Thursday, 15 September 2022

The five stratagems - an extract from an abandoned critique of the post-left

 If the Chinese and Russian regimes are more authoritarian, the US state is more totalitarian - America is most successful at integrating its various departments and functions into a totalised system for realising itself as an environment. Whilst China and Russia are still imprisoning and assassinating opponents, the US has developed a performative system of inclusion of differences that functions as a client driven control system. The homeostasis of the US totality is maintained by its constant readjustment to the manufacture of included differences. The process of governmental metabolisation of difference via the agency of manufactured opposition (where the manufacture of consent is taken to its logical inclusion) only really becomes apparent where the system’s good guy operatives are subjected to the sort of attacks that are conventionally directed against caricature enemies as exemplified by mobilisatory popular front style ‘punch a Nazi in the face’ and ‘ACAB’ slogan-memes, first widely circulated, and then abruptly discontinued. 

The ticklish matter is not that those who cleave to emancipatory ideals are not authentic, on the contrary,  sincerity is a condition of employment, just as the best salesman believes in his product, the difficulty is that the recuperative moment is located elsewhere than within the problematic of commitment - the authenticity of revolt, whatever the personal level of participation, is imbued with a positive/monetary value within the system against which it is directed, and for this reason it is reproduced. And wherever the form of revolt transforms into a circulated product, the revolutionaries are dissuaded from revolting against the binary oppositions they inherit  - at the most basic level, as an example, there is a structured presumption that feminism cannot be one of the names of the father. Whilst the totality is geared to orchestrate attacks on clearly designated skipping villains, the fascists, racists, misogynists, it has yet to come up with an adequate response to the antileft strategy of shaking the apparat tree to see which of its nice, good, tolerant, generous social critics fall out. The antileft approach suggests that it is only when you go after the Totality’s exemplary ‘blue tick’ revolutionaries, the allies who have adequately demonstrated their opposition to ‘oppressions’, who possess the fabled ‘free pass’ (i.e. make a paid living from their opposition to their employers) and meet the threshold for what it is to be an official opponent of the regime, that you find out how the system manufactures dissent against itself. 

What was it in 2020 that induced so many sectors of the American establishment to converge upon the strategy of investing in protest politics? The question is almost too big to answer, or to put it another way, it is because there were so many inputs, a profusion of programming, persuading the state-industrial complex to head down the route that it did, an issue-policy patterning that is repeated with its response to the Covid pandemic, drug decriminalisation, and climate change, that it is this overdetermined aspect, the multiplicity of causal inputs, the confluence of pressures and tendencies upon a single output, that distinguishes the present moment from everything that went before. Significance is no longer located strategically, there is no single objective (expressed in policy of interest and the financing of policy of interest) to be realised, but rather the policy is decided structurally, and then the reason for it, the objective, is added later - both added, and added to through a proliferation of rationalisations, and investments. Why did the security apparatus commit to, and facilitate identity politics? Why did the biggest corporations invest in and sponsor identitarian protest movements, even as they looted and set fire to corporate buildings? Why did the grand families constituting the political elite take the knee as they took up the cause of identity politics? It’s bizarre, it’s outlandish and it’s unprecedented. Yes, it indicates crisis but only in the sense that the party of capital has harnessed broken window theory as a source of accumulation. 

Capital has discovered the 2003 mantra, degrade, disrupt and dismantle as applied to itself constitutes the path of recomposition. The party of capital has taken a Bakuninist turn, and it is working. Camatte observed that post-war capital had realised and incorporated the project of the historic workers’ movement on the objective terrain of the community of capital, we are now living through actualised insurrectionism as a productive relation. But the answer is never singular, the reason for events always approaches the dreamwork’s navel, the event horizon. Every sector of the establishment found its own reasons for acting in 2020 as it did, and every sector had multiple justifications for the swerve it took. For the reason that ‘policy’ has entered a post-strategic state and undergone a qualitative transformation, the reason for anything undertaken by the state has become difficult to describe and much less explain: in effect, the motte-and-bailey doctrine has entered a borgesian state of infinite regress. 

How extraordinary it is, how paradoxically, elegantly bizarre, and so very beautifully fascinating that the greatest project of colonisation the world has ever known is now ideologically sympathetic to anti-settler ideology - alliance to the struggle against white supremacy becomes the veritable thirst trap, the Pavlovian trigger, for a conditioned identification with the world’s most recognisable commodities. All those Portland anarchists are transformed into exemplars of HR, the rioting sandwich board. Verily, Seattle is the locale where la poésie est dans la rue touched asphalt as taglines are in the street. Every revolt, whether it is constituted as violence, diversity, intelligence, divergence, deviance or flight is incorporated at the level of its compatibility with the apparatus of circulation, and contrariwise, a veritable Catch 22, only that which cannot be circulated (that is, the most unpopular and incommunicable of forms) continue to resist the totality. If it can be communicated it is within the state; if it resists the state, it cannot be communicated.

If we consider just one example here, we can observe in action what I have elsewhere described as niche opportunism, and also briefly consider how current operations indicate a step change in the modus operandi of social control. At a certain level everyone already knows that images are always separated from what they represent - every image can be put to use strategically by careful editing to elicit and displace affective responses onto other objects. The use of images of ‘resistance’ and the feelings generated by them severing as a path into collusion with fragments of the state is a remarkable and long established technique, the function of the provocateur (now also called ‘thirst trap’) is often acknowledged but rarely identified because, put very simply, we are predisposed to desire that the semblance of what is good really does express what is good; we do not want to think that the image of someone bravely standing up for justice and what is right, might also be circulated as a Trojan ruse for inducing acquiescence to what is craven and unjust. I borrowed the notion of niche opportunism (I cannot now remember where I borrowed it from) to describe adaptive behaviours triggered by environmental transformations which could not be otherwise attributed to design, strategy or intent. The idea supposed that subject formations no longer sought to realise (modify) their environment in accord with their desires  - the capital resources had dried up and all capital-heavy investments were productive of unforeseen consequences and crippling unexpected costs which rivals could swoop in on and exploit (communications infrastructure such as broad band cellular network technology and fibre optic cabling are obvious examples). 

At a certain moment, modern states gave up on the idea of making history and instead allowed history to make itself which the states would then affirm, seek to adapt to, and exploit to the best of their abilities - whilst at one level, the post-strategy position really is just another iteration of Renaissance city-state constrained pre-strategic realpolitik, the situation is irrevocably shifted historically. Fortuna is converging with the singularity, and this, beyond the exigencies of a surface level machiavellianism, has radically transformed the role of princes. The modern prince subsists in the shadow of the greater power, waiting for it to enter a state of crisis, and when this inevitably comes to pass, the prince expands his forces to occupy his moment in the sun, utilising for capital the moment itself, the opportunity itself. In the natural world, very small birds and fish dwell in the vicinity of top predators for which the small animals do not meet the threshold of prey items; the small animals gain a level of protection from attacks by mid-level predators whilst performing services to the king predator (both feeding on their parasites, and attracting mid-level predators into the jaws of their protector). The flock of images of justice and emancipation which routinely circulates within the apparat, taking flight in crisis, serves a grooming function performed by small animals not worth devouring. Amongst certain sections of the left, niche opportunism is theorised as communisation where the revolution and the new society, on the basis of the principle, ‘nature abhors a void’, operate inseparably and immediately - the movement is powered by the moment, the moment is powered by the movement and both are powered by an objective tilt of conditions. In all versions of niche opportunism, the strategic element, the transitional phase (where policy is formulated for the realisation by agency) has become operationally redundant. 

The recent example that perhaps best illustrates the niche opportunist mechanism, and best demonstrates the ultimately inscrutable character of its overdetermined products, are the recruitment videos published by different departments within the US security apparatus. The videos variously show individuals belonging to one or more marginalised and minority grouping categorised by sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and ‘neurology’. The video narratives show how those who were once outsiders can now be included as authentic soldiers for the state in its phase of post-imperial teleoplexic realisation as the city set on a hill. But what do these inclusionist narratives really say about the post-Trump strategy of the security apparatus? That it is in ecstasy? That the control society has entered the moment of its apotheosis, and incorporated every fragmented scroll into its Logos? I can imagine five strategems within the dreamwork which might indicate that the idea-limits of both over-determination and the dream’s navel are now exceeded - there is a mining in the mining, not just in the spoil heap but in the process of mining itself:

The first strategem, Shakespearean perhaps, is that such inclusion indicates a sort of promotion sideways of the rainbow movement of useful fools who did such good work undermining the Trump narrative of parochial isolationism. Public recognition and acknowledgement of the heroic role of oppressed minorities is also a sort of disengagement from them, a variant (in the age where Prince Hal has become his own Falstaff) of I know thee not old man which is neutralised into a soft blocking, I see you baby shakin' that ass. Pride communities are transformed into totemic icons of acknowledged victimhood, whilst official recognition of their previously hidden contributions functions as a readymade casus belli for every operation of the drone corps. It is easy to imagine that members of these minorities will be assigned back office duties but it is more likely that they will be sent into crowd control and population subjugation operations - whoever fights against them reveals their hatred of difference. What else says ‘we are not Hamas’ better than the dancing, cat-eared ‘hot’ IDF girl? 

A second stratagem built into the apparat’s inclusionist videos might suggest that although these are intended for consumption on the domestic market they are not recruitment tools at all but are intended as ideological bridges between psychologically profiled individual types and security forces. The types of individual identified and recognised are classified by their googled sense of personal vulnerability, their ressentiment, their sense of justification in deplatforming, doxing and denouncing, their Milgram-path into repressive desublimation, their nascent receptivity to totalitarian drives. Their browsing history suggests their latent responsiveness to high profile security apparatus promises to defend all inclusive ‘lifestyles’. The videos rationalise the necessity of becoming an informant in the fight against fascism - everyone against fascism can do their bit for the alliance, whilst at the same time everyone else, identified through their internet searches and cultural proclivities are revealed as potential Trump supporters. 

The isolated individual conditioned to identify with communities extracted algorithmically through search terms and equally conditioned to be wary of the threat posed by others in their actual physical locality are also more emotionally susceptible to the apparat’s propagandised obligation to defend the substance of their abstract category-based identities. In other words, these recruitment videos are not recruitment videos at all but mere propaganda videos for home consumption by targeted demographics (not necessarily those identifying as belonging to the Pride communities), just as in previous eras the security state deployed emblematic images of happy families to elicit affectionate feelings in individuals (even if they were not a member of a happy family) for that which might be lost if the status quo were ever to change. The subject’s conservative impulse, to stick and not twist, to defend what exists and what has already been won, is easily manipulated into making justifications for the cause of emergency measures, as the left’s ‘cheerleading’ of the state’s ‘listen to the science’ response to the Covid pandemic has amply demonstrated. 

A third stratagem suggests that the recruitment videos only pretend to be targeted at a domestic audience, whilst the real targets are members belonging to minorities working in the security apparatus of rival regimes. There has been a lot of discussion comparing the American’s ‘pansy’ military videos with equivalent Russian ‘macho’ videos. It is suggested, wrongly, that the comparison proves American cultural decadence. On the contrary, it is well established that an image may have a function very different, in fact in no way related, to the represented subject matter - this is the stuff of Three Day’s of the Condor. The third hypothesis suggests that it is possible that, for whatever reason, the recruitment videos are directed at members of opposing forces, perhaps for the reason of persuading them of America’s harmlessness, where the video functions as a sort of paratrepsis or distraction display. Alternatively, the videos might also function as a recruitment tool for potential double agents, perhaps they are directed (as virtual honey traps) at closeted members of enemy security forces and are intended as a stratagem for inducing identification and ‘solidarity’ with America’s progressive cause that moves in line with their disaffection from the ‘repressive’ character of their own nation. If this is the case, the US apparat may intend to simply recruit enemies or, more efficiently, once their sympathies have drawn them into the trap, they become, as in the old days, highly vulnerable to blackmail under the threat of exposure. A recruited gay operative in Iran will prove highly cooperative. 

The fourth stratagem would replicate the arguments of the third but in this version, the videos are directed at the general populations of foreign countries, or more precisely, the repressed minorities within such countries. If sizeable ethnic and queer minorities at the level of particular market entities within Iran, China and Russia could be persuaded to identify with, and act in the interest of, American capital, buying into specific (the water drinking Ronaldo proving the exception) iconic commodities, on the grounds of progressivism and inclusivity, then that in itself would demonstrate sufficient justification for the form taken by the video subject matter - there’s a home for us is still a resonant, throat catching, formulation of hope. 

The fifth, and last conceivable stratagem would present Itself speculatively, let’s do anything. An operation can be severed from a specific objective, it can function precisely at the level of pure operability, and as it becomes real and begins to generate outcomes, the agency can monitor the links, clicks and retweets, collate the conspiracy theories,  and then perhaps integrate the best of them after the fact as the true purpose in making the intervention  in the first place. The number of ‘file under miscellaneous’ state instigated events intentionally severed from all rational meaning seems to be spiralling, as signalled by the recent opening of the UFO floodgates, and which appears to operate  something like cloud seeding - at the level of operational objective, any form of outcome-precipitation registers as a win, the more un-modelled the outcome, the better the agency likes it. Fucking stuff up and shit happens has always played a strategic function, sowing confusion, interruption of normality by inexplicable occurrences, and misdirections deployed to bury bad news, all these are basic manoeuvres in spy versus spy. But the turn towards post-strategy where techniques once used against enemies are now deployed on home territory as a sort of therapeutic stimulant is another level.  


The perversity of recent governmental politics, indicating a transformed teleoplexic relation within the executive’s relation to the processes of power, and seems to reveal an eager readiness to resort to a form of occult incantation, or attack sorcery, wherein the experimentally unknown is actively sought out for its own sake: unknown events are manufactured by unknown agents for unknown reasons so as to produce unknown outcomes - incantatory investments of speculative capital are re-directed towards fictive outcomes, which are thereby summoned into the world, all that is air solidifies into matter. The return post-strategically to that inadvertantly acknowledged central plank of neo-conservatism, the ‘unknown unknowns’, as a form of open-ended, open handed policy, that is rebuilt around the traumatic kernel of willed social dislocation, appears to indicate the beginning of the end of the era of instrumentalising rationality, the sine qua non of bourgeois governmentality. From the perspective of the party of capital, everything and anything can be hooked up to an income stream. Spies too, as entrepreneurs of the unexpected, can make anything happen: if they plug an object chosen at random into a seeded or tilted stochastic network, then link it to a Patreon, Substack and/or Onlyfans account, it will begin to operate as an attractor basin, even if only to bots, and start generating revenue as long as the tilting of the host environment is maintained in steady state -  Alicia, 17, makes £10,000 a day on TikTok lip-syncing to Katy Perry songs. 

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Monosandalism - self-deprecation as second order narcissism

 /And you accept them with despair

these things that you do not want.

But your soul seeks, weeps for other things;

the praise of the Demos and the Sophists,

the hard-won and inestimable ‘Bravo!’;

the Agora, the Theater, and the Laurels.

How will Artaxerxes give you them,

How will you find them in the satrapy;

and what kind of life, without them, will you live.

- Cavafy/

A hampered figure as it emerges from the distance, a figure becoming recognisable for wearing a single shoe, is a recurring symbolic unit transmitted along the Hellenic mycelium threading across western culture, a pinch of Attic salt sprinkled over distinct folk traditions. In narrative, the loss of a shoe has significance, and therefore history. The more the image is looked for, the more examples of it are discovered. Motifs are the tethering posts of narrative from which lines of invention and elaboration are played out and returned to. How should such an image, beyond its function as a formal device, be understood? Certainly, there is a formal error of approach inherent to the collating of examples of a particular motif which causes loss of specific meaning from each narrative, and which ends in the reductive expropriations of structuralism. On the other hand, there also appears in such collections a vanishing point which once passed through causes the assembled examples to talk to each other,  as they coalesce into a new narrative in the late style. 

Although Thucydides attempted to ascribe a rational motive to the one-shoed Plataean army, the true register of monosandalism is allegorical and context bound. The signification of one-shoedness is not fixed but as a general rule it shows a prophesied or retroactively assigned constraint imposed by the fates upon the forward movement of a protagonist (as with Jason) and constitutes an interruptive  ‘challenge’ of character within the terrain of the quest (as with Cinderella), but it also suggests the marking out of one who is appointed by some /always already/ circumstance to undertake an extraordinary task - the hero already has, and will always have, one foot in the other world, and one sandal in this. The proper function of all familiar motifs in narrative is absolute particularisation; it is through such devices that the problematic of this individual is presented as both separate and belonging.

The hero, the agent, the subject, the indivdual catalyst, is /realised/ by his traversal of his terrain, and he is /characterised/ in his traversal of his times. He has one foot in the other country, he has left his shoe in the old times. He is an alien presence in the new circumstance even as it crystallises around him, whatever begins with him begins as contrary to his desire. The one who happens to actualise the new conditions, bringing the world into the world, is pure contingency, a seed from another tree, and belongs inextricably, paradoxically, to the old world to which he eternally seeks return. The damaged foot, the lost shoe, dramatises the simultaneous groundedness and groundlessness of his position, as he finds himself impeded and constrained even as he is set in motion at the level of his connection to his country. Where we are attached, where we are bound, that is where we shall be torn up. He is extracted by the roots from his country. He is unhomed. From the ground and into time, from the times and into dust. 

It is necessary that the hero should ‘be partly strong and partly brittle’ (Daniel 2:42), that an aspect of his strength should be his fall, that he be sheered away from, and therefore enact the loss of, the world of which he is the ultimate product and final herald, ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desart’. The hero, Achilles, also doth bestride the narrow world, and yet like the Rhodian Colossus, severed at the knees, Achilles is fatally weakened in his radicality, in his rootedness, at the point of his connection, his motivation, his cause, his movement, his war. He is undone at the level of his particularisation, which is his weakness. He is broken off to be blown away like chaff from the threshing floor and yet also remains a mountain that fills the whole earth. 

The hubris of the hero consists of a presumption of his either being truth, or possessing truth. He acts as if his actions are his to take, he speaks as if his words are his to utter. Similarly, the political radical presumes his rootedness in reality, his radicality lies precisely in the certainty of his becoming distinct from what he opposes by means of his actions and words. The radical roots himself in reality by separating himself from falsity and error. In other words, the radical presumes a rootedness within reality that is distinct from his actual interpellated rootedness. He does not ask if the acts and words by which he distinguishes between truth and error, reality and falsity, domination and revolution, he does not ask if what he says and what he does, is contrariwise, perverse, ambivalent. He does not ask as if to Jesus, ‘Master, is it I?’ The modern anarchist, constituted declaratively, and by naive commitment (ideal-ego), does not achieve even the sophistication of the awareness of Judas, and thereby cannot countenance the tragic double bind that Judas presents, /Master, am I a dispositif?/

The contaminated figure of the radical, little suspecting he is already an apparatus, appears in the world as a sort of Titan, a primoridial giant emerging amongst proliferating Olympian deities, but cursed with a fixed and unambiguous, simplistic and ultimately insufficient, message brought out from a world now submerged. Or, again, the rootedness of the radical resembles that of the vanquished product, the automaton Talos, who was animated around a single vein running from his neck to his ankle and fortified by a single bronze nail. Just as the elemental Titans, and their chthonic dependents (Gorgons, Erinyes etc), were constituted around singular passions, found themselves suddenly vulnerable to the cool caprices, false allegiances, double bluffs, swerving meanings and treacherous surfaces that distinguishes the time of the Olympian gods, so the radical is fatally compromised at the level of his one-sidedness, his simplistic chthonic/automaton message. Both the Titan and the radical are metabolised at a discursive level that their constituted awareness cannot recognise or respond to. The primitive idea that an individual /is/ what he declares himself to be, the hero, the champion, articulating the magic inherent in the naive presumption of nominative autonomy, ‘I am a communist’, ‘I am a marxist’, is fated to vanquishment, humiliation and banishment by the forces that set it in motion,  monosandalled. The hero, no matter how he twists and turns on the hook of himself, is food and drink to both laughing gods and recuperating institutions. 

In reality we are never what we declare ourselves to be, nor are we what we commit ourselves to, but as Sartre observed, we are condemned not to exceed the interplay (that is the sum) of all the reflected traces of our presence as perceived by others (the sunlight thrown back from ‘smashed human bone’). In each and every instance, it is always, whatever you say I am, that is what I am. Collected together, the simple declarative messages of radicals, titans and automatons function as components of the complexity enjoyed by both gods and marketplaces. By weaving a multi-stranded world from an infinity of single threads, the gods discover ambivalence, transience, and games. 

The separation between the order of the titans and the order of the Olympian gods is better understood by imagining a return to the earlier, pre-irony, state. What would the world of the imaginary, a world without signs, be like? Only the approach to it can be known and this is illustrated in Karen Blixen’s play for marionettes, /Sandhedens hævn/, translated as /The Curse of Truth/. A witch curses the members of a household so that every lie told within it will become true: the poor woman who pretends to the rich man that she loves him, does fall in love with him; the braggart becomes the hero; the hypocrites become virtuous; the miser loses his money. We might observe that such a return, as from Racine to Corneille, could be summed up from the /The Curse of Truth/: a crust of dried bread feeds better than all the contents of a cookery book.


The Gods did not destroy the titans, although they force departure from the world of elemental messages where words and meanings are inseparable (cf the univocity of being after John Duns Scotus, notwithstanding the processive immanence of deleuze), but instead put them to work in the dark factory of Tartarus . The radical  or chthonic message is incorporated and converted into an ideological tool - the revolutionary is deployed by /the party of real domination/ as the minotaur was kept in Daedalus’s labyrinth, a regulatory apparatus within the regime of Minos. And just as the chthonic Medusa could not anticipate, comprehend nor respond to the mirrored shield of Athena raised by the winged sandalled Perseus, so the revolutionary cannot anticipate nor prevent his recuperation and conversion into a representation, a fetish, an interpellated /realising/ dispositif, by the forces he assumes he was set in motion to oppose. 

The question that could not be set to the Titans but may still be asked of the revolutionaries, appearing as they do, subsequent to the Olympian age of fatal irony, without in anyway inheriting or sublating it, is whether it is preferable to try and anticipate and thereby incorporate the social (that is recuperating) component of their own message back into their project - the introjected ego-ideal of self-reflexivity - or whether it is better to perfect and defend a given positional one-sidedness, as one might willingly assume the character of a Judas or Iago in a play, in the full knowledge that the Machiavellian substance brought into the world by such functionaries will be metabolised  (woven as one strand amongst many), relativised and constrained by and within the totality of social process. The question thereby sets ‘what is to be done?’ as a recursive and constantly recurring problematic - in cybernetics it is the question of variety at its fullest amplitude (a sur-requisite variety) where an attained senescent, post-optimality indicates the possibility of a heuristic within ‘what is to be done?’ as either the quietist /abstiens toi/ of dupontism (after Tolstoy) or the endlessly proliferating accelerating stress path and tinkering-patching (bricolaging) of Kafka’s mole creature. 

In practice the solution to the problem of anticipatory counter-recuperation (shall we recourse to negating the negation, or to Betty Boo Doing the Do) is necessarily always messy and leading to an endless regress: to what measure are social  forces present in self-critique (cf Lady of Shaghai)? At what point  do perfected self-separating radical gestures become finally cut off from, and insignificant to, the symbolic order (as in Fassbinder’s Third Generation)? There is no finality here, only endless mutation and recycling of available materials. As a get out, we might then effect a return to the problematic of what is rooted in what, by setting the question in terms of the originally presented image as if scripted by Švankmajer: ‘is there a distinction to be made between the lost shoe and injured ankle? Perhaps, I reply airily. But that is a distinction made within and by the story itself, I add vaguely.’

The limping variation of monosandalism probably signifies the capacity to attain knowledge by other means than expeditionary force - the lame figure cannot keep up with others, but in his thoughts, he flies ahead of them. His knowledge is post-hubristic, he is the only one able to recognise things as they really are in the midst of the event, and is marked, and is chosen, and is charged, in his wounded wandering, to bring the absolute particularity of his knowing out of the past, so as to emerge from the wilderness at the edge of town, burdened by the obscure irrevocability of all that has already happened.  

/The music stopped and I stood still, 

And found myself outside the Hill, 

Left alone against my will, 

To go now limping as before, 

And never hear of that country more!/

The one shoed figure moves, as does the rolling Moran, across a post-tragic terrain, moving as if from the terrain before the story, of the pre-story, and emerging archetypically /into/ as an organising function, a familiarisation device, of /this/ story. The one-shoe infects the present community with what went before, the significance of their living is suddenly knocked from their hands, and is relocated chthonically, inaccessibly, into the order of all that escapes them. For those who are always about to make things new the assigned fate is reversion to the picking up of broken pieces, a rediscovery in the hurricane of the midden at their heart.

/Deserts possess a particular magic, since they have exhausted their own futures, and are thus free of time. Anything erected there, a city, a pyramid, a motel, stands outside time. It's no coincidence that religious leaders emerge from the desert. Modern shopping malls have much the same function. A future Rimbaud, Van Gogh or Adolf Hitler will emerge from their timeless wastes.

― Ballard/

Self-imposed constraint as a way to self-knowledge, by diet, by study, by exercise is the only means available to the individual to create itself as a form not wholly determined by exterior forces. And yet, it is through these acts of self-delimitation and our struggle to be ‘my self’, as set against everything else, that we also become, paradoxically, the beasts of burden for fads and gimmicks, and then acutely susceptible to niche cultural and political advertising. 

Such is the nature of the dating app and by extension, all the proprietorial softwares through which we must reach out, our reaching through branch-form algorithmic yes/no sorting processes, to facilitate and mediate encounters with ‘like-minded’ or rather, similarly limping others. There are so many one-shoes transmitting their loss, their wounds as advertisements, as grounds for community.

Self-advertising in an anonymous and infinitely expanding virtual space that both replicates the job application format and encourages an insular tendency towards the ruminative state now termed, narcissism of small difference. We convert ourselves, as a last throw of the dice, into living advertising images set within a corporate medium in the hope that we might counter the growing tendency of our isolation, and escape the otherwise inevitable entropic fate we have otherwise identified for ourselves - we emerge perpetually at the edge of the lives of others to sell them our wares.

Rumination and misgivings, the ambivalent form of consciousness ascribed to the one who is fated always to have one foot in either camp,  impedes the chance for success of his own project - that which was already difficult becomes near impossible where the protagonist inflicts his own Achilles heel. To begin from an assumption of the loaded nature of the environment in which one must appear is to dwell in defeat from the start - it is, in effect, a swipe left against one’s own self-interest. 

And yet, it is also the case that monosandaled consciousness is predicated upon a commitment to the dating app ideal of the One, and collectively upon the gathering of The Ones, who will redeem it, and for this reason, nobody else will do. To lose a shoe in the endeavour undertaken, as with Cinderella, is a sign of the self’s absolute commitment. It is precisely because the project constituted on an assumption of /Kin/ only limps, that it might also arrive. 

Clearly, this is not the manner by which real relations are constituted, community is not a consequence of likemindedness and shared interest. The members of any electively constituted group do not really wish to be members of it, except in the sense there is nothing else but commodified niche similarities - people who read that, also read this. The group is already in error, and they do not want to meet each other. And yet, there persists the possibility, even where it is given that that the gathering is a category type error, and its members wrongly brought together, that either fire or liver might be plucked from its hampered form. Each is aware, are we aware, of the vortex of self, being both whirlpool and the debris it has trapped - and if they are reduced to advertising in this manner, then might they not also dress such humiliation as an exercise in neg-advertising (as the very detournment of lop-shoedness)?

/I feel we should immerse ourselves in the most destructive element, ourselves, and swim. I take it that the final destination of the 20th century, and the best we can hope for in the circumstances, is the attainment of a moral and just psychopathology.

- Ballard/

And so, at the end, we encounter the lame exemplar, and cultural bottleneck, Oedipus, the limping king. Another threshold is crossed as Oedipus re-emerges into the blithe world of autonomous and self-presenting relations, he is not wounded and burdened by the gods but by men, by history. Oedipus is the first subject of history, implicated, compromised, impelled - made by and a maker of consequences. Oedipus sets, for the first time, the general problem of agency traversing history, of retroactive re-orientation of relations following the otherwise unexplained emergence of new forms out of the endless rupture of events (Nachträglichkeit). If Laius had not... if Jocasta had not... if the shepherd had not... if Polybus and Merope had not... if Oedipus had not... if the Sphinx had not... if Tiresias had not... if Apollo had not... if the Oracle had not. And there are multiple chances, at every crossroads, there is always the option to back down, to not take the path to be taken, but every action is re-doubled so its significance is not lost - redundancy is the core of Oedipus Rex. 

The elaborate mnemonic orality of Oedipus is also the plotting of any magic trick - it must begin with the end and lays a path of selective and baffling unlikelihood back through the desert, back into the past, screening out noise and chance, filtering alternative causal influences, and making history, so that when the story is turned right side up, when it is retold, from beginning to end, it becomes its own illustration, replete with multivalent redundancies and retroactive investments (as in the law of requisite variety), a mise en abyme, of what could not be otherwise. 

The wounded infant re-emerges from the past, interrupting the present as a bearer of latent knowledge of things to come, and Oedipus has traversed a terrain of recursive contingency (between the statistically possible and the state of materialised actuality) and realised, perhaps conforming to Murphy’s Law, and in accord with Sherlock Holmes major thesis, the least likely as most involving. Everything /must/ go wrong. Implicating involvement, as a vector of reality, transfers itself homologously across the magisteria: /And I get bleach on my T-shirt/.

The means of knowing, as alluded above, becomes the object of knowing through its perturbing effect, and is transformed again as exit and entrance, as presence and trace. If we are to recognise our own monosandaled project in this (‘a moral and just psychopathology’) wherein, as Baudrillard observes somewhere, disablement is suddenly disclosed in the rupture of present circumstances as the furthest evolutionary (i.e. lamarckian) point, a threshold embodied and crossed from nature into history, and integrated immediately into the mechanism of social metabolisation, then we must also recognise the constraints placed upon our actions as agents of the past, from the past (our resembling most, the demonic approach /within/ The Mezzotint). Say I am Oedipus, say I am emerging from the desert into the ruptured terrain of the present (memory is waking as the old french song has it), say I must say what only I can say. 

My burden, this pin, these binding strips, insignificant but massified as the mountain where I was to be exposed. This affliction is not what I choose to bring out of the desert, I also wish to avoid the message I am carrying, but the burden of it is intrusive, a compulsive tick, and overwhelming. I want to bring good things, make a positive and hopeful contribution, but I also know both the desire to resolve, and the content of all possible resolutions, is already ideology. I am set in motion, and not by my own volition. I recognise like everyone else that the idea we can divert our fate is another name for, another moment in, the expropriating process. 

There is nothing available to say, not sadness, not terror, not pain; there is nothing to articulate from the left wall of minimal existence, than what fixes us all to the negative way. The atrocity exhibition, the wound parade, is in reality all we are, it is all that we have left to communicate (a tolstoyan peasant grinning and rummaging in a sack). It is midnight, and like Cinderella, we must traverse once more the terrain between the statistically possible and the present state of materialised actuality. We must bring out the burden of the message that we carry with us across the difficult terrain. Is it /the/ message, or just /a/ message, not even our message, not even something belonging to us but a message that has attached to us like a leech in the fenland that we must wade across? 


Is it a sealed but empty envelope? A message without information, a message without content, a messageless message? We bring it out from the desert, the fen, the forest, the depths, the mountains, the place of desolation and as we are about to deliver it, it is nothing, there is nothing there. There is nothing to say. That’s laconic. For two hundred years, the bourgeoisie have brought us their good news/bad news. For two hundred years they have broadcast their news, brought us their message, they have discovered the technical response to the disaster they  caused  by the technical response to the previous disaster they caused. They have perfected the development of the one hand, the simultaneous arrival of problem and solution, plague and remedy, famine and glut, repression and emancipation. But the world is exhausted by its own news. The threefold message consisting problem, argument and solution is ideology. It is also not a message.

The messenger will bring news that is not only unwanted but entirely immaterial. The news is not of what comes next but of the end of what is passing. It is never news from nowhere, not news of dawning utopia nor of the conditions of possibility for communism. All the products of the passing world, including the forms assumed in fantasises of exit and overthrow, will die with the old order. All the ideas, and not just the ruling ideas, are the ideas of the ruling class. One of the features of the message that is brought out from the past is that it is not in itself fatal, nor even telling in a direct sense. It is not realised prophesy. But rather, it is one of the autumn leaves that has fallen but it happens to be the one that did not decay.  The past’s message is not carried out like an urgent and necessary burden by the little people fleeing in their big cars with volcano or flood at their heels, but is conveyed as an inconsequential scrap of banality carried by long striding titans.  The hero brings out the message at the greatest cost to himself, but the message is extraneous - that is what history is, a library of fragments recording incomprehensible feats separated forever from their meaning. The hero’s message is a shell added to the midden, a pebble to the cairn, another forkful to the steaming dungheap.  

What would you say of your encounter with the sublime, that is of your surviving the loss of the world that has produced you,  if recourse to theory was the very worst that you could say of it? Even the most inspired of your words, inadequate anyway, would soon be lost irretrievably, lost even as you draw them out from yourself into the world, and even as they are drawn from the world into yourself. What would the message of your encounter express but its redundancy, its severing from what it was rooted to, its failure to persist, the sense of its paper melting away, its ink blurring, the evaporation of its meaning as a puddle in the road. What is the message but a message about the impossibility of the message, a mark of a mark, a record of what is not recorded. The translation of Wang Wei’s poem, /Sitting Alone on an Autumn Night/, ends with the lines: ‘To eliminate decrepitude / Study the Absolute.’ It’s an exit made for us, like Django dragging his coffin, because our own heroism consists in turning to face the gathering uselessness that confronts us. What is pataphysics but the study of the absolute particular released as the reproductive senescence, the accreting bric-à-bracking, of things? I’m not joking you. And when I see your status is /online/ and there is no hailing, no acknowledging ahoys, between us, it is like we have become ghosts, reaching out from separate looping stone-tapes, and holding hands.  

/You have never been in love 

Until you've seen the sunlight thrown 

Over smashed human bones/

There must be no more solutions to the problems caused by solutions, changes set in motion by changes. There must be messagelessness. There are no answers, neither reform nor revolution, there is no way out, no way forward and no way back. It is over. We are at the end. We have achieved message immunity. We no longer receive. We have lost our slipper. The one hand has lost its mitten. We limp out of the distance with a scrap of paper, we can’t read what is written on it. We are the antagonist of the change we want to see in the world. We are the crisis of capital, but not in a redemptive sense. We are at the entrance not the exit, perhaps one day others will emerge in our ruins as peasants in the Middle Ages worked amongst the whirling density of remnants from classical antiquity, without reference to, comprehension of, what went before. We are the crisis of capital, where capital expands itself forever from the crisis of us. 


/He dreamed of ambassadorial limousines crashing into jack-knifing butane tankers, of taxis filled with celebrating children colliding head-on below the bright display windows of deserted supermarkets. He dreamed of alienated brothers and sisters, by chance meeting each other on collision courses on the access roads of petrochemical plants, their unconscious incest made explicit in this colliding metal, in the heamorrhages of their brain tissue flowering beneath the aluminized compression chambers and reactions vessels./

Note: I forced myself to complete the writing of this by listening to /Zuckerzeit/ on continuous loop - it is thoughts as sugar rush (and of course, as always, completely untrue). A companion can be found here:

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Excrescent minor works as terminal phase indicator


Louise Bourgeois: late drawings and prints (artist rooms 2014-19)

The gallery exhibition of minor works from the various collections of 'modern and contemporary art', consisting of the formal display of the otherwise undisplayed contents of that milieu as department, reveals the specific constraints imposed upon formal possibilities which otherwise remain obscured in the presentation of aura-burdened 'major' works. Minor works reveal the workings-out of 'works', which are otherwise buried beneath the mystique of that which has been invested in as importantgroundbreakingera definingautonomous. The work of art is located outside of the exhibition space. It is not a product but a process belonging to the relations mediated through activities associated with collections: scholarship, acquisitions, curation. By Archimedes's principle, the aura of an exhibited artwork displaces (i.e. the amount of the art hidden from view) an equal mass of total art process. For every 1 m³ of process displaced it takes 1025 kg of aura - which will have a volume of 1025 kg x 1 m³/920 kg = 1.114 m³. In other words, 1m³ of art process is submerged for every 1.114 m³ of art aura (1/1.114 = 0.89756). In these terms, an average of about 90% of art totality is submerged in process.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

saturnine and fugitive

 Look, Storm, sorry I don't mean to bore you but there's no such thing as an aura! Reading Auras is like reading minds or tea-leaves or star-signs or meridian lines. These people aren't applying a skill, they're either lying or mentally ill. Same goes for people who claim they hear God's demands or Spiritual healers who think they've magic hands. - Tim Minchin



If it is true to say that festivals of the spirit mark the place where technology fails, then equally it should be recorded that technical operations are activated wherever human affection must be overcome. The more technologically forward, the more emotionally backward; the more technologically backward, the more emotionally forward. The individual encounters the spiritual in the impasse of social production, he is thrown back into a fantasy of another, and unrealisable, community to which he may belong on other, and /oceanic/ terms. The fractured world cultivates fantasies of a sense of reassuring enclosedness, of the soft scoop embrace of the cosmos, and of the communion and healing associated with a resultant state of restful arrival. The transactional world persists even into the desire that all this might turn out to have been /worth it in the end/. Recourse of fractured being to the fantasy of a higher, and meaningful, plane emerges as a desire for a conclusive event of overcoming of troubles, for an otherwise non-viable solution to, a compensation for, the drags, thorns and inhibiting pressures of interpellated being. 


Spiritual knowledge is achieved at the self’s expense; technical knowledge is achieved at the expense of society. The ease of the individual is realised at the cost of an irrevocable violence to the shape of community; the ease of the community is realised at the cost of an distorting violence visited upon individuals. 



Continuity within /community/, wherein a spiritual content is referenced both as rupture and tradition, is achieved in the perpetual trade-off between fixed modalities of power which must shift in relation, and in combination, but not in type. Spirituality then filters through endless permutations in the proportions institutionalised as immediacy and mediation, one moment is characterised by its liberalisation, and another by its centralisation. The life of the spirit percolates through social relations, not as an eternal or invariable exterior, but as a dark reflection, a reaction to the churning mechanism of social reproduction. It becomes the means for expressing the subject’s ambivalent tendency towards both transgression and conformity in relation to temporal power, or it becomes, in line with the project of continuity itself, that fleeting-eternally oriented product which is to be conserved and carried across the thresholds of events and /recognised/ in the repertoire of scattered affirmations and negations which it elicits from that culturally bound community for which it has ongoing relevance.



The first order of movement within the relations of a community is constituted as a fluctuation between conservation of acquired traits and metabolisation of events; it is a movement that inevitably converts its products from an immediate and personal modality into a displaced and mediated form.  Direct repression transforms over time into consensus which inevitably develops in line with the subject population’s internalisation of roles, rules, rewards. The fatal cost of the transformatory process upon the community itself, as instituted power passes from a state of terror to that of habituation, is an incremental sclerotic and constraining effect upon the community’s institutions as abstraction feeds down into its members’ personal relations - it is from this fissuring between states of social stability and societal collapse, between the environmentalised fail-safe of post-scarcity and the cosmic ravages of plague, that the spiritual referent hatches out. 



After all, and within this second indirect phase, another movement, a whirling within the wheel: the natural development of the system follows the inevitable path from an earlier phase of formalised or self-legislating capture of spontaneously occurring but archaic and exterior forms to a later, developed phase realised as a fully environmentalised and integrated apparatus. Whereupon the circuit of a third movement is immediately activated, and operating as a compensatory corrective to the lack of social nutrition in abstraction: within the cumulative realisation of indirect domination, direct and personal authority must return, but in the attenuated and primitive shape of spiritual authenticity, as the return of the repressor as first authority, leader and father, and as a representation of the form of direct domination, which the system itself has already subsumed. The administered community will seek to conjure the object of spirituality, the moment it has expelled the last remnants of spirit’s material reality. 



The possibility for any spiritual awakening is not contradicted by either material forces, there is nothing but, nor the imputed materialist mindset of modern humans, /it was ever thus/. Contrariwise! The project of spirituality is structurally inhibited from achieving the qualitative form of an unprecedented particularity that it seeks out by the conceptual basis of its own categorisation. By definition, the spiritual must escape the constraints of the material and quotidian and yet, also by definition, its tendency to slip back from the violent exceptionality of individual gnosis into the recurrent interchangeability and conciliation of its avatars and instances, its responsiveness to collation and categorisation, suggested first in the syncretism of its concept, acts to foreclose on its own realisation. 



Spirituality in the particular /should/ extend the amplitude of the material human community by returning the rupture of its content at a higher level of exceptionality, and by reintroducing that which is excluded as problematic, irrational and irrelevant as an additional finding, an additional knowledge, an additional mode of relating - Saturn’s disquieting return as fugitive, upturning the orderly house of Capricorn. Every tarot card, even the /palace of swords/ may be reversed. Even so, in practice, spirituality /qua/ spirituality, serves a base actualising function for the dominant modality as pseudo-contradiction within the reproduction of vulgar totality where it is already condemned to departmentalisation as the esoteric, spiritual and well-being stock of bookshops, the false fetishes and nicknacks of /alternative emporiums/, the tawdry cold -readings and manipulations of confirmation bias as practiced by leaders, organisers, teachers, guides and masters, and the placatory, small-ad circulated yoga-derived classes and the new year resolution driven self-improvement schemes renting spaces in community centres. Everywhere spirit is sold as placebo when, in its orphic guise, it is wolfish antagonist to the constraints of Pentheus. 



Certainly, the individual will attain greater self-knowledge by /forcing the hand of chance/ through the scattering/funnelling heuristics of divination (tarot, bibliomancy, scrying, astrology, prayer) in realising the project of its de-institutionalisation than it will from the adaptation strategies of psychology. The ideological component of the material sciences deployed against the tutelage of /fairies at the bottom of the  garden/ is exposed cryptically as the transgressive pleasures  stolen back in games of fortune telling: /all human relations take on the objective forms of the abstract elements of the conceptual systems of natural science and of the abstract substrata of the laws of nature/ and are experimented with and operated upon as if they /were/ another such stratum. 



The violent alienation of the community from the individual  realised through the progressive acquisition of its historical traits inevitably encounters a reaction as the violent alienation of the individual from the community realised in the rupture of its spiritual awakening. The narrow framing inherent to technical knowledge, which finds its material expression in the availability of exchangeable products, reflects and conditions, and is mutually conditioned by, the mode of domination constituted by commodity production for which science is its alibi - /following the science/ has lately become the rationale for every institutionalised irrationality. Incompatible modes of knowledge, that may only manifest as outbursts of  inchoate immediacy, are both institutionally /defunded/ and exteriorised, but also later re-employed either as catalysing agents of capital destruction or as diverting placebos along the lines of /well you know, you better free your mind instead/.



The subjective content of spirituality is a residue of the unmetabolisable shock of a damascene event. The movement of spirit  is experienced as a dawning horror at the imminent and irreversible separation of the subject from all that went before. Particular knowledge must alter its subject irrevocably, as it becomes both threshold and whatever monstrous thing passes across it. The violent rupture instigated by gnosis, as described by PKD, supposes life-changing injuries; as a domain accessed by funnel trap, it is found only by means of the derangement of the senses, in delirium, madness and by what is nowadays called self-harm, with suicide as its perfected form. There is never any going back, but spiritual gain is precisely realised as an irrevocable forfeiture of the capacity to adapt - knowledge of the cosmos nails the gnostic to the cosmos, he is transformed into embodiment of the ambiguous force of knowledge itself: /Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done/. The scarifying logic of the ascetic life has no return to an earlier habitus, only a disavowal that cannot be separated from the body’s accumulated modifications. Spirituality, like digging a new grave and inadvertently exhuming one’s own corpse, is released from matter’s basest form, the wound.



The ambiguous role of the charlatan as honest guide to the spirits,  is exemplified in the trickster figure of Casteneda whose progressive transformation of hoaxes first into a career and then into spiritual authority both blocked any return to the academic domain of technical knowledge and irrevocably locked him into a fatal realisation of his own inescapable particularisation - his disciples inexorably drawn in his wake and dispersed into the desert. All knowledge is fatal, /time is emptied out into spirit/, but there is something in the fatality of spiritual knowledge that strikes the ideological mindset, itself habituated to the rituals of commodified /potentiality/, as gratuitous and intolerable; in practice, the spiritualised endgame is merely an abrupt path out from the state’s monopoly on violence, it is the subject’s expropriation of its own convulsive awakening. The truth of the spirit manifests in a violent secession from the banal conventions of survival - it is an erotic emptying of the dwindling contents of a last water bottle, as libation to the desert earth. It has its own exigency which cannot be presented as a technical object. Spirit as knowledge appears as absolute limit upon the possibility of knowledge, upon the possible acts drawn from knowledge, and upon the continuity of beings constituted in knowledge - it is perversity’s own point of disappearance. Gnosis constitutes a rupture with its object, a traumatic and unstable faultline at the core of consciousness, and yet also is only sustained as an unbroken tension, a commensurate incommensurability, a relation, between /meaningfulness/ and the banal state of the operable.



Some will drift out very far, and they will never return. Others will wander without disappearing. And still others will splash in the shallows - for these, the cosmic terror located beyond the confines of the black iron prison becomes the content of an exterior-oriented playfulness. Playing is also a step on the inexorably winding path towards the exit. Marcel observes upon the structural furnishings of Odette’s drawing room, redolent of haute bourgeois social relations, the appearance of a second order, suggesting her inextricable involvement with a counter-bourgeois tendency situated like a splinter in the heart of precarious respectability: /superimposed upon the decoration of the room another, a supplementary scheme of decoration, as rich, as delicate in its colouring, but one which was alive and would last for a few days only./ Stretched like a skin over the apparatus channelling heat loss, a second Odette-like effusion, alive as the spirit at play, scattered with the petals of chrysanthemums.