is usually and wrongly believed. Spatialized ground expels the curse of being static, of lying there and being rigidified, rotting in restricted territories; it unsummons “solidity as immutable despotism” but calls for spatial grounding processes -- a political reformation of solidus, towards grounding space. Now while the ground accommodates the Outside and employs intensities as its own forces of bildungen (groundization), the ‘utilized’ lines of escape blindly spatialize and unbind the ground by their tactical dynamism (affordance-based openness) towards outside, rendering the ground as the pro-creationist consolidating apeiron -- here the boundlessness of the ground, the infinity of Solidus: the sorcery of infinity is recalibrated as the sorcery of the ground.
 'f=p/a' suggests the linkage between tactical lines and ground, where 'f' is flux, 'p' is power and 'a' is a representation of the ground (surface dynamics).
 The lidless gaze of a watch-fiend over all probing / propelling functions of the line of escape when it tries to communicate with the Outside, that is to say, when it tries to be open.
The previous post relatively focused on reterritorializing functions of the line-of-escape (the vertical levitator) which Deleuze-Guattarian sorcerers usually work with, its mechanisms and certain dangers. This part traces the cutting edge of deterritorialization that is also included in the line-of-escape, and the dangers that it may bring for escapist sorcerers.
As in the case of the cutting edge of deterritorialization (D) that the vertical (levitator) line-of-flight holds, sorcerers are always under the danger of drawing a sudden and too rapid (in the sequence from its initiation to its operating -- cutting -- status) line of D, a premature D which exhausts the putative integrity of the ground, and pushes it to an abrupt and total disintegration happening on a local level. Deleuze and Guattari’s reprimand of such a D: there is always the danger of suicide. Everywhere philosophy finds a virulent process; it relates the consequent danger to suicide, because philosophy can only perceive danger as something opposed to survival (it has presupposed the equation of survival with life itself) and hinting at suicide as the ultimate danger is always a ready scapegoat, it never fails to work as an intelligent and effective deterrent, a modus. Definitely, the urge to suicide may rush in when a premature line of D is engineered, but it should not be considered as a danger; the definite danger is that the disintegration triggered by the premature D installs a purgatory (exterminating) machinery on the ground and territories / states grounded on it, a destructive / purgatory process that functions on a local level; it engineers a raum and niche or an empty space (as a capacity proper for dwelling) which can be easily (i.e. minimum resistance, with no risk of contamination, overlapping or infective communication) occupied and inhabited by other regimes which from now on are immunologically resistant to that particular line of deterritorialization and are able to be fundamentally rooted in that region for, once again, there is virtually no significant remaining of the previous assemblage which prevents (via participation and transplantation: contaminating the new agency) the new regime to be deeply planted and developing its own purificatory processes which know nothing but themselves. This is not exactly the process of negative D wielding the opportunity or to be exact the power of a “lost territory” (Deleuze and Guattari) appropriate for reterritorialization -- playing as a remorseless mercenary in a coup d’état -- but a purgatory process which does not only seize the empty raum of the lost territory but also vaccinates the new territory, making it immune to similar lines of D which emerge on that region, and at the same time, it exterminates all effective phylumic traits of the last ‘kingdom’, allowing the new territory to take roots deeply and populate according to highly purified(ing) eugenic programs.
by Mark Fisher
As an additional footnote of sorts to Ccru's 'Who's Pulling Your Strings?', this from Zizek...(well he might be a decadent western intellectual ;-), but he has one or two things to say pertinent to hyperstition):
'... [w]hen we are confronted with conspiracy theories, we should proceed in a strict homology to the proper reading of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. We should neither accept the existence of ghosts as part of the narrative reality nor reduce them, in a pseudo-Freudian way, to the projection of the heroine's hysterical sexual frustrations.
Conspiracy theories are of course not to be accepted as 'fact'. However one should not reduce them to the phenomenon of modern mass hysteria. Such a notion still relies on the "big Other," on the model of "normal" perception of shared social reality, and thus does not take into account how it is precisely this notion of reality that is undermined today. The problem is not that ufologists and conspiracy theorists regress to a paranoid attitude unable to accept (social) reality; the problem is that this reality itself is becoming paranoiac.
Contemporary experience again and again confronts us with situations in which we are compelled to take note of how our sense of reality and normal attitude towards it is grounded in a symbolic fiction - how the "big Other" that determines what counts as normal and accepted truth, what is the horizon of meaning in a given society, is in no way directly grounded in the "facts" as rendered by scientific "knowledge in the real".
...One is tempted to claim, in the Kantian mode, that the mistake of the conspiracy theory is somehow homologous to the 'paralogism of pure reason,' to the confusion between ... two levels: the suspicion (of the received scientific, social, etc. common sense) as the formal methodological stance, and the positing of the suspicion in another all-explaining global para-theory.'
'The Matrix, or the two sides of Perversion' in The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real
by Steven Craig Hickman
“The deeper I delved, the more it appeared that this panic was, to some extent, kept alive by the governments of the day. I also became aware of the degree to which the presumed need to safeguard the political and social order facilitated the introduction of new methods of control and repression.”
– Adam Zamoyski, Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848
The Study of Political Paranoia is inevitable in our time, and reading Adam Zamoyski’s work brings us back to another moment when a convergence of nationalism, paranoia, and panic seemed to pervade every aspect of social life of the elite and power brokers who waged war against any and all who threatened their status and power. Watching the stagecraft of current U.S. media-blitz polarity in which panic and terror of both Trump and Russian invasive strategies, along with the internal Deep State paranoia surrounding much of the history of U.S. secrecy, etc. promotes panic in the common world of the masses, stirs up political unrest and secures a sort of ongoing insecurity that allows the powers to enforce oppression and control while distilling a grand narrative to invent a new order. More interesting as Zamoyski’s study shows is that this has all happened before under other skies and other nations:
“The reordering of the Continent by those who triumphed over Napoleon in 1815 was intended to reverse all this. The return to a social order based on throne and altar was meant to restore the old Christian values. The Concert of Europe, a mutual pact between the rulers of the major powers, was designed to ensure that such things could never happen again.
Yet the decades that followed were dominated by the fear that the Revolution lived on, and could break out once more at any moment. Letters and diaries of the day abound in imagery of volcanic eruption engulfing the entire social and political order, and express an almost pathological dread that dark forces were at work undermining the moral fabric on which that order rested. This struck me as curious, and I began to investigate. The deeper I delved, the more it appeared that this panic was, to some extent, kept alive by the governments of the day. I also became aware of the degree to which the presumed need to safeguard the political and social order facilitated the introduction of new methods of control and repression. I was reminded of more recent instances where the generation of fear in the population – of capitalists, Bolsheviks, Jews, fascists, Islamists – has proved useful to those in power, and has led to restrictions on the freedom of the individual by measures meant to protect him from the supposed threat.
A desire to satisfy my curiosity about what I thought was a historic cultural phenomenon gradually took on a more serious purpose, as I realised that the subject held enormous relevance to the present. I have nevertheless refrained from drawing attention to this in the text, resisting the temptation, strong at times, to suggest parallels between Prince Metternich and Tony Blair, or George W. Bush and the Russian tsars. Leaving aside the bathos this would have involved, I felt readers would derive more fun from drawing their own.”
And, so we shall, for we live in an age between ages, a time of the in-between, a moment between acts in a grand farce in which the very structure and dynamism of our temporal order in moving into chaos by way of personal and social paranoia and revolutionary politics. Discovering parallels between the dark worlds of Nineteenth century political and social distress, panic, and terror and our own would be an interesting task but one that I’ll not try to pursue in this post, rather I’ll seek to bring together some of the extreme aspect of the paranoid mind-set as its shadows fall across our singular age of political and social breakdown.
Richard Hofstadter in his classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics once suggested he used the term “paranoid style” much as a historian of might speak of the baroque or the mannerist style. It is, above all, a way of seeing the world and of expressing oneself. Webster defines paranoia, the clinical entity, as a chronic mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions of persecution and of one’s own greatness. In the paranoid style, as I conceive it, the feeling of persecution is central, and it is indeed systematized in grandiose theories of conspiracy. But there is a vital difference between the paranoid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoiac: although they both tend to be overheated, over suspicious, over aggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic in expression, the clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him; whereas the spokesman of the paranoid style finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others. Insofar as he does not usually see himself singled out as the individual victim of a personal conspiracy, he is somewhat more rational and much more disinterested. His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.2
This distinction between the clinical paranoid whose oscillations between persecutory delusions and delusions of grandeur, and the political style or stance of paranoia as representative of national and collective panic and paranoia seems to walk a fine line and can at times drop into that abyss when the boundaries no longer hold. The political world of our ages has dropped the boundaries altogether and the strange and eerie, even uncanny realization that we are not only in the midst of a general paranoical crisis but that we are entering a dangerous era of oppression and control is without doubt the central diagnostic task of any socio-cultural critique of our age.
Shadows of Paranoia: Sociopathy, Panic, and Terror
We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice and good will to everything that hurts or pleases us.
- David Hume
Before wandering into the sub-worlds of American Paranoia I shall heed the admonition of Jesse Walker who in her The United States of Paranoia admonishes us that the conspiracy theorist will always be with us, because he will always be us. We will never stop finding patterns. We will never stop spinning stories. We will always be capable of jumping to conclusions, particularly when we’re dealing with other nations, factions, subcultures, or layers of the social hierarchy. And conspiracies, unlike many of the monsters that haunt our folklore, actually exist, so we won’t always be wrong to fear them. As long as our species survives, so will paranoia. Yet we can limit the damage that paranoia does. We can try to empathize with people who seem alien. We can be aware of the cultural myths that shape our fears. And we can be open to evidence that might undermine the patterns we think we see in the world. We should be skeptical, yes, of people who might be conspiring against us. But we should also be skeptical—deeply, deeply skeptical—of our fearful, fallible selves.3
As Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Fear remarked people fear the loss of security over their love and need for freedom, and will allow themselves to be enslaved by harsh controls and oppression as long as they feel secure in both their work-life and home-life.4 As Adorno once surmised ‘philosophy must come to know, without any mitigation, why the world – which could be paradise here and now – can become hell itself tomorrow’.5 Spinoza, in the Theological-Political Treatise once suggested that at the heart of fear and dependence was the sovereign paranoia of absolute control:
Were it as easy to control people’s minds as to restrain their tongues, every sovereign would rule securely and there would be no oppressive governments. For all men would live according to the minds of those who govern them and would judge what is true or false, or good or bad, in accordance with their decree alone. But … it is impossible for one person’s mind to be absolutely under another’s control. For no one can transfer to another person his natural right, or ability, to think freely and make his own judgments about any matter whatsoever, and cannot be compelled to do so. This is why a government which seeks to control people’s minds is considered oppressive…
Yet, since Spinoza’s time the political elite in collusion with their corporate benefactors have struggled to overcome this obstacle to absolute control through the convergence of propaganda, media, and both behavioral and neuroscientific experimentation. As Joseph Goebbels saw it:
Political propaganda in principle is active and revolutionary. It is aimed at the broad masses. It speaks the language of the people because it wants to be understood by the people. Its task is the highest creative art of putting sometimes complicated events and facts in a way simple enough to be understood by the man on the street. Its foundation is that there is nothing the people cannot understand, rather things must be put in a way that they can understand. It is a question of making it clear to him by using the proper approach, evidence and language. Propaganda is a means to an end. Its purpose is to lead the people to an understanding that will allow them to willingly and without internal resistance devote themselves to the tasks and goals of a superior leadership. If propaganda is to succeed, it must know what it wants. It must keep a clear and firm goal in mind, and seek the appropriate means and methods to reach that goal. Propaganda as such is neither good nor evil. Its moral value is determined by the goals it seeks.6
To be effective, propaganda must harness a rich affective range beyond negative emotions such as hatred, fear, and envy to include more positive feelings such as pleasure, joy, belonging, and pride. Here we are indebted to the political theorizing of Slavoj Žižek, who has analyzed the operations of ideology; for Žižek “ ideology has nothing to do with ‘ illusion, ’ with a mistaken, distorted representation of its social content,” since people usually are able quite effortlessly to see through tissues of lies. Shifting from a cognitive register to a psychological one, Žižek emphasizes how ideology works by affect, fulfilling a comforting function to protect us from the overwhelming chaos of undifferentiated signification. We want and need to be told what things mean. For Žižek, ideology is not confusing but reassuring. Rather, it is the absence of ideology that would be disorienting. In the 1960s Jacques Ellul made a similar point about propaganda, echoing earlier assessments by Walter Lippmann in the 1920s that the public dissemination of information had grown too complex and confusing for citizens to master on their own. For both Lippmann and Ellul, this need for order and security in the face of such media saturation carried primarily negative associations, exposing the vulnerability and alienation of modern life. As a result, people were perpetually at the mercy of bogus truth claims and demonized depictions of adversaries. But for public relations guru Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew), also writing in the 1920s, the yearning for clarity instead bespeaks the importance of desire in shaping our beliefs. Appreciating desire as a central fact of capitalism, Bernays unrepentantly sought to understand and tap the underlying psychic mechanisms that motivate consumers to buy commodities. Like Žižek after him, he appreciated how such forces of desire were linked to pleasure, which in the rush to deem mass persuasion as manipulative, deceitful, and immoral, has been a dimension largely overlooked in propaganda studies since World War I.7
Noam Chomsky in Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies once argued that manufactured consent is the essence of democracy. In the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the leading figure of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, explains that “the very essence of the democratic process” is “the freedom to persuade and suggest,” what he calls “the engineering of consent.” “A leader,” he continues, “frequently cannot wait for the people to arrive at even general understanding… Democratic leaders must play their part in… engineering… consent to socially constructive goals and values,” applying “scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs”; and although it remains unsaid, it is evident enough that those who control resources will be in a position to judge what is “socially constructive,” to engineer consent through the media, and to implement policy through the mechanisms of the state. If the freedom to persuade happens to be concentrated in a few hands, we must recognize that such is the nature of a free society. The public relations industry expends vast resources “educating the American people about the economic facts of life” to ensure a favorable climate for business. Its task is to control “the public mind,” which is “the only serious danger confronting the company,” an AT&T executive observed eighty years ago.8
Gilles Deleuze once remarked that societies of control were in the process of replacing disciplinary societies. He’d suggest that “Control” is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future. Paul Virilio also is continually analyzing the ultrarapid forms of free-floating control that replaced the old disciplines operating in the time frame of a closed system. Instead of a need to lock people within physical structures and institutions as in discipline societies ours has become an open prison system of absolute surveillance and technological invasiveness. To live in such a society is to become fragmented and sucked up into the electronic void where one is marked and indexed as dividual rather than an individual. In such a world of electronic traces to which data is attached one is generally regarded to be living in a state of anguish. As Crandall, quoting Bataille, reflects, ‘since one is always in a state of anticipation, one is always more or less in a state of anguish, for one must apprehend oneself in the future, through the projected results of one’s action’ (2010, 88– 9). This state of anguish, irrespective of whether we accept that it is deliberately produced (Massumi 2009), is what characterizes not simply the life of the dividual, but the life of society in general. Central to the production of that anguish-panic-paranoia, at the very least indirectly, is the explosive growth in control technologies, and I mean ‘control’ here in the broader use of the word, not simply in terms of the negative connotations associated with surveillance technologies.9
To ensure anguish modern democracies have entered the era of catastrophism in manufacturing panic through the medi-tainment-industrial-complex by promoting risk, insecurity, and fear of climate change, war, famine, disease, conspiracy, threats from within and without, etc. In such an era democracy is to be seen as an inverted totalitarianism which represents the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry.10 As Chris Hedges tells it,
Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while cynically manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions.11
In this sense capitalism or corporate power is slowly disconnecting itself from the old statist monopolies, divorcing itself from the bureaucratic control mechanisms of nationalism and its panic policies and regulations. In our time psychological terror is not the essence, “but the punctuation mark of the new totalitarianism’s meaning. The money-and-consumption command channel is the secret of the movement’s success because it avoids responsibility for its failures. Wall Street prescribed market failures to provide for societies are, instead, always attributed to transcendental forces of “the invisible hand” punishing these societies for alleged sins against “market laws.” Thus as catastrophes increasingly befall the majority of the world, the victims are blamed for their new deprivation, misery and oppression. This is a far more effective mode of rule than jackboot terror, which is more overt, but it exposes the system to another form of resistance. To keep the majority in a continual state of inner anxiety works because people are made too busy securing or competing for their own survival to co-operate in mounting an effective response.12
War, famine, and disease have been central to social control and fear for centuries, and have been used to promote anguish, panic, and dependency as part of this dominion society we live in. The great influx of migrant flows into the rich nations of the North in the past few decades is a tool of manipulation of such anguish and panic. England’s Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and a prominent globalist, may have revealed the views of the global elite when in 1981 he told People magazine, “Human population growth is probably the single most serious long-term threat to survival. We’re in for a major disaster if it isn’t curbed—not just for the natural world, but for the human world. The more people there are, the more resources they’ll consume, the more pollution they’ll create, the more fighting they will do. We have no option. If it isn’t controlled voluntarily, it will be controlled involuntarily by an increase in disease, starvation and war.”
In 1974, the U.S. National Security Council issued a classified study entitled “National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests.” Known as the Kissinger Report, the study stated that population growth in the so-called Lesser Developed Countries (LDCs) represented a serious threat to U.S. national security. The study was adopted as official government policy in November 1975 by President Gerald Ford and its implementation assigned to Brent Scowcroft, who had replaced Kissinger as national security adviser. NSSM 200 outlined a covert plan to reduce population growth in LDCs through birth control, and what many have interpreted as war and famine. Then CIA director George H. W. Bush was ordered to assist Scowcroft, as were the secretaries of state, treasury, defense, and agriculture. This policy may even have supported the many wars and airstrikes in the Middle East leading to a decimation of the populations there.13
In his study Dark Age America, John Michael Greer reminds us that “extreme depopulation is a common feature of the decline and fall of civilizations, with up to ninety-five percent population loss over the one to three centuries that the fall of a civilization usually takes”.14 He also admits that the primal potential for ethnic conflict, especially but not only in the United States is an issue worth discussing, and not only for the obvious reasons. Conflict between ethnic groups is quite often a major issue in the twilight years of a civilization, for reasons we’ll discuss shortly, but it’s also self-terminating, for an interesting reason: traditional ethnic divisions don’t survive dark ages. In an age of political dissolution, economic implosion, social chaos, demographic collapse, and mass migration, the factors that maintain ethnic divisions in place don’t last long. In their place, new ethnicities emerge. It’s a commonplace of history that dark ages are the cauldron from which nations are born.
In fact a cursor study of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire one discovers that the demographic contraction was overlaid by civil wars, barbarian invasions, economic crises, famines, and epidemics. The total population decline varied significantly from one region to another, but even the relatively stable parts of the Eastern Empire seem to have had around a fifty percent loss of population, while some areas of the Western Empire suffered far more drastic losses—Britain in particular was transformed from a rich, populous, and largely urbanized province to a land of silent urban ruins and small, scattered villages of subsistence farmers where even so simple a technology as wheel-thrown pottery became a lost art. (Dark Age America, KL 775)
Of course it might go another path rather than into decline and fall, some suggest we already have the resources to move out of energy depletion which is at the root of our planetary conflicts or, as some term them “resource wars”. In the race for global resources, tensions inevitably emerge. There are flashpoints everywhere—high food prices, for example, had a role to play in the violent political upheavals of the 2010–2011 Arab Spring. The world needs the sea lanes to stay open for trade, but maritime boundaries are a constant source of friction, and piracy adds an unwelcome element of danger for mariners. The oil and gas reserves of the South China Sea, for example, give an extra edge to China’s territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and other Asian neighbours over island groups such as the Senkaku, the Paracels, and the Spratlys. India has its own territorial issues with China over Aksai Chin on the Tibetan Plateau, and resource-rich Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas. In 1953, India’s then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared after a trip to China that the Chinese people cherished in their hearts the greatest of love for India, and wished to “maintain the friendliest of relations” with it. Nine years later, the two countries would be at war. While China–India economic ties have strengthened considerably since then, the edginess continues. At the same time, the United States, Europe, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and half a dozen big, emerging economies such as Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Mexico, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia have their own interests to promote and protect.15
As Hiscock remarks worldwide, energy is the key requirement to keep economies growing and living standards improving. But the era of easy energy is over. The cheap and easily accessible oil of past decades is used up or locked up in strategic reserves. Now the world has an energy choice, but what a choice. The remaining oil is too political, coal’s too dirty, nuclear’s too dangerous, wind’s too fickle, solar’s too expensive, hydro’s too dislocating, geothermal is too hard to wrangle, and fracked gas is too divisive. Even so, many of the world’s top resources companies see gas as the great savior over the next 20 years, in what the International Energy Agency calls the impending “golden age of gas” in its World Energy Outlook. Russia already sends Siberian gas to Germany via a 1,200 km undersea pipeline in a foretaste of how that golden era may play out. Something similar is happening in Central Asia, where gas is being piped to China from Turkmenistan, with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan soon to follow as suppliers. Elsewhere, we’re in the era of deepwater drilling in pristine Arctic environments, and getting to grips with the logistics of “pre-salt” geology off Brazil’s coast in the South Atlantic. Some energy companies see potential in the tar sands of Canada and Venezuela, though this unconventional oil comes with its own set of environmental challenges. In the United States, technology investors are busy pouring molten salt into the pipes of solar concentrators to store energy overnight, or creating giant offshore wind farms that won’t run out of puff at an inopportune moment. China pumps out solar panels at a rate and cost that has bitten deep into the viability of German producers. In Europe, the focus is on integrated power grids that will make the best use of renewable energy’s potential. And all the time, we worry about the Pacific Ocean’s volcanic ring of fire—or where best to put our next earthquake-proof and tsunami-proof nuclear power stations. (Hiscock, KL 261)
As Vaclav Smil describes it the enormous disparity in access to energy is most impressively conveyed by contrasting the national or regional share of the global population with their corresponding share of worldwide primary energy consumption: the poorest quarter of humanity (including most of sub-Saharan Africa, Nepal, Bangladesh, the nations of Indochina, and rural India) consumes less than three per cent of the world’s primary energy supply while the thirty or so affluent economies, whose populations add up to a fifth of the global total, consume about seventy per cent of primary energy (Figure 30). The most stunning contrast: the US alone, with less than five per cent of the world’s population, claims twenty-seven per cent of its primary commercial energy.16
Due to the demands of energy in the emerging economies of China, India, and other industrializing nations Smil says we have three choices if we wish to keep on increasing energy consumption while minimizing the risks of anthropogenic climate change (due mostly to rising combustion of fossil fuels) and keeping atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases from rising to as much as three times their pre-industrial level: we can continue burning fossil fuels but deploy effective methods of sequestering the generated greenhouse gases, we can revive the nuclear option, or we can turn increasingly to renewable energy. None of these options is yet ready for large-scale commercial adoption, none could be the sole solution, and all have their share of economic, social, and environmental problems. … Because capital investment considerations and infrastructural inertia mean that it takes several decades for any new energy source or conversion to claim a substantial share of the market, we should not waste any time in aggressively developing and commercializing suitable renewable options. (Energy, KL 2647)
All this is optimistic and hopeful, registering a possible world that if cooperation and collective will emerged might actually create a planetary society worth living in, and yet in the background is the drag of the shadow worlds of panic, paranoia, and manipulation promoted by the current ideologues, elites, and corporate profit pirates of the global nexus who do not wish to see their empires of energy and control fall away so are busily working against the very counter-worlds of hope and a promising future that could very well become possible. Humans are prone to manipulation and deception, our senses are always bound to biases and errors of judgement regarding data, information, and the worlds around us. Our brains frame a world that is itself a convenient lie, a nice little narrative between survival and sex that evolution worked out eons ago and served us well up to the emergence of Agricultural civilization. Since then and especially now that we’ve disconnected our natural connection to the outer environment of the world for an artificialization of life in the urban jungles of civilization and technology we are losing the very thrust of our evolutionary heritage.
Now more than ever we are losing contact and entering the fold of that schizophrenizing process of which the work of Deleuze/Guattari was but a beginning choreographic display. For them this process tended toward either revolutionary emancipation or paranoid manipulation and dependency. Our need for security and safety seem to outweigh our need for freedom and independence so that we allow our leaders to bind us into worlds of hellish and fatalistic traps in which war, famine, and entropy rule. And, we, the victims are portrayed as the very culprits of this dark world. It’s time to wake up and reverse this entropic process into revolutionary change, to dissolve the delusionary world of the elite, the powerful, and the controllers. Will we? That remains to be seen…
The essay is taken from:
Elements of Hyperstition: Principle 2.
Comprehensive attribution of all signal (discoveries, theories, problems and approaches) to artificial agencies, allegiances, cultures and continentities. The proliferation of ‘carriers’ (“Who says this?”) - multiplying perspectives and narrative fragments - produces a coherent but inherently disintegrated hyperstitional mythos while effecting a positive destruction of identity, authority and credibility.
Why does hyperstition use carriers, avatars or puppets?
At one level carriers tag collective production, especially where the product is something different from (and surprising to) the particular people that happen to be involved in the production process. In this way hyperstitional carriers mark true discoveries (Prof. Barker’s theory of geotraumatics).
Even more importantly hyperstitional puppets populate thought. This is how the practice of hyperstition operates to ‘effect a positive destruction of identity.’ Hyperstition puppets allow ‘you’ to think things that ‘you’ don’t agree with –- to follow a line to places that ‘you’ wouldn’t necessarily want to go. (Asking, for example, what does Max Crabbe think of all this?)
This seems quite different from the way avatars are generally used on the Internet (and how the whole issue was theorized in 1990’s cyberculture). Internet avatars usually function to hide identity -- in the worst cases this is done in order to express deep inner truths and desires (sex chats) – thereby reinforcing a totally molar identity.
Hyperstition’s artificial agencies hide identity only as a side effect. This does not seem to be particularly important -- except as a laugh. Everyone knows, for example, that it was Castaneda who ‘discovered’ Don Juan. Instead, hyperstitional puppets work to produce something new. 'We have been aided, inspired, multiplied'.
Hyperstitional Carriers II
[Paraphrased from P. Vysparov]
My guess is that Bismark’s most widely quoted remark – “People who love the law or good sausage should never watch either being made” -- applies to hyperstitional carriers (avatars) too.
There’s an understandable reluctance to fabricate them in public, perhaps because this would undermine their Limbo status, casting them too crudely into the realm of blatant fiction.
Still, it might be worth re-thinking this reservation, since carriers are so integral to the functioning of hyperstition that anything inhibiting their production massively impedes hyperstitional propagation (throwing practitioners back into the sad slum of the “creative ego”).
Hyperstitional carriers simulate personalities in order to consolidate a node of anegoic cognitive consistency (and, etymologically, persons are masks). Carriers are the vehicles through which tendrils of hyperstitional exploration are singularized and promoted.
It might be worth de-emphasizing the entire problematic of simulation so as to focus on methodical productivity. Carriers do not exist by virtue of their credibility, but due to the fact that if any one of them had not arisen it would be necessary that it be invented (for a thread of investigation to take place).
Thesis: Thought is only hyperstitional if a carrier conducts it.
“Lemuria” is itself a mega-carrier – its only authority being its inexistence.
It is in the name of Lemuria that the Numogram became accessible, without conceivable human derivation. Numogrammatic research decomposes itself in strict correlation with carrier-production: at first neolemurian subcultures, ultimately artificial individuals. Insofar as this process is held in abeyance, hyperstitional proliferation is itself suspended.
Hyperstition requires that we relentlessly refuse the reduction of carriers to false identities. Carriers are not disguises (as if their true content were really “oh, so it’s Oedipus”) – they are defined by what they convey, not by where they ‘come from.’ The virtual-real source of any carrier is the conceptual impulse it alone makes possible, not the creative ego who ‘invents’ it. Conception happens in the carrier, simultaneously with its virtual genesis, not in the creative subject.
Hyperstition will be assaulted by trolls, and trolls have a coherent ideology: “Stop pretending, you know it’s really Oedipus.”
Because this assertion plugs directly into the basic imprisoning flinch biosocially implanted into all human animals it tends to be horribly effective. Perhaps fabricating carriers ‘in public’ would positively contribute to resisting it – “there’s no pretence, no disguise, look at the sausage-machine if you’re so morbidly fascinated, there’s nothing hidden. There are things that can only happen through this process, thoughts no ego can appropriate, paths only radical artificiality can open.”
We really are not interested in anything we can think.
Hyperstitional Carriers III
The principal function of a hyperstitional carrier is to think what no natural ego can. They are units of artificial intelligence production, dedicated to the consistent pursuit of a cognitive trajectory that would be unsustainable under the socio-biological constraints of human psychic existence.
This function is two-sided. It embeds a ‘philosophical’ condemnation of the human condition as a platform for rigorous intellection, acknowledging that ‘to be’ as concrete reality sabotages the ‘cogito.’ ‘I am, therefore thinking is denied.’ To assume otherwise is vainglorious pretence and tediously ego-coopted insanity. More positively, this function attests to the potentiality of rigorous collective procedures to overcome the compromises demanded of the concrete individual ego, enabling the release of a liberated synthetic cognition, outside real time, which can proceed on the basis of implacable indifference to all criteria of innate or social acceptability, tolerability or balance.
While carriers may operate as ‘hoaxes,’ this dimension of their existence is strictly subordinate to their basic conceptual function. A carrier that successfully disguised itself as a ‘real human’ would be of interest only to confidence tricksters, since the best way of hiding itself in this way would be for it to think nothing of any interest whatsoever. The intrinsic destiny of hyperstition is to demonstrate that ‘human thinking’ is a fraud and a preposterous indulgence.
Carriers are designed to pursue a line of thought further than is prudent, decent, or reasonable. They have no need to preserve themselves in the face of natural hazards, avoid unnecessary risks, reproduce, achieve acceptance within a community or prove themselves worthy of social recognition. They maximize the advantages of the robot and the psychopath in all these respects. A carrier thinks only for the sake of the thought itself, rather than for what its thinking will mean for its own interests. It has no interests, a fact that is the alpha and omega of its potential to be interesting. The singularity of a carrier is what it can ‘think,’ in the widest imaginable or even unimaginable sense of this word.
The socio-semiotic technology of carriers is extremely delicate. What carriers carry is a line, a thread, that can be easily broken. It is of the utmost importance that carriers are not distracted or diverted from their defining pursuits, that they are not rushed or over-stretched, burdened with extrinsic pre-occupations, recklessly hybridized or compromised. These are the ways in which carriers degenerate into mere fictions, sustained solely by a capacity to entertain.
The existence of any carrier is annulled, reduced to fiction or fraudulence, if it cannot think further – more extremely or excessively - than any natural ego could think. Hyperstition is poly-focused and exuberant, or it is nothing. It is conveyed through carriers into a multitude of extravagances where human subjects could not venture without encountering death, mute insanity, annihilating social osctracism or the restraints of inhibiting ‘reason.’
To be a carrier is to be pushed beyond the limits of human possibility, to explore those regions where only an inorganic and artificial thinking is able to plot itself. Carriers know only what they need to know and no more. They are augmented by subtraction, their thinking liberated from the entropy of wisdom. They learn or remember only what they can use to go further, pursuing their relentless singular trajectories. Anything else, anything more, is encumbering freight, indulgence and mock humanity.
Consolidating a carrier, therefore, is a matter of the most meticulous exactitude. Better to hesitate for a decade than to precipitously burden a carrier with five minutes of superfluous memory.
Ask first where a carrier is heading next before provisioning it with a minimum of resources. At each stage of its journey, remove what it has not consumed. Keep your carriers hungry. Make them hunt for their own food. Sharpen them with deprivation, so their thought will cut like a knife.
The article is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
William Butler Yeats wrote of a “rough beast, its hour come round at last…” moving toward us. He may have opened the door into a virtual future where thought itself is hyperstitional: “Ccru is the name on a door in an institution which said of the Ccru that ‘does not, has not, and will never exist’.”1 Yet, many entered this non-existent door and changed their lives forever. Like the Immortals, the Troglodytes that Jorge Luis Borges would narrate, who lived in a city of chaos and time, a place where the ruins of the future are gathered. Maybe these indefatigable navigators of the dark modes of hyperstition returned from their travels in this non-existence with the very mind-tools we need today to bring us back to a sense of the Real. Shall we enter the door?
The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit – a site that is no site, a place that is no place, but rather “a chaos of heterogeneous words, the body of a tiger or a bull in which teeth, organs and heads monstrously pullulate in mutual conjunction and hatred.” Ccru is in itself the hyperstitional pulp-theory that it purports to describe, a material realm of thought and being in process of its immanent rupture. A collapsing future in which it sees its own modes of acceleration speeding us toward a planetary implosion at the zero degree of a null-point in time and thought become Real. The cultural guardians and the academic tribunes, who constrain the Empire of Education, would shut the doors, close off this experimental hive-world, a swarming thought-fest of individual and collective impersonalism and disband its hyperstitional students and teachers alike. Disgusted by this Academic betrayal, the “authoritarian prejudices, its love of ideology, and pompous desire to ‘represent the other’ or speak on behalf of the oppressed” Ccru will look back upon those fitful moments of creativity: to “us, it never seemed that the real articulacy of the left academic elites was in any way superior to the modes of popular cultural expression which were either ignored or treated as raw material to be probed for a ‘true’ (i.e. ideological) meaning by white middle-class intellectuals “(Ccru, KL 72-75).
Their hatred of the academic left and its authoritarianism over Continental thought represented in its anti-realist ideology, a post-modern nihilism and post-structuralist mélange of inner-insipidity, whose mindless turnings in the blank spaces of textual free-play would move the Ccru unit to rethink the very problematique of our modernity. Beyond its academic perimeters, inventing new spaces of possibility, Ccru built a materialist tool-set in which they sought to engage “with peripheral cultures not because they are ‘down-trodden’ or oppressed, but because they include the most intense tendencies to social flatness, swarming, populating the future, and contagious positive innovation, hatching the decisive stimuli for the systematic mutation of global cybernetic culture” (Ccru, KL 80-82).
Endorsing Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence that machines are irreducible to technology these intrepid navigators of the network cyberworlds arising in their midst would pilot a new ‘virtual materialism’, assaulting the privilege of representation, anti-evolutionism, and the implacable hostility to the State. Fusing AI research with UFO-phenomena they will create cybergothic hybrids, breaking free of the “deadening of all visceral response” that can be seen in most philosophical and sociological theory.(Ccru, KL 108) Ultimately they sought to release cultural viruses within the emerging digital technologies through a cross-propagation of invariant forms of pulp-theory. These cultural viruses hinged on specific digital hyperstitions: number-systems for transcultural communication and cosmic exploration, exploiting their intrinsic tendency to explode centralized, unified, and logically overcoded ‘master narratives’ and reality models, to generate sorcerous coincidences, and to draw cosmic maps. (Ccru, KL 122)
In their review of Ccru’s Digital Hyperstition Iris Carver and Linda Trent it was nothing more than a “tool-kit for dabbling in the dark” (KL 142). A variant of “hyperpunk pulp-occultism and dark-side cyber-jargon” this beast entered the world still-born. As they will admit: “Obviously it’s a horror story.”(KL 145) Each of the characters in this horror story living behind the masks of Melanie Newton, Steve Goodman, Ron Eglash, Dan Barker, Echidna Stillwell among others were tribal throwbacks from an age of beginnings, more “ethnographic legend than a social fact” (KL 150). Even as Cecil Curtis vanishes into the Oecumenon, they will realize that the metafictional status of all those who entered the non-site of Ccru were like all primitive peoples – a ritualized embodiment of the truth of “fiction”. (KL 154)
The economy of hypercapitalism (“financial capitalism”) will be likened by Greenspan as ‘irrational exuberance’, but the Ccru will understand that there is no difference between such a description and the veritable counter-truth that the economy is nothing more nor less than what the Lemurian Necronomicon calls ‘Shadow-Feeder of the Chaotic Gulfs’, or the ‘Fatal Mother of Hyperstitions’, she of innumerable numbering names who shreds all that stands. (KL 160) The hyperdelirium of the markets is nothing compared to its tracked occupants in their mode of adverts, America itself functions as a deterritorialized hype-sign or hyper-brand, a planetary icon for libidinized meaninglessness. (KL 173) If one was expecting the semantic apocalypse to sound off from a not so distant future they will remind us that it happened from the beginning: “Cancer-baked cowboys of the American nightmare watch mommy glazing over into catatonic schizophrenia as cyberpulp wormings slither out of the apple pie.” (KL 175) In such a world who needs meaning? None is forthcoming, but what is important is the “the double-zero index of Pandemonium, marked by techonomic calendar crash at the end of the second millennium” (KL 180).
What lies below the hype that is Ccru is a program, a viral agent to be released on the cusp of Y2K: ”
According to the Lemurian system – whose principle is sheer immanence – these subcodes call demons – which are brands, jargons, and triggers – positively instantiating the meaninglessness of their own designations, infecting cultural systems with unbelief, and counterposing sorcerous involvements to magical powers. They are raw factors of abstract disintegration, without organic properties, but only names, numbers, functions, and traits, the partial semiotics of eccentric intelligence agencies, or unlife animalities.(KL 189-192)
Reading the above one is reminded of those Discordian manuals for the apocalypse, game strategies in an MMO whose only survival code is to be decoded upon entry: a rhizomatic Abstract Machine that invents itself out of the boot-straps of an infinite loop, a trigger that inserts itself into the assemblage just as the last cornerstone is being disassembled in the virtual moment that releases it into the Real. Ccru is that program, virus and beast: a cyberbeast invading the electronic dreams of our secret lives among the wires.
Will continue to explore this in other posts… reading material: Ccru: Writings 1997-2003
1. Ccru (2015-05-06). Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Location 63). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
The narrators are in these texts caught in a triangular pattern of relationships in which they are drawn to authority figures who urge them to accept and embrace the twisted social logics they uncover.
– Andrzej Gasiorek, J.G. Ballard
‘Not really.’ Gould finished my coffee and pushed the empty cup back to me. ‘It isn’t only the psychopath who can grasp the idea of absolute nothing. Even a meaningless universe has meaning. Accept that and everything makes a new kind of sense.’
– J.G. Ballard, Millennium People
Have we entered the last stage of the game, a game-theoretic that has played itself out in ever more duplicitous cycles within cycles for the past hundred years or so? I’m speaking of the shifting sands of both economic and political ideologies as played out in the modeling hijinks of its greatest ideologues as each in turn has vied for the space of politics? It was Henri Lefebvre who once, optimistically said to us that the declining State would be dissolved not so much into “society” in an abstract sense as into a reorganized social space. At this stage, the State would be able to maintain certain functions, including that of representation. The control of flows, the harmony between flows internal and external to a territory, will require that they be oriented against the global firms and, by implication, will also require a general management of a statist type during a certain transitional period. This can only lead toward the end goal and conclusion by means of the activity of the base: spatial (territorial) autogestion, direct democracy and democratic control, affirmation of the differences produced in and through that struggle.1 Do we believe in such myths anymore? Is this another throwaway idea that has had its day and gone under the crunch of globalism? Is Democracy like Communism before it running scared? Is capitalism like some dark infestation freed of a shadow substance leaving its cloaked narrative of freedom and democracy in the dustbin of history like all other lost causes? What comes next? Will the totalitarian regimes of the future offer us everything we always wanted rather than depriving us of our livelihoods? The blueprints for our postliberal dictatorships are in the works even now: the totalitarian future will be subservient and ingratiating, catering to our every need, and only asking in return that we willingly give up our freedom for the security and comfort of a fully posthuman life. Cyborgs or transhumanists of a technocratic future we will live in the terminal zones of a paradise run by executives who are as affectless and apathetic as an alien from some machinic universe.
They like that. They like the alienation … There’s no past and no future. If they can, they opt for zones without meaning – airports, shopping malls, motorways, car parks. They’re in flight from the real.
– J.G. Ballard, from Millenium People
Yet, as Ben Woodard says in his new and excellent work, On an Ungrounded Earth: Toward a New Geophilosophy: “Here we wish to subject the earth to pain – not as a somatized creature, but as a planet, the glob of baked matter that it is – in order to test its limitropic porosity and see how much ungrounding the earth can take before it ceases to be simultaneously and example of nature’s product and also its productivity.“2 Maybe we’re entering a new era, an era of planetary upheaval, of political and socio-cultural instability and transformation, that from one perspective might look like the grand collapse of civilization, but from another might tend more toward some form of breaktrhough in which the great wars for the earth take on a new and insidious meaning… Maybe what we’re seeing is the end of the Liberal worldview, with its system of enlightened governance that has ruled Western Civilization for at least two centuries. If this is so then what is coming our way?
A postliberal world of decay and decadence, fraught with both internal/external conflicts within science, culture, politics, and love? With the death knell of tyrannical communism and the slow death of liberal democracy is there something else on the horizon? We see the old guard on both sides of the fence crying foul, saying that neither of these are finished, that there will always be one of these two views of life resurgent in our midst in one form or another. But is this true? Isn’t the devil out of the bag? Hasn’t capitalism in our time finally slayed the dragon of its own duplicitous marriage to democracy? We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?
Out of what accelerating future can our archaeologists of time begin to reweave the threads of the coming millennia? What does J.G. Ballard have to do with all this, anyway? In his trilogy of novels on the end time, or lost worlds of our postmodern visions of excess and apathy he brought forward the scalar seer, the detective of desire. The detective like some ethnography of the silences of modernity explores the nether regions of our alien worlds, unlike the progressive reformers of a century ago who investigated the slum worlds of Fordism, this new archaeologist of time articulates nothing more than the repressed knowledge of our future. It is not the new serfdom below the surface that this troubadour of detection scrutinizes, rather it is the inanity of our one-percenter’s: the plutocrats at the top of the heap, who are implicated in the disease they purport to be the answer for: a neoliberal society tittering on the edge of oblivion.
…there were real voids here, unlimited space inside a small skull. Looking for God is a dirty business. You find God in a child’s shit, in the stink of stale corridors, in a nurse’s tired feet. Psychopaths don’t manage that too easily.
– J.G. Ballard
Ballard portrays the social psychodramas of the rich and powerful as they wander amid the wastelands of late capitalism’s terminal zones. The search for freedom will no longer take on the radical enlightenments call for revolution, but will now invite everyone into the banquet of criminality and psychopathology. The enforce leisure classes of our gated tribalism leads us to the Marqui de Sade and Sacher Masoch rather than the free love zones of a utopian society. Immersed as we are in hyperreality we model our lives on the mechanics of death rather than the cycles of our bodily life. The new corporate City States of the future will be filled with the transhuman automata of our electronic dreams, an instrumental vision for the affectless executives of a mindless utopia.
We’re breeding a new race of deracinated people, internal exiles without humanities but with enormous power. It’s this new class that runs our planet.
– J.G. Ballard
Ballard’s realms are filled with a new breed of human, or at least of a breed that has until recently been diagnosed as the singular threat to liberal society: the psychopathic and sociopathic personality. In the future incorporated enclaves this will be the standard copy, the Platonic ensemble and blueprint for our 3D printers of an infernal machine of desire. Colonized by the viral memes of hypercapitalism these new objects of the system will no longer be the humans we once new, instead having interpolated themselves into the system through a biotech power grid beyond any we can now imagine they will become models of efficiency and rationality. In such a realm as this our posthuman society is built on affectless contractual relations among objects rather than subjects. This is the perfect object-oriented society of the future in which the broken vows of a lover are no longer seen as subjective betrayals but as damage sustained to a physical commodity. Our corporate security systems will penalize such infractions through monetary disciplining rather than through incarceration. The perp will serve as a minion to some higher need for such criminal infractions rather than building mechanical clocks he will become a mechanical doll for some executive’s pleasure dome.
People have enough fiction in their lives already, they’re living the stuff, it’s pouring out of the air, it’s affecting everything…
– J.G. Ballard
The economy of the future will center around the Prosthetic Personality. Instead of face-lifts we’ll get replaceable faces, instead of a knee replacement we’ll get the latest model of OmniView’s Galaxy 9000 runner plugin. The hybridized body will be sculptured to perfection like some advanced Maserati of the replicant assemblage. In the technocratic thunderdomes of the future the old guard, the unprosthetized humanoids of the pre-cyborg nations will perform old style killing matches for the benefit of these executive cyborgs. They will get little pleasure from what they see, instead they will study the mechanics of death like some alien intellect without any emotion whatsoever; indifferent and superior, these cyborg leaders of the free world will smile down on such useless lives as if they were bugs in a vat. Zygmunt Bauman once remarked: “The ultimate limit of the war against noise is a fully controlled life-world and complete heteronomy of the individual – an individual located unambiguously on the receiving end of information flow and having his choices safely enclosed within a frame of strictly defined by the expert authority.”(Modernity and Ambivalence 226) In the ‘intelligent’ city of the future our clones will live for us, our minds tucked away in the artificial cavities of metalloid dreams we will ride the skyscrapers of imaginal histories like explorers embarking on a jaunt to Paradise.
Eden-Olympia really is … a huge experiment in how to hothouse the future. … Eden-Olympia isn’t just another business park. We’re an ideas laboratory for the new millennium.
‘The “intelligent” city? I’ve read the brochure.’
– J.G. Ballard, Super-Cannes
Our postmodern generation might have tried to find the traces, the demarcations of an absence, an the alterity from the other ends of time, the blind spots hidden within the binary structures of a language fragment, or an encoded message within the ideological temper of simulated age. But no longer. One might have also sought out the dark and ambiguous forces on the edges of our socio-cultural despair, the deep ambiguities within and between the interpolated relations in politics, art, philosophy, science, love, etc. that simulated models of desire rather than desire itself, that imitated the structure of reality rather than reality’s ungrounded ground: a dialectics of subjectivation, attuned to the implosion of time and memory. Like drifters on a sea of hyperchaos we situate ourselves amid the detritus of former civilizations, picking and choosing among the dead, puissant and full of decadent splendor actin on our own supercilious mindlessness, like metal gods of some hyperworld that feeds us fantasias of inanity to blast our boredom into space.
In his despairing and psychopathic way, Richard Gould’s motives were honourable. He was trying to find meaning in the most meaningless times, the first of a new kind of desperate man who refuses to bow before the arrogance of existence and the tyranny of space-time. He believed that the most pointless acts could challenge the universe at its own game. Gould lost that game, and had to take his place with other misfits, the random killers of school playgrounds and library towers, who carried out atrocious crimes in their attempts to resanctify the world.
– J.G. Ballard
What we identified in the other has become for us the essential truth of our own dark subjectivities, trapped in the subtle fabrications of desire woven of complex strategies and mystifications of escape and autonomy we now realize that all we were doing was tightening the straps on the straightjacket of our own blind brains. Like the sons of the great apes before us we journeyed far from the paternal cave seeking a freedom from all authority, bound by the pack philosophies of our brothers merciless tears we forged new chains and contractual relations that bound us to invisible, immaterial powers and authorities founded on the absence of the very King we each and every one killed off long ago. Instead of the return of the repressed father as in Freud, or the Lacanian system that sustains itself through desire and law, we now have the power of the untrammeled id, the forces of terror below the threshold that seek not so much the Father’s place as they do to free us into the pure terror of our lives, to embrace a real freedom in the wide open spaces of possibility, to think like psychopaths unencumbered by the logic of custom and habit, morality and convention. Affectless we wander among each others desires like machines in an endless assemblage of broken toys. Platitudes on inanity we seek a way out of our banal boredoms. Puppets of a calibrated artifact, a synthesis not so much of time, but of the fragmented and jettisoned times that fall between the spaces of Time. Cyclic wanderers of the Same we seek the difference that will make a difference.
In my secretary’s office that morning I had scanned the e-mail summaries of the papers. The confident claims for the new corporate psychology seemed to float above the world like a regatta of hot-air balloons, detached from the reality of modern death that the mourners at the west London crematorium had gathered to respect. The psychologists at the Adler were trying to defuse the conflicts of the workplace, but the threats from beyond the curtain-walling were ever more real and urgent. No one was safe from the motiveless psychopath who roamed the car parks and baggage carousels of our everyday lives. A vicious boredom ruled the world, for the first time in human history, interrupted by meaningless acts of violence.
– J.G. Ballard
Is this the final plunge into nihilism or something else? In Millenium People J.G. Ballard’s character Gould – the mastermind behind a bombing that killed the main character, David Markham’s, wife – sees the twentieth-century as nothing more than an insane asylum, a ‘a soft regime prison built by earlier generations of inmates’ from which ‘we have to break free’.3 Such is the wisdom of psychopathia, the floating calibrations of a liquid modernity, freed of the weight of its own finitude: “The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was a brave attempt to free America from the 20th Century. The deaths were tragic, but otherwise it was a meaningless act.'(138)” The problem here is that this is no great reversal at all, instead of freeing us of the imprisoning chains of some mythical globalism we once again enter an age of terror, criminality, and nihilistic violence without limits. What Deleuze and Guattari saw as ‘a release from the father’s hold on the man’, of the ‘possibility of living beyond the father’s law, beyond all law’ is under this new regime a praxis for catastrophe and mayhem, a vision of a social dynamics of fragmentation and limitless bifurcation that at once delivers us into the hands of desiring subjectivation that has become collective rather than just the twisted tale of a singular madman.
There was a death to be avenged, video stores to be bombed, middle-class housewives in Barnes and Wimbledon to be jolted out of their servitude.
– J.G. Ballard
Is this illusionary? Are we truly bound within regimes of power that are determinate of our collective aspirations? Is mere freedom or emancipation just another word for entropy played out on such scales that we no longer see the forest for the trees? Are we truly powerless before these impersonal forces that even our explosive interventions can do little to disturb the flows and exchanges within the globalized networks of late capitalism’s power grid? Shall we conclude from this that, as Heidegger once related, the only true crime was “the second fall of man, the fall into banality”. After such failure what forgiveness?
‘It doesn’t matter. In fact, the ideal act of violence isn’t directed at anything.’
‘The exact opposite. This is where we’ve all been wrong— you, me, the Adler, liberal opinion. It isn’t a search for nothingness. It’s a search for meaning. Blow up the Stock Exchange and you’re rejecting global capitalism. Bomb the Ministry of Defence and you’re protesting against war. You don’t even need to hand out the leaflets. But a truly pointless act of violence, shooting at random into a crowd, grips our attention for months. The absence of rational motive carries a significance of its own.’
– J.G. Ballard
But beyond such fabrications and tidy plots of shame and guilt there could be seen something else, a strange new earth alien and free of us. What we were seeing with the eyes of the future rather than the past, was an archaeology of the double life, a schizoanalytic deterritorialization of the future in the present, a slipstream narration of fragmentation that implodes the entropic force of creation in a Godeleian knot that unravels all totalizations and presents us with an ungrounded space of possibilities. Is this not what Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia projects within its monstrous battleworld of ‘tellurian insurgency’?2 As Ben Woodard suggests: “The earth … does not require much labor to become a monster. The earth is a stratified globule, a festering confusion of internalities powered by a molten core and bombarded by an indifferent star.”2
‘There’s nowhere to go. The planet is full. You might as well stay at home and spend the money on chocolate fudge.’
– J.G. Ballard
Has the earth itself become a weapon in our struggle against empire? Are the new barbarians at the gate ourselves? Is it us who refuse to give up our illusions, our hold onto the glory of vein days, to take our precious literature, art, scholarship, etc. and throw it on the pyre? Are is this, too, illusion, a vein gesture of nihilistic despair, just one more banal gesture of a decadent worn out world weary even of its own banality? There comes a moment in Ballard’s Millennium People novel when David Markham surmises the truth hidden in the illusion:
They knew that the revolt in many ways was a meaningless terrorist act… Only by cutting short their exile and returning to the estate could they make it clear that their revolution was indeed meaningless, that the sacrifices were absurd and the gains negligible. A heroic failure redefined itself as a success. Chelsea Marina was the blueprint for the social protests of the future, for pointless armed uprisings and doomed revolutions, for unmotivated violence and senseless demonstrations. Violence, as Richard Gould once said, should always be gratuitous, and no serious revolution should ever achieve its aims.(286-287)
Is this our future? The pointless gestures of gratuitous acts of violence and meaningless failures in the face of global, economic, and climacteric collapse? Is there another way? An escape valve awaiting those dark souls that are wiling to sacrifice it all and enter the black hole of their own voidic lives and come out the other side with something else? Is there a positivity in all this darkness and chaos? As my friend Edmund over at Deterritorial Investigations Unit in a recent comment said, quoting Sloterdijk, said: “Sloterdijk says, that we need to allow ourselves to be “kidnapped by the hyper-complexities” of our historic moment. Dangerous thinking for dangerous times.”
But I was thinking of another time, a brief period … of real promise, when a young paediatrician persuaded the residents to create a unique republic, a city without street signs, laws without penalties, events without significance, a sun without shadows.
– J.G. Ballard
The hyperrich and arrogant masters of the Financial Districts of our Hollywood stage-reality live like Kings without a kingdom. State and Commerce are all hooked into an economic joy ride, a surfing machine of virtual waves within which an accelerating future of endless possibilities, robber-barons of a techno-babylonian civilization stripping the resources earth like the final striptease of a bleeding whore. These Dark Sith seem to thrive on some infinite optimism, wherein the encrusted jewel-like City States swell across our planetary wasteland offering neither solace nor escape, but harbor the psychopathic nightmares of the rich. Living in their gated hives of Disneylandia they quibble over the electronic dataflows of a dark enlightenment all the while embellishing their bone nights with the human detritus of slaveborn denizens who below the gated walls to live in slumrot cesspools that even the rats of the world find less than appealing. Maybe what we really need is a renewal of the bleak and sobering vision of our own human finitude and its limited possibilities. As Ben Woodard remarks at the close of his pessimistic swan song for earth:
We must cultivate a search for a new earth that ends in repeated failure, but in a sense that does not re-transcendentalize the original earth. Where the distress call leads to dead and empty vessels, where signs of life turn out to be no more than deadly microbes. A tale that ends only in the gradual thinning of the self-conscious biomass called humanity.( ibid. 95)
But is this the end? Should we fall into gloom and die? Should we allow a bleak and terrible pessimism to rule our dark days? Are could we find in the darkness a new light? Find a way forward that would allow us to reinvent ourselves and our very existence on this planet? At the end of another grand master of the narrative of our end times, or beginnings, Haruki Murakami, through his character Aomame, says:
I still don’t know what sort of world this is, she thought. But whatever world we’re in now, I’m sure this is where I will stay. Where we will stay. This world must have its own threats, its own dangers, must be filled with its own type of riddles and contradictions. We may have to travel down many dark paths, leading who knows where. But that’s okay. It’s not a problem. I’ll just have to accept it. I’m not going anywhere. Come what may, this is where we’ll remain, in this world with one moon. The three of us— Tengo and me, and the little one.3
In the end all we have is each other and a dream of Hope… is that enough?
But the root of history is the working, creating human being who reshapes and overhauls the given facts. Once he has grasped himself and established what is his, without expropriation and alienation, in real democracy, there arises in the world something which shines into the childhood of all and in which no one has yet been: homeland.
– Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope
1. Henri Lefebvre. State, Space, World: Selected Essays
2. Ben Woodard. On an Ungrounded Earth: Toward a New Geophilosophy. (punctum books 2013).
3. Ballard, J. G. G. (2012-04-09). Millennium People: A Novel. Norton.
4. Murakami, Haruki (2011-10-25). 1Q84 (p. 925). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
I think the twentieth century reaches just about its highest expression on the highway. Everything is there, the speed and violence of our age, its love of stylization, fashion, the organizational side of things – what I call the elaborately signalled landscape.
—J.G Ballard, Extreme Metaphors
Is there not something suspicious, indeed symptomatic, about this focus on subjective violence-that violence which is enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds? Doesn’t it desperately try to distract our attention from the true locus of trouble, by obliterating from view other forms of violence and thus actively participating in them?
—Slavoj Zizek, Violence
Of late I’ve been rereading William T. Vollman’s Rising Up and Rising Down – Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, a work he spent thirteen years writing and which when first published came out in seven volumes. I’m reading the one volume edition which in itself is still quite lengthy at 705 pages. My studies this year seem to have shifted several times, and have now turned toward this dark part of the human compass: violence. Thinking on the recent strangeness and bewildering madness of the massacres in Las Vegas where Stephen Craig Paddock from the Mandalay Hotel apparently motiveless at this time (?) murdered 58 people enjoying a country rock outdoor festival.
I remember reading Berardi’s book last year in which he argued that our world had become not only virtualized, but that many people live their lives as if they were inside a live-action MMO playing out the avatar heroics of some never-ending game in which they are both victim and savior. Not only that but that many men have over time become desensitized to the point that all empathy and fellow feeling has vanished. We’ve become a full blown sociopathic society whose only passion is violence and mayhem. This depersonalization and fragmentation of subject and work and play produces Berardi will tell us new forms of violence and rage. The psychopathology of mass murder in our time becomes a form of this whole inversion of the fragmentation and depersonalization of self and life, which leads to each moment as a simulated virtual game in which we are all immersed in the virtual unified field of fantasy realm in which the programs that run the coded reality scenarios also infects and acts impersonally on us as if we were all zombies, robots, and puppets controlled by the vectors of impossible nightmares.
Nike’s motto: Just do it! he tells us becomes for many of these suffering young men the inner truth of that cycle of depression, catatonia and psychotic acting out that can culminate into spectacular murderous suicide. (KL 710)
Just do it: violence, explosion, suicide. Killing and being killed are linked in this kind of acting out, although the murderer may, exceptionally, survive. When running amok, the borders between one’s body and the surrounding universe are blurred, and so is the limit between killing and being killed. Panic, in fact, is the simultaneous perception of the totality of possible stimulations, the simultaneous experience of everything, of every past, every future. In this state of mental alteration the distinction between the self and the universe collapses. (KL 711)
The point he is making is that in our age of digital connection the psychotic framework of hyper-stimulation and constant mobilization of nervous energy is pushing people, especially suggestible young people, socially marginalized and precarious, to a different kind of acting out: an explosive demonstration of energy, a violent mobilization of the body, which culminates in the aggressive, murderous explosion of the self.(KL 715)
In many ways America is a fantasyland of violence where people live so close to the threat of horror, death, and mayhem that they’ve even stylized it in their daily lives of entertainment through stadium and televised Football, Wide World of Wrestling, Car racing, survival TV, Paint Ball, and hundreds of other lesser games of violence both real and virtual. J.G. Ballard commenting on this culture of violence and entertainment once surmised,
A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status – all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really, a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing). That’s why the death in a crash of a famous person is a unique event – whether it’s Jayne Mansfield or James Dean – it takes place within this most potent of all consumer durables. Aircraft crashes don’t carry any of these elements whatever – they’re totally tragic and totally meaningless.2
This recent event falls into that latter category of tragic and meaningless: this sense of helplessness in both the authorities, media, and populace at large that such an act of violent terror could have no motive other than total rage and despair, self-hatred to the point that it turns outward (as Freud suggested ages ago) toward all those others who become both scapegoat and sacrifice to the self-immolating madness of the sado-masochistic death drive of a lunatic. Instead of the Ballardian erotics of sublime and sensual annihilation in the epitome of capitalist consumer lifestyle, Paddock and his ilk are more like the grotesque and thanatropic outriders of a nightmare world of hate and self-annihilating bitterness and drunken torpor, a rage at the light rather than its iconic glamour. Paddock with his breaking of the contract with life entered the space of unreason, allowed the forces of entropy to take him down that path of nullity where his only freedom was a self-lacerating rage against everything he wasn’t.
We’ve all known for a long while that good news does not sell, that bad news is the order of the day and our news outlets, our games of entertainment, our reading material, our cinemas and televisions are replete with the dark inhumanity of man and nature, violence, dread, and terror. Why? We all know violence is bad, and yet in our perverse heart of heart’s we’re also excited by violence, and if we are attracted to it, it may be for good reasons. Even as we deny it we secretly are infatuated by violence. A perversity of human nature? The important thing is that violence is a show. All of us have made the world in which we live – we’re not forced to watch the newsreels on television, we don’t have to look at the pictures in illustrated magazines. War, if it is a show, is a show at which we are the paying audience, let’s remember that. As Ballard admonishes us “All I’m saying is that one ought to be honest about one’s responses. People didn’t in fact feel the kind of automatic revulsion to the Biafra war that they were told they should feel. They were stirred, excited, involved. It may be that one needs a certain sort of salt in one’s emotional diet.” (EM, KL 735-739)
Although our central nervous systems have been handed to us on a plate by millions of years of evolution, have been trained to respond to violence at the level of fingertip and nerve ending, in fact now our only experience of violence is in the head, in terms of our imagination, the last place where we were designed to deal with violence. We have absolutely no biological training to deal with violence in imaginative terms. And our whole inherited expertise for dealing with violence, our central nervous systems, our musculature, our senses, our ability to run fast or to react quickly, our reflexes, all that inherited expertise is never used. We sit passively in cinemas watching movies like The Wild Bunch where violence is just a style. (EM, KL 849)
Here we are all dressed up in our finery playing the role of ultra-modern citizens of a progressive technological civilization, telling ourselves that we are peace loving people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. All lies, for under the veneer of glitz we are still those wild inhuman animals of the savannahs that roamed the wild lands of Africa, Asia, and Europe thousands of years ago. Our emotional and passional selves are still bound by the habits of hundreds of thousands of years of animal life, habitual ways of violence, fear, and despair in a natural environment in which we more times that we’d like to believe were the hunted rather than the hunter, victims of predatory creatures much more efficient at killing that we have ever been until our technological age.
Even that heretic of the Left, the Lacanian-Hegel, Slavoj Zizek reminds us that subjective violence is just the most visible portion of a triumvirate that also includes two objective kinds of violence. First, there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call “our house of being.” This violence is not only at work in the obvious-and extensively studied-cases of incitement and of the relations of social domination reproduced in our habitual speech forms: there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning. Second, there is what Zizek calls “systemic” violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems.3
Another aspect is that there is something inherently mystifying in a direct confrontation with violent acts like the Las Vegas massacre: the overpowering horror of such violent acts and empathy with the victims inexorably function as a lure which prevents us from thinking. A dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence must by definition ignore its traumatic impact. Yet there is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror. (Violence, pp. 3-4) It’s this sense of voyeurism, the strange relation we have with news as both in-formed awareness and entertainment, spectacle and sport that underlies American unthinking acceptance of violence as part of our society. We’ve included violence as entertainment in our imaginary lives in sex, economics, and everyday life. Violence has become so ubiquitous and invisible that when it raises its ugly head and binds us to its monstrous acts we are not just shocked but infatuated by the madness and insanity of it in our lives.
Zizek relates that the Lacanian difference between reality and the Real is simply that “reality” is the social reality of the actual people involved in interaction and in the productive processes, while the Real is the inexorable “abstract,” spectral logic of capital that determines what goes on in social reality. One can experience this gap in a palpable way when one visits a country where life is obviously in shambles. We see a lot of ecological decay and human misery. (Violence, p. 13) In other words the actual events of the Las Vegan massacre with the now past truth of all those real victims who suffered the shock of madness, the fear and terror, the pain and suffering of loved one’s murdered and wounded is the underlying reality of the event. While all the abstract commentary, news broadcasts, media frenzy and speculation on this reality is the cold dark abstraction of an impersonal machinic capitalism displacing the reality for the Real, wiping and erasing the event itself with a spectral logic of hyperreflection and overlays of imposed narratives and fictions, fantasy news that will replace the actual event with the prefabricated and staged show of media spectacle.
As Hannah Arendt once suggested of the purges and atrocities of Hitler and Stalin: these figures were not personifications of sublime Byronesque demonic evil: the gap between their intimate experience and the horror of their acts was immense. The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is fundamentally a lie – the truth lies outside, in what we do. (Z, p. 47) Moment by moment the facts of this tragic event are lured into the vast media machine, rescripted according to political and ideological formats, dramatized with staged commentary and docudrama tales from experts, eyewitnesses, families of survivors, tales of heroism, of tears and funerals, symbols of despair and hope. All the while the repetitions of the perpetrator and his monstrous act are scripted to show his sordid life in all its strange and bewildering array of violence, drunkenness, and cowardly cynicism, along with the continued narrative of the missing ‘motive’, the underlying thread of terror, plan, conspiracy…
Pat Pittman in the Encyclopedia of Murder was struck by the notion that mass murder and even sex crimes and serial killers in large part are a modern problem rather than something ancient. As Pittman reflected “sex crime was not, as I had always supposed, as old as history, but was a fairly recent phenomenon”.4 It was true that soldiers had always committed rape in wartime, and that sadists like Tiberius, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler and Gilles de Rais certainly qualify as sex criminals; but in our modern sense of the word – that is, a man who commits rape because his sexual desires tend to run out of control – sex murder makes its first unambiguous appearance in the late nineteenth century. The Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 and the murders of the French “disemboweller” Joseph Vacher in the 1890s are among the first recorded examples. Some of the most famous sex crimes of the century occurred after the First World War: these included the murders of the “Düsseldorf Vampire” Peter Kürten, of America’s “Gorilla Murderer” Earle Nelson, of the child killer Albert Fish, and the extraordinary crimes of the Hungarian Sylvestre Matushka, who experienced orgasm as he blew up trains. (SK, KL 97-104)
Crimes like these were regarded as the solitary aberrations of madmen, and scarcely came to the attention of the general public. The crimes of an American mass murderer named Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Henry Howard Holmes, should be noted as an exception. Holmes began as a confidence trickster, and in the late 1880s he built himself a large house in a Chicago suburb that would become known as ‘Murder Castle’. When Holmes was arrested in 1894 for involvement in a swindle, police soon came to suspect that he was responsible for the murder of an associate named Pitezel, and three of Pitezel’s children. Further investigation revealed that Holmes had murdered a number of ex-mistresses, as well as women who had declined to become his mistress. Moreover, as Holmes himself confessed, killing had finally become an addiction which, he believed, had turned him into a monster. The total number of his murders is believed to be twenty-seven, and they qualify him as America’s first serial killer. He was hanged in 1896. (SK, KL 185-193)
FBI analysts define a serial killer as a murderer who is involved in three or more separate events, with an emotional cooling-off period between each homicide. This cooling-off period is the main trait which distinguishes the serial killer from all other multiple murderers. Other identifiable differences may be found in their choice of victim. Serial killers tend to preselect a type of victim to murder, whereas classic mass murderers and spree killers will both murder whichever human targets happen to present themselves. Similarly the serial killer controls the successive stages of each murder he commits (to a larger or lesser degree, depending whether he is an organised or disorganised offender); while neither the classic mass murderer nor the spree killer is likely to have an opportunity to do so once the law enforcement agency concerned closes in on him. (SK, KL 1839)
We know that the Las Vegas killer was planning other events and venues for a continued foray in mass murder, so must conclude that although he didn’t have an opportunity to continue that he would have if he’d of survived. We also know that many classic mass murderers also seem not to want to live, once their own compulsive urge to kill has abated. Some, like Marc Lepine, then shoot themselves. Others – Charles Whitman, for example – carry on killing until the law enforcement agency concerned is left with no recourse but to kill them; offender behavior which some regard not as defiance of authority, but as an oblique form of suicide. (SK, KL 1852)
We know the Las Vegas killer committed suicide but left no note. As Colin Wilson explains:
Perhaps the most basic characteristic of the serial killer is one that he shares with most other criminals: a tendency to an irrational self-pity that can produce an explosion of violence. (SK 4996)
Another aspect is that Paddock like Ted Bundy, was an extremely heavy drinker. Alcohol had the same effect on Paddock and Bundy that drugs had on the Manson clan, creating a sense of unreality, a kind of moral vacuum without inhibitions. In this vacuum, murder meant very little. (SK, KL 4993)
Another factor is fame and recognition. As the “Monster of the Andes” Daniel Camargo Barbosa (During 1986, he raped and murdered seventy-two women and girls in the area of the port of Guayaquil.) once told an investigator when asked why he killed all those people, said:
‘When one has been the victim of traumatic experiences in childhood, one grows up with the mental conditions for committing these acts’… (SK, KL 5172)
All self-confessions aside, all analysis or commentary or reflection, philosophy, sociology, criminology, etc. – and, strangely the FBI and all other agencies have failed to discover a motive or reason behind the Las Vegas killings as of yet – we may never know why Paddock committed this atrocity. I’m sure we will see books on this shortly coming up with every type of motive, reason, conspiracy, or strange twist to a sordid tale; along with memorials to the victims and the heroes who helped during this event. All part of a slow recovery from the hidden truth that we are all capable of such hideous violence given the right circumstances, even if we deny that such actions are possible for such law abiding and upright moral creatures as ourselves. Once you strip us of all that façade of moral cant we are like such madmen nothing more than animals and monsters full of sado-masochistic drives toward suicide or murder, and that it is the imposition of all those cultural encrustations over this dark power of natural murderousness.
Rene Girard once spoke of the collapse of societies at the hands of violence:
When the religious framework of a society starts to totter, it is not exclusively or immediately the physical security of the society that is threatened; rather, the whole cultural foundation of the society is put in jeopardy. The institutions lose their vitality; the protective façade of the society gives way; social values are rapidly eroded, and the whole cultural structure seems on the verge of collapse.5
We know that Paddock was irreligious, maybe even atheistic, so that if anything it was the slow decay of our progressive Secular Age into decadence and decline rather than the religious worldview at stake in his thinking. The very cornerstone of democracy, Law and Justice and Freedom have in our own time begun to fragment and decay as the secular institutions of American democracy no longer offer the poor or middle-class a world worth living in, and our leaders have become unable to lead and provide us with a viable political and economic future on a planet that many believe is reaching both its limits in resources and natural capacity for a human civilization that has shown nothing but a propensity to violence against all past notions of the sacred. Our very denial of the sacred may in itself be the cause of the triggering effects of random acts of monstrous violence in the homeland, even as State violence is perpetrated in the incarceration of poor and black at home and the wars against all other nations for the remaining resources.
Maybe in the end the recent influx of mass murders in the homeland by young and old alike are wake up calls to the citizens that our world cannot go on as usual, that we are ourselves blind to our own violent ways and are producing in our daily lives the very things that are triggering the extreme revolt of madmen against us. In his novel The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s main character relates:
Rich dreams now which he was loathe to wake from. Things no longer known in the world. The cold drove him forth to mend the fire. Memory of her crossing the lawn toward the house in the early morning in a thin rose gown that clung to her breasts. He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.6
It’s this sense of remembering and forgetting, of the mind’s dark tendency to alter the past in the mind, thereby altering reality or even annihilating it that brings us to that marked moment of acknowledgement that “each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins.”
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
…you get the horrors you deserve.
– Thomas Ligotti
“The accursed one may thus be understood as someone outside the law, or beyond it.”
– Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacre
Michael Arnzen in his post of (2008) on “The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti mentioned a small film adaptation of this story that was part of a limited edition bundled with a DVD — a 24 minute adaptation of that story directed by Jacob Cooney. I never knew about this particular filmic adaptation. It seems (as a commenter suggests) it is on Vimeo: here. Either way the story itself was the first one I read in the original The Nightmare Factory, and its uncanny infiltration and contamination invaded my mind channeling that ancient power of cosmic strangeness we associate only with the weird tale.
In the carnal act, in desecration – and in desecrating himself – man crosses the limit of beings.
– Georges Bataille, The System of Nonknowledge
How many of us would admit to being accursed? I don’t mean living outside the law of man, or even if one did believe – outside the law of God; no: I mean the law of one’s own being, the law that keeps one safe and sound, the wild things at bay locked out in the dark hinterlands of the mind devoid of their terror and despair. What if one had been thrown not into the world – as Heidegger would have it, but rather into the void beyond one’s own inaccessible life, a life that continues sleepwalking through existence without you? What if that part of your being wandered beyond the hedge separating wilderness from civilization, sanity from insanity: beyond the civilizing sociality of your everyday self-subjectivation – that avatar mask you present to your wife or husband, or your children – who depend on the kindness of your gentle ways; as well, your boss, your friends, your social partners and after hours consorts; all these of which the self that meets the world, that masks its dark intent within the circle of sanity of this dog day world we all share? What if that self found its way back into the wilderness of beginnings, in the realm of myth and terror where the wild things live? What then?
I was beginning a etymological drift upon words used by Thomas Ligotti in his horror short stories. The word “frolic” comes up in many places throughout his work. A word that has a unique history all its own. Associations with playfulness, foolishness, prancing, skipping, dancing, merrymaking, and happy – as in German fröhlich “happy.” Yet, one will never forget the story “The Frolic” with its otherwise normal and staid, almost antiquated story of the anonymous mad man who will bring such sorrow and misery to a young married couple and their beautiful young daughter. The uncanniness of the tale is what it leaves out, what it only hints at rather than what it discloses: the notion of unknown cosmic forces outside both our knowledge and our reasoning capacity, a realm of cosmic horror that we seem perilously glib about and filter out with all our progressive strains of Enlightened rhetoric. But it is a cosmic realm of terror that keeps returning from the Outside in to remind us of its dark intent beyond the limits and capacities of our oh so – reasonable minds, our staid and trustworthy illusions in science and philosophy.
We live in realm of pure terror amid perilous and impersonal forces that co-habit this universe with us and from which we spring like so many monstrous forms ourselves. We love to tell ourselves tales of harmony and bliss, yet it is the dark tales of fright and lust that line the newsstands, that fill the airwaves, that cling to our desperate and lonely hearts as we in solitude watch the civilization we so highly esteem slowly decay and rot into a new dark age. Like so many solitary ghosts we wander the modern apocalypse of civilization in search of escape, exit, and a new world beyond the present one of corruption, political decay, and debt. Yet, in the end we find ourselves alone with a nihilistic universe bare of meaning, filled only by the strange relations of science and philosophical fictions, while at the edge of our supposed irreligious worlds we see the rise of old and terrible forces of religious hatred, ethno-nationalist racism, and the power of exclusion and fear emerging in the vacuum of power left by a global capitalist regime that cared more about endless profit and greed than about the human condition.
Rereading Ligotti’s story is itself an unnerving and conventional experience, one that leaves me wondering about that word – “frolic“: What was there about this word that seemed both appropriate to the anonymous figure who haunted the tale, while at the same time leaving one with a sense of the uncanny strangeness surrounding this word and figure who would long haunt my own nightmares. (And, yes, that night I remember waking up with the vague feeling that I’d been visited by something strange and evil. Why?) Why do certain texts – that in themselves seem so basic, normal, and almost banal leave us with a sense of the uncanny familiarity of its power in our lives and minds?
I happened recently to be listening to Franz Schubert’s song, the “Erlkönig,” based on a text by Goethe. The dark pounding octaves and the roiling base line in the piano expressing the song’s terrifying tale of a desperate father, his deathly ill son in his arms, riding furiously on horseback to bring the boy to safety, and chased by the Erlkönig, the Elf King, the figure of Death, who sings beguilingly to the boy in a voice that only the child can hear:
Darling child, come away with me!
Such beautiful games I can play with you,
So many colorful flowers on the beach,
My mother has many a golden robe.
The music grows in intensity as the father speeds for safety, but Death’s seductive song is faster, his blandishments richer, and the boy is so desirable. The child cries that the Elf King has grabbed him, the anguished father arrives at his destination, and . . . “in seinem Armen das Kind war tot” (“ in his arms, the child was dead”). In one stroke of youthful genius, the richness and decadence of Dark Romanticism or Gothicism in music had begun.1
This notion of the Erl King, the King of Fairies as the personification of Death seems to lie within ancient folk lore, myth, and forgotten legends. Of course the term fairy itself lies in the Old French faerie “land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, sorcery” (12c.), from fae “fay,” from Latin fata “the Fates,” plural of fatum “that which is ordained; destiny, fate,” We know the Latin sense evolution of Fate and Fata Morgana (mirage) is from “sentence of the Gods” (Greek theosphaton) to “lot, portion” (Greek moira, personified as a goddess in Homer). The sense “one of the three goddesses (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos) who determined the course of a human life” is in English by 1580s. Often in a bad sense in Latin: “bad luck, ill fortune; mishap, ruin; a pest or plague.” The native word in English was wyrd.
Wyrd came with a sense of the three sisters who weave the fate or ørlǫg (from ór “out, from, beyond” and lǫg “law”, and may be interpreted literally as “beyond law”). According to Voluspa, the three Norns “set up the laws”, “decided on the lives of the children of time” and “promulgate their ørlǫg”. Frigg, on the other hand, while she “knows all ørlǫg”, “says it not herself” (Lokasenna 30). ørlǫglausa “ørlǫg-less” occurs in Voluspa in reference to driftwood, that is given breath, warmth and spirit by three gods, to create the first humans, Ask (“Ash”) and Embla (possibly “Elm”).
The notion that humans are outside the law (ørlǫg-less), lawless, criminal, creatures of the wyrd, werewolves – wargs or vargr in old Norse and had a double significance, it signified a wolf, and also a godless one: drifting on the sea of Time, fated to collide with the dark forces that seem locked in some infinite battle for our souls is seated in this ancient mythos. It’s this sense of the wyrd as an irrepressible and relentless force that “snatches the earls away from the joys of life,” and “the wearied mind of man cannot withstand her” for her decrees “change all the world beneath the heavens” that seems to follow from such uncanny powers that vie for our lives, hearts and minds; our sanity. Powers that intervene from within and without almost without precedent, beyond the known laws of nature, and bring with them a contingency – a power to circumvent conventional wisdom, a power or force that cannot be reasoned with nor reduced to our superficial understanding of the universe.
Of ancient the vargur: the ‘stranglers in the temple’ were seen as skinwalkers from the Wolf’s Time – time of ruin and catastrophe. Many cultures have seen a mobile time, a time moving toward us like a an unstoppable wave, a volcanic surge of alien force and intensity. The Salic Franks carried before them the ‘wolf’s head’ the bleeding emblem of sacred power, the protection from chaos and death which encompasses all civilized societies. They knew the truth, knew that outside the gate a power more ancient than time itself lived, waiting, pondering its chance to put an end to the terror of man.
That Freud and his disciples would reduce these forces to psychology (internalize them following Kant) and drives, bring us to a point where the ancient mythologies could be reduced to reasonable explanandum that could be interpreted and controlled by experts and pseudosciences; or, now with our neruosciences that tie it all to the physical substratum of our brain’s internal wiring is part of that ancient need to control the unknown, the shape of Wyrd and fate. As humans we think we can control the fates, the destinies of our kind by reducing it to a set of scientific or philosophical principles and prospositions; else some mathematical theorem; or, some visual algorithm of an neuroimaging device. But our tales keep bringing us to naught, reinserting the ancient uncanny strangeness that surrounds us, the unknown unknowns that cannot ever be uncovered, slayed like dragons and scientifically controlled by logic or machinic labor. As in this tale by Ligotti there will always be that which escapes our reasonable worlds of science and philosophy, our modern psychologies, our labors of reasoning… that will intrude into our daylight worlds with its inescapable frolicks and uncanny wisdom of laughter.
It’s as if in such Weird Tales we come face to face with the hidden forces behind our emergence: good and evil, Heaven and Hell, God and Satan. A Manichean universe of supreme horrors on a cosmic scale where we are but the infinitesimal flea upon which these vast forces weave their games, their “frolicks”. Out of this primal conflict emerges our yearning for dramatic narrative and the daemonic in art (“ daemonic” in the sense of uncanny or supernatural) — signposts pointing the way toward the meaning of life that science (which rejects the daemonic) cannot provide, if only we pay attention and follow where they lead. (Kl 272)
Even in our own time we’ve seen materialism become immaterial through science itself as it has reached into the largest (Macro) and smallest (Micro) aspects of our cosmos and discovered that there is something incomplete, something we cannot reduce to our theoretical notations in math or language. We are seeing into a realm of dark matter and dark energy, a realm where energy is in excess of our expectations; that instead of discovering a dead universe of lifeless and anorganic matter we’re discovering that the ancient substance philosophies had it all wrong. Matter is not dead, but very much lively and vibrant. It’s not alive like we are, it’s not some pantheistic realm of thought; but is instead a realm of contingency, lawlessness, and disharmony rather than harmony and mathematical or musical spheres. We live in a chaotic and vibrant universe of change and process that can at any moment change. We seek to control what cannot be controlled, and we at times unleash the very source of this chaos in atomic energy that brings with it havoc and destruction. Horror.
Transhumanists, H++, posthuman biomechanical hybrids, etc. are these not visions of the blanks: the black holes in our own rhetoric of the past returning? Or, better yet: Are these historical wavering’s between the phenomenal and noumenon, civilization and wilderness signs from the wastelands of the future, invasive infestations that were already at work within our ancestors? Their patterned rituals slowly melded into pagan dance and enunciations as iconic testimonies of alien inscription and subsumption? We seek illumination in a broken world and find only the darkness of our Promethean desires and ambitions, seeking nothing more than an escape hatch into unbidden futures where the inhuman is our unholy grail. Shall we open the wound wide, let the flowers of the abyss spring forward in our accelerating minds? Are not the far shores of futurity but a gate to be unlocked, a portal to be opened, a mental construct or metamorphic template to be unfurled, a map and its cartography to be unleased by our fearless gaze? Where are the Icarus’s of the mind? Who shall dream our collective dreams forward? Shall we remain locked in the cold dark prisons of our political high-priests? Or shall we discover the gate is open, the keys lost among the assemblies of night, the guardsmen trembling that we might discover their secret lie?
As Ligotti himself would attest too in his Consolations of Horror:
At this point it may seem that the consolations of horror are not what we thought they were, that all this time we’ve been keeping company with illusions. Well, we have. And we’ll continue to do so, continue to seek the appalling scene which short-circuits our brain, continue to sit in our numb coziness with a book of terror on our laps like a cataleptic predator, and continue to draw smug solace, if only for the space of a story, from a world made smug and simple by absolute hopelessness and doom. 2
What if the past few hundred years of the progressive Enlightenment which was based on Science and Reason and its eternal battle with religion and myth were itself blinded to the powers it has sought so vainly to escape? What if in its need to escape the powers of language, myth, and religion it only exasperated those uncanny and uncontrollable powers instead? That instead of escaping them it had in fact deepened and awakened their inner consistency – a logic of dream and nightmare beyond our mathematical laws of harmony and calculation? What if the visions of that dark lair of horror that seemed like some sewer infesting the bright halls of Enlightenment Progress that surfaced from the darker worlds of Romanticism, Decadence, Symbolists, Dadaist, Surrealist and ultra-nihilist tales, paintings, music, etc. were trying to remind us of what will not go away? What if our so called liberal Western Enlightenment Civilization was based on a tissue of lies? What if it was itself based on illusion and self-imposed exile into a hyperreality of its own making that is itself the cause of our current global catastrophism?
Man is in a trap … and goodness avails him nothing in the new dispensation. There is nobody now to care one way or the other. Good and evil, pessimism and optimism – are a question of blood group, not angelic disposition. Whoever it was that used to heed us and care for us, who had concern for our fate and the world’s, has been replaced by another who glories in our servitude…
– Lawrence Durrell, Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness
What if we are seeing in our time the revenge of language, myth, and religion in a new guise as we see the emergence of these new convergence technologies of nanotech, information and communications, genetic manipulation, neuroscientific control, transhumanist and posthumanist ideologies and their attendant needs to create, engineer, and master something beyond the human: to bring about the ancient dream of a homunculus of the hermetic philosophers, or the immortal dreams of the Monotheistic religions of a superior being of Light in the guise of AI, Robotics, and Transcendence. Eternal metamorphosis, mutation, and transformation is the name of this old Game.
Yet, along with the official storyline has always come the darker narratives of witchcraft, demons, sorceries, and djinn; alternate or “other worlds”. Realms of hellish paradises where eros and thanatos, love and death rule like benefactors of a sensualism that far surpasses the simplistic narratives of salvation and messiahs. Rather these are the narratives of sacred pain without end – a difficult pleasure that brings with it a sensual and elaborate ecstasy of flesh and infernal metamorphosis and chimaerian delights. A realm of pure excess and exuberance internal and immanent to experience itself, not some transcendent abode but rather a realm as close as your own breath. A place of pure nightmare and infernal delights where only your imaginal mind can unlock the obsidian truth of this Pleroma of pure darkness – a Abyss of Eternal Energy.
Becoming impersonal, fatal, amoral, and contemptuous: freed of the safety nets of this dying civilization. Do you fear what you are becoming? Is the inhuman in you terrifying to your fated self? Do you have an inkling of what awaits you? It has a name, you know… Nietzsche, Freud, Baitaille, Land… each of these foresaw it, and engendered its embers, awakened its alien intent, gave it sustenance with the deep blood of their thought, a flesh-thought, a thought that is full of the labor of pain and pessimism. Brothers and Sisters of the night, vaurgr, rippers of reality’s hedge who have all ventured beyond the cage. Will you not follow?
What if in our bid to escape religion, myth, and language (Subject, Self) through machinic, scientific, and technological transcendence and ideology we’ve only blinded ourselves to the fact that it has awakened itself in a new guise, a new Sublime of technocratic command and control? What if the more we try to escape our fate, our Wyrd, the more it comes rushing toward us? What if after all the Erl King, the frolicking creature of myth that escapes our reasonable gestures of scientific know-how were to enter your house, your families personal habitation, take one of your loved one’s – a child, daughter, son – and leave a message something like this one behind:
We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and back alleys of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some galactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums … my awe-struck little deer and I have gone frolicking. See you anon. (Ligotti, 15)
As with all sacrifices what is at risk is nothing more and nothing less than our inhuman core:
“In this way the sacrificial gift puts the being of man partially at risk and allows it to be united with the divinity’s being, which is also at risk.”
(Georges Bataille: The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge)
*I changed the last sig to this.
The essay is taken from:
by Terence Blake
Zizek: “my thesis is that in Anti-Oedipus Deleuze/Guattari do to Lacan what Carl Gustav Jung did to Freud”. (Zizek, Notes on a Debate“From Within the People”). It is often a good idea with Zizek to interpret his references to his major philosophical adversaries under the sign of the anxiety of influence. Zizek procedes by violent denegation based on micro-differentiation, i.e. whenever some thought is to close to (and I would add prior to) his own thought he concentrates on one little detail that differentiates the position he defends from that of these predecessors and influences, then he proceeds to denounce them vociferously, ignoring both the affinity and the probable influence. His critiques of Deleuze , of Jung, and of Gnosticism are of this type: a smokescreen of quibbles and travesties to hide the family resemblance and the lines of influence. Some of his reflexions on the Holy Spirit as the community of those who live beyond the death of the big Other could be cosigned by such gnostic thinkers as Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick, yet Zizek fulminates against “gnosticism”.
My thesis is that Deleuze and Lacan resemble each other to the extent that they follow in Jung’s footsteps of rejecting ego-psychology and of schizophrenising the unconscious. Both of these are key aspects of THE RED BOOK which is the subterranean source of all the works that came after. They differ in that Lacan provides a structuralist and linguistic encoding of such a break in the signifier, and needed Deleuze and Guattari’s impulsion to slowly and timidly “schizophrenise” in their wake. Lacan’s dissolution of the ego and his concept of subjective destitution take the same schizophrenic turn as Jung originally did with regard to Freud’s imperative “where there was id there shall be ego”. Even his signifiers are linguistically reductive versions of archetypes, once you take into account the difference between the archetype and the archetypal image. For Jung, there can be no fixed closed list of archetypes, and we can only speak of them analogically.
Jung is not trapped in the signifier, as Lacan is. The archetype is an ambiguous concept that can be interpreted biologically or intensively. Freud borrowed the biological version of archetypes from Jung, further his work is full of archetypes, despite his excoriations of Jung. What he didn’t borrow is the intensive aspect. Jung says over and over again that experience, autobiography, and individuation (ie intensities) have primacy over all theoretical formulations; The biologism is not at all essential to his vision and post-Jungians like Hillman have entirely discarded it.
It is impossible to read Deleuze and Guattari in terms of the Freudian paradigm, which is based on the reduction of the fluid multiplicities of the unconscious to static monist categories. Jung gives us the vision of a pluralist unconscious where Freud systematically recodes everything in monist terms. Jung gives us a relation to the unreduced image, that he encourages us to amplify. Freud seeks to reduce it all. A Freudian reading of Deleuze and Guattari is possible but it leaves out the immersion in the world of intensities that Freud always resisted, and condemned in his more radical followers. The concept of “follower” is moot in the psychoanalytical movement, as Freud often recuperated ideas, and adulterated them, from those he persisted in positioning as followers until a rupture was provoked.
Jungian reading of Deleuze gives us the non-philosophical leap out of the Continental Philosophy enclosure. Reading Deleuze as a successor to earlier German idealism is a valid academic research project, since for example Deleuze positions himself as an inheritor of Hegel for his espousal of the movement that deconstructs the dogmatic image of the dialectic. Yet Deleuze favours reading in terms of intensities (“everything is to be interpreted in terms of intensity”, proclaims ANTI-OEDIPUS). That is the link to Jung. Not the ponderous Germanic Jung, but the pragmatic and hermetic Jung of THE RED BOOK and of MEMORIES, DREAMS AND REFLECTIONS.
Deleuze and Guattari elaborate an affirmative concept of desire as assemblage. This is far from Freud’s eros thanatos divide, which is a superficial coding of desire. Thanatos is just as important an ingredient of desire as eros is. Deleuze and Guattari argue that Freud does not understand death. Deleuze following Blanchot distinguishes between death as the end of our physical life, and dying as an interminable event that is a component of every event in its virtuality. Writing with Guattari was dying as loving and being multiplied, death as transformative escape from the ego’s limits. This is the meaning of the body without organs: Death to the organism as unified totality that subordinates the parts to a socially constructed mode of functioning and signifying.
Deleuze and Guattari further argue that Freud does not understand multiplicity and is afraid of it. He must always have some robust unity that submits the multiplicity to its will and projects, domesticating the unconscious in the name of civilisation. In his book on Foucault Deleuze talks about the Self as not the ego but the fold that permits us to maintain a fragile but minimal coherence in the outside of untamed singularities and multiplicities.Their critique of Freud is total. Certainly, there remains the unconscious,but this is not Freud’s discovery but something he got from the German idealists. Freud is utterly unoriginal, except for submitting everything to transcendent codes.
Deleuze, Foucault, and Laruelle want to be both inside and outside the Continental tradition, ie have a free relation to the tradition without being enclosed. Literature, politics, quantum theory, schizos, are all more than just subjects of reflection for philosophy, but concrete exemplars of its outside. Read Deleuze on the schizophrenic voyage and read THE RED BOOK and you will see that Freud is dragging far behind and his system is unable to contain such experiences without distorting and reducing them to stereotypical categories. For our pluralist thinkers it must be possible to slide from one philosophical vocabulary to another, to translate between worldviews. At the same time what counts is practice, the practice of writing, of loving, of resisting. There is no point in changing the words if the rest remains unchanged. This is why the correct reply to Freud’s “where there was id there shall be ego” is not its naive irrationalist inversion (“where there was ego there shall be id”, or the “dictatorship of the unconscious”), is Jung’s insight that the ego is a metaphor. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari’s slogan from RHIZOME: “Not to reach the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I or not”.
A Micro-History of Hyperstition and Esoteric Resistance
by Edmund Berger
If much of neoliberalism’s rationalized logic is derived from the ‘cyborg sciences’, scrubbed largely from this picture is the far more nomadic, deterritorialized offerings that move precisely in the opposite direction. Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain stakes out a cartography at the intersection of cybernetic theory with the esoteric, and holds up the artists, revolutionaries, and mystics who dabbled in this hybridity as a counterpoint to those who took the information sciences into the worlds of the military-industrial complex, corporate management, and economics. Central to his story is the neuropsychologist William Grey Walter, whose 1953 book The Living Brain betrayed a deep fascination with “what one might call altered states and strange performances: dreams, visions, synesthesia, hallucination, hypnotic trance, extrasensory perception, the achievement of nirvana and the weird abilities of Eastern yogis and fakirs—’strange feats’...such as suspending breathing and the heartbeat and tolerating intense pain.” (13) Among the cyberneticians, Grey Walter was not alone in this regard; Pickering describes these ruminations as the beginnings of a discourse on the technologies of the “non-modern self,” an ontological paradigm of performativity that stands outside the traditional linearity of historical development. (14)
Influenced by Walter’s book were the Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin (the two would attempt to replicate the mystical experiences described in the book with their Dreamachine). (15) Most importantly for our current interests, however, is the fact that Burroughs is intimately linked to hyperstition by Land and the CCRU: “it was ‘far from accidental’ that Burroughs’s equation of reality and fiction had been most widely embraced only in its negative aspect – as a variety of ‘postmodern’ ontological skepticism – rather than in its positive sense, as an investigation into the magical powers of incantation and manifestation: the efficacy of the virtual.” (16) This deconstruction of the boundaries between reality and fiction emerges from the constant creation of contemporary realities radiating from Control. In Naked Lunch the archetype of Control is found in Dr. Benway, a “manipulator and coordinator of symbol systems, an expert on all phases of interrogation, brainwashing and control.” (17) This Control emerges from within the sciences, be they technological, mathematical or linguistic (we should note that in neoliberalism each of these have become indivisible from one another and from the market itself). In later works Control is linked to what Burroughs calls the “language virus,” the concept that words and languages operate in a viral fashion, moving from host to host infecting each, and in doing so sets the parameters on how the host views their reality.
Mark Hansen argues that much of this position was derived from information theory, observing that in The Nova Express the word virus is described in terms of its ‘information content’, spreading through the usage of communication technologies. (18) Others have noted the relationship between Burroughs’ writings and those of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, who prefigured hyperstition by elucidating the complicated relationship between reality and fiction, and the ways in which language itself was a magickal force capable of transforming our perceptions of the world. For Crowley this paradigm was the result of a crushing conformity generated by prevalent forms of groupthink (confidence in progress, war, political and religious ideologies, and competition) and countered it with the anarchic maxim “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!” In The Place of Dead Roads, Burroughs depicts an anti-Control revolutionary in the form of Hassan i Sabbah, the historic leader of the Persian Hashshashin (Assassins). Burroughs’ Sabbah provides the hero of the novel with the dictum “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”, drawing on Crowley’s law. (19) While Burroughs’ books display the use of occult rituals based on those of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), there is also a curious historical connection: L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had been initiated into Crowley’s OTO by the rocket engineer Jack Parsons in 1945. Hubbard would not only blend Crowley’s focus on the power of words and symbols with cybernetics and viral imagery, (20) but Burroughs himself would join Scientology in 1959 and began interjecting these very ideas into his writings. (21)
Burroughs’ revolutionary vision comes imbedded within the cut-up technique, a method of cutting up texts and splicing them together to reveal new methods and meanings within with the explicit goal of reorganizing reality. David Wells has argued that Burroughs viewed the cut-ups as a form of Scientology’s practice of auditing – the ‘clearing’ of internalized sensations resulting from negative repetition of certain symbols within communication. While this may be true to a degree – fighting the control of communicable signs over the individual features prominently in both - Burroughs and Gysin were also clear about the roots of the cut-up within the avant-garde, tracing its origins to Lautréamont, who had extolled the virtues of plagiarism in his Les Chants de Maldoror, and then to the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, whose 1920 poem “To Make a Dadaist Poem” included instructions on cutting up newspaper articles, and pulling the words out of a hat at random. (22) Burroughs and Gysin drew further attention to literary history with their own cutting-up of the works of Arthur Rimbaud, who Nick Land would depict as a dark precursor to Accelerationism by quoting Georges Bataille: “Poetry leads from the known to the unknown.” (23)
Each of these figures and art movements maintained, alongside their drive to foment aesthetic revolution, murky ties to the world of the occult. Occult themes circulate through Les Chants de Maldoror alongside proto-surrealist stream of consciousness and appropriations from scientific texts, while Rimbaud’s poetry is littered with references to alchemy and illuminated states reached through experimentation with a “derangement of the senses” (24) - one of Rimbaud’s mentors had been Charles Bretagne, a noted libertine and occultist - (25). Lautréamont and Rimbaud, in turn, bestowed a heavy bearing on the chaotic aesthetics of Dada, yet it has remained largely unacknowledged is the way that the Dadaists incorporated elements of the mystical and the esoteric into their art. Hugo Ball, for example, described Dada as a “return the innermost alchemy of the word” (26) - itself a reference to Rimbaud’s “Alchemy of the Word”, where the derangement of the senses is first spoken of -, while Marcel Duchamp illustrated this clearly by bringing elements of the occult science into his works. (27) Tzara, meanwhile, was deeply fascinated by totemism. (28)
Lautréamont, Rimbaud, and Dada: each would be distilled and reworked not only by Burroughs and Gysin, and also by the Situationist International, another motley consortium that dissolved the lines between the aesthetic and the political. While there is little need for us here to review the complex history of the Situationist movement and their nomadic relationship to the Parisian avant-garde and the events of May ‘68, it is worthwhile to reflect on the similarities between their own theories of consumerist societies and Burroughs’s understandings of Control. Just as our reality-fiction is predicated on the manipulation of the word itself, the Situationists pictured everyday life encased within the “Spectacle” – the accumulation of capital until it becomes image. In Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord illustrates the role of language in evolution of the Spectacle: “The language of the spectacle consists of signs of the ruling production, which at the same time are the ultimate goal of this production.” (29) Elsewhere, the poet Novalis is cited on the relationship between the word and despotism of contemporary state-form - “Writings are the thoughts of the State...”. (30) Just as Burroughs’s Control operated through communication technologies, it was along this same paths that the Situationist’s Spectacle also propagated itself: “Spectators are linked only by a one-way relationship to the very center that maintains their isolation from one another.” (31) And finally, as Burroughs’s had connected Control to information theory, the Situationists also cast Spectacle in a similar language:
This society’s need to market objects, ideas, and model forms of behavior calls for a decoding centre where an instinctual profile of the consumer can be constructed to help in product design and improvement, and in the creation of new needs liable to increase consumption. Market research, motivation techniques, opinion polls, sociological surveys and structuralism may all be considered a part of this project... The cyberneticians can certainly supply the missing coordination and rationalization – if they are given the chance. (32)
While there exists these striking similarities between the two discourses, the modes of revolution urged by Burroughs and the Situationists may exist even closer together. Drawing directly on Lautreamont, many early Situationist writings focused on detournement, the poetic subversion of texts and images, appropriated and plagiarized from their original sources. The practice is a direct analogue to the cut-up technique; if the word and the image aid the singular message of the Spectacle, then the dissection of these arrangements and their reorganization can reveal new meanings. “...the main impact of a détournement is directly related to the conscious or semiconscious recollection of the original contexts of the elements.” (33) Detournement fully the nonsensical – it is “less effective the more it approaches a rational reply.” Importantly, the Black Mass is cited as a detournement par excellence, invoking perhaps the Situationist’s own preoccupation with heretical Millennial sects.
Detournement eventually became become the more explicitly political “construction of Situations” - a temporary and collective space in everyday life where the rules and overcodes of the Spectacle can be overturned. Situations constituted openings in this world, and with their proliferation and critical mass a new world could come into being – one of direct democracy instead of liberalism, gift economies instead of capitalism, and free-form experimentation instead of the Spectacle. It bears several crucial resemblances to detournement and the cut-up by deploying the ‘raw material’ of the Spectacle itself to establish itself. They are non-organic, reflecting not a primordial state, but something that arises only through collective will. Situations were depicted as existing as a distributed network that would be linked via the same communication technologies that enabled the Spectacle: “the positive phase of the construction of situations will require a new application of reproductive technologies. One can envisage, for example, televised images of certain aspects of one situation being communicated live to people taking part in another situation somewhere else, thereby producing various modifications and interferences between the two.” (34) The Situation is thus a counter-Spectacle, just as the cut-up was the creation of a counter-language.
The Situation is akin to the carnivalesque spoken of by Mikhail Bakhtin, a festive mode of subversion that hijacks the content of organizations of power and turns them inside out. Bakhtin foreshadowed the Situationist’s theses by writing that the carnival “is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everybody participates because its very idea embraces all the people.” (35) In one hyperstitional linkage, Bakhtin’s own analysis of the carnival revolves around the monk Rabelais, who satirized the monastic life with his writings on the mythical Abbey of Thelema’s single code of conduct: “Do what thou wilt.” This was, of course, Aleister Crowley’s own maxim within his philosophical system “Thelema.”
Given all these cross-pollination of ideas, it’s unsurprising that there is indeed a linkage between Burroughs and the Situationists. The connecting thread is Alexander Trocchi, an artist whose career oscillated between both the American Beats and the French militants. Trocchi conceived of a methodology of Situations he called sigma - “a process, without beginning or end, without subject or goal... something experienced in the lived time of everyday life.” (36) Sigma resembled greatly the goals of chaos magick, described by Genesis P. Orridge as a “process of individual and collective experimentation with no finite answers, dogmas, or unchallengeable truths” capable of “break[ing] Control at all levels.” (37) Trocchi’s sigma as was to contribute to a “spontaneous university... a vital laboratory for the creation... of conscious situations.” (38) He maintained a close correspondence with Burroughs, inviting him – along with Allen Ginsberg and R.D. Laing, among others – to participate in the sigma project by serving as “directors” of this ‘university.’ (39) Debord, however, would expel Trocchi from the Situationist International; the sigma project would never materialize. Burroughs, however, remarked that the Situationists would be “an excellent outlet for the short pieces I am writing now.” (40) These writings included The Electronic Revolution, where the cut-up technique is extended to the splicing and playback of tape records. Burroughs here speculated on the fomenting of dissent through sound, perhaps by playing audio recordings of a riot to create a riot (41) – a hyperstitional framework for turning fiction into reality.
[The Autonomists] used the Dadaist techniques of the collage, taking characters from the newspapers, cutting out pictures, mixing and sticking them to the page and then photographing and printing it all... Their reading was less tedious than that of their elders. They were reading not so much Marx and Lenin, but William Burroughs and Roland Barthes. (42)
It was the Italian Autonomia of the 1970s and their punkish, DIY attitude, who adapted Deleuze and Guattari’s politics of desire to redirect Marxism towards something far more experiential than the Stalinist politics of their time and place. Alongside these was an aesthetic sensibility that was reached through an engagement with the history of the avant-garde and post-Situationist theory. Autonomist radio stations like Radio Alice and underground publications such as A/Traverso, used the cut-up technique as part of a “Mao-Dada” strategy –only Spectacles and Simulations could undo Spectacles and Simulations. Foreshadowing hyperstition, A/Traverso produced a text bearing the title “False Information Produces Real Events”:
Acting like a mirror, Radio Alice is language beyond the mirror. It has built a space in which the subject does not recognize himself as in a mirror, as restored truth, as fixed reproduction, but as the practice of an existence in becoming. And language is one of the levels whereby life is transformed. It is not enough to denounce power’s lies, it is also necessary to denounce and break power’s truth... False signs. (43)
Like the Situationists the Autonomia would engage with the tradition of the Carnivalesque alongside a Marxist political analysis. Bakhtin described the carnival as “political drama without footlights,” where the dividing line between “symbol and reality” was extremely vague, (44) and the Autonomia had embodied this approach through their media-oriented tactics of detournement. But under a regime of emergency laws a great portion of the Autonomia was sent to prison or into exile, leaving its legacy through an extensive network of radical punk and anarchist squats and social centers.
One such center was the Decoder collective, known for introducing politicized cyberpunk into Europe and providing translations of the magazine RE/Search. (45) Decoder was named for Decoder, a 1984 German film produced by Klaus Maeck. With a cast of underground luminaries, appearances included Burroughs and Genesis P. Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. P. Orridge himself was a popular practitioner of chaos magick (Thee Temple’s writings invoked shamanism, trance states, and ceremonial magic as “cosmic boosters” to mutate culture from within), (46) and following his introduction to the cut-up technique by Burroughs himself, incorporated it into music to body modification. Decoder itself revolved around Burrough’s ideas, presenting the cutting-up of tape recordings as a means of revolt against dystopic corporatism. In one notable sequence these tapes are utilized to incite riots; the filmaker utilized footage of real riots against President Reagan during his visit to Germany. As Maeck recounts, their intent was to pass out recordings to the rioters, but they were already beaten to the punch: “we were more than surprised that our script became true before we even started... there were actually tapes spread around, distributed around the political circles, with the instruction to make further copies... and it worked!! At 11.00am you heard helicopters and shooting, although there were none.” (47) He continues:
I wanted to realize Burroughs’ ideas and the techniques which he described in the ‘Electronic Revolution’, and in The Revised Boy Scout Manual and in The Job... From the ‘Forward’ of the Decoder Handbook: ‘It’s all about subliminal manipulation, through words, pictures and sound. It is the task of the pirates to understand these techniques and use them in their own interest. To spread information is the task of all media. Media is power... And we should learn in time to use our video and tape recorders as Weapons. The fun will come by itself.’... my conclusion was similar to that of ‘bands’ like Throbbing Gristle; by turning around the motivation, by cutting up the sounds, by distorting them etc. one should be able to provoke different reactions. Make people puke instead of feeling well, make people disobey instead of following, provoke riots. (48)
Decoder (both the thinkers behind the film and the collective) soon became intertwined with the avant-garde network dedicated to “neoism,” an eclectic anti-ideology that feverishly sampled cyberpunk, industrial culture, Dada, Fluxus, Mail Art, Situationism, chaos magick, Discordianism, and anarchism, with a focus on plagiarism and detournement. Like the Italian Autonomia, Neoism is fixed within the proto-hyperstition continuum by its adherence to the credo “false information will produce real events” - the networked culture utilized the tactic of ‘open name,’ (Monty Cantsin, Karen Eliot, and Luther Blissett, etc.) which were open to appropriation by artists and revolutionaries across Europe and America to conduct actions and interventions free from the constraints of individual subjectivities. Luther Blissett was prominent, particularly in the Italian post-Autonomist circles, and was blended with tactical media strategies to simultaneously evade and confound Control. These open names were connected to open groups – non-organizations free from structure and capable of being sent in any direction by those who deployed its moniker: the Association for Autonomous Astronauts, the London Psychogeographical Society, and the Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture, for examples.
The political dimensions of these open collectives derives from the work of George Sorel, who in 1907 had noted the role of the myth in mobilizing the masses to revolt against a contemporary order. (49) This hyperstition comes in the guise mythopoesis, and following the integration of the avant-garde into these political dimensions, it takes the form of mythopoetics. As Brian Holmes has observed, mythopoetics assumed a new primacy for dissent in the current, post-Fordism world of globalization: “The ideas sound fantastic, but the stakes are real: imagining a political subject within the virtual class, and therefore, within the economy of cultural production and intellectual property that had paralyzed the poetics of resistance.” (50) Indeed, the circles utilizing Luther Blissett and the AAA intertwined with the alter-globalization movement that emerged after the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas, Mexico; the Tute Bianche, for example, were another ‘open myth’ that integrated themselves into the international circuits of the Carnivals Against Capitalism (which maintains its own lineage going back to the Situationists and the Autonomia) and a participant in the famous protests in 2001 against the G8 summit in Genoa.
If these segments veered directly into the political, other elements, centered around Stewart Home, redirected them back into the esoteric. Home, having had a series of festivals dedicated to plagiarism and attempts for general strikes against art production, established the Neoist Alliance in 1994 as an ‘occult order,’ complete with texts that became increasingly hermetic and conspiratorial, weaving a mythic worldview where dark forces led by Masonry embodied the power of bourgeois power and culture. In a text titled “Marx, Christ, and Satan United in Struggle” Dada and Situationism are recast as part of an occult underground lineage, led by “‘secret chiefs’... based in Tibet” (51) - a nod to Crowley’s writings alongside Theosophical philosophy. Elsewhere, the Alliance makes the claim that “Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism emerged at the precise moment Aleister Crowley was... [creating] ‘High Magick’ as we know it today”, (52) while in another essay, Home states that the term “Neoism” itself came from a text by Crowley, and that “Like the Situationists, the Neoist Network drew heavily on the mythology of occult and secret societies.” (53) This was clear in the case of the LPA, who linked political and monetary power to the existence of ley-lines and issued pamphlets with titles like “Smash the Occult Establishment”.
Today organizations like the London-based Nanopolitics group have continued the tradition of blending anti- capitalist activism with the mystical. With the goal of creating a ‘micropolitics of the body,’ the group dabbles in collective therapy, shamanism and esoteric currents as an antidote to the overcoding of movement and subjectivity under the neoliberalism. They remain distant from the mythopoetic continuum, relying on instead on Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalytics, while noting that these concepts trend very closely to neoliberalism’s own internal logic – the politics of desire is present within the functioning of today’s order, albeit in a way that maximizes the extraction of surplus-value. (55) Even things like shamanism, animism, and other strands of esoterica reach their commodification in the New Age industry; Andrew Pickering observes that the early cybernetician’s interest in a “non-modern self” laid the groundwork for this postmodern spirituality. (56) In their farcical tone, the Neoist Alliance linked New Ageism, those “shameless charlatans,” to the fact that “world’s top occultist are to be found among the ruling class”. (57)
The hyperstitional nature of neoliberalism presents itself under the banner of rationalization, as indicated by borrowings from information theories and the hard sciences and its endless application of technological innovation, but it is at the moment that this rationality inserts itself that the irrational dually emerges: Chronic unemployment, the upward flow of money, environmental degradation, political corruption and systemic crises reveal this in full. That theories of chaos, complexity, and non-linearity underscore the functions of electronic markets indicate that the traditional framework of “rationality” is irrelevant. This question then becomes whether or not the forces of irrationality counteract neoliberalism or simply mirror its own operations, much like Accelerationism itself.
The fact is that the seemingly irrational, the occult and the mystical, holds a strong, yet largely unacknowledged influence upon the current world. This short and cursory outline has touched on the various significant cultural and political uprisings that overlap with occultism, sometimes directly and other times at arm’s length. We could cite Isaac Newton’s interest in sacred geometry and Rosicrucianism, Robert Boyle’s preoccupation with alchemy, and other numerous occasions in the foundations of modern science as indications that the oppositional relationship between the “rational” and the “irrational” itself is something in need of being overturned. George Sorel, in his work on myths, went so far as to assault science itself for its systematic rejection of the “chaos of reality.” While new theories of self-organization largely overturns this statement, the role of science in reinforcing Control takes place on multiple levels: on one hand, it lends power a means through which to organize itself, while on the other, designating what constitutes “knowledge” and the paths to achieve it.
The difference between hyperstition-as-Control and hyperstition-as-Mutation lies in each’s own relationship to formal notions of rationality. The assertion of neoliberalism-as-reality obtains, despites its requirements of speculation and the immaterial, a legitimacy through its appropriation of reason itself; mythopoetics, by contrast, evades notions of reason specifically through the acceleration of what at first glance is unreason, and through perpetuation by opening to any participant or movement, regardless of geographical location or even historical position. Organizations of Control certainly perpetuate themselves, yet it is through a specific modulation of the individual through a succession of enclosures that amounts to the setting of parameters on just what a subjectivity/body can do. Mythopoetics instead allow a process of subjectification through principles of autonomy. Concentrated enough, it can break into the “real”, utilizing primarily the key functionary of the Spectacle: the media.
Going further still, hyperstition is configured by CCRU as a forceful presence from the outside that short-circuits the reason/unreason binary and lays the myth of rationality to waste; any hyperstitional feedback loop must contain a “call to the Old Ones,” a nod to the unknowable cosmic entities found in the weird stories of Lovecraft. In our present moment the weirdness of the unknown presents itself in scientific revelations made possible by cutting-edge information technologies: the vast time-scales, existing beyond human comprehension, of the movements of geological strata, or the fluctuations on the cosmological level. This reorganization of our perception of time is matched in the world of capitalism itself by the black boxes of high-frequency traders, manipulators of the market largely free from human management, which operate at a much faster rate than their human counterparts on the trading form. The so-called occult dimensions of hyperstition, then, reveal that the games of the “media” are really an aspect existing on the side of a more potent force: that of technologically- enhanced communication technology, launching both time and space into schizoid bifurcations which reveal, ironically, the collapse of “communication” itself.
We could invoke the musings of Tiqqun on the ‘Imaginary Party’, “the heterogeneous ensemble of noises which proliferate beneath the Empire, without however reversing its unstable equilibrium, without modifying its state...” (58) For Tiqqun, Empire is the globalized system of Control, neoliberalism welded to despotic biopolitical fabrics; the Imaginary Party consists of those “elements which are impossible to assimilate” into the system”. (59) Their roster of unassimilated elements trails closely with the limit experiences invoked by the avant-garde and the occultists (“Violence, excess, delirium, madness characterize heterogeneous elements to varying degrees...” ). (60) They render the Imaginary Party as the noise spoken of by the information theorists – the entropic forces that decay or obstruct the proper transmission and decoding of a message. In the first wave of cybernetics and communication studies, noise was presented as the Other, an adversary to be held at bay; for total information awareness of the tactical environment to be obtained, noise must be kept at a minimum and made manageable. Noise is a negative force within a controlled system, just as the Imaginary Party is the Empire in negative.
Yet is the functioning of the system not the endless circulation and accumulation of excess, made possible by the delirium of postmodern communication? Neoliberalism is the image of the rhizome, without beginning or end, a proliferating web of connections between plateaus of varying intensity. Late Deleuze seemed to acknowledge this, moving towards breakage and refusal. He stresses need for the need to create “vacuoles of non-communication, circuit breakers” as a tactic of anti-political political action. (61) In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari had described ‘vacuoles’ as the false lack created by the “dominant class” to power capitalism’s engine. (62) Late Deleuze pivots and urges lack against capitalism excess, non-communication against the necessity of communication – in other words, Deleuze was, like Tiqqun, invoking the concept of noise in the entropic sense.
Noise is not emblematic of destruction; it is a sort of negative genesis, an unlikely moment of creation. Gregory Bateson argued that “All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints— is noise, the only possible source of new patterns.” (63) Noise is the unpredictable, changing communication relays and information feedback loop as an intrusion from the outside. Serres too approaches noise as such: “...order and flat repetition are in the vicinity of death. Noise nourishes a new order. Organization, life, and intelligent thought live between order and noise, between disorder and perfect harmony.” (64) Noise does not have to literally point towards theses of spontaneous self-organization, the becoming-orderly of flux; this is a philosophy of systems and difference, where the excluded joins with the greater whole with the capability of transformation. Serres relates it to the parasite, that creature that turns over the laws of ownership by creating the means of subsistence into something held in common. It intrudes into the linearity of the host’s existence like noise into the communication channel; it is heard in one way or another, and by interrupting the linearity it opens up to both the exterior world and to transformation. This is the hidden turn in Deleuze’s vacuoles of non-communication, and in Tiqqun’s Imaginary Party: to break into the circulations of communication, be it through strategic “non-communication” or through the clamor of those moving beneath the delirious exchanges of Empire. Serres’ noise is the voice of the subalterns, the excluded, and the fringes, and it is through the principles identified in information that they make their voice heard, enter into – and change – the stable equilibrium of what they oppose.
With its dualing roots in modernity’s avant-gardes and postmodern chaos magick, hyperstition holds commonalities with revolutionary movements in that both take sight of the world as it is, bound up in ideology and mystifications, and experiments wildly to establish an imagined reality. We cannot fall victim, however, to blind mystifications, for mystification and alterity is the promise the current system offers us. Capitalism, as a game of desire coupled with perpetually shifting technological terrains, embodies the becoming-real of nonexistent forms; it captures the powers of imagination to power cycles of consumption and production. What delirium or intoxication can the myth of revolution offer us that capital is not already willing to provide, at least to those in the so-called developed world? This is a profound danger in these waters, where the libidinal explosion of being-against becomes an end in itself, and dissent becomes the simple buying of temporary carnivals. The stakes are high, on social, economic, ecological, and subjective scales; if hyperstition is to be used, it must be pragmatic, designed with a horizon in mind and an expression of something beyond simple games. Instead of cataloging, let us read these things as a search for tools and weapons.
1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari .Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin Books, 1977, pgs. 239-240
2. Jean-Francois Lyotard Libidinal Economy Athlone Press, 2004, pg. 109
3. Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus pg. 223 4. “syzygy” Cybernetic Culture Research Unit website http://web.archive.org/ web/20130829063258/http://ccru.net/syzygy.htm
5. William Gibson Neuromancer Ace Books, 2000 (reprint ed.), pg. 5, 51
6. Delphi Carstens, Nick Land “Hyperstition: An Introduction” Merliquify, 2009, http://merliquify.com/
7. J. Bradford, Andrei Shleifer, Lawrence Summers, and Robert J. Waldmann “Positive Feedback Investment Strategies and Destabilizing Rational Speculation” The Journal of Finance, Vol. XLV, No. 2, June 1990, pg. 383 8. Carsten, Land “Hyperstition”
9. See Philip Mirowski Machine Dreams: How Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science Cambridge University Press, 2002; as well as my own “‘The SAGE Speaks of What He Sees’: War Games and the New Spirit of Capitalism” Deterritorial Investigations Unit January 25th, 2014 http:// deterritorialinvestigations.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/the-sage-speaks-of- what-he-sees-wargames-and-the-new-spirit-of-capitalism/
10. Mirowski Machine Dreams, pg. 15
11. Tiziana Terranova “Red Stack Attack! Algorithms, capital, and the automation of the common” http:// quaderni.sanprecario.info/2014/02/red-stack-attack-algorithms-capital-and-theautomation-of-the-common-di-tiziana- terranova/; citing
13. Andrew Pickering The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future University of Chicago Press, 2011, pg. 73.
14. Ibid, pgs. 13-28
15. John Geiger Chapel of Extreme Experience: A Short History of Stroboscopic Light and the Dream Machine, Soft Skull Press, 2003.
16. “Lemurian Time War” Cybernetic Culture Research Unit website, http://web.archive.org/ web/20120418105652/http://www.ccru.net/archive/burroughs.htm
17. William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch Grove Press, 2009 (reprint edition) pg. 19
18. Mark Hansen “Internal Resonance, or Three Steps Towards a Non-Viral Becoming” Culture Machine, Vol. 3, 2001, http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/viewArticle/429/446
19. Ron Roberts “The High Priest and the Great Beast at The Place of Dead Roads” in Davis Schneiderman and Philip Walsh Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization Pluto Press, 2004, pg. 231
20. Hansen “Internal Resonance”
21. David S. Wills Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ Beatdom Books, 2013 22. William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin The Third Mind Viking Press, 1978
23. Nick Land “Shamanic Nietzsche” in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings, 1987-2007 Urbanomic, 2012, pg. 222
24. Arthur Rimbaud, letter to Paul Demeny, March 15th, 1871, in Wallace Fowlie (trans.) Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters University of Chicago Press, 1966, pg. 307
25. Gary Lachman A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2004, pg. 134
26. Nadia Choucha Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of an Artistic Movement Destiny Books, 1992, pg. 40
27. See John F. Moffitt Alchemist of the Avant-Garde: The Case of Marcel Duchamp State University of New York Press, 2003
28. Katherine Conley Surrealist Ghostliness University of Nebraska Press, 2013, pgs. 10-12
29. Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle Chapter 7 http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/ debord/society.htm
30. Ibid, Chapter 131
31. Ibid, Chapter 29
32. Raoul Vaneigem The Revolution of Everyday Life Rebel Press, 2006, pg. 136
33. Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman “A User’s Guide to Detournement” http://www.bopsecrets. org/SI/detourn.htm
34. Guy Debord “Report on the Construction of Situations” June, 1957 http://www.cddc.vt.edu/ sionline/si/report.html
35. Mikhail Bakhtin Rabelais and his World Indiana University Press, 1984, pg. 7
36. McKenzie Wark The Beach Beneath the Streets: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International Verso, 2011, pg. 130
37. Peter Webb Exploring Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures Routledge, 2007, pg. 83
38. Timothy S. Murphy “Exposing the Reality Film: William S. Burroughs Among the Situationists” in Schneiderman and Walsh Retaking the Universe pg. 44
39. Ibid, pgs. 30-32
40. Ibid, pgs. 33-34
41. William S. Burroughs The Electronic Revolution, Pociao’s Book, 1998 pg. 13
42. Franco “Bifo” Berardi Precarious Rhapsody: Semio-capitalism and the Pathologies of Post-Alpha Generation Autonomedia, 2009, pg. 20
43. Cited in Marco Deseriis “Irony and the Politics of Composition in the Philosophy of Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi” Theory & Event Vol. 15, Issue 4, 2012 http://www.e-flux.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/3.-Deseriis_theory_event_REV-1.pdf
44. Cited in Gavin Grindon “Carnival against Capitalism: a comparison of Bakhtin, Vaneigem, and Bey” Anarchist Studies Vol. 12, Issue, 2, 2004 https://www.academia.edu/234514/ Carnival_Against_ Capital_A_Comparison_of_Bakhtin_Vaneigem_and_Bey
45. Tatiana Bazzichelli Networking: The Net as Artwork Digital Aesthetics Research Center, 2008, pg. 71.
46. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Thee Psychick Bible: Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth Feral House, 2010, pgs. 11-12.
47. Jack Sargent “Interview with Klaus Maeck” http://decoder.cultd.net/interview.htm
49. George Sorel, Letter to Daniel Halevy, in George Sorel Reflections on Violence Dover Publications, 2004, pgs. 26-56
50. Brian Holmes Unleashing the Collective Phantoms: Essays in Reverse Imagineering Autonomedia, 2008, pg. 5
51. Neoist Alliance “Marx, Christ, and Satan United in Struggle” in Stewart Home (ed.) Mind Invaders:A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage, and Semiotic Terrorism Serpent’s Tail, 1997, pg. 114
52. Neoist Alliance “The Grail Unveiled” in Ibid, pg. 67
53. Stewart Home “Introduction to the Polish Edition of The Assault on Culture” in his Neoism, Plagiarism, and Praxis AK Press, 1995, pg. 198
54. See London Psychogeographical Association “Nazi Occultists Seize Omphalos” and “Smash the Occult Establishment” in Home Mind Invaders pgs. 29-32, 36-38
55. Nanopolitics Group Nanopolitics Handbook Minor Compositions, 2014, pg. 25
56. Andrew Pickering The Cybernetic Brain, pgs. 183, 302
57. Neoist Alliance “Marx, Christ, Satan” Mind Invaders, pg. 111
58. Tiqqun “The Cybernetic Hypothesis” http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tiqqun-the-cybernetic-hypothesis
59. Tiqqun This Is Not A Program Semiotext(e), 2011, pgs. 41-42
60. Ibid, pg. 42
61. Gilles Deleuze “Interview with Negri” in Negotiations, Columbia University Press, 1995
62. Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus pg. 28
63. Gregory Bateson “The Cybernetic Explanation” Steps to an Ecology of the Mind University of Chicago Press, 2000
64. Michel Serres The Parasite John Hopkins University Press, 1982, pg. 127
Edmund Berger is an independent writer, researcher, and activist living in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary focuses are on the evolution of technology and its impact on changing modes of capitalist production, the role of warfare in the economy, and the history of the avant-gardes as critiques and responses to paradigms of power. He blogs intermittently at Deterritorial Investigations Unit and Synthetic Zero. His debut books is Uncertain Futures. An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present (Zero books, 2017). Rizosfera has published his essay Grungy Accelerationism (The Strong of the Future, 2016).
The essay is taken from:
by Edmund Berger
A Micro-History of Hyperstition and Esoteric Resistance
The Egg and the Shell
by Obsolete Capitalism
It is with great pleasure that we republish this micro-history essay by Edmund Berger written in 2014 for the accelerationist reader Dark Glamour. For various reasons (turnover of editors and curators) the essay has never been published and therefore we think it deserves to be presented in its first form. By the end of 2017 a new version of the same essay will be completely rewritten by Edmund Berger and published for the project Dark Glamour. It will be a two volume collection of essays with Amy Ireland (exponent of the xeno-feminist collective Laboria Cuboniks), Tony Yanick, and Tim Matts as editors.
Underground Streams (2014) has been written a year before the classic Grunge Accelerationism (2015) and it represents the essay where Edmund Berger faces with the first accelerationist thought (Land and CCRU) and the second one (Srnicek and Williams) that he defines Neo-Accelerationism.
What we wish to underline in this foreword is the reconfirmation of Berger’s ability to deeply grasp the meaning of the underground streams that characterized XX century «hyperstitional» thought and to clearly define the perimeter of hyperstitional area and the contiguous esoteric resistance. Here lies the trait d’union between Underground Streams and Grungy Accelerationism as well as between Berger’s works and the line of thoughts at the base of The Strong of the Future in rizosphere’s galaxy.
From our point of view, it is quite clear that the esoteric resistance nodes of XX century related to Chaos Magick and Red Magick poles, so well described in Berger’s essay, find their origin in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, a necessary volume for the accelerationist politics. In aphorism 300 entitled Prelude to Science Nietzsche faces the issue of experimentation and human being pragmatism, writing: «So you believe the sciences would have emerged and matured, if they had not been preceded by magicians, alchemists, astrologers, and witches who with their promises and false claims created a thirst, hunger, and taste for hidden and forbidden powers?»
According to Nietzsche then the preliminaries of science should be identified in the actions of researchers and dissenters from «not-knowing» areas and occult zones of knowledge, spaces that have always been forbidden by hegemonic katechontic powers, ruling since ever. In the above mentioned quotation Nietzsche links the seditious and obscure sprouts of pre-science to the rational and progressive «enlightened» outlining of science, hoping that, as stated in his Prelude to Science, as well as science has been able to get free from its obscure past, the man of the future may be able to free himself from the preliminary exercise represented by the monotheist religion, unburdening himself of a prehistory of belief called Christianity.
Similarly, Berger’s readers could somehow ask themselves 150 years after Nietzsche’s writings, whether the whole undergrowth of uninhibited plagiarists, iridescent communists, psychedelic anarchists, chaotic occultists and hyperstitional accelerationists, may represent a prelude to a liberating future where thirst, hunger and tastes for freedom will become the pillars of a New Earth.
Will such poets of grace represent a joyful circus-like anteroom of a new contemplative and spiritual era? And given that case, is the God of the vicious circle, the inexistent God, inevitably behind the Necessary Spectacle, a show which seems more abyssal and inexorable than the one described by Debord and the Situationists?
Nietzsche in his aphorism 56 in Beyond Good and Evil says: «anyone who has done these things (and perhaps precisely by doing these things) will have inadvertently opened his eyes to the inverse ideal: to the ideal of the most high-spirited, vital, world-affirming individual, who has learned not just to accept and go along with what was and what is, but who wants it again just as it was and is through all eternity, insatiably shouting. The religious character da capo not just to himself but to the whole play and performance, and not just to a performance, but rather, fundamentally, to the one who needs precisely this performance – and makes it necessary: because again and again he needs himself – and makes himself necessary. – – What? and that wouldn’t be – circulus vitiosus deus?»
Berger’s participants to the esoteric resistance and to the hyperstitional ring are the Strong of the Future who achieve the «second moment» dear to Klossowski, Deleuze and Foucault’s rizospheric thought, a moment which involves emphasis on antagonisms, widening of distances, mockery of any power, active participation to new forms of non-fascist life.
Berger joyfully announces to the most attentive readers the maturity of the egg and its imminent breaking of the shell.
A Micro-History of Hyperstition and Esoteric Resistance
by Edmund Berger
“But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?—To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization?”
(Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 1972) (1)
The question is answered only by Lyotard with a resounding “yes” in favor of these destructive power powers. Following his predecessors’ emphasis on a politics of desire, Lyotard transcribed the libidinal joy the workers found in their deconstruction into this decoding: the proletariat “enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity.” (2) But he too would drop this line of thought, later castigating his works from this period as “evil,” something for the philosophical dustbins.
These ruminations are the theoretical basis of “Accelerationism.” A divisive issue, the #Accelerate Manifesto has gained rapid traction, while its earliest traces, generated in Sadie Plant and Nick Land’s Cybernetics Culture Research Unit (CCRU) continues to trigger vitriolic reactions by its apparent celebration of capitalism’s darkest compulsions. Deleuze and Guattari had observed that underneath capitalism’s ‘decoding of flows,’ “desire itself becomes the death instinct... that carry the seeds of a new life.”(3) Land collapsed this observation into Lyotard’s own that capitalism exists due to the human libidinal drives; accelerating capitalism would then be a natural process of accelerating humanity’s own compulsion towards death. Land’s aim, most properly, is a technological market-system in runaway, outstripping its human components.
The “New Accelerationism,” is instead an invocation many aspects of high modernism. The subtle overtures towards hierarchical organization stands in stark contrast to the highly networked, distributed, and horizontal ethos found in the postmodern era – be it in the affinity groups and direct democracy found in various activist movements, or the ‘flattened bureaucracy’ of many contemporary corporate forms. Aside from this, we have the allusions to technological self-mastery, evoking perhaps the proto-fascism of Italian Futurism. Unlike the Futurists, with their prioritization of speed and war as social drivers, the New Accelerationists cite examples such as Chilean CyberSyn project as the historical precedent to their own project – arguably part of the last socialist program of modernity prior to the birth of neoliberalism proper.
New Accelerationism breaks with the Landian variant, scrubbing from its rhetoric the thanatropic drives its predecessors celebrated, the fiery apocalypticism nowhere to be seen. Instead, humanism and talk of management takes the place of inhumanism and dark, anarchic impulses. Land and the CCRU feverishly produced text after text blending cyberpunk and science-fiction, Lovecraftian horror, electronic dance music and distorted French theory into a systemic irrationality that appears far more chaotic than earlier philosophical movements. New Acceleration instead envisions a society organically organized by principles of rationality, mathematical prowess, and a bountiful cooperation between man and smart machines.
Both strands of Accelerationism can be deemed problematic for their varying degrees of complicity with neoliberal capitalism. The Landian strand, while presenting itself as anti-capitalist yet pro-market, embodies the drive to excess and destruction of the organic that marks neoliberal reality; the New Accelerationism, on the other hand, appears as the idealized face of neoliberalism due to its positive valorization of harmonic rational management through the usage of cybernetic and information technologies. Yet through its removal of Land’s own frantic excesses, New Accelerationism loses something fundamental to the ongoing critique of neoliberalism and along with it a whole host of dissident practices. This would be the conceptual force of hyperstition, an “Element of effective culture that makes itself real,”(4) - in other words, the ability for the fictional to manifest itself in the physical world.
Hyperstition was indicative of Land’s intensification of chaos theory with chaos magick. Just as hyperstition looked to the ways that unreality could displace the continuity of the real, chaos magick emphasizes the subjective nature of perception and the ways that the plasticity of ideology can be manipulated and reconfigured. One example Land gives of this shifting paradigm is William Gibson’s usage of what he dubbed “cyberspace” in novel Neuromancer. (5)In the cyberpunk classic, cyberspace is a digital ‘non-space’, a “consensual hallucination” that users can plug into and drift through the data streams of an accelerated, runaway corporatism. For CCRU, Gibson’s cyberspace helped call into being the internet as we know it today, even if it existed mainly in its militarized and state-dominated form when Neuromancer was written.
Elsewhere, Land describes capitalism as a force “extremely sensitive to hyperstition, where confidence acts as an effective tonic, and inversely.” (6) This is particularly true of the finance markets, where early news reports and off-the-cuff interpretations can shape the movements of trade, and with it the entire monetary system. Speculative finance has made a home in this quasi-fictional web, utilizing these fluctuations of financial instruments to turn high-risk investments into profit gains. Other speculative modes of playing with market expectation and confidence has been defined as “positive-feedback trading,” or the buying of securities when prices are high and the selling when they bottom-out. As described in a 1990 article by Larry Summers, among other economists, this process involves “Investment pools whose organizers buy stock, spread rumors, and then sell the stock slowly as positive feedback demand picks up rely on extrapolative expectations over a horizon of a few days.” (7) Clearly, positive-feedback trading is contingent on the fostering of rumors in the context of the real, utilizing the cultural ferment of Wall Street to transform these abstractions into financial reward – with long term, overarching ramifications for the rest of the market. This reveals precisely the hyperstitional dimensions of finance markets: “Hyperstition,” Land states, “is a positive feedback circuit including culture as a component. It can be defined as the experimental (techno-)science of self-fulfilling prophecies.” (8)
The talk of positive-feedback, alongside the usage of advanced information technologies on the trading floors (ranging from the global connectability of the electronic marketplace to the ‘black boxes’ of the high- frequency traders) shows the debt that neoliberal capitalism holds to the boom in information sciences during and following World War 2, or what Philip Mirowski has called the “cyborg sciences” - cybernetics, communication theory, game theory, etc. (9) An example of this is the famous Black-Scholes model, the first formula for pricing options that enabled the rise of financial capitalism proper by importing the Wiener Process (named for the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener) into economic theory. Here we find hyperstitional attributes in that this borrowing from physics and computer science was presented as a ‘universal law’ in economics; what the model did was conjure forth a new paradigm for capitalism that presented itself as wholly rational and organic. Mirowski quotes Herbert Simon by describing the movement of these scientific constructs into economics as the “sciences of the artificial,” noting the increasing inability and perhaps outright collapse of the distinction between the real and the mathematically-construed simulations of reality. (10)
We should take heed of Marx when he observed that “even as capital appropriates technology as the most effective form of the subsumption of labor,” technology itself “is not ‘identical with its existence as capital... and therefore does not follow that subsumption under the social relation of capital is the most appropriate and ultimate social relation of production for the application of machinery.’” (11) But Land was far more influenced by Fernand Braudel than Marx, relying on the former’s distinction between markets, where goods circulate through horizontal networks, and capitalism, where structures like the corporation (and the state) act as anti-markets. As Marx noted, capital constrained the application of technological innovation; synthesizing with Braudel, Land’s position is that the acceleration of market circulation would then, presumably, unleash the latent forces within technology itself. From this perspective the binary of real/simulation matters not, for the feedbacking loops of hyperstition shows the constant movement between the two; it propels itself from economics and technology to an ontological plateau that is populated, for Land, by Gothic horrors and occult assemblages. From another angle, it charts the acceleration of markets and technology as resistance to the totalizing forces of capitalism.
This returns us to the key problem in Land’s Accelerationism: to what degree, in the dually horizontal and vertical system of neoliberalism and hyper circulation of money as digital code, does the distinction between capitalism and markets offer alternatives? At what point does Accelerationism not actually oppose neoliberalism, but instead buttress the logic of capitalism by providing a science-fiction twist on libertarian ideology? Other theorists (Deleuze and Guattari, Tiqqun), have observed the importance of speed in resistance, while others (Virilio, Bifo, Tiqqun again) have emphasized deceleration; meanwhile, each of these stands sits uneasily between the false distinction between the alternatives of rampant neoliberalism and statist liberal social democracy dominates resistant imaginations. Tiziana Terranova writes that “the notion of a post-capitalist mode of existence must become believable,” (12) a statement that indicates the becoming-real of imaginative alternatives and looping us again back to the specter of hyperstition. In the debate over the Accelerationist tendency, hyperstition itself – and its historical progenitors – may have much to teach us, if for no other reason than its utilization of things that appear irrational, nonsensical, and anti-scientific as a weapon against the rationality of our neoliberal globe.
to be continued...
The essay is taken from:
by Steven Craig Hickman
Edward Burne - Jones
Letter from Carl Gustav Jung to Echidna Stillwell, dated 27th February 1929 [Extract]
…your attachment to a Lemurian cultural-strain disturbs me intensely. From my own point of view – based on the three most difficult cases I have encountered and their attendant abysmally archaic symbolism – it is no exaggeration to state that Lemuria condenses all that is most intrinsically horrific to the racial unconscious, and that the true Lemurians – who you seem intent upon rediscovering – are best left buried beneath the sea.
—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007
In a series of meta-fictional sequences an anonymous author transcribes the letters between Echidna Stillwell and certain well known and unknown personages of the modern era before, during, and after the World War II. In one she receives a letter from Carl Gustav Jung, the renegade psychotherapist and ephebic heretic and pariah of Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis. Nick Land will transcribe these accounts which are gathered both in Fanged Noumena and in a more detailed reworking of the material scattered across both the current and defunct archives of the CCRU website.
Those who are versant in the great literary traditions from Lucian to Calvino will understand that such intermixing of fictive and historical personages for the purposes of conveying what cannot be conveyed by straightforward means will understand exactly what is going on in these otherwise insane stories. Anyone who has read Land’s principle works A Thirst for Annihilation and the series of essays gathered in Fanged Noumena by Ray Brassier and Robin McKay, not to mention all his current work scattered in abstract horror fiction and online essays or youtube videos will be well adjusted to his sparse yet methodical obsessions with Time and Intelligence.
As the editor of that material gathered from the CCRU website admits,
There is nobody positioned to accept attribution for the ‘work’ of the Ccru, nor has there ever been, so this compilation has been guided by a principal of editorial modesty. Whatever it is that occurred ‘here’ – during these years of the Numogram’s initial ingression into recent human history, triggering an outbreak of digial hyperstition – is not considered a matter to be resolved in this volume, even in part, through retrospective commentary. This book is sheer documentation.1
So with that in mind we approach the outlandish and occulted counter-worlds like travelers from a fictional land, seeking neither sense nor meaning but rather an exploration and experiential mutation into the core metamorphic and display-asignifying diagrams of occultural events being enacted.
We had already seen in those series of essays gathered in Fanged Noumena Land’s slow and methodical demolition of modern and postmodern philosophical presumption, as well as his search for a language beyond the world controlled by the Turing Cops (i.e., the official and authoritarian worlds of Academia, Media, and the Western Cultural regimes he would label under the rubric of Human Security Systems).
Before venturing into this dark world of myth, fiction, occult, hyperstitons, etc. I want to explore a few aspects of the Human Security System. The Human Security System is a term use by Land to denote the elaborate manipulative systems of capture that trap humans within a network of manipulation and duplicity. As he’ll state it speaking of the work of Deleuze/Guattari in Anit-Oedipus on schizoanalyis and desiring machines,
Since only Oedipus is repressible, the schizo is usually a lost case to those relatively subtilized psychiatric processes that co-operate with the endogeneous police functions of the superego. This is why antischizophrenic psychiatry tends to be an onslaught launched at gross or molar neuroanatomy and neurochemistry oriented by theoretical genetics. Psychosurgery, ECT, psychopharmacology … it will be chromosomal recoding soon. ‘It is thus that a tainted society has invented psychiatry in order to defend itself from the investigations of certain superior lucidities whose faculties of divination disturb it’. The medico-security apparatus know that schizos are not going to climb back obediently into the Oedipal box. Psychoanalysis washes its hands of them. Their nervous-systems are the free-fire zones of an emergent neo-eugenicist cultural security system. (FN)2
The Human Security System is a magical system of social, political, religious control used by the cultural authorities of the current Reality Studio to manipulate the planetary consciousness and weave a nexus of global duplicity as part of its domestication of the human species. In A Thirst for Annihilation a post-philosophical survey of the work of Georges Bataille Land would remark,
Bataille writes of ‘the catastrophe of time’ because security cannot establish itself, because time is jealous of being. It is in his early essay ‘Sacrifices’ (1936) that he first develops this thought to its rigorous conclusion in incompletion and collapse. No ontology of time is possible, and yet ontology remains the sole foundation for discursive accomplishment.3
This notion of Time as the pre-ontological thermospasm or energetic unconscious that is suddenly tamed within discourse or external writing systems of which ontology or the Discourse on Being suddenly make their appearance as the foundational element in the Human Security Regime comes with a price. As Land comments,
Time is the suicidal jealousy of God, to which each being—even the highest—must fall victim. It is thus the ultimate ocean of immanence, from which nothing can separate itself, and in which everything loses itself irremediably. The black mass of jealous rage swells like a cancer at the core of the universe, or like a volcanic ulceration in the guts of God, and its catastrophic eruption consumes all established things in the acidic lava of impersonality. We say ‘time’—and become philosophical—to describe jealousy purifying itself of God (but with God purity collapses also). (Thirst)
In this poetic foray into the underlying metaphysics of the Western traditions of philosophy, science, and the arts of control we term the Human Security Regime we begin to perceive a tale, a grand narrative in the shaping. One can accept or reject Land’s worldview, his base materialist perspective, his unphilosophical or even anti-philosophical stance. But one cannot blindly reject a hearing of what is emerging from this mad and at time psychotic voyage into our temporal wars. For it is the Time-Wars all around us of which Land is speaking. For Land has entered or allowed messages from renegade systems from the future to convey the keys to our current malaise and collapsing civilization. To reject Land outright is to one’s own detriment. Yet, I’m sure many among my readers will think I, too, am mad for even venturing into the burn zones of such a schizoworld. My readers of course are welcome to their opinions, and many have seen and said so to me in private messages. Yet, I’m unafraid of the extremities of thought and feeling that broker the far horizons of our cultural index. To venture past the Human Security System of acceptable authority, academic or socio-cultural mindsets that harbor only the policing of our minds, the caging of our desires, and the ultimate pacification of our lives in a system of slavery is to me the real danger. The Land’s of this world have broken out of the cage and are exploring the dead zones of unlife, bringing back to us like neoshamanistic voyagers news from the strange climes just beyond the human prison.
Animal Cunning and Duplicity: Mêtis and the Magus
Detienne and Vernant in their study of mêtis tell us,
From a terminological point of view, mêtis, as a common noun, refers to a particular type of intelligence, an informed prudence; as a proper name it refers to a female deity, the daughter of Ocean. The goddess Metis who might be considered a somewhat quaint figure seems, at first sight, to be restricted to no more than a walk-on part. She is Zeus’ first wife and almost as soon as she conceives Athena she is swallowed by her husband. The king of the gods brings her mythological career to an abrupt conclusion by relegating her to the depths of his own stomach. In the theogonies attributed to Orpheus, however, Metis plays a major role and is presented as a great primordial deity at the beginning of the world.3
Yet, the central motif underlying their study of mêtis shows us that Mêtis is itself a power of cunning and deceit. It operates through disguise. In order to dupe its victim it assumes a form which masks, instead of revealing, its true being. In mêtis appearance and reality no longer correspond to one another but stand in contrast, producing an effect of illusion, apate which beguiles the adversary into error and leaves him as bemused by his defeat as by the spells of a magician. (CI)
It’s this sense of cunning and deception, illusion, magic, sorcery, and the beguiling of the senses through seduction and techics both artificial and natural that informs this study of these ancient myths of the Greeks. For primitive humans the natural growth of cunning intelligence was a means both of survival and security against natural and human enemies. As these authors state it: “Engaged in the world of becoming and confronted with situations which are ambiguous and unfamiliar and whose outcome always lies in the balance, wiley intelligence is only able to maintain its hold over beings and things thanks to its ability to look beyond the immediate present and forsee a greater or lesser section of the future. Vigilant and forever on the alert, mêtis also appears as multiple, pantoie, many-coloured, poikile and shifting, aiole. They are all qualities which betray the polymorphism and polyvalence of a kind of intelligence which, to render itself impossible to seize and to dominate fluid, changing realities, must always prove itself more supple and more polymorphic than they are. Finally, mêtis, wiley intelligence possesses the most prized cunning of all: the ‘duplicity’ of the trap which always presents itself as what it is not and which conceals its true lethal nature beneath a reassuring exterior.” (CI)
It’s this latter form of ‘duplicity’, of the world of capture and traps that “conceals its true lethal nature beneath a reassuring exterior” we will be concerned with. In his Eros and Magic in the Renaissance Ioan P. Coulianu before his untimely demise began a series of studies into the strange realms of religious, political, and socio-cultural manipulation and control that has been used to domesticate humans and pacify or capture their desires. As he would suggest in this particular study the figure of the Magus would take on the hues of the Sovereign as counter-power within Renaissance society. As he states it,
Nowadays the magician busies himself with public relations, propaganda, market research, sociological surveys, publicity, information, counterinformation and misinformation, censorship, espionage, and even cryptography—a science which in the sixteenth century was a branch of magic.4
In fact Coulianu would go so far as to say that the figure of the Magus is still with us, and as the great manipulator most historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared with the advent of ״quantitative science.” The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate wit h faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one’s disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast. (EM, 104)
The Breakout: Smashing the Discursive Linements of our Mind-Manacled Reality Studio
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
—William Blake, London
This brings us back to the paradox of fascism, and the way in which fascism differs from totalitarianism. For totalitarianism is a State affair: it essentially concerns the relation between the State as a localized assemblage and the abstract machine of overcoding it effectuates. Even in the case of a military dictatorship, it is a State army, not a war machine, that takes power and elevates the State to the totalitarian stage. Totalitarianism is quintessentially conservative. Fascism, on the other hand, involves a war machine.
—Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus
That our lives are trapped in a world of manipulation and control by the very tools of the mind themselves, by what Blake would poetically call the “mind-forg’d manacles” of discourse and Logic is to open a void as deep as hell itself. That we have been steeped in the House of Reason for at least two millennia goes without saying. But that our global civilization is deeply embedded in a war machine, that it is essentially a system of fascism that has one objective to secure and commodify every aspect of existence within its assemblage is another matter altogether.
As Deleuzeguatttarian commentary has it
When fascism builds itself a totalitarian State, it is not in the sense of a State army taking power, but of a war machine taking over the State. A bizarre remark by Virilio puts us on the trail: in fascism, the State is far less totalitarian than it is suicidal. There is in fascism a realized nihilism. Unlike the totalitarian State, which does its utmost to seal all possible lines of flight, fascism is constructed on an intense line of flight, which it transforms into a line of pure destruction and abolition.(TP)
What happens when the global order as an artificial whole becomes a war machine? Is the line a flight it is taking leading to a perfected nihilism, to a “line of pure destruction and abolition”?
Land sees a future of pure war, a world of PODS: “Politically Organized Defensive Systems. Modelled upon the polis, pods hierarchically delegate authority through public institutions, family, and self, seeking metaphorical sustenance in the corpuscular fortifications of organisms and cells.” This is a world or neocameral City-States, mini-states, or neostates where the rich and elite gather behind protective macropodic security systems to fend off the excluded, anarchic, and outcase outlaws and renegades of a new dark age of man.
He remarks that the macropod has one law: “the outside must pass by way of the inside”. Where humans are no longer singular and free, but rather are machines in an assemblage of desiring machines, plugged into “segmented and anthropomorphized sectors of assembly circuits as the attribute of a personal being”. Rather than following those such as Badiou, Zizek, Johnston, et. al. into a dialectical materialism of the Transcendental Subject that seeks its irreducibility to the Real, Land follows Deleuze/Guattari into the unconscious Subject:
Schizoanalysis methodically dismantles everything in Kant’s thinking that serves to align function with the transcendence of the autonomous subject, reconstructing critique by replacing the syntheses of personal consciousness with syntheses of the impersonal unconscious. The thought is a function of the real, something that matter can do. (MD, p. 3)
Rather than the autonomous Subject Land supports a base materialism wherein “thought and Real” co-habit a space of non-utilitarian pragmatic praxis, a transitional zone or space in which the “eradication of law, or of humanity, is sketched culturally by the development of critique, which is the theoretical elaboration of the commodification process. The social order and the anthropomorphic subject share a history, and an extinction.”
In his reading of Anti-Oedipus he observes a philosophy of the machine, one which advances an “anorganic functionalism that dissolves all transcendence,” and “mobilizes a vocabulary of the machine, the mechanic, and machinism” (MD, p. 4). This is a black-box theory of use and pragmatic endeavor that asks the question(s) ‘What are your desiring-machines, what do you put into these machines, what is the output, how does it work, what are your nonhuman sexes?’ (Anti-Oedipus, p. 322).
In fact this is a virtual materialism that names an “ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as subprograms of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project” (MD, p. 5). This is Land’s attack on all those systems of Transcendental logic like the medieval construction kits of the New Prometheans, Brassier and Negarestani, who seek (after Sellars/Brandom) to build navigational systems in the “space of reasons” into command and control centers of the deontological giving and asking of reasons in a normative throwback of an age when ethics and the epistemological world still believed in itself: – a world updated only in its speculative status as hyperfictional philo-fiction. Land instead following in that other tradition of the dark post-vitalist curve from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Freud, Deleuze/Guattari, et. al. brings us the machinic desires at the heart of the Real, the realm of Zero intensity, Unlife, where a hidden impulsive, desiring machines flow through the compositional and decompositional pre-ontological realms into our planetary systems producing and productive of an energetic chaosmos.
Land would have us enter the death realms of Synthanatos – the terminal productive outcome of human history as a machinic process, yet it is virtually efficient throughout the duration of this process, functioning within a circuit that machines duration itself. In this way virtuality lends its temporality to the unconscious, which escapes specification within extended time series, provoking Freud to describe it as timeless. (MD, p. 5) Much like J.G. Ballard’s Chronotopia, or City of Timeless duration and assemblages of interlocked labyrinthine systems actively pursuing the eternity of desire without end, Land offers an ironic take on Anti-Oedipus as less a philosophy book than “an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels” (MD, p. 5).
Deleuze and Guattari’s works inform Land’s visionary materialism, hyperbolical and poetic. Their rogue scholarship and inclusion of a multiplicity of scholarly examples of provocative examples from the encyclopedia of politics, sciences, philosophy, arts, economics etc., all flowing into a rhizomatic thought form that is anti-formalist and anti-representationalist, more diagrammatic and topological is apparent in the sparse and elegant notes of current gnomic Landian cultural critique.
CCRU: Hyperstition and the Lovecraft Mythos
When conceived rigorously as a literary and cinematic craft, horror is indistinguishable from a singular task: to make an object of the unknown, as the unknown.
—Nick Land. Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator
When we think of that which lies outside human mind and control – if we think of it at all? – we come up against the Real – a blank or resistance against which our mind struggles to make sense of that which is in itself not sensible, the unknown as unknown. In the Lovecraftian cosmos this is the thing which cannot be named. It cannot be reduced to signification, to meaning, to our language, our discourse for it is beyond discursivity, beyond the structures of our mental apparatus, our brains evolutionary survival systems. It is the realm my friend R. Scott Bakker terms “pure neglect”. That which cannot be known through human knowledge or linguistic practices. So what happens when we rub up against the monstrous? We do as humans have always done: we take flight, we either stand immobilized and in terror like those fables warriors facing the Medusa and begin to turn to stone, or we turn and run blindly driven by the wild animal cunning of our body’s own ancient survival systems.
Seduction and fascination, fright and flight: the polar measure of the Human Security System bound by the logics of desire. In one of those prescient disquisitions and asides that William S. Burroughs was famous for he once spoke of the Time Prisons and Control Systems of the Maya,
The ancient Mayans possessed one of the most precise and hermetic control calendars ever used on this planet, a calendar that in effect controlled what the populace did thought and felt on any given day. A study of this model system throws light on modern methods of control. Knowledge of the calendar was the monopoly of a priestly caste who maintained their position with minimal police and military force.6
The point here is that the vast global complex of early and late Neolithic Agricultural systems were based on the cycles and control of plants and animals, the careful patterning of the stars, seasons, cycles of seeding, harvesting, and productions of both plant and animal life for the growing human populations. With the rise of these agricultural civilizations came the need to protect and secure the resources for the City-States that held sway in these disparate regions along with their water (river) sources and the dirt (lands) in which the planting would take place. Over a period of time the mathematical calculation of stars and cycles of the seasons would regulate the human population itself bringing with it Law, Religion, Codification and regulations of the habits and minds of the citizenry. War machines would arise during this age producing new sciences of metallurgy and the production of weapons that would martial conflict across these early City-States that has of yet not abated. (Of course I leave out the details and do not as scholars would cite all the reputable authorities on such matters. A generalist and one who is conveying a lifetime of reading will not and cannot offer every authority in such fields in an unscholarly essay. I want.)
What we term the Industrial Revolution did not end the vast networks of Agricultural Civilization across our planet, it only exacerbated it bringing an accelerating depletion of the soil, plant, mineral, and animal systems that humans depend on for their livelihood and their survival. At the heart of this industrial system is that term we’ve all come to love or hate: Capital. The Left derides it, the Right defends it, but neither truly understands the deadly consequences of its dark heritage and future. Locked in our petty contemporary squabbles and political non-events we seem oblivious of the designs Capital has on us.
This is where CCRU enters…
There was a time when Murrumur asked Katak and Oddubb a question, and although this was very long ago it was the last question she has ever been known to ask. It was Ummnu – the last of the demons who provoked this question, since Murrumur felt her to be always nearby, and yet never ceased to be confused by her, so that eventually she asked: “How can the end be already in the middle of the beginning?”7
The collective’s research was closely tied to the work of philosophers Sadie Plant (around whom it was founded), Nick Land, and their colleagues throughout the 1990s, and in particular the emerging cyberfeminist thinking that would lead to the Virtual Futuresconferences at Warwick in the middle of the decade. Although it only existed in an official capacity for little over two years—following the departure of Plant, the University of Warwick would deny any relationship to the renegade collective—the Ccru’s cultural impact has been significant. Those who were affiliated with the Ccru during and after its time as part of the University of Warwick Philosophy department include philosophers Iain Hamilton Grant, Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani; cultural theorists Mark Fisherand Kodwo Eshun; publisher and philosopher Robin Mackay; digital media theorists Luciana Parisi and Matthew Fuller; electronic music artist and Hyperdub label head Steve Goodman, aka Kode9; writer and theorist Anna Greenspan; novelist Hari Kunzru; and artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, among others. Land and the Ccru collaborated frequently with the experimental art collective 0[rphan]d[rift>] (Maggie Roberts and Ranu Mukherjee),notably on Syzygy, a month-long multidisciplinary residency at Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery in South London, 1999, and on 0[rphan]d[rift>]’s Cyberpositive(London: Cabinet, 1995), a schizoid work of cut-and-paste cyberphilosophy. (see Wikipedia)
I only became aware of this subworld somewhere around 2007. A fulltime software architect, analyst, developer, contractor I was too busy in my professional life to venture too far outside my own field and explore the shadowlands of thought on the net at that time. Oh, I’d been a armchair radical for most of my life, reading anything and everything across the whole gamut of our socio-cultural inheritance. And, yet, coming upon the CCRU site and on Land’s work did not bring much new to me, only the reinforcement of a deep seeded voicing of that which I’d long thought and believed but as of yet had had no confirmation in some external group, philosophy, or real world voicing.
Freud would coin the term uncanny to describe not the new, but the old and familiar that had been repressed and forced out of site suddenly awakening, arising, emerging from its dark declivities into the light of consciousness to overpower our senses and mind with hints of the unknown unknowns surrounding us on all sides. At such times one feels a kinship with the darkness, the unknown, an uncanny feeling (affective) stirring that leads to fascination (seduction) or terror (fright and escape). Coming upon Land’s A Thirst for Annihilation only reinforced my delving’s into the undermining traditions of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche… those of Bataille and Deleuze/Guattari were still new to me. As an Anglo-Saxon American I realized my lack of linguistic prowess was a detriment that would forever be bound to translations and transcriptions because of age, work, and laziness. For me Nietzsche, Emerson, and the world of Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, Thomas Pynchon, and others of poetry, literature, and the few philosophers and scientists I’d read were the sustenance of my mental make up. I think we are all made up of a hodge-pod of learning if we’re non-academic and untrained minds and intellects not formed and shaped, controlled by the academic training and schooling, education systems of mind-prisioning.
Harold Bloom, not for his Idealism and Romantic proclivities which are the most retrograde aspect of his work, but rather for his theories of influence which would take in a wide array of counter-authoritarian and occult based kabbalistic, hermetic, magical, and other systems as well as the whole gamut of literary output of Western civ gave me aspects of how our society has been influenced (controlled and manipulated). The flowing from the stars upon our fates and our personalities is the prime meaning of “influence,” a meaning made personal between Shakespearean characters. Shakespeare also uses the word “influence” to mean “inspiration,” both in the sonnets and in the plays. This sense of an influx from elsewhere, or an Outside in process of the overpowering insurgence or invasion of an alien influencing first felt by those ancient Magi or Star gazers who would read starry events for signs and portents of the future’s influence in the present pervades this notion. For Bloom influence was more about anxiety than about the influence process itself, about the defensive measures we take to secure our personal and socio-cultural systems against the invasion of irrational forces outside our control. Eternal vigilance, paranoia, the policing of the hedgerows of civilization from the barbarians just outside the borders of mind and State, etc. “Influence” is a metaphor, one that implicates a matrix of relationships-imagistic, temporal, spiritual, psychological-all of them ultimately defensive in their nature. What matters most (and it is the central point of this book) is that the anxiety of influence comes out of a complex act of strong misreading, a creative interpretation that I call “poetic misprision.” (Bloom) This sense that art is both sublimation and achieved anxiety, a security system to keep the wolves at bay, to bind the irrational forces of Time and keep us locked away in the artificial climes of an endless artificial utopia. Oscar Wilde in the bitterness of the last years, after his incarceration for pederasty would speak of influence. Lord Henry Wotton’s elegant observations in The Picture of Dorian Gray, where he tells Dorian that all influence is immoral:
Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him.
The feeling of anxiety that creeps in on us when we wake up and realize that reading another’s work, a philosopher, poet, essayist, etc. that their thoughts are our thoughts, that their external exposure of the inside of our minds suddenly reveals a terrible secret “that my thoughts are not my own, but an Other’s”. We suddenly ask: How much of my mind is my own? Am I real? Do I have a distinct self? Or, am I just a copy of a copy, filled with the scripted thoughts, algorithms, systems of something else, someone else’s mental fabrications? Am I a robot of other’s stories, a mere script in a drama I am not even aware of, a stranger to myself and others? Have I ever had a thought of my own?
As Bloom would say,
Nietzsche and Freud are, so far as I can tell, the prime influences upon the theory of influence presented in this book. Nietzsche is the prophet of the antithetical, and his Genealogy of Morals is the profoundest study available to me of the revisionary and ascetic strains in the aesthetic temperament.
Bloom’s theory “rejects also the qualified Freudian optimism that happy substitution is possible, that a second chance can save us from the repetitive quest for our earliest attachments. Poets as poets cannot accept substitutions, and fight to the end to have their initial chance alone. Both Nietzsche and Freud underestimated poets and poetry, yet each yielded more power to phantasmagoria than it truly possesses. They too, despite their moral realism, over-idealized the imagination. Nietzsche’s disciple, Yeats, and Freud’s disciple, Otto Rank, show a greater awareness of the artist’s fight against art, and of the relation of this struggle to the artist’s antithetical battle against nature.” (Bloom, 48-49: The Anxiety of Influence)
Reading William Blake as a youth I remember in notebooks copying such statements as this one:
“I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.”
This coupling of being bound by certain mental horizons, captured in others systems of thought and feeling, molded and modulated by discursive systems of language, thought, and feeling haunted me for years. The notion of the need to discover and create my own system to overcome the cultural blinkers of my own wayward and authoritarian civilization bound by religious and secular codes and regulatory systems of mind control techniques was and still is at the forefront of my project. Nihilism was only a first step in the direction of overcoming two millennia of command and control systems, but we will need to go beyond nihilism and discover a post-nihilist system based on a-signifying diagrammatical numerical and image based notions that are a-intentional, impersonal and outside the human matrix of discursive reason and logic. Obviously to the Turing Cops and regulatory bureaus of the current Reality Studio such a project is labeled mad and insane, schizoid and possibly fraught with sociopathic tendencies for the current population and will be summarily dismissed if not outlawed as well as its author bound in the crank status of the obscene and deranged fringe worlds of the insane and ludicrous.
That Land in his own life discovered by way of Rimbaud, Artaud, and others the path of deregulating the power of the reasoning mind as a way to overcome what he termed the Human Security System was something I’d already known by other means and ways. I of course grew up in the Sixties, experimenting naively with Acid, Meth-amphetamines, Psilocybin, Peyote (Mescaline), Dream-vine (Ayahuasca), etc. over a period of years led me to the innocent notion that magic, shamanism, and other primitive techniques from the Eleusis mysteries based on mushroom cults, etc. all were based on breaking out of our culture encrusted systems of mind control. Even at that time after hundreds of “trips” I understood emphatically that humanities religious systems and knowledge of gods came out of these dreamworlds and awakened travels into the irrational zones outside the protective hedges of our Reason bound “mind-forg’d mancles”. No one needed to teach me this, I just knew it intuitively. What it all meant was another matter, one that has of yet no actual definitive answer even now in my life. What’s real? What is reality? My search to understand what I’d experienced (experientially) first hand during these hundreds of sessions would lead me to read through the extant philosophical, scientific, anthropological, socio-cultural, historical, archeo-mythological, etc. record in every library and now online system to find out what other explorers across the centuries had discovered.
Yet, Land only went so far, and no further, ending in a psychic episode that Robin Mackay would stipulate as Land’s having “gone insane”. Reading Fanged Noumena we get the hint that the world Land offered us up to that time was then abandoned, that the Land of that era died and in his place something from elsewhere came in and took over his life, Vauung. Daemon, demon… a changed man, a renegade to all that went before awakened another power of intelligence that would lead this new creature into what we mildly term Neoreactionary thought and culture. As the old Land abandoned the House he’d built artificial or physical (actual) he’d tell us off-handedly in “A Dirty Joke”,
I stole Vauung’s name because it was unused, on the basis of an exact qabbalistic entitlement. Yet, at least ‘up’ here, Vauung still confuses itself with me, with ruins and tatters. This might change. Names have powers and destinies. I have decided to let Vauung inherit the entire misfortune of my past (a perverse generosity at best). Its story might never emerge otherwise.
Maybe the Odysseus in us all should know this of transitional states and the becoming other of self and things, the mutant metamorphosis that defines us and moves through the cunning intelligence of all things. “In order to find its way through a world of change and instability and to master the Becoming by vying with it in cunning, intelligence must, in the eyes of the Greeks, in some way adopt the nature of this Becoming, assume its forms, just as Menelaus slips into the skin of a seal so as to triumph over the shifting, magic spells of Proteus. By dint of its own flexibility, then, intelligence must itself become constant movement, polymorphism reversal, deceit and duplicity.” (CIGCS)
Of this more at a future time…
In my next essay I’ll continue this down the rabbit hole into what CCRU discovered and brought forward in its hyperstitional matrix of metafictional forays into the unknown… stay tuned.
The essay is taken from:
LECTURES BY GILLES DELEUZE
Eternity, instantaneity, duration.
affectio and affectus,
affection and affect.
Duration. Theory of the affects.
Blyenbergh, the Ethics
Sadness and joy. Hate. Power (puissance).
The spheres of belonging.
The unlimited, the infinite.
Bleyenbergh: Composition and decomposition of relations
Spinoza’s example in the letters to Blyenbergh: I am led by a basely sensual appetite or else, the other case: I feel a true love. What are these two cases? It is necessary to try to understand them according to the criteria that Spinoza gives us. A basely sensual appetite, even the mere expression, one feels that it is not good, that it is bad. It is bad in what sense? When I am led by a basely sensual appetite, what does that mean? It means that: within it there is an action, or a tendency to action: for example desire. What happens to the desire when am I led by a basely sensual appetite? It is the desire of. Good. What is this desire? It can only be qualified by its association with an image of a thing, for example I desire a bad woman.
Richard Pinhas: several! [Bursts of general laughter]) or even worse, even worse: several!
Gilles Deleuze: Yes. What does it mean? We saw a bit of it when he suggested the difference between adultery, all that. Forget the ridiculous aspect of the examples, but they are not ridiculous, they are examples! In this case, what he calls basely sensual, basely sensual appetite, the basely sensual consists in this, that the action, in all manners, even for example making love, the action is a virtue! Why? Because it is something that my body can do; don't ever forget the theme of power (puissance). It is in my body’s power. So it is a virtue, and in this sense it is the expression of a power.
But if I remained there with it, I would have no means of distinguishing the basely sensual appetite from the most beautiful of loves. But there it is, when there is basely sensual appetite, why is it? It is because, in fact, I associate my action, or the image of my action, with the image of a thing whose relation is decomposed by this action. In several different ways, in all ways, for example if I am married, in the very example that Spinoza took, I decompose a relation, the relation of the couple. Or if the other person is married, I decompose the relation of the couple. But what’s more, in a basely sensual appetite I decompose all sorts of relations: the basely sensual appetite with its taste for destruction, good we can take everything up again on the decompositions of relations, a kind of fascination of the decomposition of relations, of the destruction of relations. On the contrary in the most beautiful of loves. Notice that there, I don't invoke the mind at all, it would not be Spinozist, according to parallelism. I invoke a love in the case of the most beautiful of loves, a love which is not less bodily than the most basely sensual love. The difference is, simply, that in the most beautiful of loves, my action, the same, exactly the same, my physical action, my bodily action, is associated with an image of the thing whose relation is directly combined, directly composed with the relation of my action. It is in this sense that the two uniting individuals lovingly form an individual which has both of them as parts, Spinoza would say. On the contrary, in the basely sensual love, the one destroys the other, the other destroys the one, that is there is a whole process of decomposition of relations. In short, they make love like they are knocking each other about.
All this is very concrete. So it works.
Only we always come up against this, Spinoza tells us: you don't choose, in the end, the image of the thing with which your action is associated. It engages a whole play of causes and of effects which escape you. Indeed, what is it that makes this basely sensual love take you? You cannot say to yourself: Ha! I could do otherwise. Spinoza is not one of those who believes in a free will. No, it is a whole determinism which associates the images of things with the actions. Then what’s more troubling, the formula: I am as perfect as I can be according to the affections that I have. That is to say that if I am dominated by a basely sensual appetite, I am as perfect as I can be, as perfect as it is possible, as perfect as it is in my power (pouvoir) to be.
And could I say: I am deprived of (manque) a better state? Spinoza seems very firm. In the letters to Blyenbergh he says: I cannot say that I am deprived of a better state, I cannot even say it. Because it doesn't make any sense. To say at the moment when I experience a basely sensual appetite ˜ once again, you will see in the text, if you haven't already seen it, this example which returns ˜ because Blyenbergh clings there to this example. Indeed it is very simple, it is very clear. When I say, at the moment when I experience a basely sensual appetite, when I say: Ha! I am deprived of true love, if I say it, what does that mean to say: I am deprived of something? Literally it doesn't mean anything, absolutely nothing in Spinoza, but nothing! It merely means that my mind compares a state that I have to a state that I don't have, in other words it is not a real relation, it is a comparison of the mind. A pure comparison of the mind. And Spinoza goes so far as to say: you might as well say at that moment there that the stone is deprived of sight. You might as well say at that moment there that the stone is deprived of sight. Indeed, why wouldn‚t I compare the stone to a human organism, and in the name of a same comparison of the mind, I would say: the stone doesn't see, therefore it is deprived of sight. And Spinoza said expressly ˜ I am not looking for the texts because you are reading them, I hope ˜ Spinoza responds expressly to Blyenbergh: it is just as stupid to speak of the stone by saying of it that it is deprived of sight as it would be stupid, at the moment when I experience a basely sensual appetite, to say that I am deprived of a better love.
So then, at this level, we listen to Spinoza, and we tell ourselves that there is something which doesn't work, because in his comparison, I take the two judgments, I say of the stone: it can't see, it is deprived of sight, and I say of someone who experiences a basely sensual appetite that they are deprived of virtue. Are these two propositions, as Spinoza claims, of the same type? It is so apparent that they are not the same, that we can be confident that if Spinoza says to us that they are of the same type, it is because he wants to be provocative. He wants to say to us: I challenge you to tell me the difference between the two propositions. But one feels the difference. Spinoza‚s provocation is going to allow us perhaps to find it. In the two cases, for the two propositions, is the stone (pierre) deprived of sight, or is Pierre ˜ the name this time ˜ deprived of virtue, is the comparison of the mind between two states, a state that I have and a state that I don't have, is the comparison of the mind of the same type? Evidently not! Why? To say that the stone is deprived of sight is, on the whole, to say that nothing in it contains the possibility of seeing. While, when I say: he is deprived of true love, it is not a comparison of the same type, since, this time, I don’t rule out that at other moments this being here has experienced something which resembled true love.
In other words, the question specifies, I will go very slowly, even if you have the impression that all this goes without saying: is a comparison within the same being analogous to a comparison between two beings? Spinoza doesn't back away from the problem, he takes the case of the blind man, and he says to us quietly ˜ but once again, what does he have in mind in saying things like this to us, which are so obviously inaccurate ˜ he says to us: the blind man is deprived of nothing! Why? He is as perfect as he can be according to the affections that he has. He is deprived of (privé de) visual images, to be blind is to be deprived of visual images; that means that he doesn’t see, but neither does the stone see. And he says: there is no difference between the blind man and the stone from this point of view, namely: the one like the other doesn't have visual images. So it is just as stupid, says Spinoza, it is just as stupid to say that the blind man is deprived of sight as it is to say: the stone is deprived of sight. And the blind man, then? He is as perfect as he can be, according to what? You see even so, Spinoza doesn't say to us: according to his power (puissance); he says that the blind man is as perfect as he can be according to the affections of his power, that is according to the images of which he is capable. According to the images of things of which he is capable, which are the true affections of his power. So it would be entirely the same thing as saying: the stone doesn't have sight, and to say: the blind man doesn't have sight.
Pure instantaneity of essence
Blyenbergh begins here to understand something. He begins to understand. However, Spinoza Why does he make this kind of provocation? And, Blyenbergh [X] once again it appears to me a typical example of the point at which the commentators are mistaken, it seems to me, by saying that Blyenbergh is stupid, because Blyenbergh doesn't get Spinoza wrong. Blyenbergh answers Spinoza immediately by saying: all that is very pretty but you can only manage it if you insist upon (he didn't say it in this form, but you will see, the text really comes down to the same thing) a kind of pure instantaneity of the essence. It is interesting as an objection, it is a good objection. Blyenbergh retorts: you cannot assimilate the blind man not seeing and the stone not seeing, you can only make such an assimilation if, at the same time, you pose a kind of pure instantaneity of the essence, namely: there belongs to an essence only the present, instantaneous affection that it experiences insofar as it experiences it. The objection here is very very strong. If indeed I am saying: there belongs to my essence only the affection that I experience here and now, then, indeed, I am not deprived of anything. If I am blind I am not deprived of sight, if I am dominated by a basely sensual appetite, I am not deprived of better love. I am not deprived of anything. There belongs to my essence, indeed, only the affection that I experience here and now. And Spinoza answers quietly: yes, that’s the way it is.
This is curious. What is curious? That it is the same man who never stops telling us that the essence is eternal. The singular essences, that is yours, mine, all the essences are eternal. Notice that it is a way of saying that the essence doesn't endure. Now as a matter of fact there are two ways of not enduring, at first sight: the way of eternity or the way of instantaneity. Now it is very curious how slyly he passes from one to the other. He began by telling us: the essences are eternal, and now he tells us: the essences are instantaneous. If you like, it becomes a very bizarre position. To the letter of the text: the essences are eternal, but those things which belongs to the essence are instantaneous; there belongs to my essence only what I experience actually insofar as I experience it actually. And indeed, the formula: I am as perfect as I can be according to the affection which determines my essence‚ implies this strict instantaneity.
That is pretty much the high point of the correspondence, because a very curious thing is going to happen. Spinoza responds to this very violently because he increasingly loses patience with this correspondence. Blyenbergh protests here, he says: but in the end, you cannot define the essence by instantaneity, what does this mean? Then it is a pure instantaneity? Sometimes you have a basely sensual appetite, sometimes you have a better love, and you will say each time that you are as perfect as you can be, there as in a series of flashes! In other words Blyenbergh says to him: you cannot expel the phenomenon of duration. There is a duration, and it is precisely according to this duration that you can become better, there is a becoming, and it is according to this duration that you can become better or worse. When you experience a basely sensual appetite it is not a pure instantaneity which comes over you. It is necessary to take it in terms of duration, that is: you become worse than you were before. And when a better love forms in you, of course you become better. There is an irreducibility of duration. In other words the essence cannot be measured in its instantaneous states.
Now this is curious because Spinoza stops the correspondence. On this point no response from Spinoza. And at just the same time Blyenbergh does something imprudent, that is sensing that he‚s posed an important question to Spinoza, he starts to pose all sorts of questions, he thinks he has caught Spinoza out, and Spinoza tells him to back off. He says to him let go of me a while, leave me in peace‚. He cuts the correspondence short, he stops, he won't answer anymore.
All of this is very dramatic because it can be said: Aha! Then he didn't have anything to respond If he had to respond because the response that Spinoza could have made, and we are certainly forced to conclude that he could have made it, therefore if he didn't make it, it is because he did not want to, the response is all in the Ethics. Therefore just as on certain points the correspondence with Blyenbergh goes farther than the Ethics, on other points, and for a simple reason I think, which is that Spinoza above all doesn't want to give Blyenbergh, for reasons which are his own, he above all doesn't want to give Blyenbergh the idea of what this book is, this book of which everyone is speaking at the time, that Spinoza experiences the need to hide because he feels that he has a lot to fear. He doesn't want to give Blyenbergh, whom he feels to be an enemy, he doesn't want to give him an idea of what the Ethics is. So he stops the correspondence. We can consider in this respect that he has a response that he doesn't want to give. He says to himself: I will still have problems.
The sphere of belonging of essence
But it is up to us to try to reconstitute this response. Spinoza knows very well that there is duration. You see that we are now in the process of playing with three terms: eternity, instantaneity, duration. What is instantaneity? We don’t yet know at all what eternity is in Spinoza, but eternity is the modality of essence. It is the modality which belongs to essence. Let’s suppose that the essence is eternal, that is that it is not subject to time. What does this mean? We don’t know.
What is instantaneity? Instantaneity is the modality of affection of essence. Formula: I am always as perfect as I can be according to the affections that I have here and now. Therefore affection is actually an instantaneous cut. In effect it is the species of horizontal relation between an action and an image of a thing. Third dimension, it is as if we were in the process of constituting the three dimensions of what we could call the sphere. Here I take a word, which is not at all Spinozist, but I take a word which allows us to regroup this, a Husserlian word, the sphere of belonging of the essence: the essence is what belongs to it. I believe that Spinoza would say that this sphere of belonging of the essence has three dimensions. There is the essence itself, eternal; there are the affections of the essence here and now which are like so many instants, that is, what affects me at this moment; and then there is what?
It is found, and here, the terminology is important, Spinoza rigorously distinguishes between affectio and affectus. It is complicated because there are a lot of translators who translate affectio by affection‚, all of the translators translate affectio by affection‚ that, that works, but there are lots of translators who translate affectus by feeling. On the one hand this doesn’t say much, in French, the difference between affection and feeling, and on the other hand it is a shame, even a slightly more barbaric word would be better, but it would be better, it seems to me, to translate affectus by affect, since the word exists in French; this retains at least the same root common to affectio and to affect. Therefore Spinoza, if only by his terminology, distinguishes well between the affectio and the affectus, the affection and the affect.
Affection envelops an affect
What is it, the affect‚? Spinoza tells us that it is something that the affection envelops. The affection envelops an affect. You recall, the affection is the effect ˜ literally if you want to give it an absolutely rigorous definition ˜ it is the instantaneous effect of an image of a thing on me. For example perceptions are affections. The image of things associated with my action is an affection. The affection envelops, implicates, all of these are the words Spinoza constantly uses. To envelope: it is necessary to really take them as material metaphors, that is that within the affection there is an affect. There is a difference in nature between the affect and the affection. The affect is not something dependent on the affection, it is enveloped by the affection, that’s something else. There is a difference in nature between the affect and the affection. What does my affection, that is the image of the thing and the effect of this image on me, what does it envelop? It envelops a passage or a transition. Only it is necessary to take passage or transition in a very strong sense. Why?
Duration is the passage, the lived transition
You see, it means: it is something other than a comparison of mind, here we are no longer in the domain of a comparison of mind. It is not a comparison of the mind in two states, it is a passage or transition enveloped by the affection, by every affection. Every instantaneous affection envelops a passage or transition. Transition, to what? Passage, to what? Once again, not at all a comparison of the mind, I must add in order to go more slowly: a lived passage, a lived transition, which obviously doesn’t mean conscious. Every state implicates a lived passage or transition. Passage from what to what, between what and what? More precisely, so close are the two moments of time, the two instants that I consider instant A and instant A‚, that there is a passage from the preceding (antérieur) state to the current (actuel) state. The passage from the preceding state to the current state differs in nature with the preceding state and with the current state. There is a specificity of the transition, and it is precisely this that we call duration and that Spinoza calls duration. Duration is the lived passage, the lived transition. What is duration? Never anything but the passage from one thing to another, it suffices to add, insofar as it is lived.
When, centuries later, Bergson will make duration into a philosophical concept, it will obviously be with wholly different influences. It will be according to itself above all, it will not be under the influence of Spinoza. Nevertheless, I am just pointing out that the Bergsonian use of duration coincides strictly. When Bergson tries to make us understand what he calls duration‚, he says: you can consider psychic states as close together as you want in time, you can consider the state A and the state A‚ as separated by a minute, but just as well by a second, by a thousandth of a second, that is you can make more and more cuts, increasingly tight, increasingly close to one another. You may well go to the infinite, says Bergson, in your decomposition of time, by establishing cuts with increasing rapidity, but you will only ever reach states. And he adds that the states are always of space. The cuts are always spatial. And you will have brought your cuts together very well, you will let something necessarily escape, it is the passage from one cut to another, however small it may be. Now, what does he call duration, at its simplest? It is the passage from one cut to another, it is the passage from one state to another. The passage from one state to another is not a state, you will tell me that all of this is not strong, but it is a really profound statute of living. For how can we speak of the passage, the passage from one state to another, without making it a state? This is going to pose problems of expression, of style, of movement, it is going to pose all sorts of problems. Yet duration is that, it is the lived passage from one state to another insofar as it is irreducible to one state as to the other, insofar as it is irreducible to any state. This is what happens between two cuts.
In one sense duration is always behind our backs, it is at our backs that it happens. It is between two blinks of the eye. If you want an approximation of duration: I look at someone, I look at someone, duration is neither here nor there. Duration is: what has happened between the two? Even if I would have gone as quickly as I would like, duration goes even more quickly, by definition, as if it was affected by a variable coefficient of speed: as quickly as I go, my duration goes more quickly. However quickly I pass from one state to another, the passage is irreducible to the two states. It is this that every affection envelops. I would say: every affection envelops the passage by which we arrive at it. Or equally well: every affection envelops the passage by which we arrive at it, and by which we leave it, towards another affection, however close the two affections considered are. So in order to make my line complete it would be necessary for me to make a line of three times: A, A,' A"; A is the instantaneous affection, of the present moment, A' is that of a little while ago, A" is what is going to come. Even though I have brought them together as close as possible, there is always something which separates them, namely the phenomenon of passage. This phenomenon of passage, insofar as it is a lived phenomenon, is duration: this is the third member of the essence.
I therefore have a slightly stricter definition of the affect, the affect: what every affection envelops, and which nevertheless is of another nature is the passage, it is the lived passage from the preceding state to the current state, or of the current state to the following state. Good. If you understand all that, for the moment we‚re doing a kind of decomposition of the three dimensions of the essence, of the three members of the essence. The essence belongs to itself under the form of the eternity, the affection belongs to the essence under the form of instantaneity, the affect belongs to the essence under the form of duration.
Affect, increase and decrease of power
Now the passage is what? What could a passage be? It is necessary to leave the too spatial idea. Every passage Spinoza tells us, and this is going to be the basis of his theory of affectus, of his theory of the affect, every passage is ˜ here he doesn't say implicates‚, understand that the words are very very important ˜ he will tell us of the affection that it implicates an affect, every affection implicates, envelops, but the enveloped and the enveloping just don't have the same nature. Every affection, that is every determinable state at a single moment, envelops an affect, a passage. But the passage, I don't ask what it envelops, it is enveloped; I ask of what does it consist, what is it? And my response from Spinoza, is it obvious what it is? It is increase and decrease of my power (puissance). It is increase or decrease of my power, even infinitesimally. I take two cases: I am in a dark room ˜ I‚m developing all of this, it is perhaps useless, I don't know, but it is to persuade you that when you read a philosophical text it is necessary that you have the most ordinary situations in your head, the most everyday ones. You are in a dark room, you are as perfect, Spinoza will say: Let’s judge from the point of view of affections, you are as perfect as you can be according to the affections that you have. You don't have any, you don't have visual affections, that’s all. There, that’s all. But you are as perfect as you can be. All of a sudden someone enters and turns on the lights without warning: I am completely dazzled. Notice that I took the worse example for me. Then, no. I‚ll change it, I was wrong. I am in the dark, and someone arrives softly, all that, and turns on a light, this is going to be very complicated this example. You have your two states which could be very close together in time. The state that I call: dark state, and small b, the lighted state. They are very close together. I am saying: there is a passage from one to the other, so fast that it may even be unconscious, all that, to the point that your whole body, in Spinozist terms these are examples of bodies, your whole body has a kind of mobilization of itself, in order to adapt to this new state. The affect is what? It is the passage. The affection is the dark state and the lighted state. Two successive affections, in cuts. The passage is the lived transition from one to the other. Notice that in this case here there is no physical transition, there is a biological transition, it is your body which makes the transition.
Every affection is instantaneous
What does this mean? The passage is necessarily an increase of power or a decrease of power. It is necessary to already understand and it is for this reason that all this is so concrete, it is not determined in advance. Suppose that in the dark you were in deep state of meditation. Your whole body was focused on this extreme meditation. You held something. The other brute arrives and turns on the light, if need be you lose an idea that you were going to have. You turn around, you are furious. We hold onto this because we will use the same example again. You hate him, even if not for long, but you hate him, you say to him: „Hey! Listen. In this case the passage to the lighted state will have brought you what? A decrease of power. Evidently if you had looked for your glasses in the dark, there they would have brought you an increase of power. The guy who turned the light on, you say to him: „Thank you very much, I love you. Good.
We’ve already said that, maybe this story of increase and decrease of power is going to play in quite variable directions and contexts. But, on the whole, there are directions. If we stick to you, one could say in general, without taking the context into account, if one increases the affections of which you are capable, there is an increase of power, if one decreases the affections of which you are capable there is a decrease of power. We can say this on the whole even knowing that it is not always like this. What do I mean? I mean something very simple: it is that every affection is instantaneous ˜ Spinoza, you see how he is very very curious, in virtue of his rigor he will say: every affection is instantaneous, and it is this that he responded to Blyenbergh, he didn't want to say more on it. One could not say that he distorted his thought, he only gave one sphere of it, he only gave a tip of it. Every affection is instantaneous, he will always say this, and he will always say: I am as perfect as I can be according to what I have in the instant. It is the sphere of belonging of the instantaneous essence. In this sense, there is neither good nor bad. But in return, the instantaneous state always envelopes an increase or a decrease of power, and in this sense there is good and bad. So much so that, not from the point of view of its state, but from the point of view of its passage, from the point of view of its duration, there is something bad in becoming blind, there is something good in becoming seeing, since it is either decrease of power or else increase of power. And here it is no longer the domain of a comparison of the mind between two states, it is the domain of the lived passage from one state to another, the lived passage in the affect. So much so that it seems to me that we can understand nothing of the Ethics, that is of the theory of the affects, if we don't keep very much in mind the opposition that Spinoza established between the comparisons between two states of the mind, and the lived passages from one state to another, lived passages that can only be lived in the affects. The affects are joy or sadness There remains for us quite a few things to understand. I would not say that the affects signal the decreases or increases of power, I would say that the affects are the decreases and the increases of lived power. Not necessarily conscious once again. It is I believe a very very profound conception of the affect. So Let’s give them names in order to better mark them. The affects which are increases of power we will call joys, the affects which are decreases of power we will call sadnesses. And the affects are either based on joy, or else based on sadness. Hence Spinoza‚s very rigorous definitions: sadness is the affect that corresponds to a decrease of power, of my power, joy is the affect which corresponds to an increase of my power. Sadness is a affect enveloped by an affection. The affection is what? It is an image of a thing which causes me sadness, which gives me sadness. You see, there we find everything, this terminology is very rigorous. I repeat. I don't know anymore what I‚ve said. The affect of sadness is enveloped by an affection, the affection is what, it is the image of a thing which gives me sadness, this image can be very imprecise, very confused, it matters little. There is my question: why does the image of a thing which gives me sadness, why does this image of a thing envelop a decrease of power (puissance) of acting? What is this thing which gives me sadness? We have at least all of the elements to respond to it, now everything is regrouped, if you have followed me everything must regroup harmoniously, very harmoniously. The thing which gives me sadness is the thing whose relations don't agree with mine. That is affection. All things whose relations tend to decompose one of my relations or the totality of my relations affect me with sadness. In terms of affectio you have there a strict correspondence, in terms of affectio, I would say: the thing has relations which are not composed with mine, and which tend to decompose mine. Here I am speaking in terms of affectio. In terms of affects I would say: this thing affects me with sadness, therefore by the same token], in the same way, decreases my power. You see I have the double language of instantaneous affections and of affects of passage. Hence I return as always to my question: why, but why, if one understood why, maybe one would understand everything. What happens? You see that he takes sadness in one sense, they are the two big affective tonalities, not two particular cases. Sadness and joy are the two big affective tonalities, that is affective in the sense of affectus, the affect. We are going to see as two lineages: the lineage based on sadness and the lineage based on joy, that are going to cover the theory of the affects. Why the thing whose relations don't agree with mine, why does it affect me with sadness, that is decrease my power of acting? You see we have a double impression: both that We’ve understood in advance, and then that we‚re missing something in order to understand. What happens, when something is presented having relations which don't compose with mine, it could be a current of air.
I am going back, I am in the dark, in my room, I am alone, I am left in peace. Someone enters and he makes me flinch, he knocks on the door, he knocks on the door and he makes me flinch. I lose an idea. He enters and he starts to speak; I have fewer and fewer ideas ouch, ouch, I am affected with sadness. Yes, I feel sadness, I‚ve been disturbed, damn! Spinoza will say, the lineage of sadness is what? Then on top of it all I hate it! I say to him: „eh, listen, it‚s okay. It could be not very serious, it could be a small hate, he irritates me damn it: hoooo! I cannot have peace, all that, I hate it!
What does it mean, hate? You see, sadness, he said to us: your power of acting is decreased, then you experience sadness insofar as it is decreased, your power of acting, okay. I hate it‚, that means that the thing whose relations don't compose with yours, you strive, this would only be what you have in mind, you strive for its destruction. To hate is to want to destroy what threatens to destroy you. This is what hate means. That is, to want‚ to decompose what threatens to decompose you. So the sadness engenders hate. Notice that it engenders joys too.
Hate engenders joys. So the two lineages, on one hand sadness, on the other hand joy, are not going to be pure lineages. What are the joys of hate? There are joys of hate.
As Spinoza says: if you imagine the being that you hate to be unhappy, your heart experiences a strange joy. One can even engender passions. And Spinoza does this marvelously. There are joys of hate. Are these joys? We can at least say, and this is going to advance us a lot for later, that these joys are strangely compensatory, that is indirect. What is first in hate, when you have feelings of hate, always look for the sadness at base, that is your power of acting was impeded, was decreased. And even if you have, if you have a diabolical heart, even if you have to believe that this heart flourishes in the joys of hate, these joys of hate, as immense as they are, will never get rid of the nasty little sadness of which you are a part; your joys are joys of compensation. The man of hate, the man of resentment, etc., for Spinoza, is the one all of whose joys are poisoned by the initial sadness, because sadness is in these same joys. In the end he can only derive joy from sadness. Sadness that he experiences himself by virtue of the existence of the other, sadness that he imagines inflicting on the other to please himself, all of this is for measly joys, says Spinoza. These are indirect joys. We rediscover our criteria of direct and indirect, all comes together at this level.
So much so that I return to my question: then yes, it is necessary to say it all the same: in what way does an affection, that is the image of something that doesn't agree with my own relations, in what way does this decrease my power of acting? It is both obvious and not. Here is what Spinoza means: suppose that you have a power (puissance), Let’s set it up roughly the same, and there, first case you come up against something whose relations don't compose with yours. Second case, on the contrary you encounter something whose relations compose with your own. Spinoza, in the Ethics, uses the Latin term: occursus, occursus is exactly this case, the encounter. I encounter bodies, my body never stops encountering bodies. The bodies that he encounters sometimes have relations which compose, sometimes have relations which don't compose with his. What happens when I encounter a body whose relation doesn't compose with mine? Well there: I would say ˜ and you will see that in book IV of the Ethics this doctrine is very strong. I cannot say that it is absolutely affirmed, but it is very much suggested ˜ a phenomenon happens which is like a kind of fixation. What does this mean, a fixation? That is, a part of my power is entirely devoted to investing and to isolating the trace, on me, of the object which doesn't agree with me. It is as if I tense my muscles, take once again the example: someone that I don't wish to see enters into the room, I say to myself Uh oh‚, and in me is made something like a kind of investment: a whole part of my power is there in order to ward off the effect on me of the object, of the disagreeable object. I invest the trace of the thing on me. I invest the effect of the thing on me. I invest the trace of the thing on me, I invest the effect of the thing on me. In other words, I try as much as possible to circumscribe the effect, to isolate it, in other words I devote a part of my power to investing the trace of the thing. Why? Evidently in order to subtract it, to put it at a distance, to avert it. Understand that this goes without saying: this quantity of power that I‚ve devoted to investing the trace of the disagreeable thing, this is the amount of my power that is decreased, which is removed from me, which is as it were immobilized.
This is what is meant by: my power decreases. It is not that I have less power, it is that a part of my power is subtracted in this sense that it is necessarily allocated to averting the action of the thing. Everything happens as if a whole part of my power is no longer at my disposal. This is the tonality affective sadness‚: a part of my power serves this unworthy need which consists in warding off the thing, warding off the action of the thing. So much immobilized power. To ward off the thing is to prevent it from destroying my relations, therefore I‚ve toughened my relations; this can be a formidable effort, Spinoza said: „like lost time, like it would have been more valuable to avoid this situation. In this way, a part of my power is fixed, this is what is meant by: a part of my power decreases. Indeed a part of my power is subtracted from me, it is no longer in my possession. It is invested, it is like a kind of hardening, a hardening of power (puissance), to the point that it is almost bad, damn, because of lost time!
On the contrary in joy, it is very curious. The experience of joy as Spinoza presents it, for example I encounter something which agrees, which agrees with my relations. For example music. There are wounding sounds. There are wounding sounds which inspire in me an enormous sadness. What complicates all this is that there are always people who find these wounding sounds, on the contrary, delicious and harmonious. But this is what makes the joy of life, that is the relations of love and hate. Because my hate against the wounding] sound is going to be extended to all those who like this wounding sound. So I go home, I hear these wounding sounds which appear to me as challenges, which really decompose all of my relations, they enter into my head, they enter into my stomach, all that. A whole part of my power is hardened in order to hold at a distance these sounds which penetrate me. I obtain silence and I put on the music that I like; everything changes. The music that I like, what does that mean? It means the resonant relations which are composed with my relations. And suppose that at that very moment my machine breaks. My machine breaks: I experience hate! (Richard: Oh no!) An Objection? (Laughter of Gilles Deleuze) Finally I experience a sadness, a big sadness. Good, I put on music that I like, there, my whole body, and my soul ˜ it goes without saying ˜ composes its relations with the resonant relations. This is what is meant by the music that I like: my power is increased. So for Spinoza, what interests me therein is that, in the experience of joy, there is never the same thing as in sadness, there is not at all an investment ˜ and we‚ll see why ˜ there is not at all an investment of one hardened part which would mean that a certain quantity of power (puissance) is subtracted from my power (pouvoir). There is not, why? Because when the relations are composed, the two things of which the relations are composed, form a superior individual, a third individual which encompasses and takes them as parts. In other words, with regard to the music that I like, everything happens as if the direct composition of relations (you see that we are always in the criteria of the direct) a direct composition of relations is made, in such a way that a third individual is constituted, individual of which me, or the music, are no more than a part. I would say, from now on, that my power (puissance) is in expansion, or that it increases.
If I take these examples, it is in order to persuade you all the same that, when, and this also goes for Nietzsche, that when authors speak of power (puissance), Spinoza of the increase and decrease of power (puissance), Nietzsche of the Will of Power (Volonté de Puissance), which it too, proceeds What Nietzsche calls affect‚ is exactly the same thing as what Spinoza calls affect, it is on this point that Nietzsche is Spinozist, that is, it is the decreases or increases of power (puissance). They have in fact something which doesn't have anything to do with whatever conquest of a power (pouvoir). Without doubt they will say that the only power (pouvoir) is finally power (puissance), that is: to increase one‚s power (puissance) is precisely to compose relations such that the thing and I, which compose the relations, are no more than two sub-individualities of a new individual, a formidable new individual.
by Steven Craig Hickman
Edmund Berger in his essay Underground Streams speaking of various tactics used by the Situationists, Autonomia, and the Carnivalesque:
“Like the Situationists the Autonomia would engage with the tradition of the Carnivalesque alongside a Marxist political analysis. Bakhtin had described the carnival as “political drama without footlights,” where the dividing line between “symbol and reality” was extremely vague, and the Autonomia had embodied this approach through their media-oriented tactics of detournement. But under a regime of emergency laws a great portion of the Autonomia was sent to prison or into exile, leaving its legacy through an extensive network of radical punk and anarchist squats and social centers.”
One of the things we notice is that the Autonomia movement actually struck a nerve at the heart of Power and forced their hand, which obligingly reacted and used their power-over and dominion of the Security System to screen out, lock up, and exclude this threat. That’s the actual problem that will have to be faced by any emancipatory movement in the present and future: How to create a movement that can be subversive of the system, and yet chameleon like not rouse the reactionary forces to the point of invoking annihilation or exclusionary measures?
A movement toward bottom-up world building, hyperstition, and exit from this Statist system will have to do it on the sly utilizing a mirror world strategy that can counter the State and Public Security and Surveillance strategies. Such Counter-Worlds of Exit and Hyperstitional instigation will need to work the shadow climes of the energetic unconscious, triggering a global movement from the shadows rather than in direct opposition.
In many ways as I think we need a politics of distortion, allure, and sincerity, one that invents a hyperstitional hyperobject among the various multidimensional levels of our socio-cultural systems, calling forth the energetic forces at the heart of human desire and intellect, bypassing the State and Corporate filters and Security Systems of power and control. Such a path will entail knowing more about the deep State’s secret Security apparatus and Surveillance methodologies, technologies, and tactics than most thinkers are willing to acknowledge or even apprehend. Like the Hacker movements of the 90’s up to Anonymous one will need to build shadow worlds that mimic the stealth weapons of the State and Corporate Global apparatus and assemblages; but with one caveat – these weapons are non-violent “weapons of the mind”, and go unseen and unrecognized by the State Security Systems at Local and Global levels.
A global system of mass, warrantless, government surveillance now imperils privacy and other civil liberties essential to sustaining the free world. This project to unilaterally, totally control information flow is a product of complex, ongoing interplay between technological, political, legal, corporate, economic, and social factors, including research and development of advanced, digital technologies; an unremitting “war on terror”; relaxed surveillance laws; government alliances with information technology companies; mass media manipulation; and corporate globalism. One might say it as the Googling of the World.
The United Stats internally hosts 17 intelligence agencies under the umbrella known as the Security Industrial Complex. They are also known for redundancy, complexities, mismanagement and waste. This “secret state” occupies 10,000 facilities across the U.S. Over the past five years the total funding budget exceeded half a trillion dollars. The notion of globalization which has its roots in the so called universalist discourses of the Enlightenment had as its goal one thing: to impose a transparent and manageable design over unruly and uncontrollable chaos: to bring the world of humans, hitherto vexingly opaque, bafflingly unpredictable and infuriatingly disobedient and oblivious to human wishes and objectives, into order: a complete, incontestable and unchallenged order. Order under the indomitable rule of Reason.1
This Empire of Reason spreads its tentacles across the known world through networks and statecraft, markets and tradecraft, war and secrecy, drugs and pharmakon. The rise of the shadow state during Truman’s era began a process that had already been a part of the Corporate worldview for decades. The monopoly and regulation of a mass consumption society was and always will be the goal of capitalist market economies. In our time the slow and methodical spread of the American surveillance state and apparatus has shaped the globalist agenda. Because of it the reactionary forces of other state based control systems such as Russia and China are exerting their own power and surveillance systems as counters to Euro-American hegemony.
Surveillance is a growing feature of daily news, reflecting its rapid rise to prominence in many life spheres. But in fact surveillance has been expanding quietly for many decades and is a basic feature of the modern world. As that world has transformed itself through successive generations, so surveillance takes on an ever changing character. Today, modern societies seem so fluid that it makes sense to think of them being in what Bauman terms a ‘liquid’ phase. Always on the move, but often lacking certainty and lasting bonds, today’s citizens, workers, consumers and travelers also find that their movements are monitored, tracked and traced. Surveillance slips into a liquid state.
As Bauman relates it liquid surveillance helps us grasp what is happening in the world of monitoring, tracking, tracing, sorting, checking and systematic watching that we call surveillance. Such a state of affairs engages with both historical debates over the panopticon design for surveillance as well as contemporary developments in a globalized gaze that seems to leave nowhere to hide, and simultaneously is welcomed as such. But it also stretches outwards to touch large questions sometimes unreached by debates over surveillance. It is a conversation in which each participant contributes more or less equally to the whole. (Bauman)
Our network society has installed its own “superpanopticon” (Mark Poster). Such a system is ubiquitous and invisible to the mass of users. As Poster states it “The unwanted surveillance of one’s personal choice becomes a discursive reality through the willing participation of the surveilled individual. In this instance the play of power and discourse is uniquely configured. The one being surveilled provides the information necessary.” For Poster, this supply of self-surveillance is provided through consumer transactions stored and immediately retrievable via databases in their constitution of the subject as a “sum of the information in the fields of the record that applies to that name.” The database compiles the subject as a composite of his or her online choices and activities as tracked by IFS. This compilation is fixed on media objects (images, text, MP3s, Web pages, IPs, URLs) across the deluge of code that can be intercepted through keyword pattern recognition and private lists of “threatening” URLs.2
Our so called neoliberal society has erased the Public Sphere for the atomized world of total competition in a self-regulated market economy devoid of politics except as stage-craft. As authors in the Italian autonomist movements have argued for the past fifty and more years, this “total subsumption” of capital upon the life-sphere has been accomplished through “material” and “immaterial” means. According to these authors, capital in late capitalism and neoliberalism has attempted to progressively colonize the entire life-sphere. Resistance, they argue, comes through the “reserves” to capital that remain as the social and intellectual foundation from which capital draws, including through “immaterial labor” using digital means. Gradually during modernity, such theorists have argued, life itself has been taken as a target for capitalist subsumption, through the cooptation of communication, sexual and familial relationships (Fortunati 1995), education, and every other sphere of human activity, with economic exchange and survival as the ultimate justification for all relationships.3
Capital’s “apparatus of capture” has become increasingly efficient and broad in its appropriation of selves as subjects of its political economy through the combination of appropriating governmental functions such as: buying off political actors and agencies, cutting public funding to modernist institutions and infrastructures, redefining the agenda of education and other cultural institutions toward capitalist values, owning and narrowing the focus of the media, forcing family structures and individuals to adapt to scarcity economies, and using government police and surveillance forces and economic pressures to crush resistance. In short, it is said that neoliberalism has advanced by the totalitarian institutionalization of national and international capitalism, one nation after another, using domestic means to force compliance in domestic markets and using international pressures (economic, military, cultural) to do the same to other countries, cultures, and peoples. (Day, pp. 126-127)
The increased accuracy (or believed accuracy) of increased surveillance and feedback targeting through the collection of social big data and its analyses and social and political uses (ranging from drone predators to state surveillance in both democratic and communist/ authoritarian governments to consumer targeting— for example, the targeting done by Target Corporation, as described in a 2012 New York Times article [Duhigg 2012])— belong to a conjoined mechanism of cybernetic and neoliberal governmentality, which crosses governmental and corporate databases and organizations. Social big data seeks to demarcate trends, which then directly or indirectly act as norms, which further consolidate individual and group action within market-determined norms (Rouvroy 2013). People are forced into competition, into a “freedom” that is monitored and checked within systems of feedback control. As Norbert Weiner suggested in the Cold War period (Wiener 1954, 1961), communicative control can be used toward a discourse of “rationality”; a rationality that is seen as proper to a given political economy. The documentary indexing of the subject provides the codes for the subject’s social positioning and expressions by others and by itself. Thanks to networked, mobile devices, the subject can attempt to continuously propose him- or herself to the world as the subject of documentary representation. (Day, pp. 132-133)
Those of us in the West who use mobile devices are becoming hooked into an elaborate datasociety in which every aspect of our lives is conditioned to enforce a self-regulatory system of choices and taboos. The surveillance is done at the level of individuals, who are monitored and whose actions are predicted throughout key moments of their consumption or production, marking changes in trends and phase states, and recalculating the trajectory of entities according to these new parameters and relationships. Our algorithmic society is splicing us all into a grid of total control systems from which it will become increasingly difficult to extricate ourselves.
As Douglas Rushkoff said recently digital technology is programmed. This makes it biased toward those with the capacity to write the code. In a digital age, we must learn how to make the software, or risk becoming the software. It is not too difficult or too late to learn the code behind the things we use—or at least to understand that there is code behind their interfaces. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of those who do the programming, the people paying them, or even the technology itself.4 More and more our mass society is being programmed through an immaterial grid of datafied compliance and surveillance that captures our desires and regulates our choices. In some ways we’ve become the mindless generation, unable to stand back from the immersive worlds of our technosphere in which we live and breath. We’ve become enamored with our Mediatainment Industrial Complex that encompasses us to the point that those being born now will not know there ever was a word without gadgets. In fact we’ve all become gadgets in a market world of science fiction, our desires captured by the very gadgets we once thought would free us from the drudgery of time. Instead we’ve been locked within a world without time, a timeless realm in which the very truth of history has been sucked out of it and instead we live in a mythic time of no time, prisoners of a cartoon world of endless entertainment and false desires. In such a world the virtual has become actual, we wander through life caught in the mesh of a fake world of commodity cartoons, citizens of a dreamland turned nightmare. Shall we ever wake up?
Modern radical thought has always seen subjectivation as an energetic process: mobilization, social desire and political activism, expression, participation have been the modes of conscious collective subjectivation in the age of the revolutions. But in our age, energy is running out and desire, which has given modern social dynamics their soul, is absorbed in the black hole of virtualization and financial games, as Jean Baudrillard argues in his 1976 book, Symbolic Exchange and Death. In this book, Baudrillard analyzes the hyperrealistic stage of capitalism, and the instauration of the logic of simulation.
The end of the spectacle brings with it the collapse of reality into hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium such as advertising or photography. Through reproduction from one medium into another the real becomes volatile, it becomes the allegory of death, but it also draws strength from its o