akira-2

The massiveness of the nuclear is ‘lightened’ only by a catastrophe. The Earth is geophilosophically and geopolitically frustrating because it’s an ongoing nuclear disaster (a great heat engine as James Hutton understood it) but one that is metastable while proving itself the ground of all production whether noetic or material. Whether the collecting of ferrite for magnetic strips on subway cards or providing the iron source of painting, the Earth is a geo-chemical and geo-physical graveyard of potency.

Part of this frustration is due to the fact that the fact of this complicity or continuity is difficult to represent given its absurd spatio-temporal stretch. This is a fairly wide spread notion these days in part functioning as a conceptual sidekick to the anthropocene. One can look at the Smithsonian project above or the various works of Kate Paterson. Paterson has recently coupled with numerous authors (including most recently Margaret Atwood) in planting a forest for a library to be produced in 100 years. Prior to this Paterson had attempted to represent deep time through her fossil necklace in which each bead represented a different epoch.

PacificRime5ogAmA

Previously I was critiqued for utilizing pop culture references to discuss the geophilosophical. A defense I had not considered at the time was not only that science fiction does a particularly interesting job of representing the geological, but simply that film is especially adept at representing informational microcosms of deep time and the strangeness of life emerging from the Earth. For instance, it’s not surprising we are seeing a resurgence of monster films – these creatures index their own history (as coming out of mid-twentieth century nuclear traumas) which in turn make them ideal for embodying climatological disaster. The question remains however as to whether it is better to represent the disasters of the anthropocene in a series of cuts of its production by us.

A chemical explosion, to a flying particle, to a chain reaction, to a devastation. A scalar madness is etched in the brain and repeated by the creatures awakened. This is the indecision between continuity and complicity, in how much we take blame for ‘awakening’ the monsters but often seem forced to utilize the same technology, or other disastrous technologies, to combat them. Complicity is investigated by being scaled up and down. The scalar madness is folded outwards: we construct monsters to fight monsters. Nuclear solution twice over – reliable tech and nuking the breach in Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

The recent rebirth of Godzilla takes this logic to a certain absurdity.

In the film nuclear testing awakened, tried to destroy, and then is utilized once more to try to destroy Godzilla and other creatures. It is quite telling that the devastation of Godzilla and his opponents (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms or MUTOs) receive more attention of the camera than the battles between the creatures. More directly, the film references the connection between climate disaster and nuclear disaster through a nuclear meltdown in Japan as well as a visit to Yucca Mountain. Deep waste repositories such as Yucca mountain (which I’ve written about here) are the real-world and slowed down version of Godzilla and his fellow MUTOs. The sites bear the remnants of nuclear devastation whether or not that devastation occurred in its’ intended’ fashion ie whether or not weapons were used. Deep repositories are the ‘slow violence’ version of nuclear disaster propelled speculatively (and monstrously) into the future.

One serious limitation (of which there are many) is that the imaginary scaling up of the nuclear (which might be better represented as a intensification or contraction of deep time into a disastrous space) is that these disasters-as-monsters necessarily go tromping through cities and other populated spaces. Nuclear waste, and many other environmental disasters, of course happen in more isolated locations. This isolation is of course not only geophysical/geographical but also geopolitical. There is an interesting asymmetry between the geopolitical forgetting of environmental disaster in the global south in relation to the geophysical entombment of the nuclear in the north.

The strangest aspect of Godzilla is the sense that Godzilla represents god-as-nature, as a monstrous force which is capable of putting things ‘back into balance.’ What exactly the relation between devastation and balance is, how the contracted time scale into the space of disaster can be subsequently unfolded seems to be the interesting question.


One of the core concepts of the neo-rationalist (and more broadly pragmatist) camp is that of boot-strapping – that certain capacities or processes, are capable of self-augmentation. While less colloquially discussed in terms of recursion (invoking a functionalist or mathematical context) boot-strapping indexes the material consequence of such activity or, in a related fashion, that a process can be recursively defined given it’s self-evident productivity. One instance would be discussing thought as a process of thinking which produces thoughts wouldn’t seem to get us too far except that we that this process engenders a massively complex chain of consequences for everything including itself.

Where boot-strapping indicates a metal act informing a self affecting physical act, a recursive definition seems to operate in one abstract realm yet, if this were the case, then recursion would be the same as circularity. But even in this abstract sense circularity can be avoided in terms of adding values and rules. Vicious circularity, or ill-defined self-recursion, can contain these elements but only produce nested recursion as in the case of a famous line by Hofstadter:

“This sentence contains ten words, eighteen syllables, and sixty-four letters”

Continue reading ‘Loops and Augmentation: Pragmatism, Accelerationism, and Navigation’


Post-Lisbon/PAF

04Sep14

Being back stateside I finally have some time to reflect on some recent events in Europe. I already reported on the Berlin Summer school here but, following that, I was in Lisbon for one week for a great event organized by Margarida Mendes. The week-long summer school focused on geo-philosophy and mattering which addressed issues of climate change, design, architecture, physics in a broad sense. More specifically, aerosal distribution, geo-politics, non-scientific evidence, dark matter, and nuclear proliferation were topics covered. The event wrestled quite interestingly with the relations between the anthropocene, climate change, geopolitics, and philosophy in such a way that put emphasis on very particular issues which redraw what it means to engage with these massive complex problems without merely stepping back and calling them complex.

My talk focused on how Schelling’s naturphilosophie addresses the nature/culture split and how it applies to art and the concept of nature. More specifically, I talked about Smithson’s obsession with entropy and life as a consequence of the inorganic and how the notion of unity is not naive but neither is it all-explanatory. The central Schelling quote for the talk was the following:

“[I]n all cases of the artistic impulse a certain identity between the products and the producing agent. The bee produces the material of its edifice from within itself; the spider and the silk- worm draw the threads of their webs from within themselves. Indeed, if we go even deeper, the artistic impulse merges completely with anorganic external deposits that remain in cohesion with the producing agent or animal. Such are the products of the polyps inhabiting coral, the shells of mollusks and oysters, indeed even the stonelike and hard coverings of some insects as well as of crabs, which therefore lack the artistic instinct, which in their case is lost completely in the production of that covering […] we can view these productions as the externally reverted skeleton of the lower animal forms. Only at the higher levels of organization does nature succeed in coercing this anorganic mass back toward the inside and subjecting it to the laws of the organism.”

In Schelling’s account humans reinvade nature with inorganic constructions because of our lack of automatic relation to it because of our species form. This account has interesting consequences for Schelling’s account of the potenz as self-augmenting processes in nature that operate through us more than are operated on by us.

After Lisbon I headed to France to participate in the PAF Summer University and the philosophy week organized by Diana Khamis, Katrina Burch, and Amy Ireland. “Get Reassembled: Time, Intelligence, Acceleration” focused on the legacy of the CCRU, the difference between Nick Land’s past and current work, the thought of Reza Negarestani, and, more generally, the relation between other contemporary strands of thought particularly out side of the context of purely academic philosophy. The whole week was a great experience and there was too much material too go over. Pete Wolfendale’s lectures are available online here as is his discussion after the event here.

Like the Berlin Summer School (but in a quite different sense) the university struggled with the borders of rationalism particularly vis a vis art, politics, and the very nature of intelligence. These debates between the participants were reflected through the historical trajectory in terms of tracking the CCRU’s trajectory. Basically what does it mean to go from Sadie Plant and Nick Land of the mid 90s to new rationalism, transmodernism, and the various splinters from the splitting of the always-already split edifice of Speculative Realism.

In reference to SR what’s been interesting is these events have reaffirmed what labels mean as placeholders in a minimal sense but also as tools. It is strange to see SR talked about as if the term is self-explanatory when, for many, it was something between an escape hatch and a convenient way to label a broad set of concerns. It seems to be the case, and I wonder if this was always true, that labels are more for critics than their adherents. SR as a label was mostly so many of us could find each other…it was a signal flare not a structure…necessary to set us, however provincially, apart from other labels that had grown too fat (continental philosophy, materialism, etc). PAF, as space, indexes the importance of this well…it’s a organization but only as much as it needs to be to host interesting things not defined beyond that. There’s a passage in Schelling’s Clara that weirdly describes PAF that I’ll end with:

“Of the significance that these institutions once held, they have perhaps kept only the picturesque. However, one will find it easier and more agreeable to close down the institutions altogether than to restore them in accordance with their original aim in a way that would be appropriate for our times. When I see such a quiet cloister down below in the valley, or go past one on a hill from which it looks down, I have often thought to myself: if one day the time should come for all these monuments of a bygone time, please let at least one of our princes think to preserve one or two of these sanctuaries, to keep the buildings and their goods together, and to endow them to the arts and sciences.”

 


A few days ago the Emancipation as Navigation Summer school came to an end in Berlin. The event was just short of two weeks and included a range of topics from political theory, to logic, to diagramming the space of sex, to technofeminism, to the history of metaphysics, to Iberian cultures, to space travel, and so on. I wont go into a summary of each of day as those are available here but thought I would offer up some general impressions of the school for those interested in what went on besides what could be assumed from the content of each speaker’s lectures.

/1/ – Factions

It was quite obvious from the beginning of the school that it was not going to be a massive ‘preaching to the choir.’ Many of the attendants did not identify themselves as rationalists and were quite skeptical throughout the length of the school. This highlighted the various tensions between the thinkers brought together for the school: neo-rationalists, accelerationists, trans-modernists/universalists, and others less easily labeled. Cutting across these associations were particular emphases that often were in conflict: politics, philosophy, pragmatism, and aesthetics. Even within a particular designation (accelerationism for instance) there were debates as to how tethered that could be to particular forms of past politics (Marxism, communization, etc) or whether more attention to ‘actually existing accelerationisms’ (as Benedict emphasized) might be necessary despite their overwhelmingly capitalistic character. Or, simply put, there were neo-rationalists who are not accelerationists and accelerationists who are not neo-rationalists.

Which historical figures to hold onto or, what legacies were worth saving, also arose throughout the school. While certain canonical figures were widely invoked (such as Kant and Hegel) it was by no means a universal gesture. Heidegger, Deleuze, Lacan, Badiou, Sartre, de Castro, and others were utilized often only by one thinker to the chagrin of others present. These differences opened up a historical debate at who could be considered a rationalist while at the same time indexing points at which a formal take on rationalism requires a programmatic supplement whether in Foucaultian politics or Lacanian diagrammatics for instance.

/2/ – The Dead Elephant in the Room

Tied to the previous issues was the legacy or non-legacy of Speculative Realism. During the first public event Robin discussed how the explosion of interest surrounding the initial SR events was something to be missed as was the early and open debates online. Less officially, SR was often talked about in similar terms, as a ‘what could have been’ project. But how it was that SR ‘went wrong’ was not articulated beyond a basic sense that it had been too disparate to begin with or too ambitious in its aims or, as seems to be the case in online discussions, SR just became synonymous with OOO/OOP. The upswing of this is a certain amount of sensible caution in constructing a collective project going forward. This was reflected in the name of the school and that navigation, in particular, was a broad but not incoherent concept around which to cluster.

For myself it is always a bit odd thinking back to 2007 when I started Speculative Heresy with Nick and Taylor since no public reservoir for SR existed. Going forward with navigation the test will be maintaining a productive difference between various factions without going full on with claiming that there is a movement centered around a commonality that is negatively defined ie ‘not correlationist.’

/3/ – Amateur Academic Sociology

For better and for worse the school demonstrated that the kind of behaviors and divisions that occur online are not only online. Disagreements led to an attempt to ‘choose sides’ in a way that is quite unhelpful. This occurred as much with people who were critical of the speakers generally as well as their supporters. This is not unique to the summer school but something that needs to be handled with any event particularly when it’s tied to contemporary developments. Contemporaneity seems to often install either a desire to fall in line or one to degrade anything that calls itself new. Disagreement is all too often read as total disagreement in order to draw the sides more clearly at the cost of actually working out conceptual differences or even acknowledging them in a detailed way. Despite the comments that philosophy cannot be done on the internet, it is ridiculous to ignore how it’s managed to bring people from all over who share similar, not identical, projects.

What came up, but in a kind of diagonal fashion, was how easy it is to mesh the way in which one talks about things with the concepts they talk about. The different historical analyses conducted by the speakers and various participants indicated how this is often a difference in terms of how someone arrive at their current philosophy and how contemporary figures do or do not belong to that particular constellation. There were several moments in the summer school where it was clearly laid out where people agreed and where the disagreed or where a topic needed to be set aside for the time being. This may sound quite dry but it is something that all too often gets drowned out in either shouting or avoidance (at least in general this seems to be the case in conferences I’ve attended). While the focus on language can be somewhat dry for some it, at the very least, pushes the dire need for actually understanding what one another are saying rather than falling back on critical reflexes (as Pete has called them) where stock reactions to particular topics are employed rather than any attempt at critical reevaluation or counter argument.

An other issue, related to several points above, is how theory and philosophy views itself in relation to other disciplines. While there was an afternoon devoted to art and artists, all too often artists are viewed in philosophical circles as merely ‘bad theorists.’ I have discussed why I think that is here but a question for new rationalism and accelerationism is what its relationship to art and aesthetics is going to be and how firmly it wants to attempt to set the parameters of that relation. What I think is required is something along the lines of a meta-theory of implementation or, when does reason let go to navigate less for itself and more to find its limits etc?

/4/ – My own ax to grind

While I learned quite a bit from the summer school and enjoyed interacting with so many bright and interesting people that I tend to see only in the virtual world, one aspect of the school, which came up often, was a general adherence to an anti-naturalist stance. There are several problems here (and I think they are problems for navigational thinking and not merely problems for me). For one there was no distinction, or almost no distinction, between naturalism or nature ie a harshness towards naturalistic arugments regarding causes of human behavior were thrown together with a general theoretical concern for nature. That’s a demonstrably disastrous conflation. Furthermore when one says naturalism this means at least two huge bodies of work. It refers to ontological as well as methodological naturalism. While the normative thinkers popular in the summer school would universally denounce the latter many of them have far more ambiguous relationships to the former. While there are of course complex limitations on what we can say nature is we cannot, I think, simply let nature become a bludgeon for crude naturalists such as Richard Dawkins.

/5/ – Forward?

I doubt the summer school will be the last event of its kind and I hope to be involved with whatever it spawns. Because of, as much as despite the problems mentioned above,  I think neo-rationalism and accelerationism are interesting projects although I am positioned diagonally to both of them in a strange sense. There is an excitement and rigor that is wisely cautious at the same time that I think will continue to be productive.


Jalal Toufic’s recent piece in issue #55 of e-flux titled “A Hitherto Unrecognized Apocalyptic Photographer: The Universe” starts with an interesting problem: is it the case that photographer deceptively freezes the motion of the world while art, at its best, captures the uncapturability of motion as Rodin argues? Toufic writes against Rodin’s assertion about time stopping that:

“I do not agree with his assertion that “in reality time does not stop.” To disagree with this assertion, I do not have to invoke the freezing in dance and undeath, under silence-over; I can invoke relativity. The Schwarzschild membrane of a black hole is an event horizon not only because once an entity crosses it that entity can no longer communicate back with us this side of it, but also because from our reference frame the entities at the horizon do not undergo any events, being frozen due to the infinite dilation of time produced by the overwhelming gravity in the vicinity of the black hole. Was photography invented not so much to assuage some urge to arrest the moment, but partly owing to an intuition that it already existed in the universe, in the form of the immobilization and flattening at the event horizon?”

Later on he writes:

“From a local reference frame, an artistic rendering in the Rodin manner of the astronaut at the event horizon might very well be less conventional, more truthful, than a photograph of him; but from the reference frame of an outside observer, a photograph of the astronaut at the event horizon is less conventional than an artistic rendering of him in the Rodin manner, for at the event horizon not only is the person flattened, but also time is so slowed it comes to a standstill.”

Toufic goes on to discuss the event horizon as a radical closure which the photograph captures the loss of the individual, its flattening into a thin pancake of data which after it has passed into the gateless gate of the black hole can no longer be recovered let alone detected. Toufic speculates on the experience of the astronaut who drifts through the gateless gate (setting aside the gravitational waves that would crush her instantly) he argues that, following Bergson, that the astronaut would suffer an instantaneous loss of memory because of losing touch with the pre-event horizon space-time.

Continue reading ‘Holes, Caves, Lines, and Cameras’


1974_14505

Things having calmed a bit I will try and do more regular postings here.

The two lectures for the Congress of Pessimism seemed to well…I discussed reason as a kind of wandering insignificance – where the reasoner is a wayward figure stuck between the desert of reason and the ocean of nature. I hope to expand the work a bit especially as a critique of the romantic vision of the philosopher as a wanderer who is quaintly lost. Bucharest and the Bureau were lovely in their casual morbidity. Schemes are underway to spread some of the melodrama…

My paper at the True Detection event seemed to go well and many of the other papers were quite good as well. There is a publication in the works to collect and expand the talks given. My paper focused on a scalar bias which seems to exist regarding the way in which affirmation relates to outwards expression as opposed to pessimism.

My brief discussion with Vanessa Billy entitled Natural Abstraction went well and took place at La Foyer in Zurich. We discussed in varying terms what happens when the boundary between nature and culture breaks down but not in the more common sense that everything becomes culture or second nature but how do you actually determine something to be artificial?

For the rest of the month I’m based in Dublin, Ireland:

On May 16 I’ll be talking with Teresa Gillespie around a non-anthropomorphic approach to horror that addresses the grossness of continuity.

On May 23rd I’ll be participating in an all day workshop on accelerationism hosted by the University of Westminster in London. The workshop will be followed by a talk from Alex and Nick entitled Occupy the Future.

On May 29th I will be doing a roundtable with Teresa Gillespie and several other artists and theorists from the Dublin area. Details forthcoming.

Future events:

Steven Shaviro and Iain Grant will be talking on science fiction in Berlin on June 26. If others know of any events going on after that time in Berlin or nearby please let me know.

Several interesting events including several days on Land and Negarestani’s work will be going on at PAF in August.

Rory Rowan and several others will be participating in AC2014 in August in the UK.

In September an impressive looking conference on the theme Philosophy after Nature will take place at Utrecht in September.

There is a CFP for the Aesthetics After Finitude conference which will take place early next year in Sydney Australia and will feature Mo Salemy and Reza Negarestani as keynotes.

 


It is hard to review a book that you cannot explain or sum up but especially when it is not one that you can explain or sum up by saying you can neither explain it or sum it up. Michael Cisco’s Member is a book that tests the limits of coherency without appearing to do that.

To get to brass tacks, Member is about a massive planetary-scale game called Chorncendantra that is ‘the human game’ but that involves multiple worlds both real and artificial. Our main character, Mr Thanks, is unexpectedly recruited into the game as a courier to deliver small cans of spells and prizes to a construction site. From there the small absurdities pile up but something at bottom refuses to topple over. It part it may be because the novel starts out as a train of thought but when it stops being that or starts again becomes a challenge to discern: “I will expand the dream to engulf what surrounds me” (7). The indiscernibility between things happening and things being thought pushes Mr Thanks to keep trying to play his part in the game “Relaxing my mind had only brought about a causeless, meaningless sadness” (16) even attempting to ignore the game is playing it. This is the frustation of being a human in the giant system/mechanism of Chorncendantra – one knows one is a human but that this means being a small part of the human machine but not being able to only be a part.

One of the most impressive aspects of Cisco’s novel here is that this does not wander into immediate and obvious existential territory. Mr Thanks, carrying his heavy bag, is not a dreary eyed Frenchman in 1950s Paris: “’Don’t imagine that you are the flaneur,’ I tell myself, ‘looking down on people, like you are the last human in a world of machines the passerby are all soulless robots and you’re the only one who cares—that’s high school shit’” (46). Mr Thanks is mostly just frustrated at the small things and couldn’t know enough about the large things to feel so small simply because there are others that at least seem to know more (so called operationals and high rationals) – high rationals being those creatures that ‘think things up’.

In some regards Cisco could be seen as entering the territory of either William S Burroughs or the graphic novelist Charles Burns – where one quickly leaves ‘this world’ and enters somewhat unreal worlds (interzones and dreamspaces) that are however still attached to this world. And yet Cisco holds the reigns tighter than this. It is the rules of the game or the world themselves that seem parasitic yet completely natural. The attempt at thought to think a world only appears to add to the problem of probing the layers of rules added upon rules till the point that one is not even sure where one is and, for that matter, it is not even clear if the narrator is any more or less sure of what he is doing that what the reader is reading about him.

And of course the wonderfulness of Cisco’s descriptions which are present throughout. For example:

“Perched there, he aims carefully at something I have trouble making out. It’s a large, solid object that seems to be browsing along the sidewalk in its own special darkness; not a blob of shadow exactly, more like a dead, uninteresting haze of grey smoke that collects around it and projects out of it in a reverse spotlight. In overall shape, it resembles a human liver, all covered in imbricated scales. A felty, transparent caul seems to envelop the entire thing, and ripples out wrinkles and folds to palpate its surroundings, making the emitter seem both solid and liquid at once” (44-45). The descriptions shift from weird tale type above to bordering on the romantic: “In that faint, brief light, I see the tendrils of smoke from each little candle immobilized like ectoplasm calligraphy, trailing from the cake” (93-94), to the downright silly: “Somebody left a salad out on the curb, with no bowl around it” (332).

The question becomes less ‘what is happening?’ to ‘why is it that this seems normal?’ The novel flirts again and again with the weirdness of games, of playing them without reasons (170), that the problem is that we enter the game from somewhere or as something not of it (142), that thinking and playing is just a headlong plunge into various kinds of darkness more or less familiar (226). The novel’s restrained but seemingly unrestrained insanity mirrors the very weirdness of belonging to one odd bureaucracy after another. Any attempt of pulling out seems like a childish time out: “That’s what I want: a place in which I have no part. I want to ride through space like wind in wind and sleep on the void, and be a go-between with nothing but between” (258). In so much sci-fi, horror, and weird fiction there is the moment when the narrator passes into the strangeness, where the mundane becomes not the mundane, when you (as the reader) know that they are on a trajectory which ends in death, madness or, optimistically, some small share of triumph. But in Member Cisco’s point is no such prologue exists because of the incessant nature of thought that barrier cannot be recognized – it can only be supposed after the fact when it is already too late. There is no cutting loose.

And while bits of philosophy appear throughout (Spinoza (47), ancient Chinese thought, moments that smell like Heidegger and Deleuze) it would be distasteful to call this a thinker’s or philosopher’s novel (whatever the hell that may mean) but only that, unlike many novels, Member makes a show of when it is pushing at its own limits or trying to catch its own tail. Every practice has its reasons and the reasons do not seem to matter other than to give you a location for your forthcoming injuries. Or, in other words, any attempt at closed precision is absurd..except for that one.




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