Ideology and Real(ism)

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“Isn’t the emphasis on the systemic character of capitalism what separates Marx’s analysis from moralizing socialism?) The idea that the misleadingly-named ‘ruling class’ do anything more than manage and adminster Capital is an idle fantasy. Capitalists can decide on which groups are exploited, but they cannot legislate away exploitation itself. (How long would a CEO with such ambitions last?) It is not exculpatory but simply realistic to acknowledge that Capital, not capitalists, runs the show. However, realism about capitalism is not the same as Capitalist Realism. Neo-liberalism is defined not by the idea that Capital is a remorseless machine but by the claim that there is no viable alternative to its rule.” – Mark Fisher, Left Hyperstition 2: Be Unrealistic, Change What’s Possible

One of the repeated accusations that arose in the great /Acc wars of 2017 was that the understanding of capital that was being posited—as something operated at a higher level than everyday life, political management, and even ideological fixation—was itself an unfortunate expression of capitalist ideology, one tantamount to the infamous Thatcherite slogan that there is indeed no alternative to its strange, infernal logic. Seen from this point of view, the so-called accelerationist take on capital (a jargon-laced analytic stance I’ve personally progressively moved away from, opting for a return to a more ‘classically’ Marxist approach—something that nonetheless was a great influence on acceleration, particularly in the ‘U’ variety) is conflated with Fisher’s ‘capitalist realism’. This, in turn, produce a solution by way of inverting the accelerationist counterpoint: if accelerationist theory is garbage-can ideology, and the accelerationist theory suggests that capital is a self-moving substance unto itself, then the ‘revolutionary path’—or whatever equivalent to this one may pose—is to configure capital as something always already subordinated to human intentionality. Political capacity is thus restored.

The problem with this picture, at least from a Marxist—as well as an accelerationist—ground, is where the ideological configuration is positioned. It has to be asked what form of capitalist ideology promotes capital as an inhuman force that ensnares the proletariat and bourgeoisie alike in its logic, robbing them of their agency and pushing them towards alien ends? In the great spectrum of political economy and liberal polity, the answer simply is none. Capitalist ideology promotes capitalism not only as an ism (we should be avoiding this term as much as possible and opt instead for either addressing capital directly or by reference to the capitalist mode of production), but more specifically as a humanism. The material class relations that constitute the proletariat and bourgeoisie are eliminated for the ideal of a flexible atomized subject who stands free from the weight of history; the vital dialectical image of the capitalist mode of production containing both progressive and regressive elements that will eventually come to a historical loggerhead is smeared into obscurity by a vibrant image of non-historical progress (non-historical because the relations and mechanisms unique to the bourgeois epoch are presented as transhistorical, coupled to a sense of progress that finds capital first and foremost agential empowerment).

The breakage of the liberal ideology into left and right wings (relatively speaking, of course) never manages to undermine this core of capitalist-humanism, and only turns it around under the differing filters of positive and negative freedoms. Even under virulent neoliberalism does it persist: nowhere in the pages of libertarian journals and the halls of Beltway think-tanks does the image of alien capital gain traction. The Adam Smith Institute doesn’t promote the entrepreneur of the self as some sort of Snidely Whiplash conspiratorial shenanigan; it promotes it because it earnestly believes what it preaches.

In his ideological critique, Marx was taking to task the capitalist-humanism of the ‘classical liberals’ (a retroactively-assembled, ideological formation if there ever was one!); this is why we get the picture, so curious at first blush, of a book bearing the subtitle of A Critique of Political Economy that presents capital as functioning like the Hegelian geist by its fourth chapter. Capital as inhuman force, as a historical machine that takes a hold of the bourgeoisie and proletariat as if by possession—to reach towards this is to pierce the ideological veil to find the tracing of something swirling below it. Hence Fisher’s point in the quote that opened this post: capitalist realism is a reflection of the ideological fantasy of the neoliberal phase of capitalist development and is wholly distinct from the sort of picture drawn by the accelerationists—which is really an elaboration and restaging of the analysis offered by Marx. Thus to flip the script and return capital to something under the sway of human intentionality, and more specifically under the command of the powerful capitalist, is to avoid the Real by staying within the foundational assumptions of capitalist realism.

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As far back as The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek had already deepened and advanced this line of inquiry, fundamentally problematizing both sides of the debate along the way. He convincingly points out that the structure of Marx’s account of commodity fetishism contains a kind of doubled illusion, a two-layered process that encompasses the ideological side of capitalism and the non-human logic of commodities. He writes:

…the illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what people are doing. What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic inversion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but they are still doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called ideological fantasy. (29-30)

The twisting structure of Zizek’s argument here is that while commodity fetishism makes the relationship between people appear as commodities whilst imbuing commodities with the appearance life-like power, it is in actuality being overlooked. The logic of the commodity, while beginning as illusion, comes to operate on a real, material level in the sense that it imparts itself as the universal mediator of social relations. What’s more is that this can be mapped to a process of historical passage that is itself reflected in a shift in Marx’s own theory of abstraction, or what Alberto Toscano calls a “break with a generic, humanist, or anthropological concept of abstraction” for a “notion of real abstraction—abstraction not as mere mask, fantasy or diversion, but as a force operative in the world”. This first theory, Toscano argues, is inherited from Feuerbach and carries from him the assumption of “the genus ‘humanity'”. Abstractions of all sorts—political and religious, but particularly (for Marx) economic—are but “fictitious hypostases of [this] positive, underlying generic essence that is not itself prey to historical or logic becoming”. The second, however, provides an understanding of abstraction that undermines this humanist portrait:

The crucial theoretical revolution would then be the one that passes from this fundamentally intellectualist notion of abstraction—which presumes liberation as a ‘recovery’ of the presupposed genus (putting Man where God, qua distorted humanity, had once stood)—to a vision of abstraction that, rather than depicting it as a structure of illusion, recognizes it as a social, historical, and ‘transindividual’ phenomenon… Society is above all a relation: the role of these univocal simple abstractions—such as value, labor, private property—in the formation of the concrete must be carefully gauged so that they do not mutate back into those powerless and separate, not to mention mystifying, intellectual abstractions that had occupied the earlier theory of ideology. But these abstractions are not mental categories that ideally precede the concrete; they are real abstractions that are truly caught up in the social whole, the social relation.

Toscano later offers the radical conclusion posed by Alfred Sohn-Rethel: real abstraction does not only emerge from a thought becoming a thing—it is also “a relation, or even a thing, which then becomes a thought”. Read back onto Zizek, a portrait is drawn in which the illusion ceases to be illusion but becomes operative, the very thing that structures society by serving as the force that mediates it (if society is a relation, or more properly series or networks of relations, then it indeed will intrinsically maintain some form of mediation—what Sohn-Rethel called the “social synthesis”). Such is the obscured nature of capital (and not to mention to one of the very reasons why capital operates above and beyond the agency of the capitalist or politician)

What then of capitalism as ideology? It should be clear that it not only serves to protect the capitalist mode of production in either conscious or unconscious registers, but to in fact obscure this deeper structure of capitalist reality. The realism, in other words, is the illusion; the thing that appears as illusion is itself closer to an actual realism. Faced with some a dynamic obscuring and domino-effect of reversals it is clear that by taking flight to an understanding of capital as something subjected a priori to human intentionality or command serves only to reinforce the ideological frontier.

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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.

State of the Art // Art of the State

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*disjointed ramblings incoming*

1. 

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)

2. 

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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”.

3. 

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.

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Anyways…)

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

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.

 

Cthelllic Tendrils

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Follow the plummeting line downwards, Professor Barker tells us, past the rigid lithosphere where the tectonic plates crush together in howling grind, beyond the asthenosphere’s lurid flux of solid and molten matter, and downwards still through the mesosphere where this flux becomes chaotic, battered by seismic shockwaves and the pressure builds to insanity. Propelled into crushing depths at a screaming velocity we arrive at the outer core: an immense monster of energy, this swirling and churning ocean of liquid iron and nickel. Turbulent flows rocked by seismic shocks producing electrical loops generating the earth’s magnetic fields. Blacker than the frozen cosmic void: Cthelll, the schizophrenic heart of burning matter.

[T]he interior third of terrestial mass, semifluid metallic ocean, megamolecule, and pressure cooker beyond imagination… Cthelll is the terrestrial inner nightmare, nocturnal ocean, Xanadu: the anorganic metal-body trauma-howl of the earth, cross-hatched by intensities, traversed by thermic waves and currents, deranged particles, ionic strippings and gluttings, gravitional deep-sensitivities transduced into local electromesh, and feeding vulcanism…

Trauma-core. The Planomenon. When Cthelll hits the the borderlands of the mesosphere its anything but nonlinear. It’s a jagged internal coast that “contains troughs and swells, deeper than the Grand Canyon and higher than Mount Everest, spread across continent-sized areas.” In this zone – referred to as the D” layer – heat flows and matter are channeled together in great plumes that rush upwards, piercing each successive geological strata before rupturing at the surface in volcanic activity. Volcanic behavior, magnetic fields, the drift of continents – all find their motor in the immobile movements of Cthelll.

If there is a fateline that plummets to these depths, it is the Gothic line introduced by Wilhelm Worringer and elaborated upon by Deleuze and Guattari. From the geological veins of metallic mineral pumped up into the crust of the earth to the biological veins carrying iron-dense blood (a remnant of the iron-dense ocean that once covered the planetary surface before sinking into the dark depths) to magnetic field overhead to civilization’s reliance on the tapping into each of these flows, the metal radiance of Cthelll crisscrosses everything that takes place far above it. Speaking of the Gothic line, Deleuze and Guattari write that

metal is the coextensive to the whole of matter… Even the waters, the grasses, and the varieties of wood the animals are populated by salts or mineral elements. Not everything is metal, but metal is everywhere. Metal is the conductor of matter… Metal is neither a thing nor an organism, but a body without organs. The “Northern, or Gothic, line, is above all a mining or metallic line delimiting this body.

For Mark Fisher, the Gothic line is an affair of Gothic materialism, another name for which is hypernaturalism: “In the move from Naturalism to hypernaturalism, the old distinction between vitalism and mechanism – which, [Norbert] Wiener says, had been rendered illegitimate by cybernetics – collapses.” Hence the focus on uncanny technology that has been focused on in this blog. In hypernaturalism, there is nothing idiosyncratic or distinct about human or animal behavior that separates it from that of the machine, or the machine from the so-called ‘natural’ system. Instead of rising all things up to a human level (arrogantly presupposing human superiority) or pushing everything down to a base level (presupposing non-human inferiority), hypernaturalism charts a diagonal line away, into an indeterminate zone where these value judgments no longer hold sway. Here singularities, intensities, haecceities reign supreme.

Two of diagramming tools that Deleuze and Guattari lend to hypernaturalism are abstract machine and the machinic phylum. The first of these, the abstract machine, is the force that engenders the ecumenon – that is, the strata, or plane of organization – atop the planomenon, the plane of consistency. In the latter, the flows of matter are completely unformed and unorganized, yet become organized through being distributed into substances and forms by this abstract machine. Cthelll is an oscillating planomenon; that which organizes from this Entity – and slips back towards it – is an ecumenonical organization.

If this sounds oblique, consider Manuel Delanda’s unpacking, in War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, of the abstract machine by way of the study of self-organizing processes. Building on a conversation about turbulent liquid, crystallization, and metal’s transition from non-magnetic to magnetic, he writes that

all these different processes, at the onset of self-organization, have turned out to have similar mathematical structures. The process through which the photons in a laser undergo a spontaneous organization and become coherent (all “cooperating” to emit light of the same phase) has been found to be essentially similar to that of molecules in a liquid ”cooperating” to form eddies and vortices, or in a different case, crystalline structures. Since the actual chain of events that leads to the spontaneous formation of new patterns and structures in different media must be completely different, all these transitions from chaos to order are said to be “mechanism independent.” Only the mathematical structure of these transitions matters, as far as their self-organizing effects are concerned, and not the concrete ways in which the organization of molecules (or photons) is carried out. For this reason these mechanism-independent, structure-building singularities have been conceptualized as ”abstract machines”: that is, single “mathematical mechanisms” capable of being incarnated in many different physical mechanisms.

The singularities referenced here refer to points which trigger self-organization. Something can pass through a series of states – a succession of intensities like stages of temperature, for example – but when it enters into the proximity of the singularity the abstract machine takes over. Water goes from a consistent, unorganized room temperature to boiling to evaporation after passing through different singularities which, in turn, trigger the molecules to enter into self-organization that ultimately culminates in widespread systematic shift.

The second tool Deleuze and Guattari provide is the machinic phylum, which is itself synonymous with the metallic Gothic line. The phylum is nonorganic life: it is not only the unification of the organic and nonorganic under the rubric of the abstract machine’s functions that rupture the boundaries between the two, but the implication – proceeding from this – that nonorganic things and forces can adopt the attributes of biological life.

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.

The machinic phylum is the Cthelllic tendrils radiating out from the geocosmological compression chamber, rhizomatic burrows making their way through time and space, cutting up and down different scales, acting the bleeding edge of deterritorialization through disrupting the stable ground of a tool, a social configuration, even the human body (Lyotard’s inorganic proletarian bodies warped, broken, and remolded by the machinic arrays they are inserted into, for example). From the perspective of Delanda’s robot historian – one that is writing the historical of its species’ genesis through the nonlinear meanders of matter and process – “the notion of a machinic phylum blurs the distinction between organic and non-organic life, which is just what a robot historian would like to do. From its point of view… humans would have served only as the machine’s surrogate reproductive organs until the robots acquired their own self-replication capabilities. But both human and robot bodies would ultimately be related to a common phylogenetic line: the machinic phylum.”

Deleuze and Guattari divide the great, nocturnal Cthelll line of the machinic phylum into two different lines: a phylogenetic line and a ontogenetic line. “At the limit there is a single phylogenetic lineage, a single machinic phylum”, but this line itself becomes cut by the assemblage; that is, but a composition of forces that have entered into mutually transformative process – the orchid and the wasp, the worker and the machine, all the way up to the scales of culture and historical stages. It is this entering into of relations that cuts the phylum: one extracts something from the phylum and the extracted line extracts something in turn (hence why it is deterritorialization’s bleeding edge). The cut of the phylum produces many distinct phyla, both indistinguishable from the machinic phylum itself yet distinguishable by want of its specific attributes. From Cthelll to veins of iron ore to the various Iron Ages to the lineages of tools and weapons internal to them: snaking passages from the phylogenetic line down to the ontogenetic.

[At some future, yet very soon date, I’ll pick up where this leaves off: tracing the operations of the Cthelllic tendrils on human societies through a succession of figures – Shaman, Sorcerer, Smith.]

Demons and Disjunction (Patchwork and Capitalist Realism)

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A great new post series is in the works by Xenogoth, pushing out from the reflections on state decay to The Gothic Secession of Yorkshire. Reprising the fallout of early posts on the topic, they write:

Following my previous post on patchwork, ‘State Decay’, which tentatively introduced the idea and explored why it is something that the Left should take more seriously, I was repeatedly challenged over the legitimacy of patchwork being anything more than “science fiction”.

The difficulty in addressing this is, of course, that theories of patchwork are inherently speculative, but if we are to jettison the use of our imaginations when addressing the future, what point is there to thinking (about it) at all?

To me, this line of criticism felt like a blatant instantiation of the Left’s consistent inability to dig itself out of the “capitalist realist” fallacy that Mark Fisher so famously described in his book of (roughly) the same name.

This is a really cool way of thinking about it, and raises interesting questions with regard to certain retroprogressive elements in leftism, i.e. because there appears to be no alternative, and in response the Left only looks backwards. There’s always tools and forgotten histories and whatnot in the past to be found that can be resurrected, but if this comes at the expense of thinking-through future-oriented trendlines then the backwards face only serves to reinforce the initial condition of capitalist realism.

Either way, this made me think about the brief appearance of capitalist realism in Flatline Constructs, which is still occupying a major spot of my headspace. It occurs in a lengthy conversation about Freud on the double and Baudrillard’s response in Symbolic Exchange and Death (maybe the connection is further enforced in my mind by the fact that this conversation takes place to unpack the Uncanny, and which Xenogoth sees as something active in the concept of patchwork itself – “Patchwork is, in this way, for me, an eerie politic.”):

The destruction of the double goes hand in hand with the production of the (Christian) soul (the ultimate achievement of the “spiritualist” project), the rise of “psychological and psychoanalytic interpretation” as the authorized forms of capitalist realism bring an end to “the primitive double”. “Shadow, specter, reflection, image”, the primitive double haunts post-monotheistic, psychoanalytic culture, which appropriates it as a “crude prefiguration of the soul”. Yet “soul and consciousness have everything to do with a principle of the subject’s unification, and nothing to do with the primitive double. On the contrary, the historical advent of the ‘soul’ puts an end to the proliferating exchange with spirits and doubles which, as a direct consequence, gives rise to another figure of the double, wending its way beneath the surfaces of western reason.” This – modern, western – double is inextricably connected with alienation; it is the double as lost part of the self, “a fantastic ectoplasm, an archaic resurgence issuing from guilt and the depths of the unconscious.”

These reflections, addressing psychoanalytic consolidation of the unitary self and matters of spirit and soul, might seem to be at an immense distance from the conversations concerning patchwork – which is, ostensibly, a theory of metapolitics, belonging to a different set of scales. But is Fisher not right in saying that, as fantastical as it seems, this line of inquiry plunges us into the depths of capitalist realism’s functions? In the destruction of the primitive double, the wild chains of proliferating difference are cut off; one no longer enters into transit and trade with figures on the outside, but turns inwards to operate under the sway of predetermined sets of options that are each flush with a particular unifying logic. The double begins in multiplicity and ends unified and coded.

Baudrillard, like Deleuze, was a shrewd reader of Klossowski, and the influence radiates through the conversation about the double. Klossowski approached the concept through the simulacrum, which for Klossowski appears in European culture under the figure of the demon so feared by those of the Church. Baudrillard, by way of Fisher: Freud’s psychological flattening of the double “is what kills off the proliferation of doubles and spirits, consigning them once to the spectral, embryonic corridors of unconscious folklore, like the ancient gods that Christianity vertefeult, that is, transformed into demons.” For Klossowski, the Church had killed the ancient gods, but only to resurrect them as the demonic pantheon that their own holy order was tasked with holding at bay – a swarming apocalypse warded off by the Katechon. This, however, had unintended consequences: the demons did not annihilate the tracings of paganistic delirium, of mad communion with spirits, contagion and possession – the very presence of the demon was a portal between the unitary, sanctified world and the repressed Outside.

If Baudrillard finds Freud and the Church carrying out the same function, it’s because what is being repressed in this cycle (destruction of the old gods → their resurrection as demons → warding off the demonic) are impulses, which correspond precisely to what Nietzsche called the “vast confusion of contradictory drives” that are contained within ourselves. For Klossowski, they are primordial and noncommunicable intensities, just as in Deleuze’s own philosophy. The impulses ‘flicker’ through differential sequences, giving rise to to the phantasm – the self produced through synthesis and that is blind to the impulses that uphold it. Insofar as we can describe capitalist realism through these terms, it is a mode of suppressing the interplay of impulses in order to stabilize a particular phantasm in place – what Klossowski would describe as the production of series of stereotypes.

(A brief detour: it is perhaps here, in secular institutions repeating repression and molding of impulses, that we reach a perhaps more constructive vision of what neoreaction has designated the Cathedral. With CCRU’s writings in mind, we can think of the demonic impulses in relation to the Lemurian insurgency that the Architectonic Order of the Eschaton, the Human Security System, wages war with across time – and as Land writes in Dark Techno-Commercialism, “the Cathedral culminates in the Human Security System, outmatched and defeated from the Outside”. To put the concepts of the Cathedral and capitalist realism together might produce some interesting offspring.)

Deleuze writes in The Logic of Sense:

The order of God includes the following elements: the identity of God as the ultimate foundation; the identity of the world as the ambient environment; the identity of the person as a well-founded agency; the identity of bodies as the base; and finally, the identity of language as the power of denoting everything else. But this order of God is constructed against another order, and this order subsists in God and weakens him little by little.

This weakening of God reaches critical mass in Klossowski’s novel The Baphoment, which depicts the Templar Order tending to, under the guidance of God, the spirits of the dead. Released from their bodies in death, these spirits must be prevented from slipping into obscene mixtures in preparation for the eventual Resurrection – but a rebellion against the divine order takes place, heralded by Saint Theresa. The eventuality of divine Resurrection is shattered as spirits escape more and more, entering into strange arrangements, multiple spirits in one body, free to engage in acts deemed profane and perverse by the holy order.

This marks, Deleuze writes, “the death of God, the destruction of the world, the dissolution of the person, the disintegration of bodies, and the shifting function of language now only expressed in intensities.” A point-by-point opposition to the order of God: the order of the Anti-Christ, analogous exactly to the warded-off demonic world and the zone of the repressed primitive double. Or, to bring it back up to the top, something beyond capitalist realism.

What does this have to do with patchwork?

In The Logic of Sense and Anti-Oedipus, Klossowski’s counterposing of the order of God and the order of the Anti-Christ informs a transformation of Kant’s arguments on the disjunctive syllogism. Kant takes the syllogism to its limit: at the ceiling of the ideal, this is the function of God, as the very ground of the ability to reason. The judgment of God that Artaud wished to have done with: the logic of either/or, this not that, not A therefore B, etc. “God is here, at least provisionally”, says Deleuze in the Logic of Sense, “deprived of his traditional claims.” He now “has a humble task, namely, to enact disjunctions”. God is thus weaker in the Kantian schema, but in the end becomes the determining factor by serving as the master of the disjunctive syllogism.

Deleuze sounds the trumpets for Klossowski and his demonic army of impulses, spirits and intensities: “it is not God but rather the Antichrist who is the master of the disjunctive syllogism. This is because the anti-God determines the passage of each thing through all of its possible predicates. God, as the Being of beings, is replaced by the Baphomet, the ‘prince of all modifications,’ and himself modification of all modifications.” Or, to put it in the more understandable (!!) language of Anti-Oedipus: the disjunctive is a synthesis of which there are two uses, a positive use and a negative use. The negative use of the disjunctive synthesis is the order of God, based on a limitation and exclusion. You are either this or that, lest catastrophe befall you. Oedipal coding, to which is opposed the positive use, reigned over by the Antichrist, a “schizophrenic God [who] has so little to do with the god of religion, even though they are related to the same syllogism”. There is no longer simply “either/or”; it has passed to “either… or… or… or…”, potentially ad infinitum.

If we situate ourselves on a transcendent sofa in the anarchic outside and peek in it becomes apparent that this follows the perverse logic of patchwork: capitalist realism, the Human Security System, what have you, manifests the negative use of the disjunctive synthesis, while patchwork – stripped down to its most basic core, which is a meta-systemic multiplication of systems through fragmentation and division, exhibits the attributes of the positive use. This system, or this system, or… or… or… or… The commonalities are reinforced by the identification of the disjunctive synthesis operating upon the socius, that is, the body without organs relative to macroscale historico-political systems. The negative use of the disjunctive organizes a unitary body atop the socius, enforcing a judgment of God – but the positive use would entail a break-up of this unitary body, the slippage of the organs into different arrangements and mutant hybrids.

Things get even more uncanny when we consider the Marxist core to Anti-Oedipus: that capital is the force that goes to work on the socius, breaking apart the negative use of the disjunctive imposed by the despotic state and pushing things towards cosmic schizophrenia – the instantiation of the positive use in the form of an immense, frightening singularity.

Cue Metcalf:

Short of theology and fascism, brain core capitalism is already virtually extinct. Crippled Archangel of Meat Cull Europa withers into grey dust on Terra Nova. Insect swarms arrive like fate – nth dimension intrusion across the spinal thresholds of the socius – passing memeplexed revolution sequences through the germ plasm of evolutionary vehicles. Becoming metallic. Becoming swarm. Unnatural participation as elan vital bootstrapping imperceptible colonization of Nu-Earth into virtual operativity.

Trauma Core

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This evening I had a chance to finish reading Mark Fisher’s phd thesis Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction. Weaving together the CCRU-era emphasis on capital’s radical deterritorializing edge with foreshadows of the critique honed in his later writings (the concept of ‘capitalist realism’ even makes a brief appearance), Fisher bounces Deleuze and Guattari’s nomad thought and Baudrillard’s cool pessimism off on another to explore the uncanniness creeping in through ultra-late cybernetic capitalism. This uncanniness is explored, as the title of the thesis suggests, through the lenses of “gothic materialism. Fisher:

Gothic Materialism is flat with its material; it names both the mode of analysis and what is to be analyzed. It does not arbitrarily conjoin materialism with the Gothic, but insists that all effective materialism must lead Out towards a non-organic (dis)continuum. Amongst other things, the Gothic can serve as the proper name for this continuum, and cyberpunk is the registering of its arrival on the terminal shores of a wired humanity. Whilst an organicist left finds in cyberpunk the quietist collapse of transformative political projects into a “hardboiled” “survivalist” hyper-nihilism, Gothic materialism locates in Baudrillard’s ecstatic communication, Gibson’s hyperspace, Jameson’s total flow, and Cronenberg’s Videodrome the map of a hypermediatized capitalism that is decoding privatized subjectivity.

Gothic materialism converges with matters of great interest to this blog, particularly where the collision of the “non-organic (dis)continuum” – or, to put it more succinctly, if not redundantly, the anorganic continuum – and cyberculture collide. Cyberpunk isn’t just a hyperstitional space unveiling capital’s templex invasion of the future; it is also in open transit with a deeply alien force. Xenogenetic mutagens range freely through the folding and unfolding of time, an encounter with which is illustrated in the CCRU’s depictions of the cybergothic. The term exhibits the same heat-fucked temporality as retroprogressivism and neoreaction: a looping together of futurity (cyber, progress, neo-) with the past (gothic, retro-, reaction). As Iris Carver wrote some twenty years ago: “Think of cyberspace as a black-mirror. It is where time flips over: collide with it and you travel backwards. As telecommerce accelerates us into the net, it seems that things of ever deeper antiquity awaken, and begin their return. So say the Cybergoths.”

Near the conclusion of Flatline Constructs, Fisher elaborates on the double nature of the black-mirror, placing on one side of it cyberspace (putting special emphasis on its independent economic function), and on the other the zone where cyberspace undergoes “black out”: the “catatonic ‘neuro-electronic void’… the image of the noumenal event horizon which we cannot go”. The time-shattering flip from one side to the other is the plummet into the deeper darkness of the anorganic continuum, described by Deleuze and Guattari as the ‘gothic line’ that gives rises to the “prodigious idea of Nonorganic Life” (ATP 411). Schizophrenia’s intensive voyages move in the direction of this line, taking “the schizo as close as possible to matter, to a burning, living center of matter” (AO 19). Nonorganic life, matter’s burning, living core – the anorganic continuum snakes through the fissure between the dead and the living and problematizes each. It is the plane of unlife, or as it might be called alternatively and without contradiction, the plane of undeath.

Echidna Stillwell: 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 traffick with her do so with the very greatest respect and caution.

Hence the centrality of the Freudian uncanny. Fisher argues that by boxing the uncanny into castration anxiety – fear of punishment by castration for the content of our repressed impulses – Freud is attempting to ward off the true horror that lurks down this road, one that gets to the fiery core of ultimate repression. Dolls coming to life, non-living living doubles, the sudden recognition of likeness in some alien artifact – these are all treated by Freud as the cataloging of childhood traumas and past events that are repeating themselves through life. It is thus a return to the same, or the familiar, even if it wears a mask. It is what Deleuze would describe repetition of the same – but in Fisher’s resistance to Freud’s oedipal recoding, the uncanny’s dreadful mask moves towards the repetition of difference-in-itself, as the anorganic continuum itself. The uncanny, by making something dead spring to life, is a sudden eruption of the undeath into the fragile stability of ‘ordinary’ reality.

While Fisher doesn’t pursue it, it seems to me that this helps us get at Deleuze’s reformulation of Freud’s death instinct. In Coldness and Cruelty, Deleuze had transformed the Thanatropic death instinct into the groundlessness that upheld Eros – “beyond the repetition that links, the repetition that erases and destroys” (C&C 114). In Difference and Repetition this connection is deepened by tying the death instinct to the time of the Eternal Return, that is, the temporal mechanism of difference-in-itself: “Time empty and out of joint, with its rigorous formal and static order, its crushing unity and its irreversible series, is precisely the death instinct” (D&R, 111).

In contrast is the death instinct of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where Freud finds in the drive the striving to return to the same, in the guise of inorganic matter. Defining an instinct as “an urge inherent in organic matter to restore an earlier state of things”, Freud argued that if “the aim of all life is death”, the death instinct can be characterized the striving to “becoming inorganic once again” (BPP 30, 32). Life as disequilibria trying to loop back to homeostatic equilibrium – but other forces push back against the instinct to “ward off any possible ways of returning to inorganic existence other than those which are immanent in the organism itself” (BPP 33). Life is thus a series of ‘detours’ on the road to the actual event of dying itself, in which homeostasis is achieved.

Deleuze argues in Coldness and Cruelty that Freud contradicts himself at multiple points where the death drive is concerned, repeatedly crossing the line into repetition-of-difference in contrast to repetition-of-the-same, and that he has to fall back at each instant of doing so. This observation parallels Fisher’s arguments in Flatline Constructs that Freud must hold at bay the real source of uncanny dread by routing it back into the familiar. An example of such tension can be found in Freud’s himself complication of the organic/inorganic divide by suggesting that the living substance exhibits a “special envelope or membrane” that protects it from excesses of external stimuli, and that this membrane is “to some degree inorganic” (BPP 21). In this schema, the inorganic membrane is part of the infrastructure that carries out the warding-off of death and aids the ultimate flight into final death – yet by its very existence the categories of the organic and inorganic begin to crumble as the living substance begins morphing into an anorganic entity. By shifting the terrain from the base inorganic matter to an anorganic continuum, the body becomes not some radically distinct from the continuum – it’s continuous with it. This is what engenders the dread of the uncanny. It isn’t the repetition of childhood trauma, trauma being violent external stimuli that has pierced the inorganic membrane. It’s the repressed Secret that everything convergent upon – and emergent from – the anorganic plane of unlife, a trauma of the inside being unfold into its outside.

Professor Daniel Barker: Trauma is a body. Ultimately – at its pole of maximum disequilibrium – it’s an iron thing. At MVU they call it Cthelll: the interior third of terrestrial mass, semifluid metallic ocean, megamolecule, and pressure-cooker beyond imagination. It’s hotter than the surface off the sun down there, three thousand clicks below the crust, and all that thermic energy is sheer impersonal nonsubjective memory of the outside, running the plate-tectonic machinery of the planet via the conductive and convective dynamics of silicate magma flux, bathing the whole system in electomagnetic fields as it tidally pulses to the orbit of the moon. Cthelll is the terrestrial inner nightmare, nocturnal ocean, Xanadu: the anorganic metal-body trauma-howl of the earth, cross-hatched by intensities, traversed by thermic waves and currents, deranged particles, ionic strippings and gluttings, gravitational deep-sensitivities transduced into nonlocal electromesh, and feeding vulcanism … that’s why plutonic science slides continuously into schizophrenic delirium.

The trauma-core threatens the unitary self (as indicated in Anti-Oedipus by the proximity of the schizophrenia and the burning heart of ‘living matter’), just as Eternal Return, repetition-as-difference, dissolves it into the production of the New. Why must the unitary self – or, as Deleuze and Guattari call it, the “body-image” – hide this trauma away, repress it at all costs? Because it voids out the body-image’s interiority: being continuous with the plane of unlife breaks down the external source of trauma, predicated on the membrane that regulates passage from the inside to the outside, by unfoldng interiority into exteriority. The body-image becomes thrown back on what it has obscured, the Body without Organs. Or, in other words, it falls back on the primary process that has given rise to it: the anorganic continuum as auto-production.

In a passage that is as remarkable as it is horrifying, Deleuze and Guattari push deeper into the ruptures between life and death, the organic and anorganic, and along the way reveal the body-image as little more than a parasite on the gears of autoproduction. Taking their cue from Samuel Butler’s “The Book of the Machines”, which asserts that the mechanism-vitalism binary is annihilated under the absolute identity of the machinic and the organic, they write:

…it becomes immaterial whether one says that machines are organs, or organs machines. The two definitions are exact equivalents: man as a “vertebro-machinate mammal”, or as an “aphidian parasite of machines. What is essential is not the passage to infinity itself – the infinity composed of machine parts or the temporal infinity of animalcules – but rather in what this passage blossoms into. Once the structural unity of the machine has been undone, once the personal and specific unity of the living has been laid to rest, a direct link is perceived between the machine and desire, the machine passes to the heart of desire, the machine is desiring and desire, machined. Desire is not in the subject but the machine in the desire – with the residual subject off to the side, alongside the machine, around the entire periphery, a parasite of the machines, an accessory of vertebro-machinate desire. In a word, the real difference is not between the living and the machine, vitalism and mechanism, but between two states of the machine that are two states of living as well. (AO 285-286)

As Fisher notes, what is at stake here is “the delocalization of desire, and its fusion with generalized production”, a maneuver that sets in motion the articulation of this complex as traumatic, and its ultimate repression. The CCRU, following not just Deleuze and Guattari but J.G. Ballard, explore this through the frame of geotrauma, in which the body-image is exploded back onto the monstrous geological flux of deep-time (a prism that pulls together the materiality of the anorganic continuum with the empty time of the Eternal Return), where the grinding slowness of continental drift and the repetitive assault by catastrophic upheaval exerts a pressure that ravages and contorts the evolutionary process. In The Drowned World, Ballard describes the recording of these inhuman processes on the human spine:

The further down the CNS you move, from the hind-brain through the medulla into the spinal cord, you descend back into the neutronic past. For example, the junction between T-12 and L-1 is the great zone of transit between the gill-breathing fish and their air-breathing amphibians with their respiratory rib-cages, the very junction where we stand now on the shores of this lagoon, between the Paleozoic and Triassic eras.

Or, as Professor Barker sums up: “Geotrauma is an ongoing process, whose tension is continually expressed – partially frozen – in biological organization.” Cybernetics is another way to track this process; after all, it was Norbert Wiener who suggested it had “relegated” the vitalist/mechanist debate to “the limbo of badly posed questions” by contextualizing purposefulness in terms distinctly mechanistic terms. Push this a little further and we get to the true core that, in its immensity, shatters the confidence of the body-image’s agency by situating it in the multi-scaled cascades of self-organizing systems. Leveling: the cybernetics of technomic development burns out, more and more, the transcendent notions we had about the world, our place in it, and the interior functions of ourselves. A time-loop that bends the increasingly-close far-future to the deepest past.

Getting to this stage returns us back to the theme of the uncanny. Identifying the anorganic spectrum of systems as exhibiting purposeful behavior schizzes out notions of intelligence by making cyberpositivity transveral across many ruptured orders, imbuing them with a sense of uncanniness that cannot but actor as a destabilizing factor. The implications are of clear for the topics this blog relishes the most – capital, (already defined by Marx in terms of an unliving Gothic entity consuming society) and war (with its tendency towards non-human learning processes). But more at some other time!

Meanwhile, Thomas Murphy on Deleuze and Guattari’s anorganic mysticism:

Screenshot from 2018-03-12 11-02-42

Screenshot from 2018-03-12 11-03-16