Germline (#1)

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[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.]

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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.

1.

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.

2.

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.]

 

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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