[The below is a (gently remixed) rough draft of something I never completed. Since it connects with some of the dialogue that has been happening on this blog lately, I figured I would put it up. Hopefully I will flesh out thoughts concerning the dangling threads, so until that time apologies for the lack of climax. Or not, climaxes are fashy.]
Identity has always been about keeping you on Level 1, or to be more exact, leaving you with a zero-sum option: Level 1 or Game Over, the organism or death, the phallus or lack. – Mark Fisher, “Hom(m)eostasis”
Can what is playing you make it Level-2? – Nick Land, “Meltdown”
What is it that is playing us? It is clearly not the the illusionary identity that is doing the playing, as if it is some force possessing an otherwise pure entity. If the identity is what is discarded in leap from Level-1 to Level-2, then it is illusionary identity that is being played, a puppet that is mistaking itself for a puppeteer.
What is at Level-2?
Land: A convergent anti-authoritarianism emerges, labelled by tags such as meltdown acceleration, cyberian invasion, schizotechnics, K-tactics, bottom-up bacterial welfare, efficient neo-nihilism, voodoo antihumanism, synthetic feminization, rhizomatics, connectionism, Kuang contagion, viral amnesia, micro-insurgency, wintermutation, neotropy, dissipator proliferation, and lesbian vampirism, amongst other designations (frequently pornographic, abusive, or terroristic in nature). This massively distributed matrix-networked tendency is oriented to the disabling of ROM command-control programs sustaining all macro- and micro-governmental entities, globally concentrating themselves as the Human Security System.
Fisher: “To become the New Flesh you must first kill the old.”Max learns that organism death is not the end. Not that he moves into any kind of spirtualised immortality. Nicki teaches him that ‘Death’ only exists for the individuated organism. “It is understandable that, in a civilization which separates mind from body, we should either try to forget death or make mythologies about the survival transcendent mind. But if mind is immanent not only in those pathways of information which are located inside the body but also in external pathways, the death takes on a different aspect. The individual nexus of the pathways which I call ‘me’ is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind.” Out of the meat. Sex organs sprouting everywhere. First step into the New Flesh.
Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle is the story of the human puppet, undoubtedly one of the great horror stories of the twentieth century. It is a probing of the primordial trauma core from the point of view of the security apparatus (the work as a piece of psychoanalytic literature) and a murky, contaminated voyage into the depths of the fault-line it can scarcely trace (as indicated by the creeping paranoia that seethes underneath its scholarly pretenses).
The splitting of the subject appears from multiple, yet interrelated directions for Freud – first and foremost the movement indicated by the work’s title itself. Drawing heavily on the work of Gustav Fechner, Freud had elaborated the pleasure principle in early texts (such as The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 and the The Two Interpretations of Mental Functioning in 1911) as the instinct to maximize pleasure and avoid pain. Such an instinct was, Freud had argued, the fundamental program for life – but the principle in itself had a cutting edge. Total capitulation to the pleasure principle would entail the collapse of civilization and the rapid expiration of the body. Thus the pleasure principle comes into conflict with another, the reality principle, which dampens the striving for pleasure with reason and the capacity for delayed gratification. Such is the development of the healthy individual, the process through which the ego (correlated to the reality principle) comes to gain control of the id (the pleasure principle).
Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a venture below this conflict, which comes to appear to Freud as a secondary process as he descends through into the substrate. Among the alien artifacts he churns up from this landscapes is the bizarre theory discussed in a previous post on the concept of anorganic continuum – that there is line that demarcates the inside from the outside, the interior self from the exterior world that forms a shield that protects the “little fragment of living substance” deep within; it carries this function by regulating the amount of stimuli that passes from the outside to the inside. If it weren’t for this regulation, Freud reasons, the unmitigated flow of stimuli would overwhelm and destroy the organism. The feeling of pain is but a minor indicator of this, being a localized and limited break of this shield. An event powerful to break through the protective shield in full, however, is registered as trauma.
Freud notes that the person who has suffered a traumatic event tends to dwell on the event in a way that they appear as if haunted by it: the smallest memory-traces, be it in everyday life or the clinical office, are capable of triggering re-enactments of the initial trauma. This reliving reinforces the hold the event has on the subject, widening the force of the fixation and triggering, in turn, additional re-enactments down the line. The trauma situation thus induces a suspension of the pleasure principle that reiterates in time, signaling the damage down to the dynamics of the instincts playing out between the id and ego.
Yet almost as soon as this conclusion is reached, problems arise that destabilize the ground. Why does one repeat? To master something, to overcome initial limitations in order to increase functioning in the world. Referring to the child who throws toys from his crib while happily babbling affirmations, Freud suggests that compulsion to repeat is not simply linked the unpleasurable – as is the case of traumatic repetition – but to the pleasurable as well. It follows, then, that repetition is not induced by the piercing of the protective shield itself. If it cuts across both pleasure and unpleasure, learning and failure to overcome, then the source must be deeper still, bubbling up from some zone deeper still. We begin to get hints here that something is amiss with the human subject, that something else is lurking behind the facade. Indeed, Freud says – the compulsion to repeat carries with it a “hint of possession by some ‘daemonic’ power.” He continues:
At this point we cannot escape the suspicion that we may have come upon the track of a universal attribute of instincts and perhaps of organic life in general which has not hitherto been recognized or at least explicitly stressed. It seems, then, that an instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces; that is, a kind of organic elasticity, or to put it another way, the expression of the inertia inherent in organic life.(emphasis in original)
Here the primary process is approached, the ur-instinct: the death drive, the striving to return to the primordial point of origin, the inorganic itself. Understanding the aim of life as death itself reveals the split subject, divided eternally between the secondary and the primary, between the surface level conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle and the deeper, wider circuitry of self-preservation and drive to abolition. But, at the same time, Freud’s rendering bears a distinctive conservatism. It revels, for example, in the fantasy of the origin point (even if it expands this to a generalized and abstract ‘inorganic’), and, by extension, suggests that the ultimate impulse of the organism is towards homeostasis and a final ‘balancing’.
Freud notes the proximity of his theory to those of the great German evolutionary biologist, August Weismann. The dynamic play between the exoteric will-to-life and the esoteric will-to-death seems to bear some resemblance to the so-called “Weismann barrier” that cleaves apart the germ cell lineages (the germline) and those of the soma cells. This barrier effectively isolates the immortal from the mortal and illustrates a flow of information from the former to the latter: the germline, which gives rise to the gametes of sexually reproducing organisms, imparts hereditary information to each generation of the somatic cells of the generation in question. While each iteration of the somatic line is doomed to death, the germline can live forever as long as propagation of itself in ensured. The sense of a phylogenetic horror begins to rise from the pages of Beyond the Pleasure Principle: in our individual bodies we are the somatic meat-puppets for the germline, the mortal protective shells developed to ensure its immortality.
Freud had come close to this very understanding nearly a decade prior in a 1912 essay titled “A Note on the Unconscious in Psychoanalysis”, having written that:
The individual does carry on a double existence: one designed to serve his own purpose and another as a link in a chain in which he serves against, or at any rate without, any volition of his own. The individual regards sexuality as his own ends; while from another point of view he is only an appendage of his germplasm, to which he lends his energies… the mortal vehicle of a (possibly) immortal substance.
Whatever his thoughts on phylogeny, Freud conjured forth Weismann in Beyond the Pleasure Principle only to ward off his ultimate conclusions away. This is done precisely to maintain the stability of his conservative interpretation of the death drive, which threatens to be overwhelmed by Weismann’s theory of ‘programmed death’. For the biologist, death was something that develops later in the evolutionary line, as a form of adaptation to natural circumstances necessary for the continuation of the germline. Simply put: if the single organism is immortal, then the proliferation of organisms threatens the survival of the organism via the depletion of the natural resources it depends upon. Death becomes necessary for the continued evolution of the species, and the prolonging of the germline itself.
Freud’s theory, by contrast, was predicated on a death as a universal condition that beset the biological organism from its very protozoic beginning, and he retained Weismann insofar that this point could be avoided. If death did have the universality that Freud lent to it, then the death drive was precisely that striving for homeostasis realized as a conjoining with the origin in organic totality. But, in the inverse, if organism death developed later through evolutionary process, then the death drive must be expressing something and – perhaps most importantly – it isn’t a manifestation of a strive towards homeostasis. Robbed of the organic totality, the ‘daemonic power’ must become dynamic, an indication of productive disequilibrium.
In his reading of Emile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart cycle, Deleuze takes up both the sides of the Weismann barrier in a way that counteracts Freud’s interpretation of the death drive, and helps push it. In The Logic of Sense, as well as in other key works, the germline is recast as the germinal in order to detach it from the genealogical overcoding that attaches it strictly to primordial origin-points. It is not “’before’ the organism”, he writes in A Thousand Plateaus, directly correlating it with the Body without Organs. “[I]t is adjacent to it and continually in the process of constructing itself… The BwO is precisely this intense germen where there are not and cannot be either parents or children (organic representation). This is what Freud failed to understand about Weismann: the child as the germinal contemporary of the parents.” By breaking with organic representation, the germinal breaks from the punctual system to cause thing to slip between the organizing pincers and engage with the productive process itself. Non-familial, anti-oedipal.
This signals an immense transformation in Weismann’s own biological logic, which unfolds by connecting the germinal to, on the one hand, the death drive, and on the other the Eternal Return. Finally, it is the identification of these two together that truly allows the germinal to be separated from the baseline functions of the germline identified by Weismann. In his reading of Zola, these two modes of difference appear as two modes of heredity: the somatic heredity, correlated to the same, and germinal heredity, the elevated heredity of difference. The former is a small, historical heredity, a “heredity of instincts”. It is organic representation pursued through the familial lineage, its vitality ensured through the inter-generational transmission of traits.
The germinal heredity is epic and transhistorical, the “heredity of the crack”. This crack is not simply a split in the world where mutant diagonalizations slip away – it is the great biocosmic background of all things, a “continuous, imperceptible, and silent” crack that “renders this history possible”. It recalls the elusive “oceanic feeling”, described by Romain Rolland in his letter to Freud – the mystical sensation of a vast and uncanny interconnectivity between things, of becoming “without perceptible limits” through submersion in the eternal. Freud, in his response, dismissed the poetic flourishes of Rolland’s descriptions by noting (tellingly) that he had himself never experienced this sensation sensation. Insofar as it existed, it was a narcissistic regression to the state of the infant child before the formation of the ego itself, that is, during the time of breastfeeding (with the removal of the breast being, in Freud’s account, the impetus for the formation of the ego).
Here the oceanic sensation is coded into what Deleuze might call the somatic heredity, with its ultimate implications – the feeling of the self’s dissolution – locked into the individual’s development through the family setting. For Wilhelm Reich, this maneuver marked the beginning of his break with Freud. Foreshadowing Deleuze and Guattari, he lambasted his mentor for being “caught in words”. The oceanic feeling was no mere sensation, but something that, despite the fundamental imperceptibility of it, was palpable and produced effects. Reich: “In the schizophrenic, for example, the streaming they feel, the emotions they feel, that’s all very real.” Echoes: “What the schizophrenic experiences, both as an individual and as a member of the human species, is not at all any one specific aspect of nature, but nature as a process of production… everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions, productions of recording processes, of distributions and co-ordinates that serve as pints of reference; production of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxiety, and of pain. Everything is production…”
[Nothing past this point in the initial draft was coherent at all, but here’s two quotes:
Fisher: There’s nothing the reproducers want more than another piece of martyred, dead meat to hang on the white wall as an example: stay on the straight and narrow or end up like this. Leaving Man requires as much care, as much caution, as hacking out of any security system – beware: there are booby-traps everywhere… Think of videogames: it’s all about learning to get to Level-2.
Zola: This time their old, tottering society had received a jolt and they had heard the ground crack beneath their feet, but they felt other jolts on the way, and yet others, and so it would go on until the old edifice was shaken to pieces and collapsed and disappeared into the earth… a black avenging host was slowly germinating in the furrows, thrusting upwards for the harvests of future ages. And very soon their germination would crack the earth asunder.]