I am a man, I consider everything that is human alien to me.
Thank you for your reply and please forgive my long ruminations, I hope you have not been too provoked by the waiting. I reset what I understand to be the challenge you have set before me in the following terms: if all social phenomena are the expression, and remain the property of, the capitalist totality then how is any alternative to capital constituted? It is a genuine problem and if I am to remain consistent in my arguments and not call up some suppressed or latent, or merely underlying, really real reality (as did the situationists) to set against, and thus transcend, the lies and jest of this sorrowful world of spectacular separations then I have to conclude that such an alternative cannot take any coherent form other than as fiction.
Fiction is the arrangement of a set of a rules or constraints that do not combine to produce a reality but rather give shape to a high specification unreality. Defined by one or other of the divergent discourses of social change, pro-revolutionaries argue against the conditions of which they are a product and in favour of that which literally does not exist – it follows therefore that their proposals must always take the form of fiction.
Undoubtedly, all social life is also already highly fictionalised and so a coherent alternative fiction would have to in some way include a doubled or reflexive element to take it beyond the ordinary commodified life in a bubble that we are sold as the way things must be in which gradated, or staged knowledge is distributed on a need to know basis and is imposed as instrumentalist ideology. For example, the pseudonymous author Roy Mayall illuminates the effects of such staged fictionality within productive relations as it is generated by the time and motion ‘Pegasus’ software for Royal Mail management:
Pegasus Geo-Route tells you exactly how much time each of the loops is supposed to take: how long, on average, each postie is supposed to spend at each door, how many packets he is supposed to be carrying, how long it is supposed to take to get from one door to the next, and what speed he is supposed to be walking.
For the rest of this epistle, I attempt to investigate how self-reflexive fiction takes us beyond the spectacular fabrications of Pegasus and its ilk. I also explore the objective constraints that are placed upon the critique of alienation which is conducted from the perspective of those who are defined, above all, by the alienated nature of their lives in relation to the production of their existence. Along the way I blunder into a number of traps and discover that even the account I am giving of fiction does not escape fiction’s constraints.
To begin, I want to talk about what place theory ends up in when it can no longer assert that it is the thought of the real, or of history, or of the people, the class, the moment, the party, the movement. Every discursive domain produces a theory component, and the function of theory is to regulate the borders of that domain. But theory itself also passes into fiction as it engages the specific territories of those borders. Fiction results when theory, in a state of sensory deprivation, is reduced to just itself, its own terms and its own objects; fiction appears where theory loses contact with, that is where it is overwhelmed by, the given borders of its terrain.
I have argued that there is a point where the map becomes the only territory, where theory is reduced to sets of imaginary co-ordinates that refer to nothing real outside of itself – at this juncture it enters into a fictional state. All ‘revolutionary’ theory permanently exists in this condition of drawing maps without a country. Now, I’d like to address some of your points with reference to theory’s passage into fiction, and then of that moment achieved as furtherance, where these materials become self-consciously fictional.
The great problem which fiction presents itself is how to construct a frame to realise that which exceeds its capacities.
To put this another way, we might at this point observe that the author of a revolutionary fiction immediately encounters the problem of voicing the one who is more than himself. Of course, all fiction makes it its business to recount events that exceed what is possible in reality, it is in its function to both compress series of causal relations and exaggerate chains of significance. And yet the problem which besets uchronie and science fiction remains: how does one approach the writing of what one does not know – that most fictionalised element of fiction?
The point at which theory passes into a state of fiction occurs where it attempts to consider, in terms of affect, the transformation of social relations. This passage is opened up under pressure of consideration of the following: agents that are unknown; who are enacting the realisation of relations that are unknown; that are set within a temporal, spatial, social context, all of which are unknown.
Theory is always determined by its conditions, and yet it also attempts to think other conditions, i.e. to be not determined. How can that be?
Theory which has passed into a state of fiction rehearses intended images of transformation whilst continuing to express its continued determination by existing conditions – again, the tragic irony of uchronie and science fiction. Where theory strives towards the unknown it most vulgarly reproduces the most basic constraints of existing conditions (nothing better expresses Edwardian anxieties concerning ‘fitness’ as the future degeneracy depicted in HG Wells’ Time Machine). This tendency of speculative theory is so inexorable that we might think the very striving itself is a means of returning and maintaining those constraints which inhibit it.
Strangely though, the convergence of the visionary and the constraints of existing social relations yields an other, unexpected bounty... the transformation of fiction back into a post-fictional form of theory – for example, it was only really possible for the Edwardians to seize hold of their predicament, that is the constraints which acted upon their activities and thereby produced them, by examining the bedpan-like contents of their own fictional excretions. But they did not bark, they did not achieve in their explanation of themselves, the improbable truth stripped of eliminated impossibilities.
Although Freud was already on the case, it is instructive to note that the Edwardians did not make the necessary move towards deriving reflexivity from their various unexamined fictionalisations of health, empire, order, class, race, gender, proportion, sanity and so on... I do not know if they could have made such a move but did not because the returns on their fictions in an unexamined state were still so high, or that they were inhibited in this direction historically because of the structural relation between their discourses and the conditions that were being unconsciously expressed. Speaking as an anti-historicist, I would guess the former but I have no proofs.
The vanishing point, that ultimate set of external constraints, at which the theory of transformation arrives and cannot exceed, causes it to colourfully unburden itself as a fictional display. This leading image which indicates the limit of theory qua theory, bears the stamp of constraint, becomes fixed as a portal, a point of passage to the beyond which is not accessed or even articulated within the image but only gestured towards – the image-aperture, the image of passage.
The image-aperture is a representation of social transformation which is not of itself either transformative or particularly belonging to the process of change... on the contrary, the revolutionary image is always an expression of the limit of existing relations. But then there is no other object available to discourse but the image as aperture. We find that the fetish really does have powers and is not merely expressive of powers. The image causes things to happen and does not merely obscure causes. The fetish is a relation and not simply a mystification of relations.
The only means to articulate the idea of change is through the means of approaching the image-aperture, even though such an image absolutely lacks a real content (a direct correlation to real relations). The only means by which social change may be articulated as an object within discourse is as a fictive image... because the reality of social transformation must always exceed any subjective account of its processes (there are always negative elements, unintended consequences which cannot be factored into a discourse). This condition of fictionality continues even up to the point of staged ‘revolutionary events’ themselves where subjectively formed organisations try and interweave a conscious ‘attempt’ with structural crisis and social upheaval.
The definition of ‘pro-revolutionary’ activity is the conscious, i.e. fictive, factoring in of the awareness of the fictionality of the image-aperture and thus the limitations of the pro-revolutionary discourse. Every proposal, every analysis, every organisation, every intervention is exceeded, and therefore falsified, at all points by the reality of productive relations (which may never appear as such) – the fictionality of a discourse is defined by that which it filters out. And yet, even so, the pro-revolutionary continues to address his activity towards the image-aperture, and necessarily to unreality.
The image, of that which is most forward, most sacred, most sublime, most awesome, most troubling, most challenging, most fantastical, the image that appears at the edge of society, becomes a reference, an iconic image in cognitive mapmaking and indicates the limit of what is possible in that direction and to which all those who follow must arrive at, even if they dare not hope to pass beyond. At this juncture, as a brief nod to references, this marks the refutation of Deleuze and Guattari’s assertion that, ‘The unconscious is not a theatre, but a factory.’ The passage of theory into fiction and then of fiction into a theory of fiction indicates that the factory (that is to say the discourse of the factory) is a theatre.
This is the law, the law of how thought arrives at the end of itself in the form of an image, which furnishes society with its fetishes, icons and objects of contemplation, and which functions ultimately to turn the seeker of enlightenment back to transactions within the everyday economy, placing a rationalising limit to the extent of his ecstasies, and at the same time signalling the arbitrary character of those relations. And thus, through the very institutionalisation of ostentatious display, the sanctioned image indicates the border of that society which deploys it as the border. That which is shown to be limited supposes an exterior. That which is exterior cannot be known by what has indicated it – thought is always the thought of existing constraints and never of what lies beyond them. Nonetheless, the ability to conceive of the possibility of a beyond, which exceeds the present order, that is the ability to subjectively register the divergence of what represents itself as the totality from all that could be, and which takes the form of theorising fictionally on how theory becomes fiction at its limits, is the first intimation of that society’s demise... the passage of every dominion begins at its extremities and in the fixing of its iconography.
Now, in this correspondence of ours, we have arrived at the theory of two iconic images of change, both of which are the culmination and representation, but above all the representation, of the thought of change. We may also observe that these two truncated accounts of change are mutually incompatible. Each is set up at the boundary of the systematic reproduction of social forms, and each records as well as enacts the function of boundary marking – forbidding rather than encouraging further advance. The image of change does not invoke change but rather records the specifics of its formal impossibility. In my previous letter to you, I sketched out the mechanism of the first image, which as you might kindly remember, represents the rate of occurrence of communist ideas as an index of the breakdown of the capitalist social relation.
The second image of change which I have presented here, gives an account of the absolute rupture between the existing order however conceived on one side and on the other any not existing order however conceived. Specifically, this break is imagined in terms of an impenetrable border between presently realised social dominion and a beyond derived from the non-utilised potentials of a society’s history. This break, I have argued, must always appear in the form of fiction if we are to be consistent in our application of the proposition/inference: The ruling ideas of the age are ever the ideas of the ruling class.
These two image-repertoires (of the rate of change, and of the absolute break) are generated through the discourse of change, and remain the resource of this discourse rather than, say, functioning directly as a component in the mechanical struggle of real social forces. This last point is important, as many adepts of the discourse of change mistake the images, which are often constructed utilising the technique of trompe l’oiel, for the process of change itself... thus the often cited injunction of uniting theory and practice, or Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
Change is conceived within its discursive domain as an intended consequence of an intended application of the measures taken, and thereby stands on its head the actual ordering of forces where transformations are imposed by the changing constraints of reality, the force of which then ‘knock on’ to the discourses which it has generated.
In reality, philosophers are only able to record modifications within the image-repertoires (or theoretical models) which their discourse has precipitated. Strangely though, the occult desire for the realisation of graven images, that is the magico-associative belief that theoretical concepts, might or should become autonomously active elements in society, is difficult to shake off. Social revolutionaries have sometimes struggled against, but most often have abandoned themselves to, the conceit that they might throw themselves into the fictions that they have constructed and that the said fictions will function as a portal or passageway between this world and the next. They have formed the party now the masses will join it, they have written the texts now the masses will understand, they have undertaken the acts now the masses will be radicalised. It is as if an art historian proposed to wave to the advancing locomotive in Pissaro’s Lordship Lane Station or suggest that he might step into Tang Yin’s A fisher in Autumn and converse with the fishermen whilst inhaling the fragrance of autumn leaves. The Picture of Dorian Gray is nothing compared to those who would take their desires for reality.
We cannot step onto the ice of Avercamp’s Winter Landscape with Skaters. That is to say, of course we may pass amongst the icy milieu portrayed in this work, but only at the level of fiction. Even then, we must accept its internal coherence, the rules set within it; we can imagine telling the figures which belong there that their world is not real but it would be futile to pretend to them that this was really a Florida beach scene. Similarly, at the level of fiction, we might approach the monk within Caspar David Friedrich’s The Monk by the Sea and discuss with him the order of nature, of finding god, of the role of doubt and struggle in life, but just as it would be impertinent to ask the monk whether he had heard the latest football results so it would be over-reverential to behave as if the elemental vision contained within the painting was anything more than a fiction. I make no particular mention here of MRR James’ The Mezzotint.
As the closed fictional field dominates works of art so it also forms the major component of pro-revolutionary politics. In both there is at work a closed internal subjective coherence rehearsed by the constituent objects; a relation between the subject form and objective conditions which support it; and a mediated interplay between the two (a discursive field or domain). Pro-revolutionary discourse treats on the matter of revolution but this treatment is in no way itself revolutionary – we are still at the stage where most who practice such discourse absolutely refuse, at the level of rhetoric, to accept the reality of this separation and act as if their painted scene were real. Not just real, but really real, i.e. transcendently real as constituted by an assertive belief in the objectivity of the content of such beliefs.
I say at the level of rhetoric because in private, outside of the role of their fictional ‘revolutionary’ personae the more honest of them will grudgingly accept that their discourse is most probably not real – the problem for them, I think, is the consequence of importing this private knowledge into their fictional world. Lacan sets it out in his own style, is the subject I speak of when I speak the same subject who speaks? It seems that their political work may best be understood as the struggle by all means necessary to exclude this private and grudging acceptance of their own participation in fictionality and thereby preserve its walled innocence. Or as Saint-Juste sets it out in his own style: What constitutes the Republic is the total destruction of what is opposed to it.
You might ask, what is to be gained by the inclusion of this acceptance of fictionality into the pro-revolutionary image-repertoire? For them, it would have a marginal effect, i.e. a shift in legitimisation from that of speaking for History or the Masses to rather the iteration of an internally coherent perspective that subjects itself to exterior analysis. However, for the rest of us such a shift would be significant... their acceptance of the fictional nature of their discourse undoes the mechanism of externalisation and thus the potential for the justification of fanaticism and murder. But, if reflexivity is easy to prescribe then it is a difficult pill to swallow. Even for us.
Above all, in human society, reigns the desire for the continuance of our innocent narratives, and for the compensations that are to be achieved in a state lived according to the mechanical observances of unreflexive fiction – consciousness is the essence of history, and history is essentially fictive. Wherever there is consciousness, it is telling lies to itself about how it came to be. We cannot overthrow consciousness, and nor would we want to, but we need to fictionalise in a more knowing manner. In order to examine how the internal coherences, or rules, of a subjective form sustain themselves as a relative autonomy in relation to other subjective forms, it is necessary to examine how such anastomatic relations are supported environmentally, which I shall do below.
There is an environmental pressure, that is to say a host environment's demand of its population is constituted in its sorting of the integratable from non-integratable adaptations which are then committed to, or suppress from, the reproduction of these as it suits its (the environment as totality's) own interest. The environment itself, as much as it is the emergent property of the entirety of the discreet relations which it supports, seeks to feed back into the processing of its homeostasis those adaptations which most fit the model that requires autonomous contributions to that process.
That is to say, those stable adaptations which require least correction by learning are the most necessary (they have greatest resources of collateral energy) and are most supported because they realise the system in its most robust forms (as themselves); whilst, alternatively, those mutable forms that are reliant upon further investments for their realisation are more expendable from the system’s perspective (learnt behaviours tend not to be reproduced (i.e. stabilised) but must be initiated again and again). To the extent that social relations are governed, this contradictory tendency towards stability and mutability in supported lifeforms induces myriad instances of misunderstanding, ambivalence and pathology – in other words, the perpetual replay of both the nurture versus nurture argument and the question of What is to be done? which appear under all conditions and in every epoch. In other words, the unhappy stabilisation of instability.
The inherent problem of stable forms is that they are unable to exceed their programming and are thus dependent on the continuity of that environment which they realise. The acquired problem of flexible forms is that they are energy inefficient, and must learn that which might otherwise be supposed to have been inherited. The issue for the latter then becomes that of history, i.e. the transmission through time of learnt motifs at the least energy cost (i.e. in the form of images). But even here, the basic dichotomy between stable and mutable forms is reencountered as fixed stabilisations of arbitrary (fictional) values; societies (those environments where learnt (fictional) values predominate) often spend many centuries shedding particularly absurd destructive and harmful features, and then die because they have done so.
Wherever consciousness appears as a component of a set of relations, the issue between stability and flexibility is exacerbated and becomes that of sets of available options and of the registers in which such options appear (consciousness begins with choice (flexibility) and ends in indecision (over-stabilisation)). If we imagine a spectrum of integrated behaviours, then addiction, i.e. potential pathological stability between an environment and its lifeforms, indicates the highest level of commensurability, and appears at one end whilst hyper-flexibility, i.e. immediate suggestibility, indicating a least integrated relation, appears at the other. Within situations where either extreme predominates, paralysis is the result... with the other extreme also realised as a secondary symptom.
That is to say, totalitarian societies tend to produce myriad oppositional forms whilst we might conjecture that ‘free’ societies would tend to produce optimised decision making protocols at an abstract level which will effectively eliminate alternative options and thus result in a highly stabilised/unexamined social form – just as a totalitarian form cannot conceive of an alternative to itself so a ‘free’ form might also find it difficult to isolate the deep bound structures behind decision making processes beyond their ostensible paths (a problem rarely examined, for example, within ‘communist’ produce for use or democracy as an end in itself arguments).
Evidently, this spectrum of adaptation, as it appears within different registers may be interpreted in various ways but the two modes of stability and learnt adaptability are recurrent and are therefore fated to play against, and with, each other according to the specific framing of any given theoretical model. Each extreme, must pass into a state of feedback runaway because the encompassing environment remains unchanged, then produces correctives to itself at other secondary levels: And folly, doctor-like, controlling Skill. In this way, for example, capitalism produces anti-fascism, gender equality and environmentalism as ideologies which do not impact on its basic programming, which remains unaltered by such progressivism in secondary categories.
Given that capitalism is a supportive environment in which the deployed interchangeability (or ultra-flexibility) of units of abstract labour is the means by which society is realised as a living environment, but is also where flexibility becomes fixed as an addiction – or rather it is where the totalising formal abstraction of the commodity form permits an infinity of social possibilities as long as they conform to its requirements – then the question of social change can no longer be situated at the level of subjectively identifying with acts of rebellion (i.e. increasing or decreasing the rate of subjective flexibility) against the repressive order but rather must proceed from the reconsideration of the range and type of adaptive options that are available to the humans within their environment as it exists and then identifying the limits which become apparent as these options are variously exercised. The positive content of this theoretical move is to record both the optimal number of (least commodified) adaptations, and to maximise the number of possible (least commodified) environments.
Given that we cannot conceive of such a thing as a non-alienating society, the real issue within the discourse of the critique of alienation, becomes that of attempting to imagine a proportionate increase in reflexivity where multiple adaptations are related variously to numerous environments – this is what we presently call fiction. In other words, we must attempt to think a circumstance where consciousness is encouraged by its environment to realise that environment by thinking multiple alternatives to it. This setting and resetting of relations is possible in circumstances only where consciousness is dominant over the means by which a society produces its way of life, and that circumstance occurs nowhere but in fiction.
Consciousness appears at those points where desire refuses to let go and preserves its form in a veering away from the constraints imposed on it by the objective world. It takes the form, for its host, of a compensatory imagined alternative to those constraints and becomes the field in which the host is able to get his way. That is to say, consciousness is the subjective mingling of frustrated desire and revenge... with revenge, or perhaps, revanche predominant.
Consciousness is the aperture through which its host has been thrown out of the world... it is always the consciousness of something gone wrong and folded under the imagined means by which it might be put right. What has gone wrong is the appearance of consciousness... the imagined means by which this might be put right induces a spiralling movement further into the consciousness of something having gone wrong. Therefore consciousness is the thought of the escape from thought.
To put it another way, consciousness supposes a world in which its values do not register outside of the consciousness of that world.
The conscious world is doubly sealed, it is always constructed from the perspective of the host of consciousness, and the fictions of this world act to affirm the host’s perspective. That is the first order.
The second order emerges through the interaction of the frustrated, desiring, vengeful host of consciousness with the objective world as mediated in its relations with similar other frustrated, desiring, vengeful hosts of consciousness. Within these engagements of the second order, consciousness becomes modified by what we might call, after Freud, the reality principle... this means only, to quote Jagger/Richards, you can’t always get what you want, But if you try sometimes well you just might find, that ya get what you need.
The awareness of an adequate rate of return on need is sufficient for most lifeforms. They have no ambition to rule the world, they are happy with an assured potential for continued existence within their given outline as far as the world allows now, and with the thought that they are able to superimpose the ghost of their features onto the features of later generations.
This compromise of consciousness (sustained by the armature of discourse), combined with the absolute constraints of the objective world, produces a fictional language through which the energy of frustration-desire-vengence is released back into the objective world that both gives permission for this legitimate expression and remains wholly unmoved by it.
The world exterior to discourse is indifferent to our victories, our transports, our plots but others, these other frustrated, desiring, vengeful hosts of consciousness (or rather, some of them) will not be indifferent. Thus, the conscious basis of intersubjectivity as structured by discursive domains. Some of these others will be moved to meet us in battle, to entwine their briar with the rose in the true love knot, or to intrigue sometimes with us and then sometimes against us. If these others are significant, that is they are recognisably acted upon and acting on, then they inhabit the same discursive domain. They share a fictional world.
The language of fiction, which is that of the vaulting warrior, the subtle lover, the jealous queen, establishes means of expression, or paths of safe energy discharge, in the world, which do not ordinarily lead to self-destruction. Compensatory fiction is the means by which consciousness protects its host from engaging in the war of its primary narcissism against everything (What're you rebelling against, Johnny?)
The evolutionary purpose of consciousness is the safe discharge of internally built-up energies, of frustrated desires, out into the ever-modifying artificial patterns of sociability. Mutually recognised and well-established paths of energy discharge are the means by which a community becomes identifiable.
The anthropologist Gregory Bateson used the concept schismogenesis to describe this relation where divergent/convergent behaviours which together affirm the role of the other as other and also produce a shared culture (even in conflict): those at war with each other agree on what they are fighting for... it is discursively inconceivable that one could be at ‘war’ (i.e. in relation) with another who does not even notice (like Douglas Adams’ mighty alien invasion fleet which is swallowed by a yawning dog). Each agent fixes the other in his place but all of the agents are fixed in their relation together by that which does not, and cannot, directly appear within the conscious frame of that relation.
Those combining in common struggle fix the other in his resentment at his assigned role. The struggle is recounted within a generated discourse which captures both sides as significant poles... and yet the struggle itself is always liable to be sidelined, designified... what meaning now the memorial cannons of the Crimean War? The Treasure of the Sierra Madre recounts one example of how this mechanism by which shallow, temporary worlds are created by those who combine together and/or war against each other, only for the limits of those relations to be exposed by a shift in exterior constraints. Another example is found in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles in which the discourses of the two planets are simply incommensurable: the members of the first expedition are executed in the night as if they are vermin; the second expedition are put into an insane asylum and then killed for the persistence of their delusions; the fourth expeditions arrives to discover the entire martian race destroyed by chickenpox virus.
The ideological stability of any society, which is never more than the sum of its discursive domains, is constantly being undermined even by its own supported discourses... that which realises its legitimacy also forecloses on its dominion. There is always an overlap between incompatible discursive domains, a set of borderlands that are indicated by untheorisable but dogmatically assertive iconographies (patriotism, beliefs in general, the function of existence, the significance of participation are all tautologically inferred and thus function as context specific objects). Meaning, for example, as an object does not exist within its own discourse but may only appear outside of ‘its’ register for an unrecognised by recognising other. Discourse does not produce meaning but is concerned with the continued reproduction of a defined economy of signs. Meaning may only be appropriated by one domain from the intercourses that belong to another. The appropriated meaning is indexed to the concerns of the appropriator domain by conversion of the material into metaphor, analogy, the stuff of meta-critique.
Therefore, the meaning of a discourse, that of religion for example, is asserted externally by the discourse of psychoanalysis for example. However, this is not to say that this appropriation articulates objective reality. It is not the case that psychoanalysis (or marxism) has discovered the objective truth of religion. Expropriating ‘rational’ forms of discourse are not one step closer to reality... they are simply recording their seizure of wholly different objects which they put to their own use. Religion is not a failed attempt in the realisation of scientific objects.
Religious materials still persist, and are circulated unchanged, within their religious context. Persisting without meaning (just as scientific objects have no meaning within their scientific discourse). The meaning appropriated by psychoanalysis is not objective but serves only the continued viability of the fiction of psychoanalysis.
All that can be said on this appropriation of given terms by other registers is that certain materials of a discourse have been persuaded to appear within another discourse and have changed their function.
Within the terms of our own correspondence we are familiar with a sequence of appropriations where the meaning of a discourse is discovered by means of critique within another, apparently encompassing, discourse: the irrationalities of the institutions of the ancient regime are exposed by liberal critique; the class character of the abstract universalising categories of the liberal bourgeoisie are the substance of the critique of the left; the left’s productionist social contracts are exposed by communist critique; communist narrative categories are exposed by anti-political critique which demonstrates that all ideas, and not just the dominating ideas, are equally the product of capitalist relations. And so on.
This sequence of appropriations (achieved by means of critique) is often presented as successive, historical, progressive. However, all of these appropriations continue to run concurrently and are all equally compatible with, and therefore contained by, a frozen and unchanging world. There is no objective historical progressive sequence of dominant discourses which begins with the ancient birth of a social relation and ends with its most current product. There is no objective progress via the process of successive change. There is rather a constant production of all supportable discourses but with variable rate of take-up, or success, of discursive domains.
A sequence is defined by Roland Barthes as the escape of signs from a system of tautologous repetition, and yet we now see that whilst progressive/regressive sequences do occur within discursive domains... there is no objective movement from one dominant discourse to another. In other words, tautology persists even as the condition of sequences... or put another way, there are fictive but no real sequences.
There is no identifiable index-linked thought of the epoch. On the contrary, we deduce an objective condition of stasis (of what Barthes in his denunciation of tautology describes as a dead, a motionless world) in which the internalised sequences of discourses, as well as the multiple separate discursive domains that are collectively supported by the productive relation, serve (by filling out, giving substance to), rather than undo, the tautologous cycles of a social relation in dynamic equilibrium. The relevant image here is Escher’s Ascending and Descending.
The confusion of internal sequences with objective historical progress is a result of the mistaking of examples of inter-discursive critique and appropriation for the vocalisation of the truth of the epoch. Obsolete discursive domains are not superseded by up-to-date discourses so much as they recede for lack of access to objective energy supplies. But where any one discourse fades into the background there are plenty of equally ‘obsolete’ examples which continue to succeed: the myths of market forces, of religious fundamentalism, of social democracy, of state regulation of international finance, of military defence, of nation states, of human rights, of charity, of civilisation, all run very successfully together... with each sustaining itself, in a relation of schismogenesis (And folly, doctor-like, controlling folly), by exposing the ‘meaning’ of selected others.
But enough, consider now the fictions of the great crested grebe. The narrative context is conventional: the adult grebes are driven towards sexual reproduction and this end requires the preliminary accumulation of their genetic and experiential resources; accumulation in the face of barriers because their successful reproduction is not at all assured; in fact, it is forbidden.
At all places, at all times, in all activities, in all interactions, reproduction is forbidden. Except in this one place, this one time, this one interaction... it is here and now at the edge of their species’ viability which is discharged the accumulation of life energies into this single encounter.
However, the embodiment of their species struggle for its share of the world’s energy resources is not the whole story. Even in the assigned moment, the reproductive act itself might fail. There are other factors, other filters, other obstacles to sexual union and this must be replayed and ritualised; the surplus energies, the flaring potency must be discharged via consciousness in the form of what is called display.
The great crested grebe’s complex and elaborate courtship displays are a good example of fiction’s appearance in the natural world and thus demonstrate to us the parameters of consciousness and how this functions recursively as discourse, community, fiction.
One of the grebe’s displays involves the male and female facing each other on the water, with necks straight and head feathers raised, shaking their heads rapidly from side to side.
Another display involves one of the birds diving and re-emerging from the water, neck erect with its bill pointing downwards whilst the other spreads out its wings.
Another involves one of the birds rapidly retreating from the other at the centre to the edge of the water and then making a second approach.
Another involves both birds presenting lengths of pond weed to each other in their bills, the weed is shaken and raised up to the sky as the grebes paddle so frantically that they are raised out of the water and are almost walking on its surface.
All of these displays are examples of the formal discharging of anxiety flares along mutually recognisable paths, the proficiency in which indicates the capabilities of one bird to the other. The extent to which the bird is capable of performing the display indicates its potential for realising the next generation. In other words, display is a discursive domain.
However, it is self-evident that such displays have nothing to do with the practicalities of the grebe’s existence. There is a radical separation in the sign between the displays and what they indicate. The ostentatious flourishing of pondweed does not relate directly to either the sexual act or to rearing young. The internal, tautological structure of the sign is mediated and displaced but it has also become autonomous, functioning in a fictional domain that is not directly reducible to ‘survival’ or ‘reproduction’.
To rehearse this again, the grebe’s displays are fictional because they do not directly articulate either the selective process that is being undergone, or the constraints placed on the species by the world... on the contrary, such displays become, to a greater or lesser extent, separated from the objective world and function as an autonomous specialised vernacular which produces tautological significances only within its contextually based discursive domain.
This tendency to become autonomous of objectively imposed simple marks and traits is actualised in the development of secondary elaborations. Autonomisation is the species’ own appropriated means of discharging excitations, and can be found throughout nature, in territorial songs and displays: camouflage; courtship rituals; ‘play’; in the communicative techniques of hunting and evasion.
The discharge pathways initiate a collectively recognisable discursive domain in which signs are generally redistributed. It is the old story, the oldest of stories, the story of an internalising organism passing into a condition of host (or narrator) of consciousness in response to the tensions of the world.
The transit of accumulated/secured energy into display via established discharge pathways induces a form of consciousness that is always also excessive in relation to the function it is supposed to perform. There is a folding in of consciousness which causes it to respond not just to the world but to its own, fictional, objects. Display speaks to display whilst the relation of the entirety of the materials of this discourse to any specified ‘biological’ function is assigned externally.
Display does not simply relate directly to process and the constraints on energy resources, but develops further for your eyes only exaggerations in a spiral of responses and counter-responses within a specific domain (the rapid evolutionary development of the plumage of an island finch species, for example, is a proliferating ‘vernacular’ communicational pattern rather than a direct adaptation to the pressures of the environment). Fiction is therefore the filter through which the extra-discursive world is selected by its inhabitants by means of their interactions.
The relation of fiction (i.e. a separated, autonomous discourse that does not give a direct account of the constraints placed upon it but rather supplies an entirely other and displaced set of constraints particular to its specific domain) to objective conditions, is defined by its non-reducibility, or excess, to the function imposed upon it by those conditions. If fiction conforms to objective constraints but on its own terms then it also escapes from constraint in terms of its own excesses.
Shall we turn again, but from another direction, to the disputed role of what we have previously termed grace (the unknown element making an unpredicted intervention)? In my earlier response to you, I argued that grace is a transcendent moment which might appear at the limit of knowledge. Now I would like to argue the opposite, and proceed as if grace, or God, were a measured value in the manoeuvres of consciousness. The algebraic function of God within this approach is that of the given or accepted. God is assigned a known value within a discursive practice so as to investigate unknown properties that may be indexed against what is given as God.
The function of God is to facilitate the explanation of events. It is not easy to understand why our forces were once victorious but now are defeated, or why the plague has broken out in our city. By referring these events to God, we begin to understand fault, frailty, failure. Our investigations uncover reasons: it is because of our weakness and corruption that things have gone awry; it is what we deserve; failure is our punishment. This is the simplest presentation, within the predictive sciences, of why systems which once worked now do not – the inference is that something within the system has changed (or has been changed).
The filtering of problematic events through the black box of God is not a procedure for uncovering the nature of God but rather it is a means for ordering and illumination. It is a means for putting into question that which otherwise might simply be accepted as the way it is. Evidently, there is a moment in the process where the knowledge of other terms overwhelms the apparent need for an algebraic God – however, at that point, God is not superseded as a discursive term but merely lost. God is not simply a central hub into which spokes of meaning are inserted... God also stands for breakdown, for system failure, for something real. Essentially, the name of God, the story of God, is pain – and this term that discourse seeks specifically to progressively exclude.
Pain is the Real. It is what draws us out of immersive states, sets us out of the world’s processes and plunges us into cold consciousness. Pain is real, but the story of pain, which began with God as a fixed value, and ends today in systems’ analysis, is always fiction. Undoubtedly, God must be a fictional moment in understanding and yet He must be presented at first within consciousness as a fixed point otherwise as it runs its diagnostics it will enter a state of flat spin or paralysis where all terms are equally put into crisis and no deductions might be made. God is still there as an archaic (self-organising) condition of consciousness, even where He has been excluded. For this reason, I find your invocation of ‘new categories of thought’ extremely problematic.
I do not believe a new or better set of logics is possible... what would ground these terms other than our desire for, and assertion of, new categories? All that is available to us is the unexpected application of secondhand categories. The only path open to us, is to proceed by means of presenting the given, emphasised, fetishised most archaic term (God/Grace) which will automatically organise, and thus enable, our investigation into the values of the other terms which are illuminated within its field. For example, in this way, we may cast light on capital relations and the terms held within its field of force from the fixed central perspective of, by turn, ‘the proletariat’, ‘nature’, ‘gender’, ‘culture’ and so on. But this undertaking never exceeds its fictionality... what is ‘given’ and those secondary properties that are derived from it, only remain true within the created discursive domain.
In dream analysis, the analysand is invited to recount events from the perspective of others (or even other objects) that appeared within his dream... under analysis the dreamwork becomes more fully realised as its objects are fixed by each other in turn, and all objects are allowed to speak within the discourse generated by each object individually. Within Magritte’s painting the key to Dreams, the objects sky/bag, knife/bird, leaf/table all say one thing in the system with sponge/sponge at its centre. However, when sky/bag organises the other objects, sponge/sponge, knife/bird and leaf/table all gain different individual voices. Knife/bird says something different in the system of leaf/table than it does in the system sky/bag. Similarly, the fetish-emphasis in our investigations may be usefully moved from one term to another to better understand the entirety of the relations within the field of our investigations. At this juncture we might remember William Carlos Williams injunction on mediation, no ideas but in things.
However, ultimately, even within these fictive and speculative logics we remain ‘meta-fixed’ (given and fixed) to that which has produced us: a real set of relations, a real process. But we cannot entirely grasp the nature o f this fixing and may only infer in reflection, or perhaps even only intuit, its parameters. This real set of relations imprints its moment on us, and we thus enact something of it, but in our lives we are rarely capable of feeding back our acts and leaving an objective mark. The Real will not be reduced to our account of it and thus we remain in a situation of merely recording those of its parameters which appear to us as possibilities and impossibilities (which we must accept may in reality be nothing of the sort).
All we are left with as a political project is the nihilism or extreme scepticism, or manic relativism, of shifting emphasis from one term to another, in the hunt for grace or that which genuinely exceeds the terms of our investigation in the knowledge that the nature of such investigations precludes such discoveries. I don’t know about you but I immediately think of the gatekeeper here in Before the Law, that which we seek of ourselves cannot be known because we seek it. But perhaps of more resonance is the reversal of terms in Henry James’ The Jolly Corner where the dynamics of a spooky house are turned upside down and the living come to haunt the ghosts:
People enough, first and last, had been in terror of apparitions but who had ever before so turned the tables and become himself, in the apparitional world, an incalculable terror?
The construction of image-fields where transcendence becomes possible is a fictional activity... we build altars for transcendent events (e.g. social transformation) but they are not functional in the sense that the altars of organic religions are integrated into the objective production of a social system (and thus are capable of real effects). Like organic religions, our fictions are the product of present conditions, but unlike real religions, our images are not often necessary in the reproduction of those conditions and therefore are liable to wilt and fade for want of energy. However, the construction and further investment in these middens of affects and insights (like those of the bowery bird) are necessary to us and to the reproduction of our marginality.
As an example, the fictive field created by the reading of Nihilist Communism is almost entirely arbitrary, and its appearance as such is based less on the historically necessary extension of a logic than on numerous accidents within individual lives which anyway might otherwise have followed different courses – it is more a monkeys and typewriters phenomenon than a consequence of historical materialist unfolding. And the continued maintenance of its field (we must remember here the years that span from its publication to its eventual discussion) is also fundamentally fictional (i.e. Nihilist Communism is not a necessary field of activity imposed by objective conditions but exists purely by act of will and invested effort). However, this space, which some may continue to label nihilist communism nevertheless continues to generate its points, its terms, its relations and its discussions because of this investment.
There is a space, that from the outside is now called nihilist communism, which we have created and which has become populated, and which by effort of will we have sustained as a set of relations and discussions. It has generated a number of truths concerning the reality of our existence. However, this field and its terms remain fictional. We might speculate that this field of endeavour will remain fictional until the live effort that we put into it is finally dominated by past efforts and thus becomes autonomous, but even this is far from certain – it could be that at that moment, the project will simply die. There is no means of identifying the exact point at which any fiction which is derived from theory passes into reality and becomes part of the reproductive mechanism. For the moment at least, we (you and I, and the others) seem to be free to stalk this haunted field and scare the ghosts which inhabit it. And from such materials we construct further imagined figures, and learn something of their properties before they die.
There is a curious effect in fictional endeavours, which it is our intention to resist, where what is manifested comes to articulate what it takes to be the Real – this is called representation. Sometimes, where the verisimilitude is apparently very accurate, the fictional element even attempts to take the place of what is real, and this is called ideology. For the discourse directed towards social change, this tendency is always a present danger, and under pressure of which the narratives of change are often taken as either objective permission for change, or even as the process of change itself (the democratic formulation: the more we agree the more of what we agree on will come true).
For idolators, the representations of thresholds and passages from one condition to another have a tendency to become these passages and thresholds within their discourses. And yet it is not often that they ask themselves why they do not actually utilise them as such – how can a practitioner of magick continue when he has achieved no successes? Why doesn’t the sorcerer reflect upon the failures of his magick? Which of us, as pro-revolutionaries really believes in either the man-made revolution, or the capacities of the organisations of which we are members? There is simply no objective (i.e. extra-discursive) evidence that confirms the viability of either.
These Trotskyists, these Maoists, these Leninists, these Marxists, these insurrectionists, these syndicalists and anarchists and anarcho-communists, they all mistake their fictions for reality and yet at the same time we might ask, how many of them really believe in their mistake (to the degree that Pirandello’s Henry IV believes)? How many are prepared, as Bataille was prepared, to sacrifice a man? Or rather, how many are prepared to double their belief and live as if the world were affirming their assertions? Which of them, living up to the implications of their images, are ready to pass from a condition of bad faith into a condition of psychosis and thereby relinquish the objective marginality of their discursive domain?
It is difficult, is it not, for the possessors of narratives concerning the passage from one state to another to resist the tendency to behave towards that fiction as if it really were a passage from one condition to another. This tendency however is always eventually corrected by the brick wall of real conditions. The effect of this correction is for ‘active’ religious forms to be gradually supplanted by passive forms of belief, as the latter do not require proof of capacity in the image/practitioner to sustain miracles but only the ability to interpret the significance of the miracle’s possibility (hence the juncture which our correspondence appears at).
There is perhaps an instinct in humans towards taking fictions for reality and they only relinquish the absolute claims for their specific truths, the truths which confirm them, very reluctantly. Nothing is as infuriating to a committed discussion group than that spectre at the table who must introduce a meta-critique, or a relativising perspective, and thereby spoil the hermetic, convolutional ecstasies. It seems then, as I intimated at the beginning of this, that at the heart of fiction is the image of a passage between states and that this image of change has some real, if mediated, relation to the fantasies generated by the constraints and permissions generated by the society in which it appears, but these fantasies, on the other hand, cannot appear directly as acts of change because reality always exceeds any and all ideas of change and thus they must be converted back into fantasy.
At the heart of fiction is the image as aperture, a condensed and singular encapsulation removed from real productive activity, but which one may approach via fantasy and from which one may may expand alternative possibilities in relation to the present. Proceeding from the real world of productive relations, consciousness narrows to a singular image and then from this image-point, which becomes on its own terms an aperture, there expands, as if through the looking glass, an other world of unreality which even so holds to its internal logic and supports a set of relations within its field. The fictional world, as populated through the relations of its objects, is a place of constraints and permissions (and these have some sort of relation to the real world) but these hold only as long as the arbitrary relations are sustained; outside of these relations, closing the book, narratives have no particular purchase on reality.
It may be useful at this moment, to recap the ordering I am suggesting here. There is the more or less arbitrary constraints of real world relations and the potential for change which exists within these but which cannot be known by those who are bound therein. Then there is the fantasy of change that is produced by the constraints of the real world and which in turn creates a whole other fictional world of constraints that adhere obscurely to the constraints of the real world. This set of recursive mechanisms activates the capacity for conceiving of a changed world, a world where the more or less arbitrary constraints of the present do not hold. Even though the content of fiction remains unreal, and is insupportable and unrealisable, it is a necessary phase in the process of real change, especially where it cannot be converted into that process – at which point, if it is converted, it becomes ‘staged knowledge’, which we must now consider.
Ideology or staged knowledge refers to that artificial blooming where fictional terms are separated from their critical and indeterminate functions and take on the appearance of a fixed knowledge, becoming the voice of the institution. Staged knowledge is presented hierarchically and through it one ascends towards enlightenment/competence indexed to the level of one’s commitment to its terms (Buddhism is an example of staged knowledge, as is ‘value critique marxism’).
If, within institutional discourse, there is only one established register of adherence, a staged knowledge, there remains an infinite number of imaginable flights from it. Fiction’s essence is the delight it engenders in the triumph over the parameters of what it takes to be the Real, it exults in the suspension of ordinary reality and the establishment of different rules. It is by means of this functioning delight (and such delight is the only means by which the specific triumphs over the general) that that which always must exceed is finally exceeded.
Fiction is the only real opposition to the real relations of production as it is only within fiction that causality becomes disputable. But if fiction eludes power, it cannot be deployed as a weapon against power as under stable conditions all deployed fictions are immediately converted into information, into messages, into ideology. However, where hitherto stable relations have passed into a state of crisis, fiction has the brief potential to precipitate a more accurate knowledge as the basis for a practice of relations. The conversion of fiction into theory, that is the integration of production with ideas, at such critical moments must be rapid and decisive or else the scenario encountered within Kipling’s The Man who Would Be King repeats itself and a delusion of power is sustained only so long as it retains its novelty and charm.
Again, it seems necessary to return to the question of the passage of human cargo through the image-aperture. This rite of passage through the eye of the needle, as if from one set of conditions to another, is primarily concerned with the shedding of extraneous, learnt, material. How is it that a complex and intricate structure may pass the entirety of itself from what is established now to what will be established then? What are the effects of this passage on the voyagers?
It seems to me that there are compressive and shedding affects. One might say that the passage through the image-aperture has a similar sealing effect to that of the pressure of the birth canal on the infant’s fontanelle... But the image that most readily occurs to me is that of a fully rigged sailing ship, a composite and delicately elaborated device inserted into a bottle. Or being squeezed by the shifting pack ice as it seeks out the Northwest Passage. Or perhaps taking that condensing form of augury such as The Flying Dutchman, becoming the passage itself, and thus never finding port. Or perhaps the variations on that theme, sandcruisers and the like, employed by Ballard at the resort of Vermillion Sands. Or perhaps those ships which appear sometimes in Monty Python, as office blocks, or which are bound to the head of a mer-giant.
The unwieldy shape of that which has been specifically articulated under one set of conditions always seems a very unlikely vehicle for reaching the the other side.
The image-aperture strips all extraneous materials from that which passes through... it promises rebirth, squeezes together the plates of the skull, re-creating the basic form. Just as the dying shed their ties with the social world, even amidst the rehearsing of gestures of life in the resuscitation room, so the mystics and revolutionaries seek the means by which they might be relieved of their revolt... hence the tendency to conservation of stripped-down, diagrammatic, purified relations in formal revolutionary organisations (which correspond directly with the bureaucratic forms of already instituted organisations.
Staged knowledge, the bad turn in fiction, hovers before self-awareness and yet remains exploitative – it is staged because it pretends but it is also laid for its consumers like a trail through a structured hierarchy of adherence. Bad fiction, staged knowledge, ideology, abandons altogether even the illusory function of the image-aperture, and thus the unknown, in favour of the compensatory further elaboration of its parts in the present.
We might conclude that the very nature of the elaborated adaptations of the specific in any epoch are designed especially to reproduce the present environment and thus inhibit the passage of materials from the present into the future. Historical objects always seem to travel heavy... and we learn from this that history does not record rupturous change so much as narrated inheritance and therefore a continuity. We should infer that if there is to be a passage of certain human cargo from in-here to out-there, then this transit must occur outside of history
It is worth emphasising here that the act of revolt is not a matter of elaborating the narrative of revolt as a lived set of relations but rather is directed towards the shedding of the energy of revolt... that is to say, the vehicle which approaches the image-aperture sheds its form, the masts, the rigging, the oars, the anchor, the wheel, and even the hull itself, all its learnt history. All that is brought to this point of transformation is lost, and all that remains of it beyond is the cargo – what has been transported. And this cargo would have been there anyway, even without its history. Revolt is the means of shedding the energy of revolt. Revolt seeks the loss of itself.
I would like to return here to fiction as message, which takes the form of a ‘call’ to others to share and act on its information. Where revolt is understood as the origin of new relations, this call within the narrative of change demands enactment according to the message. It attempts to expropriate the future through a demand that behaviour change and conform to its principles. This futurism is in reality, retroactive, (and thus misplaces what is not yet determined) given that the call exists always before the desired response. But now that we understand that fiction cannot authentically make this demand without lapsing into staged knowledge, we see that the subjective response to that which cannot be known must be less a call or invocation to realise specific prescribed relational forms and more an open ended exploration and recording of the the limits of what is possible under present conditions.
If we take an exemplary image of this call, which is empty of any specific content, Chtcheglov’s The Hacienda Must Be Built; we are presented with nothing more than the name of an absent condition for which we have no co-ordinates, no floorplan, no blueprint, and no timeframe. Not only are these knowledges absent, they are essentially unknowable. Every Hacienda that might be conceivably built under present conditions is evidently not adequate to its potential realisation under conditions more appropriate to its building. This would suggest that the call itself, the call for new terms, is an inappropriate form of engagement both with the unknowable potentials of lives that must be lived otherwise, and with present conditions.
Therefore, in place of this Call (the resonances here are deliberate), which becomes the habitual comportment of certain pro-revolutionaries, defining their activity in relation to that which is called for, we must have already begun to sketch out that set of activities that does not call.... we might prefer not to demand and thereby let the impossible look after itself. Such not-calling utilises techniques of recording and recognition, of orientation and critique, substantiation and engagement with meaning in the place of invocation. It is concerned with what is already ancient rather than struggling and failing to focus on the ‘new’ (which is unknowable). For us, revolt has already occurred, it belongs in the past. The alternatives to the present are not before us, but lie in that which has been lost as history has moved ‘forward’.
From the position that is defined by its not-calling, the Hacienda has already been built and if it has a roof then it has no floors, or it is dangerously wired, or it is not plumbed in, or is built on an eroding coastline, or next to the city dump. The Hacienda has already been built and it is a ruin and the ruin is the aperture through which we critically perceive the present.
...someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. ‘What meaning does your construction have?’ he asks. ‘What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?’
The inhabitants of Thekla (one of Calvino’s Cities and the Sky) wait for dark and point to the star-filled sky, ‘There is the blueprint.’ Our emphasis passes from the instinctual call to not-calling, from a spurious and perpetually maintained state of optimistic preparedness before an unknowable future, to that of willed unreadiness, and a conscious re-immersal within the constraints of the past. If we must have an altar to orientate our knowledge then we also accept that the intervention of God will never occur at that point.
Contrariwise, it is because grace is absent at the site of our altar, and that we accept that we are not objectively affirmed, that we are free to conceive other conditions.
Harken, here are the constraints of our communist theology:
It is because we are bound to the earth in our own activities, and that these bonds become clear to us as we fail to conceive transcendence, that we sense the limits of our conditions, and thus of hidden possibilities beyond them.
Our circumstance is not at all unique. Just as many have before us, we are at that point where we are compelled to introduce knowledge of fiction into fiction. Perhaps it is unusual that we expand the definition of fiction to include all theories of social change but even here I do not think the move is unprecedented. The point of departure here is not that we conclude that all is fiction (concluding that as everything is equally unreal then anything goes)... that is not the issue here at all, and nor is our project directed towards undoing ideologies in order to expose an underlying ‘real’. Sequentially, we have passed beyond the contentions set out in The Society of The Spectacle – maybe we have extended the logic of the critique of the spectacle to include the spectacle as a facet of the critique (but Baudrillard has already been there and done that).
Communism is not synonymous with a historically privileged access to the codes of our species being, or even to the most ethically appropriate means of producing social relations.
There is no conceivable arrival at the end of ourselves. The project that I am involved in, i.e. that which begins with the disconnect from pro-revolutionary ideology marked by the publication of Nihilist Communism, consists rather in the examination of how mediations (fictions) are necessarily supported by reality and that these tell us something, but not everything (and in a coded form) about that reality. Unlike those discourses of change which correlate the realisation of their belief system with the perfection of society, we have suspended the pretence of speaking for anyone or anything outside of our discourse (again, this is not to say that we deny the existence of forces beyond our account of them).
We aim instead for a set of just-so, or internal coherences, and include the knowledge of the limits acting on our activities into the activities themselves. Here, I am giving an account of how society produces fictions whilst accepting that my account is also fictional. There is a strand within French cinema which relinquishes the pretence of reality and presents itself as a knowing piece of fiction. I am thinking here of Celine and Julie (where a character is released from its fate in a piece of theatre by a therapeutic intervention after the play has been rehearsed many times) and also of some of the historical films of Rohmer The Marquis of O or Astrea and Celadon where a theatrical, storytelling quality is emphasised over plausibility or relevance (the latter for example, uses Nouvelle Vague cinematic techniques to frame a Seventeenth Century representation of ancient Gaul, and thus expose its own innocence in relation to the formality of ancien discourses on the nature of love and the parts of God – knowing anachronisms expose ‘natural’ anachronisms). It is rather strange to engage with a fiction that makes no particular reference to the conventions of realism and yet, when you think about it, it is not so strange as the work of fiction which strives to adhere to those conventions. It is the former, rather than the latter, which indicates how fiction might produce a post-fictional theory, a magick that does not seek enchantment or spells, a make believe that is just make believe, or rather, a knowing fictionality.
I do not think that this form of knowing-fiction which we engage in condemns itself to continually re-present issues of recursion, or ‘meta-fiction’ and other so-called post-modern motifs but rather is freed from the obligation of having to be about something other than what it is expressly about (this is not to say that it is not about other external matters but only that these other matters are not our concern). I think our project, which is both directed towards fictions and is fictional, is most directed towards examining those objects which we have caused to come into existence within the parameters of our discourse – what relevance this has to you or to anyone else, is really not for us to say.
On looking through what I have written, I notice that there are several contradictory themes, each taking an assertive form. Perhaps I should not have presented such contradictions as if they were seamless. I am not sure if this is problematic but it is curious that the threads I have followed to not confirm each other. I have arrived at a sort of cult of strands leading in different directions. Sometimes I have taken images apart and condemned their use by others and at other times I have argued that there is nothing but images. So it seems, I have got no further than telling a bunch of stories. And badly, with no proper narration. Be that as it may, I hope what I have written goes some way to address your questions concerning the possibility of escaping from a room where there is no possibility of escape. And I hope you have found something in what I have written here to stimulate you to further our correspondence.
I would like to end here with The Tale of The Stone Soup as I think it adequately recounts the nature of a fictional project whilst also remaining a work of fiction. Its stone might also be associated with the stones in our earlier Fable of the Thirsty Crow. The Stone Soup is a nice little brechtian tale, and is variously told with an emphasis on the benefits of collectivisation of resources in the face of hunger, or as a signal lesson in how capitalists sell back to the people the alienated product of their labour. I have preferred to tell the tale in a hermetic variation and emphasise the function of necessary ingredients and what mediates them. I did not want to ascribe a motive to the soup maker, I did not want to say he made it to trick people, or make money, or even to baffle them. I record only that he made it and that this activity was remarkable. I also leave it open as to whether the stone adds flavour to the soup or does not... that the stone makes a difference to the scene is undeniable, that the stone is integral to the soup is highly probable:
There once was a man who went from place to place making soup. One day he arrived in a village square and decided to stop for the night. On his donkey cart he had a big pot which he filled with water. In his pocket he had a small round stone. The man called the villagers from their houses. ‘Who wants my stone soup?’ he shouted. The people laughed. ‘You can’t make soup from stone,’ they said. ‘You can’t, but I can,’ replied the man, ‘I can make soup from my soup stone.’ The people gathered round to watch him make the soup from the soup stone. ‘First I heat up a pot of water,’ said the man, ‘then I put in this small round soup stone.’ After a short time, he stirred the soup and tasted it. ‘It tastes good,’ he said, ‘but if I had some onions it would taste better.’ An old woman said, ‘here, I have some onions.’ The man put the onions in the soup. After a short time, he stirred the soup and tasted it. ‘It tastes good,’ he said, ‘but if I had some carrots it would taste better.’ A young man said, ‘here, I have some carrots.’ The man put the carrots in the soup. After a short time, he stirred the soup and tasted it. ‘It tastes good,’ he said, ‘but if I had some potatoes it would taste better.’ Some children said, ‘here, we have some potatoes.’ The man put the potatoes in the soup. After a short time, he stirred the soup and tasted it. ‘It tastes good,’ he said. ‘Can we taste the soup?’ asked the people. The man continued to ladle out soup to the villagers who held up their bowls until the pot was empty. The people agreed that the stone soup tasted very good. At the end he took out the soup stone and put it back into his pocket. The next morning, he got back into his cart and prepared to leave. ‘Will you sell us the soup stone?’ asked the people. He rode away without answering them.
Ah, if we should never talk again. I have written this urgently, just as if we shall never talk again,