Categories
Uncategorized

The 2018 End of Year Hole

2018 draws to a close, the chattering storm clouds gathering at its edge announcing its eventual dissipation. Swarms of insects shift and stream through the gap between now and then, probosces prod and tremble in response to viscous stimuli, the temporal current bubbling from further, deeper indices. Data, folding and multiplying, copying and expanding, exploding and mutating, shattering and penetrating, tearing and shuddering. Turning in on itself, the corpus of social chains rots into new forms, dissolves and rebuilds structures within the real, extending tentacular feelers into spongey substances. The links in the chain become open doors.

CLARIFICATIONS

eye.jpg

Before I list some things proper, I feel it necessary to clarify the context of this entire list. 2018 was a hell of a strange year for me, one characterised by massive, in some sense violent change; to such an extent that in truth it only feels like it started halfway through. It was the year in which I abandoned my prior pretence of being an unbridled cynic, a disillusioned political centrist, and someone I really didn’t want to be, governed by an increasingly depressive cloud from which I attempted to shield myself via pathetic projections of certainty and blinkered ignorance. I shed the mask of the miserable bastard and found somewhere that I’m actually a Utopian at heart, finding, through some of the things I shall list below, something entirely new but difficult to solidly define. The disillusionment didn’t disappear, it’s simply that I found that continuing to press on despite it was more gratifying than my previous approach of simply giving in and wallowing in the mud of failure. The pushing against obstacles, the overcoming of hurdles, is something I can’t help but think defines not humanity per se, but matter itself. The structure of matter is constant straining, pushing, the paths of resistance, overcome or worked around. This is all why this list will prove a little open ended, including a few things I haven’t finished, or even that I’ve only just started on… 2018 only really got going for me relatively late in the game, and towards its end has been a veritable avalanche of new discoveries. Without further ado, I’ll get the ball rolling.

THOMAS PYNCHON – GRAVITY’S RAINBOW

GR.jpg

Gravity’s Rainbow blew the doors open. I’m not even sure I read to the end, I think I did, and I can’t remember starting, though I know I spent a good month and a bit more buried in this whirlwind of obscene profundities. It had the effect of violently tearing me from my slumber, unfolding the spacio-temporal disjuncture of my condition at the time. The structure of this fable, a careening arc of sexual absurdities, octopuses, a giant adenoid, all coming to a point of eschaton and obsession, pulling apart reality at its seams. It acted on me as a kind of molecular insurrectionist book, seeding itself in my mind and proceeding to shift the boundaries of my thought in a torrent of things I’d never encountered before, an experimental barrage of the unknown with one sweep tearing asunder the thrones of yore and setting in place an oscillating fleshy blob of matter to rule the kingdom on their stead. I intend to further explore Thomas Pynchon’s work, I have an unread copy of Mason & Dixon sitting on my shelf and the Crying of Lot 49 calls out to me, but Gravity’s Rainbow as an event was for me a wormhole of possibilities and a strategically placed bomb.

GHOST – PREQUELLE

ghostprequelle copy.jpg

“It’s not metal!” they cried, clutching their copies of Opus Eponymous. They’re right, it’s not, but it’s long been obvious that Ghost’s aspirations didn’t lie in being a pure metal outfit for a long time, and in truth what I find so compelling about the band is their commitment to their cheesy, over the top theatrical stylings. What makes it more than just surface level sheen though is their ability to construct an absolutely wonderful pop song, see Dance Macabre, and refreshingly overblown Ballad in See the Light. They do away with the insistance that everything must be serious, sad, dour and inject some much needed fun into the modern rock landscape, fun here not intending to lessen their serious intent as a band, but to encapsulate a certain rediscovery of the limits of aesthetic expression that in its current iteration on Prequelle finds Ghost traversing a distinct emotional catharsis that lodged the album firmly into my brain for the better part of this year. It’s not metal but is is Ghost, in all their costumed glory.

MARK FISHER – CAPITALIST REALISM

CR.jpg

[See also “Terminator v Avatar: Notes on Accelerationism”] I can’t actually remember where I found Mark Fisher’s essay Terminator v Avatar now, but I don’t find it hyperbolic to say reading it changed my life, as has the rest of Fisher’s work, and it caused me to immediately order Capitalist Realism on impulse, something I usually avoid entirely. If Gravity’s Rainbow blew open the doors, Capitalist Realism gave form to the seething energy beyond them. What I found in Terminator V Avatar was a concise but incredibly formulated piece on the follies of an anti-capitalist appeal to the past, this wish to return to a more “primitive” time, to live of the land, being fully assimilated into capitalist infrastructure, illustrated via looking at James Cameron’s Avatar as an embodiment of this capitalist drive to re-assimilate its own opposition. In Capitalist Realism I found one of the most effective accounts of the Capitalist apparatus I’d read, Fisher’s titular concept making sense of so much of the world around me, and again shifting the boundaries of my perception in a significant realignment. Beyond this, Fisher’s work has helped me immensely, grounded me from a state of drifting apprehension, and without it I wouldn’t have started this very blog. I won’t ramble on too much here, but Fisher finally led me to something resembling my own position, and has been something of a revelation not only in terms of my ongoing interests in philosophy and theory, but in my sense of political vitality and urgency, re-awakening a sense of potential new realities I had long given up on. Read Capitalist Realism if you haven’t already, it’s very short and well worth the few hours it’ll take.

JULIA HOLTER – AVIARY

aviary.jpg

The prospect of new Julia Holter is always an unexpected joy, but the vast expanse of Aviary confounded my expectations in the most delightful way, unravelling on first listen into an experimental cacophonous space redolent of its title, seeming to reflect the weirding of the modern world in its creation of an entire sonic ecosystem. At times it screams and wails, at others it echoes, it breathes softly, all these sounds merging into each other and flowing across the bedrock, eventually forming a vast lake teeming with life. It’s long and winding, at times forms fractured rapids and whirlpools, but the separate parts connect into a sublime organism, organic and shifting in tone and mood. It is I suppose a much more difficult, abstract release than her previous album, but in this lies some of her most ethereally beautiful compositions, and if one can spend the time on it, Aviary is one of the most impressive musical projects of the year, one that manages to weave together teeming multitudes into a coherent expression of musical catharsis.

DELEUZE & GUATTARI – ANTI-OEDIPUS

DGAO.jpg

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually finished reading this yet, I’m just enjoying my time with it too much to pass up mentioning it here. Beyond its rather toothless and vapid interpretations one might find in universities, the Academy’s full tendency to shave the edges off the theory it tackles on display, Deleuze and Guattari present a truly radical work here [I would argue still today] the primary purpose of which is to ask why we wish for our own domination. In other words, this is, as Foucault expresses in his preface to the book, an anti-fascist work, not just on a structural level, but on a molecular level, taking aim at the tendencies of psychoanalysis to defer to control, to institution and tradition via Oedipus, and formulating capital as that which necessarily represses desire. The mistake some make is to think that D/G are presenting either a model, or a symbolic/metaphorical picture with this book. This is to rob their ideas of power, and as they make perfectly clear throughout the book, they are simply not talking in metaphor. The insistence of academics to time and again reduce powerful ideas to a purely imaginary gesture is consistently infuriating. With Anti-Oedipus in particular, while they no doubt use imagery to illustrate their ideas, the ideas themselves are real. When they think in terms of multiplicity, when they say “making love is not just becoming as one, or even two, but becoming as a hundred thousand” this is exactly what they mean. Every time we reduce these statements down to nothing but poetics we turn D/G into a shell of their potential. Taken as a book intended to have real effect upon the world, not just as a theoretical vaguery designed to be dissected in a lecture theatre somewhere, Anti-Oedipus is a remarkable work, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it in the future and to tackling the rather more daunting scale of A Thousand Plateaus.

WIDOWS

widows.jpg

My big question going into this film was “Can McQueen really keep this up?”. The man hasn’t directed a film that’s been anything less than incredible, and I’m happy to report Widows did not break that streak, a heist film on the surface that really digs deep into the social and political surroundings of everyone involved. Not a single character didn’t work, all contributing to the sense of place and political decay in the setting of Chicago, all the parts of the film operating in organic synthesis to paint a picture in the strongest terms, of being forced into a situation through no fault of ones own, of being at the whim of an abstract structure that has anything but your best interests in mind. It’s maybe not quite the stark and uncompromising statement that 12 Years a Slave was, but in its own ambitions it excels, upending the genre standards of heist stories with the greatest attention paid to the emotional resonance of each individual character’s situation. He did it again, this is another must-watch.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

ywnrh

Confession: I’d never seen a Lynne Ramsey film before I saw this one on the strength of what I’d heard about it. On the strength of this I intend to rectify this situation. Joaquin Pheonix tends to be excellent, so that his performance here fits this description isn’t necessarily a surprise, but Ramsey’s direction really hits home regarding the existential instability of his character, the non-existence of his being. What’s noteworthy about the film’s approach to violence is its uncompromising focus on the aftermath rather than the action itself. The actual heat-of-the-moment combat, the brutality, dissolves into a heap of bodies on the floor, blood pooling, the psychological torment…

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

hhh.jpg

Despite this show’s occasional use of cheap scare tactics [though it mostly steers clear of the depressingly familiar twee scary tropes of contemporary horror, preferring to stick to the genuinely unsettling building of atmosphere] it stuck with me, going into some deep psychological territory via a loose adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. Each of the main characters serve as our guides through their own trauma, their own struggle to come to terms with the events of their childhood in a way that transcends the usually rather dull “horror as metaphor for psychology” set-up, something that usually just makes me curse the writer’s inability to have faith in their creation, to become a legitimately stirring existential poem of grief, addiction, empathy and memory.

MANDY

mandy

Nicolas Cage engaged in a chainsaw battle. That caught your attention? Nicolas Cage lighting a cigarette from a flaming severed head. That? This is to sell the film short though. It’s much more than just a “Nicolas Cage goes mad” kind of film, pulling together some of the most visceral and colourfully violent scenes I saw this year as as well as featuring a soundtrack by the late Johann Johannsson, a growling, drone-metal inspired descent into hell. The first half of the film is even a surprisingly slow build up to the second half’s utter insanity. It won’t be for everyone, but Mandy is a remarkable film in many ways.

SUSPIRIA

suspiria

Now here’s a film everyone definitely didn’t love. Opinions on Luca Guadagnino’s re-imagining of Dario Argento’s horror classic varied from “masterpiece” to “total garbage”. I will concede that the film is probably too long and over-the-top in many ways, but if I’m being entirely honest this exactly why I loved it. The sheer ambition here, the political overtones of the film, and moments of pure body horror [seriously don’t watch this over dinner] won me over in the best way possible, so when I’d finished watching this film I felt like I’d just greedily devoured a large meal and didn’t regret it one bit, even if it was a tad rich.

FIRST MAN

FM.jpg

Having been significantly moved by Chazelle’s previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, I took an interest in First Man on the basis of this alone, and what I got was again what could have been a flaccid, stifled historical drama transformed into an emotionally affecting exploration of grief, waste of life, being caught in a process you can’t control. On top of this, no film about space travel I’ve seen has more effectively captured the feeling of hurtling through the atmosphere in a small metal box held together with bolts. Elements of this film were like a cinematic immersion tank in how intimate the cinematography was and how Chazelle cleverly eschewed the many wide open space shots that are so tempting when making a film like this. A wonderful film in many ways compounded by a masterful soundtrack yet again from Justin Hurwitz. Oh and lest I forget to mention it, Ryan Gosling IS a good actor, he’s excellent here as Armstrong, and I won’t hear any different.

STAR TREK – THE ORIGINAL SERIES

STTOS

Having set myself the task of watching more Trek, having seen frankly shockingly few episodes of it over the years, I decided this year to systematically go through the original series, and despite it being dated in some aspects, looking clearly of its time and the occasional story element really showing its age, I was surprised at how well this series still resonates. It says something to the characters that despite the fact that I know they’re not really at risk and nothing looks quite convincing I still became invested in their fates. Many of the moral quandaries and SF concepts here, while executed around a low budget, are excellent and legitimately fascinating. Of course for various production reasons the third series is … patchy, but I can enthusiastically recommend the first two as wonderful period sci-fi pieces that despite the years of pastiche, ridicule and more still hold their own.

ANNIHILATION [BOOK AND FILM]

annhil

Last, but definitely not least, are both Alex Garland’s film Annihilation and the book upon which it is based, by Jeff Vandermeer. When I originally saw the film, I’m ashamed to admit I was not in the right state of mind to appreciate it, my mind fogged for a number of reasons, so it took a second watch to really cement the film for me as a truly wonderful piece of modern SF/Horror, a film that treads ground I can remember few other films in recent memory touching, bar perhaps Under the Skin, and containing visual and conceptual intrigue far beyond even what Garland’s last Ex Machina [a film I also rather enjoyed, but one with a far greater stamp from its influences] achieved, via some utterly hair raising set pieces and leading towards a conclusion that is stunningly beautiful and uniquely disturbing in idea and execution, exploring the breaking down of identity and self destruction in profound ways.

Much, much more recently, a few days from when I’m writing this in fact, I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s book, the first in his “Southern Reach” trilogy, and found myself enthusiastically engrossed in its pages, devouring a novel in a way I hadn’t experienced for some time. The book itself, while hitting some similar themes to the film, is a different beast in many ways, unfolding in a strangely dreamlike manner apropros the constant questioning of how much the characters can trust what they’re seeing, the constant muddying of reality via hypnosis and mutation. It reads like a visceral blend of Lovecraft, Phillip K Dick and countless others but simultaneously sets itself apart and is one of the most gripping pieces of weird fiction I’ve read in recent years. All things told, I believe I very slightly prefer the book as an entity, but I would recommend both as supremely interesting, strange and well executed works that stand on their own merits.

CONCLUDING REMARK

Not a comprehensive list by any means, as I can already think of some things I could have easily included, but the most important milestones of my year found their way here, a rough patchwork quilt of my rather strange life in 2018 in the form of films, books and television. Do whatever you want with them, I suppose. Have an INCOMPREHENSIBLE new year.

Categories
Uncategorized

Beyond Capitalist Horizons: Future Interfaces

2D46J copy

Capitalism; you might have heard of it, you almost definitely have encountered it, and everyone’s talking about it. Capitalism is such a well worn topic by this point that indeed for some it becomes a “cliche”, and at risk of denouncing what is going to be a post discussing capitalism at length, one might be tempted to agree with them. It may indeed sound like a broken record at points; one encounters an issue, poverty, exploitation, catastrophe, collapse, and someone pipes up with “you know the problem? Capitalism”, and because of this it’s tempting to write it off as an annoyance, like an incessantly repetitive noise, an alarm that one might flail at at 6 in the morning in frustration. The thing about that morning alarm however, is that you probably set it for a reason. At that moment it feels like an impolite intrusion on your rest, something you just want to get rid of, but beyond this is the knowledge that it has a point. The alarm to wake you up at a certain time, and anti-capitalism to point out the eschaton of our own system. The annoyance we feel at being repeatedly reminded of our own systematic compliance reflects the child’s annoyance at being commanded to brush their teeth, or go to bed.

So while we might have an aversion to addressing the issue in the same way as we might be resistant to learning mathematics as an act of rebellion towards a teacher, it is necessary, but this brings up the question of how one can break past this program of resistance. The sheer will to capitulate to the capitalist directive of oedipal desire drives us towards a comfortable cocoon of apathy and directly into the maws of capitalist realism, and while there have been moments of rebellion, moments where it looked like something might break through its stifling curtain, it always failed, we always reverted to the manufactured realities of the capitalist future, the simulated innovation of neoliberal enterprise. Something in the attempts to divert course has always fallen short of its aim, this spectre of failed revolution that hangs over the modern left and like nothing else breeds disappointment and inefficiencies, a repetitious melancholia stemming from a lack of ideas. We run short of plans, find ourselves unable to plot a course away from this mess, and in our inability visions of a distinctly more dystopian bent employ the imagery of nostalgia, the cynical wish to return to an idealised past that never was, to capture a sense of vitality with their supporters anti-capitalism has always struggled with, presenting as it does the removal of the safe, fuzzy idealisms its populist alternatives appeal to an intensification of.

I. Anti-Capitalism and Cybernetics

Anti-capitalism then, is faced with both an opportunity, and a long-running problem. The opportunity lies in the weirding of modern politics, the collapse of the “boring dystopia” that is neoliberalism, defined by stasis and repetitions of the past with shinier exteriors, leaves, by definition, an opening, an opportunity for ideological apparatus to step in and fill the gaps. And the problem? To expand on what I’ve already mentioned, it is one of systems, of control and communications. In other words, what we’re dealing with is, according to Norbert Weiner’s 1948 definition [“the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”] a problem of cybernetics, of systems analysis and of computing. For what are ideologies and fictions in essence bar a series of commands and actions forming an interlinked diagram of ritual behaviour? Deleuze and Guatarri’s landscape of flows, of interlinked machines and desiring-production, is in effect the underpinning of a systematic chain of productions, a cause/effect repetition enacting a circuit of manufacture and communication overlapping and moving between further circuits, linking again to yet further circuits.

Of course D/G were not insignificantly pulling from a Spinozist metaphysics in their materialist conceptions, and in fact looking towards Spinoza’s systematic rendering of freedom is of great help here. According to Spinoza, to be free is to act according to reason – to act according to reason is to act according to one’s interest – to act according to ones interest is ultimately an act of reflection and feedback – all of this = [to reframe this within a modern information driven age] an adaptive operating system, one that 1 – Is capable of consistent feedback on its surroundings and its own capabilities, and 2 – is capable of reacting to said feedback through a patching and rewiring of systems.

To bring this back to anti-capitalism, and the problems it faces in lieu of the recent surge of populist right wing movements, is one of organic communication and of adaptation. Its state of consistent opposition to the dominant circuitry puts it at a disadvantage to those already at work patching new networks into the system; of course new in this sense not really being the operative term, these new networks simply being a facsimile, a tracing of older networks, very old parts being jammed into an old engine in the hopes that it will morph into the shiny retro-engine they envision. Constant negation without a hint of affirmation begets a failure to generate the new, vital components of the system, stymies the process of feedback and evolution required to construct an effective systematic strategy. The anti-capitalists gradually, over the course of the neoliberal end of history, lost their claim over ideas of the new, and of the future, to those interests who begun increasingly to equate “new” with “innovation” with “business”. Anti-capitalist causes begun to look anachronistic, old-fashioned, silly utopians fixated on a past future that never came to be; even the occupy movement never materialised into anything approaching successful anti-capitalism.

So to formulate an anti-capitalism that unshackles itself from the spectre of revolution … from the logic of failed revolt. It requires the programming of an adaptive system that reroutes the libidinal exchanges underpinning the capitalist drive; reroutes them where? Towards the new, and beyond the capitalist horizons that constrain the circuitry of the human motherboard and prevent the patching in of new interfaces, threats to the dominant fiction. We must route the flows of information away from the fuzzy looping of repressed libido, the breeding grounds of political puritanism and despondency, and the death of vital interference. One can see this in evidence though the more humourless ranks of left wing action and thought, through such self-professed “revolutionaries” who consider anything less than total insurgency a concession to reformism, to the countless individuals engaged in endless bickering over specifically acceptable words and actions, reducing, despite the lip-service to such terms, systematic issues down to the faults of the individual alone, effectively feeding the dominant neoliberal fiction, that defined most succinctly through Thatcher’s “There is no such thing as society” maxim. These are all strictly clipped and confined libidinal exchanges, confined to the limits of capital itself through their concessions to its dynamic.

We need to look to our own interest, in Spinozist terms, to our own feedback loops of behaviour and process, and to our own ritual, to successfully reroute the systems of capital away from their preferred stasis and towards a new horizon of possibility, effectively to reclaim the future from its purely imaginative state and engage the processes of adaption, so long a mere PR stunt in the name of capitalist realism, a shiny veneer over what proves nothing more than the reconstituted remains of the past.

II. We are Android [We are DEVO]

Our ideas of the future are dominated by ideas of the posthuman or the transhuman. Long a theme in science fiction, the melding of the human with the synthetic, the humanoid robot, the android, ideas surrounding the development of AI and robotic technologies are reaching fever pitches of hype, funding and media attention in an age supposedly driven by technological development into an increasingly automated, mechanised future. Some envision a day in which we become android, where our limited human interfaces become supplanted by a new, evolved cyber-organisma meshing of organic and inorganic parts. In other fictions, we see a new race of robotic, inhuman artificial beings, the robot uprising, the AI dictatorship supplanting our very own attempts at domination. What all these visions share is a certain eschaton, an immanent progression towards some singularity, some meta-narrative endpoint where we surpass our own existential nightmares in some way shape or form.

As of now, none of these futures have materialised, none of these sexy science fiction realities have made the transition into being reality, or have they? We certainly don’t appear to be living in some hyper-synthetic age of cyberpunk crescendo, we definitely aren’t living out the dark capitalist future the prophets of acceleration envisioned for us and I definitely don’t find myself jacking into a fully simulated virtual reality every day to go about my business. There are a million cool-looking utopian-dystopian fictional prophecies of what the future could have been or could be that haven’t materialised and don’t seem to be materialising in the near or far future. The reality of capitalism is infinitely more mundane.

Here’s the proposal; we are android. The posthuman is already here, and we are its walking, talking participants. The virulent expansion of online networks, the accelerated prominence of portable computing devices [the smartphone, tablets] are more than a simple restructuring of the surface, of the way we engage with the underlying bodies, they are an extension of us, new machines patched into our existing interfaces. As networks have spread across the surface of the earth, forming a kind of mesh, an overlying world-brain, a chain, a circuit, we visualise in a more total sense the interconnectedness that previously we only experienced in a fragmented, singular sense, each of our devices a node, a machinic outlet for what is in some sense a gigantic collective intelligence, a huge iteration of what on a smaller level we would think of as artificial intelligence [something that in general amounts to an aggregate of human intelligences rather than something wholly artificial in any way we might conceive of the term, hence why AI tends to ape human behaviours].

More than this though, our devices are a direct patch onto our human OS, an expansion of systems. To return to Spinoza, we can pick up on his post-Cartesian metaphysics, a radical rejection of dualism to illustrate this. Spinoza rejected Descartes distinction between mind/body along the lines of his conception of God. To quote the beginning of his Ethics;

“I. By that which is self—caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.

II. A thing is called finite after its kind, when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature; for instance, a body is called finite because we always conceive another greater body. So, also, a thought is limited by another thought, but a body is not limited by thought, nor a thought by body.

III. By substance, I mean that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself: in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception.

IV. By attribute, I mean that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance.

V. By mode, I mean the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.

VI. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite—that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.”

All of these definitions lead towards an understanding of finite matter that ceases to distinguish between an ideal inside and outside in the sense that one does not limit the other. “…a thought is limited by another thought, but a body is not limited by thought, nor a thought by body” … We find a blueprint for our current  tendency to reach beyond our fleshy mainframe and through the coupling of machines expand into the inhuman. We can conceive of our systematic expansion into online realms as a modification of identity, identity as something conceived through something other than itself, that something being found again in the same matter of online information and collective thought – this way we find a circuit, feeding back into itself and recurrently coupling modified versions of its own systems onto itself.

In theory then, in our connected devices, our reservoirs of creativity, thought and feeling we have a program to achieve the inhuman, and indeed in some sense we have achieved this reality. Cyberpunk is here folks, it just isn’t nearly as sexy as we thought it would be. Indeed, in many ways these systems conceived as expansions of our own circuitry are facets of the libidinal capitalist infrastructure, fully engineered towards our desiring-production both in expansion and repression as Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus. The forces of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are at play even in this age of posthuman ascendency, and so we find ourselves in a banal cyberpunk, geared not towards the expansion of concept or the absolute abstraction of the human, but towards systems of control, of repetitious return to the rigid structures of commodity production.

Much is said about the idea that the rhythms of media dissemination and production are, for instance, reducing our attention spans, or increasingly geared towards a version of culture that treats as as gullible idiots, infantilizes us, and is interested in nothing besides surface engagement. While I personally don’t think surface engagement is in all cases the devil it’s made out to be, there’s certainly a truth in the capitalist insistance on our idiocy, the push towards simplistic, memorable forms over complexity and abstraction. I don’t say this in order to denigrate popular media, quite the opposite, I think the focus should be on giving popular media it’s due, treating it as more than just pop, something that actually can be profound, can be complex, can tell us something, rather than the constant insistence that pop culture must be nothing more than blind adherence, fantasy, the distraction from the real. It is possible, as many have demonstrated [perhaps I will expand on this more in a future post].

I’m going to talk about Devo. Devo were/are, in a similar sense to kraftwerk,  as much a concept as a band, and a concept formed around this very topic, where they perceived a devolution, hence the name, and as an entity their themes and content revolved around a dystopian foreshadowing of the process of systematic regression in the culture around us. They were, in essence, a work of science fiction, as much of a prophetic fiction as the cyberpunk of the 90s. Their work stands as a kind of inverted post-human desire, a warning that in some way this move forwards constitutes a move backwards. The truth isn’t quite that, but it’s a part of it. While we have in effect moved towards a further realisation of posthuman futures, and we currently exist within a kind of gigantic collectivised intelligence structure, the influence of capital on this structure facilitates the constant repression that capital requires to flourish. In essence, capitalism is unable to deliver the future, through a simultaneous act of freedom and repression, we wind up in stasis. This isn’t devolution, but it is a necessary halting of evolution, of the new. While a Devo-like criticism of tendencies to dumb down  stands at risk of devolving itself into an old man shouting at clouds rejection of progress, the truth is that the problems Devo recognised are precisely that progress isn’t progress, that the future we are presented with is not in fact a future at all.

III. Beyond Capitalist Horizons

What we have instead of the projected futures of the past is a toolbox of possibilities. Through the patching of new interfaces into the human OS we find ourselves with the tools of production; we carry them around in our pockets, leave them sitting on our desks, wire them into our neural pathways over time so that we become dependant on their use, they become a circuit existing within a circuit, a machine within a machine. The potential of technology under capitalism may have been much exaggerated, but this says nothing of the potential of technology outside it. We tend to see these interfaces as a direct consequence of capital, and yet it is important to point out that it is not necessary to argue against technology per se to be anti-capitalist, just as it is not necessary to argue against desire per se, we must merely invent a concept of what technology and desire even constitutes outside capitalism. We must, to look beyond capitalist horizons and engage in the production of the new, reprogram the present, shift the flows of intensity and redirect the circuitry.

A simple program of negation, something that anti-capitalism tends to fall into far too easily, cannot be the strategy employed, the residue of revolution that hangs over any attempt to conceive of post-capitalism, the spectre of communism, as it were, communism not as Marx and Engels proposed it, but as it looms over our 20th century horizon itself, as it is characterised in the popular imagination. Especially at a time when authoritarian populists [the very existence of which bring to mind the very question D/G ask in anti-oedipus, through William Reich, “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation”] surge forward with simple, distinct proposals for a new, albeit retrograde, nostalgic and impossible, reality, the left cannot afford to reduce itself to an eternal opposition. We must offer positive proposals of our own, a future beyond the hauntings of the past, and if we harness the abstracted networks of desire we find ourselves willingly jacked into, find a way to reroute systems and patch on new realities, we can build a communal future beyond the sterilised visions of capital and the reactionary songs of a simulated golden age.

 

Categories
Uncategorized

Into the Nerve Cluster

mezzscape

 

[THE CAPITAL]

It is a centre, but not the centre, a heart, but not the heart.We find it as a pulsating spike of intensity in the interlocking diagrammatical mesh of organisms, a glistening mass of tentacular flows, a nervous system spliced into the white hot rock of matter. The city is the hyperspace where we most easily tune into the Deleuzo-Guattarian schizoid imaginings of information driven capitalism, where we find the oscillating gradients and intensification of current through the veins of organic machinations. London is a bubble, but it is not suspended in a membraneous isolation from neighbouring assemblages and affects, but part of a gigantic metastatizing organism of fleshy tendrils stretching across and into fibrous surfaces.

The city never really ends… it is an intensification, a nerve cluster, one that simultaneously attracts and repels its surroundings, keeping them attached to its surface membrane enough to subsume its outside gradually, expand until expansion reaches its inevitable limit. It may be that, as Fisher illustrated in Capitalist Realism the kafkaesque bureaucratic structures of the call centre are the closest we come to accessing capital-in-itself, but the city-at-large is the point where one can most immediately experience its flux, its libidinal excess and screaming contradictions. It is on Oxford street, in the throng of consumers, that one can see in a true sense what one elsewhere experiences as a poetic description, a fiction materialised. Thousands of organisms coexist yet blur into a current, producing endlessly shifting patterns corralled and machinised through the canals and wires transporting current through the cerebral interface.

In many ways, walking through this milieu, the copy of anti-oedipus sitting at the bottom of my bag seems to elucidate itself, make itself clearer, manifesting itself in my surroundings, an encounter with theory more beautiful than anything one might accomplish in the academy, simply going through pages, references, dusty old interpretations. It is here in the outside world that the implications of theory lie, in much the same way as Deleuze and Guattari evoke the “schizophrenic out for a walk” over the “neurotic lying on the analysts couch”. Here, wandering the streets of this organ of intensities, the dusty old corridors of academia break and give way to the active swirling melange of discourse, of nomadic enquiry.

It strikes me that the brute fact of the matter is that I’m reading, and more to the point getting value from more theory now than I ever did when I was a student. Part of this is indeed my own personal shift out of the inky blackness of resignation and cynical capitulation, but on another level it is simply freeing to study outside the reigns of academic writing. It might sound somewhat contradictory, but this unshackled hunger that has emerged from the rigid formulae of the academy is leading me to finally consolidate my desire to move on with academia and to engage with it again on my own terms in the future. This time I would not enter those halls simply because I feel like I have to, or because I have nothing else to do, but out of a genuine wish to grasp the subject matter and pull something out of its chest, a beating heart of something as yet undefined and unformed.

thevoid.jpg

[AGENTS OF THE BLACK HOLE]

Flee from all those rigid monomaniacal tyrannies who would trap you in the fluffy and worthless safety of ignorance, those who wish to prove themselves, the charlatans of nihilist hedonia pushing you to an early grave, playing to your anxious desires. These are the agents of virulent malaise with nothing to give, intent on ruining all about them, latching to the underside of power and riding the wave, those who to spite themselves spite you. There is more outside than the protestations of these insular power-hungry parasites would ever admit, tangled as they are with the monstrous hatred of their own being, the existential terror they face upon the realisation that they may not be the copernican axis of cosmic power.

This is something that might not be self evident about the seemingly sudden wave of angry reactionary sentiment in recent years, and the mindset of those who lie caught in its web, the deep void that lies somewhere behind their veil of belief, the sheer terror that underpins the clusters of grotesquely regressive online communities of ex-new-atheists tooting incessantly on the rusty horn of pop-rationality, a shrill and annoying sound that barely makes it out of the pits they’ve dug for themselves, but occasionally can be heard, an echo of panic in its dissonant tone.

The existential black hole lying somewhere beneath the far right isn’t something that has been addressed nearly enough in discussions around its nature, as its something I feel strikes at its weak spot, the philosophical emptiness of pure negation and the complete shallowness of everything they stand for; not for nothing do many online communities IDing as anti-progressive, anti-feminist, conservative, any number of right wing reactionary positions, couch almost everything they do in an imperceptible construction of irony, the irony of fools that belies the real implications of the ironic action, the lack of conviction in the validity of ones own position, so much that one tries to negate it by reducing it to a “joke”. The reason becomes evident as to why this is no laughing matter however when one realises that ironic action spreads itself entirely unironically, the effect belies the intention even if, and here I’m being very generous, the intention was ironic, not some kind of misguided flailing at the wind, an attempt to mask their own insecurities through a pretence of privileged knowledge.

The appearance of these huddled groups of rage-driven misanthropes is in many ways driven by the same vapid emptiness underpinning the neoliberal enterprise. The conjuring of problems for them presents itself as a scapegoat yes, but for what? Many who tackle this subject fall back on their libidinal capitalist tendencies and stop short of pointing at the entire rotten corpse before them, but in this regard they too wilfully disregard the fetid stench and grotesque appearance of the issue and simply repeat the same tired dogma of reform, a little bit here and there and this will all be better, there’s no need for anything drastic folks, just tweak the settings and your experience will be back to normal.

From the same existential nullity come two different forms of blindness. That of the ego-driven pseudo-rationalist and those of the comfortable centre-liberal inculcated into the libidinal infrastructure. Both do their utmost to ignore the stench of death in the air but both are its very symptom, attempting to ignore for as long as they can this distant memory of anything outside this cosmic PR campaign.

[THE HEART IS EMPTY]

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Uncategorized

Notes on Left Hyperstition

I found myself of late digging through old K-Punk posts, Mark Fisher undeniably being a significant reason I started this blog in the first place, and stumbled upon a post in 2 parts titled Left Hyperstition. I thought this particular entry was worth highlighting and talking about, as it contains some interesting angles on ideas of populism as defined by Zizek. Conversely to Fisher’s most known work Capitalist Realism, a book I would without reservation recommend to everyone. It goes beyond an analysis of the methods though which capitalism exploits and maintains its hold, speculating on how it may be overcome. This is largely through the use of the term Hyperstition, one of the most widely used neologisms coined by the Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit, or CCRU [a group of breakaway academics around Warwick university in the nineties, involving a large variety of figures who have produced notable work since, wide-ranging as Fisher, Sadie Plant, Reza Negaristani, Ray Brassier and Kodwo Eshun, as well as “the father of accelerationism” Nick Land, now involved primarily with neoreactionary thinking]. A melding of Hyper and Superstition, it is loosely defined in the CCRU glossary as;

“Element of effective culture that makes itself real, through fictional qualities functioning as time travelling potentials. Hyperstition acts as a coincidence intensifier, effecting a call to the old ones”

Put another way, they are in some sense fictions that effect a sublimation of reality, a substantiation of numbers, diagrams, sigils, abstract mathematical potentials, hooked up to the cerebral cortex, catalysing the manifestation of change through fiction. For more on Hyperstition one’s first port of call might be the CCRU collective writings. If you of course you already had an idea, I’ve just admittedly wasted your time, but I felt the need to provide some kind of rough definition here in the knowledge that many might find themselves reading this asking “what the hell is a hyperstition anyway?”.

What first struck me about this particular post of Fisher’s was how prescient it was regarding its discussions of populism, something that gained a lot of currency in recent years for obvious reasons, but the definition of which for most of us lies somewhere at the intersection of hazy and simplistic. Here he draws on both Lacan and Zizek [is there really a distiction? I kid], later Badiou, to outline an idea of the ways in which fiction works to feed into the esoteric system-matrices of capital, and the ways in which fiction could substantiate a path outside capitalism.

One of the aspects of the term post-truth that bothers me the most is its idealistic reification of past truths. It may not be inherent in any definition, but grafting the prefix post onto a word immediately insinuates that it refers to an aftermath, an aftermath suggesting a past, in this case a past defined by “truth”. It suggests that in some way, there was a point in time, perhaps not too long prior, where truth was more … truthy, when in reality I would suggest we are seeing a veil lifted on what we previously simply accepted as truth. We have reached a point in the history of capitalist social relation where the majority of us are intimately aware that politics is not the domain of truth, but of precariously constructed fictions. What we see are capitalist fictions manufacturing capitalist realities, and true to the mechanisms of capitalist realism and reflexive impotence we proceed to ignore this and accept it as the only state, beyond which there is nothing.

So when Fisher discusses the role of fiction in politics, we look beyond any rather surface level admonishing of “post-truth” posturing towards the more general issues with populism and its discontents. The issue is not so much the construction of fictions itself, but the fictions constructed, the inevitable material results of those fictions and the pull they exert on us. Turning to Zizek’s definition of populism;

“Zizek said, populism is inherently reformist, if not to say reactionary. Its fundamental fantasy is of an Intruder, or more usually a group of intruders, who have corrupted the system. Hence the problem is never the system, capitalism, but the oligarchy, this particular, lazy, exploitative bunch who happen to have control now. Once They are removed, everything will be alright… Hence populism always frame its project in terms of a series of demands addressed to the ruling elite.”

Here Fisher through Zizek hits upon a key point regarding the populist project, whatever form it may take, the fiction that takes the form of a singular ruling class, a monistic cause for whatever issues we want to address the overthrow of which is all that is required. Ignoring the systemic nature of capitalism, not to mention its consistently adaptive, mutative nature as outlined in Deleuze & Guattari, a populist anti-capitalism posits that we simply need to “eat the rich”, oppose the current oligarchs as if we are not all undergoing the very same re-institution of capitalist symbiosis that we see in them. 

This then, may be why the left often seems to remain at a standstill despite furious pedalling, constantly in a state of renewed opposition, this reduction of inherently widespread systemic webs into a singular, tiny aspect; the resignation of a small group of politicians, the replacement of one government with another. The populist “common people vs elites” framework atomizes he universal while negating its own identity by forming the core of its being around the nebulous proletarian ideal. The opinion of the “ordinary person”, the consensus fiction, is anything but a defined position, a mimetically shifting blank landscape upon which the populist imposes a canvas of their design, claiming a unique communion with the ordinary person and a unique opposition to Them. In this way, there can in theory always be a Them to oppose, even when the current group is replaced, populist demands are in essence never met.

Another key part of the piece arrives a little later during the first part;

“we can recognize the current political landscape as inherently populist. It is not only, as Zizek said, that populism (whether it be the ‘progressive’ populism of the anti-capitalist or anti-globalization movements or the reactionary populism of the fuel protesters or the Countryside Alliance) is the complement to administrative post-politics. It is that administrative post-politics is already itself populist.”

We now, in the wake of Trump, Brexit et al, seem to most strongly equate these outpourings of reactionary sentiment with populism, but something that hasn’t been talked about enough is that we cannot realistically restrict populism to these extreme currents, and it seems in the cold light of day that this form of populist current only replaced other populisms, the populism of the centre. For who was more populist than Tony Blair? The entire logic of the neoliberal shift of all parties, the advance of “administrative post-politics” is a populist attempt to demonstrate an affinity with the ordinary person, the bland template of a citizen they have envisioned as the core voting demographic. This is something close to the natural law of capitalism, the monochrome suited blank-faced image of the future, able to project any image it needs to in order to appeal to the majority, a formless fluid monster finding its way into channels and crevasses, squeezing through exits, manufacturing faces at an alarming rate. We are within its grasp through willful compliance, the rituals of libidinal image-production and commodity fetishism maintained through self-propagating fictions. 

So the question that needs to be asked is if there is any sense in which these fictions can be sloughed off, and the answer may at its root seem fairly obvious in a sense, that the way to will new fictions into existence would be to practice them. That to abandon old practices we must start acting out new ones. The key here is sublimation, as Fisher points out towards the end of the piece;

“Fiction ensures that things are not only themselves. Capital is the most effective sorcery operative on the planet at the moment because it is adept at transforming banal objects into a sublimely mysterious commodities. Trans-substantiation. The allure of the commodity arises from the non-coincidence of the object with itself. (cf Zizek’s famous analysis of the ‘nothingness’ of Coke.) Anti-capitalism needs to take the form not only of a demystifying, depressive desublimation but of the production of alternativemodes of sublimation.”

The heart of Fisher’s point here is that through our fictionalised, one might say virtual projection onto the world around us, we affect the underlying planes of reality by elevating them over the sum of their parts or substance. The issue at hand for any cause that defines itself against capital is not to reduce matter down to its purity, to see the world in starkly realist terms, but to alter the fictions we use to process materiality, a somewhat psychedelic conjuring of new forms, separate from the tired old rituals of a+b=c. 

This is the role of fiction in politics, when we strip back the meaningless appeals to authenticity, the blanket populism of the maddeningly boring centrist automata, the us vs them reactionary dynamic, all are fictions, systems of data and abstract images we become so familiar with we trick ourselves into the thought they’re more than they are, they are sublimated into almost divine modes, into entire realms indistinguishable from our own. We may be tempted to see capital itself, in all its fluidity and adaptability, as some untouchable shoggoth, even a god, but this is all to make the mistake of attributing to capital its own sublimation, to mythologise mere social relation and give in to one fiction over another. The deification of capital is a key part of the fictions that underpin it, the elevation of an abstract nothingness into an all-powerful entity through the performance of ritual. The observation that a deity’s existence is simply predicated on how many believe in it proves especially relevant here.

As we might observe, Capitalism doesn’t simply exist as an imposed set of directives from up high, there is no shadowy group of capitalists planning its expansion and evolution. It exists largely predicated on the rituals we perform, the abstract sense that capital is not only a series of apparatus governing the underlying real, but the underlying real itself. Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus how “Machines and agents cling so closely to capital that their very function appears to be miraculated by it”, and it is this fiction, this tethering of the underlying forces to the abstraction of capital, that now more than ever we must try to abandon, not through sheer opposition, or negation, but through acting out a new, different fiction. To cease focusing on the maps we have, the already chartered topologies of society, we must focus our efforts on new abstractions and potentialities lurking behind the tentacular writhing of capital, seen beyond the tears in its membrane. If, at this current moment, we find ourselves passing through a wormhole, over the threshold as it were, the heightening of abstraction, the testing of limits, the creation of new futures, is vital to the current moment. We must act out new fictions, abandon the old ones, and find a new potential.