Cthelllic Tendrils (#2: Sorcerer, Shaman, Smith)

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A becoming-animal is always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling, in short, a multiplicity. We sorcerers have always known that – Deleuze and Guattari

She is the blackening Mother who ruthlessly opens up (epidemic lines, contaminations, contagious machineries, alliances, etc.) … through a strategic epidemic which is nothing but the ungrounding depths of openness, openness as the plague. – Reza Negarestani

Continuing on from last time!

One of the more interesting UFO cults to hang around the underbelly of the weird 1990s was the Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks. Lacking the relatively friendly aesthetic of groups like the Raelians and having not wiped themselves out in a spectacular death rite ala Heaven’s Gate, the Industrial Church gained a reputation for the sheer strangeness of their primary practice: attempting to fuse their body with media technology. As recounted in old BBS messages and green-fonted .txt files, this was a messy affair, involving (with various degrees of ‘professionalism’, if such a word is relevant here) the implanting of radios, microphones, circuit boards, so on and so forth, just underneath the skin, with wires sewn in to connect these instruments with what they described as the body’s “electro-magnetic mesh”.

The goal of this practice was to turn the body into an open channel – a biomechanical “tuning-in” to some cosmic frequency being broadcast from “out beyond the end of the world” , which was connected in some way to a perceived increase in UFO activity and encounters with “sinister Schwa-faced greys” (the “Nine Knocks” in the church’s name seems to be a reference to the nine knocks heard by Whitley Strieber in his infamous abduction episodes, which may or may not be a recurrent phenomenon – exhibited even during the course of Jack Parson’s Babalon Working). Xenocommunication: the forging of contact with outside forces outside the channels of communication deemed safe by social regulatory forces.

Take Kant’s famed prohibition on transgressing the limits. His injunction was for one to remain on the shoreline and never venture past the Pillars of Hercules, which have etched into their ancient stone surfaces a warning that beyond them is the oceanic void of nihil ulterius. Reason remains reason as long as it stays in bounds, fixed to a secure infrastructure. In xenocommunication, by contrast, one is carried off – wittingly or not – in a violent riptide that flows out past these earthen gates. Land, channeling Bataille, calls this as a “tragic” or “pure communication” with a “cosmic madness”.One needs to look no further than Lovecraft, Crowley, Grant, or Templeton for what encounter looms on this line: that with the Dweller on the Threshold, the “unutterable Abomenon of the Outside”.

Sorcerer

Trafficking with this outside, Deleuze and Guattari write, is the craft that belongs to the sorcerer. They take a key example Lovecraft’s character Randolph Carter (a figure he, perhaps tellingly, may have modeled upon himself), who undergoes a radical flight from this reality into a higher, external dimension and encounters other versions of himself, “Carters of forms both human and inhuman, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable”. In the midst of this “cosmic continua” Carter ultimately encounters an Outer God named Yog-Sothoth. As Lovecraft’s own interpretation of the Dweller on the Threshold, Yog-Sothoth is indistinguishable from the cosmic continua itself, and as the Outside that envelopes the Inside, it is a swarming multiplicity – an “All-in-One” and “One-in-All” that is entangled with “ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep”. Plane of consistency, anorganic continuum, absolute deterritorialization…

In their extended discussion of the sorcerer, Deleuze and Guattari discuss the relationship between this figure and the phenomenon of self-organization variables: the pack, the band, the swarm. It is here than one of the primary conduits between Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus is opened up. In the earlier book, the critique of Oedipal configuration leads to an extended critique – one that spans the whole of human existence – of familial filiation, which emphasizes the importance of the hereditary lineage (and which ultimately produces the closed dynamic of the Oedipal triangle). In the latter book, the pack is treated as something that reproduces itself in a wholly different manner: “We oppose epidemic to filiation, contagion to heredity, people by contagion to sexual reproduction, sexual production. Bandits, human or animal, proliferate by contagions, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophe”. They continue:

Propagation by epidemic, by contagion, has nothing to do with filiate by heredity, even the two themes intermingle and require each other. The vampire does not filiate – it infects. The difference is that contagion, epidemic involves terms that are entirely heterogeneous, for example, a human being, an animal, and a bacterium, a virus, a microorganism, or in the case of a truffle, a tree, a fly, and a pig. These combinations are neither genetic nor structural; they are inter-kingdoms, unnatural participations. That is the only way nature operates – against itself… The Universe does not function by filiation. All that we are saying is that animals are packs, and that packs form, develop, and are transformed by contagion.

The non-filiative mode outlined here is one in which xenocommunication – and, more properly, xenocommunion – is carried out through alliance. The alliance is the entry of forces into the rhizomatic assemblage, where each decodes and recodes the functioning of one another: orchid and wasp, human and tool. This is what makes the sorcerer’s work arrive under the shadow of extreme risk: one never knows what will emerge on the other side of the assemblage once it has been entered into and the process begun. The collision of the inside with the Outside can only ever carry with it the specter of death, as there is no chance for what has come before to escape unscathed. For this reason, the alliance takes place between the pack, whatever seething composition the multiplicitous outside is taking, and the exceptional individual – think Captain Ahab and the White Whale, or the motif of the “Loner and the Demon”.

The alliance is first and foremost a demonic pact, but Deleuze and Guattari are quick to say that we should not understand the ‘exceptional individual’ as an individual in the straightforward sense. The pact is forged between the swarm and a “phenomenon of bordering”, which they dub the Anomalous, the Outsider who moves through the edgelands. As Mark Fisher points out, the Anomalous is distinct from the Abnormal: the latter “correlates to a ‘set of characteristics’ – a set of law-like norms, which it transgresses (and therefore, by dialectical logic, confirms and continues)”. The former is already beyond these norms. Deleuze and Guattari: “Sorcerers have always held the anomalous position, at the edge of the field or woods. They haunt the fringes. They are at the borderline of the village, or between villages.” (We’re now very much in the same territory as my earlier post on the repressed double and patchwork understood as an eerie politics).

Shaman

The shaman is a sorcerer-like figure in that it haunts the borderlands of society and traffics openly with the Outside – but unlike the sorcerer the role of the shaman is far more ambiguous in terms of how it navigates the relationship between interior and the exterior. The goal of the shaman, particularly in the so-called ‘primitive socius’, is the cure; in Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis, this cure is far more akin to how they understand the goal of schizoanalysis in that it immediately follows the pathology into the social field, and then even deeper flows, instead of focusing only the nuclear family unit (which does not exist in the primitive socius, as family is not defined in terms of filiation). “It is not only a question of discovering the preconscious investments of a social field by interests, but – more profoundly – its unconscious investments by desire…”

At the same time, however, this activity is carried out to ensure the stability of society by ultimately warding-off the Outside. Just as war, like Pierre Clastres argued, was used as a means to prevent the State from forming and seizing the primitive socius (which it would always fail to do), the goal of the shaman was to operate at the borderlands and absorb the deterritorializing flows, to take them into himself, in order to make sure that the social machine would be fall into the “germinal influx… the non-coded flows of desire capable of submerging everything”. In her commentary on the MU Statoanalysis Group’s seminal text Flatlines, Linda Trent points out that this function make the shamanic a precursor to the body the despot, which acts as the stabilizing force for the megamachinic State by ensuring that “all lines of escape are reterritorialized on his own body”. This, of course, will become translated into the Oedipal function when the aeon of the despotic state passes through to the aeon of the civilized capitalist machine – so while there is no Oedipal complex in the primitive socius, the body of the shaman acts as a proto-Oedipus, an earlier regulator of the xenocommunicative function.

And yet, at the same time, the shaman taps into the Gothic Line running down into Cthelllic depths, the machinic phylum’s molten core. Consider, for example, the usage of iron in the shamanic initiation ceremonies of the Yakut people, as recounted by Mircea Eliade in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy:

A Yakut shaman, Sofron Zateyev, states that as a rule the future shaman ‘dies’ and lies in the yurt for three days without eating or drinking. Formerly the candidate went through the ceremony three times, during which he was cut to pieces. Another shaman, Pyotr Ivanov, gives further details. The candidate’s limbs are removed and disjointed with an iron hook, the bones are cleaned, flesh scraped, the body fluids thrown away and the eyes torn from their sockets. After the operation all the bones are gathered and fastened together with iron… The Yakut Gavril Alekseyev states that each shaman has a Bird-of-Prey Mother, which is like a great bird with an iron beak, hooked claws and a long tail. This mythical bird shows itself only twice; at the shaman’s spiritual birth, and at his death. It takes his soul, carries it to the underworld and leaves it to ripen on a branch of a pitch pine. When the soul has reached maturity the bird carries it back to earth, cuts the candidate’s body into bits, and distributes them among the evil spirits of disease and death. Each spirit devours the part of the body that is his share; this gives the future shaman power to cure the corresponding diseases. After devouring the whole body the evil spirits depart.

(The Yakut shamanic initiation ceremonies follow a near-universal pattern of shamanic rites that involve the penetration and/or surgical dismantling of the body by metallic instruments, a phenomenon that some have speculated are connected to the probing motif reported by countless UFO abductees. With this in mind, it is certainly curious to recall the curious body modifications carried out by the Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks!)

Smith

This relationship with iron puts the shaman into close constellation with another sorcerous figure – the smith. As the Yakut say, “smiths and shamans come from the same nest” “blood brothers” who share a fundamental – yet sometimes antagonistic – relationship. As Eliade notes in the The Forge and the Crucible, this connectivity is reinforced by the role the smith plays in forging the iron instruments used in the aforementioned initiation rites, which are themselves presided over by K’daii Maqsin – an “evil deity” and “Master-Smith of Hell” who “dwells in a house made of iron, surrounded by splinters of fire”. Finally, the figure of the smith itself is one that shares the power of healing that is characteristic of the shaman, but unlike the shaman this can be carried out directly, without the intermediate of spirits. The smith’s “craft is not looked upon as a commercial one”; it is an occultic practice bound to “the possession of initiatory secrets”.

Deleuze and Guattari summon the smith to serve as the diagonalization that problematizes the binary of the State and the nomad that occupies a major portion of A Thousand Plateaus. The opposition between the State and the nomad ultimately derives form the work of Arnold Toynbee, who posed that in the aftermath of the last Ice Age, there was a shift in global migratory patterns. On one side were populations who settled down and cultivated agricultural civilizations, while on the other were those that were committed to constant movement over a territory. To the sedentary agriculturalists, the State, and to the mobile, the Nomad. For Deleuze and Guattari it was (and still is) the State that produces what might be called History; those who are outside, then, are outside history. None the less, the two forces are in constant interaction: when the nomadic encounters the State, war is produced – and it is the State as an apparatus of capture that constantly tries to seize the nomadic in order to overcode its functions and deploy it for its own ends. Each exhibits their own form of space as well: State societies are defined by the striated space, while the nomadic

(This gives a good insight into the organizational structure and dating schema of the latter part of A Thousand Plateaus: the ‘Geology of Morals’ plateaus sets up many of these frameworks, tracing stratifications up through deep time to the arrival of human civilization under the guise of the alloplastic strata. This is dated to 10,000 BC, alluding to the end of the ice age, while the following two plateaus – the ‘Nomadology’ and the ‘Apparatus of Capture’ – dive into the nomadic and the State societies and the mutual interactions of each, respectively.)

The smith slips between each category. Against sedentary living and the pure movement of nomadism, there is ambulant motion. This is close to the notion of nomadism, and is often treated simultaneously in the text (the nomad sciences, for instance, are also described as an “ambulant science”) – but the distinction is ambulant carries with it an emphasis on engendering connections between wildly heterogeneous forms and the movement between them, in this case the State and nomad societies. This is one of the reasons that the smith is a sorcerer figure: it too haunts the borderlands, trafficking openly with the State and the nomad, upon which both depend for their survival (and vice versa). The smith thus has its own kind of space characteristic to it: the holey space, which burrows between the striated and the smooth.

Transpierce the mountains instead of scaling them, excavate the land instead of striating it, bore holes in space instead of keeping it smooth, turn the earth into swiss cheese. An image from the film Strike [by Eisenstein] presents a holey space where a disturbing group of people people are rising, each emerging from his or her hole as if from a field mined in all directions. The sign of Cain is the corporeal and affective sign of the subsoil, passing through both the striated land of sedentary space and the nomadic ground (sol) of smooth space without stopping at either one… Smiths are not nomadic among the nomads, and sedentaries among the sedentary, nor half-nomadic among the nomads, half-sedentary among the sedentaries. Their relation to others is results from their internal itinerancy, from their vague essence, and not the reverse. It is their specificity, it is by virtue of their itinerancy, by virtues of their inventing a holey space, that they necessarily communicate with sedentaries and with the nomads (and with others besides, with the transhumant forest dwellers). They are in themselves double: a hybrid, an alloy, a twin formation.

INTERIORITY          EDGELANDS          EXTERIORITY

State                          Smith                       Nomad/war machine

Sedentary                Ambulant               Pure movement

Striated space         Holey space           Smooth space

Concrete line           Gothic line             Abstract line

Here things turn again towards the crushing, infernal depths of the earth. The smith acts the Anomalous who straddles the boundary between civilization and the nomads and wolves and forest and sea people that traverse the Outside; it also plunges into the deep Outside strata geological strata – and even deeper still, towards the destratified. Unlike the closed organism, it carries out xenocommunion with the “streaming, spiraling, zigzagging, snaking, feverish line of variation [that] liberates a power of life that human beings rectified and organisms had confined”. In other words, the Gothic line, the machinic phylum. The sorcery of the smith is a Cthelllic demonology, a chattering passage into the domain of matter-flow that is “inorganic, yet alive, and all the more alive for being inorganic”.

If the smith ambulates, it is not entirely of its own volition: it must follow the tendrils of the phylum:

…the machinic phylum is materiality, natural or artificial, and both simultaneously: it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation, matter as a conveyor of singularities and traits of expression. This has obvious consequences: namely, this matter-flow can only be followed… To follow the flow of matter is to itinerant, to ambulate. It is intuition in action.

The flow of the phylum, as a singularity, thus serves as a sort of attractor that pulls the ambulant figure towards it. The model of the sorcerer, the demonic pact with the swarming multiplicity, and the rhizomatic assemblage: the smith and the singularity, together, as a critical point that triggers the creation of creation anew, the production of production. The phylum’s phylogenetic line is cut and radiates off into an ontogenetic line of technical development that is still part of the primary, singular phylum. Likewise, the smith sets in motion events beyond itself: it becomes shaped by the tool as much as it shapes the tool, and all those who use the tool are shaped by it, and produce the conditions for new tools to be put into play… the cycle launches into a spiral, the tendrils piercing the surface of the earth and climbing ever higher, higher, coating the earth in a megatechnical mesh, like some gigantic, distributed bush robot –

As DeLanda notes in War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, the phylum is constantly ahead of those try to wring from the metallic flux instruments to be used. Development moves forward only when cascades of singularities come together. One example he uses is the modern firearm, the dynamics of which can be divided into three distinct stages: a propulsion stage (the propelling of the projectile), a ballistics stage (governing the projectile’s trajectory) and an impact stage (“effects of the projectile on the target”). Focusing on the first – and most important stage – will yield a complex array of developmental paths that had to come together before the weapon could be actualized proper:

…the propulsion stage concerns the evolution of three different mechanisms: fueling, ignition and guidance. Each of these mechanisms, in turn, is related to those critical points in the flow of matter and energy that I have referred to as “singularities”: the onset of a supersonic shock wave which defines “detonation”; the threshold of pressure reached by gunpowder gases inside a closed chamber which defines “explosion”; the minimum number of turns, or threshold of spin , after which a projectile’s aerodynamic properties mutate from incoherent to coherent.

While the full extent of DeLanda’s analysis is beyond the scope here, what is important is that each mechanism – fueling, ignition, and guidance – all have their own histories, tangled messes of events and accidents and discoveries. Seen from this point of view the firearm is the byproduct of a massive convergence, the focal point of waves rolling across geological time-scales into human history, coming together in reversed pond-ripples. On the other side of that convergence: everything that the fire-arm has already and will reformat, and all the other meshes of ontogenetic machinic development that it cuts across. Now take this lesson and multiply it for everything that has been, that is, and that will be.

On the horizon: the Gothic line comes together, following a vast, imperceptible and terrifying convergent wave, into a maddening concrescence beyond thought itself.

[h/t to Cockydooody for alerting me to strange and curious practices of the Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks]

 

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5 thoughts on “Cthelllic Tendrils (#2: Sorcerer, Shaman, Smith)

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