Mutually Accelerating Demands

October 19, 2017

The splitting of the atom that inaugurated the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War made manifest both the power and increasing complexity of science. As the development of technology has intensified humanity’s capacity for destruction, it has also accelerated the pace of decision-making beyond effective human understanding and control. The atomic age exposed not only the fabric of physics, but also the complex weave of human interaction at scales that could not easily be conceptualized by any existing system. Today, the urgency of the cultural and political tension that kept the world in its grip during the Cold War has dissipated, but the fundamental rift between what is and what ought to be has become increasingly irresolvable.

This problematic runs through the Cold War/Cold World project: Robin Mackay’s essay begins with the catastrophe of all existing imaginaries prompted by the Cold War, and concludes on the increasing impotence of representation, where the proliferating production of images conceals an opaque process of cyber-subjugation. Amanda Beech leverages this condition of alienation as a challenge to existing artistic strategies. She argues that the critical insight regarding the limits of human finitude has devolved into a naive libidinal dogmatism that must be replaced with a more reasoned constructive image of the subject. Reza Negarestani examines the dialectic between inductive scepticism and rational certainty, warning against the extremes of either. Brian Evenson suggests that an intuitive and affective excess may colour our memory, creatively disrupting and mediating the past. Christine Wertheim argues that a psychological lack drives our need for both certainty and maturation.

To engage with this broader conversation, I would like to begin by suggesting a generalized interpretation of the metaphors employed under the Cold War/Cold World banner: on the ‘Cold War’ side of the solidus we find the questions of action, intentionality, and decision-making, or the problem of what ought to be. On the other side, the ‘Cold World’, we find facts, history, systematicity, and ontology, or the question of what is. In many of the various essays presented, the question of what it is that requires descriptive and explanatory competence vacillates between the complexity of the world external to minds and the complexity of the minds that perceive the world. In this paper I will focus on the latter problem, aiming to show how an explanation of minds provides ampliative resources for determining how we ought to engage the complexity of the world.

This is only an introductory preview of the essay, to read further, please see the book available through Urbanomic

Cold War/Cold World: Knowledge, Representation, and the Outside in Cold War Culture and Contemporary Art
Amanda Beech Robin Mackay James Wiltgen (Editors)
Éric Alliez, Maurizio Lazzarato, Amanda Beech, Robin Mackay, Christine Wertheim, Brian Evenson, Reza Negarestani, Joshua Johnson, Patricia Reed (Contributors)