The Grammar of Contemporary Art

Note: A version of this paper was initially published in the catalogue for the exhibition “Poems in a Room”, curated by Alessandro Keegan at Magic Pictures.

Abstract: This paper examines and compares two recent readings of Contemporary Art and Communization theory (Suhail Malik and Ray Brassier, respectively). It suggest that both are limited by their current epistemic regimes, and that a reconsideration between the ideal and real is needed if any transformation of the present circumstance is to take place. Furthermore, the inferentialism program of reason can help us unpack the useful functions and techniques currently trapped in these structures of power, and build new criteria for an alternative institutionality.

“The living form defies evolution at its peril; if it does not adapt it will be broken. The idea of completed man is supreme vanity: the finished image is a sacrilegious myth.” — from John Wyndham’s “The Chrysalids”

“The point about humanism, about enlightenment humanism is that it recognizes the constitutive inhumanity of the ideal of the realization of the full capacities and potentialities of the human. The old dialectical opposition between the anti-human and the human or the human and the inhuman is precisely what needs to be called into question.” – Ray Brassier [1]

 

In a recent talk Ray Brassier articulates communization theory’s incapacity to conceive of the future, except in an apocalyptic or theological tenor: “If politics is about some kind of orientation towards the future, then the future can’t be defined in terms of the dread of annihilation, extermination, etc., it has to be grasped as a space of possibility which is not necessarily commensurate with existing possibility but which has more determinacy than a wholly indeterminate abstraction; the negation of actually existing conditions and circumstances.” [2]

Brassier begins by discussing the condition of ‘real subsumption’ . Unlike formal subsumption, which is identified by Marx as the movement of social forces of production into the abstract mode of valuation by capitalism; real subsumption identifies the point at which all of social reality has been totalized by the capitalist relation, and it is no longer possible to identify the contradiction between the class position of the proletariat and the mode of production, since all of social production in reality is now identified with the value form.

The implication then, is that it is necessary to locate a community outside of capitalism, from which to form resistance and begin the movement towards communization. Brassier examines a text by Endnotes [3], where they call this the ‘autonomy thesis’, and identify a form of it in the recent theories of Tiqqun. [4] Endnotes read this movement as a voluntary ‘we’ which is constructed around modes of tactical resistance. But, the division of the totality of capital into the ‘we’ and capital, is an abstraction that simply allows the continuation of capital. For the human community is itself implicated in the total subsumption of capital, since its modes and techniques of resistance are themselves conditioned by that relation, and any tactical attempt to shift away from it results in a sundering of this totality that continues the interminable condition of capital:

“The prioritisation of a certain tactical conception is a major outcome and determinant of this position. Theory is called upon to legitimate a practice which cannot be abandoned, and a dualism results: the voluntarist ‘we’, and the impassive objectivity which is its necessary counterpart. For all their claims to have overcome ‘classical politics’, these texts conceive the revolution ultimately in terms of two opposed lines: the we that ‘gets organized’, and all the forces arrayed against it. Tactical thought is then the guide and rule for this ‘we’, mediating its relations with an object which remains external. Instead of a theoretical reckoning with the concrete totality that must be overcome in all its determinations, or a reconstruction of the real horizon of the class relation, we get a sundering of the totality into two basic abstractions, and a simple set of exhortations and practical prescriptions whose real theoretical function is to bring these abstractions into relation once more.” [5]

Endnotes therefore conclude that the production of an alternative ‘we’ is impossible without the abolishment of the totality of capitalism. Thus, the overcoming of capitalism is the self-overcoming of the ‘we’. There can be no division between the ‘we’ and ‘they’ for this distinction is a part of the productive relation by which capital extends itself. It is only, as they argue, at the limit of the struggle that communization occurs; communization has nothing positive to say about what ‘we’ are to apart from maintaining the negation of capitalism.

However, as Brassier argues, this self-overcoming is paradoxical, since if we (the agents of overcoming) are to overcome ourselves, it is in the act of overcoming capitalism that we will erase the agents of the movement, thereby eliminating the movement of transformation.

As he says: “Since the capital relation has been aligned with representation, the refusal of representation becomes tantamount to the refusal of capital relation; here total abstraction is the seal of thinkings traction upon the antagonism constitutive of reality [...] by abjuring representation communist theory secures its grip on the real movement that is communism as such, but only at the cost of erasing everything that might have distinguished the movement of ideas from real movement.” [6]

We can see a similar myopia in the development of contemporary art, where it seems impossible to conceive of a succession to the predominant mode of art as it is practiced. In a recent series at Artist’s Space Suhail Malik discusses the demand for an exit from contemporary art. He regards contemporary art as representative of a politics, which, while professing a radical agenda, is at its core complicit with and anesthetic to the transformations of capitalism:

“Arts’ contents and claims are now at best place holders or alibis for a series of power operations to which it is now subordinated, which it serves. These operations are the distribution and power channels in the artworld and outside of it, through cultural legitimation strategies, for example in gentrification, marketization, and also in institutional positioning, and so on. And these power operations are most often not often declared as such, but mobilized through the presentation of certain art, at certain places, at certain times. The art itself is like chess-piece for a set of tactics with no particular global strategy, apart from the dominant discourses of contemporary art, which asserts that the moves being made are of art and not of power.” [7]

He takes contemporary art as a totality, considering not just art works, but also its institutions and discursive regimes. His account of how contemporary art maintains its ideology, and continues to prevent all exits from its program is divided into two major components:

First, he believes that contemporary art abides by what he calls an ‘anarcho-realist maxim’. This maxim requires that art be more real, more true to life than actually existing art. This is, in his words, a charge against “art’s artificiality”.

Secondly, he recognizes what he calls contemporary art’s ‘meta-generic limitation’. That is, there is no particular form which art must take, instead it is indeterminate. This is the non-identity of contemporary art, which is characterized by the indefiniteness of its content, subject of address, and criteria of judgement. Because this non-identity of art is not definable by a particular genre, but is any conceivable genre characterized by some a common method, it is itself not a genre, but a meta-genre of art.

Malik sees this focus on indeterminacy as driven by a category mistake, in which contemporary art, in its attempt to appeal to the present, focuses on the non-unity of the present, and identifies indeterminacy with that non-unity. That is to say, it identifies in the complexity of the present an essential unknowability, which it objectifies and turns to a programmatic method.

To conceive of an exit from contemporary art, however, Malik believes that it is vital that we understand how these two precepts function together and maintain the interminable condition of that art. For, though they operate as two limits to what contemporary art is, they comprise contradictory demands on what it should be. To understand how they function together, then, we must synthesize their relationship.

It should be somewhat evident that these two limits contradict one another, for while the anarcho-realist demand calls for an art beyond already existing art, the meta-generic-limit is focused on the present, and so believes that it is actually existing art that addresses the present. [8]

To demonstrate how the two limits are interconnected, Malik performs a dissection of Thierry de Duve’s “Kant after Duchamp” [9]. De Duve asserts the genealogical primacy of Duchamp over contemporary art, and given that historical influence, how we subsequently form aesthetic judgements. Prior to Duchamp, art history could be understood as a series of negations, in which avant-gardist movements defined a new art against the existing discourse and institutions. With the introduction of the readymade Duchamp erases the distinction between art and non-art. This gesture conforms to not only the anarcho-realist maxim that Malik identifies, because it is an attempt to produce an art that is more real than art (by naming non-art art), but it also inaugurates the indeterminacy of art; for, as de Duve argues, the readymade supersedes art’s history of negation.

Without the art/non-art distinction we must reconsider what it means to make the judgement that something is ‘art’. Under de Duve’s new (non)-criteria, there is no good or bad judgement of what is art, but only a designation of “This is art”. This is a personal aesthetic judgement, which is contestable, but only results in a condition of dissensus, because one can have criteria for the judgment other than one’s own personal conviction. “Art” then becomes the amalgamation of judgements that can be made over what could be art, and any contestation of what is art simply expands the category of already existing art. This post-negational art is the condition of indeterminacy, for the judgement of art appeals to no particular content, subject, or criteria by which one could nominate art other than a privatized feeling which nominates itself under the abstract general principle ‘Art.’

Because it is nothing but a proliferation of differences that inflate art, there can be no end to contemporary art. There is no distinguishing between the principle of ‘Art’ as an abstract theory and art as a social abstraction, for it pre-empts and conflates the negation of social judgements about art with the category of art itself. And, in order to sustain itself, it demands an ideal of art which is more real than existing art.

To exit from contemporary art, Malik calls for a negation of art’s internalization of the historical negation. [10] This means a move away from the super-idealization of the engine of history as it has been sublated by art, and a return to treating the present in its actuality. The question that remains, however, is how do we distinguish between the elements of the present that perpetuate the capitalist power relation that Malik identifies as hiding behind the dialectic of contemporary art, and operations that sustain an emancipatory practice? In other words, how do we instantiate a criteria that is not co-determinate with capitalism, but evaluates art by other means?

Though the object of their critique is distinct, I believe that we can recognize a certain similitude to the concerns about art developed in Malik’s argument and those of Brassier’s on communization: Parallel to the anarcho-realist maxim of contemporary art, communization demands a community that is autonomous to the conditioning of its relations by capitalism; a community that is more authentic than the one which is already implicated.

Parallel to the meta-generic limitation, the tactical response to capitalism argues that the agents of communization are not defined by any particular manner of resistance, agent of resistance, or criteria of resistance, other than their self-identification with the resistance to capitalism. This ‘we’ is guided by whatever agents and forms of practical proscriptions ally themselves with the abstraction of communization.

Brassier calls for a renewal of criteria for recognizing the distinct operations of different social forms by their function, and not their historical determination, or genealogy:

“While technological function is socially mediated and enveloped by the value form, this need not be a saturated mediation, it need not be exhaustively constitutive of the functioning of the technology in question. A suitably abstract conception of function will allow for its transplantation and where necessary re-purposing across social contexts. More generally, determination is not constitution. We have to find a way to articulate theoretical and social abstraction that does not involve the complete relinquishment of the achievements of capitalist modernity en bloc. Communization short-circuits conceptual and social abstraction in an insurrectionary praxis whose fixation on totality prevents it from formulating criteria for distinguishing between progressive and regressive forms.” [11]

A particular technique or function is not necessarily determined by its history, but may be disambiguated from it and transposed. We can derive this assertion from the function of the inferential activity of norms. Norms, as defined by Robert Brandom [12], are not just the institution of mere social standards, but a part of the process of giving and asking for reasons. When one commits oneself to a concept that concept is passed back and forth through the discursive structure of reasons. I have a responsibility to things that I commit myself to, but it is up to others to judge my commitments, and they have a recognitive authority over what I have said. I, in turn, have an equal capacity to judge the contents of their commitments. It is only through this mutually recognitive and symmetrically reciprocal program that norms are instantiated. The only true authority is that of the better reason, assayable by all.

This is a linguistic process, in that it can only occur within the socially mediated and discursive structure of a language speaking community. It is also due to this mediating function of language that normative commitments are distinguishable from the real, and maintain an autonomy from it. This autonomy from the real is what gives normative commitments their liberatory power; for the kind of commitments that they entail are distinct from the causally determined force of nature. Norms, with their capacity for abstract representation allow us to say not just how the world ‘is’, but how it ‘ought’ to be. We can thus distinguish between the contingencies of causation and rely upon the justification of reason in our commitments. We must not conflate justification with causation; as Brandom says, “Replacing theological necessity with rational necessity as the fundamental explanatory category is disenchantment of the world. Replacing rational necessity with natural necessity is disillusionment.” [13]

While de Duve’s program of dissensus seems to follow the operation of normativity, his account is limited by the underdeveloped Kantian account upon which he relies. For his is an essentially one-sided and asymmetrical account of the normative function. It is not the individual’s judgement alone that holds authority over the determination of ‘Art’. But, as Hegel recognized, it is the reciprocal and social process of the community’s judgement and its history which develops the norm. In attempting to conflate individual and historical judgement, de Duve makes the mistake of idealizing the real process of history, and similar to the meta-generic limitation, confounds an unctuous indeterminacy with the negations whose real contradiction propel Art forward.

If we hold art hostage to the Duchampian gesture, we risk becoming like flies trapped in amber, beautifully immobile, but always caught in the same pose. The human, and its art are not moored to any idealized and eternal ‘present’; “the finished image is a sacrilegious myth.” We must exit the ideology of contemporary art, and liberate those techniques and functions which may be turned to better purpose. It is only by considering the force of the better reason that we can begin to distinguish and make criteria for an alternative program, one that will challenge and negate the institutions of power in which our present circumstances are bound. Art has yet the possibility of supervening on capitalism, if we can unbind it from the stone. [14]

Notes

1. Ray Brassier, “Wandering Abstraction”. The Accelerationist Symposium, Berlin, moderated by Armen Avanessian, December 14, 2013. From Brassier’s comments after the presentation of the paper. My transcription.
2. Ibid.
3. Endnotes, “What are we to do?” libcom.org (http://libcom.org/library/what-are-we-do-endnotes). Accessed: January 12, 2013.
4. Endnotes refers to the journal Tiqqun and their related group, The Invisible Committee. Most notably the book “The Coming Insurrection”, published by Semiotext(e).
5. Endnotes, “What are we to do?”
6. Ray Brassier, “Wandering Abstraction”. Transcribed by me from the text of the talk.
7. Suhail Malik, “Exit not Escape: On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from the Contemporary”. Talk Series at Artist’s Space, May 3, 2013. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fimEhntbRZ4). My transcription
8. Suhail Malik, “A History of Negations”. Talk Series at Artist’s Space, May 31, 2013. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrrfk904kKo). My Transcription.
9. Thierry de Duve, “Kant after Duchamp”. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 1998. Most of my discussion follows Malik’s interpretation of the book.
10. Suhail Malik, “Exit not Escape: On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from the Contemporary”.
11. Ray Brassier, “Wandering Abstraction”.
12. Robert Brandom, “Reason in Philosophy”. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 2009.
13. Robert Brandom, “Reason, Genealogy, and the Hermeneutics of Magnanimity”. September 21, 2012. Unpublished.
14. I want to make it clear that the rationalist program has much to offer for reforming the institutions of art, and the criteria by which we judge it, but I am not so certain that we can apply these same techniques to the process of art production itself, which is situated in its own linguistically impoverished, yet gesturally rich vein. We must be careful to recognize that art is its own domain. However, this does not mean we should not be critical of the institutions and discursive structures in which it is couched, and seek to improve those, while sharpening our criteria for art itself.

Scopic Vision and Operativity

This paper proposes that a new methodology of reason is needed to overcome the mode of operativity provided by capitalism, and its manner of harnessing the peculiarities of the limits of the default transcendental condition as described by Kant. It develops the analogy of the rifle scope and the telescope in accordance with Wilfrid Sellars’ distinction between the Manifest and Scientific image to argue that by radicalizing the framing of access introduced by Kant, we may set our scope of operativity to a new magnification, and thereby move beyond the myopia of capitalism.

Operativity is often a term used to contest the modernist legacy, and its enlightenment ideals. The architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri, used the term to challenge the teleological tendency of modernism, whose instrumentalization of history smoothed over historical contradictions and produced ideological bias in its attempts to realize the future. As he defined it, “[O]perative criticism represents the meeting point of history and planning. We could say, in fact, that operative criticism plans past history by projecting it towards the future. “ [1] For Tafuri, this was a dangerous move, as the errors of the past were subsumed in a utopian zeal that overlooked the contested discourse of a complex historical reality that did not progress in a simple and linear path towards a better tomorrow. The rationalism that he saw underlying this movement lead directly to the fascist politics that came to dominate his years in the academy in Italy. Much of Tafuri’s work, then, is concerned with proposing a kind of meta-discourse to the form of operative history he saw at work in the modernists, by attempting to develop an alternative model of architectural history.[2]

I wish to revive the term operativity, not however, in the merely in the negative sense that Tafuri saw it — as a historical distortion — but in terms of a kind of scenario thinking . Operativity allows us to reassert the capacity or craftsmanship of future planning, where the meta-conditions of its thought are regarded as an integral component of that capacity. In this respect, the reflexive criticality of operativity is itself an important functional component of its own process of construction — for, in committing to a course of action, we may ask, what are the conditions of knowledge upon which we base this action? Operativity is a form of design planning, not just in terms of its teleology, but also in terms of its epistemic enquiry. In setting out what is to be done, we must first look to the scope of the problem at hand.

If Tafuri was critiquing a simplified and dogmatic history which formed what he saw as the basis of the fascistic architectural process, we may find in Kant’s critical attitude towards the metaphysics of his day a similar impulse. I believe the lesson that we can take from Tafuri’s return to history as a critical mode of investigation, is not to deny reason, but like Kant awakened from his dogmatic slumber, a return to reason which questions its own conditions of possibility.

Kant’s approach attempts to reveal the transcendental conditions that make up the possibility for our experience and express how it is we are able to have understanding of our experience. Kant’s position is often considered Copernican, because rather than focusing upon how the subject revolves around the object, he focuses on how the objects of thought revolve around the subject. [3]

Kant argues that the faculties of intuition allows us to have a sensibility of the world around us, while the faculties of cognition provide an understanding of this sensibility. [4] These faculties are given to us a priori — they pre-exist our conception of them, and form the basic conditions for our thought. He is careful to distinguish between the intuitions, which he orders under space and time, and cognition, which concerns the empty formal and abstract categories of thought and the faculty of judgement. This distinction is driven by a fundamental asymmetry between our ability to conceptualize intuition, and the space or objects of intuition, which are not exhausted by our conceptualization of them.

Cognition works in tandem with our sensibility, and orders the phenomena that are presented through a synthesis of imagination into the unity of the manifold. Judgment, which is an operation of cognition, allows us to produce potential syntheses and render them as workable propositions by reflection. There is then, a constant back and forth between intuition and our conception of it. We consistently test the cohesion of our concepts in respect to new objects of sensibility, which must either be synthesized into our existing conceptual schema, or our conceptual schema alters in respect of new content which does not accord with existing conceptions.

The importance, in this distinction between the cognitive and the intuitive, however, is the way in which the faculties relate to the world. While Kant is always careful to maintain a separation between the thing-in-itself, or the objects of our perception, as distinct from our perception of them, the separation of abstract operation of thought upon sensibility is distinguished by the critical judgement which allows us to test the traction of our representations in respect to the world. For, if our sensibility, though distinct from the world, in some way corresponds with it, we through the judgement of reason are then capable of determining in what respects it aligns with it.

In his second critique, Kant describes the imperatives, which form the basis for our value judgements, and allow us to make decisions upon which we take action towards the future. [5] He calls the imperatives which form a universal basis for our actions, and are necessary, the categorical imperatives. He identifies these with the human as the ultimate end of all our actions, because it is the finitude of human intuition with is the ultimate limit and end of our reason, and the particular space within which all action may be adjudicated. Essentially, Kant proposes a form of operativity, or future planning, which is regulated by the human capacity for reason, and the ability to conceptualize our intuitive space such that our future actions are in accordance with our conceptualization of that space at the limit of its knowledge and in respect to other rational beings.

If Kant recognizes that conceptualization occurs in respect to an asymmetry toward intuition, our intuition maintains an asymmetrical relationship with the real, identified by the empty conception of the noumenal (thing-in-itself) as a transcendental object that remains always beyond the horizon of total conceptualization. In other words, the the thing-in-itself is the idealized real, which we can only define asymptotically through the gradual progress of reason, but which is also regulative of our reason. It rests always outside the limit of the finitude of human knowledge, and so is in some way unknowable. For some philosophers following Kant, this ostensible limit of human reason proposed a closure of the human capacity, around which reality itself became indeterminate. This tendency is recognizable in Tafuri, who saw that his peers only judged history according to the limit of their present conceptualization, and so called for a critical return to the past in terms of a vigilant skepticism. It is the hypostatization of this finitude, which forms the basis of a Kantian humanism, that we will seek to critique later.

Kojin Karatani reads Marx with Kant to in an attempt to show how capital operates according to the transcendental mechanism that makes up the heart of Kant’s third critique. [6] Under Karatani’s description of Marx’s model, the operations of pricing and credit become the mechanisms by which surplus value arises from the universal exchange system that describes domain of capital. All exchanges are mediated by money, which expresses the universal value form and allows the equivocation between distinct forms of use value. This structure itself has an empty, but infinite extensibility, in which anything that may be exchanged, can be exchanged, so long as the value that is proscribed to it passes through the structure. Credit, for instance, operates under the faith that its value will be returned with profit. So long as the financier can lend credit, the return is calculated with its profit, and the possibility for further lending is extended. The value of the debt derives not from its specificity to the individual and their form labour in working it off, but rather the surplus value that is extracted from the disjunction between the lender’s initial investment in a particular space and time, and that of the debtor’s use of that value in his or her own space and time. It is therefore this profit extracted from that disjunction which ultimately describes the limit of capitalism; so long as profit may be extracted from an exchange, capitalism may continue indefinitely. [7]

Profit, therefore, is the imperative value under which the capitalist tests the exchangeability of some term within the system of capitalism. With pricing, the capitalist estimates potential surplus value based upon the risk inherent in passing the term within the system, a means of testing the disjunction of some particular finite element against all of the possible infinite terms of the system. Or, to put this another way, she asks, “Under what conditions might she know that value can be extracted from some possible exchange?” Just as Kant asks, “Under what conditions can we have experience?”, this question brackets the field of exchange to a particular domain of known terms, from which one can extract an operation. Under capitalism, profit conditions all of the known terms, in respect to an intuition of the space and time of the market.

Just as the Kantian attempts to form a rational space of action with respect to the limits of intuition, which Kant ethically defines according to the human measure, the capitalist produces a measure of the market with as exacting of a conception that the finitude of their own intuition will allow.

In certain neo-liberal economic theories, such as those of Friedrich Hayek [8], the intuitive limit of human intuition in respect to the market allows one to form arbitrage with respect to distinct limitations of each of the players, whose intuition in space and time is contingently limited by their position, yet supposedly equality of conceptual capacity. In contemporary finance, this arbitrage is often leveraged with the aid of computers, allowing for the extraction of further abstract value from information asymmetry.

However, the ability to quantify markets through computation itself produces an information asymmetry amongst the various players within the market. In financialization, contrary to classical and neo-classical economics, it is not the case that all players begin with an equal capacity for conceptualization, and then are capable of producing greater efficiency from a similarly contingent position. Instead, primary production is subordinated to the abstract conceptualization of the operation of value in the market, which means that the more information one begins with regarding the scope of the market, the more one is capable of capitalizing on the information asymmetry, because one is better capable of setting pricing in respect to the limits of the market. [9] The scope of intuitive space, and the ability to quickly conceptualize it according to the profit function is increased beyond the bounds of normative capacities.

Arbitrage financialization succeeds precisely by overstepping the finitude of human intuition, through computational quantification of the market. However, the ideology of capitalism in liberalism, especially understood in terms of neo-liberalism, proposes an equality of ability according to exactly this measure of human finitude which places all actors on similar footing when approaching markets. In addition, financialization is used to extract profit value, without actually producing any more primary production, thereby siphoning value from from ever more exact quantification into the hands of the few who have the tools to enhance their measure of the market.

I now want to turn from Kant and Marx to Sellars. Wilfrid Sellars bracketed two ways of perceiving the world, which he called the manifest image and the scientific image. For Sellars, the manifest image might be considered the philosophical image of man according to the way that he views himself in the world. [10] For Sellars, this is not a naive view, but rather a considered perspective whose representative image derives from a development of thought about man’s being in the world that he derives from two related discourses – the historical development on man’s originary image of himself and its empirical refinement. He traces these discourse in through the development of philosophy, characterizing them through the tradition descending from Plato, and revolving around an image of the world as a projection of ‘spirit’. This spirit is not a ghostly one, but rather a way of explaining objects in the world as projections of being as being is a projection of the human.

Sellars challenges this correlation between the human image and the world by juxtaposing it with another another view, which he calls the scientific image. The scientific image is distinct from that of man in that it is composed of a representation of the world derived from the claims of science, such as relativity, quantum mechanics, neurophysiology, etc., as they are discontinuous from the common-sensical and phenomenological intuitions of the manifest image. This is to say, the center of the scientific image is not man, and his — its truths do not rest upon what people may think of them, but in what its methodology reveals about the world. For Sellars, the scientific image was an attack on what he called the myth of the given, or the default intuitive space of sensations as experienced by man.[11] He felt that through the methodological rationality of science, man could come to realize that his intuitive perception of the world was not equivalent to it. Intuitive sensation was not some imminent experience of the world in-itself, but one mode of registering it for us. Only through the rigorous conceptual bootstrapping of of the scientific image, could we move beyond the naive perspective of the manifest image.

While Sellars acknowledges that for us, the manifest image is a precondition of the organization of the scientific image, he does not agree that the one is logically dependent upon the other, and that the intersubjective methodologies that support the Scientific Image produce a view of the world that is substantially different in the types of claims it makes regarding the world. He is careful to note the inadequacies of the manifest Image, and the impasse that descends from Descartes regarding the difference between thought and the world. [12] The manifest image is dependent upon its introspective character, and as such identifies its thoughts about the world, with the world. But, we know that our perception of the world is not the same as the world. My sensation of the color red is not the same as the waves of light that bounce off of an object at different lengths from a red ball, and though the same physical phenomena may interact with the nervous system of another person, they may have distinct sensation — especially if they suffer from color blindness. There is, then, a way in which the scientific image is capable of explaining a spectrum of distinct local phenomena and their sensual interpretation that is distinct from our individual perception of it. In addition, though this work is far from complete, the methods of the scientific image has the capacity to link higher and lower level physical phenomena as a part of the same continuous image. For instance, the same system which describes the interaction of small-scale atomic physics, applies equally to oxygen binding to hydrogen to form water, and is also expressed in the higher level activity of a dog catching a scent, though the behavioral activity operates at a different scale of complexity. The scientific image is panoptic as opposed to the more specifically perspectively situated manifest image then, which views things through the human scale.

Consider, for instance, a rifle scope. The optics of the rifle scope narrows vision to a single point in the immediate distance. The rifle scope does not point beyond the horizon, but within it, bringing closer to me what is immediately apparent in my field of vision, but allowing me, through the instrument of the rifle to bring the target into submission and make use of it at a distance. The scope collapses a local space for me, allowing me to grasp at what is not immediately at hand, but to anticipate the distance and use it for my own purposes. In this way, it is a mere extension of the optics of the eye, but one which rests comfortably upon its geo-planar line-of-sight, to bring the immediate distance into focus.

Now, think of a telescope. I turn it towards the stars and find a distance whose depth cannot be collapsed into my immediate use. I look beyond the horizon and into an abyss of stars whose points form a remote cartography, of which our own sun is but a small and provincial village. Unlike the rifle scope, which follows the line of the ground, the telescope drops the ground beneath our feet, unmooring it in an abyssal space. Rather than situate the world for me, it de-centers me in relation to it. Through a careful study of this map, I come to realize that some of those distant lights are the burned out husks of cities so far off that all I may ever grasp of them is the plume of smoke carried across the void and signaling nothing more than their long ago expiration.

This final point, the extinction broadcast from billions of light years away, is not just the truth of some far off place, but as Ray Brassier argues, an inevitable fact of our own existence. [13] We are, as he says, already dead. Following Meillassoux’s logic of the Arche-fossil, a thought experiment that supposes the pre-existence of reality to any thought that might correlate with it, Brassier extends this lesson to the final extinction of all organic and inorganic matter. [14] Based upon our current understanding, billions and billions of years from now the universe will expand to such a point that heat-death will begin, and the interactions between all the particles of the universe will cease, eventually atoms themselves will decay resulting in a total asymptopia of all that ever was or will be. Of course, far before this, our own sun will have gone supernova, destroying the planet and any living things within the vicinity of our own solar system.

For Brassier, this extirpation of all life represents a truth regarding the import of the Manifest Image and correlation with the universe. It reveals the abyssal character of the real, and indexes the otherness of the real in terms of a formal negativity. For us to gain purchase on this abyss, it is only through the reciprocal process of inferential exchange, through an autonomous program of reason, that we can come to have some understanding of the world. But, because reason is not guided by any human end, but the demand towards truth, it sheds human prejudice as it develops. That is, many of the assumptions of the Manifest Image, and its anthropocentric focus, will have to be discarded in the face of a greater truth, one that does not rely on the limits of human intuition, but is in accordance with the reality of the universe itself. Despite this thought of the universal arising from the platform of the Manifest Image, the truth of a universe without knowledge-for-us proposes a distinct epistemological status from that of the epistemological status of access provided by the Manifest Image itself. This is the truth of the in-itself, which for us is indexed by the regulative status of the (transcendental) real. A real which is an aspiration, never exactly what we see.

This means that the image of the world that is provided by default by the Kantian manifold and its categorical imperatives, will have to be overcome. The a priori manifold of appearances, as described by Kant is intimately tied to the human perspective. Basically, this manifold operates along the lines of a functional and standard phenomenology which re-inscribes the encounter with nature in terms of a contingent evolutionary system of perception. Its focus is tied to a particular magnitude of vision, whose compression of the infinite into a particular finitude is reflective of what was a necessary accident of survival for the human species. The limit of human reason is a limit that is constantly overcome by the resources of reason itself, which consistently reflects upon its own concepts in respect of the regulative truth of the real.

Capitalism is a specific value function which piggybacks upon the evolutionary shortcomings of this system. It is able to use profit as a means of organizing operativity just beyond the human scale and collapse the limits of the immediate horizon into an eminently graspable mode of instrumentality. In this respect, it operates like the rifle scope, targeting the distance and bringing into an immediate ambit for consumption. Principally, it functions upon the same lines of sight as the human, but accords it with just enough depth to make additional use of that which is immediately beyond it, while ideologically positing the human perspective as the ineluctable ground of all its action. The problem it faces is one of the magnitude of its scope, and that it can only operate within the value for seizing its prey, or in terms of capitalism, profit. Through the rifle scope, everything becomes a target, the sole trajectory guiding the line of sight is the path of the bullet.

Overcoming this problem, however, does not mean discarding Kantianism, but radicalizing the operations of reasons that its framework provides. To return to the scope analogy, both scopes operate according to a similar mechanism of optics, but the mechanisms which organize those optics allow one to see into distinct depths, and thereby focus on different images. The limits that these mechanisms circumscribe are not presenting something that is true about the world, but is true about the way in which the scopes themselves bracket the world. To think about this in terms of Kant, the way in which the conditions of the manifold organize the world for us presents not a truth about the world itself, but about how we perceive the limits of the manifold itself. This is not to say that the way the world appears to us through the manifold is in no way connected to the world, but that its a priori configuration is opaque, or the connection itself is unconscious to our understanding. When I look through the scope, I do not see the lenses which bring the distance into focus, the mechanism appears transparent until I arrive at the limits of the mechanism itself, at which point the image becomes blurry. However, depending upon the mechanism, whether I am looking through a rifle scope or a telescope, the limits of the device allow me to focus on distinct and discrete distances.

The operativity of both a regressive humanism and the ideological power of capitalism rest upon maintaining the theoretical limit of human finitude. As Brassier argues, it is not that we need to throw out Kantianism, but to extend its operations by recognizing the epistemic status, or limit of the human manifold, or manifest image. [16] In recognizing the conditioning effects of the mechanisms, the peculiar optics that produce the subjective perspective, we recognize that it is not the only scope of view into the world. The analogy between the two scopes that I have been developing allows us to see that there is a generic space between the two scopes, what we might call the global space, in which the two local limits of the scopes operate, and may even overlap. What Sellars’ differentiation between the Scientific and Manifest Images highlights, is that a distinct methodological reasoning, with a different epistemic access can be built upon the rational cognitive resources of the manifest image, without being dependent upon its own methods and modes of appearances which define the world in accordance to the limitation of our intuitive grasp of phenomena. This is a relativizing operation, placing distinct lines of sight in relation to one another, allowing me to clarify new perspectives, and critically reintegrate them with my current position, so that I may abduct my current understanding and bring forth new operative capabilities beyond those of a single line of sight.

By gauging the world with the telescope, rather than the rifle scope, we set a new line of sight that whose ambition reaches beyond the merely predatory. We must navigate through the optics of the eye, and its regressive anthropomorphism, and beyond the rifle-scope of capitalism whose fulcrum rests upon the presumed limit of human vision. Through a methodological extension of reason we propose a operativity that goes beyond the capitalist, beyond the merely human, and sets the trajectory towards the cosmic.

What is to be done? Lenin’s question is the hard problem that always lies at the end of a theoretical prospectus such as this — how do we turn our theory into some form of praxis? It is not within the ambit of this paper to make detailed proscriptions, but a suggestion: In some ways, the ability to recalibrate our instruments already lies within our grasp. The tools of computational finance already seek to evaluate the rationality of markets beyond the scope of merely human calculation and quantification. Unfortunately, as noted, their purpose is not attuned to a project of liberation, but towards the profit value. As Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams suggest, it may be possible to turn the end of these instruments away from pure abstract value production and towards the production of primary production — a system for tracking the allocation of resources not according to the limit of human perception, but towards a global optimization and tied to a project whose purpose seeks to move beyond the bounds of the earth. [17] It is the wasteful limit of capitalism, that it can only see its own meagre line of sight as the ultimate limit of human activity. Nevertheless, without an alternative vision, the capitalist construction of the future will continue to dominate. Rather than return to a past we may never reconstruct, like Tafuri, we must imagine a form of operativity whose scope is focused beyond both a myopic sentimentality and the limits of the present.

___

1. Manfredo Tafure, Theories and History of Architecture, Translated by Giorgio Verrecchia.
2. Ibid.
3. “Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but … let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition.”, Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason.
4. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.
5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason.
6. Kojin Karatani, Transcritique, Translated by Sabu Kohso.
7. I owe a great deal to the elucidation of this thought on Karatani’s reading of Kant and Marx to the short discussion found on Steven Shaviro’s blog. (Steven Shaviro, “Transcritique (part 2: Marx)”, The Pinocchio Theory).
8. Friedrich Hayek was a 20th century neo-liberal economist, who epitomizes the extreme trend of market-place fundamentalists. He felt that the market place could spontaneously self-organize much of human society, and that government interference often inhibited these organizing principles. Thus government was to steer clear of the market, and should only intervene to enforce the rule of law. (“the principle of distributive justice, once introduced, would not be fulfilled until the whole of society was organized in accordance with it. This would produce a kind of society which in all essential respects would be the opposite of a free society.”, Friedrich Hayek, The Mirage of Social Justice) He also believed in absolute individualism based upon the limits of human knowledge, which was foundational to the axiomatic sense of equality he saw all players having with the marketplace. (Friedrich Hayek, Individualism and the Economic Order). While Hayek did believe in some forms of social responsibility, and even advocated a minimum income (“There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend.”, Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty), current neo-liberal doctrine almost entirely omits these palliatives in favor of a purely market-driven society.
9. For example, the New York Times reported on a recent case in which Goldman Sachs was caught manipulating the aluminum market, by purchasing warehouses and shipping aluminum through the its various properties to delay its release on the market, thereby raising the value for Aluminum on the futures market. This practice actually favored increased inefficiancy over production in favor of profitability. (David Kocieniewski, “U.S. Subpoenas Goldman in Inquiry of Aluminum Warehouses”, The New York Times).
10. Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man”.
11. Wilfrid Sellars, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”.
12. Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man”.
13. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound.
14. Brassier has developed his position to further distinguish himself from Meillassoux’s, and has instead focused on an epistemological realism, as opposed to an ontological realism. Most recently, a succinct expression of his position can be located in “That Which is Not: Philosophy as Entwinement of Truth and Negativity”, Stasis Journal 1.
16. Ibid.
17. Both Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek have expressed some version of this in greater and lesser forms of detail. See: Nick Srnicek, “Navigating Neoliberalism: Political Aesthetics in the Age of Crisis”, Alex Williams, “Escape Velocities”, e-flux #46, and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, “#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics”, Dark Trajectories: Politics of the Outside.

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’

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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 [1], 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. [2]

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.” [3] 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.” [4] 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. [5]

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” [6]. 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. [1]

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. [2]

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. [3]

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. [4] 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. [5] 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.” [6]

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.” [7] 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. [8] 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. [9]

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 [10]), 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
2. ibid.
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. [1]

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. [2]

In August of 2011, NPR reported that 75% of market volatility was the product of High Frequency Trading (HFT). [3] 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. [4] 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’. [5]

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. [6] 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.” [7]

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. [8]

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. [9] 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 [1] 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. [2]

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. [3]

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.  [4]

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.” [5]

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. [6] 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 alone that gives it worth.” [7] 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.” [8]

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. [9]

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. [10] 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. [11] 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 [12] , rather than a phenomenologically operative ontology. [13]

Art is a technology [14], engendered by the productive forces of capital [15], 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
3 ibid.
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.

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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
7 ibid.

Velvet Exoskeleton

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.
6 ibid.
7 Badiou, Alain. The Century.