Stephen Metcalf – Third Terminal

Here’s another one from the archives. Third Terminal predates the Killing Time/Strife Kolony/NeoFuturism trifecta by several years, having appeared initially in a volume edited by Matthew Fuller (who at the time belonged to the “speculative software group” I/O/D, which Metcalf collaborated with) called Unnatural: Techno-Theory for a Contaminated Culture. The book, published in 1994 but compiled over the course of the year prior is a slick slice of the post-post-punk peripheries of cyberia: besides Metcalf and Fuller, it features writings by fellow I/O/Ders Graham Harwood and Simon Pope, Sadie Plant and Nick Land’s class text ‘Cyberpositive’, and multiple offerings from VNS Matrix, among others. 



Countdown to the Millennium. The end or the beginning? Just as Capital’s dream of exercising magical, dematerialised control reaches delirious levels – populations comatosed in its immanent electronics, decorticated nervous systems wired to its terminals, sequences of instructions, error correcting codes, security systems, surveillance networks, flows of contradictory information pulsing electromagnetic waves of pleasure in consumption – a crisis point is reached: a terminal point both catastrophic and irresponsibly positive. Somewhere on the line the perverts have dropped out of the New World Order, begun to construct their own Virtual Machines, to program systems which may not yet exist, to jam systems already choked with information, feeding viral subroutines back into Capital’s master programmes, micro-errors in social programming bombarding the system with noise, absurdity, psychosis. Come flow in our Hysterical Materialism (the pleasure short-circuits the pain waves after they hit, cushions the blows to come) to three terminals in the technosphere; fuse with their circuitries.

Terminal 1

Electronic eyes of the State Machine. A program taking an identity law as premise. This one looks set to RUN and RUN. Or at least it has done, as the Digital Logic Level of the Human Security System. 1A = A, 0 + A = A; symmetrical equations, neatly balanced, never overstepping the mark of the identity law, present at the Digital Logic Level, faced with the apparent impossibility of things being otherwise.

Deposited in front of a mirror, the first lesson in sociability takes place. This scene of fascination, this tragic puppet which tracks my movements exactly is my first reference point, a place of safety and protection against the outside. Teach me to dichotomise. Those others in my looking glass who are not me. Teach me to fear them and, at the same time, identify myself in terms of the manifest fact that others who resemble me are not me. Teach me negation – I am not x, I am y. Then wire a brain to my voice box and teach me your language, the dichotomising communication vectors which you legitmise if manifest under scrutiny by some optical apparatus. As long as I see it in some sense, the rest follows – cogito ergo sum, dialectics, fear of the others, desire for borders and protection – and you think you’ve got me. You make my escape routes illegitimate, coding them, as symptoms to be cured.

Psychotic states. Schizophrenia. Fuck you.

Encrypted as Read Only Memory, these interiorized programs of the State Machine (Capital’s coding of desire) begin their Fetch – Decode – Execute cycles, all based on the premise of One Central Processing Unit (identity) and its ability to dichotomise: gender separation, heterosexuality, reproduction in the interests of the continuation of the code (families), neurosis (the desire to fit in rather than face the consequences of transgression), the desire for knowledge (to domesticate the perceived threat from others), nationalism, paranoia, fascism. Error Correcting Codes sweep the memory; search routines rubbing out points at which the program has not ‘taken’, domesticating the under the rubric of one or another of the paranoid categories of subjectivity, social position, family background: political economy, sociology, psychoanalysis.

Flickering grey of display screen coming on-line. High-pitched whine and singing crackle of pixels organising a closed circuit TV image. Search files for errors in desire coding.

Sex scene on monitor.

Two boys. Smooth, muscular bodies wrapped in accouterments of domination and submission. Steadying with hands on hip bones. Bound by wrist and ankle. Commands. Greased penis extends across flat stomach. Pulses. Advances to pretty boy for the thrill of being beaten as a man. Raises his arms and strikes. Mesh of thin purple welts traced across the back of thighs, calves, buttocks.

At Terminal 1, Error Correction Codes are cycling. Project Domestication initiated. Problems with socialisation according to Oedipal/heterosexual inscriptions of desire. Find in the masochist’s desire for humiliation, the shadowy figure of the father, the desire to be possessed by him, to belong to him, to be penetrated by him; discover a latent father figure/substitute in the dominator, by now a phallocentric tyrant; and, by some kabbalistic magic, ‘A Child is Being Beaten’ and mapped onto the familial/state apparatus. Or, worse, we could be more scientific: map statistical norms of behavior across the social body and burn out the deviancy accordingly.

Encryptions in pure machine language, pixels reversed into signals, surfaces reduced to latent content and diagnosed; digitisation of results fed into scanning devices of the state’s psycho-technicians. Frenzied algorithm carrying out social surgery: a process of psychochemotherapy cleaning out the system of unwanted networks of gratifications in deviant sexuality. Pulsations of desire along sine waves, completely unpredictable and transmitting no information, unfiltered noise, assaults on the precious, neurotic ego. Fuse the perverts into these networks, these licensed sex channels at all costs. Call it therapy.

Meanwhile, the two boys remain oblivious to this act of state-sponsored voyeurism. They have not been invited to any interactive screening of their scene, now being played-out in digital pantomime with the state’s mind cops in all the expensive seats, and carry on regardless, grinning in mutual consent – ‘Use me’ – Further – the dare – the contract.

Electric waves of intensity rush through nerve-endings, gated, connected, and wired to S&M circuitries. Master’s cock pushing gently but firmly into the slave’s rectum. Animal whinnying. Symphony of giggles. Fusing per vas nefandum to the detriment of patriarchy.

Now, this refusal to conform – to be ‘reasonable’ and embody upon the State Machine’s control circuits = psychosis – apparently justifies the arrest of transgressors and (conveniently for them) keeps psychologists at work. We care for you. Like the mummy-daddy apparatus. Condition a nauseous rush of anti-gratification, as aversion circuits switch in where pleasure previously erupted across the libidinal band, the sexualised skin, in micro-machines composed of body parts and fetish objects. Fit and legally working again.

Terminal 2

Terminal 1 is the desire to dominate: politically, psychologically, economically (in both monetary and libidinal senses), eternally. To operate a machine limiting interaction (the state) while remaining exterior to its mechanisms. To be Control without being controlled, as Burroughs might say. To close a social, familial, sexual, subjectified circuit and remain on its outside. Watching. Regulating. Avoiding being itself processed by the machine (E.g. consider how therapists are so immune to psychotic projections, deviant states of mind, outlawed behavioral patterns).

Eternal recurrence of state logics coupled to a slave output. Power, control, radical exterminisms of alterity, negations of the other, oppressive necessities, security systems, prison houses of linguistic and social co-operation, armies of labor shackled to the control machines, blood lines, shared cultures of panic, require recognition of their domination, binary co-movements of control and feedback. The interpretation of related messages in uninterrupted flows. Producing the following problem:

As Capital’s desire for spectral possession of its subjects reaches digital perfection, as control scales ecstatic peaks, measured only against the homeostatic metric of its self-regulating immune system, it decreases resistance; flipping the process over into its reverse – cancerous excrescence initiating a death-bound, entropic, retrograde spiral of wasted energy and useless institutions. Control runs out of things to control, it sets the mechanisms of its own death into a potentially catastrophically motion. Therefore a certain type of comprehensible resistance is tolerated as feedback. Something left on the screen to control. This is the radical negation of Terminal 2.

This S&M business looks awfully pitiful to the radical moralists in our midst. Can this “…dreary parade of sucked dry, catatonicised, vitrified, sewn-up bodies…”[1], as marginal and potentially antipathetical to the State, be radicalised, politicised, and domesticated in the social-factories of some revolutionary super-state? Like Terminal 1’s policing initiatives, it’s a matter of interpretation: a demand for recognition (all applauded by the state: first hand knowledge of what its defiers are up to in their bedrooms, clubs, and torture chambers). This is radicalism’s secret: it serves the State Machine, is caught up in the logical matrices of the state, and can only offer negation of the state’s negations as the (Final) solution. This is the logic of the Konzentrationslager, camping it up in libertarian clothing.


Express yourself.

Confess. Lose your little war machines in our orbit, our demilitarised zones of settled identity, your new family; come and meet your Volks. But, as your future police force, we need to outline a few ground rules. Your co-operation is required. We want information. Data to be fed into our central control machines. We want to understand you. We want to Occupy Terminal 1.

Demand that they recognize you. We’ll start with a nice, safe, legal end to censorship as a prelude to your crossing the threshold of your new home after you’ve married the Party, and then we’ll make you normal as a valued and functional component in our joyous machineries. Maybe secondly we’ll demand that you should become V.I.P.s right now, articulate your demand for the normality you obviously long for, pry over your practices with interviews, video cameras, study groups, day-schools, seminars, politically correct consciousness raising events, why not a few concerts? The future is yours. With our permission.

Transmission ends. Funded by State T.V. Crackling terminus of the program. The opposition trots back home, claiming victory over the social void, monitored at all points by banks of cameras lining the ceilings of the decimated cities.

For sure, radical cybernegative S&M will finds its place on the margins of the social, its black hole where desire stops, terminating in suicidal exhibitionism. There at the dimly lit entrance, a micro-fascist territory will be staked out, a zone of ressentiment generated by a gasping reflex-jerk. “We”. Homeostasis. Security systems monitoring the entrance, defense systems barring the exit.

Even Deleuze and Guattari, usually willing to allow deviant states to flow back into the social and infect it, show a myopic moralism in relegating S&M to this second terminal position. It was they who alerted our attention to the fact that S&M is not a fantasy requiring interpretation mapped onto a familial, Oedipal grid but is, actually, a program. But this is not to accept their contention that this algorithm careens into Terminal 2 monomania (cutting off relations with the outside of the system) and produces a micro-fascist fortification. A pre-programmed security system.


– the process of sewing

-how to produce a reactive-cybernetic, closed-up body:

Bow to the mistress. Beg her for forgiveness. Transgression must have its punishment, after all. Lash the penitent to the table, drawing the ropes, cords, thongs, cuffs and chains tight enough to register their presence with nagging insistency. Prepare tools required to carry out the program: weapons, instruments of humiliation. RUN. 100 lashes. Then pause.

Begin to sew. Sew up the hole in the glans, then sew the skin around the glans to the glans itself. Sew the scrotum to skin of the inner thighs. Sew the breasts, attaching a pinching clamp to both nipples. Connect them. Bind the penitent to a chair. 100 lashes. Sew the buttocks together. Initiate procedure for intensifying torture as per contract. Stick pins in the buttocks, as far as they go. Tie the penitent to a chair. 100 lashes. Apply cigarette burns. Random humiliation.

Presto. A pre-program. A security system closing up the body; a set of sad, repetitive, entirely predictable rituals in whose regime nothing is unexpected, no contact outside of this particular orbit is even desirable or even possible. The program becomes a means by which the masochist guarantees a fortified sense of identity. Martyrdom. The ascetic’s sanctity reinforced by a sewn-up, bound, lacerated, body only allowing waves of pain to traverse its surface. Desire’s anarchic flow is blocked as the masochist closes the circuit, refuses to patch into other networks. Welcome to the cave. Populate in an act of fortification against the passage of exterior flows, this “…Metropolis that has to be managed with a whip.”[2]

Two problems –

[1] Mechanical absurdity. Energy flows need to be gated at the Digital Logic Level in order to pass through a machine. An open circuit is a ridiculous concept: with no gates, no channels to focus energy, nothing will happen; the amorphous cloud of electrical nonsense bombarding the machine ending in entropic degradation. The point of the S&M programs is to channel energy through the gates sufficiently to blow the whole assemblage apart, with a negentropic co-movement into synergetic relations of desubjectification on a positive feedback circuit.

[2] Repetition taken to mean ‘I want more of the same. Reinforce me’. Rather, take it to be simply ‘I want more’. This argument against enclosure, desire to open up the circuit, condemnation of the refusal to climax and build elaborate systems instead, what does it affirm? A simple genital interface between cock and cunt, keying into no other zones (except for a quick grope in the dark), so desperate to climax and allow the outside to flood in that it prematurely ejaculates. Not ‘I want more’, but ‘Fuck me now, quickly, let’s get this over with, we’ve other things to do, come quickly, the intensity, the intensity, inside and waiting for others to join us, feels so good, coming, end.’ An algorithmic progression resembling nothing more pleasurable than five minutes with a Victorian patriarch.

Terminal 3

As the territory of the Virtual Machine, Terminal 3 is the zone Terminal 1 turns its systemic antibodies against, tabulates information on, and explains away in terms of its simple categories, with the hope of viewing and controlling its pixellated manifestation in Terminal 2. The Third Terminal has other ideas. Refuses the play the game of panic, surveillance, and control. Supposedly canceled in the rational signification of Capital’s symbolic order, it continues pulsing incomprehensible forces resisting domestication, puncturing the fabric of the order itself, setting up its own expert systems in questions of domination and submission, running its own viral programmes, perverting the natural course of the state’s desire code. Action, intensity, jouissance, desubjectification, pragmatics of evasion and flight, sadomasochism, homosexuality, drugs, strange rituals and algorithms, schizophrenia, psychotic projection, hysterical refusal, wild boys and girls switching their soft machines into annihilation mode, writing programs for machines that do not even exist yet, cyberpositive and obsessed with the disappearance of self. Fracturing screens at the point of system crash.

The desire of the Third Terminal is the incapacity for embodiment as subject in/to Capital’s machine language, the jamming of systems saturated with flows of information, a tactic of total indifference to Capital’s demand for feedback in order to produce more information facilitating the management of the crisis engendered by the existence of the Third Terminal; hatred of all police machines, including those of Capital’s cynical future negotiators.

The Third Terminal is the space of the Assassins, drifting silently through the crowds and uniform architectures of user friendly consumption; the time of the Assassins, deferring execution until the optimal moment; the invisibility of the Assassins, spilling off the control screens in all directions; the humour of the Assassins, leaving a jeweled dagger in the Sultan’s pillow; the threat of the Assassins, the trusted servant who suddenly turns against his master.

As Burroughs pointed out in a fragment of The Book of Breething[3], the power of the Third Terminal lies in its invisibility, in the confounding fact that it does not present a coherent scanning pattern to the optical apparatus of control. Control does not know anything about it. It knows a lot about control. The Third Terminal is the pathological case control inscribes into its symptomatologies, to which it then attributes all of its unpredictable maladies, its dangerous malcontents and social indigestion problems. The Third Terminal is the enemy of paranoia.

A Virtual Machine is a constant process of production, it evades control to the extent that by the time the state machine has translated its software into terms inside its orbit, it is always elsewhere, always other, patching new components into its assemblage. Once the fetish object has been neatly compartmentalized as a maternal penis/phallus substitute-pubic fur, shoes, underwear, instruments of punishment – fetishism begins to confound this categorization in the delirious contemplation of other objects exterior and absurd to this Oedipal matrix: Rubber (next to silicon, the perfect inhuman fabric?) suspension in space (the desire to float, to get out of it?) masks (desubjectification of the face), machines (opening the sexual circuit to the flow of the final outside, the technological inhuman).

The construction of these Virtual Machines has always been an element in the cycling of S&M programs, scanned on their own (virtual) terms and free from the prejudices of symptomatology, (namely that S&M is a problem, a disturbance. Actually, all it disturbs is the state’s encryption of ‘normality’. A precious thing). A reading of Sade and Sacher-Masoch reveals the frenzies of two early cyberneticians at work: it is not the subjectified practices of sexuality that matter, it is the bodies and objects that open the gates to ecstatic desire flux, these assemblages of harnesses, straps, thongs, cuffs, pulleys, seats positioning the body for optimum penetration by others, mirrors assaulting the senses with confused images of the co-flux of self, others, and mechanical parts; primitive tactile feedback sensors (as the orgiastics move in escalating pleasure, the entire machine rocks, intensifying the mania, the regal dominatrix in her furs, the resonating surface of the body of the submissive.

Fragmentation of identity on positive feedback circuits. This is the use of the machine that processed itself, removing the certainty of exactly who or what is using who or what. Human use of mechanical means of dominating nature or the viral contamination of a metabolic vehicle by a machine? Or a process of becoming machine, carrying the debris of of the subject of certainty in its undertow in a movement of becoming inhuman. Non-existence of the Human Security System. The birth of a monster.

But that’s not all. Blown apart by escalating positive feedback, the Virtual Machine begins to bombard the security systems with noise. The only feedback Terminal 1 will result in micro-destruction of sections of its desire code as unfiltered noise becomes ungovernable. Third Terminal perversion feeds a viral sub-routine back into the system, fucking up its terminals, corrupting its operations.

Meanwhile, the culprits are never caught. As non-beings with no identity of their own, they are already out of the combat area, regrouping for the next strike, disguised in indicators of outward respectability and normality, laughing. Techno-Assassins whisperings calls to chaos. Viral whispers. Strange infections.

Perhaps one day Capital will begin marketing domestic sex machines. Glance at all the middle class, cultish drool saturating this potentiality of paying by credit card, jacking into telephone networks, staging pixellated fantasies of machine fellatio, necrophile liaisons with historical figures, rape without scars, promiscuity without viral infection, and realise that Capital’s boomer R&D department is ecstatic about taking its chimerical sexual revolution to the next stage.

When these systems come online, be positive that noise from the Third Terminal will infect the code at its vegetable roots. Terrorising the aging sixties’ club. Leaving anonymous death threats on the bulletin boards of the state. Perverting the licensed trajectories of desire.

[1]Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus, Athlone Press, 1988, p. 150.

[2]Ibid., p. 153

[3]See William S. Burroughs: Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts, John Calender, London, 1979, p. 188

5 thoughts on “Stephen Metcalf – Third Terminal

  1. Pingback: Turning On the Eternal Network – Reciprocal Contradiction

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