LECTURES BY GILLES DELEUZE
What is it that moves over the body of a society? It is always flows, and a person is always a cutting off [coupure] of a flow. A person is always a point of departure for the production of a flow, a point of destination for the reception of a flow, a flow of any kind; or, better yet, an interception of many flows.
If a person has hair, this hair can move through many stages: the hairstyle of a young girl is not the same as that of a married woman, it is not the same as that of a widow: there is a whole hairstyle code. A person, insofar as she styles her hair, typically presents herself as an interceptor in relation to flows of hair that exceed her and exceed her case and these flows of hair are themselves coded according to very different codes: widow code, young girl code, married woman code, etc. This is ultimately the essential problem of coding and of the territorialization which is always coding flows with it, as a fundamental means of operation: marking persons (because persons are situated at the interception and at the cutting off [coupure] of flows, they exist at the points where flows are cut off [coupure]).
But, now, more than marking persons--marking persons is the apparent means of operation--coding has a deeper function, that is to say, a society is only afraid of one thing: the deluge; it is not afraid of the void, it is not afraid of dearth or scarcity. Over a society, over its social body, something flows [coule] and we do not know what it is, something flows that is not coded, and something which, in relation to this society, even appears as the uncodable. Something which would flow and which would carry away this society to a kind of deterritorialization which would make the earth upon which it has set itself up dissolve: this, then, is the crisis. We encounter something that crumbles and we do not know what it is, it responds to no code, it flees underneath the codes; and this is even true, in this respect, for capitalism, which for a long time believed it could always secure simili-codes; this, then, is what we call the well-known power [puissance] of recuperation within capitalism--when we say recuperate we mean: each time something seems to escape capitalism, seems to pass beneath its simili-codes; it reabsorbs all this, it adds one more axiom and the machine starts up again; think of capitalism in the 19th century: it sees the flowing of a pole of flow that is, literally, a flow, the flow of workers, a proletariat flow: well, what is this which flows, which flows wickedly and which carries away our earth, where are we headed? The thinkers of the 19th century have a very strange response, notably the French historical school: it was the first in the 19th century to have thought in terms of classes, they are the ones who invent the theoretical notion of classes and invent it precisely as an essential fragment of the capitalist code, namely: the legitimacy of capitalism comes from this: the victory of the bourgeoisie as a class opposed to the aristocracy.
The system that appears in the works of Saint Simon, A. Thierry, E. Quinet is the radical seizure of consciousness by the bourgeoisie as a class and they interpret all of history as a class struggle. It is not Marx who invents the understanding of history as a class struggle, it is the bourgeois historical school of the 19th century: 1789, yes, it is a class struggle, they are struck blind when they see flowing, on the actual surface of the social body, this weird flow that they do not recognize: the proletariat flow. The idea that this is a class is not possible, it is not one at this moment: the day when capitalism can no longer deny that the proletariat is a class, this coincides with the moment when, in its head, it found the moment to recode all this. That which we call the power [puissance] of recuperation of capitalism, what is it?
[It consists] in having at its disposal a kind of axiomatic, and when it sets upon [dispose de] some new thing which it does not recognize, as with every axiomatic, it is an axiomatic with a limit that cannot be saturated: it is always ready to add one more axiom to restore its functioning. When capitalism can no longer deny that the proletariat is a class, when it comes to recognize a type of class bipolarity, under the influence of workers' struggles in the 19th century, and under the influence of the revolution, this moment is extraordinarily ambiguous, for it is an important moment in the revolutionary struggle, but it is also an essential moment in capitalist recuperation: I make you one more axiom, I make you axioms for the working class and for the union power [puissance] that represents them, and the capitalist machine grinds its gears and starts up again, it has sealed the breach. In other words, all the bodies of a society are essential: to prevent the flowing over society, over its back, over its body, of flows that it cannot code and to which it cannot assign a territoriality.
Need, scarcity, famine, a society can code these, what it cannot code, is when this thing appears, when it says to itself: what is up with these guys? So, in a first phase, the repressive apparatus puts itself into motion, if we can't code it, we will try to annihilate it. In a second phase, we try to find new axioms which allow it to be recoded for better or worse.
A social body is well defined as follows: there is perpetual trickery, flows flow over from one pole to another, and they are perpetually coded, and there are flows that escape from the codes and then there is the social effort to recuperate all that, to axiomatize all this, to manipulate the code a little, so as to make room for flows that are also dangerous: all of a sudden, there are young people who do not respond to the code: they insist on having a flow of hair which was not expected, what shall we do now? We try to recode it, we will add an axiom, we will try to recuperate [it] but then [if] there is something within it that continues not to let itself be coded, what then?
In other words, this is the fundamental action of a society: to code the flows and to treat as an enemy anyone who presents himself, in relation to society, as an uncodable flow, because, once again, it challenges [met en question] the entire earth, the whole body of this society. I will say this of every society, except perhaps of our own--that is, capitalism, even though just now I spoke of capitalism as if it coded all the flows in the same way as all other societies and did not have any other problems, but perhaps I was going too fast.
There is a fundamental paradox in capitalism as a social formation: if it is true that the terror of all the other social formations was decoded flows, capitalism, for its part, historically constituted itself on an unbelievable thing: namely, that which was the terror of other societies: the existence and the reality of decoded flows and these capitalism made its proper concern. If this were true, it would explain that capitalism is, in a very precise sense, the universal form of all societies: in a negative sense, capitalism would be that which all societies dreaded above all, and we cannot help but have the impression that, historically speaking, capitalism...in a certain sense, is what every social formation constantly tried to exorcise, what it constantly tried to avoid, why? Because it was the ruin of every other social formation. And the paradox of capitalism is that a social formation constituted itself on the basis of that which was the negative of all the others. This means that capitalism was not able to constitute itself except through a conjunction, an encounter between decoded flows of all kinds. The thing which was dreaded most of all by every social formation was the basis for a social formation that had to engulf all the others: that what was the negative of all formations has become the very positivity of ours, this makes one shudder. And in what sense was capitalism constituted on the conjunction of decoded flows: it required extraordinary encounters at the end of a process [processus] of decodings of every kind, which were formed with the decline of feudalism. These decodings of all kinds consisted in the decoding of land flows, under the form of the constitution of large private properties, the decoding of monetary flows, under the form of the development of merchant fortunes, the decoding of a flow of workers under the form of expropriation, of the deterritorialization of serfs and peasant landholders. And this is not enough, for if we take the example of Rome, the decoding in decadent Rome, all this clearly happened: the decoding of flows of property under the form of large private properties , the decoding of monetary flows under the forms of large private fortunes, the decoding of labourers with the formation of an urban sub-proletariat: everything is found here, almost everything. The elements of capitalism are found here all together, only there is no encounter. What was necessary for the encounter to be made between the decoded flows of capital or of money and the decoded flows of labourers, for the encounter to be made between the flow of emergent capital and the flow of deterritorialized manpower, literally, the flow of decoded money and the flow of deterritorialized labourers. Indeed, the manner in which money is decoded so as to become money capital and the manner in which the labourer is ripped from the earth in order to become the owner of his/her labour power [force de travail] alone: these are two processes totally independent from each other, there must be an encounter between the two.
Indeed, for the process of the decoding of money to form capital that is made all across the embryonic forms of commercial capital and banking capital, the flow of labour, the free possessor of his/her labour power alone, is made across a whole other line that is the deterritorialization of the labourer at the end of feudalism, and this could very well not have been encountered. A conjunction of decoded and deterritorialized flows, this is at the basis of capitalism. Capitalism is constituted on the failure of all the pre-existent codes and social territorialities.
If we admit this, what does this represent: the capitalist machine, it is literally demented. A social machine that functions on the basis of decoded, deterritorialized flows, once again, it is not that societies did not have any idea of this; they had the idea in the form of panic, they acted to prevent this--it was the overturning of all the social codes known up to that point--; so, a society that constitutes itself on the negative of all pre-existing societies, how can it function? A society for which it is proper to decode and deterritorialize all the flows: flow of production, flow of consumption, how can it function, under what form: perhaps capitalism has other processes than coding to make it work, perhaps it is completely different. What I have been seeking up until now was to reground, at a certain level, the problem of the relation CAPITALISM-SCHIZOPHRENIA--and the grounding of a relation is found in something common between capitalism and the schizo: what they have totally in common, and it is perhaps a community that is never realized, that does not assume a concrete figure, it is a community of a principle that remains abstract, namely, the one like the other does not cease to filter, to emit, to intercept, to concentrate decoded and deterritorialized flows.
This is their profound identity and it is not at the level of a way of life that capitalism renders us schizophrenic, it is at the level of the economic process: all this only works through a system of conjunction, say the word then, on condition of accepting that this word implies a veritable difference in nature from codes. It is capitalism that functions like an axiomatic, an axiomatic of decoded flows. All other social formations functioned on the basis of a coding and of a territorialization of flows and between a capitalist machine that makes an axiomatic of decoded flows such as they are or deterritorialized flows, such as they are, and other social formations, there is truly a difference in nature that makes capitalism the negative of other societies. Now, the schizo, in his own way, with his own tottering walk, he does the same thing. In a sense, he is more capitalist than the capitalist, more `prole' than the `prole': he decodes, he deterritorializes the flows and knots together a kind of identity in nature of capitalism and the schizo.
Schizophrenia is the negative of the capitalist formation. In a sense, schizophrenia goes further, capitalism functioned on a conjunction of decoded flows, on one condition, that is, at the same time that it perpetually decoded flows of money, flows of labour, etc., it incorporated them, it constructed a new type of machine, at the same time, not afterwards, that was not a coding machine, but an axiomatic machine.
It is in this way that it succeeds in making a coherent system, on condition that we say what profoundly distinguishes an axiomatic of decoded flows and a coding of flows. Whereas the schizo, he does more, he does not let himself be axiomatized either, he always goes further with the decoded flows, making do with no flows at all, rather than letting himself be coded, no earth at all, rather than letting himself be territorialized. What is their relation to each other? It is from this point that the problem arises. One must study more closely the relation capitalism / schizophrenia, giving the greatest importance to this: is it true and in what sense can we define capitalism as a machine that functions on the basis of decoded flows, on the basis of deterritorialized flows? In what sense is it the negative of all social formations and along the same lines, in what sense is schizophrenia the negative of capitalism, that it goes even further in decoding and in deterritorialization, and just where does it go, and where does that take it? Towards a new earth, towards no earth at all, towards the deluge?
If I try to link up with the problems of psychoanalysis, in what sense, in what manner--this is strictly a beginning--, I assume that there is something in common between capitalism, as a social structure, and schizophrenia as a process. Something in common that makes it so that the schizo is produced as the negative of capitalism (itself the negative of all the rest), and that this relation, we can now comprehend it by considering its terms: coding of flows, decoded and deterritorialized flows, axiomatic of decoded flows, etc.
It remains to be seen what in the psychoanalytic and psychiatric problem continues to preoccupy us. One must reread three texts of Marx: in book I: the production of surplus value, the chapter on the tendential fall in the last book, and finally, in the ?Grundrisse,? the chapter on automation.
Richard Zrehen: I did not understand what you said in regard to the analogy between capitalism and schizophrenia, when you said capitalism is the negative of other societies and the schizo is the negative of capitalism, I would have understood that capitalism is to other societies what the schizo is to capitalism, but, I would have thought, on the contrary, that you were not going to make this opposition. I would have thought of the opposition: capitalism / other societies and schizophrenia/ something else, instead of an analogy in three terms, to make one in four terms.
Cyril: Richard means to say the opposition between: capitalism/ other societies and schizophrenia and neuroses, for example.
Deleuze: Haaa, yes, yes, yes, yes. We are defining flows in political economy, its importance with actual economists confirms what I have been saying. For the moment, a flow is something, in a society, that flows from one pole to another, and that passes through a person, only to the degree that persons are interceptors.
Intervention of a guy with a strange accent
Deleuze: Let me take an example, you say that in a society one does not stop decoding, I'm not sure: I believe that there are two things in a society, one of which pertains to the principle by which a society comes to an end [se termine], one of which pertains to the death of a society: all death, in a certain manner, appears--this is the great principle of Thanatos--from inside [dedans] and all death comes from outside [dehors]; I mean that there is an internal menace in every society, this menace being represented by the danger of flows decoding themselves, it makes sense. There is never a flow first, and then a code that imposes itself upon it. The two are coexistent. Which is the problem, if I again take up the studies, already quite old, of Levi-Strauss on marriage: he tells us: the essential in a society is circulation and exchange.
Marriage, alliance, is exchanging, and what is important is that it circulates and that it exchanges. There is, then, a flow of women--raising something to a coefficient flow seems to me to be a social operation, the social operation of flows; at the level of society, there are no women, there is a flow of women that refers to a code, a code of age-old things, of clans, of tribes, but there is always flow of women, and then, in a second moment, a code: the code and the flow are absolutely formed face to face with one another. What is it the problem then, at the level of marriage, in a so-called primitive society: it is that, in relation to flows of women, by virtue of a code, there is something that must pass through. It involves forming a sort of system, not at all like Levi-Strauss suggests, not at all a logical combinatory [combinatoire], but a physical system with territorialities: something enters, something exits, so here we clearly see that, brought into relation with a physical system of marriage, women present themselves in the form of a flow, of this flow, the social code means this: in relation to such a flow, something of the flow must pass through, i.e.: flow; something must not go through, and, thirdly--this will make up the three fundamental terms of every code--something must effect the passing through or, on the contrary, the blocking: for example, in matrilineal systems, everyone knows the importance of the maternal [utérine] uncle, why, in the flow of women, what passes through is the permitted or even prescribed marriage. A schizo, in a society like that, he is not there, literally, it belongs to us, over there, it is something else. There, it is different: there is a very good case studied by P. Clastres; there is a guy who does not know, he does not know whom he must marry, he attempts a voyage of deterritorialization to see a faraway sorcerer. There is a great English ethnologist named Leach whose whole thesis consists in saying: it never works like Levi-Strauss says it does, he does not believe in Levi-Strauss' system: no one knows who to marry; Leach makes a fundamental discovery, that which he calls local groups and distinguishes from groups of filiation. Local groups, these are the little groups that machine [machinent] marriages and alliances and they do not deduce them from filiations: the alliance is a kind of strategy that responds to political givens. A local group is literally a group (perverse, specialists in coding) that determines, for each caste, what can pass through, what can not pass through, that which must be blocked, that which can flow. In a matrilineal system, what is blocked? That which is blocked in all systems, that which falls under the rules of the prohibition of incest. Here, something in the flow of women is blocked; namely, certain persons are eliminated from the flow of marriageable women, in relation to other persons. That which, on the contrary, passes through is, we could say, the first permitted incest: the first legal incests in the form of preferential marriages; but everyone knows that the first permitted incests are never practiced in fact, it is still too close to that which is blocked. You see that the flow is interrupted here, something in the flow is blocked, something passes through, and here, there are the great perverts who machine marriages, who block or who effect passages. In the history of the maternal uncle, the aunt is blocked as an image of forbidden incest, in the form of a jesting kinship, the nephew has, with his aunt, a very joyous relation, with his uncle, a relation of theft, but theft, injuries, these are coded, see Malinkowski.
Question: These local groups have magical powers?
Deleuze: They have an overtly political power [pouvoir], they sometimes call upon sorcery, but they are not witchcraft groups, they are political groups who define the strategy of a village in relation to another village, and a clan in relation to another clan.
Every code in relation to flows implies that we prevent something of this flow from passing through, we block it, we let something pass: there will be people having a key position as interceptors, i.e. so as to prevent passage or, on the contrary, to effect passage, and when we take note that these characters are such that, according to the code, certain prestations return to them, we better understand how the whole system works.
In all societies, the problem was always to code flows and to recode those that tended to escape--when is it that the codes vacillate in so-called primitive societies: essentially at the moment of colonialization, there where the code flees under the pressure of capitalism: for that is what it represents in a society of codes, the introduction of money: it scatters to the winds their entire circuit of flows, in the sense that they distinguish essentially three types of flows: the flows of production to be consumed, the flows of prestige, objects of prestige and flows of women. When money is introduced therein, it is a catastrophe (see what Jaudin analyses as ethnocide: money, Oedipus complex)
They try to relate money to their code, as such it can only be a prestige good, it is not a production or consumption good, it is not a woman, but the young people of the tribe who understand quicker than the elders take advantage of money in order to seize hold of the circuit of consumption goods, the circuit of consumption that was traditionally, in certain tribes, controlled by women. So the young people, with money, seize hold of the circuit of consumption. With money which itself can no longer be coded, within a certain framework, we begin with money and we end with money.
M[oney]-C[ommodity]-M[oney], there is absolutely no means of coding this thing here because the qualified flows are replaced by a flow of abstract quantity whose proper essence is the infinite reproduction for which the formula is M-C-M. No code can support infinite reproduction. What is formidable in so-called primitive societies is how debt exists, but exists in the form of a finite block, debt is finite. So, in this sense flows pass their time by fleeing, it does not prevent the codes from being correlative and coding the flows: undoubtedly, it escapes from all sides, and the one who does not let her/himself be coded, and so we say: that's a madman, we will code him/her: the village madman, we will make a code of the code. The originality of capitalism is that it no longer counts on any code, there are code residues, but no one believes in them: we no longer believe in anything: the last code that capitalism knew how to produce was fascism: an effort to recode and reterritorialize even at the economic level, at the level of the functioning of the market in the fascist economy, here we clearly see an extreme effort to resuscitate a kind of code that would function like the code of capitalism, literally, it could have lasted in the form in which it has lasted, as for capitalism, it is incapable of furnishing a code that covers the ensemble of the social field like a grid [quadrille], because its problems no longer pose themselves in terms of code, its problem is to make a mechanism of decoded flows as such, so it is uniquely in this sense that I oppose capitalism as a social formation to all the other known social formations. Can we say that between a coding of flows corresponding to pre-capitalist formations and a decoded axiomatic, there is a difference in nature or is there simply a variation: there is a radical difference in nature! Capitalism cannot furnish any code.
We cannot say that the struggle against a system is totally independent of the manner in which this system was characterized: it is difficult to consider that the struggle of socialism against capitalism in the 19th century was independent of the theory of surplus value, in so far as this theory specified the characteristic of capitalism. Suppose that capitalism can be defined as an economic machine excluding the codes and making decoded flows function by taking them into an axiomatic, this already permits us to bring together the capitalist situation and the schizophrenic situation. Even at the level of analysis that has a practical influence, the analysis of monetary mechanisms (the neocapitalist economists, this is schizophrenic) when we see how the monetary practice of capitalism works, at the concrete level, and not just in theory, its schizoid character, can we say that it is totally indifferent to revolutionary practice. All that we are doing in relation to psychoanalysis and psychiatry comes down to what? Desire, or, it matters little, the unconscious: it is not imaginary or symbolic, it is uniquely machinic, and as long as you have not reached the region of the machine of desire, as long as you remain in the imaginary, the structural or the symbolic, you do not have a genuine hold on the unconscious. They are machines that, like all machines, are confirmed as such by their functioning (confirmations==the painter Lindner obsessed by ?children with machine [enfants avec machine]?: huge little boys in the foreground holding a strange little machine, a kind of little kite and behind him, a big social technical machine and his little machine is plugged into the big one, in the background==that is what I attempted last year to call the orphan unconscious, the true unconscious, the one that does not pass through daddy-mommy, the one that passes through delirious machines, these being in a given relation with the large social machines: second confirmation: an Englishman, Niderland, was aware of Schreber's father. This is what I object to in the text of Freud, it is as if psychoanalysis was a veritable millstone which crushed the deepest character of the guy, namely, his social character... When we read Schreber, the Great Mongol, the Aryans, the Jews, etc. and when we read Freud, not a word about all this, it is as if it was just some manifest content and that one had to discover the latent content=the eternal daddy-mommy of Oedipus. All the political, politico-sexual, politico-libidinal content, because in the end, when Schreber père imagined himself to be a little Alsatian girl defending Alsace against a French officer, there is political libido here. It is sexual and political at the same time, the one in the other; we learn that Schreber was well-known because he had invented a system of education == Schreber Gardens. He had produced a system of universal pedagogy. Schizoanalysis procedes in a direction that is the opposite of psychoanalysis, indeed, each time that the subject narrates something that brings her/him in the vicinity of Oedipus or castration, the schizo being analyzed says `Enough.' What he sees as important, is that: Schreber père invents a pedagogic system of universal value, that is not brought to bear on his own child, but globally: PAN gymnasticon. If we suppress from the delirium [delire] of the son the politico-global dimension of the paternal pedagogic system, we can longer understand anything. The father does not supply a structural function, but a political system: I am saying that the libido passes through here, not through daddy and mommy, through the political system. In the PAN gymnasticon, there are machines: no system without machines, a system, rigourously speaking, is a structural unity of machines, so much so that one must burst the system to reach the machines. And what are Schreber's machines: they are SADO-PARANOIAC machines, a type of delirious machine. They are sado-paranoiac in the sense that they are applied to children, preferably to little girls. With these machines, the children stay calm, in this delirium, the universal pedagogic dimension clearly appears: it is not a delirium about his son, it is a delirium that he constructs about the formation of a higher race. Schreber père acts against his son, not as a father, but as a libidinal promoter of a delirious investment of the social field. It is no longer the paternal function, but rather that the father is there to make something delirious pass through, this is certain, but the father acts here as an agent of transmission in relation to a field that is not the familial field, but that is a political and historical field, once again, the names of history and not the name of the father.
Comtess: We do not catch flies with vinegar, even with a machine
Gilles Deleuze: The system of Schreber père had a global development (belt-whipping for good conduct). It was a big social machine and it was, at the same time, sown in the social machine, full of little delirious sado-paranoiac machines. So too, in the delirium of the son, certainly it is papa, but as a representative of what authority does he intervene. He intervenes as an agent of transmission in a libidinal investment of a certain type of social formation. On the contrary, the drama of psychoanalysis is the eternal familialism that consists in referring the libido, and with it all sexuality, to the familial machine, and we can go on to structuralize it, it changes nothing, we remain within the closed circle of: symbolic castration, structuring function of the family, parental characters, and we continue to crush all the outside [dehors]. Blanchot: ?a new type of relation with the outside,? yet, and this is the critical point, psychoanalysis tends to suppress any relation of itself and of the subject who has just been analyzed with the outside. On itself alone it pretends to reterritorialize us, onto the territoriality or onto the most mediocre earth, the most shabby, the oedipal territoriality, or worse, onto the couch. Here, we clearly see the relation of psychoanalysis and capitalism: if it is true that in capitalism, flows are decoded, are deterritorialized constantly, i.e. that capitalism produces the schizo like it produces money, the whole capitalist project [tentative] consists in reinventing artificial territorialities in order to reinscribe people, to vaguely recode them: they invent anything: HLM [Habitation a Loyer Moyen, i.e.: government-controlled housing], home, and there is familial reterritorialization, the family, it is after all the social cell, so they will reterritorialize the guy in a family (community psychiatry): they reterritorialize people there where all the territorialities are floating ones, they proceed through an artificial, imaginary, residual reterritorialization. And psychoanalysis--classical psychoanalysis--fabricates familial reterritorialization, most of all by skipping over all that is effective in delirium, all that is aggressive in delirium, namely, that delirium is a system of politico-social investments, not just of any type: it is the libido that hooks itself onto political social determinations: Schreber is not dreaming at all when he makes love to his mother, he dreams when he is being raped like a little Alsacian girl by a French officer: this depends on something much deeper than Oedipus, namely, the manner in which the libido invests social formations, to the point that one must distinguish 2 types of social investments by the (?) desire: social investments of interests that are of the preconscious type, that, if necessary, pass through classes, and below these, not exactly in harmony with them, unconscious investments, the libidinal investments of desire. Traditional psychoanalysis enclosed the libidinal investments of desire in the familial triangle and structuralism is the last attempt [tentative] to save Oedipus at the moment when Oedipus is coming apart at the seams.
The task of schizoanalysis is to see that parents play a role in the unconscious only as agents of interception, agents of transmission in a system of the flows of desire, of desiring machines, and what counts is my unconscious relation with my desiring machines. What are my own desiring machines, and, through them, the unconscious relation of these desiring machines with the large social machines with which they carry out...and that hence, there is no reason to support psychoanalysis in its attempt to reterritorialize us. I take an example from Leclaire' last book: there is something that no longer works: ?the most fundamental act in the history of psychoanalysis was a decentering that consisted in passing from the parents' room as referent to the analytical office,? there was a time when we believed in Oedipus, and in the reality of seduction, it was not going strong even then, because the whole unconscious had been familiarized, a crushing of the libido onto daddy-mommy-me: the whole development of psychoanalysis was made in this direction [sens]: substitution of the phantasm for real seduction and substitution of castration for Oedipus. Leclaire: ?to tell the truth the displacement of the living kernel of the oedipal conjuncture, of the familial scene to the psychoanalytic scene is strictly correlative to a sociological mutation in which we can psychoanalytically demarcate a recourse to the level of the familial institution? page 30 = the family is shabby = the unconscious protests and no longer works to triangulate itself, happily there is the analyst to serve as a relay.
It no longer supports the family, custody and the concealment [dérobement] of an all-powerful real. We say, ouf!, we will finally have a relation with the extra familial real, ha! no! says Leclaire, for that which serves as a relay for the family, and that which becomes the guardian, the unveiling veiling of the all-powerful real is the office of the analyst. You can no longer triangulate, oedipalize in the family, it no longer works, you will come onto the couch to triangulate and oedipalize yourself and indeed, adds Leclaire: ?if the psychoanalytic couch has become the place where the confrontation with the real is unfolded.? The confrontation with the real does not take place on the earth, in the movement of territorialization, reterritorialization, of deterritorialization, it takes place on this rotten earth that is the couch of the analyst. ?It is of no importance that the oedipal scene has no referent exterior to the office, that castration has no referent outside the office of the analyst,? which signifies that psychoanalysis, like capitalism, finds itself faced with the decoded flows of desire, finds itself before the schizophrenic phenomena of decoding and deterritorialization, has chosen to make for itself a little axiomatic. The couch, the ultimate earth of European man today, his very own little earth. This situation of psychoanalysis tends to introduce an axiomatic excluding all reference, excluding all relation with the outside whatever it may be, appears as a catastrophic movement of interiority when it comes to understanding the true investments of desire. From the moment we seized upon the family as referent, it was all screwed up. (last earth, the couch that valorizes and justifies itself on its own terms). It was compromised from the beginning, from the moment when we cut desire off from the double dimension--what I call the double dimension of desire: and its relation, on the one hand, with desiring machines irreducible to any symbolic or structural dimension, to functional desiring machines, and the problem of schizoanalysis is to know how these desiring machines work, and to reach the level where they work in someone's unconscious, which assumes that we will skip over Oedipus, castration, etc. On the other hand, with social-political-cosmic investments, and here one must not say, that there would be any desexualization of the findings of psychoanalysis, for I am saying that desire, in its fundamental sexual form, can only be understood in its sexual investments, in so far as they do not bear on daddy-mommy, this is secondary, but in so far as they bear--on the one hand, on desiring machines, and on the other hand, in so far they traverse our sexual, homosexual, heterosexual loves. That which is invested is always what cuts up [des coupures] of the dimensions of a historical social field, and certainly, the father and the mother play a role within it, they are agents of communication of desiring machines, on one hand, of the machines with each other, and on the other hand, of the desiring machines with the large desiring machines. Schizoanalysis is made up of three operations: A destructive task: skipping over the oedipal and castrating structures in order to reach a region of the unconscious where there is no castration etc. because desiring machines ignore this.
A positive task: That is to see and to analyze functionally, there is nothing to interpret = we do not interpret a machine, we grasp its functioning and its failures, the why of its failures: it is the oedipal collar, the psychoanalytic collar of the couch that introduces failures into desiring machines: The desiring machines only work as long as they invest the social machines. And what are the types of libidinal investments, distinct from the preconscious investments of interests, these sexual investments--across all the beings that we love, all our loves, it is a complex of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, that which we love, it is always a certain mulatto, a movement of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, it is not the scrawny and hysteric territoriality of the couch, and across each being that we love, what we invest is a social field, these are the dimensions of this social field, and the parents are agents of transmission in the social field.
--see Jackson's letter = the classic black mother who says to her son, don't fool around and marry well, make money. This classic mother here, is she acting like a mother and like an oedipal object of desire, or is she acting in such a way that she transmits a certain type of libidinal investment of the social field, namely the type that marries well, he makes love, and this in the strictest sense of the term, with something through his wife, unconsciously, with a certain number of economic, political, social processes, and that love has always been a means through which the libido attains something other than the beloved person, namely a whole cutting up [découpage] of the historical social field, ultimately we always make love with the names of history. The other mother (of Jackson)--the one who says ?grab your gun,? it follows that the two act as agents of transmission in a certain type of social-historical investment, that from one to the other the pole of these investments has singularly changed, that in one case, we can say that they are reactionary investments, at the limit fascist, in the other case, it is a revolutionary libidinal investment. Our loves are like the conduits and the pathways of these investments that are not, once again, of a familial nature, but of a historico-political nature, and the final problem of schizoanalysis is not only the positive study of desiring machines, but the positive study of the manner in which desiring machines carry out the investment of social machines, whether it be in forming investments of the libido of a revolutionary type, whether it be in forming libidinal investments of the revolutionary type. The domain of schizoanalysis distinguishes itself at this moment from the domain of politics, in the sense that the preconscious political investments are investments of class interests that are determinable by certain types of studies, but these still do not tell us anything about the other type of investments, namely specifically libidinal investments--Desire. To the point that it can happen that a preconscious revolutionary investment can be doubled by a libidinal investment of the fascist type = which explains how displacements are made from one pole of delirium to another pole of delirium, how a delirium has fundamentally two poles--which Artaud said so well: ?the mystery of all is `Heliogabalus the Anarchist,' because these are the two poles--it is not only a contradiction, it is a fundamental human contradiction, namely a pole of unconscious investment of the fascist type, and an unconscious investment of the revolutionary type. What fascinates me in a delirium is the radical absence of daddy-mommy, except as agents of transmission, except as agents of interception for there they have a role, but on the other hand the task of schizoanalysis is to release in delirium the unconscious dimensions of a fascist investment and a revolutionary investment, and at a certain point, it slips, at a certain point it oscillates, this is the deep domain of the libido. In the most reactionary, most folkloric territoriality, a revolutionary ferment can surge forth (we never know), something schizo, something mad, a deterritorialization: the Basque problem: They did much for fascism, in other conditions, these same minorities could have determined, I am not saying this happens by chance, they could have secured a revolutionary role. It is extremely ambiguous: it is not at the level of political analysis, it is at the level of analysis of the unconscious: the way it whirls about [comment ca tourne]. (Mannoni: antipsychiatry in the question of the court judgement on Schreber = a completely fascist delirium). If antipsychiatry has a sense, if schizoanalysis has a sense, it is at the level of an analysis of the unconscious, to tip delirium from the pole that is always present, the reactionary fascist pole that implies a certain type of libidinal investment, towards the other pole, no matter if it is hard and slow, the revolutionary pole.
Richard: Why only two poles?
Deleuze: We can make many, but fundamentally, there are clearly two great types of investment, two poles. The reference of libidinal investments is daddy-mommy, these are the territorialities and the deterritorializations, this must be found in the unconscious, especially at the level of its loves. Phantasm of naturality: of a pure race, movement of the pendulum = revolutionary phantasm of deterritorialization. If you're saying that, on the analyst's couch, what flows still flows, alright then, but the problem that I would pose here is: there are types of flow that pass beneath the door, what psychoanalysts call the viscosity of the libido, an overly viscous libido that does not let itself be grasped by the code of psychoanalysis, alright here yes, there is deterritorialization, but psychoanalysis says: negative reaction [contre-indication]. What annoys me in psychoanalysis of the Lacanian camp is the cult of castration. The family is a system of transmission, the social investments of one generation passed on to another, but I absolutely do not think that the family is a necessary element in the making of social investments because, in any case, there are desiring machines that, on their own, constitute social libidinal investments of the large social machines. If you say: the madman is someone who remains with his desiring machines and who does not carry out social investments, I do not follow you: in all madness, I see an intense investment of a particular type of historical, political, social field, even in catatonic persons. This goes for adults as well as children, it is from earliest childhood that the desiring machines are plugged into the social field. In themselves, all territorialities are equal to each other in relation to the movement of deterritorialization, but there is something like a schizoanalysis of territorialities, of their types of functioning, and by functioning, I understand the following: if the desiring machines are on the side of a great deterritorialization, i.e. on the path of desire beyond territorialities, if to desire is to be deterritorialized, one must say that each type of territoriality is able to support such or such a genre of machinic index: the machinic index is that which, in a territoriality, will be able to make it flee in the direction [sens] of a deterritorialization. So, I take the example of the dream, from the point of view that I am attempting to explicate the role of machines, it is very important, different from that of psychoanalysis: when a plane flies or a sewing machine-the dream is a kind of little imaginary territoriality, sleep or a nightmare is a deterritorialization--we can say that deterritorialization and the reterritorialities only exist as a function of each other, but you can evaluate the force of a possible deterritorialization from the indexes on such or such a territoriality, i.e. how much it supports of a flow that flees--Flee and in fleeing, makes flee, not the others, but something from the system, a fragment.
A machinic index in a territoriality is what measures the power [puissance] of flight in this territoriality by making flows flee, in this regard all territorialities are not equal to each other. There are artificial territorialities, the more it flees and the more we can flee while fleeing, the more it is deterritorialized. Our loves are always situated on a territoriality that, in relation to us, deterritorializes us or else reterritorializes us. In this regard, there are misunderstandings + a whole game of investments that are the problem of schizoanalysis: instead of having the family as a referent, it has as a referent the movements of deterritoralization and reterritorialization.
Zrehen: I want to say that you employed the term ?Code? for so-called primitive societies, while I think it is not possible to think of them in terms of code, because of the well-known mark, because there is a mark, which requires exchange, it is because there is a debt that we have an obligation to exchange. What happens from their society to ours, is the loss of the debt, so when you say that the schizo is the negative of the capitalist and that capitalism is the negative of primitive societies, it is evident exactly what is lost, it is castration. With this mark of principle, you are anticipating what makes up capitalism while crossing out castration. What is foreclosed in capitalism is this initial mark and what Marx tried to do was to reintroduce the notion of debt. When you propose to me a reactionary pole of investments and a revolutionary pole, I say that you are already taking the concepts of `revolutionary' and of `reactionary as already instituted in a field that does not permit an appreciation of what you are trying to say. You are using breaks [coupure], I will certainly admit that Oedipus and castration are dépassé, but capitalism...
At seven o'clock Anthony Royal set out with the white alsatian to find his wife. The dog had recovered sufficiently from its beating to limp along in front of him. Its damp pelt was marked with a vivid crimson bloom. Like the bloodstains on his white jacket, Royal was proud of these signs of combat. As if mimicking the dog, he wore its blood on his chest and hips, the insignia of an executioner's apparel yet to be designed.
He began his descent into the lower depths of the building in the high-speed elevator lobby. A group of excited neighbours had just emerged from one of the cars. Four floors down, an apartment had been ransacked by a party of tenants from the 15th floor. These sporadic raids on apartments were taking place with increasing frequency. Empty apartments, even if left for no more than a single day, were especially vulnerable. Some unconscious system of communication alerted any would-be raiders that an apartment a dozen floors above or below was ripe for ransack.
With difficulty Royal found an elevator to take him down to the 35th floor. The restaurant had closed. After serving a last lunch to the Royals the chef and his wife had left for good. Chairs and tables had been stacked around the kitchen in a barricade, and the revolving door was padlocked. The long observation windows, with their magnificent view, were shuttered and chained, throwing the north end of the pool into darkness.
The last swimmer, a market analyst from the 38th floor, was leaving the swimming-pool. His wife waited protectively outside his cubicle as he changed. She watched the alsatian lapping at the water lying on the greasy tiles by the diving-board. When the dog relieved itself against the door of an empty cubicle her face was expressionless. Royal felt a modest pride in this act, which rekindled a primitive territorial reflex. The marking of this cubicle with the dog's over-bright urine defined the small terrain coming under his sway.
For the next hour Royal continued his search for his wife, descending deeper into the central mass of the high-rise. As he moved from one floor to the next, from one elevator to another, he realized the full extent of its deterioration. The residents' rebellion against the apartment building was now in full swing. Garbage lay heaped around the jammed disposal chutes. The stairways were littered with broken glass, splintered kitchen chairs and sections of handrail. Even more significant, the pay-phones in the elevator lobbies had been ripped out, as if the tenants, like Anne and himself, had agreed to shut off any contact with the world outside.
The further down Royal reached, the greater the damage. Fire! safety doors leaned off their hinges, quartz inspection windows punched out. Few corridor and staircase lights still worked, and no effort had been made to replace the broken bulbs. By eight o'clock little light reached the corridors, which became dim tunnels strewn with garbage sacks. The lurid outlines of lettered slogans, aerosolled in luminous paint across the walls, unravelled around him like the decor of a nightmare.
Rival groups of residents stood around in the lobbies, guarding their elevators and watching each other along the corridors. Many of the women had portable radios slung from their shoulders, which they switched from station to station as if tuning up for an acoustic war. Others carried cameras and flash equipment, ready to record any acts of hostility, any incursions into their territory.
By changing elevators and making journeys of two floors at a time, Royal finally descended into the lower half of the apartment building. He was unmolested by the other residents, who watched him as he entered their lobbies, moving out of his way as he strolled past. The wounded alsatian and Royal's bloodstained jacket gave him free passage through these rival clans, as if he were a betrayed landowner descending from his keep to parade his wounds among his rebellious tenants.
By the time he reached the 10th floor the concourse was almost deserted. A few residents wandered around the shopping mall, staring at the empty chromium counters. The bank and liquor store were closed, their grilles chained. There was no sign of Anne. Royal led the alsatian through the swing doors into the swimming-pool, now barely half full. The yellow water was filled with debris, the floor at the shallow end emerging like a beach in a garbage lagoon. A mattress floated among the bottles, surrounded by a swill of cardboard cartons and newspapers.
Even a corpse would go unnoticed here, Royal reflected. As the alsatian snuffled its way along the vandalized changing cubicles, Royal waved his cane at the humid air, trying to stir it into life. He would soon suffocate here in the lower section of the apartment building. During even this brief visit he had felt crushed by the pressure of all the people above him, by the thousands of individual lives, each with its pent-up time and space.
From the elevator lobby on the far side of the swimming-pool came the sounds of shouting. Urging on the dog, Royal strode to the rear exit behind the diving-boards. Through the glass doors he watched a heated argument taking place outside the entrance to the junior school. Some twenty men and women were involved, one group from the lower floors carrying desks and chairs, a blackboard and artist's easel, the other trying to prevent them from re-occupying the classrooms.
Scuffles soon broke out. Egged on by a film-editor wielding a desk over his head, the parents pressed forward determinedly. Their opponents, residents from the nth and 12th floors, stood their ground, forming a heavy-breathing cordon. A bad-tempered brawl developed, men and women wrestling clumsily with each other.
Royal pulled the alsatian away, deciding to leave this jostling group to settle their own dispute. As he turned to continue his search for Anne, the staircase doors leading into the lobby were flung back. A group of residents, all from the 14th and 15th floors, leapt out and hurled themselves into the melee. They were led by Richard Wilder, cine-camera gripped like a battle standard in one hand. Royal assumed that Wilder was filming an episode from the documentary he had been talking about for so long, and had set up the entire scene. But Wilder was in the thick of the fray, aggressively wielding the cine-camera as he urged on his new allies against his former neighbours. The raiding party was shouldered back towards the staircase in disarray, the parents dropping the desks and blackboard.
Wilder slammed the staircase doors behind them. Expelling his sometime neighbours and friends had clearly given him enormous satisfaction. Waving his camera, he pointed to the classroom of the junior school. Two young women, Royal's wife and Jane Sheridan, were crouching behind an overturned desk. Like children caught red-handed in some mischief, they watched Wilder as he beckoned theatrically towards them.
Holding the alsatian on a short leash, Royal pushed back the glass doors. He strode through the residents in the lobby, who were now happily breaking up the children's desks.
"It's all right, Wilder," he called out in a firm but casual voice. "I'll take over."
He stepped past Wilder and entered the classroom. He lifted Anne to her feet. "I'll get you out of here-don't worry about Wilder."
"I'm not…" For all her ordeal, Anne was remarkably unruffled. She gazed at Wilder with evident admiration. "My God, he's rather insane…"
Royal waited for Wilder to attack him. Despite the twenty years between them, he felt calm and self-controlled ready for the physical confrontation. But Wilder made no attempt to move. He watched Royal with interest, patting one armpit in an almost animal way, as if glad to see Royal here on the lower levels, directly involved at last in the struggle for territory and womenfolk. His shirt was open to the waist, exposing a barrel-like chest that he showed off with some pride. He held the cine-camera against his cheek as if he were visualizing the setting and choreography of a complex duel to be fought at some more
convenient time on a stage higher in the building.
That night, when they had returned to their apartment on the 40th floor, Royal set about asserting his leadership of the topmost levels of the high-rise. First, while his wife and Jane Sheridan rested together in Anne's bed, Royal attended to the alsatian. He fed the dog in the kitchen with the last of its food. The wounds on its shoulders and head were as hard as coins. Royal was more aroused by the injuries to the dog than by any indignity suffered by his wife. He had almost made Anne's ordeal certain by deliberately postponing his search for her. As he expected, she and Jane had been unable to find an elevator when they had finished shopping at the supermarket. After being molested in the lobby by a drunken sound-man they had taken refuge in the deserted classroom.
"They're all making their own films down there," Anne told him, clearly fascinated by her heady experience of the lower orders at work and play. "Every time someone gets beaten up about ten cameras are shooting away."
"They're showing them in the projection theatre," Jane confirmed. "Crammed in there together seeing each other's rushes."
"Except for Wilder. He's waiting for something really gruesome."
Both women turned without thinking to look at Royal, but he took this in his stride. In an obscure way, it was his affection for Anne that had led him to display her to his neighbours below, his contribution to the new realm they would create together. By contrast, the alsatian belonged to a more practical world. Already he knew that the dog might well prove useful, be more easily bartered than any woman, in the future that lay ahead. He decided not to throw away the bloodstained jacket, glad to wear the dog's blood against his chest. He refused any offers to clean it from the wives of his fellow residents who came in to comfort the two young women.
The assaults on the alsatian, and on Royal's wife, made his apartment a natural focus of his neighbours' decision to regain the initiative before they were trapped on the roof of the high-rise. To Pangbourne he explained that it was vital for them to enlist the support of the tenants living on the floors immediately below the 35th.
"To survive, we need allies as a buffer against any attacks from the lower levels, and also to give us access to more of the elevators. We're in danger of being cut off from the central mass of the building."
"Right," the gynaecologist agreed, glad to see that Royal had at last woken up to the realities of then: position. "Once we've gained a foothold there we can play these people off against those lower down-in short balkanize the centre section and then begin the colonization of the entire building…"
In retrospect, it surprised Royal how easily they were able to implement these elementary schemes. At nine o'clock, before the evening's parties began, Royal began to enlist the support of the residents below the 35th-floor swimming-pool. Expertly, Pangbourne played on their grievances. These people shared many of the problems of the top-floor tenants-their cars had also been damaged, and they had the same struggles with the declining water-supply and air-conditioning. In a calculated gesture, Royal and Pangbourne offered them the use of the top-floor elevators. To reach their apartments they would no longer have to enter the main lobby and run the gauntlet of thirty intervening floors. They would now wait for a top-level tenant to appear, enter the private lobby with him and ride straight to the 35th floor without harassment, and then walk the few steps down to their apartments.
The offer was accepted, Royal and Pangbourne deliberately asking for no concessions in return. The deputation returned to the 4oth floor, the members dispersing to their apartments to prepare for the evening's festivities. During the previous hour a few trivial incidents had occurred-the middle-aged wife of a 28th-floor account-executive had been knocked unconscious into the half-empty swimming-pool, and a radiologist from the 7th floor had been beaten up among the driers in the hairdressing salon-but in general everything within the high-rise was normal. As the night progressed, the sounds of continuous revelry filled the building. Beginning with the lower floors, the parties spread upwards through the apartment block, investing it in an armour of light and festivity. Standing on his balcony, Royal listened to the ascending music and laughter as he waited for the two young women to dress. Far below him, a car drove along the access road to the nearby high-rise, its three occupants looking up at the hundreds of crowded balconies. Anyone seeing this ship of lights would take for granted that the two thousand people on board lived together in a state of corporate euphoria.
Invigorated by this tonic atmosphere, Anne and Jane Sheridan had made a rapid recovery. Anne no longer referred to their leaving the high-rise, and seemed to have forgotten that she had ever made the decision to go. The rough and tumble in the junior school had given her that previously missing sense of solidarity with the other tenants of the high-rise. In the future, violence would clearly become a valuable form of social cement. As Royal escorted her to the first party of the evening, given by a newspaper columnist on the 37th floor, she and Jane strolled arm in arm, buoyed up by reports of further confrontations, and by the news that two more floors, the 6th and 14th, were now in darkness.
Pangbourne congratulated Royal on this, almost as if he believed that Royal was responsible. No one, even on the top floors, seemed aware of the contrast between the well-groomed revellers and the dilapidated state of the building. Along corridors strewn with uncollected garbage, past blocked disposal chutes and vandalized elevators, moved men in well-tailored dinner-jackets. Elegant women lifted long skirts to step over the debris of broken bottles. The scents of expensive after-shave lotions mingled with the aroma of kitchen wastes.
These bizarre contrasts pleased Royal, marking the extent to which these civilized and self-possessed professional men and women were moving away from any notion of rational behaviour. He thought of his own confrontation with Wilder, which summed up all the forces in collision within the high-rise. Wilder had obviously begun his ascent of the building again, and had climbed as far as the 15th floor. By rights the high-rise should be totally deserted except for Wilder and himself. The real duel would be resolved among the deserted corridors and abandoned apartments of the building inside their heads, watched only by the birds.
Now that she had accepted it, the threat of violence in the air had matured Anne. Standing by the fireplace in the columnist's drawing-room, Royal watched her with affection. She was no longer flirting with the elderly businessmen and young entrepreneurs, but listening intently to Dr Pangbourne, as if aware that the gynaecologist might be useful to her in more ways than the purely professional. Despite his pleasure in displaying her to the other residents, Royal felt far more protective of her. This sexual territoriality extended to Jane Sheridan.
"Have you thought about moving in with us?" he asked her. "Your own apartment is very much exposed."
"I'd like to-Anne did mention it. I've already brought some things over."
Royal danced with her in the garbage-stacked hallway, openly feeling her strong hips and thighs, as if this inventory established his claim to these portions of her body at a future date.
Hours later, at some period after midnight when it seemed to Royal that these parties had been going on for ever, he found himself drunk in an empty apartment on the 39th floor. He was lying back on a settee with Jane against his shoulder, surrounded by tables loaded with dirty glasses and ashtrays, all the debris of a party abandoned by its guests. The music from the balconies nearby was overlaid by the noise of sporadic acts of violence. Somewhere a group of residents was shouting in a desultory way, hammering on the doors of an elevator shaft.
A power failure had switched out the lights. Royal lay back in the darkness, steadying his slowly rotating brain against the illumination of the nearby high-rise. Without thinking, he began to caress Jane, stroking her heavy breasts. She made no attempt to pull herself away from him. A few moments later, when the electric power returned, lighting up a single table-lamp lying on the floor of the balcony, she recognized Royal and settled herself across him.
Hearing a noise from the kitchen, Royal looked round to see his wife sitting at the table in her long gown, one hand on the electric coffee-percolator as it began to warm. Royal put his arms around Jane and embraced her with deliberate slowness, as if repeating for his wife's benefit a slow-motion playback. He knew that Anne could see them, but she sat quietly at the kitchen table, lighting a cigarette. During the sexual act that followed she watched them without speaking, as if she approved, not from any fashionable response to marital infidelity, but from what Royal realized was a sense of tribal solidarity, a complete deference to the clan leader.
excerpt from a novel: High-Rise by J.G.Ballard
by Steven Craig Hickman
Capital is the intelligence of the world. Capital does not need the nation state, the old mythologies of the sovereignty of nations is giving way to the logics of the Global Empire of Capital. Reactions to this state of affairs across the globe has brought on the crisis and end games of nations everywhere, one that will break apart the old sovereignties and dispel the illusion of power in the political. From here forward Capital is divorced from the politics of nations, and what remains is the hollow men who rule under the auspices of the Sovereign Empire of Capital. A world without a Leader. A world where there can be no center, only the disparities of the network and its technopoles.
Fernand Braudel would speak of two universes, two ways of life foreign to each other. yet whose respective wholes explain one another: the ancient feudalistic autarchies, and the modern market societies.1 He’d liken such a history as one of “conjunctures and economic crises, and it is the vast and structural history that evolves over many, many years. Indeed, that is the whole problem, for when dealing with the entire world over four centuries, how does one organize such a file of facts and explanations?” (Braudel, 5) For Braudel the old feudal worlds of primitive accumulation were static, inflexible, and entropic realms of inertia, while the modern market economies were just the opposite: dynamic, flexible, and negentropic realms of energetic forces being unleashed in technological innovation, production, and socio-cultural relations.(Braudel, 5-6)
At he heart of this exploration was a temporal explosion from within the old feudal orders that broke apart the ancient systems of Agricultural Civilizations based on cyclic notions of time and social relations, one that gave way to the emerging forms of acceleration, technological progress, and the emerging crises of power, capital, and politics. Against the circle and the arrow of time capitalistic economies would discover the spiral: the movement from crisis to crisis, the ever expanding internal limits of capital itself as against the ancient pot-latch societies of sacrifice and mimetic excess. The collapse of ancient societies in the West brought about the slow and methodical desacralization of the world. Some historians have tried to place this within the emerging worldview of the sciences of which the Enlightenment Age was the harbinger and culmination of the collapse of the Christian and Feudalistic universe that had bound western civilization, culture, and society within a nexus of religious forms of power and control for two millennia.
As Jean-Pierre Dupuy in his recent Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith remarks: “Economy cannot be explained without reference to religion, but that Economy occupies the place emptied out by the desacralization the world, itself an eminently religious phenomenon.” With the desacralizing of modern society came the rise of the a-theistic worldview that would become the cornerstone of the Secular West and the progressive liberal institutions that would give rise to modern democracies everywhere. What we are seeing now in our contemporary moment is the end of politics and the democratic worldview of secularism. As if a void or black hole had opened up and swallowed the power and authority of the political. In our time as Dupuy emphasizes “the political class that kneels before the titans of finance and makes itself their lackey” has allowed the severance of democracy from economics which in turn has allowed the impersonal and indifferent forces of economics – or, what many are terming “algorithmic governance” to rule over the global empire of Capital. (Dupuy, KL 199)
Even as many nations struggle against this state of affairs as attested to by the rise of the extreme right in the Europe and America, and the social and political decay into barbarity among many of the Third World nations. Even in China and Russia we have seen the re-centralization of authority into State as the final arbiter and decision making authority (a conservative and authoritarian move). India is falling away into religious civil-war as cliamacteric collapse: drought, water depletion, food shortages, famine, disease and social unrest begin to supervene of the semblance of democratic liberalism. Same can be said of many Third World nations in Africa, South Americas, the Middle-East, and Island nations of the Pacific. With the wars over the last remaining resources of the old industrial economies being central to the 21st Century economies we are seeing once again the nation states competing and warring, forming alliances and retrograde filiations. The destabilization of the monetary systems that drive capitalist expansion attest to the current political and social unrest across the known world as the confrontation between the older Feudal orders and the collapse of modernity in our time is producing a bifurcation in the world system. As the forces of Capital accelerate across the globe the old imperial systems that have held sway in most of the Third World nation states is eroding and bringing crisis across their ancient religious and sovereign systems of power. Because there is not central power, no governing body, no greater leadership or authority to maintain world order we see a vacuum in the political and economic spheres. Even the so called American sovereignty of being the world’s policeman is failing as the Human Security Regimes (Land) give way to the dividing of the ways of economics and politics.
For two centuries we’ve seen the slow demise of the liberal worldview and the politics of democracy. With the emergence of networkcentric societies something else is arising, a world where economics not politics rules and governs the world through algorithmic systems of intelligence (i.e., the AI revolution and Deep Learning systems that are reorganizing Big Data and Decisioning processes around the globe). Some have even suggested that the core engine of Capital itself is the engine of intelligence, the driving force within the immenent systems of global power and economics is the optimization of intelligence; or, to put it another way: the liberation of intelligence from the human, the emergence of autonomous intelligence.
One doesn’t have to wander far to realize that humans have always had this uncanny relation to technology, that in many ways our fascination with robotics, with android forms that resemble or clone the human likeness, simulate our dispositions, our intentional desires and attributes has given rise to a whole breakaway world of scientific, engineering, economic, and artistic (design) culture. We seem to want these humanoid forms to replace us on the evolutionary scale. We both fear and seek it, our SF, horror, and comic books are replete with these companion species. Our major corporations are busily creating toys with AI and Deep Learning systems to be companion species, helpers, avatars, agents who they hope we will become enamored of, dependent on, and captured by in their bid to command and control, modulate and shape our desires within the mechanosphere of machinic civilization that is arising out of the ruins of our embattled democracies.
Even the term “technocracy” has re-emerged in capitalist and technological discourse as the supposedly only viable social form of the immediate future. The fusion of the sciences and socio-cultural aesthetic with the economic and techno-commercial spheres is at the heart of this Global Technocracy. Central to it are the technopoles or megacities of technology driven commerce, the hubs and nodal points of a global empire of our network society. These Global Cities will become the nodal points for great migrations of the twenty-first century. The great cities of the Pacific-Rim: Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and others are become the powerhouses of this Technocratic World. The older cities of Europe, Russia, Asia, the Americas will remain but are bound to the collapse of the Secular worlds of democracy and the liberal worldview of the Enlightenment that are losing their appeal in the network societies of our accelerating future.
I’d be the first one to say I am astounded at this, at the collapse of democracy in less than two hundred years. Yet, as communism in its post-Marxist phase begins to technologize itself we are seeing a transitional form that is keeping pace with the post-human worldviews of the more radical and cutting edge aesthetics of both scientific and philosophical thought and engineering. So I’m not surprised at this in the least. We’ve been gutting the liberal Subject and its politics for decades. What did we expect? Such things as Brexit and the rise of populism (Trump, Le Pen, etc.) are only reactions to this process, not something that will last. The EU and U.S.A. will have to reorganize their worldviews or decay into insolvency.
The 21st Century will be a hotly contested space of deformation, transformation, and transition ripe for war and struggle. With the collapse of sovereignty in nations, and the rise of global sovereignty in the Empire of Capital the old Liberal Civilization is playing out an End Game. Whether it accepts defeat or not, the end is assured. The human species (homo sapiens) will face the emergence of intelligences greater than itself, and will either accept this as the outcome of its own inner struggles or be defeated by its inability to realize that it was a transitional species. Difficult as that may be to accept humanity will in the coming decades be faced with the emergence of a machinic civilization that will displace homo sapiens in favor of Techno sapiens. The only choice is to accelerate this process or be defeated by it.
The “Image” of Thought
Chapter 3 of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition stands apart from the remainder of the book as an engagement not primarily with difference itself but with the nature of thought – particularly the kind of thought which philosophy “ought” to be concerned with. Together with Guattari, Deleuze summarised what the preoccupation of all philosophy ought to be, in the late-career What Is Philosophy?: “philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts”; furthermore, they clarify: “we already had the answer, which has not changed” (1994: 2). When we look back at “The Image of Thought” (2014: 171-221), then, we ought to be able to trace the purpose of the invention of new concepts as necessary for removing philosophy’s most damaging obstacle, that which inhibits the development and evolution of thought itself: the “dogmatic” image, which has persisted as a mainstay of much philosophy since at least Descartes (171-76). This dogmatic image of thought consists of eight postulates, identified and elaborated upon by Deleuze in detail throughout the chapter. By examining each of these postulates, we will gain an appreciation for how Deleuze is redefining “concept” as “image” here, and so, it is hoped, it will become possible later to recognise how Deleuze navigates through concepts such as “the virtual”, “the actual”, “the possible” and “the real”; and therefore, finally, we can assess the relevance of Deleuze’s project to the criteria of the definition of hyperstition we have already studied.
Contesting Descartes’s cogito (“I think…”) as being pre-established in philosophy, Deleuze wishes to expose the manifold errors of adopting the image of thought, in representing “the presupposition that there is a natural capacity for thought endowed with a talent for truth or an affinity with the true, under the double aspect of a good will on the part of the thinker and an upright nature on the part of thought.” (173) This criticism, I argue, is not primarily addressed to Cartesianism, but Kantianism: this is expressed later in the chapter with recourse to what Deleuze identifies (renames) as “good sense” and “common sense” complimenting one another as “two halves of the doxa”, the Cogitatio natura universalis (177; 180). Good sense here refers to the affinity between thought and the true as established by the thinker, derived ultimately from the opening sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.Common sense, on the other hand, concerns a natural Image of thought itself, the example given by Deleuze (besides Descartes and Kant) being of Plato’s Theaetetus. Each of these texts (the Second Meditation, the Critique of Pure Reason, and Theaetetus) uphold the model of recognition by which the meaning of thought is defined (177). In this “transcendental” form of recognition, the faculties converge into a unity which is considered as thought, yet is not in itself a faculty, but merely an “align[ment] with the form of the Same” (therefore a “common sense”). This form, for Deleuze, “has never sanctioned anything but the recognisable and the recognised; form will never inspire anything but conformities.” (ibid., 178) These three features – good sense, common sense, and the provision of thought as recognition, constitute the first, second, and third postulates of the image of thought. Good sense and common sense are elements, to which recognition is a form through which the image of thought is understood; a form in which the faculties are invited “to exercise themselves upon an object supposedly the same” (173-174, 217).
Another form of the image of thought related to recognition is representation, the fourth postulate. Representation is briefly summarized by Deleuze as incorporating “identity with regard to concepts, opposition with regard to the determination of concepts, analogy with regard to judgement, resemblance with regard to objects.” In other words, a reduction of the faculties to identification of the Same. Deleuze draws from Plato’s Republic to distinguish between things which do not provoke thought (i.e. those which we merely recognize) and, in Plato’s words again, “those which force us to think”. From this fragment of the Republic, Deleuze decides to draw out the question of Socrates’s interlocutor: is it in these latter instances, when we are unable to recognise, that thinking occurs? Yet Deleuze is quick to refute this possibility, for the reason that doubt does not shock us out of the sensible (aiesthēton) but merely reinforces postulates of thought’s image such as good sense: this gesture is still wholly representational, and does not in any way lead to the destruction of this image (182-3). This distinction allows Deleuze to further state that “concepts only ever designate possibilities” (ibid.), a comment which echoes Bergson’s insight that there are more possibilities for each real thing than their reality presupposes (Bergson 2002b: 229), an idea which will be examined in more detail in the following section of this essay.
The fifth postulate of the image of thought concerns error, specifically the constitution of error as “a possible misadventure of thought”, which for Deleuze is wholly mistaken (194). Not only does error testify to a form of common sense, as a mere negative of the rational orthodoxy upheld by the Theaetetus, Descartes, et al., error is reduced by the image of thought to a mere fact or false solution, “arbitrarily projected into the transcendental”, and masking much more serious challenges to thought, namely the “terrible Trinity” of stupidity, madness and malevolence (194-96). Deleuze wishes to reaffirm these enemies of thought not as obstacles, but as “structures of thought as such” (197), albeit undesirable ones. Of these, it is stupidity (bêtise) which for Deleuze is most in need of redefining as a transcendental problem by philosophy, as “no more than an empirical determination, referring back to psychology or to the anecdotal – or worse, to polemic and insults” (ibid.).When confused as an effect or subsidiary of error, stupidity becomes a “lamentable faculty” (to quote Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet); whereas it ought to be identified as an illusion which leads philosophers to present badly-constituted problems, problems which take us away from the necessary purpose of philosophical enquiry (199-200). Such is the sixth postulate, the postulate of designation, or of the proposition itself; which relates back to how Deleuze understands philosophy’s understanding of the word “sense” in this context, as “the condition of the true”, (200-1). In cases of designation, truth or falsity are assigned to the proposition rather than the outcomes; in this manner, and as the result of a badly-posed question, sense is falsely constituted, and non-sense is incorrectly identified as error (ibid.). Instead of enslaving sense to the true and the false, Deleuze instead wishes to establish within sense the “relation between a proposition and what it designates”; and reposition truth towards “matter[s] of production” (ibid.).
Sense is located “in the problem itself”; this problem in turn having derived from the proposition (205). A further falsity – the seventh postulate – is made by philosophers when they approach the solution as constitutive of the problem itself, and that by arriving at the correct solution, the problem is neutralised (206-207). “We are led to believe that problems are given ready-made, and that they disappear in the responses or the solution. […] According to this infantile prejudice, the master sets a problem, our task is to solve it, and the result is accredited true or false by a powerful authority.” (ibid.) The problem is the territory where the binary of sense-nonsense (or false sense) must be located; thus, the problem becomes for Deleuze “at once both the site of an originary truth and the genesis of a derived truth.” (ibid.)
At this stage in the chapter, Deleuze introduces signs in relation to problems: signs “cause problems” and are developed in a symbolic field, and constitute the limit for each of the faculties (213). It is by elevating each of the faculties to its transcendent exercise – through the encounter with the sign – that thought is able to constitute new sense, and the task of philosophy can begin, and well as our “learning” of it (213-214). Deleuze’s name for true learning (beyond the dogmatic image of thought, beyond engaging with badly-expressed problems and their solutions) is apprenticeship, or the “education of the senses”: it is through apprenticeship that the faculties (in “discordant harmony”) are subjected to an original violence, and sensory (and therefore philosophical) knowledge can be grasped (213-215, 191, 183). An apprentice “constitutes and occupies speculative problems”, and learns by constructing and immersing in a “problematic field”, (214). Deleuze illustrates this point using Leibniz’s idea of the sea as a system of singular points which conceptualise differential relations through their degrees of variation; apprenticeship is akin to learning to swim through this sea, to “conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea”, thus establishing a real (sensorial, perceptual rather than conceptual) basis for knowledge (ibid.). In contrast, Deleuze sees in philosophy conducted under the image of thought attempts to acquire knowledge through the dictatorship of method, another manifestation of common sense or corroboration of the faculties, and therefore, finally, the eighth postulate (215).
In “The Image of Thought”, we see Deleuze answering the question, “Where to begin in philosophy?” by examining how thought itself comes into being. Conceptualising the genesis of thought is problematised under the Cartesian-Kantian dogmatic image of thought: an image which manifests and universalises good sense and common sense, through the forms of recognition and representation; misapprehends error as an external “misadventure” to the process of thought, and the true obstacle, stupidity, as derivative of error; locates the basis of the truth-falsehood binary in solutions, therefore in the construction of non-philosophical problems as normative to philosophy; and conceives knowledge as the attainment of solutions through regimented method as the basis of philosophical learning. Deleuze is unambiguous here: this image is something to be entirely abolished. Unlike in his previous work Nietzsche and Philosophy (orig. published 1962), where a new image of thought was proposed to replace this negative one (Deleuze 2006: 104), Deleuze in the 1968 text makes it clear that it is “not a matter of opposing to the dogmatic image another image”, but that new possibilities for thought can only be revealed through the excision of that image (194). This leads to the conclusion that for Deleuze, the notion of an image here is itself representational: the image of thought masks thought’s true genesis and operations through abstraction and reduction, through reproduction of the Same rather than original insight. Images are not always the site for the creation of new problems or concepts, but carriers of unthought, a “misosophy” which must be resisted (183). The image can inhibit the encounter necessary to thought itself.
From this Deleuzian perspective, we can see the image in several of the elements of the definition of hyperstition. The construction of representational problems leading to solutions wary of error but not stupidity reflects hyperstition’s production or adoption of coincidence-intensifying carriers that are used to deploy “knowledge” without its bondage to authorship. It is important to distinguish this from superstition, whereby an idea is multiplied through belief, not image. Put simply, hyperstition cannot occur without either the creation, or more frequently, the alteration of an image: in the example of “The Geology of Morals”, the image is the interface of the text itself, a philosophy-image infected with literary features and thus disfigured. Yet original thought can be generated within “The Geology of Morals”, thus hyperstition, while an image, is not an image “of thought”, or the kind of inhibitor Deleuze finds in Descartes and Kant: it is form, not content. However, it is a form which hides its own reflection, its point of becoming or of genesis, thus appearing to self-emerge into the present point in time without ontology.
It is clear that in hyperstition-as-image we do not get the original violence or encounter Deleuze is looking for to create new concepts, as long as this hyperstitional image and process is considered representational. But we have not yet proven that this is necessarily the case, only noted the similarities between a hyperstition-image (carrier) and a Deleuzian image as derived from “The Image of Thought”. In order to finally determine if from the evidence gathered from this chapter it is possible to conclude whether hyperstition effects thought through representation only, or if the narrative being carried by hyperstition can effect itself in “reality”, we need to do the following: 1) establish within Deleuzian thought the relationship between image and the virtual; and 2) establish the relationship between the virtual and the possible, which for Deleuze (by way of Bergson) is a pre-condition for the real.
Comparing Deleuzian-Bergsonian and hyperstitional conceptions of the “real”
We have established that the Deleuzian image is a representational structure: the negative function of the image of thought within transcendental empiricism is as an inhibitor of thought’s becoming. Furthermore, if we are to eventually conclude that the fictions hyperstitions adopt as their carriers are themselves images (which Deleuze will refer to as virtual multiplicities), then it follows that these images are concealed by the hyperstitional form itself: the image’s point of genesis is disguised through literary techniques such as misauthorship, resulting in trivial statements without philosophical value. But if “The Image of Thought” is to be used to verify this, we need to recognise Deleuze’s relationship with transcendentalism. For it is not precisely clear, according to Miguel de Beistegui, that Deleuze’s primary interest in transcendentalism is indeed genesis: Deleuze’s ontology “exceeds […] identifying the real conditions of experience”, in its incorporation of becoming (de Beistegui 2010: ix). The point of departure in Deleuzian ontology is a specific form of the transcendental, the transcendental as “the pre-individual horizon from out of which the empirical is generated” (de Beistegui 2004: 248). This is not a Kantian transcendental Idealism, wherein the Idea is identified as the problem, and situated in the faculty of reason; but a transcendental for which the real itself is the problem, more specifically “the virtual side of the real, or the pre-individual, proto-actual within the individual or the actual.” (ibid., emphasis added) The entire difficulty for Deleuze’s relation to transcendental philosophy, therefore,
consists in replacing the problem of conditioning, in which the phenomena are legislated only in relation to their form, and the structure of experience envisaged only in relation to its possibility […] with that of genesis. (ibid.: 249)
Deleuze concludes in “The Image of Thought” that “the transcendental is answerable to a superior empiricism” (Deleuze 2014: 188). In his own philosophy of transcendental empiricism, transcendental becoming cannot be measured by an empirical scale “precisely because it apprehends that which cannot be grasped from the point of view of common sense” (ibid.). We must therefore keep the transcendental and the empirical modes of becoming distinct, and decide which of these pertains to the becoming-real of hyperstition.
A further point on the matter is made by Ray Brassier, who makes the strong contention that Difference and Repetition is to a large part “a particularly audacious rewriting of Kant’s 1stCritique in the light of Bergson’s Matter and Memory.” (Brassier 2007: 163) Using Bergsonism as a “scalpel”, Deleuze re-arranges the transcendental so that the Transcendental Analytic “is supplanted by an account of spatio-temporal individuation” (ibid.). Thus in transcendental empiricism,
the individuated entity is the actualization of a virtual multiplicity, and it is individuation as ultimate determinant of actualization which ensures the exact coincidence of the ideal and the real, and hence a perfect fit between ideal genesis and empirical actuality. (ibid.: 163-164, emphasis added)
The language of hyperstition always refers to the narrative becoming “real”: translated into the Deleuzian-Bergsonian register, this places hyperstitional becoming entirely on the transcendental/ideal side of transcendental empiricism. It is therefore false, along these lines, to interpret the becoming of hyperstition as an empirical actualization, with the pre-hyperstitional narrative as a virtual potentiality. The relationship between the virtual and the actual in Bergson (wherein the former is the pre-condition for the latter) is a key basis for the book Bergsonism (orig. published 1966). In it, Deleuze disentangles the virtual and the possible from two points of view. The first directly opposes the possible with the real, and the virtual with the actual: from this, Deleuze shows that the virtual is not actual, yet can (and does) possess a reality; and likewise, the possible may have an actuality (Deleuze 2014: 272; 1988: 96). The other point of view is that of the possible’s realization, when subjected to the two essential rules of resemblance and limitation (what Deleuze would later recontextualize in “The Image of Thought” as the functions of the postulate of recognition) (Deleuze 1988: 96-97). This is not what occurs in cases of the actualization of the virtual, as we shall see later, because the rules of actualization “are not those of resemblance or limitation, but those of difference or divergence and of creation.” (ibid.) For a real thing is simply a possibility with the quality of reality added to it; an actual thing, on the other hand, operating through difference, does not resemble its virtual counterpart, but must “create its lines of differentiation in order to be actualized” (ibid.). So as to further clarify the distinction between the possible-real and the virtual-actual, let us pause to give each of these binaries some thought.
Bergson gives a detailed exposition of the possible and the real in the first chapter of The Creative Mind. Reality is characterized by Bergson here as “progressive invention”, and “the continuous creation of unforeseeable novelty” (Bergson 2002b: 226, 223). The reason such reality is novel and unforeseen is that despite the fact that it shares a resemblance with its corresponding possibles, these possibles can only be sensed after the real has come into existence (ibid.: 229-30). To demonstrate, Bergson describes an incident which occurred during the war (WW1), when someone came to him to ask for his insight into the future of literature. Bergson’s reply was it was not possible for him to answer this question at the present moment; however that from the moment of its coming into existence, “it will have been possible” to give the answer at that very moment (ibid.). Possibility is not a precursor to reality: possibility is, rather, the “image reflected behind it into the indefinite past”, and it is from the moment of genesis we can sense it (ibid.). Furthermore, possibility does not simply emerge from the point of becoming and thrown back in time; rather it is immanent, without sense: a “phantom awaiting its hour” (ibid.). Using this logic, Bergson establishes the real as that without precursor, a novelty that creates its own possibility.
However, Deleuze identifies Bergson’s ultimate preoccupation not with the possible but with the virtual (Deleuze 1988: 97-98). This is because, Deleuze says, the possible is a “false notion, a source of false problems” (ibid.). The real is pre-existent to itself, already-given; hence, we cannot understand from the possible anything “either of the mechanism of difference or of the mechanism of creation.” (ibid.) Deleuze’s conception of the virtual and the actual from Bergson’s own concepts, duration and élan vital, is intricate and not at all immediately graspable (it has also been the subject of several studies). As we have already established from Brassier, the terms “virtual” and “actual” refer to empirical instances of becoming, unlike the transcendental becoming which the possible undertakes when acquiring the attribute of reality. For Deleuze, the virtual image exists “beyond the turn in experience” (such as we find in the brain) at a point of convergence of the “lines” that have broadened out from a divided notion of representation (ibid: 24-29). Representation must be divided in order to restore differences in kind: for Bergson, their absence has meant that the distinction between duration and extension in representation has been lost, and has become the “whole source of the false problems and the illusions that overwhelm us” (ibid.: 22-23). The process of actualization is brought about by this divergence and differentiation of duration, of the image, or virtual multiplicity (ibid: 42-43). The multiplicity actualizes itself “by creating lines of differentiation that correspond to its differences in kind” (ibid.). Thus, unlike with realization, whereby the real object always resembles one of its infinite possibilities, an actualized multiplicity results from a process of differentiating itself from its virtual counterpart. On a conceptual level, both the virtual and the actual are expressions of Bergson’s duration: precisely, it is the virtual in the moment it is being actualized (ibid.).
Ultimately, it must be decided whether the hyperstitional carrier is, as I have suggested based solely so far on its commentators’ and practitioners’ use of language, a transcendental possible image that is made real; or, alternatively, an empirical virtual image that is made actual. Thus we can determine whether hyperstition actualizes, or, as is claimed, “makes real”. (We ought to remember here that there can be no crossing of the two: a virtual image is always-already real; however, a possibility can never be actualized.) Let us for a moment assume that the former of these two is the correct statement. Bergson is explicit in “The Possible and the Real” that the idea that reality itself can be put back into the past and thus affect the present is “something I have never claimed”; this is true only of the possible (Bergson 2002b: 229). If hyperstitional narrative is at any moment real, then, before this retrojection occurs, it must be considered possible. However for Bergson and Deleuze, possibility can only be established following the coming-into-existence of the real: we cannot, therefore, observe a pre-hyperstitional narrative. Yet this statement seems to contradict the whole re-purposing aspect of some hyperstitions, such as “The Geology of Morals”. For any hyperstitional narrative to realize itself, it must by some method or other distort reality in order for it to come into being: thus, “the real” is forced to become its own measure, which it cannot do.
What if, then, we consider the second of these statements to be correct, that the hyperstitional narrative is an actualized virtuality? After all, as we have stated multiple times, the virtual narrative is always real by default. As Deleuze states elsewhere in Difference and Repetition, the virtual is but one aspect of a real object, “as though the object had one part of itself in the virtual into which it plunged as though into an objective dimension”; thus, works of art are determined by their virtual structures. (Deleuze 2014: 272-73). That the process of hyperstitional becoming is an actualization does not work for two reasons. Firstly, a virtual object is always real, but as such, it must resemble a possible that has preceded it (even if this possible is only a mirage reflected back from the real object’s point of genesis). As we have already seen, a possible cannot be established for hyperstitional narrative, because the very process of hyperstition undercuts this reality in order to effect the narrative as “real”. Secondly, a prior case of actualization for hyperstition cannot be verified. This is not to rule out tout court any actualization, only that a true hyperstition – a text without author or origin – has not yet definitively materialized. Professor Challenger can be attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle; Professor Daniel Charles Barker can be attributed to Nick Land; and we have no sufficient reason to suggest that any currently anonymous narratives could not be traced genealogically in principle.
We set out to establish whether the “real” as understood in the definition of hyperstition could be understood in the sense offered by Deleuze, from the perspective of “The Image of Thought”; and therefore, whether this chapter could be definitively considered a precursor to this original definition. It has proven that no substantial connection could be established, and that, therefore, the claim that hyperstition “makes itself real” could not be fully legitimized using Deleuze’s terms. The process by which thought comes into being is through actualization, and this does not appear to be true for the processes of hyperstition. However, there are clear similarities between examples of hyperstition and Deleuze’s thinking in both “The Image of Thought” and other texts by Deleuze (especially the later writings with Guattari). This study of the relationship between Deleuze’s philosophy and hyperstition is one of a deliberately limited scope; perhaps to end, I might suggest areas for studying this relationship further.
In the introduction to their final collaboration, What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari make reference to what they call “conceptual personae”. On the surface, there are similarities between the hyperstition which requires a carrier to make itself real, and the concept needing enunciation from a philosophical figure (the “friends of wisdom” from which philosophy is defined) (Deleuze & Guattari 1994: 2-3). Any study of Deleuze and hyperstition which does not explore the connections between hyperstitional carriers and conceptual personae, such as this one, is one with an obvious limitation.
Deleuze’s engagement with the idea of superstition could be a subject for further study. In particular, the crusade against superstition has had a long philosophical tradition, the genealogy of which can be traced through the “secret link” of thinkers Deleuze has previously called his allies: Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza, and (as previously mentioned) Hume (Deleuze 1995: 6). “The Image of Thought” does contain a fleeting reference to superstition in the line of these philosophers: when discussing the “negatives of thought” having been caught up in the notion of error (the fifth postulate), Deleuze acknowledges the attempts of these philosophers to restore the “absurdity” of superstition to a genuine danger or misadventure of thought (Deleuze 2014: 196). The first stage of a study into Deleuze’s encounters with superstition would have to approach the Latin term religio as used by Lucretius, carefully translating it as to not suggest “religion” as such but, as Ryan J. Johnson identifies, a majoritarian system of false beliefs (Johnson 2017: 224). By elucidating a precise meaning of superstition, such a study could progress towards understanding the influence of this trajectory of thought on Deleuze; and finally, may strengthen Deleuzian understandings of hyperstition.
Finally, a future study can be hypothesised wherein the question of if or how we can “learn” (in the Deleuzian sense of apprenticeship), or produce original thought using the hyperstitional image is resolved. We have already concluded during the course of this essay that the narratives of hyperstition are not themselves images of thought, but the “fictional quantity” is still a kind of image, therefore a concept; and that images for Deleuze have the potential to inhibit the encounter necessary for the original violence of thought to occur. As philosophical-literary theory-fictions, hyperstitions are designed to convey knowledge of a kind to their readers, whether that knowledge be of a geophilosophical nature (as in “The Geology of Morals”) or of petropolitics (as in Cyclonopedia). Precisely how this original violence comes about, if it can even be established that it does, is not something which was concluded during this essay. Perhaps this was due to the limited insight into Deleuze’s understanding of “image” as can be gathered from “The Image of Thought”. A fuller study of hyperstition’s engagement with Deleuze possibly may use alternative sources such as Bergsonism and Cinema 2: the Time-Image (orig. published 1985) – both of which have much more detailed expositions of image in Deleuzian-Bergsonian philosophy – as the basis for the formulation of an answer to the question of hyperstitional learning.
 All subsequent uncited page references in this section will be attributable to Difference and Repetition (Deleuze 2014). See bibliography.
 “All men by nature desire to know”. Aristotle (1984: section 980a21).
 Compare Descartes (1984: sections 24-34); Kant (2007: 133-38, 146-47); Plato (1978b: sections 185a, 187a).
 Deleuze quotes from the Republic, Book VII: section 523b (Plato 1978a): “… some reports of our perceptions do not provoke thought to reconsideration because the judgement of them by sensation seems adequate, while others always invite the intellect to reflection because the sensation yields nothing that can be trusted.—You obviously mean distant appearances, or things drawn in perspective.—You have quite missed my meaning …” (Deleuze 2014: 182).
 Compare Horkheimer & Adorno’s closing comments in the Dialectic of Enlightenment(2002: 214): “Stupidity is a scar. It can relate to one faculty among many or to them all, practical and mental. Every partial stupidity in a human being marks a spot where the awakening play of muscles has been inhibited instead of fostered.”
 “Then a lamentable faculty developed in their minds, that of noticing stupidity and finding it intolerable.” Flaubert (1976: 217, emphasis added).
 The distinction between “nonexistent” and “badly-stated” problems is elaborated by Deleuze in Bergsonism (Deleuze 1988: 17-21).
 Compare Leibniz (1989: par. 33.).
 Deleuze locates the beginnings of this line of thinking about the virtual in Proust’s “formula”: “real without being actual, ideal without being abstract”. See Deleuze (2008: esp. 39-40; 2014: 272-73).
 See Bergson (2002b).
 See also Bergson (2002a).
 O’Sullivan has begun to highlight these connections (2016: 7, 13, 24). I also intend to pursue this line of inquiry in a follow-up essay sometime next year.
Numbers following dates in citations refer to page numbers, unless otherwise stated.
Works by Deleuze and Deleuze & Guattari:
Deleuze, G. (1988) Bergsonism [Le Bergsonisme], trans. Tomlinson, H. & Habberjam, B., New York, Zone Books.
— (1989) Cinema 2: the Time-Image [Cinema 2: l’Image-Temps], trans. Tomlinson, H. & Galeta, R., London, The Athlone Press.
— (1995) Negotiations, 1972-1990 [Pourparlers, 1972-1990], trans. Joughin, M., New York, Columbia University Press.
— (2006) Nietzsche and Philosophy [Nietzsche et la philosophie], trans. Tomlinson, H., New York, Columbia University Press.
— (2008) Proust and Signs [Proust et Signes], trans. Howard, R., London/New York, Continuum.
— (2014) Difference and Repetition [Différence et Répétition], trans. Patton, P., London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic.
(with Guattari, F.) (1994) What Is Philosophy? [Qu’est ce que la philosophie?], trans. Burchell, G. & Tomlinson, H., London/New York, Verso.
Works by other authors:
Aristotle (1984) Metaphysics [τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά], trans. Ross, W.D., in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, J., Volume Two, Princeton/Guildford, Princeton University Press, 1552-1728.
Bergson, H. (2002a) “Images and Bodies”, trans. Paul, N.M. & Palmer, W.S., in Key Writings, ed. Ansell Pearson, K. & Mullarkey, J., London/New York, Continuum, 86-123.
— (2002b) “The Possible and the Real”, trans. Andison, M.L., in Key Writings, 223-232.
Brassier, R. (2007) Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, London, Palgrave Macmillan.
De Beistegui, M. (2004) Truth and Genesis: Philosophy as Differential Ontology, Bloomington/Minneapolis, University of Indiana Press.
— (2010) Immanence – Deleuze and Philosophy, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
Descartes, R. (1984) Meditations on First Philosophy [Meditationes de prima philosophia, in qua Dei existentia et animæ immortalitas demonstrator], in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. Cottingham, J., Stoothoff, R., and Murdoch, D., Volume II, Cambridge/New York/Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1-62.
Flaubert, G. (1976) Bouvard and Péchuchet [Bouvard et Péchuchet], trans. Krailsheimer, A.J., Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Horkheimer, M. & Adorno, T.W. (2002) Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments[Dialektik der Aufklärung], ed. Schmid Noerr, G., trans. Jephcott, E., Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Johnson, R.J. (2017) The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
Kant, I. (2007) Critique of Pure Reason [Kritik der reinen Vernunft], trans. Kemp Smith, N., Revised Second Edition, Basingstoke/New York, Palgrave Macmillan.
Leibniz, G.W. (1989) “Discourse on Metaphysics (1686)” [Discours de métaphysique], trans. Ariew, R. & Garber, D., in Philosophical Essays, Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, 35-68.
O’Sullivan, S. (2016) “Acceleration, Hyperstition and Myth-Science”, available online at https://www.academia.edu/19888801/Accelerationism_Hyperstition_and_Myth-Science.
Plato (1978a) Republic [Πολιτεία], trans. Shorey, P., in Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton, E. & Cairns, H, Ninth printing, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 575-844.
— (1978b) Theaetetus [Θεαίτητος], trans. Cornford, F.M., in Collected Dialogues of Plato, 845-919.
The term hyperstition was coined by the partially-anonymous Ccru (Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) in the late 1990s, to refer to a specific instance of the relationship between fiction and reality. Many of the early adopters of the term (notably Reza Negarestani, Nick Land, and Mark Fisher) were postgraduate students and academics who, at the same time as exploring the cultural ramifications of hyperstition, were also directly engaging with the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, to various degrees and means. More recently, hyperstition has re-emerged as an idea of philosophical interest, for example in the documentary film Hyperstition, directed by Christopher Roth and uploaded to Vimeo in 2016. A revived interest in hyperstition is also currently observable in academic Deleuze studies, with recent work on the subject being published by Ben Woodard (2015) and Simon O’Sullivan (2016).
This essay will explore the philosophical relationship between the idea of hyperstition and Deleuze’s work in a particular way. Specifically, it will focus on a single definition of hyperstition, and one chapter from Deleuze’s book Difference and Repetition (2014, orig. published 1968). In “The Image of Thought”, Deleuze seeks to trace the ontology of thought itself, by asking the question of how thought comes into being. Superficially, this question resembles the question concerning the mechanics of hyperstitional narratives’ supposed coming-into-reality. There are four major objectives to this essay. Two of these will be achieved in Part 1 of this essay (this part), with the other two being the subject of Part 2. The first objective is to establish the precise underpinnings of the 1999 definition of hyperstition. Secondly, a chapter from Deleuze’s own book with Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus(1987: orig. published 1980), will be examined, in order to establish this chapter as an early example of a text that meets several of the criteria for hyperstition. The third objective of the essay will be to show how this precise iteration of Deleuze’s image of thought inhibits original thinking. From this, we can infer Deleuze’s usage of words such as “image”, and what they might mean for hyperstitional becoming. The final objective of the essay is to attempt to utilise the tools of Deleuzianism identified up to this point to critique the process of hyperstition as it is claimed in its definition: as a fiction making itself “real”.
The earliest available concrete definition of the term hyperstition (to this writer’s knowledge) is the one found in the final edition of the short-lived Ccru-edited journal Abstract Culture (1999). Not only do the journal’s editors add the subtitle “Digital Hyperstition” to this last issue, they also incorporate a glossary of over one hundred neologisms – playfully and deliberately obfuscating words inspired in equal parts by the cyberpunk aesthetics of William Gibson, the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, and poststructuralist texts such as A Thousand Plateaus – the usage of which is almost entirely confined to the Ccru’s own writings. The entry for “hyperstition” is reproduced below:
Hyperstition: Element of effective culture that makes itself real, through fictional quantities functioning as time-travelling potentials. Hyperstition operates as a coincidence intensifier, effecting a call to the Old Ones. (Ccru 1999: 74)
I wish to put aside the (for present purposes, unnecessary and extraneous) reference to Lovecraft’s “Old Ones” which rounds the definition off, and instead propose separating it into the following four elements. I will expand on each of these briefly, ending on the initial claim of the definition concerning the real, which will take much longer to unpack and will lead us into the primary focus of the essay. For this reason, I have listed them in reverse order:
i) The operation of hyperstition as a coincidence intensifier.
ii) Reference to time-travelling potentials.
iii) Reference to fictional quantities.
iv) Hyperstition as element of effective culture which makes itself real.
i) The phrase “coincidence intensifier” is suggestive of the already-established English word with which hyperstition shares a related meaning: superstition, or the (often unwarranted) association of everyday phenomena with the supernatural; fragments of narratives often spread through word-of-mouth, and invested in particular actions, objects, symbols, and times of day or year. Superstition has at times been considered an enemy of philosophy, antithetical to its many definitions and ambitions. For instance, Hume, for whom superstition constituted a “false religion”, identified “weakness, fear, melancholy, [and] ignorance” as its sources; and its manifestations a result of cases when “real objects of terror are wanting, the soul, active to its own prejudice, and fostering its predominant inclination, finds imaginary ones, to whose power and malevolence it sets no limits.” (Hume 1985: 73-4) Hence for many, the correlation between these phenomena and their supposed effects, having no basis in natural or empirical causes, is purely a result of the imagination and can be attributed to individual episodes of coincidence.
The first element of hyperstition therefore implies an acceleration of coincidence generated in cases of superstition. Two early entries on the Hyperstition blog, posted a few years after the Abstract Culture issue, aim to clarify the distinction between super- and hyperstition. The earlier post, by Anna Greenspan (25th June 2004) claims that the aim of hyperstition is to “flatten the transcendence of superstition.” The latter term, she continues, is grounded in “degrees of belief” not intrinsic to the former: hyperstition does not need to be “believed” as such: it operates purely as hype, or the viral contamination of narrative without basis in the conditions of fear or insecurity identified by Hume. Greenspan’s short post garnered a range of responses, including a follow-up post by mark k-p (Mark Fisher, 6th July 2004), who added that superstitions “fail to decode the relationship between belief and reality in the way that hyperstition always does.” In other words, the belief element of superstition is always self-perpetuating: on the superstition appearing to “come true”, faith in the “lucky” object or method is reinstated, and not given the opportunity to be proven ineffectual. Hyperstition, on the other hand, has no belief and no object, and because of this absence of any need for validity in order to operate, its effects upon reality are all the more “intense” when they are indeed operated.
ii) The phrase “time-travelling potentials” is in itself imprecise, and in need of some external qualification. On its surface at least, it implies the possibility for hyperstition to decouple itself from chronological time, or to function on different scales or dimensions of time. Suhail Malik (speaking from the year 2022) introduces Hyperstition (film, 2016) by explaining that “the film presents a disruption of linear time.” Nick Land would illustrate this aspect of hyperstition using James Cameron’s The Terminator: a machine that travels back in time from the future in order to alter the past (Land 2011: 422). A later example is cited by Armen Avenessian and others in the Hyperstition film, this time from continental philosophy. Quentin Meillassoux characterizes his arche-fossil (or ancestrality) as being “anterior to ancestral life”, and referring to “a non-given occurrence”: an object which retroactively comes into existence as an imprint on the past, therefore an “ontological problem of the coming into being of givenness […] in the midst of a space and time which are supposed to pre-exist [it].”Meillassoux also speculates on how a time “anterior to the possibility of experience” (Brassier 2007: 52) may re-emerge to “destroy every determinate reality,” in a recursive activation of latent unrealised possibilities, obeying as yet unknown laws and principles.
iii) The original Ccru definition of hyperstition contains another ambiguous term: this time “fictional quantities”. Only a few further references to this precise term can be found on the Hyperstition blog; most substantially one by Fisher (2ndAugust 2004), who identifies an early, if fleeting, usage of it by Deleuze and Guattari in their earliest collaboration, Anti-Oedipus (orig. published 1972):
The primitive machine is not ignorant of exchange, commerce, and industry; it exorcises them, localizes them, cordons them off, encastes them, and maintains the merchant and the blacksmith in a subordinate position, so that the flows of exchange and the flows of production do not manage to break the codes in favour of their abstract and fictional quantities [quantités abstraites ou fictives].
There is no evidence to suggest, however, that there is any unique significance to this phrase. One might be inclined to speculate that Fisher and the other contributors to the Hyperstition blog are merely delighting in the apparent “coincidence intensifying” aspect of a phrase appearing in an earlier Deleuze and Guattari text after using but prior to their acknowledgment of it (therefore making the phrase itself a time-travelling hyperstition). Instead of insisting on a precise meaning to the phrase, it is more reasonable to conclude that “fictional quantities” is merely a synonym of a term such as “fictional elements”, “fictional entities”, or simply “fictions” or “narratives”: specifics of character, plot, setting, etc., or narratives in their entirety. Indeed, each of these terms can be observed in later brief summations of hyperstition; references to “quantities” are scarce after 2004. Thus, it appears that to the majority of hyperstition researchers, the unusually-worded phrase carries no substantial meaning not already indicated by more common terms such as “narratives”; nor is the phrase’s appearance in Anti-Oedipus considered to be of unique relevance.
iv) The most substantial element of the definition, from a philosophical standpoint, is this one: hyperstition is an element of “effective” culture that “makes itself real.” There are two primary implications working in tandem here. The first implication is that narratives – or, at least, the kinds of narratives found in hyperstitions – “effect” themselves in a way that suggests degrees of autonomy, mis- (or even non- or self-) authorship, and significant reworkings of conceptions of ontology. Furthermore, this notion of a narrative “effecting” itself, or making itself “real”, necessarily carries an underlying political dimension. Narrative is commonly understood as being given or exchanged, or of being of epistemological value – which is attributed to the teller, not that which is being told. Accepting the literal implications of hyperstition means that narrative is now liberated from the chain of signification-signifier-signified altogether, and able to speak for itself. Additionally, for better or for worse, hyperstition can in principle be implemented into progressive political strategies as a means to change the prescribed (perhaps hegemonic) future, and open up new ways of “mak[ing] the future an active historical force in the present.” (Srnicek & Williams 2015: 127)
The second implication is that the ways in which these narratives effect themselves involves a passing into “reality”. The initial problems with this statement are numerous. In what sense is the word “reality” being invoked here? How are we to recognise non- or pre-hyperstitional narratives, if not “in” “reality”? To what extent is this move to “reality” contingent, and how exactly is it effected, and on what levels? Some of these questions are answerable using what has been understood regarding the other elements of the definition, however. Central to every understanding and usage of hyperstition is its manipulation of time: narratives from the future effecting changes on our past or present, therefore reorienting (or “inventing”) the future beyond the already-established image taken to represent it. This, I will argue shortly, takes us to the central preoccupation of several of Deleuze’s projects, including his conception of the image of thought. As for “reality”, it needs to be established whether the sense in which the word is being used by hyperstition theorists is identical, or in any way related, to Deleuze’s sense of “the real”, which itself needs to be disentangled from a further term with which it is often conflated: the “actual”.
“The Geology of Morals” (1980) as an early example of hyperstition
Before visiting these earlier Deleuze terms, however, let us by way of example turn to a chapter (“plateau”) of A Thousand Plateaus which I believe may be considered an early hyperstition, and surely inspired the Ccru’s early experiments with the form, notably “Barker Speaks” (Ccru 1999: 2-9; Land 2011: 493-505). Doing so will identify some of the literary tactics implemented in hyperstitions in order to make them both autonomous and “real”. Deleuze and Guattari introduce “The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)” (1987: 39-74) with this sentence:
The same Professor Challenger who made the Earth scream with his pain machine, as described by Arthur Conan Doyle, gave a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology in a fashion befitting his simian disposition. (Ibid: 40)
The reader immediately encounters a fictional character, one that may already be familiar to them from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World series of books: unambiguously, as Deleuze and Guattari inform us, this is a similar Professor Challenger who is now the subject of their account of a lecture of which they were in attendance. We can deduce their presence at the lecture from the numerous examples of direct address (“Challenger quoted a sentence he said he came across in a geology textbook. He said we need to learn it by heart […]”), references to the restlessness of the audience, and details regarding the intonation of the speaker’s voice (ibid: 40, emphasis added; 42; 57). If by the end of the plateau the reader has still not deduced the blending of fictional and non-fictional forms at play, its conclusion should leave no room for doubt:
Disarticulated, deterritorialized, Challenger muttered that he was taking the earth with him, that he was leaving for the mysterious world, his poison garden. […] Challenger, or what remained of him, slowly hurried toward the plane of consistency, following a bizarre trajectory with nothing relative left about it.
(Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 73-74)
As readers, we can treat “The Geology of Morals” as either literary fiction or philosophy; or alternatively, as an entirely new form inspired by the two. I suggest the name “theory-fiction”, based on the appearance of this descriptor on the back cover of Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia (2008), itself an accomplished work that draws from the conventions of hyperstition. Using the fictional Professor Challenger as a “carrier” or “puppet” allows Deleuze and Guattari to frame the philosophical content of the chapter from an original angle, and ultimately allows them to philosophise in new ways. Greenspan outlines the purpose of the carrier in hyperstition, and charts its intended effects (26th July 2004). Firstly, she observes, carriers “tag collective production,” therefore compounding anonymity of author(s), and eventually “mark[ing] true discoveries”. In this way, even “Deleuze & Guattari” is a means to confuse original authorship of ideas and concepts (we can never be certain which new concept has come from Deleuze and which from Guattari: although we can try to infer from their previous writings, it is safer to cite this third source, the non-author Deleuze & Guattari). Importing another voice for new avenues of thought to develop further masks original authorship, and, most significantly, weakens or renders ineffectual the relationship between the author and the authored, granting the authored text agency (in Professor Challenger’s case, he is emancipated from both Conan Doyle and Deleuze & Guattari). From the “author’s” point of view, notes Greenspan, the carrier is a means to “populate thought”; particularly, they “allow ‘you’ to think things that ‘you’ don’t agree with” (ibid.). For Deleuze and Guattari, Professor Challenger’s experiments with geology, biology, and linguistics can be read alongside, and not necessarily as a continuation of, their own “authored” work elsewhere in A Thousand Plateausand beyond: it maintains a distinct identity, at a remove from the remainder of the already fragmented book.
Furthermore, it makes Challenger real, at least in appearance, in the sense that he no longer “belongs” to any particular fiction and can be (to the uninitiated) cited as a legitimate source of information. Essential to this appearance is that the academic form and style are rigorously upheld. The use of citations, endnotes, and references to “real” people (such as Hjemslev) throughout “The Geology of Morals” ensures that, despite the playful integration of fictional elements, it is a work intended to be taken seriously. These formal aspects would be expanded upon greatly in the Ccru’s first identifiable attempts at hyperstition: “Barker Speaks”, for example, is presented as an interview with a legitimate professor of “Anorganic Semiotics” (with a list of publications at the interview’s end), and is only given away by references to “Kingsport College” and “MVU” (Miskatonic Virtual University, Mass.) – deliberate in-jokes for fans of Lovecraft (Ccru: 2; Land: 493). One final attribute of these hyperstitional texts used to generate the effect of reality to the reader is the complexity of the subject(s) they enunciate: their confusing and disorienting nature, their plundering and splicing of complex terminology and ideas from multiple disciplines may or may not be of intellectual value, but regardless, the intended effect is in part to resist easy disentanglement (and therefore revealing) of the text’s formal manipulations by which it functions.
“The Geology of Morals”, therefore, is an example of hyperstition, because it matches the four criteria of the definition we have established:
i) The operation of hyperstition as a coincidence intensifier. The idea of Professor Challenger as a real person is intensified by his appearance outside of Conan Doyle’s fiction, suggesting perhaps that The Lost World is a fictionalisation of a real person (to the unfamiliar).
ii) Reference to time-travelling potentials. Conan Doyle died in 1930; Challenger therefore appears in no official stories beyond this date, ergo his readers have a fixed quantity of Challenger literature from which to imagine the character. By relocating Challenger to 1980, Deleuze and Guattari retroactively alter Challenger’s genealogy, which itself affects future Challenger reception (once again, only to the unfamiliar).
iii) Reference to fictional quantities. Not only is Challenger a narrative, Deleuze and Guattari’s entire project becomes operative on the level of the fictional. This in itself, however, does not reduce its usefulness as theory; but it does question the roles and forms which theory can take.
iv) Hyperstition as element of effective culture which makes itself real. Through diminishing or disguising the role of the author, the fiction’s point of genesis is subverted. Effecting a form of time travel, in which its conception in the mind and the works of a singular author did not constitute its point of entry into the world, the fiction is set onto the trajectory of “becoming real”. This question of the “real”, however, still needs to be addressed.
Bibliography & Filmography
Note on abbreviations: Every effort has been made to differentiate between the Hyperstition blog (active 2004-2008), and the film of the same name (Hyperstition(2016), directed by Christopher Roth). As such, the names “Hyperstition (blog)” and “Hyperstition (film)” are used whenever possible.
Numbers following dates in citations refer to page numbers, unless otherwise stated.
Works by Deleuze and Deleuze & Guattari:
Deleuze, G. (2014) Difference and Repetition [Différence et Répétition], trans. Patton, P., London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic.
(with Guattari, F.) (1972) Capitalisme et schizophrénie: L’anti-Œdipe, Nouvelle édition augmentée, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit.
— (1984) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [Capitalisme et schizophrénie: L’anti-Œdipe], trans. Hurley, R., Seem, M. and Lane, H., London, The Athlone Press Ltd.
— (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [Capitalisme et schizophrénie: Mille plateaux], trans. Massumi, B., Minneapolis/London, University of Minnesota Press.
Works by other authors:
Brassier, R. (2007) Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, London, Palgrave Macmillan.
Ccru (eds.) (1999) Abstract Culture: Digital Hyperstition, London, Ccru.
Dosse, F. (2011) Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives [Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari. Biographie croisée], trans. Glassman, D., New York, Columbia University Press.
Fisher, M. [as mark k-p] (6th July 2004) “Hyperstition/ Superstition”, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003532.html.
— [as mark k-p] (2nd August 2004) “D/G: Capitalism/ The Thing/ Fictional Quantities”, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003761.html
Goddard, T., Gilbert, J., Barton, J., Adams, T. & Mackay, R. (2017) “Mark Fisher Memorial”, Urbanomic, available online at https://www.urbanomic.com/document/mark-fisher-memorial/.
Greenspan, A. (25th June 2004) “The ‘hype’ in hyperstition”, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003428.html.
— (26th July 2004) “Hyperstitional Carriers”, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003707.html.
Hume, D. (1985) “On Superstition and Enthusiasm”, in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Miller, E.F., Revised edition, Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, Inc., 73-79.
Laboria Cuboniks (2015) “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”, available online at http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/.
Land, N. (2011) Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007, ed. Mackay, R. & Brassier, R., Falmouth, Urbanomic; New York, Sequence Press.
Massumi, B. (1992) A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, Cambridge, MA/London, MIT Press.
Meillassoux, Q. (2008) After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency[Après la finitude. Essai sur la nécessitié de la contingence], trans. Brassier, R., London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic.
Negarestani, R. (2008) Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials, Melbourne, re.press.
O’Sullivan, S. (2016) “Acceleration, Hyperstition and Myth-Science”, available online at https://www.academia.edu/19888801/Accelerationism_Hyperstition_and_Myth-Science.
Srnicek, N. & Williams, A. (2015) Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, London/New York, Verso.
Williams, A. (2013) “Escape Velocities”, in e-flux #46, available online at http://www.e-flux.com/issues/46-june-2013/.
Woodard, B. (2015) “Negarestani in R’lyeh”, in Buchanan, I., Matts, T. & Tynan, A. (eds.), Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Literature, London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 191-209.
Hyperstition (film), (2016), dir. Roth, C., available online at
The Terminator (1984), dir. Cameron, J.
 Since the passing of Fisher in early 2017, it has been suggested that the term hyperstition was his own creation. See Mackay, in Goddard, et al. (2017: 10).
 The mechanics of hyperstition’s “becoming” have been of particular value to some political theorists in recent years. References can be found in Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Workand the manifesto of the anonymous “xenofeminist” collective Laboria Cuboniks (both 2015).
 Particularly the more imaginative early Anglo-American readings of Deleuze and Guattari from the likes of (A Thousand Plateaus translator) Brian Massumi and (eventual Ccru de facto leader) Nick Land. See Massumi (1992); Land (2011).
 Meillassoux (2008: 10, 20-1). See also Brassier (2007: 49-52).
 “It is perfectly possible to conceive of a time determined by the governance of fixed laws disappearing in something other than itself – it would disappear in another time governed by alternative laws. But the only time that harbours the capacity to destroy every determinate reality, while obeying no determinate law – the time capable of destroying, without reason or law, both worlds and things – can be thought as an absolute. […] It is a Time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death.” (Meillassoux: 62, 64)
 Deleuze & Guattari (1984/1972: 153/180) (emphasis added).
 See, for example, Woodard (2015: 194); O’Sullivan (multiple references); Williams (2013: 9).
 For this reason, I will most commonly be using the term “narrative” from this point onward in place of “fictional quantity” or “element of (effective) culture”. This also means that “narrative” will be a used as a synonym for any fictional aspects, for example character or plot.
 Until I have established the given meaning of “reality” in hyperstition, I will continue to employ scare quotes when handling this term and its variants.
 See Srnicek & Williams (2015: esp. 75, 127, 138).
 From the back cover of Cyclonopedia: “At once a horror fiction, a work of speculative theology, an atlas of demonology, a political samizdat and a philosophic grimoire, Cyclonopedia is a work of theory-fiction on the Middle East, where horror is restlessly heaped upon horror.” (Emphasis added)
 See the somewhat obtuse entry for “Puppetry” in Cyclonopedia’s glossary: “In string theory, puppetry is the traffic zone of data between possessor and the possessed, the puppeteer and the puppet.” (Negarestani: 242).
 The question of authorship has pervaded the credited collaborative works of Deleuze and Guattari for many years; there have especially been many attempts to diminish Guattari’s role in the partnership. This question is also how François Dosse opens his biography of the two writers: “Who was the author? One or both of them? How could two such different men, with such distinct sensibilities and styles, pursue their intellectual agenda together for more than twenty years (1969-1991)?” Dosse: 1.
 Even the historically verifiable linguist Louis Hjemslev is described by Challenger as “the Danish Spinozist geologist, […] that dark prince descended from Hamlet” (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 43).
This conversation took place during the development of Florian Hecker’s piece Speculative Solution, an Urbanomic commission that explored Quentin Meillassoux’s concept of ‘Hyperchaos’
Chez Meillassoux, Paris, 22 July 2010.
florian hecker: I’m very interested in this notion of surprise and sudden change in sound; so that one state of something could change into something totally different at times during the piece, and there would be no apparent connection from the process that manifests one sonic structure to the next one. When Robin pointed out your book [After Finitude1] to me, at the time I was working on Acid in the Style of David Tudor, which had this very direct, maybe literal, idea of a quasi-sonification of chaotic equations as the source of sound. However, many pieces I have been working on don’t have such a literal relation of using nonlinear functions to synthesize certain sounds. And rather than the idea of making a sound directly ‘out of’ chaos, I was interested in how it could be used to explore this notion of surprise and abrupt change: to bring this extreme dynamic form into the piece.
This object or artifact we end up with will not represent something—it wouldn’t be a recording of an installation, it wouldn’t be a sonification or illustration of your concepts
Then as I looked into the book more, this is something that to me seemed to have a certain feedback with what you’re writing, when you talk about Hume’s billiard table: that the absence of constant laws would change the conditions outside the table, and not only the actions happening between the billiard balls. And what Robin and I spoke about this morning was how something like this possibility of constant change could manifest itself in a piece that would not be merely a sonification of the idea, but rather some kind of ‘toolbox’. Over the last few weeks it has begun to seem quite important to have sequences or parts of the piece that would manifest themselves outside of the sound altogether: maybe a text that proceeds from a certain moment in the sound, creating a dynamic where this object or artifact we end up with will not represent something—it wouldn’t be a recording of an installation, it wouldn’t be a sonification or illustration of your concepts. We discussed the Duchampian Boîte en Valise, perfume and pharmaceutical packaging, cardboard boxes, but also the general idea of regarding things as being just what they are, and not as representing some other form. So maybe through the text, the piece on the CD, the package, the audience completes this linkage of sonic experience with your ideas about this change and incredible dynamics.
quentin meillassoux: Yes, very interesting. What is specific to hyperchaos is that it is not an extreme form of chaos; it is not more disorder than chaos, it is order or disorder. Hyperchaos can mean order and stability, as well as a complete destruction of what is. The difficulty in getting this across conceptually, visually, sonically, is that hyperchaos is something that is in adequation with every state of reality—order or disorder. In a paper I once gave about science fiction, I say that science fiction is fiction inside the space of science. Inside the space of science, you have to think disorder, hazard, as something which is a disorder inside an order, inside a continuity. But I try to imagine a world where we could survive, but science could not. What would this be, a world that would be phenomenally accessible for us—you can grasp it, you can live inside it, you can see it—but it is not scientific?
The difficulty in getting this across conceptually, visually, sonically, is that hyperchaos is something that is in adequation with every state of reality—order or disorder
Science has perished, it is not possible in this world. What would this world be, where you could live but science would not survive? It would be a world where there is some order, but the scale of disorder is too large for science, too disconnected for science. For example, things are there, but sometimes they just go away, they disappear. You’re in a Newtonian world, but then sometimes you are in an Einsteinian world. It’s a world you can experience, but where science could not survive, because the laboratory experiment would have a finite duration. Why do I speak about that? Because it is the only way of visualization—and maybe the same goes for an acoustic realisation—to render it sensible, inside a continuity. Because if it is going to be an experience, you need continuity for experience.2
But at the same time, you want the duration of this experience to be too large for the scientific conception of chance. For example, in this world, you could conduct an experiment whose duration was too long for quantum physics to survive inside it—the quantum conception of chance, concerning specific probabilities, wouldn’t survive. But you would still have the possibility of what I call accidents des choses. It would be like when you drive, for example: there are other drivers, you can anticipate things, you can survive. But sometimes you are involved in a crash, and you might die. So, in a world where you could have experience, but science could not survive, could not exist, you would have the same behaviour towards the things that you have towards other drivers when you drive. Sometimes you can die, because things just crash. And I think what is important is that, if you have to have a phenomenal analogon for what I say about hyperchaos, you can imagine this sort of world. But the question is: How can I visualize a world where I can have an experience that would exceed the possibility of science? Of course, formally this is not possible: Leibniz said that any sequence, however disordered, can always be conceived as an example of a more elaborate law. So there are no miracles for Leibniz, because every miracle is just a law, but one that is more complicated than the one we already know.
And in the same way, in some sense there is never disorder, because disorder is just another order than the one you expect. In your room, it may seem that it is disordered when you work, but you know where to find every book, every disk, and so on. You know there is an order there.
Hyperchaos is a theory of time, a theory to show that time is not becoming. Becoming is just a case of time.
So it is difficult to break with this formal possibility of order—you can always make these objections. And you cannot effectively show the disorder, pure disorder, for these reasons, for these two reasons: firstly, the duration of the experiment; and secondly, that, formally, you can always say that a disorder is just a more complicated order. The problem is just that, as the painter has to show transcendence, but he can’t show it, he can just make an analogon of transcendence, with light, and so on. Well, I think the best analogon is the world where you have this continuity, and inside it you have this pure break, a break that is too harsh for classical probability. And this break can be a break of pure order—what I say about hyperchaos, which is very important, is that hyperchaos is a theory of time, a theory to show that time is not becoming. Becoming is just a case of time. Because hyperchaos is not just disorder, it’s also the production of little static worlds—worlds with absolutely no becoming, this too is a possibility consistent with hyperchaos. That’s why, when I speak about hyperchaos, I say that chaos is a time that can destroy everything, even becoming. This is hyperchaos: you can destroy order, and you can destroy becoming; and it you can also erect a perfect classic order. What I call the n’importe quoi—the anything—is not a disorder, it is not becoming.
The anything is a disconnection of all this, and also the possibility of the succession of all this. As if you, Florian, would make some Mozart….
The difficulty is, when I imagine this world without science, I encounter exactly the sort of problem I think an artist would have: to figurate it, to find an analogon—not perfect, because you cannot show it, but you have to show its direction.
robin mackay: It’s also important to mark your divergence from Kant’s argument, which is that, if anything could change at any time, experience per se would be impossible. I think there is an important parallel here with trying to create this ‘phenomenal analogon’. Because one’s initial instinct would be to present hyperchaos as a white noise, as the least possible information: this would be the Kantian decision, to say that there would be no information, no features, at all. Whereas if you make the decision against the Kantian argument, then the problem becomes: to present within the limited scope of what can be presented, something that initiates a rational access to the notion of hyperchaos. Which is why we’re talking about extending the sound piece through the text, so it would become a toolbox for conceiving of hyperchaos, rather than trying to present it.
qm: This is why I talked about an analogon. But what is interesting is the idea of producing a phenomenal experience that is transcendentally impossible—that’s what’s important. That’s what I try to show about the transcendental deduction: Kant’s transcendental deduction is that, if laws were contingent, there wouldn’t have been the unified experience of the dancing of the billiard balls without the furniture also dancing; the stability of the furniture with a local dancing. This is the transcendental Kantian experience which is impossible—so if you refute Kant by producing it, this is very important. I think that the difficulty is that you have to avoid the possibility of miracles, the possibility of its just being special effects, of a deus ex machina. Because you could say it’s just a return to miraculous conception of reality. A miracle, of course, is a local disorder within an order outside it; and inside the disorder there is another order at work.
Conceptually I can affirm it, but what is difficult is to give this sensation that you are in a world where you cannot make a physics, but only a chronics, of things
That’s what is difficult: conceptually I can affirm it, but what is difficult is to give this sensation that you are in a world where you cannot make a physics, but only a chronics, of things. You can just say, okay, now this physics goes for today—as if it was a fashion. The difficulty is to demonstrate that this world is consistent, that the world we know is one consistent possibility of hyperchaos. Because if you show it, if you just suggest it, you show by contrast the facticity of all worlds, the facticity of all science, and so on. And you show that the facticity of laws and the facticity of things in laws, are essentially the same. Of course, the facticity of laws is virtual, and that of things is potentiality, but the two are connected: things can be destroyed, and laws can also be destroyed. If god doesn’t exist, everything is fragile.
In order to make this understood, I remark that thought cannot be richer than reality: The capacity of thought cannot be richer than the capacity of reality. If we can imagine so many things, this must be just the shadow of reality: imagination cannot exceed reality. So, anything that imagination can produce is just a little of what reality can produce. Imagination is not something that miraculously is larger than the possibility of reality, it is just a part of the craziness of reality—which is precisely hyperchaos. But what I try to think is that it is not craziness, it is just rationality, because it is just the definition of a logical world, a world which would just be logical: so, it’s not the destruction of logics, but the understanding that, in reality, logics are very liberal.
rm: Logical reality liberated from the ideology of natural laws?
qm: No, the problem is with a certain conception of what ‘natural’ or ‘lawful’ means: Rationality, during the enlightenment, had to fight religion; and they fought religion with the most up-to-date science: physics. They fought it with the necessity of physical laws. The problem—Hume saw this, he saw it very well—is that the necessity of laws is not something you can demonstrate, but only something you can believe in: so it’s a belief against another belief. And in fact I think the belief in the necessity of laws is necessarily a belief in God, because you believe in what you cannot demonstrate, you believe in an order that guarantees laws. In fact, you may not believe in god any more, but you believe in the divine solidity of laws. And you can’t see that there is no necessity in nature. That’s what I want to show.
You create belief each time that you create something incomprehensible; you create belief when you create the necessity of laws
Now, people say, yes, but in that case, if someone says they saw a miracle, you can’t refute them. But in fact, you couldn’t refute them even if you believed in laws: a Popperian cannot refute someone who says they saw something extraordinary, because there is always a possibility that his theory might be falsified by a new fact. So even if you believe in the necessity of laws, you can’t refute them. On the contrary, you just have your belief against his word; your attitude is no more rational than that of the believer. This is why I think that you must destroy the necessity of laws—because the real problem in belief is that belief wants something that is outside the possibility of understanding: they want something tout autre, absolutely outside the capacity of understanding. You create belief each time that you create something incomprehensible; you create belief when you create the necessity of laws.
I say that nothing is incomprehensible. When you have one fact after another, you can maybe describe them by a law that will be constant for a certain duration; you could also say that they have no connection. But in fact, you can never prove, on the basis of one instant, what must be in the following instant. You cannot make a necessary relation between two moments of time. Because rationality is intimately connected to the disconnection of time, that’s all. And that’s why, when you are rational, you have an incredible imagination. Why are we rational creatures with imagination? Imagination is supposed to be the creation of fictions or of illusion, but why do we have imagination, what Malebranche called la folle du logis? For rationality, imagination is said to be craziness. But we are rational and we have imagination. Why? Because in fact they’re the same thing: rationality is just the capacity to be directly connected to a hyperchaos which has absolutely no limits. So, the problem in understanding ultimate reality is not to understand some ultimate reason of rationality; it is to understand that rationality is the understanding that there is no ultimate reason.
Rationality is just the capacity to be directly connected to a hyperchaos which has absolutely no limits.
The real problem therefore is not why there is possible destruction and disconnection, but why there is duration. And the economy of my demonstration is that you just have to destroy Kant’s probabilistic reasoning in order to resolve the problem. We think that if there was no necessity of laws, there would be destruction at any time of the world in which we live. It is this probabilist reasoning which has no legitimacy, because it is an application of probabilities to the law itself. That’s why I use the transfinite, to show that it is illegitimate.
So what I want to do is to redefine the essence of reason: I think that rationality has been taken up in a dialectics, since the enlightenment, owing to our thinking rationality as synonymous with the physical sciences. But the physical sciences are only a description of our world, not a description of being itself. What we call explanation is a complex description of our world—of laws and the things they apply to. But ultimately it is experiential, it is an experiment, because it is a fact; physical laws treat about facts—they have to be experimental and not rational.
So, the problem is that the equation of this sort of science with rationality creates a lot of stupid beliefs—anthropism: Why are we in this world rather than another, physically it’s impossible to understand, it is very improbable that our world was created and not another one, so there must be a god, and so on. It creates a lot of superstitions—not physics in itself, but when you think that physics treats about the necessity of laws and not just about facts without necessity. I propose that philosophy must again grasp the possibility of fighting religion, the new forms of religion, through this redefinition of rationality. I would say that rationality is really the possibility of being intelligently crazy. And what I try to do is to deduce the strange constraints of the absolutely rational world – there are constraints, but only rational constraints. So, this is the general context.
rm: The task of a piece that tried to extend this thought into sensory experience may be to allow the audience an experience of sound outside the metaphysics of sound—if you understand the metaphysics of sound as a set of stratified laws in which the material of sound is formed into notes or particles, which are formed into melodies, which involve the protention and retention of sound—essentially a metaphysics of what it is to hear. If it were possible to present a situation where those laws were changing without any reason, and yet it was still an experience, one would be thrown back on those purely rational constraints, free from those supposed ‘necessities’….
qm: Metaphysics now, generally, is the metaphysics of the random. Randomness is a way for metaphysics to exhibit itself as a thinking of the irrational, and so on. The problem is, how to make perceptible a contingency which would not be random. Now, randomness has been a big process in music, in painting.
But randomness means laws. There are laws of randomness, calculations of randomness. It’s a way of calculating, that’s all. And so it’s just a particular mode of the existence of physical laws. It’s a way of anticipating, it’s absolutely regular, in fact. So, the problem is, if you break laws which are structurally random, you can’t find yourself again in randomness, it is not the same phenomenon. But it’s very difficult to show this. The problem is that maybe, by examining the way that artists try to show randomness, to make it felt, what did they do exactly? We have something that is ‘random’, how can we break this? How can I break into this lawful randomness in a way that is other than random? The difficulty is there.
fh: This is what I tried to depict when we were talking this morning, that this piece could have these phases of what you mentioned before, with absolutely static parts, super-dynamic parts, and ideally parts that are not in the sound, but would be in the text, or a mental exercise you would have to take on from a certain part in the piece. So maybe this would be one way to break a certain notion of randomness, and to escape this cliché of randomness as something fast-moving and very dynamic as such, and to maybe slow it down in certain parts of the different sections of the piece.
qm: Maybe, you know, you have to show that randomness is just a quotation of the possible, it’s just another type of organization, it’s just one possibility, but it needs to be enclosed in a case, rather than dominating everything. The random is there, okay, we know that, but determination and randomness, they are the same. So, at the beginning, for example, you could show it as an opposition, but progressively you see that it is just ‘quoted‘ inside something else. The challenge would be to surprise a musician or an artist of randomness: he thought he was exploring the world of the random, but now he sees that random is just a quotation…but again, this has to seem not just like postmodernism, but something that is in the thing itself.
rm: The principle of your book is that of an ‘absolute necessity without an absolutely necessary entity’—which means, in this context, that hyperchaos can never be an experientially-recognisable style or genre.
qm: You know, can philosophy have a special object, or is it just a reflection of other discourses? All the positive sciences, one after another domain of reality: physics, medicine, linguistics, metaphysics, have escaped from philosophy, and philosophers have retreated: we cannot make physics but we can reflect philosophically upon it…. When I try to explain to myself what ‘the thing itself’, the object of philosophy, really means. The thing itself—I think it means the following: every positive science is a science about a fact, a primordial fact. So philosophy would just be a reflection about facticity in itself. And facticity in itself is not a possibility of a science, it is the possibility of science in general, because all sciences—except for mathematics, all natural sciences—are about facts.
So, you cannot illustrate this special object of philosophy, because any illustration will always fall within the domain of facts. And what is also difficult to illustrate, I don’t know how it would be possible—is that there is a special discourse about facticity, facticity implies some consequences which are not trivial: so, it’s just a deduction, a very precise deduction about facticity and consistency, logical consistency. And I work on a deduction of this sort in After Finitude.
So, what is difficult is that to show the logic of facticity in general—and in particular that facticity is not randomness, because randomness is still a fact. Of course, pure disconnection, this would be is effectively the only way for me to illustrate it.
And of course you can’t imagine a pure destruction, an absolute complete destruction, but only a local destruction—and, I would add, a local emergence also, because chaos is emergence just as much as it is destruction. But for emergence, in general, we have the model of creation, Deleuzian creation. But Deleuzian creation, like Bergsonian creation, implies a continuity of past and virtual and present: a creation that grows—whereas for me surgissement is pure.
rm: Ex nihilo.
qm: Yes. In fact, I am a heterodox Cartesian. What I love in Descartes is the reason why he was hated by the orthodoxy: because he said, between thinking and matter, at a certain stage there is no connection—between thought and diametrical materiality, there is no connection. But for Descartes this was a proof of the creation of God, because it means spirit is not created by matter. This is because Descartes thought, like Lucretius, that there is no ex nihilocreation. Lucretian Materialism said there is no creation ex nihilo. But I think this is a problem, because of the question of qualities.
When physical sciences say there is no quality in matter, that it’s entirely mathematically describable, this stems from a real crisis in modern materialism
When physical sciences say there is no quality in matter, that it’s entirely mathematically describable, this stems from a real crisis in modern materialism. Materialism was Galilean and Lucretian; but there’s a clash between them, because if you’re Lucretian, there’s no surgissement ex nihilo, and if you are Galilean there are no qualities in matter, there are qualities only in psyche. So psyche must be created by some other thing: God, of course.
Now, materialism took the decision, not to allow surgissement ex nihilo, but to renounce the Galilean truth. So, they had to inject qualities into matter: they say, the real matter is not the matter of physicists, real matter has feelings—hylozoism, everything is alive, Diderot, Mauperthuis. That’s why materialism and spiritualism became, paradoxically, the same. Because if there is no surgissement ex nihilo, you have to say that qualities are inside the things before they are in the psyche. Or, like Dennett, you have to say, there are no qualities in the psyche, we are just materiality, and it seems we have phenomena in the psyche but it’s just an illusion. But I think there is a third solution of materialism, which is to renounce the condemnation of surgissement ex nihilo. But this is not a religious way of thinking—that would be creation ex deo! For which you have to have a god. For me, these surgissements ex nihilo are what I call ‘pure supplements’. There are some emerging surgissements of qualities which were absolutely not in matter: pain, pleasure, etc. So for me what is interesting in time are these pure ruptures of creation, just like pure ruptures of destruction.
But we remain completely trapped by this old materialism, either—the more interesting choice--Deleuze, Bergson, everything is qualitative (but I think this is a monism, a pluralism which is a monism), or just bare materialism, Dennett et al—there are only mathematicities. For me, there are pure surgissements, pure rupture. And that is no mystery: the mystery is in the continuity, not in the discontinuity, that’s what is important. And I think the mystery can be rationally resolved.
But the problem is that we don’t trust reason. Reason is the capacity to be stupid—to not understand why it should be like that and not otherwise; to not understand why this philosophy is true rather than the other one. For me, all philosophies are the construction of one possible world, why this one rather than that one, etc. You never really understand what you speak about when you think that to think is to posit necessity—there is no necessity.
POINTS (RM TO FH, 30.6.2010)
1. After Finitude describes the scope of an imagination that is synonymous with reason, in so far as the founding act of reason is to affirm facticity—that all that is, has no reason to be as it is rather than otherwise.
2. There is no novelty in facticity being affirmed of facts. This we do whenever we accept that a certain chain of events is contingent rather than necessary. However, we usually posit, behind this contingency, a necessary set of rules which governs the conditions under which contingency is possible.
3. What we can call the ‘metaphysical point of view’—whatever the specific metaphysics in question—is at its core a belief in the Principle of Sufficient Reason: that everything that is, has a reason to be as it is. Inevitably, this leads to a chain of reasons which can only terminate in a divine grounding for all things. The metaphysical point of view must rest on belief rather than reason, because it reserves facticity for the realm of things governed by laws, refusing to extend facticity to the laws themselves.
4. Meillassoux’s aim is to revoke this refusal, and to investigate what consequences follow from accepting the rational insight that not just the action of things within laws, but the laws themselves, are contingent.
5. These observations should make it clear that random or stochastic methods, in so far as they still deal with things operating under laws of probability constrained within a certain space of possibility, constitute no fundamental departure from the metaphysical point of view.
6. From this point of view, randomness, just like any other order, is only a possible ‘quotation’ from the scope of absolute contingency (1).
7. The classic objection (Kant) is that, if laws were really contingent, then they would change constantly, and therefore there would be no experience. Meillassoux rejects this as being based on probabilistic reasoning, and therefore as treating the universe as a finite set. If the universe is an transfinite set, under the conditions of absolute contingency, then the apparent constancy and stability of experience would be no ‘less likely’ than a complete chaos and disorder.
8. The problem is to create a work in which the sensible is employed to make felt the facticity, not just of things, but of laws; to drive through the realisation that the infinite space of imagination is reason: hyperchaos.
9. To create a ‘portrait in sound’ (or any other medium) of hyperchaos, seems doomed. For several reasons:
a. The argument that hyperchaos is consistent with coherent experience (7) can only be understood with reference to the transfinite nature of the universe (7). Since the duration of the piece would be finite, any ‘depiction’ of hyperchaos could not be differentiated from a depiction of order or randomness (which are synonymous).
b. Formally speaking, no matter how many sources or modes of synthesis are employed, the whole is theoretically describable using a ‘higher’, more complex law; the very fact that an apparatus (software/hardware) can produce the whole, is the final, banal evidence of this fact.
10. Nevertheless, a consideration of the particularities of the medium could help in approaching as closely as possible to such a portrait. The musical organisation of sound too can be understood as consisting in various objects existing under a set of laws. Various definitions of these objects and the sets of laws governing them have been proposed and put into practice. Usually within any one paradigm one regards the laws (forming the framework of a piece by virtue of which it has duration) as unchanging, the selection of objects as contingent (forming the content of the piece). As remarked, this goes for ‘aleatoric’ sound pieces also.
11. The one exception that has been suggested is Xenakis’s later work, when he uses various different sets of laws and definitions of sound objects in the same piece, and this diversity apparently takes place according to no fixed ‘meta-law’ (but according to Xenakis’s ‘artistic intuition’ or whatever we choose to call it).
12. Needless to say (and with reference to (9) above) this leaves untouched the physical laws and biological facts that govern the constitution of sound itself….
13. Meillassoux argues that the contingency of facts and the contingency of laws are the same thing. It would be possible to create a piece in which ‘control systems’ (ie the laws which define and govern objects) are subject to the same dynamic, stochastic, etc. treatments as the ‘facts’ or ‘objects’ that take place within them. This would subject order to a higher order (or in the case of randomness, a higher disorder governed by a yet higher order).
14. However, it would be equally possible to simply sample a series of facts from any existing source whatsoever.
15. (13) would be no more or less ‘representative’ of hyperchaos than (14).
16. The most fruitful path to take may be not to worry about exemplifying hyperchaos, but to use the results of (13) and (14) to intentionally choose and edit a series of ‘quotations’ which most effectively brought to mind the notion (15).
17. Repeated abrupt change in itself evokes only a feeling of randomness or disorder. Certain exaggerations can be made in pursuit of (8) (i.e. to create an exaggerated sense of staticness; to emphasise the impact of an order’s abrupt end; to present the same elements interacting under extremely different control regimes; to become accustomed to a subtle set of laws, only for those laws to then disappear into something obtusely obvious).
18. This may create a ‘phenomenal analogon’. However, the important point about Meillassoux’s argument is that it is a rational presentation of something that may never be experienceable (because even if physical laws as we know them are contingent, their duration may be longer than that of our lives, or of all human life)—we have to accede to a paradoxical conclusion of reason, against all of our experience, precisely in the same way that we have to accept that there is a real before, after, without our experience. Access to the former and to the latter is via the same notion, that of facticity.
19. Therefore the ‘phenomenal analogon’ must be supplemented and amplified with other material which makes it obvious that the audience’s task remains to ‘raise up’ the analogon to the rational level. The text and other contributions to the piece must prescribe precisely the usage of the sound element as a kind of ‘preparation’. The analogon is given qua inadequate, as a provocation.
20. In The Art of Living,3 John Sellars discusses the Stoic conception of philosophy as technical: ‘an art or craft (techne) concerned with one’s life (Bios) […] central to this conception is the role played by some form of training or exercise [ascesis—training, exercise, practice]’. Note that the notion of ‘ascesis’ is often invoked by rationalists to denote the submission to the conclusions of reason against the spontaneous tendencies of the mind; however the notion of ‘spiritual exercises’ has to a large extent been lost, since the Stoic conception of philosophical thought as something that must not only be understood but brought into life is generally not upheld. Sellars reports that in Galen, there are two parts to this ascesis: ‘habituation’ and ‘digestion’. Habituation—for instance Epicurus’s phrase ‘accustom yourself to the belief that death is nothing to us’; or Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Contemplate continually all things coming to pass by change, and accustom yourself to think that Universal Nature loves nothing so much as to change what is and to create new things in their likeness’. Aurelius speaks thus of ‘accustoming’ through the use of repeated themes: ‘As are your repeated imaginations so will your mind be, for the soul is dyed by its imaginations. Dye it, then, in a succession of imaginations like these.’ Cf (17) above.
21. To aim at these ‘spiritual exercises’ or ‘transformation of the disposition of the soul’, using the resources at our disposal to dramatise, make vivid, and aid the ‘digestion’ of the concept of rational hyperchaos. Sound as part of the technical apparatus of philosophy.
Different scholars get curious about different things. It turns out that I’m curious about rather different things to Wendy Brown. Her new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Zone Books, New York 2015) is very fine. Certainly the clearest and sharpest account of neoliberalism I have read so far. I’ll try to summarize its insights into neoliberalism, but also pose some questions regarding the things about which I am curious that get no mention in it.
Let’s start with an example. Brown discusses the 2003 Bremer Orders, issued by Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the United States and its allies defeated Saddam Hussein and occupied the country. The Bremer Orders appear at first blush to be a classic instance of neoliberal ‘shock doctrine’. The Bremer Orders decreed the sell-off of state enterprises, the opening of Iraqi companies to foreign ownership, the restriction of labor rights and a capital-friendly tax regime.
Brown concentrates on Bremer Order 81, the prohibition of re-use of crop seeds of protected varieties. The Iraq seed bank, located in Abu Ghraib, did not survive the war. The United States government handed out genetically modified seed in 2004. Iraqi farmers would now be permanently bound to agribusiness companies such as Monsanto, Dow and DuPont. Agriculture has existed in Iraq since 8000BC, but never like this before.
Through a small ‘legal tweak’, a domain not previously incorporated into the global market economy became subject to the ‘best practices’ of agribusiness. Brown: “Thus, Order 81 epitomizes the neoliberal mobilization of law not to repress or punish, but to structure competition and effect ‘the conduct of conduct.’” (148) Order 81 subordinates farming to a market ‘reality principle’.
Brown’s curiosity is about neoliberalism as a political rationality. As we shall see, it exceeds and even reverses some classic tenets of liberalism. “Neoliberalism is the rationality through which capitalism finally swallows humanity….” (44) Brown constructs a compelling case for the coherence of this political rationality as a force in the world. But she does so by not being curious about some other things along the way, and one might in turn be curious about how these other curious things and neoliberal political rationality might interact.
She is not curious about the relation between politics and war. Politics is a separate sphere in Brown. Quite a lot has to get bracketed off here to get down to Order 81 as a legal tweak, curious though that tweak may be. Nor is she curious about certain kinds of agency. It would appear that Order 81 was more or less drafted by agribusiness giant Monsanto, which had close ties to the Bush administration. Nor is she interested in the particular kind of business Monsanto represents.
This would be where the story invokes the particular things I am most curious about. Is Monsanto an example of ‘capital’ as traditionally understood, or is it some new kind of economic rationality? It is interesting to me that what is at the core of this story is patents on the germ lines of cereal crops. This is a kind of business based on making information a commodity, and controlling the physical product in which that information is embodied through law and coercion as much as through persuasion.
Hence to me it is a story about a new kind of ruling class, which elsewhere I call the vectoral class, whose power lies in the control not of the means of production but of information. As Peter Linebaugh shows so graphically in The London Hanged, the imposition of capitalist relations of production in England in the 18th century was as much a matter of coercion and violence as anything else.
So perhaps not surprisingly, the imposition of vectoralist relations of production are no less coercive. The thing I am curious about, but which Brown is not, is whether neoliberalism is a symptom of a mutation in the relations of production themselves. That might account for forms of law and politics that are “a meshing that exceeds the interlocking directorates or quid quo pro arrangements familiar from past iterations of capitalism.” (149)
For Brown, neoliberalism is a political rationality, a “normative order of reason” (9), the “conduct of conduct.” (21) Its effect is to convert the politics of democratic liberalism to an exclusively economic liberalism. Democracy is being hollowed out from within. Economic growth, capital accumulation, and competitive positioning become the sole project of the state.
Political rationality is not an intention of a power, not an ideology, or “material conditions.” (115) It works through a “regime of truth.” (115) “Political rationality is not an instrument of governmental practice, but rather the condition of possibility and legitimacy of its instruments, the field of normative reason from which governing is forged.” (116) It constitutes subjects (homo economicus) and objects (populations). It is not the same as a discourse – there can be many and competing ones. Nor is it the same as governmentality, which means a shift away from the power of command and punishment. Political rationality does not originate with the state but does circulate through it. It isn’t a normative form of reason so much as its implementation.
Perhaps the neoliberal renders moot a certain obsession in post-Marxist thought with the figure of The Political and of democracy as its ideal-type of procedure. In Agamben’s Homo Sacer, there is an ambiguity as to whether the demos is the whole political body or the poor. In Rancière’s Dissensus it is neither, but is rather the uncounted, the part that has no part. In Balibar’s Equiliberty equality and freedom are imposed by the revolt of the excluded in a never-ending struggle. It is curious to me that rare are the moments when anyone stops to question whether politics even exists, or whether like God, the Political is a myth, one about to go the way of Zoroaster in an era when the one true faith of the market is becoming the hegemonic faith of the world.
There’s no shortage of rear-guard actions by believers in The Political, for whom neoliberalism is a kind of heresy, an economic god masquerading as a political one. There’s attention to widening ‘inequality’ to the vulgarity of commercialism, the endless cycle of booms and crashes in a financialized economy. Strikingly, liberals and Marxists alike all assume this is all still covered by the concept of ‘capitalism’. There’s a general consensus that capital’s power has been rising, that labor suffered defeats, if rather less attention as to why and how. What made it possible for the ruling class to – quite literally – route around the power of labor and the social movements? It is striking how rarely the infrastructure of twenty-first century political economy ever comes up.
In Brown what we get is a clear articulation of a kind of fault line in political rationalities, but not much as to why it might have happened. Neoliberalism enlarges the terrain of what can be ‘economized.’ Contra classical liberalism, there is only homo economicus, which is then rethought as ‘human capital.’ There are only kinds of capital competing with each other, and these are imagined on the model of finance capital, as an unequal field of speculative units attempting to accumulate and augment their value. Neoliberal ‘liberty’ is economic, not political. The old values of equality, liberty fraternity are displaced by human capital, which is not even a humanism any more. What the young Marx called the “true realm of freedom” no longer beckons.
Brown: “Whether through social media ‘followers’, ‘likes’, and ‘retweets’, through rankings and ratings for every activity and domain, or through more directly monetized practices, the pursuit of education, training, leisure, reproduction, consumption, and more are increasingly configured as strategic decisions and practices related to enhancing the self’s future value.” (34) But notice the slippage here. This is about games and strategies, not human capital. As I proposed in Gamer Theory, this is a model of subjectivity in which we are all gamers, of which the speculator is just one model. Perhaps it is about the arrival of a kind of tertiary regime of information as value, where sign-value controls exchange value controls use value. This development would not then be well captured by the concept of neoliberalism to the extent that aspects of it are neither political nor economic.
Still, to the extent that an aspect of the present still appears political and economic, Brown shows how the neoliberal subject is no longer that of Smith, with its trucking, bartering and exchanging, nor a Benthemite maximizing of pleasure and minimizing of pain. The subject is now supposed to be a wise investor, calculator and networker, or as I would put it, a gamer, for as Brown acknowledges, “this does not always take monetary form.” (37) Even if she is not curious as to what form it actually takes. There’s not much attention here to the digital infrastructure undergirding the gamer-subject, “organizing its dating, mating, creative, and leisure practices in value-enhancing ways” (177)
Neoliberal political rationality is no longer about Kantian subjects who are ends in themselves and a value in themselves. The human is disposable. Here I am curious as to in what sense neoliberalism is actually a neofascism, a petit-bourgeois culture in which the ruling class buys-off the middle class through the repression of those below it. Fascism hardly appears at all in Brown’s account, in which liberal democracy is taken to be the normal model of modern politics.
But what if we took fascism as the norm rather than an historically quarantined exception? This would at least make sense of the casual acceptance not just of inequality but the possibility of the extinction of those units of ‘human capital’ that fail to successfully compete. It would also bring us closer to the exercise of state violence in our time and to social movements like #BlackLivesMatter, for whom the state remains a repressive apparatus of violence above all else.
To see everything as capital is a petit-bourgeois worldview. Labor disappears as a category. It is Marx inverted: for Marx capital was dead labor. For neoliberalism, labor is extinct and there is only capital. Supposedly there are many capitals, all competing with each other. There’s no foundation for citizenship, for a human capital can go bankrupt and cease to exist. (Unless of course it is ‘too big to fail’—a telling exception). There is no public good and no commons. Perhaps, when Donald Trump is a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, there is no politics, either. Or as I would read it, after Benjamin, we have again our old enemy the aestheticization of the political.
For Brown, the mission of the neoliberal state is to help economic growth, competitiveness and credit rating. Actually, I wonder of that is really the case. Perhaps ‘austerity’ is not about growth at all, but maintaining the transfer of wealth upwards in the absence of growth. It might help to be a bit more curious as to how much of neoliberalism is not a rationality at all but an ideology. Following in the steps of Foucault, Brown is interested in how neoliberal rationality is a regime of truth.
Certainly in its own terms it is a (semi) coherent set of norms for economic management. But perhaps the Nietzschian flavor is too strong here. I would not want to forego the tools with which to show its incoherence, irrationality and ideological special-pleading for an emergent ruling class, based on truth-claims made with methods outside its orbit, and derived from the struggles against it.
Undoing the Demos is among other things a reconstructive reading of Foucault’s lectures on biopolitics as an account of how liberalism became neoliberalism in the postwar years. This is not Foucault at his best. Here he is doing something close to old-fashioned intellectual history. Brown: “… neoliberalism for Foucault was intellectually conceived and politically implemented.” (50) And yet both he and Brown want to make claims for this as something more than an ideological and superstructural development.
As Brown candidly acknowledges, parts of the lectures read as an “anti-Marxist rant,” even as parts might lend themselves to a less than cautious reader to a sort of “neo-Marxist critique.” (55) But it can never be such. Nowhere does Foucault ask what transformations in the forces of production, putting pressure on the relations of production, might generate such a break in political and ideological forms. In that sense the lectures remain what Poulantzas would have called a regional study. The attempt is rather to make the political into a superstructure, indeed the superstructure.
In Brown’s account, Foucault begins with the question of limits to state power, with rights as a constraint on sovereignty, but along side which there was a second principle of limit: the market as not just an alternate form of organization but also of a certain truth: “market veridiction.” The neoliberal turn pushes rights aside and makes the market not just a limit to the state but its very principle of operation.
Unlike Marxists, Foucault is not interested in property rights, the occlusion of class by nation, or the state as ruling class in committee. Instead, the focus is on the market as truth and limit to government. For Foucault, neoliberalism emerges out of a crisis of liberalism – and in this he accepts its own narrative about itself. Neoliberalism does not want to be perceived as a response to the crisis of capitalism; it wants to present itself as a response to the failure of the state.
Here Foucault does some old-style intellectual history, linking the Freiberg school and the Chicago school with Hayek as the link between. The former contributes idea of state’s role in fostering competition, latter idea of human capital. Interestingly, Hayek is also the person who, whatever his ideological commitments, really thought about the problem of information in economic theory. But that would be to connect these intellectual developments to what was happening with the forces of production at the time, whereas Foucault wants to think The Political as autonomous and primary.
Brown: “Neoliberalism is not about the state leaving the economy alone. Rather, neoliberalism activates the state on behalf of the economy not to undertake economic functions or to intervene in economic effects, but rather to facilitate economic competition and growth and to economize the social, or, as Foucault puts it, to ‘regulate society by the market.’” (62) The missing concept there for me is information. It is no accident that neoliberalism has its moment in the postwar period, when the infrastructure of command and control through information that had developed during the war for managing complex systems was extended out of the military industrial complex into civilian industry.
Hayek had said that only the price signal could function as a rational management of information in a complex economy, and yet as Ronald Coase showed, market transactions are not free. In cases where the cost of market transaction outweighed its efficiency, the non-market organizational form of the firm would prevail. The corporation emerged as a truly enormous non-market form of resource allocation. The state is called upon to perform all sorts of functions to enable these behemoths to coexist and survive. Meanwhile, the ideological fixation on ‘competition’ covered up the lack of it.
For neoliberalism, “the economy is at once model, object and project.” (62) Precisely because it can only be an artificial construct at this point. Civil society seems to have worked its charms on Foucault. He could not see the other side of the picture. Looked at from the point of view of neoliberalism, the state has to become more like the market. (And one can celebrate or decry that proposition). But one can also see it the other way around: the market has to be propped up and kept going by the state. Ever since Kenneth Arrow, nobody could much believe that the market was always an optimal allocator of resources.
The developed world became the over-developed world. Commodification ran up against the limits of what it could claim to organize efficiently or effectively. Whole chunks of social life had to be hacked off and fed into the flames to keep the steam up. Commodification moved on from land to things to pure information. A whole infrastructure was put into place, of information vectors, backed up by the extension of the old partial rights into a comprehensive set of private property rights called ‘intellectual property’. This for me would be a sketch of a story that makes sense of neoliberalism.
If ‘economy’ is not a static, unmoving thing in the postwar period, neither is the ‘state.’ Both are transformed by the same techne. As Sandra Braman shows, the functions of the state start to work differently when what the state runs on is information. If there’s a connection between state and private organizational units in the postwar period, it is that they both run on the same computational infrastructure, from the mainframe era to the PC to today’s so-called cloud computing. One might wonder, pace Kittler, if these were the vector more of military rationalities than of market ones. This would help make sense of an aporia in Foucault and Brown: that the neoliberal subject is not only autonomous and self-managing, but also obeys commands. Autonomy is constrained. Initiative is welcome but only in fulfilling a task commanded from without. This is the essence of military organization.
One might also wonder if it is not at least in part from the generalization of military models that inequality becomes naturalized and normalized. It is certainly the case that another component of this, as Brown astutely observes, is a move away from the category of exchange to one of competition. In bourgeois economics, all exchanges are equal, including that of labor and capital. Barring a few outlier situations, the price at which an exchange takes place will tend to equilibrium. Or so it was once believed. Competition implies not equality but inequality. Some are just better than others and deserve more. It is as ideological and self-proving a nostrum as exchange, of course.
As already mentioned, capital replaces labor entirely as the agent of a worldview. There are only capitals, including human capital. All subjects are supposed to be entrepreneurs of the self. One can connect this to the observations of Franco Beradi about the disappearance of the figure of alienation. It is as if nothing is taken from the subject; its all about what the subject can get for itself. This entrepreneurial quality has less and less to do with production. Its not about trucking and bartering in things – except perhaps for Brooklyn’s retro-hipsters who want not to be traders of information but to make actual stuff again, like organic beard-oil. That counter-trend might be the sign that petit-bourgeois culture now knows itself to be playing a game of trading information and attempting to compete in that game for surplus information, which can be traded in turn for money and in turn again for things.
Success at this game becomes the only measure of success: “those who act according to other principles are not simply irrational, but refuse ‘reality.’” (67) It is a wild and unpredictable reality. The market is now frankly acknowledged to be convulsive. “The state must support the economy, organizing its conditions and facilitating its growth, and is thereby made responsible for the economy without being able to predict, control, or offset its effects.”
The politics that goes with this is a centrist extremism. You can be for gay marriage or for prayer in schools, but the market is not to be questioned. The market is not there to enable the good life; all of life is to be sacrificed to keeping the market going. Brown: “Where others saw only economic policy, Foucault discerned a revolutionary and comprehensive political rationality , one that drew on classical liberal language and concerns while inverting many of liberalism’s purposes and channels of accountability.” (67)
Brown points to rather different limitations to Foucault’s thinking than I would. For Brown, his view is state-centric. There’s only the state and its subjects. For Brown, it is the citizen who is excluded here (rather than labor, praxis.) Foucault tends to see things from the point of view of power. He is a little too fascinated with neoliberal ‘freedom’. There’s no subtending world of exploitation. Brown questions “his acceptance of the neoliberal claim that the economy constitutes the limit of government for liberalism and neoliberalism, that it must not be touched because it cannot be known.” (77)
For Foucault, homo economicus as a man of interest is a constant, but for Brown, self-interest does not quite capture the latest iteration. “Homo economicus is made, not born, and operates in a context replete with risk, contingency, and potentially violent changes, from burst bubbles and capital or currency meltdowns to wholesale industry dissolution.” (84) To me this is the subjectivity of the gamer, or the ‘Army of One.’
Homo politicus is not really a figure for Foucault, or perhaps just an episodic one. He sees things from the pov of state power. Brown: “Still, it is strange that sovereignty for Foucault remains so closely allied to the state and never circulates through the people – it’s almost as if he forgot to cut off the king’s head in political theory.” (86)
For Brown, homo politicus is the main casualty of neoliberalism. She explains this via the just-so story of political theory, for which homo politicus is something of an ironic founding myth. “In the beginning, there was homo politicus….” (87) Humans live together as political animals, where politics means the capacity for association, language, law, and ethical judgment (but not, as Steigler notes, techne).
Aristotle is quite candid about the prerequisites for political life: slavery and private property. The household is at the same time the model of rule and site of relations of production. But Aristotle is a bit troubled by household production, which might ground not homo politicus, but another kind of figure. There’s two different kinds of production, one natural, one unnatural. Unnatural wealth is accumulated for its own sake. Proper acquisition concerns the household; the improper the marketplace and money. The former has limits and grants leisure, the latter becomes an end in itself.
No mention is made here of war, which might ground the right to citizenship in the first place, and determine the extent of those rights. Nor is any mention made of techne. How is political communication actually and materially conducted? Are not the agora and rhetoric technologies of the polis? There is also a bit of an elision between the classical concept of man as political and the modern one, skipping the intervening millennia in which the leisure of the man of means was not for politics but for God.
Even modern liberal political thought respects the foundational fiction of homo politicus. In Smith we are not exactly political animals, but creatures of truck and barter – of exchange. But we’re not creatures of pure self interest. We might be homo economicus already in Smith, but also creatures of deliberation, restraint and self-direction – in a word, sovereignty. The rise of homo economicus is not incompatible with a presumed power of the political over economic. The state could choose mercantilism or free trade, for example. Smith was intent on proving why the latter was better state policy.
In Locke there is more strain between homo politicus and homo economicus. The danger of the latter is made clearer in Rousseau, who is perhaps the main source of the investment in The Political that persists in critical theory today. Rousseau is the prophet of the return of homo politicus in the form of popular sovereignty rising up against self-interest. In Hegel this becomes the universality of the state versus the mere particularity of civil society. The young Marx begins with the unrealized nature of sovereign political man. Mill offers a world of little sovereigns, choosing their own means and ends. Here the boundary between state and liberty is a political question. The state is beginning to recede as guarantor of liberty, equality, fraternity. It becomes rather the manager of what Foucault calls the biopolitical. But homo politicus still lingers in subjects relation to itself, even in Freud, for whom the superego is the politician of the self.
This thumbnail account of the mythic history of homo politicus is for Brown a story which shows the novelty of neoliberalism: “the vanquishing of homo politicus by contemporary neoliberal rationality, the insistence that there are only rational market actors in every sphere of human existence, is novel, indeed revolutionary, in the history of the west.” (99)
Brown shows that there’s a slippage in neoliberal though about the subject, between the individual and the family. Homo economicus is still imaged as a male head of a household, or at least one with the benefits of such a household. He may no longer have slaves, but someone tends the kids and does the dishes. The family remains a nonmarket sphere that cannot be economized. It’s a space of needs, inter-dependence, love, loyalty, community and care – where it is women who take care of all that ‘stuff.’ I might venture that for all its patriarchal faults, the family is the minimal unit of communism, not as a utopia of course, but strictly understood as a domain of shared or pooled resources outside of both exchange and even gift –as both Karatani and Graeber might see it.
Neoliberalism puts pressure on the family, and in particular on ‘women’s work’. “Either women align their own conduct with this truth, becoming homo economicus, in which case the world becomes uninhabitable, or women’s activities and bearing as femina domestica remain the unabowed glue for a world whose governing principle cannot hold it together….” (104) Neoliberalism intensifies gender subordination, not least because its demolition of social services leaves women propping up more than half the sky. Women’a domestic labor is incidentally the only time labor really appears as a category in Brown’s text.
If the point of liberalism was liberty, the point of neoliberalism is, perversely enough, sacrifice. “This is the central paradox, perhaps even the central ruse, of neoliberal governance: the neoliberal revolution takes place in the name of freedom – free markets, free countries, free men – but tears up freedom’s grounding in sovereignty for states and subjects alike.” (108) One is ‘free’ only to submit to market ‘discipline.’
Brown: “But when citizenship loses its distinctly political morphology and with it the mantle of sovereignty, it loses not only its orientation toward the public and towards values enshrined by, say, constitutions, it also ceases to carry the Kantian autonomy underpinning individual sovereignty.” (109) ‘Enshrined’ is a curious word-choice there. For believers in the political, neoliberalism really does appear either as an attack on the sacred or a heretical form of it.
It is, as Foucault predicted in a rather different context, the end of Man as sacred stand-in for the hidden God. No longer are people able to pursue the good life in their own way, as nothing adheres to ‘man’ other than as human capital, as servant of the market. It is, for Brown, “an existential disappearance of freedom from the world.” (110) When Weber attacked the iron cage of rationality and Marx the commodity as reification, both presumed a subjectivity outside of both rationality and commodity, although I am not sure that in the case of Marx that subject was necessarily a political one. I think for Marx that subject was labor, in its capacity to know and imagine and transform the world. And I am not sure that this other agency of Marx is erased by neoliberalism. It is more contained by a vectoral technology, in which all of labor’s agency is siphoned off as ‘creativity’ and captured as intellectual property for a new iteration of a ruling class that may not be strictly capitalist any more.
Brown thinks that Foucault’s sources for thinking the political rationality of neoliberalism are Max Weber and Hebert Marcuse. From Weber he takes the distinction between the rationality of means and ends, which was developed into a whole critique of modernity in Adorno and Horkheimer. In Marcuse, the object is more specifically a technological rationality, extending out of capitalist relations of production and colonizing other parts of life.
Here Foucault’s project is an explicitly anti-Marxist one. He restores the autonomy of the political that is questioned in Marcuse, but in the form of a rationality thought to extend beyond mere ideology. “For Foucault, political rationalities are world-changing, hegemonic orders of normative reason, generative of subjects, markets, states, law, jurisprudence, and their relations.” (121) Brown gives a bit more weight to agency in her version, where the agent is ‘capital’, but not much is said about its historical form, other than that it is now ‘financial’. We’re not told at any point how or why it became so.
One hint at what’s missing here is Brown’s account of governance, which she thinks converged with neoliberalism but is not of it. Governance is the move from hierarchy to network, from institution to process, from command to self-organization. As I suggested earlier, this is actually not that far removed from modern military organizational forms. And it shares with it an infrastructure of communication technology that makes information the key to both control and autonomy. This is contemporary logistics. The political is made technical – as indeed Marcuse had already suggested. There is a devolution of responsibility to smaller and weaker units. “Thus, responsibilized individuals are required to provide for themselves in the context of powers and contingencies radically limiting their ability to do so.” (134)
A particularly interesting part of Undoing the Demos is Brown’s discussion of law. For her, “… neoliberal law is the opposite of planning. It facilitates the economic game, but does not direct or contain it.” (67) her example is the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This famously gives corporations the standing of people with unqualified free speech rights, and mobilizes even the constitution for the project of a neoliberal makeover of governance.
In Brown’s reading, Justice Kennedy’s decision in that case, writing for the majority, is essentially arguing that speech is like capital, and thus should be another domain of unfettered competition. Curiously, while for Brown, Kennedy’s proposition makes speech like capital, what speech is for Kennedy is information. This once again appears as the elided concept. It is curious that it shows up in nearly all of Browns quotations from the decision. Kennedy writes of the right of citizens to “use information to reach consensus.” (157) He in concerned with “where a person may get his or her information.” (160) Of situations where one is “deprived of information.” (165)
For Kennedy, speech is innovative and productive, which is a bit like capital, but are also attributes of information in a commodity economy in which it has become a commodity. Hence while Brown stresses that in Kennedy’s decision “There is only capital, and whether it is human, corporate, financial or derivative…” (161) this is a metaphorical leap which steps over the key word: information. And it is information that composes the means of control and accumulation of all the leading forms of corporate power now.
Information is what Monsanto and Wall st have in common, and have in common too with the tech companies, the drug companies, even Walmart, which is essentially a logistics company rather than a retailer. Corporations compete with their brand their supply chain management, rather than by trucking and bartering things, let alone making them. Of course there are still things for sale in the market, but never without their wrappings of information, not to mention the end user agreements protecting their proprietary code.
It is from the point of view of information that it makes perfect sense for corporations to have untrammelled rights to speech, for corporations ‘compete’ with, as and for information. This is the point of view from which it even makes perverse sense to Kennedy that corporations are a disadvantaged minority group in that the state curtails their speech rights in elections.
That the postwar commodity economy, having run out of things to sell, has to sell information is also a good way of making sense of the ‘neoliberal’ turn in education. Business now thinks it has the tools to take on, and make money from, things that just could not even be quantified with the old Fordist forces of production. In the neoliberal ‘truth’ regime, no amount of evidence will convince anyone that the charter schools and for-profit colleges are doing a mediocre to terrible job of this.
Brown’s focus is on the decline of liberal arts in higher education. College is now about ‘return on investment’ and “removing quaint concerns with developing the person or the citizen.” Here Brown strikes something of a nostalgic note. “Once about developing intelligent, thoughtful elites and reproducing culture… higher education now produces human capital.” (24) Anyone attentive to the aggressive purging from higher education of suspected reds during the cold war could question that rosy assessment of its recent past.
A liberal arts education was one appropriate to free men, not slaves. It lifted a student’s sights from the immediate and local to wider horizons. For Brown, the extension of such an education beyond a narrow elite was a significant achievement of postwar America. But one might wonder here, as in the ancient context, how citizenship is connected to war. The GI Bill could be seen as a way of recognizing and also defusing the demands the citizen-soldier makes on the polity it has risked itself defending. One might question how much this concern for educating citizens was a cold war project, sustained by the Soviet ‘menace’. And one might also ask if it already had an economic rationale, in turning out labor with the broader ‘skill set’ for a more complex and increasingly information-driven economy.
Perhaps it is also worth recalling that the postwar university was a complex beast. In part it delivered a broadened liberal arts education. But it was also the heart of the military-industrial complex, from which today’s military-entertainment complex was born. (Not to mention a parallel medical-industrial one). From wartime through to the seventies, the state funded basic research, much of it on the Pentagon’s dime, contributing to a common stock of innovation. The crucial change was to allow universities to own the intellectual property they created, which put places like Stanford and MIT into the information business in an unprecedented way.
Perhaps it is because I am not a product of it that I am not so enamored of the myth of the great American university. It is, after all, where one of the two branches of neoliberalism in Foucault’s account actually came from. It was not just a safe-haven for humanisms, of the homo politicus variety and otherwise. Brown: “Even its critics cannot see the ways in which we have lost a recognition of ourselves as held together by literatures, images, religions, histories, myths, ideas, forms of reason, grammars, figures and languages. Instead, we are presumed to be held together by technologies and capital flows. That presumption, of course, is at risk of becoming true, at which point humanity will have entered its darkest chapter ever.” (188) To me this sounds like that old discourse my New School colleague Mark Grief identifies as the ‘crisis of man’.
How are the old ‘figures and languages’ not also technologies, or dependent on technologies? How was the postwar university not already held together by capital flows? Here I don’t think the toolbox Brown has chosen leads to particularly sharp analysis. It may be the case that the “worldly development of mind and character are outmoded and have been displaced by another set of metrics: income streams, profitability, technological innovation and contribution to society construed narrowly as the development and promulgation of marketable goods and services.” (190) But Brown has rather naturalized the postwar university and lost sight of how it too appeared as something alien and coercive in its time. On which see for example ‘On the Poverty of Student Life.’
The disinvestment in higher education may be more explicable in terms of labor market requirements. Today’s vectoral class has no need of the mass worker. Labor is bifurcated between a small core of highly skilled workers using or designing information technology and a vast precarious population whose jobs have been deskilled by the same information technology.
In sum, Brown’s account holds capital constant and locates a break in the regime of political rationality. The latter has a certain primacy, as in Foucault, but is also to some extent emerging for capital. Capital is understood somewhat metaphorically, as a category that includes both actual corporations and forms of subjectivity. This capital is understood to be somewhat modified, to be financial capital, even if the only example – Monsanto – does not fit that category.
What we’re missing is the possibility that the mutation in political rationality has a hidden driver – a transformation in the commodity form itself. The key ingredient in this transformation – information – actually appears in the margins the analysis, but can’t rise to the level of a concept where there are only two regimes of subject-formation theorized: homo economicus and homo politicus. That not only politics and economics but also war, strategy and education are now all made of information, both as concept and real infrastructure, remains unthought.
Brown offers an excellent diagnosis of the what of neoliberalism, but not the why. Perhaps Foucault is of less help here than one might hope, and for quite specific historical reasons. He was among other things a late artifact of the cold war struggle around Marxism in the university. There was a time when his heroic dissent from PCF orthodoxies had relevance. Now that the latter has ceased to exist, it might be time to rethink the how the archive even of critical theory is no neutral resource but is itself a product of a historical struggles. Or perhaps I am just curious about different things.
I just spoke yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania on the topics of “control societies” and “ontologies of difference,” two themes that have interested me a great deal over the years. In fact I have been so struck by Deleuze’s essay “Postscript on Societies of Control,” a short and rather unusual text from the very end of his life, that I’ve spoken at length about it before and even devoted an entire chapter to it in my book on Laruelle, chapter five titled “Computers.” I have many thoughts about this short essay and about the topic it has introduced, control society, but what fascinates me even more today is the other phrase, that old poststructuralist theme, the ontologies of difference. The theory of difference has played an important role in many endeavors, from semiotics and structural analyses, to feminist and queer theory, to postcoloniality and critical race theory. What strikes me as most interesting today is the fact that difference — along with a related concept, multiplicity — is in fact not one thing. Rather we might speak of kinds of difference, or kinds of multiplicity. To be sure, pluralism has frequently characterized discussions around difference. Yet I’m drawn in a slightly different direction, not that difference is plural but that difference is (merely) different.
My thought process began, as many times it does, by picking up a thread from a few years ago. Here is an excerpt from footnote 244n12 in Laruelle: Against the Digital, with internal quotations from François Laruelle’s Le principe de minorité (Paris: Aubier, 1981):
Laruelle mentions three different kinds of multiplicities, (1) “discrete or arithmetic” multiplicities, (2) continuous multiplicities, which he associates with Difference, and (3) what he calls dispersive multiplicities, which he also labels “Unary Multiplicities or Minorities” claiming that they are “the absolute concept or the essence of multiplicities” (p. 6).
Laruelle’s analysis of multiplicity — an analysis and not an expression or a synthesis — is sophisticated but also enigmatic. We are all masters in some sense of the first kind of multiplicity, for this is multiplicity as mastery, multiplicity as abstraction, multiplicity as pure rationality. And we are all intimate in some sense with the second kind of multiplicity, for this is multiplicity as intimacy, multiplicity as an affective sensation or quality, the Eros of multiplicity. But how are we to understand Laruelle’s third mode? What does he mean by “unary” multiplicities? What does he mean by minority?
In his analysis of Bergson and duration, Gilles Deleuze identified “two types of multiplicities,” one a difference in degree and the other a difference in kind:
“One is represented by space…: It is a multiplicity of exteriority, of simultaneity, of juxtaposition, of order, of quantitative differentiation, of difference in degree; it is a numerical multiplicity, discontinuous and actual. The other type of multiplicity appears in pure duration: It is an internal multiplicity of succession, of fusion, of organization, of heterogeneity, of qualitative discrimination, or of difference in kind; it is a virtual and continuous multiplicity that cannot be reduced to numbers.” (38)
Qualitative discrimination versus quantitative differentiation: Deleuze did not frequently use terms like “analog” and “digital,” nevertheless these two elemental modes of mediation seem to be guiding his inquiry. The digital is the realm of difference in quantity and degree. The digital is discontinuous. It exteriorizes and hence is the literal and actual fabricator of space — even for all those things that are not space (temporality, thinking), it spatializes them all the same. Likewise the analog, in Deleuze’s quaint phrase, “cannot be reduced to numbers,” for it is purely and strictly heterogenous, consisting of pure qualities, sensations, or affects without common measure.
Deleuze agrees with Laruelle, in other words, and these two multiplicities map onto the first two provided by Laruelle. Deleuze’s “difference in degree” is equivalent to Laruelle’s “discrete or arithmetic” multiplicity. And Deleuze’s “difference in kind” is equivalent to Laruelle’s “continuous” multiplicity.
For his part, Alain Badiou also endorses this elemental typing of difference. He is even willing to inflate the difference and superimpose it onto the history of philosophy, suggesting in essence that the elemental typing of difference is, at the same time, the elemental typing of philosophy overall. It’s a passage I particularly like, and I’ve quoted it in the past:
“Since its very origins…philosophy has interrogated the abyss which separates numerical discretization from the geometrical continuum. […] from Plato to Husserl, passing by the magnificent developments of Hegel’s Logic, the strictly inexhaustible theme of the dialectic of the discontinuous and the continuous occurs time and time again.” (Being and Event, 281, translation modified, emph. added)
Or to translate into contemporary parlance: the strictly inexhaustible theme of digital and analog occurs time and time again.
Of course there are many other ontologies of difference that I won’t discuss here: from Plato and Hegel, as Badiou suggests, to the famous elaborations of difference in Derrida or Irigaray, to contemporary figures like Malabou who have morphed difference into a new shape. This is not to mention the larger field of feminist philosophy, within which Irigaray and Malabou play a part, as well as other fields like critical race theory which has since its very inception grappled with the question of multiplicity. I’m most familiar with the French and continental traditions, but these do not exhaust this “inexhaustible theme” and there are many other references one might add.
Still within this small pool of thinkers we have something of a consensus. The consensus is that: difference and multiplicity abound; difference and multiplicity are not one kind of thing; rather, there are different types of multiplicity, different races of multiplicity.
I tend to agree with Badiou’s suggestion that a typing of philosophy comes by way of a typing of multiplicity. And this approach to difference, this rendering of difference, is one way of understanding the so-called Standard Model of philosophy. The Standard Model is a model in which difference and multiplicity abound. And yet the genes of difference — the genus or race of difference — proliferate along two types. (Difference is, in this way, difference-oriented. Difference has a race, just as racialization leverages difference.)
Let us return now to Laruelle’s Le principe de minorité. As I’ve suggested, the first two types of multiplicities have more popular labels today, digital and analog. The digital is the domain of discrete arithmetic, while the analog is the domain of the continuous. What to make, then, of Laruelle’s third category, the category of minority or what he calls “the absolute concept or the essence of multiplicities”?
Minority is the un-typing of the type. (The un-typing of racialization is something else, but certainly related.) To be clear, this “third term” is in fact not third in a sequential or organizational sense. The third term is really nothing more than a condition to which the Standard Model is submitted. What results is not so much the “minor literature” described by Deleuze and Guattari but the “identity of minority” described by Laruelle. A kind of “structuralism from below,” this minority is synonymous with generic humanity, or what Laruelle will call in a newly forthcoming translation ordinary man.
By Alexander Galloway
In recent months I’ve remained quiet about the speculative turn, mostly because I’m reticent to rekindle the “Internet war” that broke out a couple of years ago mostly on blogs but also in various published papers. And while I’ve taught accelerationism in my recent graduate seminars, I opted for radio silence when accelerationism first appeared on the scene through the Accelerationist Manifesto, followed later by the book Inventing the Future. Truth is I have mixed feelings about accelerationism. Part of me wants to send “comradely greetings” to a team of well-meaning fellow Marxists and leave it at that. Lord knows the left needs to stick together. Likewise there’s little I can add that people like Steven Shaviro and McKenzie Wark haven’t already written, and articulated much better than I could. But at the same time a number of difficulties remain that are increasingly hard to overlook. To begin I might simply echo Wark’s original assessment of the Accelerationist Manifesto: two cheers for accelerationism, but only two!
What’s good about accelerationism? And what’s bad? I love the ambition and scope. Certainly the accelerationists’ willingness to challenge leftist orthodoxies is refreshing. I also like how the accelerationists demand that we take technology and science seriously. And I also agree that there are important tactical uses of accelerationist or otherwise hypertrophic interventions (Eugene Thacker and I have referred to them as exploits). Still I see accelerationism essentially as a tactic mistaken for a strategy. At the same time this kind of accelerationism is precisely what dot-com entrepreneurs want to see from the left. Further, and ultimately most important, accelerationism is paternalistic and thus suffers from the problems of elitism and ultimately reactionary politics.
Let me explain. I’ll talk first about Srnicek and Williams’ 2015 book Inventing the Future, and then address one of the central themes fueling the accelerationist juggernaut, Prometheanism. Well written, easy to read, and exhaustively footnoted, Inventing the Future is ostensibly a follow up to the Accelerationist Manifesto, although the themes of the two texts are different and they almost never mention accelerationism in the book. (Srnicek in particular is nothing if not shrewd and agile: present at the christening of #A, we also find him on the masthead of the speculative realist reader, and today nosing in on “platform studies.” Wherever he alights next will doubtless portend future significance.) The book is vaguely similar to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Declaration from 2012 in that it tries to assess the current condition of the left while also providing a set of specific steps to be taken for the future. And while the accelerationists have garnered significantly more attention of late, mostly because it feels so fresh and new, Hardt and Negri’s is the better book (and interestingly Srnicek and Williams never cite them).
Inventing the Future has essentially two themes. The first consists in a series of denunciations of what they call “folk politics” defined in terms of Occupy, the Zapatistas, Tiqqun, localism, and direct democracy, ostensibly in favor of a new “hegemony” of planetary social democracy (also known as Leninism). The second theme concerns an anti-work polemic focused on the universal basic income (UBI) and shortening the work week. Indeed even as these two authors collaborate and mix their thoughts, there seem to be too books mixed together into one. This produces an interesting irony: while the first half of the book unabashedly denigrates anarchism in favor of Leninism, the second half of the book focuses on that very theme (anti-work) that has defined anarchist theory since the split in the First International, if not since time immemorial.
What’s so wrong with “folk politics”? There are a few ways to answer this question. First the accelerationists are clearly frustrated by the failures of the left, and rightly so, a left debilitated by “apathy, melancholy and defeat” (5). There’s a demographic explanation as well. This is the cri de coeur of a younger generation seeking to move beyond what are seen as the sclerotic failures of postmodern theory with all of its “culturalist” baggage (which too often is a codeword for punks, queers, women, and people of color — more on that in a moment).
Folk politics includes “the fetishization of local spaces, immediate actions, transient gestures, and particularisms of all kinds” (3); it privileges the “small-scale, the authentic, the traditional and the natural” (10). The following virtues help fill out the definition:
“immediacy…tactics…inherently fleeting…the past…the voluntarist and spontaneous…the small…withdrawal or exit…the everyday…feeling…the particular…the ethical…the suffering of the particular and the authenticity of the local” (10-11)
Wow, that’s a lot of good stuff to get rid of. Still, they don’t quit there, targeting horizontalism of various kinds. Radical democracy is in the crosshairs too. Anti-representational politics is out as well. All the “from below” movements, from the undercommons to the black bloc, anything that smacks of “anarchism, council communism, libertarian communism and autonomism” (26) — it’s all under indictment. This unceasing polemic culminates in the book’s most potent sentence, if not also its most ridiculous, where the authors dismiss all of the following movements in one fell swoop:
“Occupy, Spain’s 15M, student occupations, left communist insurrectionists like Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee, most forms of horizontalism, the Zapatistas…localism…slow-food” (11-12).
That scoops up a lot of people. And the reader is left to quibble over whatever principal of decision might group all these disparate factions together. But the larger point is clear: for Srnicek and Williams folk politics emerged because of an outdated Left (i.e. the abject failures of social democracy and communism) (16-), and an outmaneuvered Left (i.e. the rampant successes of neoliberalism) (19-). Thus their goal is to update the left with a new ideology, and overhaul its infrastructure allowing it to modernize and scale up to the level of the planet.
In the second half of the book, particularly in chapters 5 and 6, Srnicek and Williams elaborate their vision for anti-work and post-work. This hinges on the concept of full automation, and they provocatively assert that “the tendencies towards automation and the replacement of human labor should be enthusiastically accelerated” (109). Yet the details are scant. What kind of tech are we talking about? We get some vague references at the outset to “Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing” (1), then again later to “data collection (radio-frequency identification, big data)” and so on (110). But one thing this book does not provide is an examination of the technology of modern capitalism. (Srnicek’s Platform Capitalism is an improvement thematically but not substantively: he provides an analysis of political economy, but no tech audit.) Thus Inventing the Future has a sort of Wizard of Oz problem at its core. It’s not clear what clever devices are behind the curtain, we’re just supposed to assume that they will be sufficiently communistical if we all believe hard enough.
At the same time the authors come across as rather tone deaf on the question of labor, bemoaning above all “the misery of not being exploited,” as if exploitation is some grand prize awarded to the subaltern. Further, they fail to address adequately the two key challenges of automation, both of which have been widely discussed in political and economic theory: first that automation eliminates jobs for people who very much want and need them, leading to surplus populations, unemployment, migration, and intrenched poverty; and second that automation transforms the organic composition of labor through deskilling and proletarianization, the offshoring of menial labor, and the introduction of technical and specialist labor required to design, build, operate, and repair those seemingly “automagical” machines. In other words, under automation some people work less, but everyone works differently. Automation reduces work for some, but changes (and in fact often increases) work for others. Marx’s analysis of machines in Capital is useful here, where he addresses all of these various tendencies, from the elimination of labor and the increase in labor, to the transformation of the organic composition of labor — the last point being the most significant. (And while machines might help lubricate and increase the productive forces — not a bad thing — it’s clear that machines are absolutely not revolutionary actors for Marx. Optimistic interpretations gleaned from the Grundrisse notwithstanding, Marx defines machines essentially as large batteries for value. I have yet to find any evidence that today’s machines are any different.)
So the devil is in the details: what kind of technology are we talking about? But perhaps more importantly, if you get rid of the “folk,” aren’t you also getting rid of the people? Srnicek and Williams try to address this in chapter 8, although I’m more convinced by Hardt and Negri’s “multitude,” Harney and Moten’s “undercommons,” or even formulations like “the part of no part” or the “inoperative community” found scattered across a variety of other texts. By the end Srnicek and Williams out themselves as reticular pessimists: let’s not specify “the proper form of organization” (162), let’s just let it happen naturally in an “ecology of organizations” (163). The irony being that we’re back to square one, and these anti-folk evangelists are hippy ecologists after all. (The reference to function over form  appears as a weak afterthought to help rationalize their decision, but it re-introduces the problem of techno-fetishism, this time a fetishism of the function.)
To summarize, accelerationism present a rich spectrum of problems. The first stems from the notion that technology/automation will save us, replete with vague references to “the latest technological developments” unencumbered by any real details. Second is the question of capitalism itself. Despite the authors’ Marxist tendencies, it’s not at all clear that accelerationism is anti-capitalist. In fact accelerationism would be better described as a form of post-capitalism, what Zizek likes to mock as “capitalism with a friendly face.” What is post-capitalism exactly? More capitalism? A modified form of capitalism? For this reason it becomes difficult to untangle accelerationism from the most visionary dreams of the business elite. Isn’t this exactly what dot-com entrepreneurs are calling for? Isn’t the avant-garde of acceleration taking place right now in Silicon Valley? This leads to a third point: accelerationism is a tactic mistaken for a strategy. Certainly accelerationist or otherwise hypertrophic methods are useful in a provisional, local, which is to say tactical way. But accelerationism is, in my view, naïve about how capitalism works at a strategic level. Capitalism wants nothing more than to accelerate. Adding to the acceleration will help capitalism not hinder it. Capitalism is this accelerating force, from primitive accumulation on up to today. (Accelerationists don’t dispute this; they just simply disagree on the moral status of capitalism.) Fourth and finally is the most important problem revealed by accelerationism, the problem of elitism and reactionary politics. Given unequal technological development, those who accelerate will necessarily do so on the backs of others who are forced to proletarianize. Thus accelerationists are faced with a kind of “internal colonialism” problem, meaning there must be a distinction made between those who accelerate and those who facilitate acceleration through their very bodies. We already know who suffers most under unequal technological acceleration, and it’s not young white male academics living in England. Thus their skepticism toward the “folk” is all too often a paternalistic skepticism toward the wants and needs of the generic population. Hence the need for accelerationists to talk glowingly about things like “engineering consent.” It’s hard to see where this actually leads. Or more to the point who leads: if not Leninists then who, technocrats? Philosopher kings?
Accelerationism gains much inspiration from the philosophy of Prometheanism. If accelerationism provides a theory of political economy, Prometheanism supplies a theory of the subject. Yet it’s not always clear what people mean by this term. In a recent lecture titled “Prometheanism and Rationalism” Peter Wolfendale defines Prometheanism in such general terms that it becomes a synonym for any number of things: history and historical change; being against fatalism and messianism; being against the aristocracy; being against Fukuyama; being for feminism; the UBI and post-capitalism; the Enlightenment and secularism; deductive logic; overcoming (perceived) natural limits; technology; “automation” (which as I’ve just indicated is the most problematic concept of them all). Even very modest and narrow definitions of Prometheanism — technology for humans to overcome natural limit — present their own problems and wind up largely deflating the sloganeering of it all. “Okay so both the hydrogen bomb and the contraceptive pill are equally Promethean? So then who adjudicates their potential uses?” And we’re left with Prometheanism as the latest YAM philosophy (Yet Another Morality).
Still, Prometheanism has a particular vision for itself and it’s worth describing the high points. I can think of six specific qualities. (1) Prometheanism defines itself as posthuman or otherwise antihuman. (2) Prometheanism is an attempt to transcend the bounds of physical limitation. (3) Prometheanism promotes freedom, as in for instance the freedom to change the body through hormone therapy. (4) Prometheanism sees itself as politically progressive. (5) Prometheanism sees itself as being technologically savvy. (6) Prometheanism proposes to offer technical solutions to real problems.
But is any of this true? Interestingly Bernard Stiegler provided an answer to some of these questions already in 1994, and it’s worth returning to his book from that year Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus to fill out a conversation that has, thus far, been mostly one-sided. Stiegler’s book is long and complicated, and touches on many different things including technology and the increased rationalization of life, by way of some of Stiegler’s key influences including Gilbert Simondon, André Leroi-Gourhan, and Bertrand Gille. Let me focus however on the second part of the book, where Stiegler examines the two brothers Epimetheus and Prometheus.
A myth about powers and qualities, the fable of Epimetheus and Prometheus is recounted by the sophist Protagoras starting at line 320c in Plato’s dialogue of that name. In Stiegler’s retelling of the story, we begin with Epimetheus, who, via a “principle of compensation” governed by notions of difference and equilibrium, hands out powers and qualities to all the animals of the Earth. For instance extra speed might be endowed to the gazelle, but only by way of balanced compensation given to another animal, say a boost in strength bestowed upon the lion. Seemingly diligent in his duties, Epimetheus nevertheless tires before the job is complete, shirking his duties before arriving at humankind, who is left relatively naked without a special power or quality of its own. To compensate humankind, Prometheus absconds with “the gift of skill in the arts and fire” — “τὴν ἔντεχνον σοφίαν σὺν πυρί” — captured from Athena and Hephaestus, respectively, conferring these two gifts to humanity (Plato, “Protagoras,” 321d).
In this way humans are defined first not via technical supplement but through an elemental fault — this is Stiegler’s lingering poststructuralism — the fault of Epimetheus. Epimetheus forgets about us, leaving us until the end, and hence “Humans only occur through their being forgotten; they only appear in disappearing” (188). But it’s more than that: a fault followed by a theft, and hence a twin fault. Humanity is the “fruit of a double fault–an act of forgetting [by Epimetheus], then of theft [by Prometheus]” (188). Humans are thus a forgotten afterthought, remedied afterward by a lucky forethought.
“Afterthought” and “forethought” — Stiegler means these terms quite literally. Who is Epimetheus? And who is Prometheus? Greek names often have etymological if not allegorical significance, as is the case here. Both names share the root “-metheus,” cognate with manthánō[μανθάνω], which means learning, study, or cultivation of knowledge. Hence a mathitís[μαθητής] is a learner or a student. (And in fact in a very literal sense “mathematics” simply refers to the things that one learns, not to arithmetic or geometry per se.) The two brothers are thus both varieties of learners, both varieties of thinkers. The key is which variety. The key is the Epi– and the Pro-.
“Epi carries the character of the accidentally and artificial factuality of something happening, arriving, a primordial ‘passibility,’” Stiegler explains. “Epimetheia means heritage. Heritage is always epimathesis. Epimetheia would also mean then tradition-originating in a fault that is always already there and that is nothing but technicity” (206-207). Hence Epimetheus means something like “learning on the basis of,” “thinking after,” or, more simply, or “afterthought” or “hindsight.” This is why Epimetheus forgets, why he is at fault, why he acts foolishly, because these are all the things that generate hindsight.
Prometheus on the other hand is “foresight” or “fore-thought.” If Epimetheus means “thinking and learning on the basis of,” Prometheus means something more like “thinking and learning in anticipation of.” In this way, Prometheus comes to stand in for cleverness (but also theft), ingenuity, and thus technics as a whole.
But is that all? Is the lesson simply to restore Epimetheus to his position next to Prometheus? To remember the Epimethean omission along with the Promethean endowment? In fact the old Greek myth isn’t quite finished, and, after initially overlooking the ending, Stiegler eventually broaches the closing section on Hermes. For even after benefiting from its Promethean supplement, humanity remains incomplete. Specifically, the gods notice that Man has a tendency toward war and political strife. Thus Hermes is tasked to implant a kind of socio-political virtue, supplementing humanity with “the qualities of respect for others [αἰδώ] and a sense of justice [δίκη]” (Plato 322c). In other words, a second supplement is necessary, only this time a supplement not rooted in the identitarian logic of heterogeneous qualities. “Another tekhnē is required,” writes Stiegler, “a tekhnē that is no longer paradoxically…the privilege of specialists” (201). This point about specialists is key — all you Leninists take note — because on Zeus’s command Hermes delivers respect and justice generically and equally across all persons, not via the “principle of compensation” based on difference and equilibrium used previously by Epimetheus to divvy up the powers and qualities of the animals. Thus while some people may have a talent for the piano, and others might be gifted in some other way, justice and respect are bestowed equally to all.
This is why politics is always a question of the “hermeneutic community,” that is, the ad hoc translation and interpretation of real political dynamics; it comes from Hermes (201). At the same time politics also means “the community of those who have no community” because there is no adjudication of heterogenous qualities, no truth or law stipulated in advance, except for the very “conditions” of the political (those “hermeneutic conditions,” namely αἰδώ and δίκη, respect and justice).
To summarize, the Promethean story has three moments, not one, and all three ought to be given full voice:
This strikes me as a much better way to think about Prometheanism overall, better than the narrow definition of “using technology to overcome natural limits.” Recognizing all three moments, Prometheanism (if we can still call it that) entails not just technological advancement, but also insufficiency and failure, along with a political consciousness rooted in generic humanity.
And now would be a good time to pass the baton over to the Xenofeminists, who make much better use of accelerationism than its original authors do. The Xenofeminist manifesto provides a more holistic picture of what might simply be called a “universalism from below” — yes, that very folk politics that Srnicek and Williams seek to suppress — doing justice not only to Prometheus, but to Epimetheus and Hermes as well:
“Xenofeminism understands that the viability of emancipatory abolitionist projects — the abolition of class, gender, and race — hinges on a profound reworking of the universal. The universal must be grasped as generic, which is to say, intersectional. Intersectionality is not the morcellation of collectives into a static fuzz of cross-referenced identities, but a political orientation that slices through every particular, refusing the crass pigeonholing of bodies. This is not a universal that can be imposed from above, but built from the bottom up — or, better, laterally, opening new lines of transit across an uneven landscape. This non-absolute, generic universality must guard against the facile tendency of conflation with bloated, unmarked particulars — namely Eurocentric universalism — whereby the male is mistaken for the sexless, the white for raceless, the cis for the real, and so on. Absent such a universal, the abolition of class will remain a bourgeois fantasy, the abolition of race will remain a tacit white-supremacism, and the abolition of gender will remain a thinly veiled misogyny, even — especially — when prosecuted by avowed feminists themselves. (The absurd and reckless spectacle of so many self-proclaimed ‘gender abolitionists’ campaign against trans women is proof enough of this).” (0x0F)
From Noo Politics . . .
Gilles Deleuze thematises Foucault’s schema of (modern) societies as follows:
See “Society of Control,” from L’Autre 1 (May 1990),
http://www2.selu.edu/Academics/Faculty/jbell/control.pdf, a.k.a., “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” trans. M. Joughin, October 59 (1992): 3-7
Also publ. Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia UP, 1994) 177-82.
Maurizio Lazzarato, “Life and the Living in the Societies of Control,” in Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, eds., Deleuze and the Social (Edinburgh: EUP, 2006):
In the societies of control, power relations come to be expressed through the action at a distance of one mind [nous Gk mind, thus nöopolitics] on another, through the brain’s power to affect and become affected, which is mediated and enriched by technology. . . . The institutions of the societies of control are thus characterised by the use of technologies acting at a distance, rather than of mechanical technologies (societies of sovereignty) or thermodynamic technologies (disciplinary societies). (186)
Lazzarato takes these three dispositifs (instruments) of power from Michel Foucault (see The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: With Two Lectures by and an Interview with Michel Foucault [U Chicago P, 1991] 102), viz.
The body politic: Leviathan
Biopolitics: Discipline and Punish
Nöopolitics: The Emergence of Noopolitik
Broadly speaking, we have moved from the society of discipline to the society of control, although the dispositifs overlap—and recur atavistically or nostalgically (that is to say, some of us haven’t realised yet or can’t help but re-enact an earlier dispositif). Sovereign society recurs when, say, we reenact rituals of divine command and propitiation like the worship of authority figures (for example, priests and politicians) and their substitutes (for example, fathers, mothers and teachers—or, less anthropomorphically, fate or nature). Disciplinary society is still our habitual frame of reference, which we enact by default: atavistically, in national politics, economic and social policy, etc.; nostalgically, in the welfare state, talk of class, etc.
Nöopolitics—the politics of the embrained, embodied and embedded mind (“mind” for want of a better word)—is the new politics.
(Of course, we’re only talking the supposedly secular, humanist “West” here: old Europe, the British settler colonies, and liberal America and parts of the Americas. There’s no telling what happens to the model when we throw in the so-called new Europe, the “developing world,” and the rest of America and the Americas. Then this new politics becomes by dint of institutional inertia or change no politics.)
N.B. When we’re thinking technologies of domination (regulation) and of the self (i.e., of control, viz, self-regulation — or self-control), the crossover point is the key. See Michel Foucault’s “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self” (1980):
I think that if one wants to analyze the genealogy of the subject in Western civilization, he has to take into account not only techniques of domination but also techniques of the self. Let’s say: he has to take into account the interaction between those two types of techniques — techniques of domination and techniques of the self. He has to take into account the points where the technologies of domination of individuals over one another have recourse to processes by which the individual acts upon himself. And conversely, he has to take into account the points where the techniques of the self are integrated into structures of coercion and domination. The contact point, where the individuals are driven by others is tied to the way they conduct themselves, is what we can call, I think, government. Governing people, in the broad meaning of the word, governing people is not a way to force people to do what the governor wants; it is always a versatile equilibrium, with complementarity and conflicts between techniques which assure coercion and processes through which the self is constructed or modified by himself. (“About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self,” transcription of two lectures in Dartmouth on 17 and 24 Nov. 1980, ed. Mark Blasius, Political Theory 21.2 : 203-04 [198-227])
by Terence Blake
In A PHILOSOPHICAL EVENING (Une soirée philosophique, 1988) Badiou tells us that an author thinks and writes for a reader who encounters the book by a happy chance, who finds the book, like someone who finds a horseshoe, as in Osip Mandelstam’s poem THE HORSESHOE FINDER:
He who finds a horseshoe shines it rubbing it with a woollen cloth, hangs it over the threshold so it may rest from striking sparks on flint
(Note, I have translated the poem from Badiou’s French text. For a direct translation from the Russian by Steven Willett see: THE HORSESHOE FINDER).
There can be no Badiousians nor Badiou experts on this model. Despite his formidable will to system, Badiou sees his activity as poetic, as striking philosophical sparks from mathematical flint. He asks “How have I myself struck sparks on the flint of the matheme“. The poem does not mention the matheme, and we can consider Badiou to be too modest here. He has struck sparks not just from science, but also from art, politics, and love.
Badiou goes on to say that despite subscribing to this poetic image of thought he cannot give credence to Mandelstam’s diagnosis of our epoch, expressed in this poem, as one of completion and closure, of decline and terminal nostalgia. He declares that thought has not come to an end, it cannot be reduced to hopeless playing with dead ideas, to nihilist necrologies or postmodern micrologies.
In his Seminar on Heidegger (dated 1986-1987, published 2015), Badiou cites Rimbaud’s cry: “I lived, spark of gold of nature light”. He contrasts Rimbaud’s sparks with substance, and speaks of the constant danger of the “return to substance”, that overtook him at the end.
The discourse of the end of philosophy, over and above particular themes that may be in fashion at one time or another, is subservient to the ends of neoliberalism, that Badiou calls “capitalo-parliamentarism”. The neoliberal hypothesis is that philosophy as creation of a conceptual space for Truths is finished because it posits non-existent entities: all that exists is bodies and language games regulated by the market.
Badiou’s hypothesis is “philosophy is possible”, that is: more sparks are possible. Up to now that hypothesis has been confirmed by his own writings and seminars. The contrary hypothesis, propounded by Laruelle, of philosophy as caught in the enclosure of its own sufficiency, is disconfirmed by the arrogance of its own enunciation and by the indigence of its own performances.
Badiou has continued to surprise us over the decades, and I think it is a mistake to privilege the substance (the system) over the sparks (conceptual creations), insofar as one can distinguish the two. I have always read Badiou in this sense, for the sparks of creative insight, despite my misgivings about the systematic facture that enwraps them.
I am grateful to Maria Chehonadskih for her lengthy review of Molecular Red. However, I do not think she gives an accurate account of my book. That inattention obscures rather than clarifies what might otherwise be some interesting points of disagreement. Her review is in no sense comradely. She seems to prefer to score some quick points. I’ll take responding to it as an opportunity to give a Cliff Notes version of my argument.
I am happy to concede that Chehonadskih may indeed have mastery and ownership of the field of Russian letters and that I do not. Although one might pause to wonder what this might mean give that the authors in question here – Bogdanov and Platonov – were dedicated proletarian internationalists. But if Chehonadskih wants to claim the capacity for “more attentive reading” that can do better than my “bohemian slang,” then this claim needs to be demonstrated rather than merely asserted in authoritative style.
If one wants to charge me with “inexact use of terms” then one has to use one’s own terms more exactly. But Chehonadskih does not do this. In its place we get mere gestures of dismissal. It should be clear without too much reading effort that Molecular Red does not exactly begin with the “over-familiar Deleuzian project of ‘becoming minoritarian.’” On the contrary, unlike Deleuze and Guattari, I take ‘becoming molecular’ literally, and ask about the planetary fate of certain basic compounds – such as those of atmospheric carbon.
Carbon does not, in my account, become an “independent and evil force” and it is hardly a “vitalist power.” I begin simply by noting that carbon is in the wrong place. A rather large amount of it that used to be buried underground has ended up in the atmosphere. This is the sort of thing the natural sciences can quantify quite exactly. This fact of carbon being not where it once was we might describe, after Marx, as metabolic rift.
Marx’s example of metabolic rift was drawn from von Liebig’s studies of soil chemistry, and was a local displacement: compounds of phosphorous and nitrogen extracted from the soil by agriculture end up being pissed down the drains by urban workers, never to return. This was a local metabolic rift, and where phosphorous is concerned still a major problem. But the metabolic rift of carbon is a global problem.
Chehonadskih assimilates this too quickly to the old theme of “cyclical exchange between man and nature.” But these are metaphysical concepts she has interpolated here, and not the place I chose either to begin or end. Chehonadskih has simply not been able to bracket her own working assumptions long enough to attend to those actually on the page here. Hence she ends up saying nonsensical things such as “since the theory of the Anthropocene assumes the continuation of capitalism.” It isn’t a theory and it assumes no such thing. It’s a place-holder name for an ensemble of facts about what I am choosing to call instead metabolic rift.
How would the fact of metabolic rift – and let’s limit ourselves just to carbon as one example – entail a change in priorities for critical though? I’m not talking about the kind that chugs along in the university, although that may be the last place one can actually get such work done. I mean the kind of extra-academic agenda-setting that Marx was able to make. How can we start from the situation before us rather than from the set texts of the curriculum?
Here I thought it useful to turn to Soviet examples, as surely that was a time for taking the situation as the point of departure for thought rather than the text. I found Alexander Bogdanov and Andrey Platonov to be particularly useful, not least because they had already thought about metabolic rift in their own fashion.
My main interest in Bogdanov is that he almost got the metabolic rift of carbon right, which is no small feat for anyone in the early twentieth century, long before the apparatus was in place to confirm such a hunch scientifically. It seems very clear to me in his novels Red Star and Engineer Menni, and in his Tektology that Bogdanov had a keen sense of how rifts can occur a metabolism on any scale, including the planetary one.
At no point do I write that Bogdanov is a “dissident” vis-à-vis Lenin. That is just another of Chehonadskih’s interpolations. I just find his thinking more interesting for our own times than other, more well known thinkers of that period. One who I think is worth rescuing from certain caricatures and guilt-by-association talk which has characterized his posthumous reception.
It would seem, once one strips away the distractions, that Chehonadskih’s main disagreement with me is here: “What if Bogdanov was in fact part of bolshevism and Platonov the most intriguing philosopher of dialectical materialism?” Well, of course Bogdanov is part of bolshevism. He was probably its leading, and certainly most original, thinker from about 1904 to 1909, when Lenin attacked him publicly in Materialism and Empirio-criticism.
After which point his intellectual exclusion from Bolshevism begins, and which by his arrest in 1923 will become mandatory. If one wants to be a dialectician, one has to grasp how Bogdanov is both central to bolshevik thought and at the same time anathema to the emerging orthodoxy of “dialectical materialism.”
For Bogdanov, “dialectical materialism” just doesn’t make any sense. Chehonadskih simply passes over the central dispute between Bogdanov, on the one side, and Lenin and Plekhanov, on the other. There is no first philosophy in Bogdanov. Marxism is not a philosophy. It is, first and last, the labor point of view.
The labor point of view cannot, in the style of Lukacs, be imputed to that class on its behalf by the party, and on the party’s behalf by its self-appointed philosophers. It has to be organized. The labor point of view is not just a theory or a style but has its own class-specific forms of organization. (In this respect Bogdanov’s is not a ‘standpoint theory,’ and he anticipates in advance Haraway’s critique of such).
Unlike Chehonadskih, I don’t see it as a “limitation” that “Bogdanov reduces everything to the elements of experience and their organization, so that the social and natural world are seen as a combination of these elements.” That’s the very strength and originality of his approach. He asks how knowledge and labor are to be organized, rather than asking, in scholastic fashion, after the correct theory.
Nothing could be more remote from “Plekhanov’s determinism of productive forces.” The labor point of view in Bogdanov includes organizational labor, which Plekhanov would consign to the superstructures. There is a sense in which Bogdanov is a vulgar Marxist, he is if anything a much, much more vulgar one that Plekhanov, in that even philosophy is reduced to a form of labor.
As I note in Molecular Red, western Marxism’s attempt to distance itself from ‘vulgar Marxism’ always had more than one competing theory it was trying to combat with this slogan, and Bogdanov’s was one of them. It was not just aimed at the economic determinists among the Mensheviks and the German Social Democrats.
There is a problem with Bogdanov’s (non)philosophy, however, as Chehonadskih notes. In his thinking, “Labor is the metaphysical agent of nature’s transformation.” Yes, which is why I go back to Bogdanov’s source – Ernst Mach – and forward – to Mach’s other inheritors, to undo some of the apparent metaphysical unity and consistency of the category of labor.
One could in a very broad-brush way say that this means reading “positivist” thinkers, but only in the sense that they deny the authoritarian pretensions of philosophy to legislate for all other branches of knowledge. It is of a piece with Bogdanov’s labor point of view that forms of knowledge and labor have to find comradely ways of working together outside of hierarchies of authority.
Hence I am not at all bothered by “uncomfortable positivist and technocratic limitations” to Bogdanov’s thought. Compared to the philosophically authoritarian and technologically ignorant thought that now passes itself off as ‘Marxist’, Bogdnaov has a lot to teach us, particularly in an era when what is accelerating is metabolic rift. One can not even begin to understand this situation without the collaboration between scientific, technical and critical forms of knowledge-labor.
Bogdanov thought the road to proletarian self-knowledge and self-organization passed through both technical-scientific and cultural labor. Hence his idea of Proletkult, which actually did become a mass organization from 1917 until the early twenties, although not quite of the kind he had in mind. Proletkult gets far less attention than certain other Russian avant-gardes, although it had complicated relations with them.
As I write, “Bogdanov wanted to revolutionize the relations of production of culture, not just literary form or affective content.” And as I continue in a footnote: “For example, Osip Brik argues for the uses to the revolution of formalism in poetics, since it deals with the ‘laws of poetic production’ rather than merely agitating for proletarian spirit within the old bourgeois forms. But he does not get far beyond the poetics of the production of poetry, and certainly does not grasp production as poetics itself.” (38, 236).
Hence it simply isn’t the case, as Chehonadskih charges, that I “forget or simply ignore” the other Russian avant-gardes. I simply reverse the emphasis of many received histories of this period as to which matter now for us. An attentive reader would know this, simply by looking up the notes. Just as an attentive reader would notice that when I paraphrase the work of Zenovia Sochor I footnote her – twice. (236-237).
Likewise, an attentive reading shows that I do not argue that a twenty-first century proletkult would be one composed of hackers. As I have argued for many years now, it’s a problem of the relation between what I call the worker and the hacker, where the former has to do things within a production process and the latter has to come up with new components of a production process. Where Bogdanov is interesting on this point is that he was very attentive to the problem of the relation between industrial and scientific-technical labor.
The term “immaterial labor” appears nowhere in the book, nor have I ever used it as a concept. Chehonadskih’s hand-waving about it entirely misses the mark. It is striking how much her review works by substitution. Rather than read the words on the page, she substitutes a more familiar metaphor, preferably one that has gone out of fashion, and charges me with it. Hence ‘vitalism’ and ‘positivist’ and ‘immaterial’.
In a way I find quite strange in a reader of Platonov, Chehonadskih attempts to think through such slogans. Hence: “Another way in which Wark smoothes the edges off Bogdanov’s positivistic technicism is by invoking the pessimistic negativity of Andrei Platonov.” Well, yes, I do think there’s ways to read them through each other, but Chehonadskih imposes her readings of them onto me here.
Bogdanov’s thought has its own pessimism. As I quote the man himself: “The struggle between classes, groups and individuals precludes both the idea of the whole and the happiness and suffering implied by the notion.” (11) That’s the tragedy of the totality. Even on his red-utopian Mars there’s a problem with climate change and an energy crisis. This is not an unalloyed “positivistic technicism.” Hence I cannot agree that “there was no tragedy in Bogdanov’s theory.” If he has a key obsession, its how organizations die in spite of themselves.
I made only a weak claim for the influence of Bogdanov on Platonov. The latter was a member of a Proletkult organization, and we know he attended a conference at which Bogdanov spoke, and that’s about it. Platonov’s early writings are in a promethean spirit that I think is a bit alien to Bogdanov, although quite common in Proletkult. But I thought a (vulgar) Marxist and Bogdanovite reading of Platonov might be a timely foil to his otherwise rather predictable reception as a master of modernist literature and so forth.
Hence I am quite happy to accept that there are other ways to read him. Its always the case with very good books that they will support more than one reading. And I can almost agree that Bogdanov’s tektology “doesn’t have anything to do with artistic production,” if by which we mean the bourgeois idea of art. But it might have a lot to do with how language works.
Bogdanov insists that the metaphors we use to organize meaning are derived from the labor processes through which we organize the world. And so tektology might have a few things to say about how to read a text. And so the way I read Platonov is to pay attention to labor, to what his characters do.
To deal with some minor mis-readings. Firstly: I am well aware that Platonov has a relationship with the productivist avant-garde. But I think he does something interesting with it. As I write: “Platonov reverses the tenets of productivism, perhaps the most radical artistic tendency of the time. In Platonov’s version, rather than artists bringing the aesthetic to labor, he has workers bringing their labors to the point of becoming art.” (81)
Secondly: Chehonadskih seems to think she scores some point by noting that Platonov’s ‘Factory of Literature’ was written before socialist realism became official doctrine. I might point out it came after what would retrospectively be claimed as one of its models, Gladkov’s Cement. But it seems she has simply missed a moment when the text turns to another topic. Socialist realism comes up when I talk about some of Platonov’s later novel-length texts.
Again and again, I find that Chehonadskih looks for a quick way to make authority-claims, rather than to do patient labor over a text. This undermines my confidence in her readings of texts I don’t doubt she knows so much better than I do, such as Platonov. As Marx put it, hic Rhodus, hic salta: here’s a text, show me you really can read. If she cannot read a poor introductory book such as mine, why should we take her claims to read masterpieces such as Platonov seriously?
Her Platonov, unlike mine, is dialectical. Hers is about “the negation of thinking in labor and the negation of labor in thinking.” But I think what happens in both Bogdanov and Platonov is that the relation between labor and thought ceases to conform to so neatly symmetrical a chiasmus.
In Bogdanov, this takes the form of replacing this supposed dialectic with two kinds of labor which are of different kinds: the labor of organizing the world of objects and the labor of organizing the world of subjects. Their relation is not dialectical. It is more a homology dependent on the historical mode of production in question. He thinks there are three successive organizations of both objects and subjects: authority, exchange and comradely.
In Platonov I think its more interesting. Practically all his characters are workers of one kind or another. Their way of understanding the world comes from their orientation to it through labor. For example, in Happy Moscow, the physician gets a whole theory of the subject out of examining the corpse. (93-94)
As I read it, time and again there’s a disconnect in Platonov between the organizational languages coming from the superstructures and the daily experience of labor which tries to interpret those alien metaphors through labor. I read him (anti)novels as historical novels, not so much as history from below, as history from below the below. His characters do not even have kin and hence are hardly even proletarian. He is a rare literary witness to life and labor under conditions of disorganization and collapse of the forces of production in the Soviet period.
I quote the engineer Prushevsky from Foundation Pit, contemplating the ever expanding demand for a bigger and bigger foundation pit for an ever bigger plan for a House of the People: “he could see how the topsoil rested on a layer of clay and did not originate from it. Could a superstructure develop from any base? Was soul within man an inevitable by-product of the manufacture of vital material? And if production could be improved to the point of precise economy, would it give rise to other oblique by-products?” (84-85)
Prushevsky starts with what he knows: the composition of the earth on which the house has to be built. He parses that through Marxist language of base and superstructure. Then he extends that, metaphorically, to the thinking whether soul is a surplus, over and above life thought as the production of the means of existence.
It is the case that ‘life’ emerges as a central concept in Molecular Red, as Zizek pointed out in his account of it also. But I reject the notion that there’s anything vitalist in this. I take vitalism to be a class of theories in which life has some special essence, irreducible to material explanation. If that’s what’s meant by vitalist, I am not one. Living things might have forms of organization than non-living things do not. But they are made out of non-living matter just like anything else.
The science, and in particular the life sciences, have always been a problem for Marxists, and this is particularly clear in Zizek today. After Engels’ attempt at a dialectics of nature came to be considered a failure, western Marxism gave up on the attempt and retreated to a mere philosophy of social and historical life. But there’s still the temptation to impose a dialectical philosophy metaphorically on the science and claim in authoritarian fashion to be in possession of a first principle. (In Zizek it is ‘void’).
Bogdanov does something quite different: rather than imposed philosophical metaphors onto the life sciences, he asks what can be extracted from the life sciences themselves as diagrams or forms that might explain certain classes of organization. His tektology levels all of knowledge from a hierarchy (in which philosophy imagines itself on top) to a horizontal plane, where any knowledge of any experience might generate a diagram or metaphor that could be tested experimentally in another field.
Bogdanov grasped early on that the advent of modern science could not be accommodated within the ‘dialetical materialism’ that Plekhanov was inventing in Marx’s name without rendering it too vague to meaningful. So he gave up the attempt. His training in the life sciences had shown him that nature was not “spontaneous” as Chehonadskih has it, but was highly organized, and that one could learn from that organization. That in short is his blueprint for comradely cooperation. It isn’t ‘positivism’, and it isn’t ‘vitalism’. But it is a vulgar Marxism, in that it takes the knowledge produced by a particular acts of labor to be the starting point.
My reading of Platonov is a vulgar Marxist one. I take his enduring obsession to be the insufficiency of the base that is supposed to support the vaulted superstructures of Soviet ideology. He had first-hand experience of famine and civil war. Not surprisingly, he has things to say about whether ‘soul’ – a concept he tries to bring down to earth – can be thought as a surplus only possible when the body itself has had its means of existence.
I think we do Platonov a disservice when we don’t take him literally. I am not particularly interested in wandering and homelessness as a mere literary theme in his major works. He is writing in and of a time filled with real wandering and homelessness. Sure, one could extract a “negative dialectics of becoming” out of him. But to aestheticize him thus seems contrary to the whole spirit of a proletarian culture. He responded to the situation of his times, its challenge of natural, technical and human disorganization, not as a philosopher but as an engineer – which was indeed his job.
Hence I am a bit non-plussed when Chehonadskih finds it “remarkable that Wark pays no attention to the fact that it was exactly the economic aspect of the metabolic rift that was crucial for Platonov.” In a sense that’s the topic of my entire reading of him, but with one caveat. I think Platonov is about labor, not the economic, and they are not the same thing. I think he builds up a phenomenology of labor by working through the differences between kinds of labor – and in Platonov unlike in Bogdanov there are far more that two such kinds.
Take this passage that I quote from the utopian second half of Chevengur, where Dvanov thinks of a future communism: “Because of the cultivated grain the earth will be shinier and more visible from other planets . . . and then too the water cycle will get stronger and that will make the sky bluer and more transparent.” (72) It’s a moment of holistic, biospheric thought.
But this is a moment of contemplation. Nature is not provident in Platonov. There’s no connection between this reverie and the disorganized state of labor in the village of Chevengur. Platonov’s communism is an extraordinary thing. As Chehonadskih points out, it extends to animals and plants. But one can’t simply say as she does that “Platonov sides with nature not State capitalism.” Nature is actually labor in Platonov. It is already working on itself in its poverty. Platonov joins a human poverty to that of nature, human labor meets nature’s labor, of which it is a metonymic part, not a metaphorical double.
There are problems with how labor is thought in Bogdanov that Platonov partly addresses. Labor as a mere metaphysical postulate becomes concrete, becomes particular labors. Sometimes these labors produce use values – from solar power to wooden saucepans – outside of exchange value. But labor remains something men do (and rarely women). Its implication in an apparatus remains unclear. The railway worker was for both Bogdanov and Platonov the outer limits of technical complexity.
This is one of the reasons, in the second half of Molecular Red, I turn to the work of Donna Haraway, Karen Barad and Paul Edwards. All of these related thinkers ask questions about what becomes of technical labor in the era of the military entertainment complex. All of them show how Bogdanovite substitution works in a more contemporary setting. For example, through Haraway I show the traffic in metaphors between biological science and political economy.
Chehonadskih seems not to have spent much time on this second part of the book. But if one wants to organize labor in the twenty-first century to confront life-threatening metabolic rifts and build a new mode of production in the ruins of capitalism, I think there’s a lot to be said for paying the close attention to scientific and technical labor characteristic of Bogdanov, and continued in their own way by these more contemporary thinkers.
All of whom, like Bogdanov, refuse to acknowledge philosophy as an authority and work instead with a horizontal and comradely approach to what a twenty-first century organization of knowledge and labor might become. They were not chosen randomly: Haraway, Barad and Edwards are all connected to the History of Consciousness program at University of California, Santa Cruz, and thus part of a quite particular and not unsusccessful attempt to intervene in the politics of knowledge in the American university.
Bogdanov has long been neutralized with belittling insults. Plekhanov even refused to address him as ‘comrade.’ He gets accused of idealism and made a scapegoat for Stalinism. His memory was kept alive in systems theory in both the east and west, but in the process his thought was stripped of its politics. Chehonadskih adds a layer of complete incoherence to this fate by extending the usual guilt-by-association trick. He is apparently at one and the same time a Bolshevik state capitalist central planner and a neoliberal!
But let’s have done with this sort of (non) conversation. Let’s work together to see where our respective labors might generate experiences that we can share and learn from collectively, to produce a form of organization that could be an alternative to the commodity form. For scholars that means letting go of the reflex desire to treat one’s field as private property and kick anyone else off as a squatter. The situation is too serious for those old language games. So while I would welcome a conversation about different yet connected ways of thinking though Platonov in our times, I think we need to respond to each other’s work in a comradely fashion, something I have attempted to practice in my writings here at Public Seminar, but for which there are surely plenty of other models.
‘In a telling formulation, Sellars suggests the Manifest Image is the medium in which humans first encountered themselves as humans, by which I think he means it is the manifestation of a kind of human self-consciousness: the medium in which we conceive of ourselves as humans engaged in pursuing various practical and cognitive goals.’
‘the myth of Jones proposes that we did not always understand ourselves as minded beings motivated by thoughts and sensations; we had to learn how to do this and acquiring the resources to do so was a momentous step in our cognitive evolution.‘
‘One of Sellars’s deepest insights is the idea that to characterize someone as thinking is not to give an empirical description of them but to situate them in the logical space of “giving and asking for reasons.” To appreciate the import of this distinction involves understanding the difference between empirical-descriptive discourse and normative discourse.’
‘To refuse to subordinate truth to life is to insist that it matters whether or not anything matters. Knowing that nothing matters matters because it makes a difference to thinking. This is a difference in and for thinking, but a real difference nonetheless. This is the truth of nihilism. Thinking something true makes a new kind of difference, one which differs from other differences. It makes a difference in what thinking can do.’
Ray Brassier is a philosopher who broods on Wilfrid Sellars’ notion of the manifest image, the myth of Jones, the ideal of Enlightenment, folk psychological discourse, Adorno and Horkheimer, Quentin Meillassoux’s notion of ‘correlationism’, the importance of Badiou, Laruelle and negation, death, time, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Ligotti and nihilism, Nick Land, decorum and why mainstream analytic philosophers tend to ignore continentals, and vice versa. Wow!…
3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?
Ray Brassier: An encounter with Zeno’s paradoxes during a secondary school class on the Ancient Greeks. I was 13 and had never heard of philosophy previously. My curiosity was piqued and since philosophy was not offered at my school, I followed up on my own, reading everything I could in public libraries. My interest gravitated early on towards Continental philosophy, particularly figures like Hegel, Heidegger, and Sartre. I did not understand them, but their difficulty seemed glamorous. I was aware of the analytic tradition and did my best to learn about it, even though much of it was too technical for me to understand. Like many, I suspect, I found the difficulty of analytic philosophy unglamorous and therefore less appealing. This is regrettably superficial but superficiality is characteristic of youth. In my late teens I became enamored of Nietzsche, Bataille, and Artaud.
This led me directly to French post-structuralism, whose luminaries all hailed their influence (I could read French because of a French father). By this time I had left school but had no desire to pursue tertiary education and after a long bout of unemployment managed to earn a living doing various menial jobs. But I carried on reading in my spare time and as my dissatisfaction with everything intensified, I decided to commit to the full-time study of philosophy. Despite my absence of qualifications, I was able to register as a mature student at an ex-polytechnic (the University of North-London, long since defunct) whose philosophy program was attractively ecumenical. Once embarked, I never looked back.
3:AM: To understand the significance of Wilfrid Sellars’ notion of the ‘Manifest image’ and the myth of Jones for your defence of the Enlightenment can you say something about these things. What do you think the manifest image is, and what’s the myth of Jones?
RB: The Manifest Image is Sellars’s term for the system of concepts we use to understand ourselves and our world in our everyday life. Philosophers have contributed to its development. It contains notions like that of “person”, “mind”, “thing”, “property”, “belief”, “desire”, “action”, “intention”, and a host of other related notions. It is an extremely sophisticated system of concepts that has developed out of our practical interactions and activities over millennia of human cultural evolution. It is structured around certain fundamental distinctions, such as the difference between minded and mindless things, or between living and lifeless things. (Such differences are fundamental and irreducible within the Manifest Image, but perhaps not beyond it.) The term “manifest” is not supposed to connote “superficial” or “illusory”, at least not for Sellars. In a telling formulation, Sellars suggests the Manifest Image is the medium in which humans first encountered themselves as humans, by which I think he means it is the manifestation of a kind of human self-consciousness: the medium in which we conceive of ourselves as humans engaged in pursuing various practical and cognitive goals.
In Sellars’s account, the “myth of Jones” is perhaps the most momentous step in the construction of the Manifest Image and hence in the development of our collective self-conception as humans. It is the step through which we begin to understand ourselves both as minded beings motivated by beliefs and as sentient beings affected by sensations. In Sellars’s myth, Jones is the genius who first suggests that what humans say and do can be explained as the outward manifestation of inner mental states of believing, desiring, and sensing. In other words, the myth of Jones proposes that we did not always understand ourselves as minded beings motivated by thoughts and sensations; we had to learn how to do this and acquiring the resources to do so was a momentous step in our cognitive evolution.
3:AM: So how do they help you defend the Enlightenment – and what makes you think it needs defending?
RB: I take the ideal of Enlightenment to involve a commitment to self-understanding. Sellars’s account of the Manifest Image and the myth of Jones suggests that our self-understanding has evolved; it is not simply given. More specifically, neither the capacity for self-understanding nor the ways in which we understand ourselves are fixed and immutable. This is to reject the Cartesian idea that we know ourselves best of all and do not have to learn how to know ourselves. It was Kant who first rejected the Cartesian premise of the mind’s self-transparency: the idea that when it comes to knowing our own minds, we just know what we are thinking or feeling, and do not have to learn how to perceive ourselves thinking or feeling. Sellars’s myth of Jones is an extension of Kant’s critique of the Cartesian notion of the mind’s self-transparency: the very idea of the mind as thinking, and the classification of thoughts as beliefs, desires, or sensations, involves a very sophisticated conceptual framework which had to be developed over time. It is acquired, not innate. This means that philosophies that start from consciousness or subjectivity as the Archimedean point of self-knowledge and self-understanding from whence all other knowledge and understanding must be derived are fundamentally mistaken.
Consciousness is not the ineluctable starting point for self-understanding because there is a difference between being conscious and understanding oneself as a conscious being. The difference is between being in a certain state and knowing oneself to be in a certain state. Sellars’s “myth of Jones” is deployed against what Sellars calls “the myth of the categorial Given”: the idea that to be aware of something is to be aware of it as something. This short circuit between “awareness of” and “awareness as” inhibits the project of self-understanding because it perpetuates the assumption (which Kant calls “dogmatic”) that there is a point where being and knowing coincide.
I think Enlightenment as an epistemic ideal involves rejecting the appeal to a fundamental stratum of non-conceptual self-evidence. It needs to be defended by philosophers because contemporary theoretical discourse in the humanities is replete with such appeals: for instance, appeals to the authority of “lived experience”, “embodiment”, “affect”, etc. This paves the way for the rehabilitation of religious revelation as a source of epistemic authority (hence the so-called “post-secular turn” in the humanities). Of course, there is a complicated story about why the cognitive and political ideals of the Enlightenment fell into disrepute in 20th century academic discourse. Part of that story has to do with political history. I am well aware of the political iniquities for which the Enlightenment is habitually reproached. Nevertheless, I think the philosophical component of this reproach is remarkably weak insofar as it involves the uncritical valorization of the non-conceptual, the affective, and the sensory, over conceptual self-understanding.
3:AM: You talk about the ‘normative pretentions’ of folk-psychological discourse and an emerging approach which eliminates belief in ‘belief’ with sympathy. Is this because you’re wanting to reintegrate mind into the scientific image?
RB: My earlier work, specifically my 2007 book, misstated the nature of the tension between the normative dimension of “folk psychological” discourse and developments in cognitive neuroscience. “Folk psychology” is not a term used by Sellars, although it was taken up by philosophers he influenced, such as Daniel Dennett and Paul Churchland, eventually becoming the critical target of “eliminative materialism.” For eliminative materialists, “folk-psychology” names the pre-scientific, commonsense understanding of the mind which will be replaced by cognitive neuroscience, from whence categories such as “belief” and “desire” will have been eliminated. I admire eliminative materialism’s revisionary stance and I believe our understanding of the mind should be rendered compatible with our best science. But I now think it’s a mistake to identify the normative core of the Manifest Image with folk-psychology understood as a theory committed to the existence of entities such as beliefs and desires. One of Sellars’s deepest insights is the idea that to characterize someone as thinking is not to give an empirical description of them but to situate them in the logical space of “giving and asking for reasons.” To appreciate the import of this distinction involves understanding the difference between empirical-descriptive discourse and normative discourse. This is what I failed to appreciate in my book and I now think my support for the attempt to eliminate the manifest understanding of mind rested on precisely this confusion. By distinguishing between the normative and descriptive dimensions of discourse, one can distinguish between the inherently normative (i.e. rule-governed) character of “giving and asking for reasons” and the psychological categories invoked in attempts to describe and explain this practice. These attempts are fallible and corrigible. So while the normative dimension of discourse is irreducible, its descriptive categories are not.
The commitment to the norm of better explanation is precisely what motivates the elimination of inadequate psychological categories. So I think it’s possible to maintain the irreducibility of discursive norms while insisting on the dispensability of specific psychological categories, such as hoping, wishing, wanting, or even believing. These are categories that may be modified, revised, or abandoned in light of new theories about the mind-brain. So our extant psychological vocabulary is neither fixed nor immutable. It’s subject to infiltration and augmentation by various theoretical discourses. For instance, psychoanalytic categories such as “neurosis”, “psychosis”, “mania”, and “fixation” have become part of our everyday psychological vocabulary and we now routinely interpret states of anxiety, excitement, or depression in terms of physiological factors involving levels of serotonin, adrenalin, or blood sugar. To say that the characterization of thinking has a normative function that is irreducible to neurophysiological processing is not to say that our extant classification of the forms of thinking is incorrigible.
3:AM: Do the critiques of scientific rationality by Adorno and Horkheimer help your approach?
RB: The wholesale reduction of science to “instrumental rationality” is not very helpful and slightly hysterical. It’s remarkably similar to Heidegger’s denigration of science as mere “calculation”. This is unsurprising when one considers that all three thinkers were reacting against what they perceived as the excessive rationalism of neo-Kantianism, the dominant academic philosophy in early twentieth century Germany. However, I do appreciate the need to come up with an account of what Horkheimer called “objective reason”. But the challenge would be to come up with a non-metaphysical account of objective reason and Horkheimer’s work is not very persuasive in this regard. I am interested in Adorno’s work, particularly his conception of “negative dialectics”. But I find the account of “domination” which lies at the heart of Dialectics of Enlightenmentby far the weakest aspect of the book. Unfortunately it’s also the most influential. No doubt its hyperbolic character is a consequence of the historical period in which the book was written. But ramping up philosophical hyperbole to match historical anxiety is not the best way for philosophy to comprehend its time in thought. Sometimes exaggerations are merely false.
3:AM: Quentin Meillassoux’s notion of ‘correlationism’ is important to your account. What is this notion?
RB: Meillassoux defines “correlationism” as the claim according to which we can only ever access the correlation between mind and world: we cannot conceive either term independently of the other. Correlationism rejects metaphysical realism understood as the claim that the way the world is does not depend on how we take things to be. It also rejects the Cartesian corollary, i.e., the claim that the way the mind is does not depend on the way the world is. Meillassoux rejects correlationism wholesale and wants to move beyond it once and for all. I think it is important to distinguish the good and the bad senses of correlationism. I accept correlationism as an epistemic doctrine that insists we can’t know objects without concepts. This sound epistemic doctrine only becomes objectionable if it’s conflated with a contentious skeptical claim: the claim that we can never really know whether or not objects truly correspond to the concepts through which we know them. This skeptical claim is rooted in a fallacy of equivocation, whose particular variant is known as “Stove’s Gem”. I endorse correlationism in the first, epistemic sense, but not in the second, skeptical sense. I share Meillassoux’s antipathy to the skeptical version of correlationism, but I think he’s wrong to think it follows ineluctably from the first, epistemic or Kantian sense of correlation. Indeed, the suggestion that we can only refute skepticism by dispensing with epistemic correlation, understood as the synthesis of concepts and intuitions, seems to me untenable, since it assumes that either reason or sensibility can separately intuit the real, the former being the rationalist variant of the myth of the Given, the latter its empiricist version.
I don’t think Meillassoux’s appeal to a version of intellectual intuition successfully avoids the difficulties associated with what Kant called “dogmatic rationalism”. Once correlationism is understood as a strictly epistemic doctrine, it can be seen to be the condition for realism—not just empirical realism, which is the corollary of Kant’s transcendental idealism, but transcendental realism, which asserts the mind-independent existence of theoretical entities (this obviously requires a lot of unpacking). Unlike Meillassoux, I reject the very idea of a “non-correlational realism” because I think the issue of realism is tied to that of explanatory justification, which involves epistemic correlation. The point is to know what we mean when we qualify something as “real” and to be able to adjudicate questions about something’s “reality” on rational as opposed to dogmatic grounds.
3:AM: Why do you find Badiou helpful in avoiding what you see as a problem in Meillassoux’s account of the relationship between nature and reason, that of an idealism of mathematical intuition?
RB: As I said above, Meillassoux’s attempted overcoming of correlationism relies on an appeal to a kind of intellectual intuition, which he calls “dianoetic intuition”. I’m afraid this saddles him with all the problems of dogmatic rationalism: the assumption of a pre-established harmony between the order of thought and the order of being. Funnily enough, Badiou’s account is more persuasive here precisely because it is more Kantian (despite his overt hostility to Kantianism). Badiou’s (notorious) claim that ontology is mathematics is a claim about discourse, not about reality. It says that ontology understood as discourse about being is mathematical; it does not say that being is intrinsically mathematical. The latter claim would be “Pythagoreanism”, which Badiou rejects. This is a subtle but important difference. It means that mathematical ontology has a history, because mathematical discourse has a history. Since the resources of ontology are discursive, they develop over time. This means that what is sayable of “being qua being” varies over time. This is not just historicism because the historicity proper to mathematical discourse differs from, and is irreducible to, that of non-mathematical discourse. This is one of the Hegelian strands in Badiou’s thought that I most appreciate.
But it does not soften Badiou’s complete rejection of naturalism; a rejection shared by Meillassoux. Thus for both Badiou and Meillassoux mathematics is the privileged bearer of rationality: no other discourse comes close; not logic, not physics, and certainly not biology, which Badiou dismisses as “that wild empiricism disguised as science.” This makes mathematical rationality a miraculous dispensation, thoroughly inexplicable in terms of other human cognitive capacities. I find such anti-naturalism exorbitant. Reading Sellars has made me appreciate the inadequacies of “bald naturalism”; nevertheless, philosophy ought to be able to give an account of rationality that is not wholly detached from science’s account of nature, even if it is not straightforwardly reducible to it. The power of Sellars’s Kantian naturalism is its ability to reconcile the normative character of rationality with science’s non-normative account of nature. But Sellars does so while providing a thoroughly de-mystified conception of rationality: reasoning is rule-governed discursive practice embodied in the pattern-governed behavior of language using animals. As I see it, the problem facing Badiou and Meillassoux is their wish to embrace science’s de-mystification of nature while cleaving to a more or less mystificatory conception of rationality (for an illuminating discussion of Badiou and naturalism, I recommend Fabio Gironi’s Naturalizing Badiou: Mathematical Ontology and Structural Realism
3:AM: What’s the anatomy of negation and how does the work of Francois Laruelle help here?
RB: The “anatomy of negation” was my attempt to develop a non-Hegelian account of negation and negativity using the work Alain Badiou and François Laruelle. I was trying to develop a notion of “non-dialectical negativity” as part of a concept of extinction that would transform the understanding of death and time elaborated in phenomenology. I drew on Laruelle to define extinction as “being-nothing”: this is the idea of a void exercizing a power of determination. I don’t think I succeeded in de-coupling negativity from dialectics; partly because my rejection of Hegel was misguided, the lingering consequence of my youthful attachment to post-structuralism. I now think what I was trying to do with the concept of extinction can only be accomplished using the resources of what Hegel called “determinate negation.” This is why I’ve become very interested in Hegel again.
3:AM: How does the relationship between death and time in Heidegger and Deleuze address the issue of eradicating the Sellarsian manifest image?
RB: It’s part of my attempt to explain how science is transforming our manifest understanding of death and time. Nietzsche saw that ultimately the problem of nihilism is the problem of what to do with time: Why keep investing in the future when there is no longer any transcendental guarantor, a positive end of time as ultimate reconciliation or redemption, ensuring a pay-off for this investment? Nietzsche’s solution – his attempted overcoming of nihilism – consists in affirming the senselessness of becoming as such – all becoming, without reservation or discrimination. The affirmation of eternal recurrence is amor fati: the love of fate. It’s an old quandary: either learn to love fate or learn to transform it. To affirm fate is to let time do whatever it will with us, but in such a way that our will might coincide with time’s. The principal contention of my book, and the point at which it diverges most fundamentally from Nietzsche, is that nihilism is not the negation of truth, but rather the truth of negation, and the truth of negation is transformative. This truth is encapsulated in the concept of “extinction”. It does not just refer to the termination of biological species or the annihilation of the physical universe (although it also refers to these things). It is deployed as a philosophical rather than scientific concept in order to address the following question: “How are we to reckon with the claim that the physical conditions upon which life and thought depend will eventually (if our best current science is to be believed) cease to exist?”
The concept of extinction constructed in response to this question is neither biological nor cosmological. It is supposed to designate the lapsing of a prevalent philosophical understanding of life as generative of thought. So it’s an attempt to radicalize and generalize biological accounts of the end of terrestrial life and cosmological accounts of the end of the universe and endow them with a universal scope in order to address the following quandary: “How are we to make sense of the end of sense as philosophers have hitherto understood it?”
The answer offered by the book is that we grasp the end of sense as the extinction of sense, but an extinction that renders the end of sense intelligible as the separation of intelligibility from sense. Extinction marks the conceptual re-inscription of the alleged limit of conceptualization. The extinction of sense is the end of a determinate conception of the end through which the conceptual was enclosed within the bounds of sense. Thus extinction indexes a fundamental transformation, but one which is transcendental rather than empirical: it overturns the phenomenological subordination of the conceptual to the non-conceptual, as rooted in the originary dimension of the human phenomenon, whether this be construed in terms of the transcendence of intentionality or of being-in-the-world. Extinction is a trauma for phenomenology because it subverts the transcendental pretensions of all those variants of phenomenology for which human experience remains the fundamental phenomenon.
3:AM: You discuss Nietzsche and the overcoming of the Sellarsian nihilism as well as linking this with Freud’s death drive. Can you sketch out the thought here?
RB: I’m not sure what you mean by “Sellarsian nihilism”: I see Sellars as a resource for the rational overcoming of nihilism (see below). But let me try to sketch the link step by step. First, extinction is the negation of “meaning” and “life”; but a determinate negation that transforms the possibilities of existence. The aim is to propose a cognitive as opposed to aesthetic resolution of the problem of nihilism. Second, this cognitive resolution proceeds through a transcendental re-inscription of extinction capable of springing intelligence from the bounds of sense. By “transcendental” I mean a transposition of categories across the manifest and scientific images, as opposed to a metaphysical fusion of scientific categories, in this instance, the fusion of a biological “death-drive” and cosmological “dark energy”. Third, the concept of extinction is generated by establishing an analogy between two negations: the negation of the categorial difference between life and death in Freud’s subordination of the organic to the inorganic, and the negation of the categorial difference between matter and void in whatever “force” is responsible for the long-term disintegration of the universe’s physical structure.
What drives this attempted philosophical universalization of extinction is the conviction that attentiveness to the sciences obliges us to reorganize our categories and to recognize the problematic reality of something for which we do not yet have a name. This unknown “something” manifests itself as the cancellation of the difference between life and death in post-Darwinian biology, just as it manifests itself as the cancellation of the difference between particles and void in contemporary cosmology.
3:AM: Though not going so far as saying life is malignantly useless and a contrivance of horror, which is the claim of Ligotti’s brand of nihilism, you nevertheless defend Ligotti from charges of bad faith ie if life’s so bad then why write books about it, go on etc. What’s the argument? Is it kind of Beckett’s ‘I can’t go on. I go on’?
RB: I think the argument is this: our interest in staying alive should not be allowed to override our judgment about the worth of staying alive. This is an un-Nietzschean thought, since Nietzsche insists that the value of life can never be evaluated because life is the condition of evaluation. The coherence of Ligotti’s “nihilism” (he prefers “pessimism”) requires that the conditions of evaluation be distinguished from the requirements of living. This is what I mean by distinguishing the interests of thinking from those of living. I think Sellars’s brand of naturalism allows one to do just this. Biological interests do not pre-determine cognitive interests. The problem for Ligotti is that thinking is also de-valued in his account. Why bother to think? I think this leads to the paradox of nihilism: If nothing matters, then even the thought that nothing matters doesn’t matter. And if it doesn’t matter whether anything matters or not, then there’s no real difference between believing nothing matters and believing something matters. Believing or not believing is optional. Everything can carry on as usual. This why postmodern skeptics like Rorty can laud Nietzsche’s destitution of truth even as they shrug off its allegedly catastrophic import. To refuse to subordinate truth to life is to insist that it matters whether or not anything matters. Knowing that nothing matters matters because it makes a difference to thinking. This is a difference in and for thinking, but a real difference nonetheless. This is the truth of nihilism. Thinking something true makes a new kind of difference, one which differs from other differences. It makes a difference in what thinking can do. This is what I’m interested in.
3:AM: You also say that a ‘cringing deference towards social utility … straightjackets most professional philosophers.’ Can you expand on this? Why characterize the attitude of professional philosophers towards social utility in such a way? Is it more than bold rhetoric – is there evidence?
RB: The remark you cite comes from my preface to Ligotti’s book, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. I was trying to say that the imperative for philosophy to be socially “useful”, to contribute positively to society, can end up diminishing its capacity to mount a truly radical challenge to established opinion about what is right and good, whether on the right or the left. And I don’t think philosophy ought to defer to established opinion on such matters. Philosophers should resist the temptation to be publicly virtuous. Given an unjust society (i.e. ours), from the vantage of what counts as the public good, they are corrupters, not edifiers. The desire to be seen to be virtuous, to make a positive contribution, is a deleterious symptom of professionalization. Philosophy’s social utility is an ersatz for its duty to mount challenges to the entire social order.
3:AM: Is Nick Land’s rejection of academic philosophy – both continental and Anglo-American– a move that you align with somewhat? Is it stultifying decorum that you’re against? Is philosophical decorum always stultifying?
RB: No, decorum is not necessarily stultifying. It’s a necessary constraint of intellectual discipline, without which philosophy, which I see as a necessarily collective enterprise, is impossible. The question is whether the academy is the only place for exercising such collective discipline. I don’t think it is; certainly not now that academic activity is becoming ever more shaped by the demands of the market. I admired Land’s philosophical audacity and sympathized with his animus towards the compromises constitutive of academic existence. But I think his ultimately romantic rejection of philosophical discipline has had intellectually disastrous consequences. It seems to have led him to embrace the politics of “neo-reaction”, which Pete Wolfendale accurately described as “even sillier than fascism.”
3:AM: You’ve translated a lot of Badiou into English and made huge claims about his importance eg his ‘Being and Event’ is ‘ a book which may yet turn out to have effected the most profound and far-reaching renewal of possibilities of philosophy since Heideger’s ‘Being and Time’ etc. You aren’t alone – Zizek makes similar huge claims for his importance. I confess that I’m skeptical – not because I am smart enough to work it out for myself – but when I read Pat Churchland, Jerry Fodor, Tim Williamson, Kit Fine, Tim Maudlin, Saul Kripke , Elizabeth Anderson etc they never mention Badiou as an influence. They never mention him at all in fact. So why do you say Badiou is such an important contemporary philosopher? What are they missing?
RB: Badiou is a controversial figure. He is revered by some but reviled by many. I think he is important because his work represents a decisive break with many of the fundamental tenets of Continental (philosophical) orthodoxy. He defends the thoughtfulness and creativity of mathematics and mathematized science against those who would reduce them to thoughtless calculation. He re-asserts the intimate link between rationality and justice against those who see in them nothing but forms of domination and power. He pits the liberating power of abstraction and universality against the pathos of embodied particularity and lived experience. He proposes a new conception of truth in terms of a notion of “genericity” creatively appropriated from mathematics. And he is scathing about the creeping religiosity of much contemporary philosophy even as he attacks the cynical deployment of secularism as a cover for Islamophobia. These are not popular views among mainstream Continental philosophers. So it is unsurprising that his mix of combative rationalism and uncompromising atheism should have made him many enemies. Of course, he can and has been vigorously criticized for his specific philosophical claims. I have done so myself. But the animus against him is not strictly philosophical: it is ideological and even affective. Badiou’s detractors don’t just think he is wrong; they think he is bad. He wants to reanimate things which they have devoted their careers to burying: reason, truth, and revolution. So he counts as a figure of considerable significance no matter what one thinks of his views. I am in complete sympathy with the spirit of Badiou’s philosophy even if I vehemently disagree with its letter.
That he is more or less ignored by analytic philosophers is unsurprising: his combination of mathematical ontology and post-Maoist politics is almost guaranteed to induce apoplexy among mainstream analytics. So asking why the figures you mention above don’t cite him is a bit like asking why Continental luminaries like Žižek, Nancy, Rancière, Negri, Malabou, Stiegler, or Sloterdijk never cite Churchland, Fodor, Williamson, Fine, Maudlin, or Kripke. It may be lamentable, but it is not surprising.
3:AM: And for the readers here at 3:AM, are there five books you could recommend that would take us further into your philosophical world?
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.
by David Roden
Over the last decade the possibility of innovations in areas such as artificial intelligence or biotechnology contributing to the emergence of a ‘posthuman’ life form has become a focal point of public debate and mainstream artistic concern. This multi-disciplinary discourse is premised on developments in the so-called ‘NBIC’ technologies – Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science. The transhumanist claim that human nature should be improved technologically is likewise predicated on the NBIC suite affording the necessary means for enhancement.
In philosophy, discussion of the posthuman has been dominated by concerns about the ethics of enhancement or by metaphysical issues of embodiment and mind. Transhumanists draw on Enlightenment conceptions of human nature as an improvable ‘work in progress’ in arguing for the moral benefits of enhancement and its political legitimacy. Likewise, ‘bioconservative’ critics of transhumanism employ traditional frameworks such as Christian theology and Aristotelianism to argue that such developments may violate the biological integrity of species or undermine constitutive conditions for the good furnished by an unbiddable nature.
Speculative Posthumanism does not deny the importance of these debates but claims that they are too regional in scope to address the potential for ontological novelty implied by NBIC technologies. If it is possible for our technical activity to ultimately engender radically non-human forms of life we must confront the possibility that our ‘wide’ technological descendants will be so alien as to fall outside the public ethical frameworks employed by the majority of transhumanists and bioconservatives.
Among the intellectuals to have appreciated the ontological stakes are those poststructuralists and ‘critical posthumanists’ who claim that the trajectory of current technoscientific change ‘deconstructs’ the philosophical centrality of the human subject in epistemology and politics – by, for example, levelling differences between human subjects, non-human animals, or cybernetic systems. However, while critical posthumanism has yielded important insights it is hamstrung by a default anti-realism inherited from the dominant traditions in post-Kantian continental philosophy. The deconstruction of subjectivity is an ambivalent philosophical achievement at best; one that cedes ground to potent forms of humanism while failing to address the cosmic likelihood of a posthuman dispensation.
Speculative Posthumanism accordingly rejects the post-Kantian epistemology that deploys the ‘posthuman’ as a fashionable trope to mark intrinsic limits on thought. Its project is ‘speculative’ insofar as it explores ways of conceiving the posthuman independently of its relationship to human cognitive forms or phenomenology. It argues, instead, that the posthuman should be understood as a real, though not-yet actual, condition resulting from the technological modification of humans or their wide technological descendants.
Speculative Posthumanism claims that an augmentation history of this kind is metaphysically and technically possible. It does not imply that the posthuman would improve upon the human state or that there would exist a scale of values by which human and posthuman lives could be compared. If radically posthuman lives were very non-human indeed, we should not assume them to be prospectively evaluable using the ethical frameworks available to us. This does not indicate that the posthuman is ‘impossible’ or, like the God of negative theology, transcends our epistemic capacities. Rather this proposition indicates a problem that is still ‘ours’ insofar as the posthuman could result from an iteration of our current technical praxis.
by Steven Craig Hickman
The writer does not yet know what words are. He deals only with abstractions from the source point of words. The painter’s ability to touch and handle his medium led to montage techniques sixty years ago. It is to be hoped that the extension of cut-up techniques will lead to more precise verbal experiments closing this gap and giving a whole new dimension to writing. These techniques can show the writer what words are and put him in tactile communication with his medium. This in turn could lead to a precise science of words and show how certain word combinations produce certain effects on the human nervous system. (The Job Interviews)
Burroughs believed language to be the first and foremost control machine. A machine that constructed and shaped the naked ape called man into its present form, and that any future exit from the human would incorporate a breakup of this control machine and its present system of signs. The normalization and comforming of the human child through a series of modulated cycles of cultural and social enducements begins at childbirth. Nothing new here, except that for most of human history this went on unconsciously for the most part, but at some point certain tribal members realized that words harbored power over the minds and hearts of people. These shamans became the keepers of this knowlege of power, inventing relations between tribe and word these dreamkings began to bridge the unknown and known in a linguistic web of power relations that would become the cultural background of a time-machine.
Tracing the consequences of this movement from word control to dream-power is the symbiotic relationship between animals and plants throughout history. The cycles of oxygenation and nitrogen waste have brought these two unlikely hosts together in mutant forms that go unrecognized by most scholars and philosophers. Early on the scattered tribes of naked apes we term human began to gather plants to supplement their diet, and in this process discovered certain as anthropologists and entheogens love to term it “plants of power”. Between the shamanic flight and ecstatic trance societies of northern climes, and the vodoun horse riders of energetics and dances of sub-Saharan populations, the plants of the hallucenogenic cultures would enable a trace run of the noumenal worlds outside the control vectors of normalization that bind a socious together. In this process of investigation certain maps of the cosmos were developed and tabulated within the secret arsenals of these tribal shamans, witches, and practitioners of the arts of power.
What are we really saying here? That plants were central to the spiritual life of humanity, that it was the very material power locked within entheogens that harbored the supposed breakthroughs of vision and ecstasy that surround the taboos of our ancient fears and horrors of the unknown. That specialists in such knowledge and power were set aside, tabooed, given certain rights and privileges to explore these unknown territories of the noumenal realms. Translating this into modern parlance these specialists were the first to break the bonds of the control systems that kept most people tightly enmeshed in a reality system that allowed the group to evolve, enabling the continuation of sex and survival at the core the socious. Culture is a defense system against change, a way for a group to stabilize and defend itself against those powers that seek its demise. Culture has always been an artificial system of defense mechanisms, a time machine to regulate the flows, fluxes, and powers outside its jurisdiction. I use the legal notion because at the heart of this regulatory mechanism is the unwritten law of separation of powers between those who bind and those who unbind it.
Power itself is a measure of the solar economy of energy flows on earth in its cyclic movement from birth, growth, maturity, decay, and death. Humans from the beginning have worshipped the powers of the natural universe and its cycles of growth and decay as natural motions of the interactions of sun, moon, and earth. In his fascinating study of the impact of plants on the brain, David O. Kennedy describes a Neolithic Age dig 20 miles outside Rome at Lake Bracciano:
For the past three decades divers have been slowly sucking away the stubborn but protective mantel of mud that settled over La Marmotta, as the archaeological site is known today. Among the many thousands of artifacts, boats, timbers, bones, and tools that have been retrieved to date from the lake bed there are two finds that are of particular interest. The first comprises several fragments of the polypore fungus Daedaleopsis tricolorfound inside dwelling structures; these fungi were probably harvested for their pharmacological properties and used in ritual or medicine. The second comprises the contents of a single room that contained both the seeds of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum, and, most importantly, a religious “mother” idol. Together these artifacts suggest that these early seafaring immigrants were already growing opium for its psychotropic properties and consuming it in a ritualistic setting.1
The interest here is that this took place some 7,700 years ago in a world that had yet to enter into that state we term civilization or history. This harvesting, organization, and ritual use of a psychotropic substance by a stone age tribe of fishers on the edge of a lake in Italy leads one to believe this was not an anomaly but rather a common practice not only among such tribes as this but across the human populations in various climes across the globe. And, of course, the anthropological literature which seems to fallen on deaf ears in our era of the supposed non-human studies unconcerned with humanity and its ancient practices, religious or otherwise has for years undermined such studies. Most of Continental philosophy and thought has been elsewhere, and yet even in those pioneers of the postmodern malaise as Deleuze and Guattari would plant the seeds of a return and collusion between these ancient primitive sorcerers and schizoanalysis.
Deleuze/Guattari: Primitive Cure and Schizoanalysis
Our definition of schizoanalysis focused on two aspects: the destruction of the expressive pseudo forms of the unconscious, and the discovery of desire’s unconscious investments of the social field. It is from this point of view that we must consider many primitive cures; they are schizoanalysis in action.3
In a Thousand Plateaus they’ll describe,
Doubtless, we see operations of rigidification and centralization take shape here and there: all of the centers must collect on a single circle, which itself has a single center. The shaman draws lines between all the points or spirits, outlines a constellation, a radiating set of roots tied to a central tree. This is the birth of a centralized power with an arborescent system to discipline the outgrowths of the primitive rhizome. Here, the tree simultaneously plays the role of a principle of dichotomy or binarity, and an axis of rotation. But the power of the shaman is still entirely localized, strictly dependent upon a particular segment, contingent upon drugs, and each point continues to emit independent sequences.4
In fact they’ll see in the same book they write of the controversial Carlos Castaneda and his symbolic narratives of the sorcerer’s cure, mutation, and metamorphic heritage:
“Carlos Castaneda’s books clearly illustrate this evolution, or rather this involution, in which the affects of a becoming-dog, for example, are succeeded by those of a becoming-molecular, microperceptions of water, air, etc. A man totters from one door to the next and disappears into thin air: “All I can tell you is that we are fluid, luminous beings made of fibers.” All so-called initiatory journeys include these thresholds and doors where becoming itself becomes, and where one changes becoming depending on the “hour” of the world, the circles of hell, or the stages of a journey that sets scales, forms, and cries in variation. From the howling of animals to the wailing of elements and particles.”
Deleuze/Guattari on Becoming and Multiplicity:
Thus packs, or multiplicities, continually transform themselves into each other, cross over into each other. Werewolves become vampires when they die. This is not surprising, since becoming and multiplicity are the same thing. A multiplicity is defined not by its elements, nor by a center of unification or comprehension. It is defined by the number of dimensions it has; it is not divisible, it cannot lose or gain a dimension without changing its nature. Since its variations and dimensions are immanent to it, it amounts to the same thing to say that each multiplicity is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis, and that a multiplicity is continually transforming itself into a string of other multiplicities, according to its thresholds and doors.
The word symbiosis pops out at me of late, since from the beginning there has been this symbiotic relationship between plant and animal kingdoms, the cycles of oxegenation and nitrogenation in symbiotic transfer between waste systems of both species. This interlocking mesh of plant and animal, a delicate balance that has probably been part of the core basis of many of the so to speak Extinction events, with the upsetting of this cycle between the two kingdoms due to internal or external events. We are in the midst of such an event now, and the balance between animal and plant life is being unbalanced by the one species that lives by delusion and illusion rather than any form of realism. Humanity. We blindly forget our debt to the plant kingdom and go our own foolish way as if it did not matter. None of this has a thing to do with us, or our moralisms. It is beyond good and evil, it is a facticity we cannot escape or exit. It just is… not is some substantive way, but in the becoming cycles of the energetic flows of the solar economy this planet has brought into play.
William S. Burroughs: The Sickness of Society
What is a hallucinogen? A drug that expands consciousness and increases awareness of surroundings and bodily processes. I would suggest the term consciousness-expanding drug be substituted for hallucinogen, because, for one thing, it is very difficult to pronounce. Actual hallucinations are rare, and no precise definition of a hallucination has been formulated. Under the influence of LSD, mescaline, cannabis, the subject is acutely aware of colors, sounds, odors, and the effect of the drug may be said to consist in this phenomenon of increased awareness, which may be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the content of the awareness. Colors and sounds gain an intense meaning and many insights carry over after the drug effects have worn off. Under the influence of mescaline, I have had the experience of seeing a painting for the first time, and I found later that I could see the painting without using the drug. The same insights into music, the beauty of an object, ordinarily ignored, carry over so that one exposure to a powerful consciousness-expanding drug often conveys a permanent increase in the range of experience. Mescaline transports the user to unexplored psychic areas, and he can often find the way back without a chemical guide. I will describe a simple experiment that will make the distinction between sedative and consciousness-expanding drugs more precise. (The Job Interviews)
In fact Burroughs would add,
The use of sedative drugs leads to increased dependence on the drug used. The use of consciousness-expanding drugs could show the way to obtain the useful aspects of hallucinogenic experience, without any chemical agent. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, with sufficient knowledge of the mechanisms involved. (ibid.)
This sense that the body is a biochemical factory that acts on certain triggers to enable the production of certain effects within the brain is well known. So pervasive is the relationship between humans and psychotropic plants and fungi that they have played a major part in shaping mankind’s history. The most obvious and all-encompassing role has been in the development of religions. The popular etymology of religion among the later ancients (Servius, Lactantius, Augustine) and the interpretation of many modern writers connects it with religare“to bind fast” (see rely), via notion of “place an obligation on,” or “bond between humans and gods.” Maybe we should update this as a bond between humans and plants rather than gods.
For instance, plants have been associated with their own gods in many cultures; the “Poppy Goddess” of Crete, a figure with a trance-like expression and a crown of moveable poppyshaped pins; the ancient Greek goddess of fertility and the harvest, Demeter, whose emblem was an opium poppy4 ; the Celtic god Bel, the Norse/Germanic god Thor, and the Roman god Jupiter, all associated with henbane (Hyoscamus niger); the Germanic goddess of love Freya, inextricably linked to cannabis (Cannabis sativa); and the Germanic god Odin, associated with opium, deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), and fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). The drugs themselves have also often been attributed with being a direct personification of a god or goddess and have been deified accordingly,—for instance, the kykeόn, a mysterious drink deified by the cult of Demeter and Persephone and used in their “Eleusinian Mysteries” initiation rite; soma, or haoma, a psychotropic drink deified in Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, respectively4 ; and the Egyptian god of spiritual rebirth, Osiris, who was putatively the personification of the hallucinogenic Psilocybe mushroom.5
Much of the earliest archaeological evidence of psychotropic plant use is open to interpretation. Deposits of opium poppy seeds found at La Marmotta (5700 bc), or in Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements between the Jura Mountains and the French/ Swiss Alps (4000–3000 bc), or interred alongside poppy heads in a grass bag found in a burial cave (2500 bc) in Granada, Spain, may well simply reflect the alternative uses of the opium poppy as a source of oil and food. Similarly, Taiwanese and Chinese pottery bearing the imprint of hemp cloth and rope, dating as far back as 8000 bc, might simply reflect the practical use of tough cannabis stem fibers. However, the first unequivocal written evidence of mankind’s enduring relationship with psychotropic plants is provided by clay tablets bearing the “cuneiform” script, indentations of abstract patterns made by pressing a wedge-tipped stylus into damp clay. These clay tablets originated in the Sumerian civilization that flourished from the 4th to the 1st millennia bc in Mesopotamia, the region between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in modern-day Iraq. The tablets, dated to the middle part of the 3rd millennium bc, record the use of some 250 plants, including the opium poppy, mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and deadly nightshade. The use of the opium poppy is seen most clearly in tablets from the settlement of Nippur, an important seat of worship, in which the plant is denoted by the ideogram “Hul Gil,” translated as “joy plant.” The text includes reference to the cultivation and harvesting of opium, and given that the “Hul Gil” ideogram had cropped up in texts dating to the 4th millennium bc, it seems likely that opium use was well embedded in Sumerian society, at least in terms of ritual or religious use. Similarly, several tablets among a vast horde found among the ruins of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in the city in Nineveh attest to the popularity of cannabis. While the debris was a result of the sacking of Nineveh by the Scythians in 612 bc, the tablets are thought to contain the collected knowledge that the Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations had accumulated over the preceding 2,000 years.6
We can trace the ritual use of entheoginic hallucinogens in cultures as wide ranging as Hindu, Egyptian, Mesopotamia, Minoan, Greek, Roman, et. al. During the Mycenaean period many of the ancient myths and legends, many of them incorporated from other regional cultures, underpinned the religious beliefs of the later ancient Greek civilization. Psychoactive plants feature prominently. For instance, Hecate was the underworld goddess both of witchcraft and poisonous plants and was associated with specific plants such as wolf ’s bane (genus Aconitum), mandrake, opium, and deadly nightshade, whereas Circe, a minor goddess and witch, administered a poison that was probably deadly nightshade to the crew of Odysseus’ ship. The antidote, described as moly, that then saved Odysseus was most likely to have been a member of the snowdrop family such as Galanthus nivalis. b, Deadly nightshade was also associated with one of the three mythical “fates,” Atropa (after whom the plant is named), who severs the thread of life at the point of death, and it was used by the Greek cult of Dionysius (Bacchus to the Romans). Likewise, opium was associated with the mythological twins Hypnos and Thanatos, representing sleep and death, and had its own deity, Demeter, the goddess of fertility and the harvest, whose emblem was an opium poppy; and henbane garlanded the wraith-like spirits of the dead that roamed the banks of the river Styx at the entrance to Hades. One further notable psychotropic was the secret ingredient of kykeόn, a mysterious potion to which was attributed godlike properties; it was reputed to engender an ecstatic experience of death and resurrection. The drink formed the cornerstone of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiation ceremony of the cults of Demeter and Persephone, which survived right through from the Mycenaean Age to the Roman Empire and counted among its members many of the notable members of Greek and Roman society. The identity of the kykeόn is shrouded in mystery, but it is known that the ingredients included flour and mint, and it seems likely that the active ingredients were hallucinogenic, water-soluble lysergic acid amides from the fungus ergot, which grows symbiotically on cereal in the region around Athens. With the exception of the kykeόn, these plants, along with other plants such as hemp and mandrake, also featured extensively in the burgeoning medicine of the Greeks, along with their many ceremonial and social roles. Indeed, opium was generally regarded as the drug of choice for the populace. (Kennedy, pp. 7-8)
It was only with the advent of the monotheistic religions and the control mechanisms put into place over the centuries of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious rule that such knowledge was lost to humankind in the Western traditions of our Eurocentric world. With the advent of these institutions the age of entheogens came to an end as it was forced underground and into counter-cultural practices of medicine and magical belief systems that would be hounded by inquisitorial practices in one form or another throughout the past two thousands years.
I’ve barely begun to explicate this unique history of the symbiotic relation between human and plant kingdoms. My interest in the entheogens was due to my obvious participation during the sixties of the emerging culture of hallucinogenic or psychedelia culture. Having ingested a multiplicity of alkaloids from psilocybin, mescalin, peyote, LSD and other derivatives over a period of fifty years my own experience attests to this strange and bewildering biochemical experiment in such transitional zones of brain transformation. Having long ago abandoned religious explanations due to my utter disgust with Bible Belt Christianity that impose itself on my early life, I’ve gone obviously overboard in the opposing atheistic forms of thought and feeling based on secular world views. Only in the past few years have I come to a new point that sees both religious and secular views as part of a culture of control and normalization, capturing human desire and shaping it to the mastery of central command systems we term culture and civilization. Having tried to exit one system I fell hook, line, and sinker into the other trap. Now I’ve begun to retrace the path back to the beginnings knowing full well this, too, may be illusion and delusion. Being bound in a brain that is itself blind to its own processes precludes full disclosure of anything close to a truth of our interactions with ourselves and the world, and yet we continue as we must to do with what little we are and have. It’s all we can do, while acknowledging how little that is.
Most current philosophy seems to preclude any investment into such worlds of scholarship. I’ve see in recent times a certain segment of scholarship into these areas trying to bring it back under the fold of religion, which to me is also erroneous. When will we escape the old and invent the new? Why do we revert to the well-worn control mechanisms that seek to tame the wild? Books on the entheogens seem to want to recapture these ancient systems of experimentation and fold them into religious scholarship. To me that’s once again to retread the old paths of metaphysical thought we’ve anathematized. Why not explore these ancient human / plant symbiotic relations under a new framework devoid of either secular or religious ideology, behavior, practices, or scholarship? Humans seem fearful to enter the unknown no holds bar, instead the need their symbolic baby blankets to carry them into the dark. The darkness is not fearful, it is rather the light that harbors the evil we are. The shadows bring with them the unknown and unknowable that is still just beyond the horizon of language and its capture systems. To enter the dark without one’s mental defense systems is to brave the new and its unfolding truth.
Addendum: Time, Calendars, Control
For Burroughs the ultimate control system was Time itself, the Calendar:
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. …
The priests then could calculate precisely what reactive commands had been or would be restimulated on any date past or future and these calculations enabled them to reconstruct the past or predict the future with considerable accuracy. They were dealing from a stacked deck. Calculations of past and future calendar juxtapositions took up a good deal of their time and they were more concerned with the past than the future. There are calculations that go back 400,000,000 years. These probings into the remote past may be interpreted as an assertion that the calendars always existed and always will exist. (All control systems claim to reflect the immutable laws of the universe.)
(The Job Interviews)
In our age of mass media of newspapers, radio, television, magazines, and the Internet form a ceremonial calendar to which all citizens are subjected. The “priests” wisely conceal themselves behind masses of contradictory data and vociferously deny that they exist. Like the Mayan priests they can reconstruct the past and predict the future on a statistical basis through manipulation of media. It is the daily press preserved in newspaper morgues that makes detailed reconstruction of past dates possible. How can the modern priests predict seemingly random future events? (The Job Interviews) And the heart of the matter:
Admittedly, two model control systems, the Mayan and the Egyptian, were based on hieroglyphic writing. However, these control systems were predicated on the illiteracy of the controlled. Universal literacy with a concomitant control of word and image is now the instrument of control. An essential feature of the Western control machine is to make language as non-pictorial as possible, to separate words as far as possible from objects or observable processes. (The Job Interviews)
We’ve seen over the past century the divorce of image from word, the pure movement from sense word associations and ties to the abstract horror of complete sign systems floating in a void. We are locked in a nihilistic prison house of non-meaning where the natural world has disappeared and been replaced by a simulacrum and copy based on mathematical calculation. Cut off form past or future, isolated in a free-zone of accelerating speed of financial capital we are the artificial citizens of a non-world devoid of any truth or reality. Total immersion in a syncopated world of timeless fragmentation where the more we learn the stupider we become. As if reading a Chomsky’s book, Burroughs tells us:
Opinion control is a technical operation extending over a period of years. First a population segment—“segment preparation”—is conditioned to react to words rather than word referents. You will notice in the subsidized periodicals a curious prose without image. If I say the word “chair” you see a chair. If I say “the concomitant somnolence with the ambivalent smugness of unavowed totalitarianism” you see nothing. This is pure word-conditioning the reader to react to words. “Preparations” so conditioned will then react predictably to words. The conditioned “preparation” is quite impervious to facts. (The Job Interviews)
Political Correctness is a Control System that has over the past twenty years under both reactionary and ultra-progressive systems become this very type of propaganda system controlling human behavior and patterns through Word Technics and Technology. Communications tyranny.
Our modern computer was at first designed as a Control Machine. The word ‘cybernetics’ is derived from the Greek ‘kubernetes’ (meaning ‘steersman’). As a selfreflective theoretical discipline, cybernetics dates back to 1948, when it was formulated by Norbert Weiner as “the science of control and communication in animal and machine”. It sought to combine the emerging science of information and new electronic computing technologies with a disciplined attention to feedback mechanisms, which provide the key to the self-regulation of behavior. By adjusting its activity in response to sensory feedback, a biological or technical machine was able to ‘home’ on a targeted state.7
As Land describes it at first there were governors installed on these systems to prevent viral runaway processes from occurring, but that’s all done now:
As cybernetics matured and expanded to encompass ever-larger and more intricate ‘objects’ – typically under alternative names, such as ‘general systems theory’ – it increasingly encountered very-long-range trends to continuous acceleration, bound only by weak and transient limits. Through application to the core dynamics of cosmological, biological, social, and technological evolution, cybernetics shifted its emphasis. Runaway, self-reinforcing processes became the central object of attention, and a ‘second cybernetics’, emphasizing the role of positive feedback phenomena, adopted the principal piloting role. Self-sustaining explosions, rather than dampening mechanisms, were now the primary cybernetic theme. (Templexity)
For Land the control systems have become totalized dominion systems. “Modernity and hegemony are Urban Future obsessions… It addresses itself to the international dominion of the Gregorian, Western Christian calendar, and the sensitivities of those who, whilst perhaps reconciled to the inevitability of counting in Jesus-years, remain determined to dis-evangelize the accompanying acronymics.”8 Or, “Christianity’s global Calendric Dominion is paradoxical — perhaps even ‘dialectical’ — in this regard. It provides the governing model of historical rupture and unlimited ecumenical extension, and thus of total revolution, whilst at the same time representing the conservative order antagonized by modernistic ambition.” (Land, KL 186) As Land concludes:
The world is locked into a story it scarcely understands, which entangles it all the more tightly for that. … What, then, are the implications of a Calendric Dominion which exceeds its apparent meaning in multiple directions, while integrating the cultures of the world into a single system of numerical attachments? This is a question that has scarcely begun to register. For it to be sharpened further requires time, and time is what it stamps for us. Eventually, this will matter. (ibid.)
by Steven Craig Hickman
In my last post on David Roden’s new book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human I introduced his basic notion of Speculative Posthumanism (SP) in which he claimed that for “SP … there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.” The basic motif is that his account is not a normative or moral ordering of what posthuman is, but rather an account of what it contains.
In chapter one he provides a few further distinctions to set the stage of his work. First he will set his form of speculative posthumanism against the those like Neil Badmington and Katherine Hayles who enact a ‘critical posthumanism’ in the tradition of the linguistic turn or Derridean deconstruction of the humanist traditions of subjectivity, etc.. Their basic attack is against the metaphysics of presence that would allow for the upload/download of personality into clones or robots in some future scenario. Once can see in Richard K. Morgan’s science fictionalization (see Altered Carbon) of humans who can download their informatics knowledge, personality, etc. into specialized hardware that allows retrieval for alternative resleeving into either a clone or synthetic organism (i.e., a future rebirthing process in which the personality and identity of the dead can continually be uploaded into new systems, clones, symbiotic life-forms to continue their eternal voyage). Hans Moravec one of the father’s of robotics would in Mind’s Children be the progenitor of such download/upload concepts that would lead him eventually to sponsor transhumanism, which as Roden will tell us is a normative claim that offers a future full of promise and immortality. Such luminaries as Frank J. Tipler in The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead would bring scientific credence to such ideas as the Anthropic Principle, which John D. Barrow and he collaborated on that stipulates: “Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, will never die out.”
Nick Bostrom following such reasoning would in his book Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy supply an added feature set to those early theories. Bostrom showed how there are problems in various different areas of inquiry (including in cosmology, philosophy, evolution theory, game theory, and quantum physics) that involve a common set of issues related to the handling of indexical information. He argued that a theory of anthropics is needed to deal with these. He introduced the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Self-Indication Assumption (SIA) and showed how they lead to different conclusions in a number of cases. He pointed out that each is affected by paradoxes or counterintuitive implications in certain thought experiments (the SSA in e.g. the Doomsday argument; the SIA in the Presumptuous Philosopher thought experiment). He suggested that a way forward may involve extending SSA into the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA), which replaces “observers” in the SSA definition by “observer-moments”. This could allow for the reference class to be relativized (and he derived an expression for this in the “observation equation”). (see Nick Bostrom)
Bostrom would go on from there and in 1998 co-found (with David Pearce) the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+). In 2004, he co-founded (with James Hughes) the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In 2005 he was appointed Director of the newly created Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford. Bostrom is the 2009 recipient of the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement and was named in Foreign Policy’s 2009 list of top global thinkers “for accepting no limits on human potential.” (see Bostrom)
Bostrom’s Humanity+ is based on normative claims about the future of humanity and its enhancement, and as Roden will tell us transhumanism is an “ethical claim to the effect that technological enhancement of human capacities is a desirable aim” (Roden, 250).1 In contradistinction to any political or ethical agenda (SP) or speculative posthumanism which is the subject of Roden’s book “is not a normative claim about how the world ought to be but a metaphysical claim about what it could contain” (Roden, 251). Both critical posthumanism and transhumanism in Roden’s sense of the term are failures of imagination and philosophical vision, while SP on the other hand is concerned with both current and future humans, whose technological activities might bring them into being (Roden, KL 257). So in this sense Roden is more concerned with the activities and technologies of current and future humans, and how in their interventions they might bring about the posthuman as effect of those interventions and technologies.
In Bostrom’s latest work Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies he spins the normative scenario by following the trail of machine life. If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation? In my own sense of the word: we want be able to control it. Just a study of past technology shows the truth of that: out of the bag it will have its own way with or without us. The notion that we could apply filters or rules to regulate an inhuman or superintelligent species seems quite erroneous when we haven’t even been able to control our own species through normative pressure. The various religions of our diverse cultures are examples of failed normative pressure. Even now secular norms are beginning to fall into abeyance as enlightenment ideology like other normative practices is in the midst of a dark critique.
In pursuit of this Roden will work through the major aspects of the humanist traditions, teasing out the moral, epistemic, and ontic/ontological issues and concerns relating to those traditions before moving on to his specific arguments for a speculative posthumanism. I’ll not go into details over most of these basic surveys and historical critiques, but will just highlight the basic notions relevant to his argument.
1. Humanists believe in the exceptionalism of humans as distinct and separate from non-human species. Most of this will come out of the Christian humanist tradition in which man is superior to animals, etc. This tradition is based in a since of either ‘freedom’ (Satre, atheistic humanism) or ‘lack’ (Pico della Mirandola). There will also be nuances of this human-centric vision or anthropocentric path depending stemming from Descartes to Kant and beyond, each with its own nuanced flavor of the human/non-human divide.
2. Transhumanism offers another take, one that will combine medical, technological, pharmaceutical enhancements to make humans better. As Roden will surmise, transhumanism is just Human 1.0 to 2.0 and their descendents may still value the concepts of autonomy, sociability and artistic expression. They will just be much better at being rational , sensitive and expressive – better at being human. (Roden, KL 403-405)
3. Yet, not all is rosy for transhumanists, some fear the conceptual leaps of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As Roden tells us Bostrom surmises that “the advent of artificial super-intelligence might render the intellectual efforts of biological thinkers irrelevant in the face of dizzying acceleration in machinic intelligence” (Roden KL 426).
4. Another key issue between transhumanists and SP is the notion of functionalism, or the concept that the mind and its capacities or states is independent of the brain and could be grafted onto other types of hardware, etc. Transhumanist hope for a human like mind that could be transplanted into human-like systems (the more general formulation is key for transhumanist aspirations for uploaded immortality because it is conceivable that the functional structure by virtue of which brains exhibit mentality is at a much lower level than that of individual mental states KL 476), while SP sees this as possible wishful thinking in which thought it might become possible nothing precludes the mind being placed in totally non-human forms.
Next he will offer four basic variations of posthumanism: SP, Critical Posthumanism, Speculative realism, and Philosophical naturalism. Each will decenter the human from its exceptional status and place it squarely on a flat footing with its non-human planetary and cosmic neighbors:
Speculative posthumanism is situated within the discourse of what many term ‘the singularity’ in which at some point in the future some technological intervention will eventually produce a posthuman life form that diverges from present humanity. Whether this is advisable or not it will eventually happen. Yet, how it will take effect is open rather than something known. And it may or may not coincide with such ethical claims of transhumanism or other normative systems. In fact even for SP there is a need for some form of ethical stance that Roden tells us will be clarified in later chapters.
Critical posthumanism is centered on the philosophical discourse at the juncture of humanist and posthumanist thinking, and is an outgrowth of the poststructural and deconstructive project of Jaques Derrida and others, like Foucault etc. in their pursuit to displace the human centric vision of philosophy, etc. This form of posthumanism is more strictly literary and philosophical, and even academic that the others.
Speculative realism Roden tells us will argue against the critical posthumanists and deconstructive project and its stance on decentering subjectivity, saying “that to undo anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism we must shift philosophical concern away from subjectivity (or the deconstruction of the same) towards the cosmic throng of nonhuman things (“ the great outdoors”)” (Roden, KL 730). SR is a heated topic among younger philosophers dealing with even the notion of whether speculative realism is even a worthy umbrella term for many of the philosophers involved. (see Speculative Realism)
Philosophical naturalism is the odd-man out, in the fact that it’s not centered on posthuman discourse per se, but rather in the “truth-generating practices of science rather than to philosophical anthropology to warrant claims about the world’s metaphysical structure” (Roden, KL 753). Yet, it is the dominative discourse for most practicing scientists, and functionalism being one of the naturalist mainstays that all posthumanisms must deal with at one time or another.
I decided to break this down into several posts rather than to try to review it all in one long post. Chapter one set the tone of the various types of posthumanism, the next chapter will delve deeper into the perimeters and details of the “critical posthumanist” discourse. I’ll turn to that next…
Visit David Roden’s blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.
1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
by David Roden
I’m ending an all too brief sojourn in Western Crete, just as Greece seems set to become Europe’s new experiment in post-democratic capitalism – its very own Interzone. Many, if not most, economists claim that the conditions cannot be met and that attempting to do so will shred Greece’s economic, social, educational and cultural life as much as the initial round of austerity.
Nonetheless, a bubble of ease is maintained here for those with euros. We who bask in the light and heat of the Aegean summer can condemn the deprivations heaped upon the Greek state and its citizens without having to experience them.
However factitious, this moment has allowed me to pause and think about some generous philosophical discussion of Posthuman Life on a number of excellent websites. These have forced me to think harder about the basic assumptions in of the book. So here begins a series of reflective responses to my commentators under the rubric of “Dark Posthumanism” – though, as shall become clear, my use of the d-word is seriously tendentious.
I should begin by citing Debbie Goldgaber’s excellent post on Speculative Posthumanism and dark phenomenology. This catalyzed an exchange between deflationary naturalists like Scott Bakker and those like Jon Cogburn or Goldgaber, who favour a deconstructive or “weird realist” construal of dark phenomena. This debate resurfaced during a lively discussion at the New Centre for Research and Practice‘s Posthuman Life 1 seminar, in which Debbie also participated. Its trenchancy was a surprise, although a welcome and productive one, which I’ll try to address in this post.
Meanwhile, the Philosophical Percolations Summer Reading group on PHL rolls on to Chapter 2 and 3 and the Ultima Thule of Unbounded Posthumanism! I should also bow to John Danaher’s fine clarificatory effort over at Philosophical Disquisitions. He has not yet addressed the role of dark phenomenology, but it will be interesting to see what he makes of it.
Scott’s interview with me over at Figure/Bound communications recapitulates similar tensions while holding me to account for the ethical commitments of the book. I think there’s a connection between the epistemological issues arising from the dark phenomenology hypothesis and the ethics and politics of becoming posthuman. These are taken up in B P Morton’s terrific piece on trans/posthumanism and transgender (also at philpercs) which I to return to in the sequel to this post.
So what’s the deal with Dark Phenomena?
On a first (and extremely shaky) approximation, there is a tension between a thin epistemological interpretation of Dark Phenomena – experiences that furnish no tacit yardstick for their description – and a weird reading that I hesitate to term “ontological”, since its presuppositions seem more difficult to articulate than the naturalist side.
On the epistemological reading, the dark side is a placeholder for structures of experience that phenomenology cannot elucidate without the help of science – in particular, psychology, neuroscience or cognitive science. Dark phenomena reveal the point at which the putative domain of phenomenology eludes the scrutiny of philosophical method. It does not imply any obscurity in principle, since what may elude phenomenology may be explicated in other terms.
On the weird (horror?) reading, the dark side must be understood via its disintegration or truncation of the subject: experiences of horror, alienation, humour or compulsion such as the spectral thing that, for Levinas, depersonalises the consciousness of the insomniac. As Cogburn points out, these incursions and eruptions in experience can be related to the late Idealist view that our experience of embodiment provides privileged insight into a pre-subjective Nature (Schelling) or a noumenal body that eludes representation. I think Eugene Thacker’s discussion of Schopenhauer in his book Starry Speculative Corpse captures the latter idea particularly well:
The Will is, in Schopenhauer’s hands, that which is common to subject and object, but not reducible to either. This will is never present in itself, either as subjective experience or as objective knowledge; it necessarily remains a negative manifestation. Indeed, Schopenhauer will press this further, suggesting that “the whole body is nothing but objectified will, i.e. will that has become representation” (122-3)
So darkness on the naturalist reading is a local problem for phenomenological method, whereas on the weird reading it is an obscure disclosure (“negative manifestation”) of something (some thing) that resists any form of representation or theory. It must also be contentless if it is to do the work of undercutting the claims of transcendental conceptions of the subject, whether phenomenological, existential or pragmatist.
So far this seems as if it might be almost consonant with Bakker’s take on dark phenomenology. As he writes in his commentary on Goldgaber, phenomenology qua method:
assumes we have a reflectively accessible experiential plenum to begin with, that we actually possess a ‘phenomenology’ worth the name. The problem, in other words, is that we have no way of knowing just how impoverished our ‘phenomenology’ is in the first place.
If phenomenology is dark then phenomenological method is at best incomplete and at worst benighted. For example, experienced temporality is as transcendent and inaccessible to us as the structure of matter. Phenomenology can never be more than a descriptive science of nature according to this account and should not aspire to a priori status since there is no good reason to think that its descriptions are authoritative. There are good empirical reasons for thinking that we take our judgements about the contents of our minds or experiences to be based on an unmediated givenness only because we are not mindful of the heavy lifting required to produce them. If phenomenology is dark we are, as Bakker implies, in the dark about the dark.
The weird reading might now seem a little shady. Even the metaphor of darkness is misleading if it implies a phenomenology of the “gaps in presence”. This would be feasible only if we already knew the structure of the plenum and (or so the argument goes) there is no good reason to think that we do.
This seems to warrant a cautious analogy between the thesis that there is a dark side to phenomenology and Derridean deconstruction, which, though drawing on the language of phenomenology, cuts it free of any secure domain by generalizing subjective temporality well beyond anything conceivable as a subject, to the iterable mark, to generalized writing etc. (PHL: 94).
Goldgaber imputes to me the claim that this structure, at least, is generalizable beyond the human:
were it possible to show that there are dark elements in our own phenomenology, experienceable but not amenable to description or interpretation, we would have grounds, Roden thinks, for understanding human subjectivity in terms of both its unity and radical difference or rupture from world–as dependent on structures that are shared by nonhumans.
I’m not sure that I go this far. I suspect a purer Derridean like Martin Haggelund might. But, like Bakker, I don’t see any reason to see why such claims are on securer ground. Their virtue is salutary rather than informative; exposing the indeterminacy of claims about structure of worldly agency and time.
On the other hand, once we take dark phenomenology (or Bakker’s blind brain theory) as serious epistemological proposals we seem confronted with a darkness without negation, not one contrary to the light side (which, by hypothesis, is already striated with it). And here one is almost tempted to say that harder-than-hard naturalism bites the tail of mysticism. In Speculative Corpse, Thacker distinguishes a metaphysical correlation (between thought and object) presupposed by philosophy from a mystical correlation that can only verify itself by breaking against an impersonal “divine” darkness (84-5) that can never be recuperated by thought. A similar failure of correlation seems to obtain here. Even the tools (concepts like plenum) with which we are attempting to think the absence of a proper topic for phenomenology have to fail us. A thought that reiterates its failure in this way obeys the logic of the mystical as Thacker describes it.
So while we may not have any knowledge of what we could share with unboundedly weird posthumans, or nonhumans of other stripes, we led into a defile that is boundless on either reading. Perhaps the deflationary reading is as weird as it gets. Perhaps as Bakker puts in Neuropath, we are all already “vast and terrible with complexity” . As the tagline to the novel states: you do not know what you are. You do not know what it is that does not know this. We do not know where the darkness ends, how far it extends. And perhaps it is this pervasive boundlessness that can provide a tentative opening beyond the human, freeing us, as Morton might say, to explore the near inhuman, the trans of alterable bodies and desires.
Or maybe this is too quick! It’s easy to make imaginary progress in a frictionless milieu. I’ll return to Morton in Dark Posthumanism II.
continues from Part 1
by Obsolete Capitalism
:: Dromology Archive 6 :: The socialist time machine: Red London and Marxist topology
London, summer 2015. We are looking at ‘The London Bookshop Map – 104 independent bookshops’ in order to find a bookshop specialized in communist and accelerationist publications. Finally, we choose Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, which defines itself as a socialist library. It is a renown bookshop that constitutes an important junction on the axis of London radical and antagonistic thought – being also a honoured and militant publishing house of the ‘Red London’. It is located two steps away, northbound, from the University College London where Nick Srnicek conducts his PhD, in that same Bloomsbury which halfway through the nineteenth century welcomed the epistemic wandering of Karl Marx, near-by the British Museum, and in the first half of the twentieth century the ‘Bohème’ of the Bloomsbury Group by Keynes, Woolf and Forster, while nowadays it finds itself dangerously close to that stronghold of turbo-capitalism and class enemy that is the London School of Economics. The books by and on Marx dominate the scene, together with texts that recall workers’ struggles, and particularly the struggle of coal miners in the eighties, Unionism, and the Russian Revolution. In addition to that, texts about Trotsky, Luxemburg, the Cuban Revolution, Chavez, anti-Fascism, anti-Nazism, anti-Racism. Nothing that cannot be found in any English or European militant socialist and communist bookshop, and that in Italy could be found, with some small variation across the peninsula, on the stalls of the Italian newspaper Manifesto or of the political party Rifondazione Comunista. So, our quest for cyber-Marxist texts and works by the abstract Communist school of thought ends poorly with the recovery by the nice staff of only one volume by Nick Dyer-Witheford (Cyber-proletariat), which explains a great deal about the range and the impact of Marxist accelerationism on the massive and granitic body of classical Marxism and orthodox Communism. In fact, we find ourselves out of place, as if we had been relocated temporally in a different politico-philosophical space. It seems to us as if we were inside a museum of socialist history, we are aliens to them, or at best the winners of the ‘customer of the day’ award for the oddness.
A Thousand Marxes: Choruses, non-linear Marxism and speculative Marxism
Which Marx are we talking about? The political and intellectual universe that relates itself to Marx is kaleidoscopic, and rather different positions coexist, within the so-called Marx Renaissance. The Marx recalled here is the writer of the Grundrisse and The Capital, that is, the Marx in his speculative maturity: the most quoted text by the various essayists is the notorious ‘Fragment on Machines’, which is included as a compulsory passage in every reference of the book (with the exception of the essay by Mercedes Bunz) as if it was a refrain recurring in the text, essay after essay. It is a sci-fi and quasi-oracular Marx who is evoked to seal the descent of accelerationist thought. ‘It is Marx, along with Land, who remains the paradigmatic accelerationist thinker’ (Williams and Srnicek, Manifesto, 2013). Avanessian and McKay instead open their own ‘Accelerate’ with a chronicle of accelerationist thought, starting from the fathering Marxian year, 1858, and the passage on the alien power of the machine – The machine as an alien power – drawn from that same ‘Fragment on Machines’ of the Grundrisse. In the anthology edited by Pasquinelli, one of the leading essayists is Nick Dyer-Witheford, author of the essential ‘Cyber-Marx’ (1999). Hence, we are dealing with a non-linear Marx, hanging between steam and cyberpunk, read through the Deleuzian lens of the machinic surplus, perhaps nearer to William Gibson rather than Friedrich Engels. If Pasquinelli rightly evokes a speculative neo-Marxism, and if we appreciate it as the withdrawal of the whole Marxian thought from the pretension of orthodoxies to uphold it as true philosophy and ‘scientific thought capable of affirming itself as different from ideologies’, then the enemies of Marxist accelerationism within the communist movement will be free to brand these positions as a degradation of Marxism itself. An example can be the notorious position of Lukàcs during his phase of maturity, when he inveighed ‘the degradation of Marxism to speculative thought’ (Perlini, 1968), which is a contradiction for orthodox Marxists. Grabbing on to splinters of Marxism blown up and thrown in the air by the collapse of Marxism as a state ideology, the authors of ‘The algorithms of capital’ advance instead a new knowledge. Pasquinelli affirms in his theses that ‘there is no original class to be nostalgic for’, where by ‘class’ he means the working class, which continues to experience a post-human development. They are indeed fragments of Communism which can be positioned between Marx, Dick and Nexus-6: does the working class dream of electric sheep?
:: Dromology Archive 7 :: The birth of the Robo Sapiens: automation and the crisis of Taylorism
In 1961 General Motors installed the first industrial robot, Unimate, in the assembly line of its own plant in Ewing Township, New Jersey, USA. Patented by George Devol and Joe Engelberger in 1954, the machine was perfected from that year until its deployment in the factory at the dawn of the sixties. That is how the third industrial revolution began, a development which in a few decades would have completely reshaped the system of production in the manufacturing sector. Nowadays the first ’robo sapiens’ installed in the assembly line would result particularly clumsy at our eyes in its esthetic dimension: it was provided with only one mechanical arm capable of moving up to two tons of scorching steel and then welding it onto the car body, and it rested on a metal box, directed by a computer closed in a squared box too, from which it silently guided the mechanical arm. Likewise, the industrial robots have silently substituted human labour. Even in our collective imaginary, the alienated and enslaved blue-collars, so empathically described by Fritz Lang in Metropolis (1927), are now substituted by the cyber-metallized soft shapes of the Sapphic robots of Chris Cunningham (1999). From an environment where the human worker stood beside the machine, caught in the brutal nineteenth-century concatenation of industrial man-machine process, we move to one, in the second half of the twentieth century, where we find only machines beside other machines, tangled in algorithmic processes of automation between robots. In 1982 Japan was already producing 24,000 industrial robots per year. China in 2014 produced 40,000 of them: they may not seem many, but it is as twice as much of what it produced in 2011 and nearly three times more of what it produced in 2010. In 2014, in the whole world, 228,000 robots have been sold. This year the Robo Sapiens deployed in the production lines by the world industry are over 1.5 million: they are products of a fine synthesis of mechanics, electronics, mathematics and software. However, a second robotic revolution has already been triggered: in fact, the future of automation will be the ‘service robots’ not spendable in industrial production anymore but rather in the service sector and in residential dromo-tronic. It is the future challenge. Rustling algorithms, automated solutions and mechanical labour: what would Marx say of the ‘Fragment of Machines’? How is it possible to challenge the ‘vast inhuman power’ engineered by the capital?
Marxist axiomatic and the empirical tumble of the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall’
The bunch of Deleuzian-Guattarian questions which the accelerationists want to answer to are questions from the future, that is, questions who come from the future – not last the specific and very controversial question on which process is to be accelerated among those designated by the two Parisian philosophers. The answers to such questions could well be other questions, this time more Derridian, such as ‘where will we go tomorrow? where, for example, is Marxism going? where are we going with it?’ (Spectres of Marx, 1994). In fact, if we exclude the ‘politics of remembrance, heritage and generations’, the future of accelerationist politics, even in that version influenced by post-workerism, could remain uncertain if it persisted in grounding itself to Marxist axiomatics, which show the innate limit of the context in which they were conceived, and limit in particular their dual prospect. Since such a reconstruction, especially on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, exceeds the boundaries of our work, we will only linger shortly on that crucial point contained in thesis number six, in which Pasquinelli rightly regards the Marxian equation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as the identification, within the Marxist thought, of the mechanism principally responsible for industrial capitalism. Then, a clear mutual understanding from the beginning is crucial in order to allow for history to be actually handed to History, while for living future to be carried into the future as a valuable treasure. The inefficacy and disputing of the dogma of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, including in this inefficacy also the Marxian formula conceived as original trigger of the repeated crises and temporal collapses of capitalism, was already known at the time of the Anti-Oedipus (1972). In our opinion, it is too much of a ‘mechanical’ stretch the fact that the interpretation and the reference to the acceleration of the capitalistic process, in Deleuze and Guattari, are initiated by the full restoration of the notorious formula on the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Such formula, or at least its epistemic foundation, is opposed even by contemporary economists as Thomas Piketty and by Marxist intellectuals like David Harvey and Michael Heinrich, to name just a few of them. Marxist economic analyses which adopted the same economic data, but aggregated them differently, reached diametrically opposed conclusions: i.e. that the Marxian equation is correct and then functional, or on the contrary that it is only partially valid and hence inapplicable and dysfunctional from the perspective of the capitalist economy. Then again the classic academic economics already surpassed the Marxian formula in the decades that opened in 1870, from The Theory of Political Economy by William Stanley Jevons onwards.
:: Dromology Archive 8 :: Robo-Trading Era, high-frequency Algorithms and the twinkling of the Crash
Over 5,000 operations per second. Totaling an operative value per single operator greater than 500 million dollars; and all that for positions which will be closed anyway by the end of the day. That is how far the HFTs go, the high-frequency traders – often regarded also as algorithmic traders – who have been developing themselves as a new ‘toxic’ or ‘endemic’ species in the world of global finance since 2009-2010. Such a form of schizophrenic trading has reached alarming proportions: some mature and highly competitive markets, such the American, English or German stock exchanges, host HFTs who all together conduct a third of the global daily operations. Facing such a volume of operations, tremendous for number of orders and total aggregate value, the authorities who supervise the markets took action trying to limit the use of such instruments, still in a neo-liberal and pro-finance perspective, by imposing protocols and guide lines on the several market operators. Nowadays, since IT dominates financial markets, it is still impossible to distinguish between algorithmic low-speed trading and high-frequency trading, because the latter could well simulate the former in order to escape the technical mechanisms put in place by the authorities. But how does the ‘silent and rapid beast’ operate? HFT firms work in highly accelerated markets, through extremely sophisticated instruments, ad-hoc algorithms which operate in advanced software and hardware. Here the competitive advantage is given, first of all, by the speed of execution – which often amounts to fractions of a second – and of evolution, in fact the products used in algo/HFT trading have to be constantly updated in order for them to be dynamic and flexible. This kind of operational capacity necessitates, first, of liquid markets, that is markets able to ‘support’ such productivity in quantity and quality, second, of the endogenous latency of arbitrations, in fact the algorithmic trader works with the spread that is generated on a single stock, in the ratio between bid and ask – i.e. demand and supply. Anyway, systemic imbalances of such dromo-technology are clear and have already manifested themselves in the ‘Flash Crash’ of the 6 May 2010 when the NYSE lost in only 36 minutes 10% of its value, previously generated by massive commissions on a future contract of Procter & Gamble, listed in the futures exchange in Chicago. The P&G title at the NYSE suddenly collapsed by 37%, due to the automatic spread of panic, from Chicago to New York. Here the HFT played a fundamental role in unfolding the abrupt breakdown of the whole stock list of the NYSE. A typical setting of the Virilian accident: to a new technique corresponds an accident enlarged by the intrinsic characteristics of the technique itself. The quick intra-daily falls of financial markets – the Flash Crashes – are related to high-frequency trading, as much as cyclical or daily falls are related to low-speed IT trading. Only five years after the terrible and sudden collapse, on the 21 April 2015, the US Department of Justice charged with 22 counts an Anglo-Punjabi citizen, Mr. Navinder Singh Sarao, an algorithmic trader based in the multiethnic West London who, from his parents’ house, issued on the 6 May 2010 the monstrous shower of commissions, for a total value of 200 million dollars on a single P&G future contract. The commissions were modified or substituted 19,000 times within few frantic minutes, before being completely deleted by Singh himself. However, the collapse by contamination between different but hyper-connected stocks and markets, amplified by the others HFT, caused losses amounting to billions of dollars, and demonstrated the systemic instability of global finance. No longer the market ‘invisible hand’, as Adam Smith wrote over two hundred years ago, but rather the schizophrenic voracity of highly specialized markets which operate on systemic imbalances mitigated by automatized circuit breakers. Acceleration and Collapse in a mortal chain of shrill and merging rings…
‘The gravedigger of capitalism’ (Marx, Grundrisse) and its political use
The value of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall lies then in its political use and, in particular, in being at the heart of the Marxian analysis of the future of capitalism, considered as contingent, a historical moment of transition within the communist vectoriality. Marx, in his drafts of the Grundrisse considered such ‘law’ as the definitive gravedigger of capitalism; in The Capital such law becomes a ‘tendency’, not anymore an unavoidable law, thanks to the counter-tendencies which are triggered during a period of crisis, carrying the gravedigger effect, terminal in the long run. Being it an equation, a law, or a tendency, the tendency of the rate to profit to fall remains central. However, is this Marxist eighteenth-century heart, elaborated in a context of great industrial development, no longer realistic today, helpful in the twenty-first century? And, above all, was this eighteenth-century Marxist heart that Deleuze and Guattari used as generating impetus and directional order of the accelerated process of capitalist collapse? On this controversial point, the bright Deleuzian scholar Christian Kerslake (Marxism and Money in Deleuze and Guattari, 2015), suggests that the fulcrum of the analysis contained in the Anti-Oedipus reflects the influence of the theories of De Brunhoff and Schmitt on currency and on the streams of financial capitalism. According to Deleuze and Guattari, currency and capital streams have become the heart of global capitalism, the civilised machine, thanks to their hegemonic role of intersection, control and regulator of the monetary streams of commercial and central banks, with the aim of recover and stabilise the crises of market economies. For post-1945 capital in the twentieth and twenty-first century, crucial elements are not production, active labour, and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, but rather the management of the monetization of the economic system as fundamental negentropic factor of the system. The reference to Nietzsche and not to Marx should already make the accelerationists and the editors of The Algorithms of Capital think about this specific point, controversial but at the same time crucial and defining. To end the discussion on the ‘historical substance’ of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, we must recall that that propensity, defined by Marx as ’the synthesis of contradictions present in the mode of production of capital’, triggered a first wave of “Marxist catastrophism” already during the nineties of the nineteenth century, and the Italian workerist and unionist movement struggled substantially in discrediting that fatal mix of economic determinism, messianic thought and oracular glow. How can a reprise of the concept of that Marxian equation be useful to accelerationism when Italian Marxists and socialists had already overcome it over a hundred years ago? Do we want to go back to the times of the debate pro and against the Marxist axiomatics elaborated by Benedetto Croce for the Pontanian Academy?
:: Dromology Archive 9 :: Hyper-Search and Destroy: Extraction and destruction of Net’s value
“A frightful giant stalks throughout Europe”: it is second for capitalization at the stock exchange among the IT titles – valued 465.5 billion USD at the Nasdaq, behind Apple which was valued 660 billion USD, according to the data of August 2015; second brand in the world for its value – 173.6 billion USD, again behind Apple, according to May 2015 data; most bargained title in the world amounting at 2 billion USD a month according to the December 2014 data. Amazing results for a firm who opened at the stock exchange in 2004 with one share valued 100 USD. After inventing the Pagerank algorithm in 1997, and founding the firm Google in 1998, after few months the founders Page and Brin tried to sell it for 1 million USD, in order to have more time for their studies at university and to then graduate in mathematics at Stanford. Nobody wanted to buy it. In the early months of 1999, Google was offered at the reduced price of 750,000 USD to the main buyer, George Bell, CEO of Excite, one of the big Internet company at the time. George Bell asked himself why buying a company based on a new model of research engine, in a world that already had Altavista, Excite and Yahoo?
Google’s algorithmic machine and cybernetic acceleration
“The hastening that marked the development of technology until the revolution in telecommunications and transports has been overtaken by the cybernetic acceleration, which goes beyond and makes obsolete the concept of movement itself. It is then more appropriate to postulate the idea of a virtual space characterised in its nature by the time of acceleration, a time which does not necessitate of movement but rather manifests itself.”
(Tiziana Villani, Il Tempo della Simulazione, p. 10)
In the sharp critique of algorithmic governance conducted by Pasquinelli, it is possible to spot between the lines the other great danger that humanity is going to face, a disturbing road that leads straight to technological singularity, up to the limit of an erratic alien development of machines with an infinite calculus capacity which in turn accelerate together with other structured systems of machines, whose final users could be human or non-human, as foreseen, in an early stage, by the Internet of things. At the end of the millennium (1999) the first truly post-human corporation appeared: Google. It embodies the new stage of meta-linguistic and meta-mathic capitalism which following the analysis of Guattari, could be seen as the collapse of the anthropological semiotics which developed up to the twentieth century. Thanks to “human knowledge mines” on which its inhuman calculating leverage is based, Google surpasses with mathematical elegance and crystalline firmness any previous axiomatics of social conflict of the nineteenth century. Brin & Co. in fact value at zero both the first line of their workforce, that is the producers of contents in the infosphere, and the raw material of the product, that is the knowledge of the human race, activating what Bernard Stigler calls, referencing Simondon, ‘the new stage of the process of capitalistic transindividualisation’. To think Google, that is the new task! Pasquinelli has already started doing so thanks to his essay on the surplus of the Web (Machine capitalism and the surplus of the Web, 2011) but it is crucial to continue inspect Google now, due to the alien thinking that operates on ‘the process of transindividualisation, that is the way of collectively producing ourselves as subjects’ (Stiegler, 2012). To think Google, according to Stiegler, means ‘to render Google a critical space and not just the target of a critique’. It also entails overtaking Marxist axiomatics, despite their richness, and the conflictual thought of the Industrial age, in order to lay the basis for a thought able in its complexity to take over the algorithm that connects an infinite number of soft machines and millions of clouds. This dawn of a new thinking is the task, the key point of the book The algorithms of capital, and particularly of the most solid essay of the anthology, Machine capitalism and the surplus of the Web (Pasquinelli, 2011). However, in our opinion, the accelerationist momentum, due to single critical elements, makes its trajectory epicyclical in relation to Marxism, considering Marxism itself as a deferential trajectory, which means that, in the face of an apparent present earning, a backward motion will exhaust itself in the future, if the main system of reference of the whole accelerationist thought won’t be adjusted.
:: Dromology Archive 10 :: The future of Communism is Marx or Mach?
The rhetorical and paradoxical question is the following: what if the future of Communism, conceived as the ethical and reformatory nucleus of our society, was Mach’s thought and not the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels as abrasively advocated by its dogmatic preacher, that is, Lenin? Hence, what if the future of the critique to algorithmic surplus lay in the past or at least in the critical reconsideration of the speculative fundamentals of socialism? These questions are less abnormal than what they may seem at first sight, if we consider that Lenin sent Materialism and Empirio-criticism to the printers in 1909. That is a pamphlet which, in line with the worst Communist tradition, was used as an instrument to struck a political target, instead of being a theoretical book polemical towards materialist and antagonistic politics. The chief aim for Lenin – the text had been instigated and suggested by Plechanov, an orthodox Marxist as well as scholar of Engels – was to denigrate and intellectually destroy Alexander Bogdanov. He was a philosopher and a scientist, the main leader of Russian Bolsheviks after the failed revolution of 1905, as well as supporter of a form of materialism profoundly in debt with the theories of the Austrian scientist and physicist Ernst Mach, the theorist and scholar of the speed of propagation of a sound in the air and in fluids. Lenin stigmatized the ‘empirio-critical’ theories for being too reactionary, and for a certain transitive property of insult, the Marxist-Machist Bogdanov found himself to be labelled as the reincarnated quintessence of the reactionary thinker, when on the contrary the Bogdanovist wing of the party was the most leftist one. In a recent superb publication entitled Molecular Red (Verso, 2015) by McKenzie-Wark, the New York-based intellectual retraces in details the relationship between Lenin and Bogdanov in light of their 1908-1909 political, economic and philosophical controversy. The Leninist methods, sadly renown in all their theoretical, organizational and historical aspects, have then greatly contributed towards the tragedy of ‘real socialism’ and towards undermining forever the historic opportunity to achieve a Soviet revolutionary power, less militarized and less totalitarian. Nowadays, all that is left from Leninism is nothing but ruins; the last thing that can be done is to recall Mach and Bogdanov and what is left of Marx. Therefore Molecular Red is necessary because it presents again and contextualizes on the global stage of ideas, and thus of politics, exactly the character and the intellectual stature of Bogdanov, Platonov and of the Prolekult movement.
From red wealth to the red “stack”: a proposition for a new balance of powers.
We are approaching the end of this analysis of the brilliant anthology The algorithms of capital, which we regard as the most advanced text in Italy on the topics discussed here. Inside it we have found important and necessary considerations, extremely actual, but sometimes combined with extremely old passages – we apologise to the authors for our bluntness. Sometimes the new makes its way even with such methods: the acceleration – or in Deleuze’s terms the “escape line” – ballasts itself with the archaic or the neo-primitive and perhaps it would be odd to find the ‘newest’ already pack and ready for use. In time being for sure the accelerationist thinkers will refine and develop their own thought paths. We finally need to make some additions concerning single essays present in the book. The first is related to ‘Red Plenty Platforms’ by an author, Nick Dyer-Witheford, who we have been appreciating for some time and of whom we would like to signal the recent publication of Cyber-proletariat (Pluto Press, 2015). In ‘Platforms for a red wealth’ the author explores the famous Chilean experiment ‘Cybersyn’, conducted at the time of Salvador Allende and conceived as a way to cybernetically optimize the socialist planning, intersecting it, with the usual virtuosity, with the sci-fi of Francis Spufford in Red Plenty. The main theme of the essay could be ‘calculous and Communism’: Dyer-Witheford skilfully combines Soviet cybernetics with the Marx of the Grundrisse, the catallaxy of the liberal economist Frederick Hayek and the theorists of the computerised economic planning, in an evocative and pleasant ride which stimulates both a political reading and a philosophic reflection. The second essay that we would like to signal is by the German Mercedes Bunz, ‘How the Automation of Knowledge Changes Skilled Work”. It is a text less linked to post-workerist thought and closer to the area of the automation of knowledge in the factories of wisdom. Nowadays, according to Mercedes Bunz, Western universities have structured themselves as ‘knowledge industries’ in which experts – or the new class of educated people – are losing their privileged expertize to a new copious knowledge well distributed in the social pattern. The overload of information, Internet and the new soft machines, digitalised knowledge, algorithms and apps, all of them place the role of the expert – and hence the role of intellectuals and of academic scientific specialists– under attack, externalising so their specific competence. Bunz argues in her essay for radical change in the way we approach technology, through an alliance between algorithmic intelligence and operative humanism inspired to Simondon’s philosophy, author who is becoming increasingly central for such analyses. At last, we signal the work of Tiziana Terranova, an Italian philosopher of the latest generation, skillful examiner of the digital world and of its most heterodox practices since the nineties. Her essay ‘Red Stack Attack’ is, starting from the title, a sort of propositional and combative response to the famous essay by Benjamin Bratton ‘The Black Stack’ (e-Flux, 2014) in which the American theorist investigates the normative status of those ‘unexpected’ mega-structures of the present global system of calculous. Terranova, in fact, regards her essay as the result of a social wisdom built within and by the Net, whose analysis’ cornerstone is the relationship between capitalism and algorithms. Hence, the algorithm is seen from a political, economical and financial point of view; she deals with topics like Bitcoin and other cripto-currencies, interfaces between individual, data and cloud, the algorithm as ‘fixed capital’, and the absorption of the excesses in wealth and power in the productive cycle of capital. Compared to other post-workerist thinkers, Terranova shows and structures a kind of wisdom that is more prominent in the digital world and the network cultures, which allows her to leave an evident expositional and intellectual mannerism, peculiar to other authors of that circle, and makes her text the most advanced in terms of underway considerations between potential and criticality of the algorithmic reason.
:: Dromology Archive 11 :: Leibniz’s silence at 7:00 PM
“…quando orientur controversiae, non magis disputatione opus erit inter duos philosophus, quam inter duos computistas. Sufficiet enim calamos in manus sumere sedereque ad abacos, et sibi mutuo (accito si placet amico) dicere: calculemus”
“[...] if controversies were to arise, there would be no more need of disputation between two philosophers than between two calculators. For it would suffice for them to take their pencils in their hands and to sit down at the abacus, and say to each other (and if they so wish also to a friend called to help): Let us calculate.”
(Leibniz, Logical Papers,  1962, p. 237)
Final Cut: Calculemus!
We would like to end this quasi-review on a cheerful note borrowed from the Logical Papers by Leibniz. In this vexata quaestio, the last word paradoxically belongs to the number and to the action that mostly adheres to reality, calculous. Actualising the image, to this virtual table, in a scattered and anachronic temporal sequence, we would like to see convened and sat a greater number of friends of Accelarationism. Together with Leibniz, we would summon Marx, as well as Deleuze and Bogdanov, and certainly Mach and Al Khwarizmi. To each one of them we would assign a pocket calculator capable of working at exponential time. Then, as impartial judges, we would invite all the authors of the anthology The Algorithms of Capital. And Pasquinelli, master of ceremonies in front of such comrades, ready to settle all mounting controversies, would peremptorily command with a neat gesture and a febrile look: Let’s calculate!
Obsolete Capitalism, agosto 2015
by Obsolete Capitalism
Between revolution and Al-Khwarizmi
by Algorithmic Committee (for Decomputation)
Dromology, Bolidism and Marxist Accelerationism
Fragments of communism between al-Khwarizmi and Mach 15
by Obsolete Capitalism
Between revolution and Al-Khwarizmi
by Algorithmic Committee (for Decomputation)
Dromology, bolidism and Marxist accelerationism, an odd text by Obsolete Capitalism written in the summer of 2015, represents the first endeavor in the speculative philosophical sphere known by the equally eccentric name of “accelerationism”. The main source of the book is Matteo Pasquinelli’s Algoritmi del Capitale (Ombre Corte, 2014), followed by other texts of contemporary authors such as Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark. However, Obsolete Capitalism has always rejected the label of “review”. In fact, they do not accept the triptych composed of the power figure of the critic, of the role that culture and philosophy assign to critique, and of the dapper halo of the know-it-all reader. As a result, the text is closer to Paul Klee’s semi-automatic rickety appliance, that is, the notorious Twittering machine, or to the saturated distortions and the soft entropy of A.R. Kane’s “suicidal kiss” in 69, rather than to a quasi-essay able to introduce itself in the national and international debate on accelerationism. The matter is that Obsolete Capitalism did not and still does not identify itself in any nineteenth-century political classification bestowed on the multiple trends of this movement. Accelerationist thought, be that political or philosophical, does not exhaust itself in the philosophy of Nick Land or Nick Srnicek, among others. The core feature was, and still is, to refuse any form of identification, that is, it is necessary to perpetually trans-identify oneself, and question each model – be that the closest or the most distant one – in order to open spaces for experimentation and caosmosis, that is, for the unthinkable. The text is divided in two parts which ought to be read in such sense: the “dromologic archives” are an early but inevitable attempt to institute, in the name of Paul Virilio, a kind of Encyclopedia of the World of Speed and Acceleration, although the two terms are not synonyms. The accelerationist paragraphs, which in some way are asymmetrical to the “dromologic archives”, appear as counterpoints to speculative Marxist and workerist thought embodied by authors like Pasquinelli, Terranova, Srnicek, Williams and McKenzie-Wark. To sum up, we find the theme that Obsolete Capitalism points at, among the ghosts of Revolution and Al-Khwarizmi, to be the following: the danger, which Marxist accelerationism runs without any understanding of the power of the becoming, is that of going back with adrenaline enthusiasm over the same routes already explored by Marxist catastrophism, or, on the contrary, that of reviving the ghost of the Nation through modernist and technologically-computed idealizations which found their own success – once again – on the asphyxiating embrace of the Exploded Good of the State.
Dromology, Bolidism and Marxist Accelerationism
Fragments of communism between al-Khwarizmi and Mach
I’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes to be assigned on a mission by the FBI! What the hell is happening to this fucking world? I’m restless!!!’ – ‘And you’re not happy? We have been married for just twenty minutes!’
Stefano Tamburini - Snake Agent
‘Surely there is very real and very convincing data that the planet cannot survive the excesses of the human race: proliferation of atomic devices, uncontrolled breeding habits, the rape of the environment, the pollution of land, sea, and air. In this context, isn’t it obvious that ‘Chicken Little’ represents the sane vision and that Homo Sapiens’ motto ‘Let’s go shopping!’ is the cry out of the true lunatic?’
(Dr. Peters’ Monologue-Twelve Monkeys-Terry Gilliam)
"Philosophy does not travel fast’
(Gilles Deleuze – Nietzsche and Philosophy)
Matteo Pasquinelli is a young cosmopolitan philosopher who is creating an excellent and original theoretical-speculative path across Berlin, London and Amsterdam. He is one of the leaders of the international ‘accelerationist’ philosophical movement as well as one of the innovative thinker of the political and intellectual post-workerist circle. For Ombre Corte publisher he has edited an important anthology, The Algorithms of Capital, which cogently gathers the state of the art not just of ‘accelerationist’ theory – of which it includes the famous #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics written in 2013 by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams – but also of all the research made on the theme of ‘algorithms and capital,’ moving further the well-known Nitzschean arrow of philosophical enquiry. Critical Theory has been interrogating itself for a long time about the relationship between the present modes of production and the ‘soft machine’ component – the algorithm – which grants neo-liberal governance with the ability to fulfill its effort to dominate the whole ‘State-World,’ since, as Wittgenstein argued, ‘the world is everything that is the case’. In order to have a more complete view of the philosophical dispute underway, this anthology should be read together with the coeval collection by Robert Mackay and Armen Avanessian, #Accelerate# (Urbanomic Media, 2014), with which it shares some essays, as well as with the book by Benjamin Noys Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capital (Zero Books, 2014). This last volume presents itself as a constructive and very coherent critique from the left to the accelerationist movement, written by the same man who in 2010 created its name, taking it from a sci-fi story by Roger Zelazny, Lord of the Light (1967). The anthology is divided into three different sections: the first and most political one is dedicated to the theme Acceleration and Crisis, the second and more theoretical one to the topic of algorithmic abstraction, while the third and last one – the weakest, which will later acquire a ‘positional significance’ in the Italian setting – inquires the autonomy of the Common, and introduces these themes in the internal debate of the Italian post-workerist thought. Last introductory note: Pasquinelli and Avanessian have organised the event entitled Accelerationism. A Symposium of Tendencies in Capitalism which took place in Berlin on 14th December 2013.
:: Dromology Archive 1 :: Bolidism and vertical dromologies
Andy Green is the English pilot who drives faster than the speed of sound. In 1997 Green established in the Nevada desert the speed world record, 1,228 kilometres per hour – Mach 1.016 – with the supersonic car ThrustSSC, becoming the first man overcoming the sound barrier at ground level. In summer 2015, in South Africa, he will attempt to exceed the 1600 km/h limit behind the wheel of a new supersonic vehicle, the Bloodhound SSC. He has declared: ‘It should be easy leaving aside the heat, the noise, gravity and the skid of the car’. Such a declaration, and such a character, would have made J.G. Ballard happy, he too an RAF pilot like Green. It should be remembered that the first officially registered speed record of a car was established in 1898. The pilot was the French Chasseloup-Laubat, and the car – an electric one! – reached the speed of 63,14 km/h. But just one year later, in 1899, the jet-car ‘La jamais contente’ thrashed the 100 km/h barrier; indeed, the Belgian pilot Jenatzy pushed it at 105.88 km/h. Nowadays that primordial speed of 63 km/h is reached by the elevators of the Shanghai Tower, 632 metres high, the second world highest building – the inauguration is planned for December 2015. From level B2 the ‘high-speed elevators’ will reach level 119 in 55 seconds with a maximum speed of 64.8 km/h
Feasible futures: inadequacy of leftist movements’ political common sense.
Pasquinelli and the authors of the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, have a primary political aim, healthy for the whole society. That is, regaining control over the future, or, more precisely, over the elaboration of a new idea of future which must not have anything in common neither with the idea propositioned by the present political situation – first of all, austerity, together with the correlated mantra of a permanent crisis of western political, economic and social institutions – nor with the predominant alternatives suggested by the left, moderate or radical. In fact, among the many feasible futures, the future of the left deserves a distinct analysis. A good part of the perspectives of those who criticise from the left the present unwanted political order still hold in their political DNA two fundamental elements that accelerationism strongly and contentiously condemned: technophobia and folk politics. According to Williams and Srnicek, folk politics refers to ‘’the political common sense of leftist movements, as it has developed historically and collectively’’ (Srnicek, Folk Politics and the future of the Left, 2014). In other words, it refers to the residual struggles of such localism founded on a horizontal anti-capitalism which originates from the so-called ‘happy de-growths’ – an intellectual position formulated in the West by Serge Latouche and Mauro Bonaiuti – and ends with the ecologist, anarchic and anti-modernist movements such as the No-Tav one, passing by timeworn unionism, Marxist and not, which borders on neo-corporatism or operates only on strictly local dimensions. The accelerationist critique is not based on a frontal contraposition with, or on rejection of, these forces, but rather on the well-founded idea that, in order to build a new winning socialist perspective, it is necessary to drastically change strategy. It is the way of resisting and fighting that must be changed. It is important to challenge the State-World in its own field of action, that is global. To avoid instead is the logic of a frontal clash with Mondialism, as it happened with the fighting front that originated from Genoa 2001. The incidental and prospective problem of political fighting was and is a problem of scale.
:: Dromology Archive 2 :: The PartiRank of the Circle
’Mae looked at the time. It was six o’clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending four zings and thirty-two comments and eighty-eight smiles. In an hour, her PartiRank rose to 7,288. Breaking 7,000 was more difficult, but by eight o’clock, after joining and posting in eleven discussion groups, sending another twelve zings, one of them rated in the top 5,000 globally for that hour, and signing up for sixty-seven more feeds, she’d done it. She was at 6,872, and turned to her InnerCircle social feed. She was a few hundred posts behind, and she made her way through, replying to seventy or so messages, RSVP’ing to eleven events on campus, signing nine petitions, and providing comments and constructive criticism on four products currently in beta. By 10:16 her rank was 5,342, and again, the plateau – this time at 5,000 – was hard to overcome.’’
(Dave Eggers, The Circle, 2014)
Feasible futures: a challenge to the monopoly on the techno-scientific revolution.
The idea of future that the young accelerationist thinkers offer us revolves around the global challenge to capitalism, and more precisely around the idea that the connections between capitalism and technological progress could transmute from the present divergent concurrence to a more dynamic and perpetual division. Contrarily to those who believe the present technological development to have been caused by and to even be embodied in those dynamics initiated by capitalism, Pasquinelli and the other authors – deriving this critical position from Marx’s Grundrisse – argue that techno-science has its own independence, and that in the future it could potentially be separated from the researches labs of the industrial sector and from the educational institutions financed by neo- laissez-faire entities. This ‘accelerationist’ position has been itself accused by several parties and by arrogant critics of crisis-theory accidentalism, late positivism, neo-Prometheanism and techno-fetishist apologetic; some of them even charged the young philosophers of having just updated Lenin’s old slogan, ‘soviet + electricity’, to a more fascinating ‘soviet + cybernetic’. Beyond incidental disputes, it must be acknowledged that the accelerationist challenge is ambitious, well supported and provided with remarkable intellectual and tactic depth. Thanks to the novel impulse given by accelerationism, the left recovers a minimum margin for political manoeuvre and intellectual self-righteousness which allow to throw down the gauntlet on the same symbolic field of capital, that is, technologic competition. Will these young intellectuals be able to live up to the task that they have set for themselves?
:: Dromology Archive 3 :: negative and positive accelerations. How much acceleration can a body gain?
What can a body do? This is the chief question for Spinoza. Hence, talking about Bolidism, the query could be turned into ‘What can a body endure in terms of acceleration?’ The speed record on track from the blocks, 9’58’’ (Berlin 2009) belongs notoriously to Usain Bolt: the average speed on the overall distance being 37.578km/h, with the latter 50m run at more than 41km/h and a peak of 44km/h. At the dawn of Olympic competitions, in 1912 in Stockholm, the American runner Donald Lippincott ran 100m in 10’’6’, the first world record registered by the IAAF. The average speed was 33.9km/h. However, if we absolutize the speed and we go outside the tartan track, then the highest speed record ascribable to a human being is that of Felix Baumgartner: once launched in the atmosphere at a height of 38,969m thanks to an aerostat, he reached the speed of 1,357km/h (Mach 1.24) on the 14th October 2012. The human body though does not suffer speed itself, but rather acceleration. In rectilinear motion and at constant speed, the stress on the human organism is very limited. Nevertheless, it is sufficient a sudden change of direction to sum centrifugal forces to the body weight. In order to correct for these implications, physiology has studied negative (feet-head) and positive (head-feet) accelerations. The human body in an upright position can bear positive accelerations up to 9g, that is nine times the acceleration of gravity, while for negative accelerations it can be pushed only to -3g due to the blood flow to the brain which produces loss of consciousness. The accelerations are measured in ‘g’, namely the number of times our body weight is augmented by acceleration. At 1g our body weight remains the same; at 9g it will become 720kg assuming it was 80kg at 1g. Modern fighter jets, such as the Eurofighters, the F18 and F22, can reach accelerations up to a 9g/-5g ratio. Still up in the air, under certain conditions, they can exceed the 10g instantaneous, which can only last few seconds in order to avoid the death for cerebral hypoxia of the pilots, who anyway wear anti-g suits. At a positive acceleration of 10g we also encounter the hyperbolic ‘Euthanasia Coaster’ of the Lithuanian engineer Urbonas, which explicates this short essay.
Feasible futures: the collapse of capital.
If capitalism collapses, how is it possible to stop the erratic course of the ‘immense machine’? To this end, let us consider what Deleuze and Guattari say in the notorious passage of their Anti-Oedipus (1972) with regards to the ways of contrasting the triumphant capitalist society: “So what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path? […] To withdraw from the world market […]? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? […] Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.” Pasquinelli and the accelerationists are those philosophical investors who literally want to go further, to ‘see’ – that is, to think – how the ‘uncontrollable flows’ would behave once they were freed from the earning imperative, from the logic of profit and from the allocation based exclusively on income. “The social axiomatic of modern societies is caught between two poles, and is constantly oscillating from one pole to the other. […] [Modern societies] are torn in two directions: archaism and futurism, neoarchaism and ex-futurism, paranoia and schizophrenia.” (AE, 260) Alternatively, in the language of Srnicek and Williams, the choice is between globalized post-capitalism and a slow fragmentation sliding towards primitivism. The authors of The Algorithms of Capital have already isolated the response to the vectorial question of the two post-structuralist philosophers: capitalism is not creative destruction but rather destructive destruction. Thus the accelerationists have chosen the militant option ‘to go in the opposite direction’: to accelerate the process along its lines of decoding and deterritorialization. Although the individual positions of philosophers who ascribe themselves to accelerationism can vary and express different nuances on the matter, such acceleration is necessary for capitalism to collapse, because its intimately destructive nature sooner or later will cause its auto-consumption. Indeed, we are already one step away from the disintegrating cataclysm, as anticipated by the collapse of the planet’s climatic system and by the crisis of the dominant financial and economic paradigm; according to Srnicek and Williams a ‘panorama of apocalypses’ has developed all around us, one which present politics is not able to govern anymore. The paroxysmal metabolism of capital, which combines perpetual growth with a swirling technological evolution, has reached the end of the line. The collapse is imminent. In other words, using Prigogine’s terminology, the system entropy of the vast machine has reached its maximum level; we are close to the firewall. The planet necessitates a different navigational acceleration able to disclose new horizons of possibility. This means, according to Srnicek and Williams, that a different political project, distinct from market economics, has to take over the procedures of decoding and deterritorialization of the system. It is urgent and imperative to separate two distinctive trajectories: the one belonging to the capitalistic system, and the one belonging to the techno-scientific evolution.
:: Dromology Archive 4 :: The accelerationist century par excellence: the XVI century of the Renaissance
Tommaso Campanella in 1602 wrote the famous utopian book The City of the Sun, which includes this significant passage:
‘Oh, if you knew what our astrologers say of the coming age, and of our age, that has in it more history within 100 years than all the world had in 4,000 years before! of the wonderful inventions of printing and guns, and the use of the magnet, and how it all comes of Mercury, Mars, the Moon, and the Scorpion!’
There is no doubt that between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe there was a great number of technical, scientific and theoretical processes under development. These were all interrelated in a continuous progression, and, as a result, they sparked the dream of a “common Whole”, that is, that “Union of the World” which Campanella retraced in the “great signs”, namely the great discoveries of the sixteenth century: the magnet, thus Science, prints, thus Wisdom, the gun, thus War. But the opus of the Italian philosopher highlights some additional topics on which it is worth to focus our attention: the relationship between utopic-political thought and scientific discoveries, between the psycho-rational and the “mechanic” revolutions, and between the future world structure and the contingent social one. The proximity between “Union of the World”, techno-scientific development and temporal materialistic compression that Campanella so well described, triggers some considerations: 1) an absolute acceleration does not exist, each age has its own acceleration; 2) in the secularized force field there is nothing more than a chaotic convergence of a bunch of accelerated tendencies which intertwine themselves with other average environmental speeds; 3) in the accelerated process of material forces – to which any cyclical or linear hypotheses are not to attributed – each “negative” resistance is expelled by the progressive momentum itself, because it bears a centrifugal power which ousts any inorganic element. Following these assumptions, we ought to distinguish between relative and absolute accelerations, between intra-generational and intergenerational accelerations, between average long-lasting speeds and sudden accelerations of contingent moments, and finally between organic and inorganic elements of an acceleration. Alternatively, we could imagine, radically changing the techno-political perspective, the distinction between catechontic forces and revolutionary pressures. We would then need to analyse historical periods, archaeologies of knowledge, cartographies of power and future virtualities using appropriate Physics and Mechanics. The moment has come for politics and philosophy, as well as physics and cybernetics, to elaborate a new shared vision and to stipulate a new alliance.
Dromology, hence Logic of Speed.
A first necessary task could be the following: to build an appropriate lexicon and a shared dictionary of political and philosophical concepts drawn from the collective analyses of those who ascribe themselves to the accelerationist thinking circle. If this circle was concentrating itself on the founding principles and concepts of physics, mathematics and cybernetics, developing and articulating them in accordance with the political contingencies determined by the algorithmic governance of market economics and by the overbearing technological development, the understanding of space, time, singularity, community and the laws of politics would all result deeply renewed, exactly as it happened, for example, with the meditations by European philosophers of the XIII and XIV century like Nicola Oresme, Giovanni Buridano, Richard Swineshead and Thomas Bradwardine. In particular, the so-called “Mertonian” school distinguished itself by elaborating very advanced analyses and concepts, concerning the language of limits, infinity, continuum, increase and decrease. This step would actually consist, following that noble propensity to analyse and research embodied by the “Mertonians” and by the “New Physics” of the fourteenth century, in giving political and philosophical consistency to these new speculative areas linked to material force fields and ultimately in designing the outline of a new ontology for the de-fastest me. To this end, we could adopt, expand and twist the definition of Dromology by Paul Virilio. Dromology is a neo-science which – according to the theories of the French town planner – focuses itself on the “logic of speed”. Additionally, embracing the advice that Antonio Negri gives in his essay Reflections on “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, we ought to draw a political distinction between “speed” and “acceleration”, that is, between the ‘experimental process of discovery and creation within the space of possibilities determined by capitalism itself’, and speed conceived as “pure” intensive quantity, intrinsic to any power endeavor. On the contrary, Virilio, being a great catastrophist, views the irrational speed of capital together with the intrinsic characteristics appended by the concepts of Accident and Catastrophe. Namely, the interruption of the whirling speed of capital, or of the World-State, occurs through that sudden and violent crisis embodied by the Crash, the Collapse, the Cataclysm, the Exceptional Event, which is already assimilated into the automation and into the algorithmic governance. It could be termed “technological fatalism”, quite dissimilar from the Marxian epistemic economic determinism that we will examine further on. Anyway, nothing seems able to stop the entropic process of capital. It could be argued that its destructive character is one of the poles of capital’s existence, it could be called Mad-Max pole, which would bring us back to the catastrophism under-cover of the accelerationists, and to their will to palingenetic drive. Forgers of ultra-fast photonic processes able to break the sound barrier.
:: Dromology Archive 5 :: Shock wave and sonic boom
In 1864 the German physicist August Töpler was the first scientist able to visualize shock waves. These are acoustic waves which consist in actual physical energy, they propagate themselves in the tridimensional space and are generated when matter is subjected to an extremely rapid compression. When supersonic airplanes shoot themselves at speeds higher than the speed of sound (1,237.68 km/h - Mach 1), shock waves trigger a sound induced by the so-called ‘Mach cone’. Hence, the sonic boom can be defined as a unitary shock wave that travels at a critical speed >Mach 1: the singular bystander is not reached by the deafening boom until the shock wave surpasses his location. The power of the shock wave is determined by the quantity of air that gets accelerated and by the shape and size of the aircraft. The perception of a double sonic boom (as indeed there are two sonic reverberations determined in rapid sequence by the compression and the release of pressure) depends on the distance between the single bystander and the plane that breaks the sound barrier. The first aircraft to overcome the sound barrier, Mach 1, in level flight was the jet plane Bell XS-1 piloted by the American aviator Charles Yeager the 14 October 1947. However, in 1953 another American aviator, Albert Scott Crossfield, flew at an average speed higher than Mach 2. The 7 March 2004 the supersonic plane Boeing X-43A reached the speed of 6.83 Mach. The apex though was achieved later on, when on 16th November 2004, the same technological demonstrator came close to the speed of 10 Mach (M 9.68 at a height of 34,000 m). Within the secret military project Hyper-X run by the US Air Force, the experimental aircraft Boeing X-43D is programmed to reach the speed of Mach 15. Thus, it is with great admiration that we think back to the first flight made by the Wright Flyer of the American Wright brothers the 17 December 1903: an engine with the force of 12 horsepower and the highest speed reached 48 km/h …
Beyond the elaboration of grief: cyber-Marx and alien thought
The anthology The algorithms of capital positions itself, with its recurring mentions of Marx, in the contemporary debate about the philosophical present-day importance of Marxism, about its immediate potential employability in the political arena and about its inexhaustible value as unavoidable classic of critical thought. We could define the work of Pasquinelli as a completely legitimate act of both speculative will and political militancy. Indeed, his anthology presents a variation of accelerationism which could be defined as ‘Marxist-post-workerist’, descending from the most visionary Italian heretical-Marxist thought, and operating in this sense on three different fronts.
1) Inheritance – The first front is oriented both towards the inside and the outside of the Italian intellectual context, in order to reiterate once more how important, original and irreproachable is the inheritance of the post-1945 Italian Marxist political and philosophical tradition, including the more heterodox one, by shedding light on how much workerist and post-workerist legacy is present in the most recent accounts of English left accelerationism
2) Enhancement – The second front is concerned with transferring and spreading accelerationist theories outside the English context, avoiding in such a way their segregation in restricted academic and intellectual circles in London, in order to build vice-versa a powerful analytical instrument provided, at least but not only, with a European afflatus. Thus, the political and philosophical debate would avoid to resolve itself between those in favour and against Nick Land’s theses, the most important thinker of the first accelerationist wave of the nineties.
3) Graft – the third front regards the introduction in Italy of the present European accelerationist political and philosophical debate, grafting and welding it in the debate of the Italian Left, and not only in its Marxist component.
Nonetheless, nowadays Marx is, using a euphemism, politically convalescent. As Derrida argued, between 1989 and 1991 Marx was credited with a triple loss: The Soviet Union, Communism and Marxism. The accelerated elaboration of this Marxist loss by Pasquinelli and the other authors gathered in the anthology shapes instead an extremely dynamic and evocative capability of his thought: a cybernetic Marx, and not only ‘industrialist’. Is this the only possible Marx nowadays, at the dawn of the twenty-first century?
On Hiroki Azuma
Rei smile (evangelion.wikia.com)
I started going to Tokyo some time in the 80s. I had access to an apartment in good location, thanks to someone who would later become rather powerful in the media world, whose name I hesitate to mention. Since my host was a workaholic, I was left to my own devices.
Tokyo was a real metropolis centuries before any European city got much beyond the small town stage. By the 80s it had a heavy overlay of pervasive media culture, of a kind that would not happen anywhere else for decades. The contemporary media-urban landscape was born here. Not speaking the language, I learned what I could by walking the city, in the company of foreigners who made a living by teaching English to bored housewives, or by wrestling naked in milk.
What prompted me to go there was the video art of Peter Callas, who worked in Tokyo for a time. That and Chris Marker’s essay-film Sunless. But it was hard to find much to read about this postmodern, mediated Tokyo. You could see classic modern Japanese art cinema and read some high points of its literature, but the transformation of everyday life was not much documented for foreign readers.
Akira Asada had published a surprise bestseller in 1983 called Structure and Power, which introduced French theory to a Japanese readership, and which offered the tools for analyzing what was happening. Fragments of his work appeared in translation in various European languages in all sorts of avant-garde magazines.
In Japan itself it seemed as if theory had been absorbed the same way Japanese media culture absorbed everything else – by turning it into a spectacular subcultural style. But unfortunately there was very little interest in Japan’s ‘New Academicism’ in the west. Which was a shame. If we had paid attention to Japan in the eighties we might not have been so surprised by things that happened in the west twenty years later.
All this is by way of explaining my amateur interest in Japanese media culture and Japanese theory. I think it should be a bigger part of the global conversation. Fortunately, there is now a small band of scholars and translators generating new material to help facilitate that. (Check out he Mechamedia journal). Unfortunately, Japan may also be ahead of the United States in the plan to abolish the study of the humanities in the university, so time may be running out.
This brings me to the work of Hiroki Azuma, two of whose books are available in English. Born in 1971, he is of a younger generation to Asada (b. 1957) and Kojin Karatani (b. 1941), whose major works are now being translated. Azuma’s work first received attention in 1993 a journal those two more senior theorists edited, back when New Academicism was still in full swing.
As Asada said when he introduced Azuma in 1998: “Azuma’s future will prove that his ‘otaku philosophy’ is not at all the same thing as an ‘otaku of philosophy.’” This bears at least a couple of comments. An otaku is usually a young man with an obsessive interest, sometimes in anime or manga, but sometimes in other things. It was a phenomena about which there was a moral panic in Japan in the early eighties, but it is by no means restricted to Japanese culture. Indeed, there seems to no shortage of theory-otaku around these days, who know everything about it as consumers and curate their collections of it on blogs.
Asada put his finger on something profound, even if in a throw-away line, in proposing a possible path from the obsessive cultivating of theory as media to coming up with a theory native to this culture and this mode of its communication. Although Asada had shown upon our radar, and even Azuma, those of us trying to do netkritik in the 90s on listservs like nettime.org (or as blog theory a bit later) did not know much about this parallel development in Japan.
Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (Minnesota 2009) is a translation of a book by Azuma from 2001. It is different from the New Academicism of Asada in fully inhabiting a pop media universe without ironic detachment. It translates theory into the media rather than vice versa. Thanks to another great interview by Krystian Woznicki, nettime.org readers got a taste of Azuma’s work in the late 90s, but only a taste. Fortunately Azuma himself is having his recent work from his own journal Genron translated.
Like Francis Fukuyama’s End of History (1992), and Asada’s essay on ‘Infantile Capitalism’, its point of departure is Alexandre Kojève’s Marxist-Hegelian philosophy of history. Where Fukuyama celebrated the end of history as the victory of liberal capitalism, Azuma was rather more interested in the ‘last humans’ obliged to inhabit such a moment.
Kojève had noted in a throw-away footnote that postwar America had actually realized a certain terminus that both Marxist and Soviet thought had long anticipated. All basic needs could immediately be sated, and there was thus nothing to desire and struggle for. At the end of history desire is foreclosed and man reduced to an animal state, for man no longer desires to negate nature and make history.
The exception was postwar Japan. There the ruling class had laid down its arms and devoted itself to cultivating a purely ceremonial and ritual culture, which kept desire alive in form but not in substance. Kojève thought postwar Japan had overcome its militarist interlude by reverting to this ‘snobbish’ practice. The snob keeps desire going, and with it the possibility of being human, through the negation of the world. But the world that was negated was no longer nature and the result was not longer historical action.
Azuma manages to twist this story – well known in Japan since Fukuyama’s famous book – into something else. He notes that Japanese culture had become thoroughly ‘American’, in being a consumer culture of the immediate gratification of needs. The otaku cultures of the 80s and 90s were actually the furthest shores of it. Rather than pathologize otaku, Azuma treats them as an contemporary aesthetic practice, rather like Dick Hebdige’s treatment of British subcultures.
The otaku subculture passes through three stages. The first wave of otaku were born in the early 60s. The emblematic media work for them to obsess over was the tv anime Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), along with b-grade monster and sci-fi movies. The second was, like Azuma, born around 1970 and watched Megazone 23 (1985). The third were born around 1980 and for them the emblematic work is the tv anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), along with mysteries and computer games.
Some, such as the famous ‘superflat’ visual artist Takahashi Murakami thinks of otaku as connected to Edo era Japanese woodblock print art, with its supposedly unique approach to derivative works, where artists recycle motifs from each other. But for Azuma, otaku is a product of a transnational postmodernism.
Its origins are in cultural forms imported from the United States after the war. “The history of otaku culture is one of adaptation – of how to ‘domesticate’ American culture… Otaku may very well be heirs to Edo culture, but the two are by no means connected by a continuous line. Between the otaku and Japan lies the United States.” (11)
A key example is animation, borrowed as a technology from the United States after the war. One strand of it developed Disney and Looney Tunes character animation, which would result in the masterpieces of Hayao Miyzaki. The other developed limited animation, a cheaper method more suited to the small budgets of television. A classic early instance is Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy, although as a little kid I preferred Prince Planet.
Whereas in the United States only character animation was really developed to a high level, in Japan limited animation became something of an art-form, particularly in Mobile Suit Gundam, a TV show with no parallels in American models. But for Azuma this is an instance of a hybrid rather than a purely Japanese cultural form.
Postwar Japanese culture was obsessed with Japanese-ness because of a lack of continuity. “Lurking at the foundations of otaku culture is the complex yearning to produce a pseudo-Japan.” (13) This took a strange turn in the 80s, and accounts for the globally unique popularity of postmodern theory in Japan under the banner of New Academicism. The idea was that since Japan had never quite managed to be a proper modern society, it could get a jump-start on being a postmodern one. “Whereas modernity equals the West, postmodernity equals Japan.” (17)
As I remember well, there was a certain charm about Japanese cultural confidence in the 80s, but a certain willful blindness as well. As Azuma notes, celebrating an obscure footnote from Kojeve fit into this quite nicely. “Nothing better expresses the reality of Japanese postmodernists’ desires than this choice.” (18) It was a way of forgetting the recent past and celebrating the present and future, at least until the economic bubble burst.
In the anime Megazone 23 (1985) by Noboru Ishiguro, 1980s Tokyo turns out to be a computer simulated world created on a futuristic spaceship. Azuma: “Japan in the 1980s was entirely a fiction. Yet this fiction, while it lasted, was comfortable to dwell in.” (19) Until the economic bubble burst, at least. But for otaku the simulated, CGI Japan kept on going.
The preferred worlds to simulate were either sci-fi or Edo period Japan, as if the two breaks of the Meiji restoration (1868) and the occupation (1945) had not happened. Azuma links simulation to the practice of détournement or the fan-based making of derivative works, which ‘official’ products then borrow from in turn: “the products of otaku culture are born into a chain of infinite imitations and piracy.” (26) Simulacra thus float free from both the notion of an historical time and from the authoring of original works.
Azuma sees otaku cultural practice as a response to what Jean-François Lyotard called the decline in grand narratives, which is perhaps not unrelated to what Jodi Dean and other Lacanians call the decline in symbolic efficiency. In the Lyotard version, there’s a loss of faith in an underlying story of historical time, particularly its Marxist form, but perhaps also liberal-capitalist grand narratives of progress tied to reason, technology, peaceful trade and consumer comfort.
For Azuma this decline in grand narratives is connected to loss of prestige of paternal and national authority. There is neither a big picture story or authorized story-teller. Kinji Fukasaku’s film Battle Royale (2000), in which the state compels the seniors of the most troublesome school to kill each other might stand as an emblem of that loss.
Otaku refer to themselves as otaku, a word related to home and family – perhaps meaning something like ‘homeboy’. With their libraries of magazines and anime and figurines, they create a carapace in which to live. Azuma: “we can view otaku’s neurotic construction of ‘shells of themselves’ out of materials from junk subcultures as a behavior pattern that arose to fill the void from the loss of grand narrative.” (28)
Azuma proceeds by asking: what kind of culture can be made out of simulacra, and for what kinds of human, or maybe post-human life? What is curious about his account is that the decline of grand narratives does not give way to a precession of simulacra, to decoded flows, or to open-ended language games, or to blank-parody – to give the code words for some versions of the postmodern. Rather, what replaces the grand narrative ‘behind’ the text or the screen of the individual work is not an invisible grand narrative, but a database.
Otaku extinguish the grand narrative in stages. The first wave replace the official grand narratives of postwar progress with fictional ones. The second wave care more about the detailed exposition of an alternative universe that all particular works abide by. By the third stage the database itself emerges as the organizing principle behind particular cultural artifacts.
Key to this is the emergence of chara-moé, where moé means the emotional appeal of some point of detail of a character. The word probably comes from one meaning budding or blooming. Where the otaku fans of Mobile Suit Gundam insisted on the stability of the worldview underlying the various anime series and peripheral products, Azuma thinks things are different once we get to Neon Genesis Evangelion, whose fans would rather draw erotic pictures of its heroine Rei Ayanami.
Evangelion is not so much an original as itself already a copy of popular anime elements, “an aggregate of information without a narrative” or a “grand non-narrative.” (38) This results in part from industrial changes. By the 90s, any product can spawn all the others: a series of stickers or a company logo could bloom into a series of manga, TV or film anime, games and more. By now “the narrative is only a surplus item” (41)
One level of fan attention attends to moé-points out of which characters are assembled, such as pointy hair, cat’s ears, glasses, maid costumes, or the flat affect popularized by the Rei Ayanami character in Evangelion. There is even a website – tinami.com – where you can search for characters by specifying which moé-points you like. Characters start to appear with excessive moé-points – bells, cat’s ears antennae hair all on the same character. Attention shifts from the production of narratives or worlds to the production of characters who can appear in various product lines independently of either unifying narrative or world.
One could push back a bit on Azuma’s insistence on a break with the past. In Evangelion, the Rei Ayanami character and others are named after world war II Japanese naval ships. The allegorical may still be with us. But surely one of the struggles in critical thought is to detect the appearance of the new as something other than a binary reversal of the old; or worse, to simply erase novelty as a mere appearance of an underling sameness. Hence I think its worth speculatively pursuing Azuma’s line of thought to see where it goes.
Azuma thinks there’s a new kind of double articulation, of database and simulacra. The latter do not float free but are constrained by the database, and here he differs from much postmodern writing in not seeing the loss of an old cultural architecture as leading to something wild and anarchic. The tension of simulacra versus database replaces that of grand narrative versus allegorical fragment, and hence the world cannot be cognitively mapped in the way that (for instance) Toscano and Kinkle, following Jameson, still seek.
Here we are closer to Alex Galloway’s concept of interface as simulation. “A copy is judged not by its distance from an original but by its distance from the database.” (61) In that sense Walter Benjamin’s contrast of copy and original no longer gives much purchase either. “The surface outer layer of otaku culture is covered with simulacra, or derivative works. But in the deep inner layer lies the database of settings and characters, and further down, the database of moé-elements.” (58)
Gone is the narrative and cinematic passage through the world. (Which was taken to its logical conclusions with the theory and practice of free indirect discourse in Pasolini.) Rather, it’s a matter of the mediation of database and simulacra by search engines and interfaces, which make actual and material the intuition of an earlier phase of otaku culture about the database behind the particular work.
That this is an organized culture is key: “the simulation that are filling up this society have never propagated in a chaotic fashion… their effective functioning is warranted first and foremost by the level of the database.” (60) The author is no longer even a producer of copies. Rather, in place of the creative agency of the author is the permutation of moé-elements.
What becomes, not just of the author, but of the human, after this erasure of the invisible depth behind the work once provided by the grand narrative, whether in the form of the Marxist totality or the completion of enlightenment rationality or post-industrial progress?
Here Azuma returns to Kojève. The human is not human in itself, as the human is merely another animal. What makes us human is the struggle to negate nature and make ourselves something other. History is the struggle to negate both nature and human animal-nature. Azuma does not note the class dimension to this in Kojève, for whom the master is the one who faces the threat of death and forces the other to bow before him. Only the master appears fully human, in forcing the servant back toward nature and animality. The slave fulfills the masters needs, but also the masters desire, which is for the other’s desire, for command over the desire of the slave. We’ll come back to this missing part of Kojève in Azuma later.
The problem with postwar modernity for Kojève is that industrial production fulfills immediate animal needs so completely that it erases the struggle against nature, and even against the human nature of the other that might ground a desire and an act of making history. Kojève made of a tourist’s glimpse of Japan the thought that the Japanese snob-culture found another way out. The snob creates a purely formal game of desire. Seppuku or ritual suicide is then Kojève’s emblem of the snob making a formal distinction between human honor and animal instinct, by overcoming the latter with the former.
Cultural clichés aside, perhaps the otaku reverses the snob’s formal construction of the human with a kind of formal and artificial construction of the animal. The otaku know they are dealing only with simulacra, but the moé-points extracted from the database enable real emotions. These simulacra immediately sate emotional needs, foreclosing the formation of the desire to overcome and negate nature. The post-historical human, or post-human animal, detaches form from content and no longer aims to transform the content, only the form, the simulacra.
Azuma dates postwar culture in three stages: the idealistic age (1945-70), the fictional age (1970-95) and the animal age (1995 onwards). Azuma sees the cynical relation to grand narratives thematized by Zizek and Sloterdjik, or the snob as it appears in Kojeve’s Japanese admirers, as only the second of these stages. The third stage of the otaku no longer needs to maintain a negative relation to grand narratives. They dispense with them in favor of the database. Hence with the otaku the collapse of modernity is complete. If it is an acceleration it is not an acceleration of modernity, but of and as something else.
It is curious that while there are erotic works that appeal to otaku, in Azuma’s account the erotic is subordinated to the emotional. For example, “games produced by Key are designed not to give erotic satisfaction to consumers but to provide an ideal vehicle for otaku to efficiently cry and feel moé, by a thorough combination of the moé-elements popular among otaku.” (78)
Nevertheless there is a tension in otaku needs between small fragments of narrative that deliver emotional pay-offs and the interest in understanding the underlying database. Some would even take something of a hacker approach and extract the content files from the software to make derivative works directly with the game or other content materials.
While needs can thus be sated, desire cannot, as desire is always for Kojève desire for the other’s desire. Here we have something akin to what Bernard Stiegler calls short circuits of subjectivation. For Azuma this also explains the difference between the sometimes rather conservative sexuality of otaku and their tastes for what might otherwise be considered highly fetishistic material. The latter efficiently satiates a genital need disconnected from residual notions of love and sex and desire.
Azuma deflects the idea that otaku behavior is fetishistic, although it is a topic that could do with some elaboration. In the now classic Freudian screen theory popularized by Laura Mulvey, the male gaze partakes in a scopophilic desire to look, but is threatened by the castrating power of the image of the woman. One strategy for containing that threat is fetishism, where the body of the woman is reduced to a fetishistic part. Perhaps Azuma is talking about a second-order development. Having reduced the threatening image of the female body to parts it can then be reconstructed out of the database at will as ensembles of moé-points. The movie Ex Machina (2015) might be the furthest end point of this theme so far.
The old model of grand narrative and allegorical fragment lent itself to a hermeneutic procedure in which the fragment of a particular work could be read as lost or ruined bit of a larger historical time. But perhaps the new model is no longer a depth model. Azuma calls this hyper-flatness. He anticipates Lev Manovich’s insistence on the software layer as a generalized meta-medium. For Azuma, there’s only view control. You can look at the data different ways, but there’s no way to read through the fragment to the underlying truth of the totality to which it belongs, other than as database.
Otaku reading practices can only go sideways, as it were, from one view of the database to another. “All such information is consumed in parallel, as equivalents, as if to open different ‘windows’. So today’s Graphical User Interface, much more than simply a useful invention, is a marvelous apparatus in which the world image of our time is encapsulated.” (104) There’s no path from what is visible on the screen to the actual database, only other ways of representing fragments of its content.
In a later work, Azuma explores the political implications of the database. General Will 2.0: Rousseau, Freud, Google (Vertical Books, 2014) is about a moment after a loss of confidence in political institutions. This book too is a kind of derivate work, détournement or simulacrum, reusing not Kojève in this case but Rousseau’s The Social Contract.
From Rousseau, Azuma cuts the concept of the general will, or popular sovereignty. For Rousseau it is a fictional construct. “He probably never dreamed that it would become possible to see and feel the texture of the ‘general will.’” (7) In political theory, the general will was a symptom of a repressed desire for a non-deliberative form of government. Now it is a latent content beginning to use information as the tech of its material actualization.
In Rousseau’s version the social contract creates the social, and the sovereignty of this sociality is the general will. There is first the social, and then secondly a government. There is a difference between sovereignty and government. The latter is merely the instrument of general will. The social contract thought in this manner does not legitimate any existing government, but rather the possibility of revolution when governments fail the general will.
General will is an ideal construct, perhaps part of a grand narrative, which can generate critical purchase on the corruption of actual governments. But the general will in Rousseau is not public opinion.
Public opinion can be false; the general will is never false. The general will is a shared interest, whereas public opinion is merely a motley of particular interests. Public opinion is the sum of wills; general will is the sum of the difference of wills.
Azuma offers a useful analogy: public opinion is scalar, the general will is vectoral. Public opinion is an averaging of the ‘masses’; the general will is the sum of differences between velocities. Rousseau sometimes writes as if the general will is computable, a mathematical entity. He posits a matheme of collective intelligence centuries before it could exist.
Rousseau is a problem for theorists of democratic governance because of his aversion to not only public opinion but also representative democracy and parties. The general will does not come from citizens communicating with each other at all. “Rousseau thought that the general will is generated not through a process of members of a group affirming a single will cancelling out the differences but instead all at once, through allowing diverse wills to appear in the public sphere will retaining their respective differences.” (33) The general will is a sum of all differences.
The hidden ideal model underlying actual polities and according to which they are to be judged is a politics without communication. The general will belongs to the order of things, not to the social world. It is not a politics made by the social, but a politics conforming to nature. (And in this sense pointing away from Kojève.) Like the otaku, Rousseau preferred solitude to public life. For Rousseau (and subsequently for Fourier) civilization with its cultural artifice is the origin of all evil.
Azuma is skeptical of the value of normative models of deliberative democracy, such as one might find in Hannah Arendt or Jürgen Habermas. For this school of thought, the public sphere detached from labor is where one might find the conditions of rational communication necessary for deliberation. This would be not a mere gathering of needs or desires but their transformation through rational deliberation.
Azuma distances his approach both from deliberative democracy and from one other very different idea of the political: Carl Schmitt’s concept of politics as the making of friend versus enemy distinctions and the ontological extermination of the enemy. Just as the general will does not deliberate, nor does it distinguish between friend and enemy. Perhaps it is the domain of that rather more interesting part of politics, which is always about the non-friend and the non-enemy.
So if the general will is neither a deliberative democracy nor the fight to the death, what is it? For Rousseau it is a regulative ideal, but for Azuma it is rapidly becoming a kind of reality: it’s the database. Ubiquitous computing extracts patterns of unconscious need directly from environments – in the form of big data – quite without the conscious participation of citizens – or should I say – users. The general has been made concrete, but also privatized – its Google. “No-one being conscious of Google, but everyone rendering a service to Google – this contradiction is the crucial point here.” (58)
Some might immediately thematize this as surveillance or biopower or neoliberalism, and not without justice. But Azuma’s approach is at least novel in relation to such received ideas. It seems the otaku were onto something: that underlying the moé-points of attraction there’s a database unconscious. People’s wants become a thing. “Rousseau… remarked that the general will is etched into the hearts of citizens. Therefore, it cannot be perceived. On the other hand, the general will 2.0 is etched into the information environment.” (63)
But where general will 1.0 was a mythic grand narrative, general will 2.0 is an actual database. “So far, access to general will 2.0 is exclusively in the hands of private corporations.”(64) This is a point Azuma chooses not to linger over, however. To put it in my own conceptual language, which here neatly fits with Azuma’s: the governmental power that can be extracted from the database are in the hands of a ruling class – the vectoral class.
Azuma distances his approach from that of Tim O’Reilly and other Silicon valley boosters of the tech industry fraction of the vectoral class, however. To some extent his database general will is still something of a regulative ideal, indeed even a grand narrative. It is in potential, rather than in actuality, a means to supplement a deliberative democracy that can no longer function as such. Politics has in his view become too complex for deliberation by all citizens. But perhaps the database of needs can come to their assistance, and enable a combining of rational deliberation with “a government guided by the unconscious.” (72)
One might expect a great deal of push-back at this point from intellectuals for whom ‘The Political’ is still something sacred and transcendent. But it has to be acknowledged that actual politics is in rather poor shape in much of the (over)developed world. It turns out we human animals are not very good at using reason to overcome our particular sympathies and strive instead for the universal. Reason does not trump empathy, nor universality particularity, nor communication private interest.
Communication leads to networks, not universality. It creates island worlds and echo chambers – as anyone who uses the internet these days would know. What people want from their media tools now is the reduction of information complexity, not endless deliberation. How can there be deliberative democracy when nobody writes comments except trolls and nobody reads them – except other trolls?
Perhaps we need a whole new architecture for politics. One that can visualize unconscious needs and desires. Something like this turns up sometimes in utopian fiction, such as Bogdanov’s Red Star and Vangeigem’s Voyage to Oarystis. But it is also in dystopian fiction such as Zamyatin’s We.
If psychoanalysis is a way of uncovering an individual unconscious unknown to the subject, then the database is a way of uncovering the collective unconscious unknown to the people. And just as in dream analysis, there is no negation. Take Google’s Pagerank, for example: it measures links to a given page, but it does not judge that page. Hence if you Google a ‘sensitive’ term such as ‘Judaism’ it is likely that among the top hits is some anti-Semitic bile. It is possible that anti-anti-Semitic sites that link to it to attack it are part of what generates its high rank.
But perhaps there is a bit missing here. Who owns and controls the database? If the old grand narratives were products of the superstructure, then as Pasolini had already noticed, the new forms of cultural power are actually directly infrastructural. What I would call the vectoral class ends up in charge of the means of detecting the general will as the social unconscious. They use it mostly to make a buck off rewarding our animal needs with simulacra. As Lazzarato has noted the affective life of the species is now one of machinic enslavement.
Still, there’s a certain pleasure in reading Azuma’s writing, in selecting it from the database. He seems to have grasped sooner than many that the material conditions of theory-writing and reading had themselves changed, and become also part of the database. His own writing works like otaku practice, moving sideways through simulacra, whether of anime or philosophy.