Monsalvat: Breaking Perspective
Note: This text was produced to accompany the exhibition Monsalvat organized by Andrea Merkx & Nathan Gwynne at Bureau Gallery. A fully designed version of this text with images is available in PDF format, and a limited print version may be found at the gallery. All uncredited quotes in the following text are excerpted from TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’
The Monsalvat Exhibition at Bureau
The Arthurian cycle and its attendant texts maintains a particular historical and social connection with medieval Europe, specifically the development of British culture, but as Joseph Campbell recognized, the overarching themes addressed by the cycle are connected to an allegory of human development. Examined speculatively, and unmoored from their particular lineage, these texts may be extended beyond even their claims to a humanist spiritual development and re-configured into an inhumanist trajectory. One of the founding texts of the Arthurian drama, Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval remains unfinished. Perceval never quite completes the quest. The ailing Fisher King, whose mysterious impotence is connected with the decay of the realm, is never restored. We might imagine that Perceval never rescues the Fisher King, that the diagnosis of the King’s illness was only the impetus for revolution, and that the unasked question is that of Lenin’s imaginary, “What is to be done?”
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
In Eric Rohmer’s plastic and highly constructed retelling of the myth, we are drawn as much to the stilted artificiality of the sets, as we are to the ritualized manner of the performers. Monologue is directed straight at the fourth wall: “he withheld from asking how it could be, for he remembered the worthy man’s council, so he did not ask.” The question breaks through all points of the construct. Vision is so totalizing it beckons blindness. Orbis Arboreum, globules of plastic leaves like eyes rooted to the earth, populate the set and we observe with them the procession of the tragedy (or is it farce) that plays out before us. The topsoil, now little more than a plane of wood and astroturf, recedes towards a painted curtain; an atmospheric perspective of mountains deepening the depth of the limit.
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
The naif Perceval trots through it all, the holy fool, ignorance personified; and that is his strongest weapon. Preserving ignorance is necessary to maintain openness within the world, a sensitivity to its abyssal nature. Perceval is the fool when he knows the courtly manner and the betterness to politely avoid questions, but he is holy when he meets the world with curiosity
The abyss is the ururgrund upon which all contingent reality unfolds and the theater is already immersed. It is where the curtain parts in Rhomer’s stage, the vanishing point beyond all perspectives. Merkx & Gwynne’s Monsalvat is organized along a perspectival axis, the future vanishing into the euclidean horizon. Single point perspective is dependent upon the subjective position of the viewer in relation to the architecture for it to cohere. It is an illusion presented precisely for its ability to be dispelled, for what happens when we step to one-side? Parallax. The illusion breaks, the depthlessness of the backwall disjoints from the forced perspective of the foreground, and we realize, the grund up which we stand slips into a new urgrund. Monsalvat; a space within a space and/or a space without a space.
This space defined by linear perspective is calculable, navigable, and predictable. It allows the calculation of future risk, which can be anticipated, and therefore, managed. As a consequence, linear perspective not only transforms space, but also introduces the notion of a linear time, which allows mathematical prediction and, with it, linear progress.
Hito Steyerl, ‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective’
Capitalism maintains its dominance by naturalizing its perspective, and insisting that the only horizon worth setting upon must be golden. Profit is the only true instrument of navigation, and its transcendental efficacy must be maintained. There is but one grail, and one quest; one way to traverse the wasteland. Here are the empty vertices of Uccello’s grail; a phantom fetish, bearing the blood of god for the catholic communion.
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
Later Germanic mythologies, like Wagner’s Parsifal , re-constituted the Chretien text, smoothing out the ambiguity of the question. For Wagner, the quest centers on the spear, whose restoration returns the King’s lost potency and restores the land. In Chretien’s tale, Perceval is shown a number of marvels at the Fisher King’s palace, amongst which are the grail and the spear. In seeing these objects, the hero’s central predicament is the asking of the question. The myth does not simply resolve into a single possible quest or future, rather the imaginary is left open.
For Oedipus to be occupied, a certain number of conditions are indispensable: the field of social production and reproduction must become independent of familial reproduction, that is, independent of the territorial machine that declines alliances and filiations; the detachable fragments of the chain must be converted , by virtue of this independence, into a transcendent detached object that crushes their polyvocal character; the detached object(phallus) must perform a kind of folding operation– a kind of application or reduction(rabattement): a reduction of the social field, defined as the aggragate of departure, to the familial field, now defined as the aggregate of destination– and it must establish a network of one-to-one relations between the two.
Deleuze and Guattari, ‘Anti Oedipus’
Chretien’s account never finishes Perceval’s thread, and it ends once it is revealed that Perceval was unable to ask the necessary question due to his abandonment of his mother, and her subsequent death. Deleuze and Guattari trace a biopolitical relationship between the schematization of generative and filial relationships. The prohibition against incest produces the defining exclusion of the set that characterizes one’s identity within the social order. One is named as a mother, a son, or a father according to this germinal structural difference. The land was constructed upon ley-lines, whose histories have been buried to us: the economic affordances of the system and the terrain of the imaginary seemingly become locked within the grid. However, desire in itself is only contingently subordinated to this structural difference, there is no absolute necessity. The ground upon which it has grown is not a linearly differentiated schema, verging upon a single horizon, but a broken perspective.
Your mother is dead, your father impotent, you wander a wasteland in search of a question. To where will you step, and spy new ground?
Perceval is made to do penance to Christ for his unheimlicheness. Perceval has not completed his sentence. The project is incomplete, and it will always be incomplete. We abduct him from the earth and cast him towards the abyss.
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Notes on John Armleder at The Swiss Institute & The Bernadette Corporation at Artist Space
It wasn’t supposed to look like this: Ornate parlor rooms and messy factory floors giving over into clean white walls, abstract lines of steel and glass. Gehry designed corporate towers. Helvetica as every corporate font. Apple i-design chic. John Armleder at the Swiss Institute and Bernadette Corporation at Artist’s Space allow us to follow the story of a modernism between the revolutionary and the corporate.
The Swiss Institute focused its selection of Armleder’s work on a number of his furniture sculptures from 1979 to the present. Upon entry you are confronted with a large wooden construction; you walk around and realize it is a wardrobe-mirror, two identical jackets hung to either side. Further in the exhibition, there is a chair, its lattice-embroidered gold backed seating, and simple mahogany-hued frame is painted white across half the seat-back; a single black painted line, bent like a crook intrudes from the left-side of this impromptu canvas. There is also a three sectional seating arrangement, gray and airline-streamed modernist, its upholstery lightly embellished with a single primary-hued dot, one seat cocked slightly askew from the rest. Another: A constructivist-like painting hung from a coat hanger. Or: minimally striped surfboards hung near a similarly minimally striped canvas. A transparent-orange drum-set on a pedestal. This is art as it arcs towards design, style, and fashion.
These pieces combine minimalist and constructivist modernisms with retro-design modernist furniture. There is clear precedent for this work, particularly with the Bauhaus school, whose craft-modernism shaded into a high-design productivism, but the Bauhaus always maintained a radical agenda; the remaking of life by art. The production of furniture was, for them, simply one more method of fusing their vision of a better world with the lifeworld that was inhabited by so-many commonplace objects.
Armleder’s work has a softly ironic attitude that subtly denigrates the status of painting to mere design, while archly raising furniture to the status of sculpture. We cannot say that the revolutionary potential of the Bauhaus ambition has been wholly subverted, but rather than discovering the incompatibility of the bourgeois with the new sensibility, Armleder examines the restructuring of the bourgeois lifeworld under the aesthetic innovations of modernism. The old order never quite goes away, it is simply subsumed under the new. Or, and also: the old must always submit to the experiments of the new.
There is, of course, an entire history here concerned with the social and material re-organization of culture whose legacy derives from the beginnings of capitalism and into the industrial mode of production prevalent in the the 19th and early 20th centuries. What the modernist avant-gardes proposed, and what Ranciere recognizes as the distribution of the sensible , is that there is an abstract form of sensibility which may communicate to a generalized intellect beyond the class forms of the Bourgeois and the Proletariat, but unite them them as a subject beyond class, according to the forms of perception itself. Constructivism, Suprematism, Minimalism, etc., very broadly, are concerned with the reflexive relationship to their own perception, in part because that perception itself elides the particular social determinants that divide people into class and focuses the viewer upon an awareness of their own material condition in a way that is not already enframed by ideology, thus opening up that condition to the possibilities of redefinition and revolutionary potential.
As Armleder’s objects point to, this meta-politics achieved not a revolution, but merely another instance of capitalism’s creative destruction. Under the factory-format of capitalism, the world of work is intimately tied to space. Because labor on the the factory floor is visible to both boss and worker, the perception of the space and its meanings becomes contestable. Beginning in the 70’s, however, as labor is globalized and moved increasingly off-site from the centers of capital in the West, its object becomes more fluid and generalized, more perfectly approximating the abstract and generalized form of capital itself. The sensibility of the general, the universal, becomes the sensibility of capital itself.
As Meyer Shaviro argues:
The antagonism between capital and labor has, of course, haunted capitalism since the very beginning. All the conditions that Marx explicitly noted in his analysis of capitalism were already implicitly acknowledged in the work of Smith and Ricardo. And as a practical matter, problems arising from the conflict of interests between labor and capital continued to trouble capitalism for most of the twentieth century. But neoliberalism eliminates this tension by simply redefining it out of existence. When I sell my labor-power as a commodity, receiving in return money as the means for a certain level of subsistence, what I am really doing, according to the neoliberals, is “investing” my “human capital” in the competitive marketplace, and receiving a return on this investment. We are now, Foucault says, “at the opposite extreme of a conception of labor power sold at the market price to a capital invested in an enterprise. This is not a conception of labor-power; it is a conception of capital-ability,” formulated in such a way that “the worker himself appears as a sort of enterprise for himself”. Economic competition as an endless war of all against all thus entirely displaces class antagonism. 
The generalized and abstract capacity of sensibility becomes the individual and abstract capacity of “capital-ability” — how best do I leverage my capacity for recognizing the creative possibilities of the sensible? And, if I fail to do so, to what degree am I responsible for my own failures? I think here we can begin to see the beginnings of the melancholy that has haunted the revolutionary potential of an avant-garde leftism.
This then, is a good time to introduce the turn that occurs in the work of the Bernadette Corporation. The Bernadette Corporation shifts the focus of its projects from one sphere of production in the life-world to another: a magazine, a fashion show, a book, etc., all ruled under the branding of the collective. At Artist’s Space, these various activities are represented in the form of a documentary exhibition whose beautifully designed and plastic forms coldly and ironically catalogue the collective’s various interests. The exhibition is a matryoshka doll, laying bare the dissected exhibition in its display codes, only to reveal another set codes below them. As Armleder empties the form of painting and injects the furniture of the world into it, the Bernadette Corporation flows their activity into the empty form of the corporation.
By the 90s, when the bulk of the activity that Bernadette presents here occurs, even the left-wing of American politics had largely abandoned Keynesian/New Deal strategies that focused on social welfare in favor of the rhetoric neo-liberalism. Remember, NAFTA and welfare reform were birthed during the Clinton administration. Sleeping with the enemy was never a more viable tactic; they went ahead and elevated it to strategy. With Made In the USA, a magazine that delved into art, fashion, music, and other cultural fields, they engaged a number of authors and critics in camping out in the various cultural parking-lots late-capitalism had built to produce “a place we can all disappear to, instead of being anti-everything and writing the new manifesto, or instead of being pro-everything and buying the latest CD.”  There is an explicit refusal of the decisional that divides the inside from the outside: capitalist or revolutionary, artist or hack.
Greenberg hated Duchamp’s work, because it pointed to the limit of his own theories, which were intimately tied up with Kant’s aesthetic theory. For Greenberg, art had a teleological destiny to realize the limits of its own medium specificity, thus painting emphasized flatness and color. What happens with Duchamp, however, is that the general category of art, like the generalized category of painting, empties out into itself. Anything can become art because the artist says so. There is no particular material organization in which art must finally resolve. Thus, in the Duchampian gesture of the readymade claims objects from the lifeworld for the artworld. It is this gesture that always resets the boundary between art and life — for what is this gesture if not a pointed reference to the transcendent limits of “what art is”, a circumscription of the boundary qua boundary that brings it back into play with a vengeance.
Contemporary art is, to paraphrase Nick Land’s description of the sociality of capitalism, a field “in which the pouvoir of dominance is perpetually submitted to the hazard of experimental puissance.”  Thus we see Armleder positing within and between the formal categories of painting/sculpture/furniture these objects that are neither/or and both/and. As John Russell puts it:
This is a procession/recession of limits, from art/non-art, to finite/infinite, to the fiction of the ultimate limit of life/death – the ‘master-limit’ which validates and codes all other limits. As Reza Negarestani writes, this is an ‘ontological apartheid’ or ‘instrumental capacity’ pseudo-articulating ‘the vitalism of the living and the givenness of its ontological status (the Ideal) in relation to the fiction of ‘the dead’ A correlation between ‘the contingent outside qua undetermined and the determinable necessity of being / the living, whereby ‘only by binding the dead as a negative agency can the living establish its myth of inherent persistence, intelligibility and difference or determination as such.’ A persistence which is mirrored in the limits of capitalism, where ‘the contingency of the outside [...] is subtractively transformed to the intensive necessity of capitalism so as to both extend capitalism to an afforded outside and affirm the existence of capitalism as a necessity’. A persistence which is maintained, as in art, by a criticality concerned with the fetishisation of limits as the promise of transcendence. 
Armleder’s works thus begin to reveal an important step in a direction that we see more fully expressed with the Bernadette Corporation; that is, an embrace of the non-difference between living and dead. The Bernadette Corporation’s claims that their corporate format and mode of operation is “the perfect way to alienate alternative politically-correct types” . This isn’t just a push back against a pious leftism, however, it is an understanding that that capitalism needs the other to maintain its dominance. This is the death-drive insinuating itself into the language and grammar of neo-liberalism. The body of the work is corporate and radical, embracing the exorbitant excess of both in the dead husk of the expanded field. They do not make capitalism over into a utopia, or even micro-topia, but gleefully embrace it, pooling formaldehyde and blood in an immanent and immediate un-life.
1. Jacques Ranciere, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006
2. Meyer Shaviro, “The Bitter Necessity of Debt: Neoliberal Finance and the Society of Control”, May 1st, 2010, accessed: http://www.shaviro.com/Othertexts/Debt.pdf, October 19, 2012
3. “Made In the USA Press Release”, Badlands Unlimited, September 2012
4. Nick Land, “Making it with Death”, Fanged Noumena, Urbanomic 2011
5. John Russell, “Dear Living Person”, Meta Mute, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2011
6. “Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years”, Artists Space, accessed: http://artistsspace.org/exhibitions/bernadette-corporation/, October 19, 2012
Accelerations: Oppositional Subjects
In a recent issue of E-Flux, Gean Moreno has written on many of the same themes I have touched upon in the past, developing his ideas by way of the rather elegant analogy of nano-technology’s ‘grey goo’. His Notes on the Inorganic, part 1: Accelerations, considers capital in light of a Landian reading, regarding it as a distinct ontological being from the human, but of which the human is a constitutive part. He follows the apocalyptic course of Landian eschatology, where the dissipative forces of capital grind down all being that is not subordinated to its drive for replication into the de-intensive states of annihilation or equivalence. He ends his summation of this accelerationist capitalism with the conclusion that, while we should be wary of this alien force, we might be able to tap its energies to produce a newly constituted resistance. 
Interestingly, while proposing this, he offers a critique of ‘design thinking’ which attempts to exploit the devastation of capitalist production, while prematurely capitulating to the percieved inevitability of its power:
Pre-emptive design capitulates to an erosion of critical distance in order to vindicate itself as the pragmatic-ethical option: it is willing to look the bitter truth in the face and devise, in an unsentimental way, the best possible solution for the depletion to come. 
Instead, Moreno suggests the production of counterfactual claims, a premise which he will more fully develop in his later articles. While looking forward to his further exploration of this notion, I would like further develop some thoughts I myself have presented in regards to harnessing the energies of accelerationism, while keeping in mind the above critique.
Both Moreno and I have been influenced by the wonderful symptomatic diagnosis of capitalism by Franco Berardi. Berardi’s analysis is focused on the disruptive shocks the accelerating displacements of late-capitalism have had upon the human organism:
The cognitive performance of the precarious worker must become compatible, fractal, recombinable. Cognitive ability must be detached from sensibility, from the ability to detect, interpret, and understand signs that cannot be translated into words. The standardization of the cognitive process involves a digital formatting of the mind, disturbing the sphere of sensibility, and finally destroying it. 
Where we both disagree with him, however, is in a return to the limits of the human body as a measure of the productive limits of capital. Berardi’s prescription evokes a return to the Kantian legislature of the human subject as the end of all ethical action. Berardi’s neo-Kantian humanism acknowledges the body as a material machinic organism (his inheritance from Deleuze and Gauttari) that can be manipulated and re-organized (with pharmaceuticals for instance), but he maintains a reactionary and idyllic attachment to the authenticity and integrity of the body.
For my part, I find that a return to the human body as the ultimate speed limit also has the deleterious effect of limiting the expansion of the knowledge project.  As Peter Sloterdjik makes clear in his explications of Heidegger’s ‘throwness’, there is a relationship between the body and the environment, where one is dependent upon the conditions of the other for its existence, and that technology makes possible a re-alignment, or dis-alignment of one and the other. Technology is then necessary if we are to collect experience of the world outside of this small bubble of existence into which we have been thrown, and by a biological necessity, cannot leave.  Prosthesis or modifications to the body through a sort of cybernetics are the natural conclusion of this logic.
We do not, however, have to assume capitalism as the engine of this technological transformation. As Benjamin Noys points out, “[...] there is no simply essential or necessary reason why cybernetic or neurobiological forces are ‘capitalist’, or could not be reassembled (to use Nicole Pepperell’s formulation) for socialism or communism.” 
The interesting question then, is what is the idea of this communism that will propel the movement into this post-humanism? As, Alain Badiou asks, “What is to be done about this fact: that science knows how to make a new man?’ And since there is no project, or as long as there is no project, everyone knows there is only one answer: profit will tell us what to do.”  Badiou recognizes that without an alternative regulating idea, capitalism becomes the default conditioning mechanism of the post-human; Moreno’s grey goo swallows us all. Berardi, on the other hand, expects a return to a kind of humanism, where the body itself becomes the regulating ideal of the world around it.
To put it another way, there is an ontological spectrum between the human subject and the xenoeconomic subject, capitalism. The techno-ubermensch of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity, for instance, is one other possible subject along this axis. The issue is, as Moreno points out, to what degree the design of this new subject is not simply capitulated to capitalism, but how it is thought in opposition to it.
In the past, I have proposed a speculative phenomenology, along the lines of Vilem Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, as a possible model for understanding the machinic organism that late-capitalism has erupted into.  It may seem a bit ridiculous to discuss the capitalist subject, since, as far as we know, that subject does not have a self, but without embracing the reductive tenor of Thomas Metzinger’s work in Being No One, I think it is possible to speak about the phenomenal being of non-human subjects in terms of the formal structural properties he applies to the self. What Metzinger calls the phenomenal self-model, a virtualized self-reflexive representation, is a particular phenomenal model organized around the biological structure of the human. In his work he discusses instances in which components may be added, subtracted, or modified from this model, suggesting that it might be arranged otherwise. For instance, he talks about the loss of perspectivalness, wherein one loses a unitary view of a global reality centered upon the experiencing ego. As a result, one might experience complete depersonalization, which can lead to dysphoric states and a loss of function. 
Now, as I said, I’m not interested in the nihilistic/reductive aspect of Metzinger’s work (Graham Harman has done a rather good job of debunking those issues ), but rather the formal possibilities suggested by his functional/structuralist break-down of the self. If it is possible to expand this model of consciousness to post-human and non-human actors, then it is possible to imagine the alien subject of capital, and it must also be possible to speculate about the configurations of alternative subjectivities opposed to capital.
1. Gean Moreno, “Notes on the Inorganic, part 1: Accelerations”, E-Flux Journal #31, January 2012
3. Fanco Berardi (Bifo), “I Want to Think: POST-U“, E-Flux Journal #24, April 2011
4. Joshua Johnson, “Velvet Exoskeleton”, joshuaj.net, May 16, 2011
5. Peter Sloterdjik, “Atmospheric Politics”
6. Benjamin Noys, “The Grammar of Neoliberalism”, Accelerationism Workshop, Goldsmiths, 4 September 2010
7. Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Tosacno, Polity Press
8. Vilem Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, trans. Rodrigo Maltez Novaes, Atropos Press, New York/Dresden
9. Thomas Metzinger, “Being No One: lecture”, A Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul presented by the UC Berkeley Graudate Council, 2005
10. Graham Harman, “The Problem with Metzinger”, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 7, No 1, 2011
Xeno Economics: Speculative Phenomenology and Capital
Recent market innovation, generated by advances in technology and the creation of a cognitive surplus, has led to a condition that calls into question the epistemological basis of the knowledge project. Increasingly, computers model the world, but not for the purpose of research, but rather in service of capitalist exploitation. Knowledge, under this regime, is then only as valuable as it’s ability to liquidate all forms of matter into their optimal monetary value. 
If it is now a machinic capitalism whose artificial cognition rules our world — its amphetaminic diachronism melting all to air and lava-like, re-sedimenting the crust — we must ask what is this unconscious from which everything is pulled, molten, to the surface? The phenomenal being of this alien mind, whose transcendental conditions must be vastly different than ours — stemming from countless electronic eyes, miles of fiber-optic tentacles, and limitless semio-data, operating at billions of floating-point operations per-second — produces more information hours than attention can ever repay. 
In August of 2011, NPR reported that 75% of market volatility was the product of High Frequency Trading (HFT).  HFT runs on hyper-engineered algorithms whose complex mathematics produce an instantaneous transcendental model of the world based upon data consumption far beyond any human phenomenal capacity. The light-speed synthesis of pure information may or may-not be deciphered by human interpreters after-the-fact, in effect modeling possible futures whose real-world fallout may never actually be understood by the very people it affects or is meant to serve.  HFT proposes a world in which capital as social relation is instead operated by an anonymous and asocial computer network whose xeno-economic agenda is all but invisible to only the most advanced of computer specialists whose comprehension of the very devices they deploy may be governed not by understanding (as in knowledge) but an opaque operability. Capital becomes an alien and alienating relation, whose machinic agenda follows no specific human intention, but the purely fictional causality of virtual universe.
Goldman Sachs, one of the premiere operators of this advanced late capitalist techno-model, has also been derisively referred to as the ‘vampire squid’. 
Coincidentally, Vilem Flusser first wrote of the vampyroteuthis, or the vampire squid, in an early work, where he methodically examines the speculative phenomenology of the creature.  Basing his investigations on its biomorphic difference, and particularly noting the closeness of the head and the foot ( sky and earth in Heidegger’s terms), as well as the mouth and the genitals (Battaillian erotics), Flusser produces an animal who is our biological anti-hero. His vampire squid is blessed with phenotypical traits that are a nightmare-mirror world to us . The creature’s tentacled grasp radiates outward from its head, the phosphorescent tips of its many arms groping for prey in every crevice. Whatever it finds, it pulls back into its mouth and, in orgasmic joy, digests every morsel. The ‘knowing’ of the vampyroteuthis is synonymous with consuming, the vampire squid understands reality by incorporating it; by making spiteful love to it.
Flusser’s vampyroteuthis, like our financial vampire squid, consumes everything unto itself. In his own time, the vampire squid had rarely been encountered, and the few live specimens that were dragged from the bottom of the ocean quickly succumbed to a world they were not meant to thrive in. His study then, is a fictional one, but one whose speculative energies open up new areas of investigation outside an ever recursively bracketed post-Kantian anthropocentism. Flusser concludes his study with the statement, “In all these places Vampyroteuthis emeges as our own mirror, as our antipode in which all of our aspects inverted. Because to contemplate this mirror with the aim of recognising ourselves in it, and with the aim of being able to alter oneself thanks to this recognition, is the purpose of every fable, including this one.” 
If we are to think the conditions of machinic capitalism, whose tentacled form has metastasized outwards from our simple bilateral one, it may be necessary to begin a speculative project that will enumerate the transcendental conditions of an alien difference. If we do not take up this task, we risk living inside a world where our own experience is increasingly dictated to us by machines, whose algorithmic filters reign over vast territories of unrefined data, compressing all that is raw and sublime into an iCloud. There, a friendly graphic user interface breaks all of our decisions into binary conditionals that we, in our haste to consume (as is demanded of us), mistakenly take for the ironclad laws of nature. Kant’s transcendental conditions were only ever the limit of what the human organism could intuit within the terrifying sublime. Technology has allowed us a window to peak beyond the gloss of our own senses, but to begin to believe what is thrown on the glass for everything that is beyond it is a terrible mistake. 
To sit inside the spectrum of the continuum that is mediated to us, simply because it is what we can ‘socially’ comprehend, is to ignore the revolutionary potential inherent in attempting to encompass the modal possibilities of the full continuum of experience, especially as our own former tools begin to mirror the possibility of different modalities back to us. Machinic capitalism proposes a phenomenal time beyond our natural capacity, and it is swiftly making us into products not only of its excess, but also its limitations. We are the objects, the cultural products, the art-work of a mind that is modelling its own drive towards limitless consumption.  In proposing an investigation of machinic capital, we are proposing an investigation into our own teleology, into uncharted territories of experience, where the human may end and become something more.
1 Franco Berardi (Bifo), “Cognitarian Subjectivation“, E-Flux Journal #20, November 2011
2 I am thinking, of course, playing on Mike Kelley’s 1987 work, “More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid,” but operating outside of the anthropic circuit. As Kelley notes about the work in a 1992 interview, “Basically, gift giving is like indentured slavery or something. There’s no price, so you don’t know how much you owe. The commodity is the emotion. What’s being bought and sold is emotion. I did a piece called More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid. I said if each one of these toys took 600 hours to make then that’s 600 hours of love; and if I gave this to you, you owe me 600 hours of love; and that’s a lot. And if you can’t pay it back right away it keeps accumulating…” [John Miller, “Interview: Mike Kelley”, Bomb Magazine #38, Winter 1992] While leaving aside the violent implications of gift giving, there is an asynchronous relationship between the time accumulated in the labor and the time spent consuming that labor. Under the machinic regime this relationship is inverted. The labor time of computers is able to speed up the production of semio-information far beyond the consumption capability of human beings.
3 Jim Zarroli, “Is Computer-Driven Trading Causing Market Spikes?“, NPR, August 19, 2011
4 Kara Scannell and Tom Lauricella, “Flash Crash is Pinned on One Trade“, The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2010
5 Matt Taibbi, “The Great American Bubble Machine“, Rolling Stone, April 5, 2010
6 Vilem Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, trans. Rodrigo Maltez Novaes, Atropos Press, New York/Dresden
7 ibid., 126
8 I am expanding here upon a notion discussed at some length by James Trafford, who derives it from Thomas Metzinger. The basic idea is that mistaking phenomenal experience for the actual conditions of the world is akin to mistaking the finger pointing at the sun for the sun. It is easy to imagine that any phenomenal conditions outside of human experience would also be subject to such a mistake, but on a different modal order of mediation. [MetzingerJames Trafford, "The Shadow of a Puppet Dance: Metzinger, Ligotti and the Illusion of Selfhood", Collapse IV]
9 Franco Berardi, in a devastatingly Huxleyan tone, notes the influx of psycho-pharmaceuticals into neo-liberal culture, and their attempt to combat the mental breakdown imposed by the rapid changes of the new economy. He describes the reformatting of the mind: ”The cognitive performance of the precarious worker must become compatible, fractal, recombinable. Cognitive ability must be detached from sensibility, from the ability to detect, interpret, and understand signs that cannot be translated into words. The standardization of the cognitive process involves a digital formatting of the mind, disturbing the sphere of sensibility, and finally destroying it.” [Franco Berardi (Bifo), "I Want to Think: POST-U", E-Flux Journal #24, April 2011]
Accelerationism and Insurrection: Sleeping with the Enemy
Accelerationism is the notion that rather than halting the onslaught of capital, it is best to exacerbate its processes to bring forth its inner contradictions and thereby hasten its destruction. As a radical act, the genesis of this idea stretches back to Marx  and continues through Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, and Nick Land’s cybertechnics. I will be focusing largely on Land’s formulation of this perspective, it being among the more recent, and one whose uniquely anti-humanist features I find myself more sympathetic to, particularly because they disrupt the problematic formulation of the subject.
The significant difference between Land’s conception of capital, and that of Deleuze and Guattari, whom his work is explicitly indebted to, is the focus on a negative, or anti-vitalist impulse within the mechanism of capital itself. Rather than re-affirming a kind of Hegelian capitalist subject, Land’s impulse is to move towards further and further desubjectivization and away from the elan of capital as a constructive force. As Ray Brassier details in his excellent critique of Land’s thought:
What Land proposed to retain from Kant was the emphasis on the transcendental efficacy of synthesis, the primacy of transcendental synthesis, but no longer as the synthesis of empirical items, objects of experience anchored in a constituting subject. It’s the self-synthesising potency of what he called intensive materiality. This becomes the key term. It’s a brilliant explication of the logical operation that Deleuze and Guattari carry out vis-a-vis Kantianism in Anti-Oedipus. Matter is nothing but machinic production, self-differentiation, and the fundamental binary that organizes this materialist metaphysics is that between intensive materiality, which he identifies with the body without organs, and death, this moment of absolute indifference as absolute difference. 
For Land, materiality is the process of pure synthesis, and the production of representation, or transcendental frameworks, is a consequence of that process. As Brassier argues, this sets up a duality wherein the product of this production is a de-potentiated after-effect of the primary process, and under Land’s schema, a dead-end to be overcome as a mere blockage in the system’s self becoming; as primary production continues it breaks down the binary difference between representation and itself as process. There is, therefore, shades of a black Hegelianism within Land’s eschatology, a terminal point in which the intensification of all matter reaches “degree-zero”, as Land puts it.
The problem is, as Brassier points out:
The point is that organically individuated human subjects cannot position themselves vis-a-vis this circuit or this process. It’s happening without you anyway. It doesn’t need you. The very concept of agency is stripped out. There’s a quote of Land’s: “it’s happening anyway and there is nothing you can do about it.” Something is working through you, there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well fuse. 
Under Land’s program, thought itself is an instrument of the processes of synthesis and destratification, a part of the machinic unconscious of materiality. There is no need for an agency, because you as an agent are already swept up within the process by merely being.
Furthermore, Benjamin Noys notes the passivity of this stance on the political level, and argues that Land’s teleology amounts to complete complicity with the neoliberal project. Noys sees Land as simply cheerleading a passing juggernaut, and not effectively endorsing any form of meaningful resistance or change to the current of the times. He follows Brassier in questioning the possibility of agency in such a theory, and additionally regards the Accelerationist as lacking any substantial imagination in opposition to the ruling structure of neoliberalism. 
I will attempt to address these issues, particularly in relationship with Land’s insistence an art as a form of insurrection.
Following the irruption of the sublime in Kant’s philosophy, and carried through to the agent through the notion of genius, Land details a picture of art whereby the subject becomes the instrument of the unconscious outside: “One ‘is’ a genius only in the sense that “one” is violently problematized by a ferocious exteriority. One returns to the subject of which genius has been predicated to find it charred and devestated beyond recognition.” Land introduces the production of a stratified representation, in terms of the arts, as an impetus to further destratification. The work of becomes an infection in the ruling structure, ” what art takes from enigma it more than replenishes in the instantiation of itself, in the labyrinthian puzzle it plants in history.” 
While this does not yet distinguish the artist as an agent who willfully “chooses” the products of their insanity, it at least identifies where the vectors of a kind of political act may happen. As Badiou notes, “The avant-gardes even went to the extreme of saying that there is more politics to be found in the formal mutations of art than in politics ‘strickly speaking.’” To continue in his terms, the arts instantiate the infinite in the finite to provoke the human to not more humanity, but, in a particularly Nietzschian turn, to what is overhuman, what withdraws from interpretation.  Furthering this parallel, I will return to Land once more: “What the philosophers have never understood is this: it is the unintelligibility of the world along that gives it worth.”  Art produces what is exceptional to the world as it is known; that is, it establishes a destabilizing factor outside of the transcendental framework that threatens to encompass the world with its totalizing formula.
In a previous article I quoted Land’s insistence upon a tactical insurgency in the market place, as opposed to following the arc of strategy, which he regards as an instrument of territorialization and stratification: “Foucault delineates the contours of power as strategy without a subject: ROM locking learning in a box. Its enemy is tactics without a strategy, replacing the politico-territorial imagery of conquest and resistance with nomad-micromilitary sabotage and evasion, reinforcing intelligence.” 
Brassier critiques Land on precisely this point, echoing Noys concerns about neoliberalism:
In other words, once you dissociate tactics and strategy–the famous distinction between tactics and strategy where strategy is teleological, transcendent, and representational and tactics is immanent and machinic–if you have no strategy, someone with a strategy will soon commandeer your tactics. Someone who knows what they want to realize will start using you. You become the pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism. 
My instinct is to cross-breed Landian thought with Badiou’s to directly counter this difficulty: Art, if it is really a reflection of the kernel of the infinite or a particle of the thanotropic real, will continue to dispel further feedback despite any attempt of the neoliberal economy to instrumentalize it. Recall, for instance, when Colin Powell had Guernica covered up at the UN for his press conference on the Iraq War.  Guernica, in this instance was the splinter of a tactical strike, whose irreducible instance continues to worm its way into the hide of the territorialized nation-state which Powell represents.
Elie Ayache makes this approach quite clear when discussing Badiou’s ontology in relationship to both the trading of derivitives, and the production of art. Ayache, who was a trader himself, notes that the sophisticated software used by traders to predict the volatility accounts not only for known quantities, but the field of probability in which deviation can occur. The problem, however, is that this software can not account for the probabilities you havent already accounted for before-hand, which means, when something occurs outside of the model, it can only be contingently dealt with after the fact. In this way, the event appears to produce its own cause. Similarly, he brings up the short story of Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. If you are familiar with the story you will recall that Pierre Menard writes Don Quixote, but he does not copy Cervantes, though his text is the same, word for word. For Ayache this is the perfect example of a rupture, or an event, that exists between the probabilities of what is known.  Art instantiates the being of a new form that disrupts the old order. Pierre Menard’s repetition of the text tills the very soil in which Cervates worked; he does not simply repeat Cervantes, but he pulls the roots out from under him, displacing the work in history.
I am proposing the tactics without strategy as a form analogous to Badiou’s notion of the Event as an ontological factor yet to be accounted for, in this sense, the artist becomes an agent by virtue of their production of the event, or the tactic. Willing becomes no longer necessary, but rather, in a strange causal reversal, the effect of the event. Choosing to produce the event always seemed to be derived from a subject oriented position, anyway, while Land’s philosophy quite clearly favors an ontologically ordered non-standard-numerics as an organizing principle  , rather than a phenomenologically operative ontology. 
Art is a technology , engendered by the productive forces of capital , that offers a short circuit through which the limited and limiting perspective of the subjective perspective may be transformed. The issue with Noys and Brassier’s difficulties is that they still seem to assume that the subject is the operative node, who determines the political based upon their “free-will”. The mathematical ontologies of Land and Badiou do not accept the admission of free will, and thus must operate under some sense of compatibalism. Agency is not determined by choice, but by the occasion of a Event or tactic without strategy.
1 Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto; Following Noys pedigree: “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
2 Brassier, Ray, Transcription from Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths
4 Noys, Benjamin, The Grammar of Neoliberalism
5 Land, Nick, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
6 Badiou, Alain, The Century
7 Land, Nick, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
8 Land, Nick, “Meltdown”, Fanged Noumena
9 Brassier, Ray, Transcription from Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths
10 Cohen, David, “Hidden Treasures: What’s so controversial about Picasso’s Guernica“, Slate, Feb. 6, 2003
11 Ayache, Elie, “In the Middle of the Event”, The Medium of Contingency, ed. Robin MacKay
12 Land, Nick, “Qabbala 101″, Fanged Noumena
13 Metzinger, Thomas, Being No One: The Self Model Theory of Subjectivity; In considering a speculative philosophy of the real post-Metzinger, one should be especially wary of operative phenomenology.
14 Buhlmann, Vera, “Pseudopodia, Prolegomena to a Discourse on Design” Pre-Specifics: Some Comparatistic Investigations on Research in Design and the Arts, ed. Buhlmann, Vera and Weidmer, Martin; I would propose the arts as a primitive form of cybertechnics, one that I think will only become more complex as capital demands further interface with vast amounts of data.
15 Noys, Benjamin, The Grammar of Neoliberalism; “[Accelerationism] presumes a fundamental incompatibility of the market with capitalism, deriving this from a Braudelian position, and often tends to presume a fundamental incompatibility of technological forces, especially cybernetic and neurobiological, with capitalism. Of course, markets have pre-existed capitalism and could post-date it and, of course, there is no reason why cybernetic or neurobiological forces are ‘capitalist’, or could not be reassembled (to use Nicole Pepperell’s formulation) for socialism or communism.”; I think there is an underlying assumption of “free-will” here, in that the technological products of capital might have been assembled otherwise. I would argue that those forces are capitalist in that they have resulted from the modes of production engendered by capitalism. That does not mean, however, that these technologies might not supersede the very structure that has produced them. To yoke them to the ideologically circumscribed realms of communism or socialism derived from some kind of ethical humanism seems to deprive them of exactly the promise of supplanting a limited transcendental perspective.
Motherfucking: Nick Land on Capital and Art
The inherent connection between the irruptive primary process and artistic creativity, or the basic inextricability of psychoanalysis and aesthetics slips Freud’s grasp, and art is presented as a merely contingent terrain for the application of therapeutically honed concepts. The adaptation of the mutilated individual to its society, in which art is illegal except as a parasite of elite commodity production circuits, is the scandal of psychoanalysis. It becomes Kantian (bourgeois); a delicate police activity dedicated to the social management and containment of genius. As if ‘therapy’ could be anything other than the revolutionary unleashing of artistic creation!
- Nick Land, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
To hear it from the exhausted remnants of those schools of critical theory and Marxism, it is both the comedy and tragedy of contemporary art that it operates at the vanguard of consumer capitalism, apparently completely complicit and under the spell of the very forces of power that operate the majority of the world’s wealth and resources. 1 The museum is a factory, tightly contained and maintained by the managerial class, safely autonomous, and drunk on the trickle of wealth that flows down the legs of the one percenters. 2 The mill town no longer need reside in a single place, but now steadily circulates through the international borders that capital has carefully burrowed through sovereignties. One might, of course, miss the runway lights that will taxi you safely into your next destination, but then you may be mistaken for a terrorist. 3
Whilst the autonomy of art in its current structural incarnation preserves its capacity towards experimentation, it also safely protects the broader social sphere and the interests of the ruling elite from what may amount to an invasion of the cancerously anti-humanist material sub-strata of the gene splicing required by purely novel production. Land identifies this terrifying productive capacity as a the return of the abyssal real, first as genius, smuggled into Kant’s transcendental frame-work through the contradictory notion of the sublime, and finally as schizophrenia- the mental condition that destroys all socially recognizable frames of reference– as outlined by Deleuze and Gauttari in Anti-Oedipus; 4 the artist as a viral phage, complicit with the creeping outside.
Initially, Land’s relationship with capital is ambivalent. He first identifies it with the procedures of rationality and control as outlined by the philosophy of containment enacted by Kant’s transcendental project 5, but as his perspective evolves, and he learns to de-couple the phallic/bourgeois affects of moralism from the material processess of capital as pure mechanism of dissipation. In this light, he aligns capital with Freud’s death drive, or the desire towards unbecoming. 6 As he says:
The deep secret of capital-as-process is its incommensurability with the preservation of bourgeois civilization, which clings to it like a dwarf riding a dragon. As capital ‘evolves’, the increasingly absurd rationalization of production-for-profit peels away like a cheap veneer from the positive-feedback detonation of production-for-production.
If capital is a social suicide machine, it is because it is compelled to advantage its assassins. Capital produces the first sociality in which the pouvoir of dominance is perpetually submitted to the hazard of experimental puissance. 7
Capital is a machine in autopoiesis, spinning the products of human society into a determined impact with the real. The artist is a tool of this process, reshuffling and redefining the categories of material in a drive towards ever becoming novelty. The question is, of course, are they on the side of containment — carefully policing the boundaries of the real to preserve the remnants of dying anthropocentric sociality, and thus bulwarking the remaining pillars of a crumbling structure– or are they on the side of the invaders, redistributing the contents of sensibility towards the degree zero of a substance without hierarchy?
Art’s organizational impulse may be both: at once a carefully crafted cage for the dangerous impact of the real, domesticating the wounded breach for its reception in society, and at the same time a dedicated vector for the distribution of infection. In the anti-oedipal schema of Land, the managerial father may be shocked to learn that his children are busy fucking mother nature, and are out to kill him.
1 Steyerl, Hito, Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy
2 Steyerl, Hito, Is the Museum a Factory
3 I am thinking of an extreme version of the inclusion of an antagonistic relationship, as Cliare Bishop advocates. (Bishop, Claire, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics); Perhaps an even more radical example would be an insurgency modelled more on the politics of Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, in which the inside is constantly perforated by an antagonistic outside (Negarestani, Reza, Cyclonopedia)
4 Land, Nick, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
5 Land, Nick, “Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest”, Fanged Noumena
6 Land, Nick, “Making it with Death”, Fanged Noumena
In Huysman’s A rebours, the decadent aesthete Des Esseintes, after dallying in an interest in paper and wax flowers, decides to push his sensual experiment further, and purchases a variety of live flora which are perversely chosen for their artificial appearance. Des Esseintes watches with satisfaction as a scabrous decoupage of blossoms and leafy things is unloaded onto his doorstep and notes, “[I]t is true that, for most of the time, Nature is herself incapable of producing species so moribid and perverse; she supplies the raw material, the germ and the soil, the procreative womb and the elements of the plant, which mankind rears, models, paints, carves afterwards to suit his caprice.” 1
To collect his leprous garden Des Essenties had to make visits to various greenhouses, for many of the blossoms– deriving from climates whose atmosphere is vastly different than that of France– required special care. That is, a technical architectural apparatus must first be developed that transposes the necessary environmental conditions of one space into another. The greenhouse, in the time in which Des Esseintes was supposed to have lived, had just begun inspiring theories of the environment that were to have a wide ranging impact on modern philosophy. The contemporary philosopher Peter Sloterdjik examines these concepts in relationship to Heidegger’s notions of being and technology:
Among the first to respond to the provocation innate in the concept of the environment was Martin Heidegger, who as early as the mid-1920s grasped the ontological implications of the new biology. [...] When Heidegger speaks of the Geworfenheit (“throwness”) of being, this expression brings to mind the risk of a sudden dis-alignment of organism and environment, such as a palm tree of African origin faces if it were to unfortunately find itself in England prior to the invention of the greenhouse. [...] Whereas for the organism the meaning of the “en” in environment or the “sur” in surrounding consists of the perfectly calibrated dependence on the original stimuli, in the case of existence in the world they signify an abyss above which one hangs, or a transcendence into which one is suspended. 2
To continue in this vein, it is the very transcendental conditions in which our world is organized that makes our being possible. In science this is known as the anthropic principle, or, that were the universe constructed otherwise it would not follow the conditions necessary to support intelligent life. Even within this cosmic transcendental condition, however, the range of our environments immediately available to the human organism is limited to a specific set of conditions pre-determined by physiology. One cannot, for instance, survive at certain depths of the ocean without the support of some technical prosthesis.
It also means that in order to have experience, or even knowledge, of the conditions outside of our natural environment, it is absolutely necessary to develop technical apparatuses which can extend the perspective of the human beyond the meager line of sight gifted to us. This of course means not only physical techne, but that in conceptualizing the environmental conditions outside of our immediate operative sphere, we must make recourse to a set of tools that may have a disorientating effect upon our casual construction of reality:
If superstring theory is of profound philosophical significance it is because it achieves a univocally consistent physical monism by revealing all scalar incommensurability across the material universe, such as that which apparently separates the realm of quarks and neutrinos from that of galaxies and nebulae, to be the result of a four-dimensional abstraction; a perspectival ‘illusion’ engendered by assumptions about physical space that are ultimately rooted in the limited parameters of phenomenological perception. 3
In our world today the consequences of the technical expansion of human sight have resulted in the so-called condition of groundless, in which the human organism is no longer capable of synthesizing through direct experience the broad consequences of the empirical data available from the expanded environment. The philosopher and artist Hito Steyerl diagnoses this as a condition of “free fall”, and asks why is that we don’t seem to be aware of the consequences of this condition?
Paradoxically, while you are falling, you will probably feel as if you are floating—or not even moving at all. Falling is relational—if there is nothing to fall toward, you may not even be aware that you’re falling. If there is no ground, gravity might be low and you’ll feel weightless. Objects will stay suspended if you let go of them. Whole societies around you may be falling just as you are. And it may actually feel like perfect stasis—as if history and time have ended and you can’t even remember that time ever moved forward. 4
One of the most spectacular technical achievements of the last century was the development of space travel. The journey to the moon required the recreation of many of the natural conditions of the earth bound environment in the hostile reaches of space. Integral to this mission was the creation of the ultimate clothing: the spacesuit. In a recent interview regarding his book examining of the development of the spacesuit, the architect and historian Nicholas de Monchaux points out:
For instance, the word cyborg originated in the Apollo program, in a proposal by a psycho-pharmacologist and a cybernetic mathematician who conceived of this notion that the body itself could be, in their words, reengineered for space. They regarded the prospect of taking an earthly atmosphere with you into space, inside a capsule or a spacesuit, as very cumbersome and not befitting what they called the evolutionary progress of our triumphal entry into the inhospitable realm of outer space. The idea of the cyborg, then, is the apotheosis of certain utopian and dystopian ideas about the body and its transformation by technology, and it has its origins very much in the Apollo program. 5
It is no accident that Playtex, the bra company, defeated numerous defense and military contractors for the right to build the suits for the Apollo mission for NASA. 6 The spacesuit exists at the uncomfortable interstice between the human and the machinic, protecting the fragile organism in its core, but also intimately connected with those biologic necessities of consumption and negentropy. It is precisely the organic construction of a technical knowledge, arrived at through the laborious crafting of materials, that was able to process these mortal needs. The spacesuit opened a new frontier to man, who was now free to have a new experience and knowledge of the universe beyond his earthly confines.
To re-orient ourselves within the conditions of free fall, it may be necessary to develop the proper technics, a new spacesuit, or even– more boldly- a new spaceman, to navigate the increasingly fractured environment. However, as the technological/utopic vision of re-engineering the human is coming ever more into focus, and our operational ability to redeploy materials on a genetic and molecular level becomes increasingly refined, the question remains, as Alain Badiou asks, “What is to be done about this fact: that science knows how to make a new man?’ And since there is no project, or as long as there is no project, everyone knows there is only one answer: profit will tell us what to do.” 7
The technical solution to the technical problem of synthesizing knowledge seems to be stuck in an ever evolving feedback loop. Like the Navigators addicted to the powerful and mind altering spice in Frank Herberts popular science fiction series Dune– who are mutated by the very fuel that allows them travel– the products of our technical expansion, driven by the engine of capital, deliquesce ever outward into new and strangely hybrid forms.
1 Huysmans, J.K. Against the Grain.
2 Sloterdjik, Peter. Atmospheric Politics.
3 Brassier, Ray. Alien Theory.
4 Steyerl, Hito. In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, E-Flux Journal. 24.
5 de Monchaux, Nicholas. Spacesuit: An Interview with Nicholas de Monchaux, BLBLG.
7 Badiou, Alain. The Century.
Fixing the Future: Science Fiction and Utopia
In a short story by Philip K Dick an eager young repair man shows up at the door of a baffled entrepreneur attempting to fix an object that doesn’t yet exist. The entrepreneur, realizing the potential of gaining a foothold in a lucrative future industry, coaxes the repair man to reveal this invention which will soon be in nearly every household in the world. It is revealed that the object in question, a Swibble, is a kind of mind control device– invented after the last great war– and that it fixes a person’s ideology so that it remains exactly consistent with every-one’s ideology. Dick, in a footnote, reveals that he was afraid that disaster would not come from some giant horrible monster rampaging down the street, but rather that his toaster or refrigerator would someday quietly announce that it had taken over. This insight reveals not only our increasing dependency upon our appliances to manage our daily lives, but also the effect they have upon the very act of living that life. Could we say that our appliances and furniture have an ideology? If so, what would that be?
In his Utopian novel Walden Two, the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner sketches a view of a harmonious commune where life’s difficulties have been solved through the application of behavioral principles. One notable feature of the novel is the prominent descriptions of the particular appearance of art, architecture, and design that form the world around the inhabitants of this community. Nearly everything is designed for the efficiency of the life-style, down to the very teacups themselves. Skinner’s narrator makes a point of noting that the builder’s of Walden Two were, “interested in interior design, especially in the inexpensive modern furniture which could be mass-produced.” and asks us to “imagine what it would mean to an architect to design an entire community as a whole!” The architectural metaphor reveals the nature of Walden Two. Everything is managed by a series of guidelines laid out by Skinner’s principles. It is not a Utopia in which a single humor rules, but one that operates between the need for variety and regularity. The architecture of the dining rooms varies, in the best sense of Venturi’s post-modern principles between the stylistic modes of class and period, and can be chosen according to the whims and needs of their occupants.
The operational space that Skinner illustrates between the individuals of the community and its realization as an architecture is taken up by Michael Foucault and his concept of heterotopias. Foucault positions the heterotopia as a provisional space in relation to the non-space of the Utopia. For him, the Utopia is a place of potential that operates as a mirror of the heterotopia. The heterotopia is itself as series of relations and transactions between its members, seeking to constantly navigate and define the actual space of living. There is then, no governing ideology, but rather a constant evaluation and strategic shifting between the needs of groups and individuals. In this schema, the government, or the state operates as a regulatory mechanism, it’s position is to exist as a kind of referee. Maurizo Lazzaratto describes this function in terms of illness, contrasting the discipline of pre-modern societies and the security of the modern liberal government:
There is the example of a disease. A disease can be treated in a disciplinary way or according to the logic of security. In the first case (that of leprosy) measures are taken to try and prevent contagion by separating the diseased from the non diseased, confining and isolating the former. In the second case dispositifs of security support new techniques and new knowledges (vaccination) and aim to take into account the whole of the population without discontinuity or ruptures and separations between the diseased and the non diseased. Through statistics (another indispensable knowledge for security devices) a differential cartography of normality can be designed by calculating the risk of contagion for each age group, profession, city, and in every city for each neighbourhood etc. Thus there can even be a table with different curves of normality starting from the location of risks. The technique of security consists in the attempt put a lid on the most unfavourable curves, the ones that deviate the most from the most normal curve.
The principle character in J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World is a doctor famous for his work with leper colonies. He travels to small port on the coast of Africa seeking his former lover and discovers a strange phenomena that is slowly consuming the forests; everything– even living things– within the vicinity of the affected area is slowly being petrified into a luminous strangely colored crystal. The doctor is horrified to learn that the phenomena is also happening in several other areas of the world, and that it appears to be visible in distant galaxies through the Hubble telescope. Time, as it is explained in the book, is stopping, and soon everything will be crystallized in an eternally perfect prismatic world. Nonetheless, he feels a strange attraction to the beauty of the crystal forests, and in the end, decides to submit himself to the crystallization process.
Ballard’s description of time and its disappearance is important, for it seems to be related to Foucaults notion of Utopia. Foucault places Utopia outside of place, but also outside of time; it is a constant potentiality, never arrived at, never achieved. Ballard’s strangely attractive crystal world is one with no life, but also no death. It is a place of perfect, eternal beauty outside of time. Throughout the book, there is the constant description of how the light of the crystal forest effects the world surrounding it. It appears to make all of the shadows deeper, and highlights brighter. Everything is drawn out into contrasts. Utopia may not only be a goal, but also a measure of what the world is not.
If Ballard’s story metaphorically examines the horror of achieving idealized perfection, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space measures the horror of a world outside of rationalization. His tale also begins with a scientific anomaly, the crashing of a meteorite in a remote country farm, and the subsequent effects of its poisonous contamination of the surrounding environment. At night everything glows with a sinister color, and the trees begin to take on a terrible disposition, their bows moving against the wind and their leaves heavy and unnatural. The farmer’s livestock sickens and decays, their bodies withering in inexplicable ways while they are still alive. Eventually the farmer and his family begin to slowly go mad before suffering fates similar to that of the cattle. Upon their deaths the ground remains contaminated. The narrator of the story is an engineer who is surveying the area for a dam which will eventually drown the ground upon which the incident took place. He fears that the water itself will be contaminated, spreading the poison.
Both stories tell the tale of a natural effect that will eventually alter the world, but whereas Ballard’s story focuses upon the consequences of an eternal beauty, Lovecraft is largely concerned with the effects of the forces of decay and depletion. His nature is a ravenous other that is constantly assaulting the edge of man’s understanding. In Lovecraft’s world, it is best if man stick to the basic social concerns that make up the life of men, and not intend to investigate anomalies outside of his sphere of understanding. Nature is an implacable enemy to reason, distorting and destroying the little worlds that man has built for himself. It should be no surprise that Lovecraft’s most positive stories are those that take place in a world of dreams and high fantasy. In this way, Ballard’s tale is the true mirror Lovecraft’s. When the fantasy that Ballard describes becomes real, it is terrifying.
These then, could be considered the two poles between which Foucault’s heterotopia operates– that of an untamed nature ready to devour man, and a cold ideal petrifying him within its ideological rigidity. The science of our society is then to regulate between these excesses. Skinner proposes an architect to navigate these halls– but perhaps Dick is right– and all we need is service man and someone to sell us the product of the future, and we can adjust things accordingly.