2012

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When I was a kid, growing up in the 90s, Y2K loomed as a strange beacon on the horizon. Its presence was a fact of life. My dad, always quick to find accept the weirdest of all possible explanations for things, organized a lackadaisical supply of water, canned goods, and MREs. I have no idea if he actually believed that the catastrophe was actually impending (if he did, then he surely didn’t plan for the severity that it entailed), or whether or not it was an interested “just-in-case” type deal. Either way, onrush of this technological-temporal breakdown was just one bit of the household soundtrack, nestled neatly alongside – and overlapping with – running commentaries on Clinton, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Janet Reno, the American militia movement, so on and so forth.

It was a similar case in social life. Many summer evenings were spent with the kids on the block getting together and discussing the end of the world and all those things that come with it: Y2K, prophecies – Biblical or otherwise – that foretold Millennial doom, paranormal occurrences (ghosts, UFOs), and government conspiracies. I don’t think the response to these things was skepticism, nor was it a blind acceptance. It was something more akin to a movement between bemusement and excitement, if not at the prospect of apocalypse itself but at the possibility of it. We were all being raised by oddball parents (one friend of mine had parents who were collecting twenty-dollar bills in a “Y2K jar”; when a little bit of money went missing they frantically called everybody’s parents demanding to know which child had taken it… as if paper money would be good in such a doomsday event!), the X-Files, and Coast-to-Coast AM – but each of these three addresses something wider about American culture, something that truly exploded in this time period but by no means was unique to it.

In his book American Apocalypses: The Image of the End of the World in American Literature, suggests that “the whole question of the apocalyptic ideology, of the historical transformation of space and time from old to new, from corruption to innocence, from death to rebirth, is fundamental to American literature”. If apocalypse is all-pervasive in American literature, then apocalypse is all-pervasive in American culture. Perhaps we could adopt the position of what Dominic Pettman calls “libidinal millenarianism” – a desiring-flux oscillating between a “specific strain of the carnivalesque and a revulsion against it” that is”ever-suspended between orgasm and extinction” – to analyze this position, bringing with it the Freudo-Marxian toolkit that he uses to get purchase on these dynamics. I’ll leave to that future posts (which probably will never arrive).

For Pettman, this libidinal millenarianism “blossoms in that psychically and politically charged space between anticipation and climax”. The 90s, fueled by the tech-bubble and astoundingly irrational exuberance, fueled a millenarianism frenzy that was at once utopic (frictionless global capitalism! the end of history! the singularity!) and apocalyptic (New World Order conspiracies, Y2K crashdown, maybe the Second Coming of Christ). Neither can really be separated from one another, nor can they be separated from what happened on the other side: no orgasmic explosion at the end of all things, but a climax spoiled – the empty discharge of the anti-climax. Cue the two-fold truncation of the American future, first with the bursting of the tech-bubble and then with the events on the morning of September 11th, 2001 – and so commenced the long shadow of post-Fordism in its most crisis-ridden mode and the neocon remix of neoliberal governmentality. As of yet, we haven’t truly escaped either of these things.

We had a second chance at apocalyptic splendor with 2012, the purported end date of the Mayan calendar’s long-count and ‘galactic alignment’ between Earth and the galactic center. 2012 was the farcical repetition of Y2K, which it shared a sort of common cultural DNA with. Both millennium fever and 2012 were a reflection of the archaic revival, a weird sort of time-tangling in which advancing technology seemed to engender a return of the deep past. Terence McKenna, himself the author of the book The Archaic Revival, was a seminal figure in this tech-hippy counterculture that spawned so much anxious jubilation in the run-up to 2000 – but he had also helped popularize anticipations surrounding 2012 through his Timewave Zero theory, which a cosmological rush, mappable through fractalizing wave-patterns across history, to an eschatological zero point. This point was December of 2012, adjacent to the end of the Mayan calendar.

Despite these juicy bits wooey high strangeness, 2012 never achieved the same level of intensity that 2000 did. Maybe it’s because the years prior to 2012 were characterized by breakdown, as opposed to the sense of build-up that characterized the 1990s. Maybe people simply couldn’t be bothered, either because of the still-lingering anti-climax of the millennium or because such fantastical notions offered little in the face of economic crisis.

For myself and many others, 2012 was itself an odd year, characterized by a sense of temporal disjunction that was perhaps fitting for a time in which an apocalypse that nobody cared about was said to be imminent. 2011 had been a year of intense social upheaval, which had manifested in the United States as the Occupy movement. I had participated in the NYC part of the movement – the de facto ‘hub’ in what was ostensibly supposed to be a hub-less movement – in the latter part of that year, but by 2012 that was all over. I had blown off school for the final time, and was spending my days working in the warehouse of a failing novelty company. Time, which had seemed to oscillate wildly between being dynamic and explosive to bitter and disappointing just a year prior, was now a smooth plane of openness – but it was by no means empty.

During OWS I had picked up Anti-Oedipus, and so much of the next year was characterized by working through both volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia for the first time. In trying to understand what the fuck was happening in those books, I stumbled across Mark Fisher’s K-Punk blog, and eagerly consumed it in its entirety. It was an invigorating experience, and inspired me, by the end of the year, to create my first blog, the Deterritorial Investigations Unit.

This time was also characterized by a worryingly large consumption of adderall and alcohol, and nights of partying, days of work, and evenings of theorycel studying all blurred into a long continuum. It was also a time of collective experimentation. One such experiment was an attempt to make a concept album based on a mixture of 60s garage rock and what our impression of contemporary suburban adolescent boredom was like. It was never complete, no doubt in due to the overwhelming tendency to chaotic noise jamming, but here’s a sample:

(and yes, before anyone asks, a release of recordings from the Flying Dogs, spanning the years 2007-2013, is indeed in the works. Place your orders now).

Another experiment was the Committee for the Liberation of Autonomous Amusement (CLAA), which was an attempt to recapture what I had found to be the most interesting of what Occupy had to offer (a re-imagining of urban space, collective transformation, a subversion of daily life) and jettison what was interesting the least (political reformism and the baggage that come with it, democratic organizationalism). A manifesto with a list of demands was drawn up and was posted all over town (one attempt to graffiti slogans ended in a car case). We also drafted a declaration against a fashionable hotel and art museum in downtown Louisville, though the great plan to distribute copies of it inside the museum, like the concept album, never came to fruition. (insane multiplication of projects + failure to complete is an eternal struggle)

At the heart of most of my concerns in this era were with identity – not its consolidation, or comfort with it, but a struggle to get out from under it. There was a notion that had been the source of much conversation, that beneath the self was an immense void, and that this void could be experienced. Obviously a sophisticated theoretical route could be taken to get to this conclusion, but this was a less-than-rigorous conception based on half-assed readings of Bataille and Elaine Scarry that went, if I’m recalling correctly, something like this: the more one approaches an experience that can only be registered individually, the more language collapses as a means to express the nature of that experience, alongside a progressive collapse of a way to get a handle on the world. A sufficiently intense experience thus pierces through the external veil of identity and opens the incommunicable void that lies beneath it.

A major way to articulate this at the time was in relation to nights spent on the dance floor of a local bar. Here, the loss of self – the loss of individual identity – happened at a collective level, albeit a small collective. At the time, however, it also seemed that something similar was at work in many sites of collective experimentation. At the wild and woolly edges of the Occupy movement it was certainly there, and its presence could be felt moving beneath the times playing music collapsed into disorder.

This drive is perhaps also related to the libidinal charge that the specter of the apocalypse brings. Back in 2012 the way in all these threads pieced together was elusive, but a recent re-listen to Fisher’s comments in 2013, as part of a panel on the “Death of Rave”, has been illuminating. After discussing what he calls the “depressive hedonism” – the realization that material success does not deliver one from abject misery and alienation – found in the music of Drake and Kanye West, Fisher states

Even if you’re stupendously wealthy like he [Drake] is, there’s still something missing. I think captures something really fundamental, which was available even to the poor in the 90s, which is collective delirium of depersonalization. Alain Ehrenberg has that expression, it’s the title of his book, the Weariness of the Self. It’s miserable for everybody to be themselves. It’s not just you. It’s miserable for anyone to be themselves… the rise of reality TV and social media are completely convergent with, or completely coincident, rather, with the decline of what we’re talking about here. It’s kind of a magical capture that is all done with mirrors. On the 90s dance floor – you know that great line that you quoted about “impending human extinction becomes as accessible as a dance floor” – there’s that enjoyment of the dissolution of identity, which it’s just miserable to be human, for all of us. And instead of that the key kind of social technologies of the 21st century are facializing, you know, encouraging us back into this identification with ourselves. The Willem Dafoe character in, you know, David Cronenberg’s ExistenZ calls this “the most pathetic level of reality”. Psychological individualism. It’s much better to be these kind of depersonalized intensities than to be a person.

The famous Zizek quip is that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the imagine the end of capitalism – but the argument of Fisher here suggests an occult link between apocalyptic imaginaries (communicated through the infamous line about human extinction and the dance floors, which was plugged directly in the libidinal charge of Y2K) and post-capitalist imaginaries. Pettman argued a similar point, regarding libidinal millenarianism: that is constitutes a hyper-focus of libidinal energy onto some sort of object that serves as the means to a transvaluation of values. Taking stock of the reality of something like anthropocenic climate change, we might also say that alongside the inability to imagine the end of capitalism is coupled to an inability to imagine the end of the world.

The apocalypse is something like a historical limit-experience, an imaginal counterpart to the depersonalization that operates at the limit of individuality. Loss of self, even if temporary and especially as a collective, is a brush with some kind of death. To bring this down to earth (and to conclude these rambles), here’s some interesting comments on Blanchot’s conception of community by way of Xenogoth:

for Blanchot, Nancy’s consideration of death as wholly inoperative — simply because it is a limit-experience — is an unhelpful simplification and one which does not speak truth to the reality of “community” as that which occurs in the spaces between “us”.

For Blanchot, death is not the end of community, nor, by contrast, is birth its start — although there would, of course, be no community without either event. Birth and death are rather those events which are responsible for bringing the very community of which they are apart together. They are community at its most potent but that is not the same as being a bookend. What ruptures community in the taking-place of these events is that relation which escapes expression. In this sense, death may be the limit of the individual but it is the height of community, where love, at its most potent — “love” understood here, via Blanchot, as that name for the unshareable affectation of the communal — erupts within and without community, as it is physically instantiated.

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Cthelllic Tendrils (#3a: Possession and Return)

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From inside the Turning she whispers to the Bottomless Pit: Ogun the metal-bodied, one who is many, breaker of masks. The hour of her coming draws near, and her Cloud of Dispersion already casts its abysmal shadow. – Mother Mary Ann Haddok, Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks

In the final pages of Flatline Constructs, Mark Fisher turned his attention to John Carpenter’s 1994 horror film In the Mouth of Madness, which he provocatively described as something of a companion piece to the two volumes of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia project. In the Mouth of Madness is the story of a freelance investigator by the name of John Trent, who is hired by a large New York City-based publishing company to look into the disappearance of Sutter Cane, a popular horror novelist whose novels are reputed to have ‘strange effects’ on certain types of readers. Things go off the rails fairly quickly when Trent and Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, arrive in the town of Hobb’s Endan otherwise idyllic little New England ‘burg, besides a sinisterly beckoning church that loom up on the outskirts and the fact that the town itself is a fictional setting in Cane’s novels.

What binds In the Mouth of Madness to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is the twisting red thread of market apocalypticism. Cane is ultimately revealed to be to be a conduit – initially unwittingly – for the Old Ones, who are invading the world through his books, with the massive capitalist market serving as a contagion vector for belief. The more people read, the more they believe, and the more they believe, the more time accelerates towards the impending arrival of the ancients from the Abyss. In the film’s closing moments, we hear emergency broadcasts reporting in from somewhere, panicked voices warning of mass outbreaks of schizophrenia, of waves of violence and social disintegration, and of afflicted human bodies undergoing horrific mutation. A hyperstitional configuration par excellence: fiction writing itself into reality, the Outside invading in via the wildly oscillating hype(r) circuitry of capital.

So too it goes in Capitalism and Schizophrenia: capital, described in Anti-Oedipus as a flow of “abstract or fictional quantities”, is oriented towards “the wilderness where the decoded flows run free, the end of the world, the apocalypse”. This plane of cosmic schizophrenia is constantly ward-offed by Oedipal and statist compensators – yet the more capital itself proliferates, the greater the schizophrenization that explodes back from the periphery to the center, and the more the compensatory mechanisms shake and, ultimately, shatter. When social bodiesthemselves compositions of fictional quantities and mythsare “confronted with this real limit, repressed from within, but returns to them from without, they regard this event with melancholy as the sign of their approaching death”.

Cane’s role is that of the xenocommunicant: here is a figure who is opened up, unwittingly at first, to the Outside, though which the infection of the “schizo-signal” spreads. It’s not hard to see him as a composite of, on the one hand, Stephen King, with his utterly insane sales figures and strangely mutagenic effect on cultural formations; and on the other Lovecraft (another point of connectivity with Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the second volume is particular). Carpenter filled In the Mouth of Madness with references to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, from structure of the film itself, to the names of characters, to the New England setting, to the final actualization of the long-awaited return of the Old Ones.

If the fictional Cane is an xenocommunicant, is it a stretch to grant that same designation to the ‘real’ Lovecraft? Ludicrous as it may seemand it is only going to get strangerthis is the position that was taken by Kenneth Grant, who in the 1970s began to cross-pollinate Crowley’s Thelema doctrines with Lovecraft and UFOlogy. In Beyond The Mauve Zone Grant would even suggest that the signals tapped into by the author were “strange sigils swirled by the power-waves of [Frater] Achad’s work” – Achad being Charles Stansfeld Jones, a ceremonial magician and purported ‘magical child’ of Crowley. Peter Levenda also takes up this question in his work on Lovecraft, Crowley and Grant titled The Dark Lord; to quote him at length:

In Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Crowley refers to several of the images with which Lovecraft would be consumed in his stories, but especially in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Here we have a buried god that is awakened from a stone, in a coffin, in a sepulchre, and mysterious words written in an ancient book, including Tutulu. And “of pure black marble is the sorry statue” resonates with the black stone on which the statue of Cthulhu squats.Crowley believed that the first two books [the Holy Books of Thelema] mentioned above were not his writing, but were inspired works dictated to him by his Holy Guardian Angel, the ancient Sumerian personality Aiwass, after Crowley had attained samadhi during a course of rituals he undertook with his colleague, George Cecil Jones, in England. Even the undecipherable language of “Olalam Imal Tutulu” has its counterpart in the enigmatic hieroglyphics of the Cthulhu statue and the ecstatic, glossolalia-like cries of the worshippers in the Louisiana swamps. Both men—the American author and the English magician—were dealing with the same subject matter, and indeed Lovecraft had dated the first appearance of the Cthulhu statue to the same year, month and day that Crowley began writing these sections of the Holy Books.

Levenda suggests that these may not be mere coincidences (as if there is anything mere about coincidence!), but could very well be an indication of some alien entity at work: “Either Lovecraft was in some kind of telepathic communication with Crowley, or both men were in telepathic communication with… Something Else.”

[If anyone is on the fence thus far, consider Levenda’s innocuous capitalizations in light of the following AQ equivalence: SOMETHING ELSE = 268 = SCHIZOPHRENIA]

In 1949a year after Crowley’s death, the beginnings of the modern UFO phenomenon (by way of the Kenneth Arnold sighting and the mythical Roswell Crash), and the inauguration of the Aeon of MaatPeter Vysparov convened a small group of researches together to study, among other things, these very sorts of “cryptic communications from the Old Ones, signaling return”. In a manner very close to Grant’s own untimely remixing of the edgeland currents rippling through cosmic post-war modernity, Vysparov’s goal was to find the key that would zip together Lovecraft’s ‘fiction’ with the body of work produced by Crowley and his acolytes, as well as with that of certain Indonesian indigenous populations. In his correspondence with the anthropologist Echidna Stillwell, he described this nexus as the zone of “Cthulhoid contagion”. On these matters Stillwell would response with a sense of knowing hesitance:

Whilst not in any way accusing you of frivolity, I feel bound to state the obvious warning: Cthulhu is not to be approached lightly. My researches have led me to associate this Chthonian entity with the deep terrestrial intelligence inherent in the electromagnetic cauldron of the inner earth, in all of its intense reality, raw potentiality, and danger. According to the Nma she is the plane of Unlife, a veritable Cthelll—who is trapped under the sea only according to a certain limited perspective—and those who set out to traffic with her do so with the greatest respect and caution.

Down and under…

Wash Out

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America is nothing but the West, and that’s the land of the dead. No sign here of a new world – let alone a New World Order. Something Old

Not far from my home is a town called Horse Cave. Once a tourist trap – the main event being a larger cave entrance in the middle of downtown, which lends the town its name – most of the buildings now sit empty, and abandoned. Keep driving past them and you’ll be on an open stretch of highway, dotted by faded industrial sites, trailers, and the county high school. The highway connects Horse Cave to Cave City, and in all reality the towns are one and the same, divided only by the county line. The closer you get to Cave City more and more of the landscape becomes dotted with old, strange roadside attractions – take the Wigwam Village, for instance. Built in the late 1930s as part of a motel chain that spanned the US (of the seven that were built, only three are left), this utterly-impractical dwelling was an expression of the emergent automobile culture, its then-already kitsch-retro contours etched into landscape.

More motels proliferate inside Cave City proper. Most of these were built in the decade following the Wigwam Village, as indicated by undeniable influence of Googie architecture on their design. Like the faux-Americana of the Wigwam Village, Googie in a temporal index: its roots are in the aesthetic of the car culture, buts its gaze is directed towards outer space. The vector for this gaze is the Atomic Age. The automobile, atoms, and flying saucers collide in Googie, along with gentle borrowings from the European avant-garde. The utopian, plastic, left accelerationist offspring of Streamline Modernism.

Now, as the color pop of Googie dulls to weathered oranges and gray, many of these motels now serve as permanent residences for the people of the margins. A small handful are burned out completely, boards covering shattered windows and kicked-in doors. The walls are covered in graffiti left by squatters passing through the area.

In an essay titled Amerikkkan Gothik, Mark Fisher (going under the alias of ‘Mark de’Rozario’) describes how when it comes to America, it was Philip K. Dick who knew best how to disconnect science fiction from the future that Googie presents. While the triumphant, postwar industrial machine and its adjacent PR industry cultivated an image of an impending “jetstreamed, wipe-clean, air conditioned, atomic-powered New World”, “[a]ll the kibble – the crud, the waste, – vacuumed out of SF’s dream home pile[d] up in Dick’s seedy tenements.” On the far side of things, where the industrial process grinds out the human substrata and the PR machine loops into the escalating loop of self-reference, the promise of the car culture, the Atomic Age, and the Space Age collapse into the very kibble it strove to eliminate: luxury motels gone fleabag, the Dimestore Indian decapitated, and nobody knows why they were here in the first place.

Uneven and combined, stagnation and lift-off run together as SF capitalism falls up into cyberpunk. Fisher continues:

In adapting Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, [Ridley] Scott re-roots LA in the Northern line, imagining the city of Angels as a neo-medieval City of Quartz… The expressionist style Scott adopts is arty through and through: even the adverts look elegant (whereas in Dick’s world, all the art would be an advert – probably for a hardware store… In the movement from paperback to art movie, there’s also a shift in religious sensibility. Dick’s religion is Weekly World News improbable: revelation is inseparable from mass-mediated sensationalization. It’s all dimestore prophecy and visions of God under the influence of a dentistıs drug. Gnosis is to be found amongst the discarded candy bar wrappers and cheap tunes of an artless huckster culture where everything is for sale: part of the challenge is being able to spot that the way out is hidden somewhere in the trash. Scott replaces Dick’s kooky-quacky loony toons All-American Gnosticism with the sober intensity of Protestant nonconformism. His replicants, especially Roy Batty, speak in the language of Milton or Blake. In a sense, this is no less American. Blade Runner’s infernal city is more Paradise Lost than Dante. Arriving from the dying sky of a choked ecosphere, the replicants come to an Amerikka where the calcified determinism of social stratification finds metonymic expression in the very architecture of the city – opulent Citadels of wealth loom far above new shanty towns, as inaccessible to the subproletarian cybernetic troglodytes below as baronial castles were to the medieval peasantry. Europe, again…

For Fisher, the distinctly American excavated of cyberpunk that is carried out by Blade Runner is one in which the future of the country’s impulse – the immigrant dream of the future – is forced to grapple with the reality that “the future is no longer virgin territory”. Googie was doomed before it was ever conceived.

Deleuze’s essay on Walt Whitman identifies the fundamental American quality as the fragment. Expressed in society – and in literature – as a spontaneity that subsumes advanced planning, the fragment is a reiteration of the country’s immigrant origins. As a patchwork, a “nation swarming with nations”, the ultimate, rapidly deferred goal was the engendering of a “society of comrades”. One must add to this picture that would was to bind together this society of comrades was their escape from one another. The push for the frontier that began immediately in the wake of the consolidation of the revolution into statecraft was less the drive of that state itself than the forging of lines of flight away from it. One exited for the borderlands, and the lands beyond the borderlands, to evade the clutches of an political machine that rebirthed the iteration of the megamachine, the Daddy Ur-staat, that had just been pushed back. It is for this reason, as Deleuze writes in his reprisal of the American question in his essay on Bartelby, the revolution, much like the Bolshevik revolution, was originally against the figure of the Father itself:

The American is the one who is freed from the English paternal function, the son of the crumbled father, the son of all nations… their [the revolutionaries] vocation was not to reconstitute an “old State secret”, a nation, a family, a heritage, or a father. It was above all to constitute a universe, a society of brothers, a federation of men and goods, a community of anarchist individuals, inspired by Jefferson, by Thoreau, by Melville… America sought to create a revolution whose strength would lie in a universal immigration, emigres of the world, just as Bolshevik Russia would seek to make a revolution whose strength would lie in a universal proletariatization, “Proletarian of the world”… the two forms of the class struggle.

Ride the line of flight long enough and you’ll cross into the West’s westernmost limit. “[T]he West… played the role of the line of flight combining travel, hallucination, madness, the Indians, perceptive and mental experimentation, the shifting of frontiers, the rhizome”. Blade Runner deals with the attempt to destroy the Father and the subsequent flight to the West, though the order is scrambled; whereas the American flight waged war against the Father in the Eastern colonies and then proceeded towards the West, the replicants begin in the colonies and take the conflict with them to that city that is west of the West: Los Angeles. Like the American revolutionaries, they too want to be rid of the Father. Here the biological father, perhaps even the Ur-staat Father, has already been killed: the replicants have no parentage except a vast techno-economic structure plugged into a military machine (“daddy is a North American aerospace corporation, mummy is an air-rad shelter” – the genetic line of the Replicants is the same as Googie). Positioned forward in time, we can imagine perhaps that a revolutionary cycle playing out time and time again: kill the Father, crash down in the West. Reset as the cycling development of the relative deterritorialization and reterritorialization… going on and go until, at last, the Wall is transgressed, relative exploding into absolute deterritorialization. By then it will make sense to talk about America, much less the West-

Before hitting the wall, reaching the West must denote not the culmination of the frontier, but the point where it hits the relative limit, before falling back in itself must fall back into itself. The whole thing at this point is a simple game of self-reinforcing recursivity. Here we move from the Deleuzian West of hallucination and madness to Baudrillard’s West, where hallucination and madness persist but have been transformed into the shimmering brilliance hyperreality – neither reality or the unreal, but an instant utopia where everything is “real and pragmatic, and yet it is all the stuff of dreams too”. A continental scale hologram “in the sense that information concerning the whole is contained in each of its elements.” Fractal America: one fast food restaurant, one suburban cul-de-sac, one stretch of strip malls, motels, and neon-spattered country bars and the whole is revealed.

This Hyperreal America of the 1980s was suspended is a mishapped triangulization between Space Age dreaming, the manic peak of the dreamers themselves, and a series of looming mutations. It one sense it is now dead, the hologram having ran itself down into the rubble that piled up along its edges and in its blind spots. In another since it is still alive, as an object of nostalgia, as a motor for politics, as something attainable, as a reason for living. Yet even then, the end was palpable, if still unthinkable. “The microwave, the waste disposal, the orgasmic elasticity of the carpets” Baudrillard wrote, “this soft, resort-style civilization irresistibly evokes the end of the world.” Today it is both palpable and thinkable, as long as one looks at it indirectly. Zombie politics, a ghastly creation shambling through the wasteland of trashed affluence and consumer society’s ruin.

 

Anarchy (#3: Katechon and Apocalypse)

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An occult war wages between the striving for the grand unification of all things and the insurgency that haunts its every Promethean feat. One side of this conflict takes as its ground universality, stability, linearity, and homeostasis its, while its opponent is an unground of swarming differentiation, unpredictability, non-linearity, and positive feedback. The former is the top-down view and the latter is bottom-up self-organization. The first is the One, the second a multitudinous Zero – the secondary process that thinks itself primary, and the primary process itself. Flat planes and the multi-scaled. The desire for perfect operativity and the forces that induce its downfall.

At the summit of modernity the nature of this occult war becomes profoundly cybernetic (which means that it always already as so). Tiqqun argued in “The Cybernetic Hypothesis” that the systems of domination and exploitation were evolving towards an unending managerialism based upon openness, ecological thinking, globalist progressivism, horizontalist ethos and cybernetic control – a clever camouflage for the Atlanteans. Tiqqun, at length:

Cybernetics is the police-like thinking of the Empire, entirely animated by an offensive concept of politics, both in an historical and metaphysical sense. It is now completing its integration of the techniques of individuation — or separation — and totalization that had been developing separately: normalization, “anatomo-politics,” and regulation, “bio-politics,” as Foucault calls it. I call his “techniques of separation” the police of qualities. And, following Lukács, I call his “techniques of totalization” the social production of society. With cybernetics, the production of singular subjectivities and the production of collective totalities work together like gears to replicate History in the form of a feigned movement of evolution. It acts out the fantasy of a Same that always manages to integrate the Other; as one cybernetician puts it, “all real integration is based on a prior differentiation.” In this regard, doubtless no one could put it better than the “automaton” Abraham Moles, cybernetics’ most zealous French ideologue, who here expresses this unparalleled murder impulse that drives cybernetics: “We envision that one global society, one State, could be managed in such a way that they could be protected against all the accidents of the future: such that eternity changes them into themselves. This is the ideal of a stable society, expressed by objectively controllable social mechanisms.Cybernetics is war against all that lives and all that is lasting.

While fundamentally correct in the tracing of the contours of particular managerial tendencies (one that aims to culminate in a democratic “social capitalism” which is indistinguishable from an eco-minded “third way socialism”), Tiqqun errs by throwing out the cybernetic baby with the bathwater, and in doing so misses the depths and scope of the war. It remains relegated to level where one on side is the humanist bourgeoisie and their cybernetic ‘toolbox’, and on the other is “Imaginary Party” that swells in the cracks and crevices of this system. Insofar as such a dichotomy can be upheld – which isn’t apparent at all – it is intrinsically problematized by the imperceptible matrix that roars beneath it and even gives rise to it.

No sooner than cybernetics had arrived amidst a fanfare celebrating the optimization of control did a new,frightening conflict break out, as Peter Galison analyzed in his “The Ontology of the Enemy”. The opponent in this deadly game was a “cold-blooded, machinelike opponent. This was the enemy not of bayonet struggles in the trenches, nor of architectural targets fixed through the prism of a Norden gunsight. Rather, it was a mechanized Enemy Other, generated in the laboratory-based science wars of MIT and a myriad of universities around the United States and Britain…” In its genesis the cybernetic sciences were about gaining technological superiority over opponents in the face of faster and faster speeds, which escalating quickly into a mutational program that blurred the distinction between the human and the machine. Genesis turns towards the holy war: “in a final move of totalization, [Norbert] Wiener vaulted cybernetics to a philosophy of nature” in the form of a permanent and boundlessness war between stability and safety and the “Augustinian devil”, the unknowing and unknown “’evil’ of chance and disorder”.

While subsequent developments in the realm of cybernetics, particularly as it moved its second-order phase up through general systems theory into complexity theory (of which much more will be said momentarily) transformed this basic Manichean conflict by recognizing the role of chance, disorder and noise in making systems evolutionary and transformative, the ontological conservatism that whispers through Wiener’s writings is reflected in the widespread resistance to evolutionary transformation. Top-down order is predicated on the ubiquity and prowess of human-led production. An entangling inhuman auto-production that nests this production cannot be be seen as but a threat. That the cybernetic paradigm ruptured the distinction between the human and the machine by articulating the baseline functioning of each in teleological circular causality made the machines uncanny by giving them the attributes of agency and intelligence. Wiener found in the gremlin that haunted aircrafts during the war an earlier preamble to this uncanny collapse:

The semi-humorous superstition of the gremlin among the aviators was probably due, as much as anything else, to the habit of dealing with a machine with a large number of built-in feedbacks which might be interpreted as friendly or hostile. For example the wings of an airplane are deliberately built in such a manner as to stabilize the plane, and this stabilization, which is of the nature of a feedback … may easily be felt as a personality to be antagonized when the plane is forced into unusual maneuvers. (quoted in Galison, “The Ontology of the Enemy”)

In the wake of World War 2, Carl Schmitt famously turned his attention to famously turned his attention to the idea of juridical order as the Katechon. With its origins in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the concept of the Katechon became prominent in the Middle Ages to describe a force that restraints the Antichrist, and by so effectively holds the apocalypse itself at bay. In Schmitt’s political theology it carried the same function – but it is not simply a singular apocalypse. It is a history of apocalypses, of grand imperial ambitions that acted as Katechons by forestalling their end until, at last, the empires rots and rays, its thread disentangling and separating as another Katechon rises on the horizon. From Byzantine Empires to the Third Reich to the United States, an oscillating history of imperial ruin and passage.

Much ink and paper have been spilled and spent trying to determine what precisely the Schmittian Antichrist is . Interestingly, the Katechon at times depicted is as a decelerator that slows the pace of world history; it would follow, then, that the Antichrist can be found as an affiliate of the quickening pace – an accelerator, even. This often remains lodged at the political level: he describes the Third Reich, for instance, as an accelerator of world history that is opposed by the decelerator of the United States. But the laws of state decay and means-end reversal prevail, and the US would itself become the new accelerator. There are, however, other ways of articulating the Antichrist. John McCormick argues that, running through Schmitt’s intellectual evolution from the 1910s to the postwar era, an understanding of technology and economics as a malevolent Antichrist that cunningly infiltrates the political arena and bring with it ruin:

Just as the Antichrist seems to deliver salvation and eternal peace, on the contrary, only to actually bring destruction and despair, technology and commercialism promise a heaven on earth but bring only a worse form of impoverishment and devastation, which may not even be readily recognized as such. One of the characteristics of modern technology is that it can mechanically reproduce virtually anything. Schmitt plays on this theme of reproduction with the image of the Antichrist. If one cannot distinguish between God and Satan, then what can be distinguished? Everything becomes the same. Everything is neutralized. The Antichrist/technology is described as “uncanny [unheimlich]” because of the epistemological uncertainty involved in deciphering precisely what it is. It simulates the familiar and authentic, but is it? The very nature of what real is, is called into question in the age of technology. According to Schmitt, “The confusion becomes unspeakable”. (John McCormick, Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology, 88-89)

As Mark Fisher relentlessly illustrated, the cybernetic revolution, by lending to technological systems a certain intelligence and sense of agency, fulfilled the long-held Gothic dread of the living automaton. Schmitt here taps into this underground current, one that connects the myth of the Golem, Marx’s undead capital, Frankstein’s monster, and the gremlins haunting aircrafts engaged in wartime missions. An echo can be heard, one no doubt unintentional (but no less telling) between Wiener’s Manichean cybernetic conflict of organization and its enemy, the Augustinian devil of disorder, and Schmitt’s own definition of the political as what arises from the friend/enemy distinction. For McCormick, the relationship between the dichotomy of friend/enemy and Christ/Antichrist is clear: traveling above the political as an abstract order and looking down into it, the Antichrist is the absolute Enemy that threatens to undermine the political as a category writ large. Throw this insight into jagged alignment with the cybernetic uncanny and the Antichrist, the schizophrenic god Baphoment, becomes what Deleuze and Guattari described as the Gothic Line, or, in its more common guise, the machinic phylum.

At the limit, there is a single phylogenetic lineage, a single machinic phylum, ideally continuous: the flow of matter-movement, the flow of matter in continuous variation, conveying singularities and traits of expression. This operative and expressive flow is as much artificial as natural: it is like the unity of human beings and Nature… Vital impulse? Leroi-Gourhan has gone the farthest toward a technological vitalism taking biological evolution in general as the model for technical evolution: a Universal Tendency, laden with all of the singularities and traits of expression, traverses technical and interior milieus that refract or differentiate it in accordance with the singularities and traits each of them retains, selects, draws together, causes to converge, invents. There is indeed a machinic phylum in variation that creates the technical assemblages, whereas the assemblages invent the various phyla. (A Thousand Plateaus 406-407)

The human and the machine, the orchid in the wasp: unilateral agency dissolves away in the face of the phylum, and as such can only be viewed by the political as the Enemy, even if it to approach the relation in such a manner is extremely vulgar (after all, do Deleuze and Guattari not make it the itinerants who follow the phylum, figures who are outside the reach of the State, but on who the State depends on survival?) To reach the level of phylum we’ll have had to pass from the basic loops of Wiener’s first-order cybernetics to arrive at the imperceptible matrix, the staggering sum of immanent self-organizing processes. In this mesh, the political, the state, Christ, the Atlantean continuum, all can be understood as a elements internal to these processes, no different than Deleuze and Guattari’s self that mistakes itself to be unitary whilst being but something that has congealed to the side of the auto-productive processes: a voided coagulation that thinks itself not. The unwavering stability of this creation, held together by the Judgment of God, is countered by emergent flux of the phylum.

A Lemurian insurgency, even if the things that the flux produces – commerce and technology, namely – sustain the State. The fact of the matter is that the singular instantiation of something from a catalytic process will never be stable, and is part of line that intrinsically escapes. The Katechon is sinking.