Demons and Disjunction (Patchwork and Capitalist Realism)


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


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:

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Bateson Bits

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-From “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia”, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 211-212

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-From Percival’s Narrative: A Patient’s Account of His Psychosis, p. xiii-xiv

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-From “The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication”, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 307