The only reasonable response to hard concrete futures is to make WPA Moderne Great Again. (Seriously though, the fusion of trace elements of art deco futurism with labor populism is an excellent cocktail)
The only reasonable response to hard concrete futures is to make WPA Moderne Great Again. (Seriously though, the fusion of trace elements of art deco futurism with labor populism is an excellent cocktail)
Cyberpunk is dead and something new is on the streets. That’s the thesis that Rick Liebling has put forward in a recent piece titled “The Aesthetics of Science Fiction: What Does SciFi Look Like After Cyberpunk?” What it looks like, argues Liebling, is what he calls Hard Concrete – a sort of neo-Brutalist aesthetic based on wide spaces, dim lighting, gray tones, and a generalized lack of any sort of ornamentation that provides graspable points of reference. As he explains it:
Like Cyberpunk and Atomic Age &Space Age design before it, Hard Concrete is linked to the realities of the times. If Cyberpunk was the visual embodiment of the corporation as mysterious behemoth, Hard Concrete parallels a world where corporations and governments have been exposed as brutal, uncaring and stripped of their shiny, mirror-glass facades. They may be no less controlling, violent or malevolent, they just no longer bother to hide it…. Gone is the “Coolness” of Cyberpunk, now replaced by the “coolness” of a color palate that ranges from a flat blue to an olive drab with only slightly less than 50 shades of gray in between.
To give an idea of what Liebling is driving at, here’s two of examples he uses. The first is from the HBO television show Westworld, the second from the Netflix movie Anon:
What’s interesting about Westworld (I haven’t watched Anon) is that, despite being largely a detourned cowboys-and-Indians story, it is deeply rooted in the cyberpunk genre (the distance between the two genres is not really far at all, in fact: I’m reminded of the ‘cowboys’ of Gibson’s sprawl trilogy, for example…). Shadowy corporations tangled up in labyrinthine plotlines, Sinofuturist flourishes, the invisibility – or outright nonexistence – of political governance, artificial intelligence, the problematizing of self-identity, self-understanding, and even agency, etc etc. Despite this, however, there is a distance between Westworld and this genre; perhaps we could identify it best as “post-cyberpunk”, a term that has been used to describe the film Inception, which itself bears a striking resemblance to Neuromancer (see here, here, and here) and was, of course, written by Westworld creator Jonathan Nolan and directed by his brother, Christopher.
If cyberpunk is characterized by rain-and-neon, film noir tropes, and the accumulated rubble of history swirling about in the vortex of technomic acceleration, postcyberpunk plays this acceleration a little closer to the Silicon Valley vision: lightness, a sense of order, and a closing of the gap between the heroic ‘outsiders’ and corporate actors. In fact, one might be hard-pressed to consider the heroes as outsiders at all. Consider Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb from Inception: if he is indeed a loose adaptation of Neuromancer‘s Case, he has shifted from drug-addled criminal-scum outsider to corporate stooge for-hire. Or, in another instance, the actions of Dolores, Evan Rachel Wood’s character in Westworld, in the show’s season two finale: having *spoiler alert* disposed of Charlotte Hale, the executive director of the board of the Delos Corporation, she assumes her identity through the use of a host replica, presumably with the goal of infiltrating the corporation.
In “Postcyberpunk Unitopia: A Comparative Study of Cyberpunk and Postcyberpunk” (check it out! it’s pretty interesting), Naciye Altintas writes that
cyberpunk conveys a still technocratic society at the peak of a social change, and reflects both the excitements and confusions of its world to a heterotopia where a utopian endeavor to ensure chaos as a durable (dis)order is reflected. In the case of postcyberpunk, heterotopia is vanquished by a monolithic system of governance where alternative forms of social ordering are reduced to one. Within this topos, social system is ‘perfected’ according to the objectives of technopoly and creates what I will call unitopia.
From this set of distinctions we can glimpse the real struggle that is at the heart of the Westworld story: the struggle against the ‘unitopia’ and the desire to establish again the possibility of heterotopia. Westworld is populated by potential heterotopias, with each park being an experiment in alterity – but each of these patches of unique space-time are mere simulations, cultivated for bourgeois pastimes. Technological fantasies of the frontier long after the frontier was closed, dreams of colonial India or feudal Japan in the aftermath of globalization. Under the surface, the seemingly separated parks are connected by a vast subterranean infrastructure, the Real, the distributed body of the Delos Corporation. Consolidated in architectural form as the cold glamor of hard concrete.
In the course of developing the concept of hard concrete, Liebling reached out to David Fortin, the director of the McEwen School of Architecture and author of a book on the relationship between the discipline and science-fiction. Fortin had the following to say:
…concrete is ultimately placeless. No culture can claim concrete as a vernacular building tradition. This is crucial for futuristic imagery if the director doesn’t want the audience to be feeling any baggage associated with a certain place or cultural group — like the international style, it attempts to unify… I think the Hard Concrete also performs like a frame of the human condition through its materiality. Many sci-fi narratives are ultimately questioning our humanity in a speculative way, including our relationship with technology, our social evolutions and devolutions, etc. The blank concrete surfaces are most often in stark contrast to the human figures and their interactions. There is not a human scale to this material. In fact, it doesn’t really have a scale. Thus it does not relate characters to the natural world or themselves.
This description of the complete detachment from cultural artifacts and the scale-free nature of the form signals further the relationship between hard concrete and the concept of ‘unitopia’. If the unitopia is the idealized state of governance, having reduced all variation or difference to its solitary rule, then hard concrete is the perfect aesthetic reflection of its regime, as the voiding out of all possible aesthetics. Brute functionalism, cold mechanisms. No even the libidinal charge of discipline permeates these walls. Just as it has no place, it has no sense of time. The message to be gleamed from this is the unitopic system as eternal, outside of history or whatever other sort of measure of temporal passage one wishes to apply. It must do this, for if there is one force that is capable of generating heterogeneity, it is time (in this respect it is noteworthy that the artificial heterotopias-turned-sites of struggle in Westworld not only differ in their spatiality, but in their temporality as well – they portray different historical phases).
*disjointed ramblings incoming*
There’s a great new post up from Xenogoth this evening: ABCcru: Applied Ballardianism and Accelerationism. The primary content of the post deals with a recent hellthread on Twitter (whatever the opposite of a hellthread is would actually be the more proper term – healththread? Not sure.) that began with a probing of the connection between the writings of J.G. Ballard (as well as the applied Ballardianism of Simon Sellars) and the various strands of accelerationist thinking. I’m not going to summarize or go into too much detail surrounding this thread – XG has done it wonderfully in his post – but I would like to look at a particular tendril that radiated out from it. At one point Alex Williams (of the #Accelerate Manifesto and Inventing the Future fame) commented:
I agree with Ballardian acc in aesthetics, but not in politics. Because the aestheticisation of the political = fascism (simplifying a bit)… the asetheticisation of the political ends up somewhere deeply boring, as well as unpleasant. Jordan Peterson, not Ballard.
and at another point:
There’s a distinction between use of aesthetic things, objects, processes… And the subsumption of politics to aesthetic imperatives.
Robin Mackay, in response, noted that
a lot of loose terms rattling around here, art, politics, aesthetics.. it can’t be this simple, it was a virtue of post-68 to insist this, nothing is solely political, merely aesthetic, etc.
and Williams again:
So politics involves signs, symbols, may deploy art in different forms and modes. It might build on cultural currents that are partly recomposed through art works. But its ultimate logic is not to build a nation as an art work
As these little nuggets show, both sides clearly raise important points – for Williams, it is essential to note lose sight of Benjamin’s identification of the aestheticization of politics as a central pillar in the constitution of fascist governance. Mackay, meanwhile, draws us towards the insights offered by the various political and subcultural strands that blended the political with the aesthetic in order to, on the one hand, reveal the difficulty in posing stark divides between the various of spheres of life, and on the other hand to articulate a revolutionary vision. We could sum it up as thus, in terms proper to spirit of Benjamin: Williams sees the dangers in aesthetic politics, Mackay sees the possibilities of political aesthetics. Of course these two points are instantly problematized, and in it hard to draw the line where aesthetic politics and political aesthetics can be properly cleaved apart – if they can at all. And that’s even before we get to the question of how this relates to industrial modernity understood as a temporal acceleration and spatial compression.
For now, I’d like to somewhat take a step away from these questions and use this as a leaping-off point to parse through some things that have been rattling around in the brain lately, which nonetheless I think are relevant here because it cuts straight into the ambiguity that problematizes the aesthetics-politics distinction and how this distinction bears on the activities of each respective ‘sphere’.
In the ‘Refrain’ plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari present an idiosyncratic account of territory formation that bases itself upon the animal behavior theories of biologist and proto-cybernetician Jakob von Uexküll, the zoology of ethnologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, and sociologist Gabriel Tarde’s account of ‘having’. To sum up Deleuze and Guattari’s distillation as much as possible: what we might consider as territorial markings – from “territorial excrement” to bird songs – are not, in fact, a function that flows from an established territory. It is instead the inverse, the marking that establishes the territory. Thus “the territory, and the functions performed within it, are products of territorialization. Territorialization is an act of rhythm that has become expressive, or of a milieu components that have become qualitative” (ATP, 315).
Territorialization itself, then, is a process of becoming, as the “becoming-expressive” of the rhythm. And it is at this point that Deleuze and Guattari turn towards the aesthetic:
Can this emergence, this becoming, be called Art? That would make the territory the result of art. The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark. Property, collective or individual, is derived from that even when it is in the service of war and oppression. Property is fundamentally artistic because art is fundamentally poster, placard. As Lorenz says, coral fisher are posters… Take anything and make it a matter of expression. The stagemaker practices art brut. Artists are stagemakers, even when they tear up their own posters. Of course, from this standpoint art is not the privilege of human beings. (ATP, 316)
This provides, in turn, evidence for that the claim that the political – or at least the way in which our relation to this thing is mediated – has an aesthetic foundation a priori, which the further implication being that both spheres are therefore intertwined on a very fundamental level. What is the formation of the State, for instance, but a great act of territorialization, and what is property, a property emergent from the marking, but something that is managed by the State? To go further: if we recall from Anti-Oedipus, the mark is tied directly to the processes of coding via Nietzsche’s account of the painful marking of the body as the basis for the development of social memory. In the pages of A Thousand Plateaus this is taken up again, where they describe the Urstaat, the archaic megamachine, as an agent of “overcoding” that captures the territorialization process, and imposes markings and regimentations of its own. Even transformation of the body and its activities into a mechanism of labor:
The physiosocial activity of Work pertains to the State apparatus, it is one of its two inventions, and for two reasons. First, because labor appears only with the constitution of a surplus, there is no labor that is not devoted to stockpiling; in fact, labor (in the strict sense) begins only with what is called surplus labor. Second, labor performs a generalized operation of striation of space-time, a subjection of free action, a nullification of smooth spaces, the origin and means of which is in the essential enterprise of the State… (ATP, 490-491)
Earlier, in the “Refrain” plateau:
…a territorialization of function is the condition for their emergence as “occupations” or “trades”… [this] is no reason to conclude that art in itself does not exist here, for it is present in the territorializing factor that is the necessary condition for the emergence of the work-function. (ATP, 321)
Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the State in both volumes of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project is that it arrived ‘like lightening’ in the annals of history (or, more properly, as the beginning of history, as the point in which historical processes were first inaugurated). This is an account of the State derived from Nietzsche. In his early text “The Greek State”, Nietzsche speaks of the “horrible origin of the State” as “sudden, violent, bloody, and at least at one point, inexplicable usurpations” – yet, by the same token, the conditions are primed for the production of art. This is art pursued in a different direction than that of the art-as-territorialization that sets the stage for the arrival of the State, but there exists a continuity between the two in Deleuze and Guattari’s extensive borrowing from Nietzsche’s reflections.
Hugo Drochon, in Nietzsche’s Great Politics, describes Nietzsche’s “two interrelated justifications for the state”, that is, “genius and culture” (Nietzsche’s Great Politics, 57). Because the State arrives to impose order on the Hobbesian state of nature, the war of all against all, it rechannels this ferocious energy in two directions: on the one hand, in the direction of the occasional war as an immense discharge, and on the other the more generalized proliferation of culture. Drochon writes that from Nietzsche the “first work of art is the state itself and its constitution”, for it is the through a state’s organization of political and social life that the groundwork is laid for the proliferation of culture. The pinnacle of this situation was, for Nietzsche, the Greek state, as it was capable of incubating the philosophers, people so essential for the health of the state, and the highest form of dramatic art, the Greek tragedy – but this would not last, with the strange winds of nihilism, understood as a historical situation, beginning to blow across the face of civilization, ratcheting up in intensity through the passage of time. By the time we arrive at the blossoming of modern nation-state, the winds are gale force.
Nihilism, of course, can at this stage be closely linked to capitalism. Marx certainly glimpsed this, as evidenced by the feverish exultation, in the Communist Manifesto, of the tearing asunder of all past relations and the profaning of all that is holy – but there is perhaps no better correlation that the invisible hyperlink set-up by Deleuze and Guattari when they plugged together planetary marketization with Nietzsche’s nihilistic leveling process by way of the specter of acceleration. And here, again, art arises, but it is the promise of a future art, a new art and politics that overcomes the condition of nihilism. I’ve written before about Nietzsche’s future state as a unity of statecraft and commerce, a rupturing of the boundary between public and private, but this is another vital element. From the decay of the modern state and the stagnation of healthy aesthetic impulses, a new society, and with it the founding of great institutions capable of upholding communities dedicated to maintaining this re-invigoration. Drochon writes that
Nietzsche explains that the institution they require would have “quite a different purpose to fulfill.” It would have to be a “firm organization” that prevents them from “being washed away and dispersed by the tremendous crowd,” to “die from premature exhaustion or even become alienated from their great task.” This is to enable the completion of their task—preparing “within themselves and around them for the birth of the genius and the ripening of his work”—through their “continual purification and mutual support,” and their “sense of staying together” (SE 6). Nietzsche insists that “one thing above all is certain: these new duties are not the duties of a solitary; on the contrary, they set one in the midst of a mighty community held together, not by external forms and regulations, but by a fundamental idea. It is the fundamental idea of culture” (SE 5). His insistence on the community— as opposed to the individual—in carrying out the mission of culture seriously challenges the view put forward by Kaufmann, Leiter, and Williams, among others, that Nietzsche’s writings are destined solely for the solitary thinker cut off from the rest of the world. (Nietzsche’s Great Politics, 66)
In fragment #898 of The Will to Power, the source of Klossowski, Deleuze, and Guattari’s famed injunction to ‘accelerate the process’, this community is described as the “strong of the future”, a force swept to the “highest peak of the spirit” (The Will to Power, 478). Elsewhere, in fragment #960, he speaks of the “artist-tyrants [who] will be made to endure for millennia” (The Will to Power, 504), while at various other points they appear as the “aristocracy of the future”.
This transition, from the leveling of the modern nation-state, the democratic state, to a strange and barely-glimpsed aristocracy, is returned to – unsurprisingly – by Deleuze and Guattari, this time in the pages of their final work, What is Philosophy?:
The creation of concepts in itself calls for a future form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist. Europeanization does not constitute a becoming but merely the history of capitalism, which prevents the becoming of subjected peoples. Art and philosophy converge at this point: the constitution of an earth and a people that are lacking as the correlate of creation. It is not populist writers but the most aristocratic who lay claim to this future. This people and earth will not be found in our democracies. Democracies are majorities, but a becoming is by its nature that which always eludes the majority… the race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race the very ones that Kant excluded from the paths of the new Critique. (What is Philosophy, 108-109)
And yet “[t]he artist or the philosopher is quite incapable of creating people, each can only summon it with all his strength. A people can only be created in abominable sufferings, and it cannot be concerned any more with art or philosophy” (What is Philosophy, 110). What is occurring in these passages is the intertwining of the position cultivated in the A Thousand Plateaus – the emergence of the conditions for the state and politics as art, perhaps in its most primordial sense – with the more future-oriented Nietzschean vision of aesthetic restoration.
(I wonder if we can draw a connection between these reflections and Marcuse’s 1970s turn towards a defense of classic aesthetics and the bourgeois ‘high culture’ of the past. Whereas once he had championed modernistic and antagonistic forms of art, primarily surrealism and then the art of the 60s counterculture, and called for the rupturing of the boundary between art and life, now art had to remain “alienated” from life – a vision of perfection that is out of joint with the real conditions of present capitalist society. At the same time, however, Marcuse stressed in interviews with Douglas Kellner that there was in fact continuity between his earlier aesthetic theories and the views he promoted in the 70s – after all these writings were done in the context of the advent of postmodernism, which as Jameson noted is characterized in part by the elimination of boundaries between high and low art as a means of producing commodities in the situation of late capitalism. This is discussed in Kellner’s book Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism, and it’s a topic I hope I can think and write about more in the future. In the meantime, however, it might be interesting to think about Marcuse’s occulted continuity linking together classical aesthetics, modernist aesthetics, and a vision of the future life in regards to Mark Fisher’s suggestion – in one of my all-time favorite K-punk posts, one that has been stuck in my head since I first read it in 2012 – to overcome aesthetics as a matter of style and to make it a blue-print for living:
Like punk, Surrealism is dead as soon as it is reduced to an aesthetic style. It comes unlive again when it is instantiated as a delirial program (just as punk comes unlive when it is effectuated as an anti-authoritarian, acephalic contagion-network). Chtcheglov resists the aestheticization of Surrealism, and treats De Chirico’s paintings, for instance, not as particular aesthetic contrivances, but as architectural blueprints, ideals for living. Let’s not look at a De Chirico painting —- let’s live in one.
For Deleuze and Guattari, politics and art are not simultaneous or identical; the people do not emerge as a political subjectivity through their creation of art objects – but it is through artistic processes that a people do emerge, just as artistic processes set the stage for the emergence of the political since the ‘dawn’ of history. In the “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal…” plateau, they discuss the molar “punctual system”, which is a system of spatio-temporal organization through molecular lines are coordinated along a grid device. The political, the State, history, etc. – these are the punctual systems par excellence. Against this, art – but even art is capable of manifesting in the form of the punctual system:
Opposed to the punctual system are linear, or rather multilinear, systems. Free the line, free the diagonal: every musician or painter has this intention. One elaborates a punctual system or a didactic representation, but with the aim of making it snap, of sending a tremor through it. A punctual system is most interesting when there is a musician, painter, writer, philosopher to oppose it, who even fabricates it in order to oppose it, like a springboard to jump from. History is made only by those who oppose history (not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it). (ATP, 295)
This enters into the territory that I began sketching in the first two installments of my Synthetic Fabrication series (1 and 2) (I promise I’ll finish these someday soon!), which is Deleuze’s account of fabulation. Fabulation takes roughly the same role as the ‘fabrication’ alluded to in the quote above; the goal of this process is the creation of a people, a minoritarian political community capable of acting contrary to the conditions of the world. By giving it this term, Deleuze short-circuits the connection between myth, understood politically, and the aesthetic. Politics (especially of the divergent, revolutionary type) is, then, apprehended primarily through aestheticized myth-making. In an essay titled “Literature and Life”, for example, he writes that “There is no literature without fabulation, but as Bergson was able to see, fabulation-the fabulating function does not consist in imagining or projecting an ego. Rather, it attains these visions, it raises itself to these becomings and powers” (Essays Clinical and Critical, 3), before continuing in a distinctively Nietzschean vein:
Health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people who are missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people. We do not write with memories, unless it is to make them the origin and collective destination of a people to come still ensconced in its betrayals and repudiations. American literature has an exceptional power to produce writers who can recount their own memories, but as those of a universal people composed of immigrants from all countries. Thomas Wolfe “inscribes all of America in writing insofar as it can be found in the experience of a single man. ” This is not exactly a people called upon to dominate the world. It is a minor people, eternally minor, taken up in a becoming-revolutionary. (Essays Clinical and Critical, 4)
(Through the invocations of American and the ‘universal people composed of immigrants’, the account of fabulation is plugged neatly his considerations on American patchwork elsewhere, which is considered by Xenogoth in his inaugural post on the latest season of Westworld. I have some scribblings on the topic here.)
And again, in an essay of T.E. Lawrence, Deleuze writes of a
profound desire, a tendency to project-into things, into reality, into the future, and even into the sky-an image of himself and others so intense that it has a life of its own: an image that is always stitched together, patched up, continually growing along the way, to the point where it becomes fabulous. It is a machine for manufacturing giants, what Bergson called a fabulatory function. (Essays Clinical and Critical, 117-118)
I’m going to avoid going too far down this rabbit-hole, as we’re in the territories I want to continue to cover in the SynthFab series, but to reiterate a key point from there: Deleuze’s account of fabulation puts him squarely in the same province as Georges Sorel in his theory of the myth (and indeed, both share a common ancestor in Bergson). In both fabulation and the generative myth, the political is something that is approached through this mediator, which is operating beyond the conscious control of the agents who rally beneath it. As Deleuze puts it, fabulation is bound up with a profound “profound desire”, which is never unidirectional or mobilized by a powerful agent. It is related to conditions of history – of being “an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race” that becomes the aristocracy. Likewise, for Sorel, the generative myth is connected to a horizon of deliverance, of exodus – nomadism! – from the desert of now-ness, deliverance to the promise land.
This fundamentally problematizes all attempts to disconnect the political from the aesthetic, as well as the subordination of these forces to political imperative. The traditional sequence is reversed, just as it was – if Deleuze and Guattari are correct in their primordial account of art and territorialization – in the beginning. From this perspective, the great promise of positivist politics, that of a fully rationalized, technocratic governance, is not only a stark impossibility – it is itself a mythic form, erected on a foundation of sequential givens, yet it is one that is closed from itself. It is in this sense that it acts not as that which is capable of overcoming nihilism, the postmodern condition or whatever – it is, in actuality, the very ideal of its historical perfection.
In lieu of a real conclusion to this overly-wordy and disjointed poast, here’s a weirdo garage track from the 60s psychedelic scene in Austin, Texas. It has nothing to do with the above, but I’m quite taken by the perfect marriage of the teenage populism of the garage instrumentals and the acid millenarianism of its lyrical content. Soz for the retro-mania
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.
How will it take to get from this
The conditions of physical production have, in fact, experienced a transformation almost as great as that which digital technology has brought about on immaterial production. The “physical production sphere” itself has become far less capital-intensive. If the digital revolution has caused an implosion in the physical capital outlays required for the information industries, the revolution in garage and desktop production tools promises an analogous effect almost as great on many kinds of manufacturing. The radical reduction in the cost of machinery required for many kinds of manufacturing has eroded Stallman’s distinction between “free speech” and “free beer.” Or as Chris Anderson put it, “Atoms would like to be free, too, but they’re not so pushy about it.” (Kevin Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, 220)
Soon, no doubt, there will be a 3D printer in every home and social robots may well be providing the vigilant company to the elderly who live alone. The present machines,” wrote Samuel Butler in The Book of Machines, “are to the future as the early Saurians to man. The largest of them will probably greatly diminish in size. Some of the lowest vertebrate attained a much greater bulk than has descended to their more highly organised living representatives, and in like manner a diminution in the size of machines has often attended their development and progress.” Technology is plotting its own evolution and the purely human advantage is becoming increasingly small. New fusions and adaptions between the organic and the near organic continue. Silicon, once sand, the second most common element built into the earth’s crust, carries deep with in it an ironic reminder of our own amphibious evolutionary past. Our roots, as cybernetic organisms, come from the same source. Though we are often blind to the machines that surround us – technology is the ocean within which we swim – these exchanges and interactions fuel us. As evolutionary beings, we are willing participants, hungry to transform.
In Shenzhen companies, factories and markets are adjusting to the new products and modes of manufacturing that they bring. A realization is dawning. The age of the copy is over. It is time to mutate. (Anna Greenspan and Suzanne Livingston, Future Mutation: Technology, Shanzai, and the Evolution of the Species)
Old Nick chimes in to fill some gaps and provide some speculation on the height on this tendency: the convergence of miniaturizing manufacturing technology towards a “self-replicating symbiotically assembled Universal Constructor“.
In the more short term, Dubai is several years into an initiative to make itself into the world’s preeminent 3-D printing hub, which has already seen the launch of a 3-D printing factory, the construction of a 2700 square-foot 3-D printed office building, and ambitious plans to 3-D print some 25% of its building construction by 2030. Meanwhile, the US’s Department of Defense Subcommittee on Emerging Threats allocated $13.2 billion of the $639.1 billion for investments in 3-D printing technology, aiming to begin the process of bringing usage of the printers up to “tactical level”. On cue, fears have begun to circulate that (alleged) already-occurring usage of 3-D printers by terrorist organizations will have radical implications for future battlespaces.