Friday, 10 November 2017

Perdix and the serpent’s jaw

The human community as a totality of relations thrives where the products of certain groups remain beyond the apprehension of other groups" -- May I ask what you mean by "thrives" here? Thank you!
The few survivors seek those friends of theirs;
The twilight hears and darkness hears them call.

In this context, ‘thriving’ refers to the elaborative process by which the phylogenetic totality, or the life-world of the species, may function at its greatest amplitude. The set is articulated by the action of its members’ self-differentiation - in other words, the set is not a graveyard. The force of attraction by which variety is contained within species totality is only achieved through mutual repulsion between component varieties. By implication, complete elaboration occurs where the totality’s ontogenetic forms are given permission to pass through all the stages of their autopoietic life-cycle. This implies further that these ‘stages’ involve their own set-elaboration (in terms of variety, modality and extension (but mostly variety)). 

One aspect of ontogenetic thriving supposes the beneficial effect of permissive-constraints upon the life-form in its individual, communal and speciel, iterations; namely, the continued containment of particularised outlines by the pathways particular to them. At the societal level, constraint is encountered as the lunar-like pull upon the stability of a particular community’s life-project exerted by the interiority of another, alien, community. 

The greater the number of distinct types of autonomous communities, and types of autonomous individuals within communities, the greater the amplitude in the species being (umwelt).  Autonomous territories generate distinct cultures in response to the territorial pull of neighbouring cultures. Cultural form emerges as the elaboration of territorial display by which separation and mutual incompatibility between communities, and members of communities, proliferate as the primary indicator of robust social thriving. Difference, that is differentiation, supposes the breaking of chains of redundancies between set members. Self-differentiation within the set involves locating the weakest link of redundancy and effecting that difference which makes a difference. 

Culture is a hermeneutic spiral of call and response designed as an operation of war... if neighbours are not mutually repulsed by each other’s self-differentiating forms, it is likely both have been colonised by the state. In 1989, the would-be philosopher entered the pub and placed Being and Nothingness on the bar, in 1999 he arrived at the coffee shop brandishing Anti-Oedipus.  Membership of the set supposes horizontal redundancy, but the set’s greatest amplitude is achieved only through the breaking up the muck of redundancy. The cybernetic slogan, ‘variety absorbs variety’ refers to the recursive strength of an order of being, or the level of its inherent resilience (or elaboration), in relation to the types of self-differentiating relations between types of individuals that it may contain within its outline whilst maintaining the reproductive operations of its general homeostasis. 

Proliferation in the variety of relations sustained by the totality and in the variety of its supported forms produces the greatest resilience to the afflictions of abstraction (understood as the reduction of all social operations to a single underlying principle). Amongst the identifiable pathologies of a unified operating principle (the state-form) may be counted: runaway; information drift; uniformism; fundamentalism; distance decay; and trophic cascade. Specifically, the exchange relation emerges from the historical background of violent state unification around the commodification of labour power (the wormhole into universal equivalence). 

A community has no interiority of its own, it elaborates itself around its mysteries and within its constraints without recognising them as such. What is not done, is not done, that is all. Contestation only and always approaches from outside - and then only where the defensive mechanism of anticipation-prevention has been disarmed. No living community recognises itself in its own esoterica. The perturbed community’s path to the interior is commenced upon in terms of a striking back in search of displaced core principles, or the turning inwards from thwarted relations. A community develops knowledge of itself, reflecting upon itself as if from outside, where it has been thrown back from, and out of, its autonomic processes. 

No matter how strange communal customs may seem to a foreign visitor, no community contemplates itself as if through the eyes of that visitor. No community is exotic to itself. Then, a set of relations only strikes towards its own interior, tracing forms back along scorched paths, through the dead forests of its origin, where it has first encountered traumatic losses to its way of life. A community only develops an interior, becoming remote to itself, where it has suffered catastrophe. The self-consumption of vulnerable forms, the loss of a native language for example, induces a strategic response that seeks to preserve and reproduce self-identification with fragility as a mode of being. But preservation of the old ways only occurs as a conscious project where the relations supporting what is to be preserved have already died. Interiority is always the record of an earlier perturbation located deep within the communal substrate. 

Every community, as a home-planet, encounters all other distinct communities as encrypted interiorities which repulse every effort to know them. Every community, as a home-planet, is pressed back within its own outline by the unfamiliarity, the distinct and grating accent, of its neighbours. Every community, as a home-planet, desires to know its neighbours, as the most direct route to knowing the limit to itself. Knowledge of neighbours is won through the perturbations brought through hostilities, in skirmishes and ridicule, but also in the eternal fascination exerted by the other. 

The neighbouring planet is known as an interior encountered at the territorial limit of the home-planet. It appears that the other is always complete in itself, and without interest in the home-planet. The other turns away, not out of disdain but indifference. The self desires that the other be triggered into uncontrollable response by its displays . The other’s constant effect: a tug upon the lonely heart of one standing in a darkened street, spying at the embrace of shadow-figures thrown upon the drawn curtains of a well-lit room.

In the state, common purpose with neighbours is enforced - and forms the basis of fascistic enthusiasms for agreement. The question of whether it is possible to ‘learn’ the interior path of other communities only occurs within state-form social relations. Can westerners’ really become, by the Christian process of ‘conversion’, converts to other ways of life? Is it really possible to enter the interior of other cultures without converting that way of life into another set of home-planet sayings, objects and rituals? 

Perhaps we might consider the question of the nature of conversion whilst contemplating the Chtcheglov-like Thames Town quarter of Songjiang New City. May a Westerner really choose to become a Buddhist? Isn’t it more likely that Western Buddhists have become the living representation of Buddhism’s capture by commodity relations? Where the exchange mechanism is not enforced by the commodity form of labour power (as for example along the old mercantile trade routes), individuals may be absorbed from their own community into other communities, and learn the new ways, through the pretexts of accident, marriage or capture. They become caught in the surface tension of the other community’s processes, and in response either allow themselves to become assimilated (also known as Stockholm Syndrome) or pine away. This is only to oppose the mechanism of ‘conversion’, which belongs to colonising expansion, to that of ‘assimilation’, the precapitalist form of transposing being. 

The limit that the perceived interior of hostile territories places upon the home-planet induces a doubling back and doubling back again upon the basic procedures of reproduction of the home. The surface of the home-planet, its sun and its stars, its immediate states of laughter and tears, its seasons and eternities, is produced by the gravitational pull, the forbidden depths, of neighbouring interiors. The surface of the home-territory will typically bring the other to consciousness in the form of mastery over an inscrutable wealth. The other is the possessor of inconceivable riches. Neighbouring interiors are imagined as a rich seam, as a hoard or trove, belonging to the other. Hidden wealth can exert a maddening power and may escalate to war and cannibalism - but the wealth itself, like the moon reflected in a half frozen puddle in some long demolished Victorian backstreet, eludes capture: You do not take delight in an unfamiliar city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the solution it proposes to the problem of yourself.

The thriving totality, a fixed archipelago that is also a fluttering covey, emerges through the relation of those aggregating surfaces belonging to autonomous home-planets resisting the tug of interiorities aggregated in, and exerted by, autonomous foreign clearings. The necessity of the irreducible mystery of the other to the self’s good health probably demonstrates why the ideal of border abolition is wrongly formulated.  The mycelium of borders, as a precondition of the totality’s flourishing, should both proliferate and de-escalate. Every outline of existence ought to intensify its borders, so as to thwart the universalism of the state, so as to decompose and recompose tensions between surfaces and interiors. The true purpose of borders, usurped by the state-form’s thirst to accumulate national capital, is to formalise excitement within social relations. Borders must increase, but at a granular scale. 

The good health of all emerges through every self’s not knowing, and also letting be, the other’s secret. Certainly, I desire to know the other, and precisely because I desire it, the other’s otherness should accelerate beyond my reach to know it. Let the hyphae of relations nourish our mutually conditioned remoteness. Something of this state of flourishing, the proliferation of the unfamiliar within the familiar, that is achieved by means of the other’s structured unknowability to the self, may be discerned in Calvino’s Invisible Cities: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places. 

I realise the aggregation of autonomies that I propose as totality, as achieved via differentiation of outlines, demonstrates once again my gauche medievalism, which lurks always somewhere between the surface and interior of my argument. Within my imaginings lurk walled cities and outlaw communities. But the world we live in now, the plague-form of the state, is surely the formal historical definition of a species’ failure to thrive, even as the form itself victoriously implements the end of history. The nature of the plague form, which I will only gesture towards here, finds neat expression in John Carpenter’s film of ‘The Thing’ and plays on the crossings back and forth between the mechanisms of conversion and assimilation. 

What exactly constitutes the threat of The Thing? It perfectly replicates and supplants other life forms. If they were replicated, how would that make a difference to their existence? It would reduce them to a single operating principle, that is to a programme of intentionality that tends always to realising a bottlenecked universalism. But if the Thing is also monadic, its totality regenerative from a single cell, why would it seek to materially evade the self-limiting operations of the autopoietic outline? Or, to put it another way, why does it desire to reconfigure all life in accord with its programming (a polecat does not desire that all things become polecats)? Probably because its operating principle is an abstraction that is fully realisable only as totality accessed through the accumulation of material uniformity. Abstraction, as a definition, is precisely an artificially maintained border against the free transformation of quantity into quality.

The abstracting mechanism at the heart of The Thing’s project exploits the tension between different orders of power, and specifically the tension between programmes of conversion and assimilation. We glimpse in it the truth of the condition of existence against a background of universal equivalence where all things are exchangeable, and transposable, with all other Things. The possible alternative outcomes, whether one is the Thing or a human being, have the same value, so as Conrad might have written: something human is dearer to me than the wealth of all the world, but why don’t we wait here a while and see what happens? Pass the bottle. 

We also encounter in the Thing, the potential outline of the abolition of labour where abstraction as an organising principle of society has been maintained. The process by which human activity is displaced into abstract labour (where the commodity system is indexed to the gold standard of abstract labour time) is itself displaced by a process that extracts surplus value through the transposition of being. Where labour is suppressed but the plane of abstract equivalence retained, domesticated being is installed as the motor, the apparatus, that secures exchange.

Many years have passed since I have watched The Thing, I may have misconstrued its meaning. Certainly, I am guilty of a gross reduction, but I hope such fictionalising ruses have brought something else bulging into focus.  But anyway, I have gone far enough in sketching out an initial response to your query. Like our comrade investigator, Marlowe, I have been playing through an old game, and just as he was still playing Capablanca’s moves in the 1940’s, when he should have been studying the games of Alekhine and Botvinnik, so I have been playing the outmoded game of moving metaphor. In any case, I have played the white and black pieces here, and tipped the board over in frustration at its futility. You are free to put the pieces back in the box, reset the game, or leave them lying where they are.